Saturday, November 10, 2012

Release Me [Kenner]

Book: Release Me
Author: J. Kenner
Format: ebook 
Publisher: Bantam
Release Date: 1/1/2013
I received this in exchange for my honest review
He was the one man I couldn’t avoid. And the one man I couldn’t resist. 
Damien Stark could have his way with any woman. He was sexy, confident, and commanding: Anything he wanted, he got. And what he wanted was me.
Our attraction was unmistakable, almost beyond control, but as much as I ached to be his, I feared the pressures of his demands. Submitting to Damien meant I had to bare the darkest truth about my past—and risk breaking us apart.
But Damien was haunted, too. And as our passion came to obsess us both, his secrets threatened to destroy him—and us—forever.- Publisher

Review: I loved the Fifty Shades trilogy and I'm currently enjoying the Crossfire books (well, loved book one, book 2 was okay) so I was excited to read this book. Like those books, we have a young woman (Nikki) attracted to an extremely wealthy businessman (Damien) with control issues. While the premise of the book was not entirely original, Kenner succeeded in its execution by creating believable characters, sizzling sex scenes and focusing on the actual relationship between the main characters. 

Nikki is damaged and working through her own issues. In fact, I think anyone with a critical mother would relate to some of the traumatic things she experienced (a lot of it hit home for me). Damien is an Andre Agassi of sorts, a former tennis star who retired from the sport and now works in business. I liked this back story as it was more reasonable than a 20-something year old billionaire who 'worked hard and became successful in business.' Kenner knows how to write steamy scenes and these two characters had great physical chemistry. While there was a dominant/submissive vibe in the bedroom, the book focused on the actual relationship and not just the sex. 

Nikki is slowly peeled back and her issues come to light, while Damien is an enigma throughout most of the book. We are given some crumbs as to his childhood trauma relating to tennis, but any other injustices that may have occurred were not revealed. I hope that means another book is in the works? I liked that Damien had control issues in the bedroom but that did not extend to Nikki's regular life in the extreme stalker role like the other dominant male characters readers are getting used to seeing (i.e. Christian Grey). 

I will say the ending of the book seemed a little rushed and left me wanting for me. Overall, I enjoyed the book! 

Grade: 4/5

City of Glass [Clare]

Book: City of Glass [Mortal Instruments #3]
Author: Cassandra Clare

Review: Desperate to save her mother, Clary has to travel to the Idris, the home of Shadowhunters. This plan is not without complications. Jace doesn't want her there, Simon has been thrown in prison by the Shadowhunters and she has to enter without permission, which could lead to a punishment as severe as death. Valentine also continues to gain power and threatens Idris. Can the shadowhunters and downworlders combine forces to fight Valentine? How far will Clary go to save her mother and help protect the City of Glass?

I enjoyed the first two books of the series but this book felt a little flat for me. I didn't love it or hate it, it was really just okay. I was excited that Clare moved the action from New York City to this imaginary world and she did a very good job describing Idris. The strongest part of this was learning about the angel and demon experiments that Valentine partook in and it was very powerful when we discovered what he had hidden in his basement. Clary was more likable during that scene than almost any other part of the book. 

My biggest issue with this series is Clary herself. I just don't like her. Maybe I should have taken a break between the books (I remember getting very tired of Sookie Stackhouse as well, but that took about 6 books back to back before I needed a break) but she is extremely self involved and complains constantly. Why exactly are Simon and Jace in love with her? I really have no idea. We are told she is fiesty but she does not read that way. Many of the secondary characters come to life on the pages (Magnus and Isabelle especially) and I hope Clare can succeed in doing the same for Clary in the next few books. 

In terms of the plot, there were a few twists and turns I didn't see coming (specifically the death of a secondary character who has been in the previous books) which was a surprise. Otherwise, most of this was very predictable.  We **spoiler alert** finally learn that Jace and Clary aren't related at the end of the book (finally!). Yay! 

I was planning to give this a 4 as I was reading it, but I fell asleep so many nights trying to get through it I have to give it is a 3. An okay read, definitely a must read if you are reading the series. 

Grade: 3/5

City of Ashes [Clare]

Book: City of Ashes [Mortal Instruments #2]
Author: Cassandra Clare

Review: CoA starts a few weeks after CoB. Clary's mother is still in a coma and Clary is trying to avoid her attraction to Jace (her newfound brother) by dating Simon. When young downworlder children start disappearing, Clary, Jace and crew must hunt down Valentine again to stop him.

I enjoyed this book more than CoA because it overall felt like a more original story line. I'm pretty sure my favorite character is the warlock Magnus Bane (seriously, he is awesome) and I wouldn't mind a whole series centered around him! Clare does a great job writing Jace because he is equal parts annoying and charming. He really reads like an arrogant teenager and I can see younger reader identifying with him. Unfortunately, Clary continues to grate on my nerves. I realize she was thrown into this world after living a regular human life, but she complains all the time and insists on going to battles when she is not trained and has very little skill. Speaking of her lack of skill, it is odd that none of the other hunters offer to train her. To rectify this situation, she comes into her own powers very quickly and with relative ease. I would have enjoyed more work on Clary's part to be such an asset. 

Now, let's get to the main romance in this book. There is an incest theme between Jace and Clary which will probably leave many readers feeling icky reading it. I even found myself thinking "eww" at times but there are enough hints throughout the book to indicate they are not indeed blood siblings. So I don't think we'll be dealing with incest for however long this series is planned for but hopefully Jace's true parentage is revealed sooner rather than later. That being said, I think the only book I've ever read with an incest theme was 'Middlesex' so I have to give Clare props for putting it out there, especially a YA series. Very brave! 

Overall, I enjoyed this book!

Grade: 3/5

City of Bones [Clare]

Book: City of Bones [Mortal Instruments #1]
Author: Cassandra Clare

Review:  Clary Fray, a seemingly normal teenager girl, and her friend Simon are at club when she sees three tattooed teenagers murder someone. The body disappears and she discovers they killed a demon. Clary soon learns that there is a whole Shadow World she was unaware of, filled with shadowhunters, vampires, shifters, fae and other lore creatures. Her mother is connected to this secret world and has disappeared. Clary teams up with the local shadowhunters, including Jace, a snarky teen with plenty of attitude, speed and fighting skills, to find her mother. The group soon discovers that Valentine, a shadowhunter previously thought to be dead, is alive and hunting for the Mortal Cup, an instrument that will turns humans into hunters. It turns out Clary's mother hid the cup. Can Clary, Jace and their crew find the cup before Valentine and save Clary's mom?

Clare's world is well imagined, descriptive and well written. Clary is an interesting, albeit slightly boring heroine and I felt she reads younger than 16. Good thing Clare created strong secondary characters in Clary's best friend, Simon (loyal, smart, witty) and shadowhunter (love interest with complications) Jace (appealing even though he is extremely arrogant).  Many of the plot points were predictable (such as Clary's true parentage) and readers of Harry Potter will undoubtedly see many similarities between the series. Voldemort - Valentine, Death Eaters - Circle, Voldemort wanted only pure-blooded wizards - Valentine want to get rid of all demons, HP and friends used wands to cast spells - Jace and the hunters use stele's, wand-like objects to draw runes to create magic. Regardless of the similarities, I still enjoyed the characters and think it is a good start to a new series. 

Grade: 4/5

Ten [McNeill]

Book: Ten
Author: Gretchen McNeill

Review: Ten teens are at a house party on a remote island near Seattle. Things quickly turn from fun to freaky when people start dying. Are they suicides? Accidents? Could someone be stalking the teens or is one of them responsible for the deaths? Tensions rise as a huge storm rages outside the house and they try to figure out why they are being targeted.

This is a modern, YA remake of Agatha Christie's 'And Then There Were None.' Readers of this blog know I'm a HUGE Christie fan (although that book hasn't been reviewed here, I have read it and LOVE it) so I was excited to read this. McNeill did a great job creating the scene: a huge, isolated house, complete with a raging storm outside. She also did a great job dealing with modern technology-in this day of cell phones, internet, etc., I suspected it would be difficult to completely disconnect these teens but she did a good job. While most of the characters were extremely unlikable (it's bad when you think 'good riddance' when some people die) and I think it would be easy to figure out a huge part of the mystery without reading the original, overall, this was a super fun read. 

Grade: 4/5

Reflected In You [Day]

Book: Reflected in You [Crossfire #2]
Author: Sylvia Day

Review: I really enjoyed 'Bared To You' and couldn't wait for this book. I even pre-ordered it, which is something i rarely do. This book picks up the morning after 'Bared To You' ended and we continue along the ride of disfunctional couple Eva and Gideon. I was about halfway into this book when I realized...there was no real plot. It was more of the same thing as the first book-the push and pull of the main characters with a lot more sex. Don't get me wrong, it was extremely readable (I read the whole book in pretty much one sitting), but it felt more like a continuation of the first book than a stand alone book. The last third of the book did have an actual plot (and point) and we finally learned more about Gideon's past, but I finished the book feeling a little cheated. I'm looking forward to the third book and I hope Day can create an intriguing plot that grows Eva and Gideon's relationship while diving deeper into his personal demons. 

Grade: 3/5

Where We Belong [Giffin]

Book: Where We Belong
Author: Emily Giffin

Review: Marian's life is seemingly perfect. She is a 36 year old successful television producer in New York and dating the perfect man. But her perfect world is turned upside down when her biggest secret, an unplanned child she gave up for adoption 18 years ago, shows up at her door. As the perfect life Marian created starts to shatter, she gets to know her daughter, Kirby Rose and confronts her past, which she has pushed away for years. 

I'm usually a huge fan of alternate points of view, but rotating narrative between Marian and Kirby did not work here. Giffin was successful in writing Kirby as a typical teenager with angst, however I found her extremely annoying (were we all that self involved when we were 18? Yikes). I cringed whenever I came to her chapters. Marian was more tolerable but very boring. Her young love story and the pregnancy that resulted was not really that memorable. They dated a few weeks (maybe it was a month?) and Marian never even told anyone they were dating. **spoiler alert** She never even told him she was pregnant yet she has still carried a torch for him all these years? 

This book was okay. I enjoyed it but it was nothing special. The inferred relationship at the end of the book was extremely unrealistic and I'm glad it was just a suggestion and did not come to life on the pages. 

Grade: 3/5

This Is Not A Test [Summers]

Book: This Is Not A Test
Author: Courtney Summers

Review: It's the end of the world-a zombie apocalypse is here and 6 teenagers are seeking cover in their local high school, Cortege High. One bite from a zombie and you become a flesh eating shell of your former self. Almost every teen is willing to do whatever it is to survive but our protagonist, Sloane Price, was suicidal before this even happened. She watches her fellow classmates and their thirst for survival while she waits for the end of the world.

First, let me say that although there are zombies in this book, I wouldn't classify this as a zombie book. They are a catalyst to get these teens into the school. This is a book about survival (more along the lines of Lord of the Flies). It brings up a lot of good questions in terms of how far would you go if you were in this situation. Could you decide that someone needs to be sacrificed for the rest? Would you sacrifice yourself to help get others to safety? Do you think you'd be a leader or a follower? Sloane was a unique heroine in that she was not your typical 'I will do whatever it takes' characters. She had a physically abusive father and an emotionally abusive sister who abandoned her several months before the apocalypse happened.  She was very damaged and spent a good amount of the book trying to comes to terms with her sister's abandonment. She wanted to end her life but didn't want to risk anyone else's lives. Summer's was also not afraid to kill off main characters, which kept it interesting. 

This was a book club selection and we had really good discussion around it. I highly recommend this for teens as well. 

Grade: 4/5

Magic Bites [Andrews]

Book: Magic Bites [Kate Daniels #1]
Author: Ilona Andrews

Review: Kate Daniels is a mercenary living outside Atlanta. When her guardian is murdered, she seeks justice and investigates the crime. Andrew's has done a wonderful job creating an alternate world where magic and modern technology come in unpredictable waves. When magic is working, electricity does not (and vice versa). Many interesting characters are introduced and there is enough mystery involving almost all of them to keep readers guessing. I'm especially interested to learn more about our protagonist and her true heritage. What we do know so far is that she is quick witted, funny, has nerves of steel and isn't afraid to fight for things she believes in. She reminds me a little of Anita Blake. 

A great introduction to a series and I cannot wait to read the next one (already on hold at the library!). I will note that this is more 'fantasy' and while I think there is potential for a romantic sub-plot between two of the characters, this is definitely focused on the mystery/fantasy. 

Grade: 4/5

Gone Girl [Flynn]

Book: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn

Review: On the day of Nick and Amy's 5th wedding anniversary, she disappears. There appears to have been a struggle in the house and Nick is lying to the police. What follows is a detailed look into a troubled marriage and turns into a psychological thriller that is hard to put down. 

This is my first Gillian Flynn book and I LOVED it. She starts the book using alternating narratives (Nick is written present day while Amy's is a diary written from when her and Nick started dating). I'll avoid spoilers but this was an intense look at a couple that was once madly in love, how things fell apart, and the aftermath. Add in narcissistic personalities and psychopathic tendencies and we have ourselves a thriller. The first part of the book was a little slow but it builds and I eventually couldn't put it down. There were sections discussing relationships that hold a lot of truth, specifically a section about the masks we all wear when we meet people and what happens when our true selves are revealed (we all put our best self forward to an extent when we enter a relationship, don't we?). I also loved the part about 'the cool girl' because Flynn pegged it so well. There were a few things that didn't really work (I'll avoid spoilers but one of the characters befriends people at one point that is out of character) but overall, this was fabulous. I cannot wait to read more of Flynn's books!

Grade: 5/5

Biting Cold [Neill]

Book: Biting Cold [Chicagoland Vampires #6]
Author: Chloe Neill

Review: I want to love this series, I really do. It has all the ingredients for success and I keep hoping the next book will be the one that blows me away, but alas, I'm disappointed yet again. 

**this review contains spoilers**

Mallory has escaped the Order and she is on the hunt for one of the most powerful books in the world. The Order is convinced the book is in a secure location (really? after Mallory already stole it from the previous 'secure' location they just assume this next one will be beyond her powers?). Not surprisingly, Mallory and Seth find the book and it is quickly destroyed, but not before releasing Seth's evil twin (yes, an evil twin storyline!). Mallory is washing dishes at a bar (Gabriel and the shifters are watching her and decided this is the best form of punishment for her actions) and tries to repair her relationships with Merit and Catcher while Merit and Ethan try to stop the evil twin who is on a path for vengeance. Cadogan House is also under intense scrutiny by the GP and their could be grave repercussions for their perceived actions. 

Readers of this blog know I'm not a fan of Ethan so I was thrilled when Neill killed him off and introduced a new potential love interest with Jonah. Jonah (interesting! dynamic! fun!) was barely mentioned in this book which was disappointing. The lack of relationship between Merit and Ethan is also probably frustrating for those who love them together, because Neill still hasn't really allowed them to be a couple throughout this series. It's the same 'not is not a good time' line from Ethan we've been hearing for several books now. I was hoping for an intense search for Mallory but her storyline was wrapped up relatively quickly. I think the best part of these books are the banter between Merit, Catcher, Jeff and Mallory and that was lacking in this book. A lot of new supernatural creatures were introduced and I hope Neill uses them in the future. 

Once again, I WANT TO LOVE this series...maybe the next one with be a home run? I'll let you know!!

Grade: 3/5

Abide With Me [Strout]

Book: Abide With Me 
Author: Elizabeth Strout 

Review: Tyler Caskey is a pastor in a small Maine town and is grieving his wife's untimely death from cancer. He feels he has lost his calling to God and his grief is coming across as arrogance to his parishioners, and he is so wrapped up in his own troubles that he fails to notice his young daughter has stopped talking. 

I loved 'Olive Kitteridge' and couldn't want to read this book. Strout writes beautifully and as someone from the northeast, I love how she brings the seasons and landscape to life. This is well written and description, and I enjoyed different perspectives from different townfolk but overall, I finished reading and felt unsatisfied. This first third of this book was very slow and it put me to sleep every night. I had trouble sympathizing with Tyler (this was set in the late 1950's and things were different then, but how can any parent fail to realize their own child has stopped talking?) and I did not understand his relationship with his housekeeper. His wife was an interested character-she was wealthy, married Tyler on the rebound and then quickly regretted her decision) and there were hints as to things in her past that were not fleshed out. Was she abused? Was she manic depressive or just depressed that she made the choices she did? I think if the book was centered more on her, it would have been more interesting. I also found the end (I'll avoid spoilers) to be unrealistic. 

Overall-gorgeous writing but the characters fell flat. 

Grade: 3/5