Saturday, June 24, 2017

Stacking the Shelves (#235)


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, June 18th to Saturday, June 24th?


(all links to Goodreads are provided!)


In the mail:



This is a cool surprise from Abrams - thank you!



YAY! I had no idea this was coming and I was pleasantly surprised! Thank you very much, PRH!


A bunch of swag, including a What to Say Next sampler, The Forgetting notebook, Warcross sampler, The Forbidden Wish bookmark, and more!

This is actually two trades from the same person - thank you so much, Katie! She is awesome!


A bunch of buttons

Have I ever mentioned how amazing Jenefer is? Because she is totally amazing. Thank you for another great trade, lady!


Pique Beyond and Eleanor & Park buttons

Thank you, Carrie! More To All the Boys swag for me! Thank you for the trade, Carrie!


Hmmm, I think that's all. No ebooks this week, which is probably a good thing. In other news, this week was my first week at my new job! These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity - from graduation to vacation to first day of work. It has been so fun and I'm ready to see where this new path takes me. Things have a way of working out! (Trust me, I'm an engineer. 😉 I can officially say that now!)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: Returned by Kimberley Griffiths Little


Returned by Kimberley Griffiths Little
Book Three of the Forbidden series
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: Copy won from a giveaway

Summary (from Goodreads):

After tragedy strikes on the day they were to wed, Jayden must support Kadesh as he ascends the throne and becomes king of Sariba. But with the dark priestess Aliyah conspiring to control the crown, and the arrival of Horeb, Jayden’s former betrothed, Kadesh’s kingdom, as well as his status as king, is at stake. 

Jayden knows that the time to be merciful has come and gone, and that some enemies can only be halted by death. Now she and Kadesh must prepare to fight not only for their love, but also for their kingdom.

What I Liked:

You don't come across too many YA books set during Mesopotamia, 1759 BC - or set during any biblical times (or thereabout), really. Forbidden (book one) stood out to me back in 2014 because of the setting. I love historical fiction, but I'd never read a YA series set in this time period and location. I loved Forbidden and Banished, and the author did the series justice with Returned.

Banished ended with Kadesh and Jayden's marriage ceremonies being interrupted, and their marriage contract being stolen. Kadesh is the King of Sariba, and he must strike quickly in order to stop Horeb from stealing his lands and his bride. Meanwhile, the High Priestess Aliyah has stolen something that Jayden wants back, and Aliyah is demanding power and the crown - and she wants Kadesh. A war on all fronts will put Sariba - and Kadesh and Jayden - to the test.

I'll try to be as vague as possible with this review, as this is a conclusion novel. However, you may see light spoilers from Forbidden and Banished. This is a worthy conclusion novel, and it wraps up the series very well. There is a HEA!

This book had more action than the other two (or so it seemed to me), which I loved. It was a lot of high-stakes action so I was constantly on the edge of my seat or biting my nails. Either Jayden was in danger, or Kadesh, or both of them separately, and there was a lot of other important things going on. Jayden kept going on dangerous excursions that drove Kadesh crazy, but I like that he never tried to stop her. Jayden's efforts definitely paid off. 

I adore Jayden - she has grown so much throughout the series. This book really shows her determination and her strength. She stands up for herself as a woman, but also as the (future) queen of Sariba. She hasn't married Kadesh yet so she isn't technically queen yet, but she holds herself like a queen and she also fights alongside her people and Kadesh. Jayden is still sweet and compassionate, but she has become a more assertive, brave woman with a stubborn streak.

Kadesh, on the other hand, has a soft, understanding heart hidden behind a will of iron. He is a capable king and leader, despite all of the obstacles that lay before him and behind him. He thinks of his people and minimizing the effects of the war, and puts himself in last. He is a good strategist and a good man. He's much more than a love interest, as his role as king and commander of his armies is possibly the most important in this book, and in this series. This series may be told in Jayden's first-person POV, but Kadesh is equally as important as Jayden, throughout the series.

As a pair, I love Kadesh and Jayden. This book doesn't focus on the romance but it is always obvious, how much they love each other. It is little things that make their love obvious. Their bond has grown so much strong over the trilogy, despite all impediments. The romance is barely there (i.e. there isn't a ton of on-page chemistry and I-love-yous and kisses), but it is an important part of the story.

This book is action-packed and has a fast pace, so I was never bored. I almost read this book in one sitting, but unfortunately I had to go to bed to get up for work the next morning (aw man!). Given the chance, I would have read this book in one sitting. It's extremely engrossing, especially since the author piles the stakes higher and higher, from the beginning, on top of everything from the previous two books. Very good storytelling by the author!

Speaking of action-packed, the body count is incredible in this book! So many deaths, both in terms of the war, and in terms of characters important to the plot. Some really key people died and I was shocked! All I will say is that Kadesh and Jayden get their happy ending - everyone else is fair game. 

You already know how much I love the setting. There aren't a ton of YA books set in ancient or biblical times, which is a shame. The author did a beautiful job with the world-building and the imagery and the setting. I thought she did her research well and made the culture and customs come to life. I know the author traveled extensively in the Middle East, and to me, it showed.

Overall, this was a wonderful conclusion to the series. I've found that I struggle with YA trilogies for various reasons, and one of the reasons is the quality of the conclusion novel. More often than not, I don't like the conclusion novel. But this conclusion novel was excellent, and well worth the wait (the series in general, too). 

What I Did Not Like:

The only thing I really wanted to see more of was (you guessed it) the romance. I really wanted to see more kisses, more adorable scenes, more sensual scenes, you get the idea. I had a tough time finding a swoony scene that was more than one sentence long, for my weekly Swoon Thursday post. Maybe I wanted the romance to be more present - that would have been nice!

Would I Recommend It:

I recommend this series to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. And desert fantasies, though this isn't really a fantasy novel. It is a desert-set fiction novel, which I loved. It is a YA novel but it is a great crossover novel (and series), for adults who like historical fiction (note the difference between historical fiction and historical romance though). If you read Forbidden, or Forbidden and Banished, keep going! This conclusion novel might be the best of the series (it's hard for me to pick a favorite!). 

Rating:

4 stars. I've really enjoyed this trilogy and I'm sad to be finished with it! But I'm also really happy with how everything played out, and with Kadesh and Jayden's happily-ever-after. I would love to read whatever YA fiction the author has planned (hopefully something)! If it is anything as intriguing and imaginative as this series, then I'm ready!


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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Swoon Thursday (#230): Returned by Kimberley Griffiths Little


- 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 Returned by Kimberley Griffiths Little!


He bent down to bring his lips to mine, and my eyes burned with unshed tears at his gentleness. I closed my eyes, dreaming of the first time he kissed me at the hearth fire of my father's tent. The scent of wood smoke circling the stars. His rich exotic cloak enveloping me, melding me to him as though we had become one person, one heart. 

- Finished copy, page 235


Forbidden review | Banished review


Sometimes I'm terrible at keeping up with post-published books - I'm now getting around to reading this one! It's even more action-packed than the previous books. It was a little difficult to find a swoony scene without spoiling anything, but I love this one, especially for Jayden's reminiscing. I can't believe this series is over!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Excerpt Reveal: Prom Queen by Katee Robert


Happy Wednesday! Are you all ready to read a brand new excerpt of Prom Queen by Katee Robert? This delicious book publishes on this coming Tuesday. Don't miss it!


About the Book:


Prom Queen by Katee Robert
Book Three of the Bad Boy Homecoming series
Publication Date: June 27, 2017

Official Summary:

A high school reunion is about to get down and dirty and a whole lot more complicated in this new erotic romance from NYT Bestselling Author Katee Robert.

Jake Davis had it all in high school—a scholarship to his college of choice, a promising football career, and the gorgeous prom queen for a girlfriend. And then he lost it all when he was injured right after graduation. Ten years later, he’s mostly made his peace with that, and now runs a company that provides women with dates for special events. Imagine his surprise when he discovers that the ex who left him in the dust needs a fake boyfriend for their high school reunion…

Jessica Jackson used to be the mean girl to end all mean girls. But life didn’t turn out like she’d thought it would, and now she’s twenty-eight, single, and works as an insurance agent to A-listers instead of being the A-lister like she’d always dreamed. She can’t go back to her home town and admit just how thoroughly she’s failed, so she lets her friends set her up with a fake date for the reunion.

The second Jessica realizes that her fake date is Jake, she tries to call the whole thing off. The problem is the chemistry between them is even hotter now than it was when they were teenagers. Against her better judgment she lets herself get drawn into Jake’s arms again—and into his bed. But time doesn’t heal all wounds—sometimes, it actually makes them worse—and if Jessica and Jake can’t learn to forgive each other, their second chance might not last the weekend.



Check out the series:



About the Author:


New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Katee Robert learned to tell her stories at her grandpa’s knee. Her 2015 title, The Marriage Contract, was a RITA finalist, and RT Book Reviews named it 'a compulsively readable book with just the right amount of suspense and tension."  When not writing sexy contemporary and romantic suspense, she spends her time playing imaginary games with her children, driving her husband batty with what-if questions, and planning for the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


The Excerpt:

It took less time than she would have expected to give a short medical history, and then they were being led back to a dimly lit room with two massage beds sitting side by side and soft music playing in the background. After getting assurances that they didn’t have preferences about the gender of their masseuse, the woman—Sarah—left, closing the door softly behind her.

It was only then that Jessica realized the problem. “I’m not stripping in front of you.”

Jake shot her a look. “I’ve seen every inch of you.”

“It’s different when we’re having sex.” He had been so distracted by the whole having sex thing, he hadn’t been likely to look at her imperfections. They might have been few when she was a teenager, but they were legion now. Five years ago, she’d given up on perfection. Being skinny and perfectly put together every second of every day hadn’t saved her from being fired. It hadn’t stopped her jerk boyfriend from dumping her at dinner in front of an entire crowd of people. And it hadn’t made a damn bit of difference when she couldn’t make rent and was evicted.

So she stopped it a little bit at a time. Going brunette was the hardest—and biggest step—but after that it was as if she’d flipped a switch in her head. She’d leave the house without makeup, or eat a second slice of pizza.

Despite her mama’s dire warnings, the world didn’t end.

She still worked out, but she did it because it made her happy and decreased her stress, not because she wanted to be a size four. And she ate now—mostly healthy, sure, but she’d stopped denying herself little indulgences. Between those two things and the fact she was staring thirty in the face, her body was a lot softer than it used to be. Her stomach was soft instead of taut, and…

What am I doing?

Sometime in the last five seconds, her internal voice had turned into her mama’s. She pressed her hands to either side of her head. Stop it right this instant. Jessica straightened and dropped her arms. Jake looked like he was going to ask her what the hell was going on, but she didn’t give him the chance.

She yanked her zipper down nearly hard enough to rip the fabric. It wasn’t a smooth move to shimmy out of the dress, but she managed. She didn’t meet his gaze as she dipped her thumbs into her Spanx, silently daring him to say a single freaking word.

And then she was naked and there was nowhere left to look.

Jake stared at her body like he was in a desert and had just set eyes on an oasis. He took a step toward her, but she moved to put the table between them. “Massage.”

“Screw the massage.”

A knock on the door interrupted them.

“Just a minute,” Jake’s voice was so rough, his words were nearly indecipherable.
Warmth flowed through her at the realization that she was causing this reaction. She wasn’t nearly as aloof as she wanted to be, because she stared as he pulled his shirt over his head and stripped out of his jeans.

Jake was…

Jake was magnificent.

He’d always had a great body, but the body she’d known so well was the body of a boy. This Jake was a man, through and through. His muscles roped along his frame, no tan lines to be seen. The only break in the color were the scars on his shoulder and arm. A smattering of dark hair created a triangle designed to draw her gaze south, ever south, to where his cock was standing at attention. She pressed her thighs together, but there was no hiding her reaction any more than he could hide his. Her breasts felt larger and her nipples pebbled under his gaze. “Jake—”

“Massage.” He pointed at her table and then waited for her to obey before he carefully laid face down on the other. “This was the worst fucking idea I’ve ever had.”

Jessica was inclined to agree. All of her earlier pep talks about keeping her hands off him went up in smoke. They should have just rented a hotel room far enough out of town that no one would care that they didn’t stay the night. They could have lost themselves in each other’s bodies for hours.

Copyright © 2017 Katee Robert



Waiting on Wednesday (#234): Say You'll Remember Me by Katie McGarry


"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:


Say You'll Remember Me by Katie McGarry
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
Publication Date: January 30, 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

When Drix was convicted of a crime--one he didn't commit--he thought his life was over. But opportunity came with the new Second Chance Program, the governor's newest pet project to get delinquents off the streets, rehabilitated and back into society. Drix knows this is his chance to get his life back on track, even if it means being paraded in front of reporters for a while.

Elle knows she lives a life of privilege. As the governor's daughter, she can open doors with her name alone. But the expectations and pressure to be someone she isn't may be too much to handle. She wants to follow her own path, whatever that means.

When Drix and Elle meet, their connection is immediate, but so are their problems. Drix is not the type of boy Elle's parents have in mind for her, and Elle is not the kind of girl who can understand Drix's messy life.

But sometimes love can breach all barriers.

Fighting against a society that can't imagine them together, Drix and Elle must push themselves--Drix to confront the truth of the robbery, and Elle to assert her independence--and each other to finally get what they deserve.



I've read many of McGarry's previous books and enjoyed them. I can't wait to read something new!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Blog Tour: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

Hello everyone! Today I'm sharing an interview with the lovely Julie Buxbaum, as part of the blog tour for What To Say Next. This book is Buxbaum's second YA contemporary novel and it is such a wonderful story. Don't miss it, publishing on July 11th!



Meet Julie Buxbaum!

Alyssa: Hi and welcome to The Eater of Books! So glad you could join me today to celebrate What to Say Next. =) What was the inspiration (or inspirations) behind this book?

Julie: I loved the idea of writing a story about two people who had pre-conceived notions about who the other was, and then connecting and surprising each other. I started with David’s voice. And then Kit popped into my head. It was a lot of fun to sit back and watch them interact.

Alyssa: How was writing What to Say Next different compared to writing Tell Me Three Things?

Julie: What To Say Next required way more research than Tell Me Three Things. I knew that if I was going to represent someone on the spectrum, I needed to make sure I did so respectfully and responsibly. 

Alyssa: I personally think you did just that. =) I know the publishing house has complete control over covers and designs. Do you know what went into the decision to change the color of the cover of What to Say Next? What are your thoughts on the covers (old and new)?

Julie: I much prefer the new cover. The purple on the ARC, while pretty, felt a little too muted to me. With book covers sometimes it’s not about what looks best, but what will pop on a table full of other books. I was worried that the original cover wasn’t loud enough. The final is bright—I love that blue—and the font is cleaner. 

Alyssa: How about the evolution of the title—were you calling the book something else at any point?

Julie: This book has had a million different titles! My personal favorite, that everyone else uniformly hated, was Instructions for Dancing, which was taken from the Magnetic Fields’ song The Book of Love. Still, I think What to Say Next ultimately really suits and fits the book.

Alyssa: LOL! Agreed! What’s another 2017 YA contemporary that you’ve really enjoyed and would recommend for fans of your YA books?

Julie: I really enjoyed When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon!

Alyssa: I loved that book so much. :D What is one message that you’d love young readers to take away from What to Say Next?

Julie: This is essentially a story about two people finding the person they need the most in the place they least expect to find it. I’d love for young readers to realize how important it is to look beyond first impressions and judgments.

Alyssa: Can you tell us anything about any new YA projects you’re working on?

Julie: AHHH! I’m on deadline for a revision for my next book, which will hopefully come out Spring 2018. All I can say at this point is that it’s another YA standalone. 

Alyssa: Thank you so much, Julie! Congratulations on the publication of What to Say Next. =)

Julie: Thank you so much!!!!


About the Author:

Julie Buxbaum is the New York Times best selling author of Tell Me Three Things, her young adult debut, and the critically acclaimed novels The Opposite of Love and After You.  Her work has been translated into twenty-five languages. Julie’s writing has appeared in various publications, including The New York Times. She is a former lawyer and graduate of Harvard Law School and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two young children, and an immortal goldfish. Visit Julie online at www.juliebuxbaum.com and follow @juliebux on Twitter.



About the Book:


What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: July 11, 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.

KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.

DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her. 

When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?



Check out Tell Me Three Things:

(Click on the cover for more information!)

Promo and Excerpt: Too Close to Call by Tessa Bailey


Hi friends! Obviously it is no longer the release day for Too Close to Call by Tessa Bailey - the book has been published for exactly one week! I was on vacation when this particular promotional type of post was to be published, so I'm posting about the book now. It was a rare five-star read for me. You can read my review for Too Close to Call HERE, and my reviews of all of the Romancing the Clarksons books HERE!


About the Book:


Too Close to Call by Tessa Bailey
Book 3.5 of the Romancing the Clarksons series
Publisher: Evil Eye Concepts
Publication Date: June 13, 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

All-American wide receiver Kyler Tate’s life is about to change. A fairytale college career skyrocketed him to the NFL draft. Adoration and opportunity are thrown in his direction wherever he goes, thanks to being chosen in the first round by the Los Angeles Rage. 

None of the accolades mean anything, though, without his high school sweetheart, Bree Sutton, by his side. Four years ago, she walked away from Kyler, choosing a quiet life over the flash and notoriety his career would someday bring. 


Now he’s back in their Indiana hometown, refusing to leave for Los Angeles without her. Demanding she give their life together a shot. Her heart never stopped bleeding for the love of her life, but Bree’s decision was final. Too bad their wild attraction has only been amplified by their separation, and Kyler won’t quit until Bree is wearing his ring.


1,001 Dark Nights | Goodreads | Amazon


About the Author:


Tessa Bailey is originally from Carlsbad, California. The day after high school graduation, she packed her yearbook, ripped jeans and laptop, driving 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 of eight years and four-year-old daughter. Although she is severely sleep-deprived, she is incredibly happy to be living her dream of writing about people falling in love.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter


The Trailer:




The Excerpt:

Draft Day was nothing like Kyler had pictured.

“With the ninth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Rage select...” Kyler Tate’s parents sucked in breaths on either side of him. “Kyler Tate, receiver, University of Cincinnati.”

The tense atmosphere inside the event hall exploded with wild cheers, exclamations, and boos. His shoulders were slapped by thousands of hands, kisses landing on his cheeks. Like falling out of a kayak into a rushing current, bashing into rocks on the way toward a waterfall, Kyler stood, put his head down, and proceeded toward the stage. Cell phones rang at every table he passed, terse conversations taking place as the deadline timer for the next announcement started. Players he’d faced on the gridiron sweated in their suits, mothers fussed, water glasses were refilled.

This was it. Years of training, icing down injuries, two-a-day practices, glory, pain, and mental fatigue. All for this moment.

And it was...utterly fucking incomplete.

Before he could reach the stage, panic set in. Set in real good, like claws digging into fertile ground. A moment earlier, everyone in the room had looked familiar, but they were strangers now, spinning in a kaleidoscope. Sweat popped up on his forehead. His shoulder blades tightened, a harsh sound puffed from between his lips. From behind the podium, the announcer gave him a strange look, the Rage jersey lowering in his grip. Are you okay?

The man’s mouthed words barely penetrated over the sudden rushing stream of images. Of her. Bree Justice.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White


Now I Rise by Kiersten White
Book Two of the Conqueror's Saga
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Rating: 3 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.

What I Liked:

I feel similarly to the way I felt about And I Darken, which is good and bad. I gave And I Darken 3.5 stars, and ended up rounding up to 4 stars. I'm rounding down this time because I don't necessarily feel more positively about Now I Rise compared to how I felt about And I Darken. While I like these books, I don't really love them, and there are some things about them that I personally didn't enjoy. Factor in my mood - I have been putting off this book for months. Overall though, it's a decent sequel and it has me looking forward to reading the third book in the series. 

As with And I Darken, this book is written in third-person alternating POVs, switching from Radu to Lada for each chapter. Lada has left Mehmed - and Radu - and is determined to get back Wallachia, even if she is on her own. She has a company of loyal men who follow her, but she needs more support. She refuses to go crawling back to Mehmed. Meanwhile, Radu still serves Mehmed with stars in his eyes. He still holds onto the hope that Mehmed will love him as deeply as Radu loves Mehmed. But Mehmed's ambition comes between Mehmed and everything/everyone. His desire for Constantinople is more important, and he sends Radu to Constantinople to spy. The Ottomans are stronger and more numerous, and Radu is sure that the city will fall. But after months in the city, does he want the city to fall? Is he still unflinchingly loyal to Mehmed? He always wanted to be the Dracul sibling that Mehmed chose, but Mehmed has his own agenda, and it doesn't seem to involve Radu. Lada, on the other hand, is only looking to regain Wallachia, and does not care to involve herself in Mehmed's war. But even Wallachia is not safe, and not just from Mehmed.

This book is quite long and dense and it feels like nothing is happening at times, but then it feels like everything is happening all at once. I much preferred Lada's plot, because it was more interesting and action-packed. Every chapter from Radu's POV was a little more boring and mopey. (I'll get to that in the next section.)

I liked Lada more in this book. I liked her in the previous book but I feel like I connected with her more in this sequel. She is no less ferocious and brutal, but I liked seeing small bits of vulnerability - her loneliness, her missing Radu, her sexual desires, her desperation for Wallachia. Somehow, Lada seems more human in this book, even if she is more murder-happy in the book. If that makes sense?

Radu seems more mature and battle-hardened in this book, and less of a whining crybaby. Don't get me wrong, he still mopes about how Mehmed doesn't love him - he mopes a lot - but it seems more internalized and he doesn't seem as much a crybaby to me. I still don't like him very much but I appreciated his character development. Radu makes a lot of decisions in this book, and not all support Mehmed. He has a lot to think about, in terms of his feelings for Mehmed, and how far he'll go to support Mehmed.

The overall plot of this book is focused on Mehmed's campaign for Constantinople. Even Lada is somewhat caught in the battle, indirectly. She is fighting for Wallachia, and without Mehmed's proposed help. Meanwhile, Radu is torn between helping defeat Constantinople (helping Mehmed) or helping defend Constantinople (something he feels is right). To me, Radu's plot drags, but Lada's is exciting. And sometimes terrifying - Lada does not joke around when it comes to her quest to regain Wallachia. 

It is very clear that the author has done her research for this series. She is sticking fairly close to the actual history of Vlad the Impaler and the Ottoman Empire, which is cool. Of course, some things are clearly fictional, but the author has recreated the story impressively.

In general, this sequel was pretty good. Maybe it's my mood but I just didn't love it. See some of my reasons in the next section!

What I Did Not Like:

Probably the biggest thing that took away from my enjoyment of the book was the fact that I was so bored at times. Sometimes I'd be totally caught up in the story. Other times I'd be incredibly bored and inclined to start skimming. Especially during the chapters of Radu's POV. His plot was must slower, more contemplative. 

Radu... I didn't really care for him, even if I didn't dislike him as much as I did in the first book. 99% of his thoughts involve Mehmed, and most of those thoughts are about his love for and devotion to Mehmed, and how he would do anything for him. He sort of knows that this isn't reciprocated, but he holds onto hope. He thinks there is a chance that Mehmed doesn't know that he (Radu) is in love with him (Mehmed) - poor boy. Radu is so lovesick and blind in this book. I wasn't a huge fan of all of this melodrama. While I understand why the author is writing in Radu's POV every other chapter, I don't love it and I think the story could stand well without it.

In general, I didn't really like the romance. It's still triangular in a sense. Lada cares deeply for Mehmed, and I believe it is returned. Radu is obsessed with Mehmed and loves him. Mehmed has a harem full of women, at least one wife, and children. I personally think Mehmed loves no one and uses everyone. I don't like Mehmed but I think that's the point. Still, I dislike how everything seems to revolve around Mehmed. He is such a snake.

White is sticking pretty close to the actual history of Vlad the Impaler and the Ottoman Empire and Constantinople. This is a great thing - but also, it makes me wary, because things don't end well for everyone, in the original history. That's all I'm going to say on that.

Like I said, the biggest thing was the occasional bouts of boredom - and the length of the book didn't help matters. The beginning of the book really dragged (in terms of both POVs, not just Radu's).

Would I Recommend It:

I do recommend this sequel, if you read And I Darken. It's a good sequel! Some of my complaints could be because of my current mood - I've been avoiding this book for a while though. Give this book a chance if you read book one, whether you liked book one or not. I will say though, if you haven't started the series, hold off until the final book is published (I think this is a trilogy?), and then check it out. I'm a little scared for the ending of this series! This series is perfect for fans of historical fiction and strong, kickbutt heroines. 

Rating:

3.5 stars -> rounded down to 3 stars. I am hoping that the next book will be the best of the series. I like the books but I don't love them. I can't wait to read book three though - and to see its cover!


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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review: Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios


Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it's too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she's unable to escape. 

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

What I Liked:

Ignore my rating a little - it's so difficult to rate books like these, because they are so powerful and intense and meaningful. Tough-issue contemporary novels are difficult books to write, difficult books to read, difficult books to rate. That doesn't mean they can't be "bad" and you can't dislike them. In this book's case, it was wonderfully written and so, so heartbreaking, and I can't help but be in awe of the author for writing such a tragic, intense, and hopeful story. This is an excellent contemporary story dealing with an abusive relationship and negligence and cruelty of parents. I usually avoid tough-issue contemporary novels, but I loved this book and I'm so glad I told myself to try it.

The story starts with Grace telling the story from the beginning. She has a horrible home life - her mother and stepfather treat her like a slave, and she constantly has to give up social plans and homework time to do excessive chores and babysit her half-brother. She loves being in school, especially drama/theater class. especially since Gavin Davis is in the class. Gavin's girlfriend breaks up with him, and soon after, he and Grace start to hang out more. Grace has had a crush on him for forever, and she is thrilled with his attention. They fall in love hard and fast, and become inseparable. Even after he graduates from high school (he was a senior and she was a junior), they remain committed, as he goes to a state school nearby. But even from the start, little things start to happen that alarm Grace a little more each time. It takes Grace a year to realize that the relationship is a prison, and she'll need to escape before she, or someone else, gets hurt.

There are two big "issues" in this book - the abusive relationship, of course, and parents' treatment of Grace. I'll comment on the latter. Grace's mother is awful - she has OCD, and she makes Grace clean the house over and over. Grace is late to work, to school, to the SATs, but it doesn't matter to her mother, because all her mother seems to focus on is a tiny smudge, or whether the doors are locked, or if the curling iron was unplugged. Grace's mother is a terrible person, even without the OCD that constantly ruins Grace's life. Grace's stepfather (nicknamed the Giant, by Grace) is even worse. He is verbally abusive to Grace's mother. He starts making Grace pay weekly rent. He threatens to kick her out, and yells when she doesn't do her slave work. 

Honestly, reading about this type of home life really makes me appreciate how good my home life was when I was seventeen years old (five years ago! Wow!). Even now, too. I don't have a stepparent (thank goodness. I know many stepparents are wonderful people, and many biological parents are awful, but I'm so grateful for MY parents, for the type of people they are), and I have no idea what I would do if either of my parents got remarried (if they were divorced). It's a situation that a child can't control - and this is so evident, in Grace's case. The Giant is a disgustingly cruel human being. He is verbally abusive (not sexually or physically abusive, thank goodness for that), and he is the type of person that deserves a very bad and lonely life in prison. 

Same goes for Grace's mother. And Gavin.

Don't get me wrong, as much as I hated Grace's mother and stepfather, I loved how well Demetrios wrote their characters. My heart broke for Grace every time she interacted with either of them. Demetrious did such a good job of breaking down Grace's home life. It's awful and no child or adult should ever have to live like that. 

And then there is the other side of the "tough issues" of this book - the relationship between Gavin and Grace. Gavin isn't an obvious psychotic person - he seems like a hot, charming rocker type who is in a band and also in theater. He's a smooth talker and knows how to manipulate just about anyone - Grace included. You wouldn't know that Gavin is a verbally abusive and manipulative boyfriend, if you weren't his girlfriend. 

The jealousy, the possessiveness, the cutting remarks and occasional name-calling, the emotional manipulation - it was heartbreaking and so saddening to read. None of these things were obvious to Grace for much of the book. And even when she started to realize that there was something not right about their relationship, she kept forgiving him, or getting manipulated by him and getting sucked back in. This was so well-written by Demetrios. I wanted to scream at Grace every time she went back to Gavin - but at the same time, I totally understood. You know what I mean?

Demetrios nailed the progression of the bad romance, Gavin's instability, Grace's indecision. This story was so well-paced and well-written, as heartbreaking and intense as it was. I couldn't stop reading even as I wanted to break down and cry for Grace. Grace is so many girls and women in the world today, you know? 

The romance is "bad" (obviously) - a harmful type of romance. But Demetrios builds it in such a way that at first, you'll swoon and fall in love too. If there is one that Demetrios always does well, in all of her books, it is a swoony romance. In this case, it's a swoony romance gone wrong. You're probably thinking, "ew Alyssa, why would you say that the romance is swoony?" But that's just it - just like Grace, you'd never know that Gavin is abusive. You'd think that these two are the cutest couple. 

I have to say, I a d o r e d the friendship between Grace and her best friends Natalie and Alyssa (yay, fellow Alyssa!). Natalie and Alyssa are so solid, supportive, kickbutt, and awesome. There is no girl drama or catfighting in this book, as many YA books often feature (pitting friends against each other in some way). The girls support Grace even as they warn her away from Gavin and tell her how they feel about him and how he treats Grace. The powerful female friendship in this book makes this book even stronger. I loved seeing this healthy relationship between the three girls, especially given how broken Grace's relationships with so many others were.

You may be wondering, is there another romance in this book? A healthier one? Does Grace find true love with someone else? I'll let you find out when you read the book. This book focuses on Grace and Gavin's romance, and I'll leave it at that. 

The ending is very, very uplifting. I was so glad to see Grace stand up with two feet on the ground, and move forward, and never look back. There is a HEA in this book, though the story doesn't lend itself to one. I was a huge fan of the ending. 

On a bit of a side note, I'm just going to say it - I loved that religion was a somewhat large part of this story. Natalie is Christian and devotedly so - honestly I feel like she is a carbon copy of me (dresses conservatively, doesn't curse, etc.). YA books tend to not include any mention of religion, which doesn't really bother me, but I liked seeing religion portrayed as a very positive aspect of Natalie's life. And I loved how respectful Grace was, and Alyssa too. 

Bad Romance is an intense and heartbreaking story, one that I wouldn't read under usual circumstances. I'm a huge fan of Heather Demetrios's books, so I knew I was going to try this one, even if it was out of my comfort zone. This book is one that makes you think, one that makes you appreciate what you have, one that makes you angry for the women who go through these situations.

What I Did Not Like:

I have no dislikes to state, but for anyone looking for trigger warnings: note that this book has verbal abuse, some physical abuse (by Grace's mom), a very manipulative relationship (Grace and Gavin), and a scene of non-consent between Grace and Gavin. 

Would I Recommend It:

I highly recommend this book to any girl, any woman, any reader, really. But especially to all the young women out there. Sometimes it's hard to get up and say no, and walk away. I'm sure many of us know a woman who struggled and maybe is still struggling in an abusive and manipulative relationship of some sort. This isn't my usual type of read as I tend to avoid YA contemporary, but I'm glad I read it. There are so many lessons to be learned from the book. The most important, to me, is to love yourself and stand up for yourself. 

Rating:

4.5 stars. This book was an excellent read. I don't know if I have the heart to reread it (hence the 4-star rating - 5 stars, to me, are reserved for new favorites that I want to reread over and over). But this book will have a place in my heart. I loved Demetrios's Dark Caravan Cycle series (Exquisite Captive, Blood Passage, Freedom's Slave), and I'm happy to say that I loved this book too.


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