Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review: Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson

Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson
Book One of an untitled duology
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Rating: 3 stars
Source: ARC sent by a fellow blogger

Summary (from Goodreads):

On her eighteenth birthday, Princess Evelayn of Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom, can finally access the full range of her magical powers. The light looks brighter, the air is sharper, and the energy she can draw when fighting feels almost limitless. 

But while her mother, the queen, remains busy at the war front, in the Dark Kingdom of Dorjhalon, the corrupt king is plotting. King Bain wants control of both kingdoms, and his plan will fling Evelayn into the throne much sooner than she expected. 

In order to defeat Bain and his sons, Evelayn will quickly have to come into her ability to shapeshift, and rely on the alluring Lord Tanvir. But not everyone is what they seem, and the balance between the Light and Dark comes at a steep price. 

In the first book of a remarkable duology, Sara B. Larson sets the stage for her reimagining of Swan Lake -- a lush romance packed with betrayal, intrigue, magic, and adventure.

What I Liked:

I didn't hate this book, but I didn't love it. Words that everyone hates to hear, because they don't really mean a whole lot. Was this book really good until the ending? Was it a mix of positives and negatives? Was there one or two big things that threw everything off? In this case, there were positives and negatives. And I suppose the ending was pretty terrible (cruel), though it's so dramatic and ghastly and it leaves room for so much to happen in book two.

I've read Larson's debut trilogy (Defy, Ignite, and Endure), and I enjoyed the series. I have been pretty excited about this new book of Larson's for quite some time. I don't know much about Swan Lake, but I didn't care about that because the book sounded great, and I'd had good experiences with Larson's books in the past. This book, while fairly intriguing, was not Larson's strongest.

Princess Evelayn has just turned eighteen and gained full access to her power. She is thrust into ascending the Light throne when her mother is killed in battle, fighting King Bain of the Dark Kingdom. Evelayn manages to keep control of the Light, but she must quickly come up with a plan to defeat King Bain and his sons. But Evelayn is under a lot of pressure, especially to hone her abilities and to shapeshift. With the help of her trusted General, her best friend, and Lord Tanvir, Evelayn sets out to defeat her Dark enemy and restore balance with his heir, or die in the process.

It took a little while for the story to grow on me - and Evelayn as well. The story moves at a very slow pace initially, and I can't say I was all that interested. I think things started to pick up for me when Evelayn and Tanvir's relationship started to pick up. I'll get to that. Anyway, the story starts and follows Evelayn's ascent to the throne, and how she handles the pressure. It's so much pressure, to be thrust onto the throne without being able to grieve, to be thrown into the middle of a war, to be expected to be strong and without fear or weakness, to be expected to bind to a male and produce an heir. So, yeah, the story wasn't interesting at first, but then it really began to shape up with all of Evelayn's duties and worries and plans.

Evelayn seemed distant and cold to me at first, and I didn't really like her. But then I started to understand her better. She takes on an enormous amount of pressure, and the author makes perfectly transparent how much Evelayn struggles with it all. But Evelayn becomes a much stronger, commanding leader, as the story goes on.

This book is written in third person, and there are multiple POVs. We read from Evelayn's, Tanvir's, Ceren's, and even Lorcan's (the heir of the Dark Kingdom/son of King Bain). Evelayn's POV dominated, but Tanvir's was sprinkled throughout, and Ceren's (Evelayn's best friend). Lorcan's POV was the most boring. Lorcan has no affection or pity for the Light Kingdom, but he also hates his father. Lorcan is cold and sly, and an interesting but merciless villain of the story.

I adored Tanvir. He's just so good, and kind and noble and sweet. Don't get me wrong, he is also fiercely protective and war-hardened. He's the High Lord of a set of lands, but he is also a soldier and and very good with his power and his skills in fighting and battle. Tanvir almost seemed to be too good to be true, with his kindness and gentleness with Evelayn, but I rolled with it. I like him too much, and it's not hard to see why.

The romance is sweet. At first I thought it developed too quickly, but weeks pass before things really progresses. Time moves quickly in this novel, but we don't get to see each and every day. Tanvir and Evelayn are a great couple, and very good for each other. I like that Evelayn kept questioning why Tanvir wanted her, and I like how persistent and yet respectful Tanvir was. While this isn't a favorite romance of mine, it is a cute and shippable one. 

I also liked Ceren's budding romance with the son of an important lord. So cute!

The ending is pretty cruel and I don't love it, so I won't really talk about it. But it's a cliffhanger. So I may read book two, especially since this is only a duology series. 

What I Did Not Like:

There are a bunch of things that I didn't really enjoy about this book. I've already mentioned that the pacing of the story is slow. The beginning is dreadfully boring. You know it's bad when you don't even care that an important character just died (Evelayn's mother). I really only started to get interested when Evelayn's feelings for Tanvir start to progress. 

This story is kind of cliche. The girl magically comes into her powers when she turns eighteen. There is a Light Kingdom and a Dark Kingdom (i.e. some kind of balance). They are at war. There is always a war. The King of the Dark Kingdom is an evil caricature. Honestly, this book is full of cliches, and they weren't necessarily welcome ones. I didn't mind, but I also didn't like them.

I'm also very confused about the species of these people. They aren't human - they are Draíolon, and I have no idea what that means. It would appear that some of them have blue skin and lavender hair and strange-colored features? I'm not really sure. I couldn't get a handle on the physical aspects of the Draíolon, or anything about them, really. They are magical, immortal, and there is a balance of them. That's about it. I'm very confused about what they actually are though. 

Honestly the world-building in general is a little confusing for me, or just completely absent. It seems like a typical, cliche YA fantasy world, and yet, I really couldn't get a good grasp of the world. There were so many strange things that seemed out of place. Maybe I'm missing something?

I'm not all that convinced that there won't be a love triangle! I love Evelayn and Tanvir and I ship them so hard, and there is no hint of a love triangle in this book. But because Lorcan and his brother Lothar also have POVs in this book (in addition to Evelayn and Tanvir - and Ceren too, not that she is part of this), I'm a little nervous. Lorcan seems like an off-his-rocker kind of villain, but Lothar... I could see the author somehow working Lothar into Evelayn's path. They have never met and she has never seen him before, but I just have this feeling. You know? I want to write off Lorcan altogether but somehow, Lothar... he has too much pity and sympathy for Evelayn. Despite not knowing her and her never having seen him before. I'm just not convinced. I don't know though.

The ending! How cruel! Will it stick? I highly doubt it (on several aspects), but how knows... the author has blown the story wide open, which is great if you're the author, but not great if you're the reader. I am not a fan of the ending but I do respect the author for going for such a risky ending.

Would I Recommend It:

I can't say I fully recommend this book, even if you are a YA fantasy fan. It's an interesting concept - a Swan-Lake-inspired fantasy tale about a girl who has loved swans all her life and has taken on the difficult task of ruling the Light Kingdom. This book wasn't totally impressive though, and it wasn't always fun to read (sometimes I was bored or just didn't care). I'd either wait until the second book publishes, since this is part of a duology, or skip the series altogether. While I enjoyed some aspects of the story a lot, I can't say that this is a new favorite or a life-changing story.


3.5 stars -> rounded down to 3 stars. It's an okay book, but not great, and certainly not worth gushing over. I really wish I was gushing over the book because I was very prepared to be doing so, but ultimately, I'm a little disappointed. I think I will still read the conclusion though!

Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Stacking the Shelves (#227)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews, in which bloggers share the books and swag they've received in the past week!

So, what did I get in the week of Sunday, April 23rd to Saturday, April 29th?

(all links to Goodreads are provided!)

In the mail:

I haven't seen any of my mail from this past week yet! I'll update when I (finally) go home on Saturday night.

But here is my mail from two weeks ago:

Thank you, Bloomsbury!

Thank you, Kimberley! I won this from a giveaway. I loved the previous books in this series!

Thank you, Jaime! She is the sweetest! Now I shall binge-read the first two books in this series.

Updated: here is this past week's mail!

Eeeep! I am so excited! I have this book preordered, but now my collection is complete. 

Thank you, Sabrina, for this wonderful trade! Guys, she is so cool. =)

Wheeeee, thank you ,Tor/Lili! I was not expecting this so it was a fantastic surprise!

For my growing Ahdieh collection! Thank you for the trade, Rachel!

From the bookstore:

Today is Independent Bookstore Day! I visited The Ivy Bookshop and bought this beautiful book. I have the ebook and an ARC, and now I have the gorgeous hardcover! And I got the special (free!) edition of Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell. Win!

From NetGalley:

Thank you, St. Martin's Griffin!

From Edelweiss:

Yaaassss, finally! This book follows the only Cavendish male (of the four siblings), and I can't wait. I'm sure this will be a fun story, like its predecessors! Thank you, Avon!

Not a bad week for me! This weekend is a really fun one a Hopkins - Spring Fair Weekend - and I'm loving the weather. Have a lovely weekend, friends!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Review: Forbidden Promises by Katee Robert

Forbidden Promises by Katee Robert
Book Four of the O'Malleys series
Publisher: Forever
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

All Sloan O’Malley ever wanted was a simple life—and now she’s finally got it. She’s left everything behind in Boston—her family, her money, even her name—and set herself up in a tiny seaside town in Oregon. What she doesn’t plan for? Her mysterious and painfully attractive neighbor, Jude.

Jude MacNamara has been many things in his life—pampered son of a prestigious family, only surviving heir to a lost legacy, hit man—but now he’s out for revenge on the man responsible for the death of his father and brothers—Colm Sheridan. He’s tracking Colm’s sister when he encounters Sloan living with her in her beach house. He’s a patient hunter and he’s willing to sit back and wait for his prey...he just doesn’t expect for this woman to give rise to emotions he hasn’t felt in years.

He doesn’t want to see Sloan hurt, but in order to protect her, he will have to turn his back on the one thing he’s spent his life pursuing—revenge. Even then, there’s no guarantee either one of them will make it out alive.

What I Liked:

From the start, I knew that this would be a very different book compared to the previous three. I loved The Marriage Contract, and enjoyed The Wedding Pact and An Indecent Proposal. The books have been incredibly engrossing, entertaining, and sexy. This book was all of those things, and yet it is distinct when compared to its predecessors. I loved Jude and Sloan's story - I think theirs is my second-favorite of the series now!

Sloan O'Malley, the fifth O'Malley child in a brood of seven, has finally gotten out. With the help of her older brother Teague, she has fled Boston and is neatly ensconced in a small seaside town in Oregon with an old woman - Sorcha Sheridan. Everything is new and interesting to her... especially her next-door neighbor. Little does she know, Jude MacNamara has been watching her new house. He has been tracking Colm Sheridan's sister for a long time, for revenge. And now he has found her, but he didn't expect Sloan O'Malley to appear. Sloan doesn't know at first who Jude really is, but it doesn't matter: one looks is all it takes. Jude and Sloan can't keep away from each other. But it's not long before the dangers of Boston catch up with Sloan, and Jude's own deals catch up with him. Jude will have to choose between his plans of revenge and his growing feelings for Sloan, and Sloan will have to decide if Jude is worth it.

This book had a bit of a different tone, compared to the others. Maybe because most of the book is far-removed from Boston, and all of the crime stuff in Boston? Not that the crime stuff doesn't come up - remember, Jude is very much involved in all of that (not that Sloan knows, at first). But the crime and the Russian mafia and all that aren't physically present in most of this book. Which makes the story a little more about our couple, especially in the first half.

I always felt bad for Sloan in the previous books, but I didn't love her, necessarily. She seemed a bit bland to me, and not outwardly strong as her older sister Carrigan, or her sister-in-law Callie. She isn't as stubborn and rebellious as her younger sister Keira. She's just Sloan. young and innocent and desperate to get out of the crime that surrounds her life. Right? Well. Sloan is much tougher than she outwardly appears, and she is her own brand of strong.

Jude is a rough, gruff, no-nonsense hardened man who is the last of a dynasty - the MacNamara's. He is bent on revenge and wants nothing in his way, so he isn't quite sure what to do with his instant attraction to Sloan, at first. But he is also a man of action, and he likes to have all of the control. Jude has made himself believe that he is a cold, merciless, heartless man who isn't worth more than his revenge, but that isn't true at all. This book is as much about Jude's self-worth as it is about Sloan's.

The two of them together are incredibly hot! The attraction and lust are there from the start. The sex starts off very early, which I don't always love, but I was fine with it in this book. The first half of the book is very focused on Jude and Sloan's physical attraction to each other, and there is a loooot of sex. The second half of the book deals more with their growing emotional connection, and the growing threat of Dmitri Romanov. But back to June and Sloan's chemistry - so hot. Jude is 100% alpha, and Sloan is... well, she isn't a meek and submissive innocent, but she is innocent and she likes it Jude being controlling and demanding, when it comes to sex. The two of them fit perfectly together and in so many ways.

So the physical attraction started off very quickly, but the emotional connection took longer. I liked seeing Jude and Sloan slowly trust each other and lean on each other. They don't know each other for very long before they have to make several decisions about Sloan's safety. But they begin to trust in their feelings for each other, which was sweet to see.

There is one trope that appears in this book that I usually hate - but I found that I did not mind it at all, in this book. The presence of this trope makes sense to me, and its purpose is something I understand. I love how the author switches up romances and relationships and keeps things original or at least on shuffle. 

Don't think that this is purely a romance novel! It's dark romance, and the crime aspect of this series does not disappear at all, don't worry. The second half of the book really picks up speed with several crime-related plots, both back in Boston and in Oregon. The ending is pretty explosive! In terms of crime, and in terms of Jude and Sloan's relationship. Not in a bad way!

I love how we don't just get Jude and Sloan's POV. Occasionally (very rarely), we read from Aiden's, and Dmitri's. While Aiden has definitely grown on me, it is Dmitri who I have really gotten to like. I can't wait to read his and Keira's book (O'Malleys #6)! The snippets in this book between him and Keira are downright tantalizing.

I'm going to wrap this up and end with saying that I really enjoyed this book. It's my second-favorite, or possibly my favorite, tied with The Marriage Contract (I don't know that any of these books will touch Teague's - though maybe #6 will!). This book was different compared to the rest of the series, and so, so good.

What I Did Not Like:

Nothing specific that I can think of! Though this book is not getting a five-star rating. 

Would I Recommend It:

I highly recommend this book, especially since it's one of my favorites of the series! I've not read a series like this one, but I can say with confidence that no one writes crime/dark romance like Katee Robert. In my opinion. I highly recommend this series in general!


4.5 stars -> rounded down to 4 stars. I am looking forward to reading Undercover Attraction (Aiden and Charlie's story)! But more so, Dmitri and Keira's, which publishes in February 2018. This series is easily one of my favorite adult romance series of all time!

Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Swoon Thursday (#222): Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

- From the book you’re currently reading, or one you just finished, tell us what made you SWOON. What got your heart pounding, your skin tingling, and your stomach fluttering

- Try to make the swoon excerpt 140 characters (or less), if you are going to tweet about it. Use the hashtag #YABOUND when tweeting

This week, my swoon is from Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh!

Okami rolled onto his back, positioning her above him. He braced her chin in one hand, his lips traveling don her neck. To her bared shoulder. Back up to her ear.

Don't stop.

The rain battered down around her. Her heart slammed against her chest. Mariko finally closed her eyes, no longer caring about anything else but the feel of him. His hands at her back. His kisses across her skin. The stars could fall - the moon could crash from the heavens - and Mariko would not care.

When Okami broke away, his breath spilled from his lips in jagged slivers.

"Don't stop," she said without thinking. 

His response was a wicked smile. Wordlessly, Okami rolled again, pinning her beneath his mouth, covering her with his body. He slid lower. Watched her face as he blew a cool stream across her bare stomach. A thread of molten amber raced down her spine.

When Mariko trembled - sparks dancing across her skin - Okami laughed softly.

- ARC, page 270

I really enjoyed this book! And I adored Okami and Mariko. Some first kiss, eh? 😏

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday (#226): Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week, I'm featuring:

Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson
Book Three of the Gold Seer trilogy
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: October 10, 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Leah Westfall, her fiancé Jefferson, and her friends have become rich in the California Territory, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense precious gold. But their fortune has made them a target, and when a dangerous billionaire sets out to destroy them, Lee and her friends decide they’ve had enough—they will fight back with all their power and talents. Lee’s magic is continuing to strengthen and grow, but someone is on to her—someone who might have a bit of magic herself. The stakes are higher than ever as Lee and her friends hatch a daring scheme that could alter the California landscape forever. With a distinctive young heroine and a unique interpretation of American history, Into the Bright Unknown strikes a rich vein of romance, magic, and adventure, bringing the Gold Seer Trilogy to its epic conclusion. Includes a map and an author’s note.

To be fair, I haven't read Like a River Glorious yet (though I do have it). I plan to binge-read that one and this conclusion novel! =)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Release Day Blitz and Giveaway: Too Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey

Welcome to the release day blitz for Too Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey! This is the third book of the Romancing the Clarksons series, and it is a great addition. You can take a peek in the book below, and enter to win a copy!

My reviews:

About the Book:

Too Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey
Book Three of the Romancing the Clarksons series
Publisher: Forever
Publication Date: April 25, 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

This time, she's calling the shots.

Peggy Clarkson is returning to her alma mater with one goal in mind: confront Elliott Brooks, the man who ruined her for all others, and remind him of what he's been missing. Even after three years, seeing him again is like a punch in the gut, but Peggy's determined to stick to her plan. Maybe then, once she has the upper hand, she'll finally be able to move on.

In the years since Peggy left Cincinnati, Elliott has kept his focus on football. No distractions and no complications. But when Peggy walks back onto his practice field and into his life, he knows she could unravel everything in his carefully controlled world. Because the girl who was hard to forget is now a woman impossible to resist. 

Check out the series:

(Click on the image to go to Goodreads!)

About the Author:

Tessa Bailey is originally from Carlsbad, California. The day after high school graduation, she packed her yearbook, ripped jeans, and laptop, and drove cross-country to New York City in under four days. Her most valuable life experiences were learned thereafter while waitressing at K-Dees, a Manhattan pub owned by her uncle. Inside those four walls, she met her husband, best friend, and discovered the magic of classic rock, managing to put herself through Kingsborough Community College and the English program at Pace University at the same time. Several stunted attempts to enter the work force as a journalist followed, but romance writing continued to demand her attention.

She now lives in Long Island, New York with her husband and daughter. Although she is severely sleep-deprived, she is incredibly happy to be living her dream of writing about people falling in love.  

Follow Forever Romance:

The Excerpt:

“I don’t know, Peggy.” He whirled on her, closing in until she was forced back onto the desk. “I had an All-American on my squad this morning and now I don’t. That’s all I know.” He pointed a finger toward the window. “I solve problems down on the field. Saving people isn’t my job.”

Saving people. God, there was such a wealth of regret and pain in those two words. But he couldn’t hear it and she couldn’t address it. Letting him know she saw right through his façade to the hurt beneath might force Elliott to close himself off. “You didn’t always limit yourself. Why are you doing it now?”

“Accepting things that can’t be changed isn’t a limitation. It’s realistic.”

“But how will you know if something can’t be changed unless you try?”

“When it comes to certain things, Peggy, trying leads to losing.” He was in her face now, the mint from his toothpaste familiar and inviting where it slid over her lips. “And I don’t lose.”

No one ever stood up this man but her, and she wouldn’t be cowed now. “No? You’re out a receiver.” She hitched herself up on his desk. “I’d call that a loss.”

The tips of his shoes met Peggy’s, his hands gripping the furniture on either side of her hips. “Who do you think you are, little girl? Coming into my office and telling me what I’ve done wrong?” His eyes were brilliant in their vexation, the attraction he was trying so hard to fight. “Where do you get the goddamn bravery?”

“The bravery is what you liked best about me,” she breathed, heat sizzling in a downward V toward her thighs. “Isn’t it?”

“No. That bravery is what almost led to my downfall.” His hands found her bottom, jerking her to the edge of the desk. “I resented it. Still do.”

“Liar,” Peggy whispered, easing her thighs wider. “You’re dying for an excuse to head for another downfall.” When her legs were as open as she could spread them, she leaned up to Elliott’s ear and let her breath shake loose. “One thrust.”

Elliott’s right hand came up out of nowhere, molding over Peggy’s mouth as his hips crowded into the notch of her legs. With a quick maneuver to recline her halfway back, Elliott’s erection found the apex of her thighs, delivering an aggressive pump against her underwear that sent a scream climbing up Peggy’s throat, only to be trapped by his hand. Knees jerking up out of reflex over the rush of sensation, an orgasm almost—almost— broke past the surface, sending her waters rippling out on all sides. Her legs wanted to hug Elliott’s waist, her voice wanted to beg for one more, one more, one more, but he shook his head, denying her, even though his gaze was hot, a low groan issuing from his harshly masculine mouth.

He leaned in and nipped the lobe of her ear. “Next time, ask for two.”

The Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: Too Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey

Too Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey
Book Three of the Romancing the Clarksons series
Publisher: Forever
Publication Date: April 25, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

This time, she's calling the shots.

Peggy Clarkson is returning to her alma mater with one goal in mind: confront Elliott Brooks, the man who ruined her for all others, and remind him of what he's been missing. Even after three years, seeing him again is like a punch in the gut, but Peggy's determined to stick to her plan. Maybe then, once she has the upper hand, she'll finally be able to move on.

In the years since Peggy left Cincinnati, Elliott has kept his focus on football. No distractions and no complications. But when Peggy walks back onto his practice field and into his life, he knows she could unravel everything in his carefully controlled world. Because the girl who was hard to forget is now a woman impossible to resist. 

What I Liked:

I hate to say it, but I'm actually surprised that I enjoyed this book! I had pretty low expectations, because there are several tropes in this novel that I absolutely hate (and I'll get to them). Don't get me wrong, I adore Tessa Bailey and the vast majority of her books that I've read. But I wasn't sure that I would enjoy this one. If you'll recall, I was fairly certain I wasn't even going to read this book, after reading Too Wild to Tame. I'm happy to report that I liked this book much more than I expected!

Peggy and her siblings started their road-trip from California to New York, the four of them, and now it's just Belmont and Peggy (and Sage, Peggy's best friend). Aaron is in Indiana with his new girlfriend, and Rita is in New Mexico with her new boyfriend. Peggy knew the trip would take them through Cincinnati, where she went to university, and where she met a man that would change - and ruin - her life. Coach Elliott Brooks is known around the nation as the "Kingmaker", a legendary college football coach who has sent many football players to the NFL. He has always been focused on football and his religion, and so many Peggy came into his life three years ago, he isn't prepared for the temptation. Even three years after she left Cincinnati, Elliott has never gotten over, and Peggy has never gotten over him. Peggy was out to make him suffer, during alumni weekend, but it isn't Elliott alone who will suffer, and it isn't suffering along that they'll share.

I didn't even think I liked Peggy, after reading Too Hot to Handle and Too Wild to Tame. Sure, she's young fun and bubbly, but she seemed a little too much for me. And it was painfully clear that she was in some sort of denial, with four engagements broken (by her). But I liked Peggy a lot more in this book. It was clear to me that she has a lot of depth, she's friendly and kind, and she goes after what she wants. Yes, she wanted to make Elliott miss her like she missed him, and she wasn't planning on sticking around, but I liked how Peggy went after him again and again. She's relentless, even if she was totally clueless as to if she wanted more with him.

Elliott is an extremely successful college football coach and definitely not the type of guy that would bang a cheerleader. He has at least ten, maybe twelve or thirteen years on Peggy, and at the time, his wife had died about a year ago. At first it seems like Elliott didn't like how Peggy made him feel, but it became clear that it was because he didn't think he deserved her. Fast forward three years later, and he's still sinking in the guilt and shame. Elliott seems like a cold, hard man who is almost robotic, with his love of football and his religion. But he, like Peggy, has a lot of layers to peel back. I actually really liked how intense and sometimes scary Elliott is, with his commanding football coach nature. 

The two of them are such an interesting pair. One is hard and unfeeling, the other is bubbly and vivacious and flirtatious. But they are a great match, and this shows from page one. I like that Elliott only ever had eyes for Peggy, and vice versa. You know that annoying thing that some girls do, in which they flirt with other guys in order to make the one guy jealous? Yeah, I'm glad Peggy didn't play that head game with Elliott. Peggy may have been out to make him feel bad for breaking up with her years ago, but she wasn't malicious.

The chemistry is pretty hot, between these two, as expected. With Elliott's inner struggle, you can see him pulling Peggy close and pushing her away. There are a number of tug-of-war scenes that are unfinished and yet very hot. Bailey always does well with cooking up a good amount of tension and chemistry in a romance novel. I like how each of her romances are different, and the smoking chemistry too. Elliott and Peggy like things a little rougher than your average couple, which was interesting to see play out.

Okay, so I mentioned before that I really didn't think that I would enjoy this book, because it contained three tropes that I don't usually like (or just absolutely hate): 1) second-chance romances, 2) children, and 3) older man/super young woman. I actually found that NONE of these tropes bothered me, in this story! The romance was really swoony, sweet, sexy, and occasionally heart-breaking. But it wasn't too dramatic or angst-ridden - well, not as I expected. And the children part - Elliott has a young daughter in middle school. I mentioned that his wife had died a year before he met Peggy. Elliott has never had a wonderful parental relationship with his daughter Alice, but that changes a lot in this book. And the third, the older man/younger woman thing. I'm pretty sure there is at least a ten to fifteen age difference between Elliott and Peggy. And it comes up from time to time. But I actually didn't mind it that much, and it never really bothered me. 

So, in a nutshell, I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would! Probably because the drama/angst wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, and those three tropes that I hate that are in this book didn't seem to bother me as much as they usually would. Even the ending of this book didn't irritate me - Elliott's grand gesture to win Peggy back was sweet, and very much warranted. Cute cute cute! 

What I Did Not Like:

I kind of wanted more of a resolution in terms of Elliott and his religion. You know from the start that he is Catholic and his religion is very important to him. But then that aspect kind of disappears, towards the end of the book. I don't think Elliott turned his back on his religion - the whole religion thing just kind of disappears. Since it was such a big part of the story in the beginning and sometimes in the middle, I expected it to reappear or have some sort of progression, towards the end. 

Would Recommend It:

While this isn't my new Romancing the Clarksons favorite (sorry, Too Hot to Handle still claims that spot!), I really enjoyed this book. It's nice when a book filled with tropes that you usually hate surprises you. If you're like me, and hate second-chance romances, books with children, and older man/super young women tropes, don't let these aspects of this book deter you! I'm not saying this book is for everyone, but I am saying that I was pretty convinced that it wasn't for me.


4 stars. I liked this book! I'm actually not AS excited about Belmont and Sage's books (like most Romancing the Clarkson fans are), but I will definitely be reading it when its publication date rolls around. But I think I'm even more excited about Too Close to Call!

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
Book One of the Flame in the Mist series
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she's quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known.

What I Liked:

Flame in the Mist has been one of my most anticipated publications of 2017, and I had been looking forward to reading it for a long time. You know that feeling when you finally get a much anticipated book, and you're so excited, but you just can't seem to open it to start reading? I had this book over almost two months. I was scared. But honestly, I don't know what I was so afraid of, because this book was excellent, and I loved it.

I'm going to go ahead and tell you all that 1) this review will not do this book justice, 2) I won't be able to capture the complexities and intricacy of the plot, and 3) I will do my best not to spoil anything, because my goodness there is a lot of things that are unveiled slowly and could definitely be spoiled. Ahdieh has readers guessing right and wrong at every turn!

Mariko is on her way to Inako to marry the second son of the emperor. Her marriage has been arranged and she must bring honor to family. Her family is highly regarded, with her father being a samurai lord, and her twin brother being a powerful samurai with the nickname "Dragon of Kai". But her procession is ambushed, leaving everyone dead except Mariko. She escapes, and is determined to find out who tried to kill her. The Black Clan is the likely suspect - a bandit gang of warrior-like men who serve none but themselves. Mariko decides to try and infiltrate the Clan, dressed as a boy, and kill them all. They kidnap her, which works in her favor because she gains access to their encampment. But the longer she gets to know the Clan, the harder it becomes to kill them. What if Ranmaru and Okami weren't the ones that ordered her death? And who are these men, so clearly regarded by the Clan they lead? Mariko slowly discovers that no one is who they seem - and not just within the Black Clan.

First thing I want to address - I've heard people throw around the phrase "Mulan retelling" when describing this book. The thing is, I don't know how true this actually is. I will make attempt to hide the fact that I am quite ignorant in the facts of feudal Japan (the setting of this book), and dynastic China (setting of Mulan). I don't know enough about the history of China and Japan to really give you all a good discourse on the differences between the story of Mulan, and Flame in the Mist. But... I'm fairly certain that Flame in the Mist is inspired by Mulan, and not actually a Mulan retelling? Do you see the difference? Some aspects of this story seem to mirror those of Mulan (cross-dressing female, bring honor to the family, etc.). But this story is very clearly its own (in my opinion), and very clearly based on Japanese setting and culture (and not Chinese). Again, I'm no expert. There are many others who have spoken about this book and its culture/setting who know better than me. But in my opinion, I don't think this is a Mulan retelling. And if it is, it is very, very loosely written retelling. 

That being said, I loved how rich and vibrant the world-building of this book is. I've never read a book set in feudal Japan, and I was quite swept away. Ahdieh did a lot of research for this story, and it shows, with all of the italicized uses of Japanese words, all of the subtle and obvious references to Japanese culture, the names, the customs. 

Most of the story is set in the Jukai forest, where the Black Clan encampment is. The forest is creepy! There are magical beasts with yellow eyes and blood-thirsty trees who exact punishment on wrongdoers. Oh, you read that correctly. Has anyone watched Grimm? In the final season, there is an episode involving something called the jubokko. Look it up! The jubokko appears in this book. Thanks to Grimm (who decided to feature this Japanese legend in the show) and Ahdieh's imaginative writing, I could really picture the jubokko and its horrifying ways. 

So, this book isn't just a historic type of fantasy. It's a fantasy with magic and magical beasts and magical entities. I actually was not expecting that, so I was pleasantly (and unpleasantly) surprised when I came across the nightbeasts, and the jubokko, and strange abilities that some of the Black Clan members have.

I adored Mariko from the start. She is extremely willful and headstrong, and she is so intelligent and clever. Her clever mind is one of the things that saves her over and over, and earns her a place in the Black Clan. Mariko kept dwelling on the fact that everyone at home thought she was weird and strange, and to be honest I think that inner monologue could have been cut back a little (girl, we know, you're different from the other girls), but I liked her strength and uniqueness in character. She grows a lot in this book, though not all of it is obvious. I liked watching her open her eyes and see the world for what it actually is. Mariko has always been brave and strong, but she becomes a different type of brave and strong as the story progresses.

Okami is a fantastic hero/male protagonist. He is easily as important to this story as Mariko. While Ranmaru is the leader of the Black Clan, Okami is the best fighter, and the one that you can't get anything past. Okami seems hard and unyielding to Mariko, all leashed power and coiled tension. He has quite a bit of secrets, and the most important is revealed very, very slowly. I had an inkling about this one thing, and while I wasn't quite right, I liked the foreshadowing and seeds the author planted throughout the book, to make you think one thing or the other. Okami is an intelligent, intuitive, calculating, noble warrior who has been running from a certain decision. Okami's character growth is subtle, but it becomes a very real thing towards the end of this book.

Other secondary characters were so interesting to follow! Kenshin, Mariko's brother, plays a bigger role in the book as the ending creeps closer. Kenshin is honor-bound and duty-bound and he will stop at nothing to get his sister back. And then there are the members of the Black Clan - Yoshi, the jolly but deadly cook; Ren, the rude boy who is not as bad as he initially seems; Ranmaru, the leader of the Black Clan who has just as many secrets as Okami. I love how Ahdieh shapes all of her characters (primary or secondary) to be so unique and interesting, even when some are a little crazy.

I like that this book is written in third-person - the author does so well, writing in third person. We get Mariko's POV mostly, but occasionally we read Kenshin's, Okami's, and Ranmaru's. I wish there had been a few more Okami scenes, but oh well!

I found this book to be incredibly different from The Wrath & The Dawn/The Rose & The Dagger, in terms of the romance. You know how that duology had a sort-of (but not really) love triangle, in which Khalid and Shahrzad clearly love each other and only each other, but then there is the pesky and annoying fly that is Tariq, who has been in love with Shahrzad since childhood? Well, I am happy to tell you all that Flame in the Mist does not have any love triangle. No childhood friend-turned-love-interest. Not even the emperor's second son, who is Mariko's betrothed, is a love interest (we don't really see much of him). It's all Okami and Mariko! This book in general was not nearly as swoony romantic as Ahdieh's previous two books - especially with Okami not knowing that Mariko is a girl, for most of the story. But when he finds out, it all makes sense to him, why "the boy" is so odd and makes him feel uncomfortable and something. Okami and Mariko are fire together! I loved their interactions, when Mariko was "the boy" and especially when she wasn't. Again, this book isn't as romance-heavy as Ahdieh's previous books, but the romance is there and it is swoony. And love-triangle-free! Swooooon!

I was worried that I would have issues with the pacing of the book, because rich fantasy novels are often pretty slow, in the beginning. But no, this book starts off very quickly and takes off. I like that the author didn't waste any time starting the story - the first scene (besides the "prologue" scene) is Mariko's procession getting ambushed. Talk about an entrance! I was never bored while reading this book - if anything, I was highly entertained and really enjoyed myself!

You all must know the direction of this story, even by reading the synopsis of the book alone. Mariko cannot hurt the Black Clan members, which she decides towards the end of the book. But her brother can, and so can the emperor's second son. The emperor himself has a plan set in motion, as does his Royal Consort... as does his wife the Empress. Everyone has an agenda, even Ranmaru and Okami. The ending of this book is nonstop action and intensity, and the story does end in a sort-of cliffhanger. It's not a painful cliffhanger, but it will leave you wanting the next book immediately. 

What I Did Not Like:

There was nothing terrible about this book - for me. You'll come across some three-star reviews on Goodreads; I've read some of them and I think they're fair, and everyone is going to have their own experience with this book. If I'm being honest, I read those reviews before reading this book, and they deterred me a little from starting the book sooner. But I ended up loving the book. I didn't find Mariko annoying, I didn't really care to question her decisions (I would have done the same in many instances), and I didn't find the story slow or boring.

I would have loved more kissing, and more scenes from Okami's POV. He is so smart and shrewd, and reading in his POV was always incredibly intriguing. So there.

Would I Recommend It:

I loved this book and I recommend it to fellow fantasy lovers, anyone who thinks they might enjoy a story set in Feudal Japan, anyone who loves heroines who don't like to be pushed around by men, anyone who loves smart girls and clever boys, anyone who wants to be left in a state of constant hunger while reading the book (seriously, the food references. Gaaaahhhh). This is a huge publication in YA this year, and so there will be a lot of excited people and a lot of "meh I don't care for the hype" kind of people. I think that, no matter which type you are, you should read this book!


4.5 stars -> rounded down to 4 stars. I don't know that I can give this book five stars but hey, I might change my rating, depending on how much I like book two (I know, that is weird). I loved this book and I am looking forward to reading the sequel. I'm a little nervous about the sequel, but I have no doubt that Ahdieh can (and hopefully will) deliver a fair and mostly happy ending to the story. 

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