Review: So Many Reasons Why (So Many Reasons #1) by Missy Johnson

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First, I’d like to thank Missy Johnson for gifting the book to me.  The central character of this story has been the victim of a brutal sexual assault at the age of 10.  Tragedy is an essential component of fiction; without it we’d be forced to read fluff chick lit all the time.  Yet it is a form of drama that is not always handled correctly.  Some authors delve too deep towards the depressing, a tactic that will lose readers fast.  But Missy Johnson avoided this path.  She’s not only a fluid writer but she makes it evident this story is about the protagonist’s healing process and road to recovery.

A Brief Synopsis

Twenty year old Emma is not your typical college student living in New York City.  She suffered a brutal attack at the tender age of 10 and bears not only permanent physical wounds but also psychological damage.  Her two best friends have created a support system for her, but it’s not enough to fight off her severe agoraphobia and the recurring nightmares from the incident.  When an email to her professor asking about an assignment turns into a flirtatious banter, Emma begins to forget that her attacker has been released on parole.  As the beautiful and hotly pursued professor Simon gets to know Emma, she wonders if he’s just the one to help her forget her past and finally move on.

Now Let’s Break It Down

I’ll admit I was uneasy reading this book in the beginning because of the subject matter.  I’m sure others feel this way too:  When I hear about rape incidents in the news, it disturbs me more than the stray murder here and there.  I never can comprehend why any one in their right mind would want to attack anyone — especially a young child — in this way.  But that’s just it.  They’re not in their right mind.  Usually they are a sociopath with a psychological disorder, like the protagonist’s attacker in this book.

I felt very immersed in this story from the beginning.  Missy Johnson painted a very realistic portrait of what it’s like to be a sexual assault victim tormented years after the incident.  Emma did not experience a typical assault; she was held captive for three long days, the reason she suffers from agoraphobia — an anxiety disorder in which the sufferer perceives their environment as one where they are unable to escape or get help.  For this reason she never leaves her apartment, a restriction that seriously impedes her college experience and life in general.

Emma undergoes a huge transformation in this book, and (without trying to give away any details) I was surprised by how brave she became near the end.  The book ends with a cliffhanger, but it’s not one of those ‘sudden’ ones that comes out of nowhere.  It  sets up for the sequel nicely.

One thing I thought was a bit strange was how fast the romance between Emma and Simon progressed.  I was expecting it to be more drawn out with Emma taking more time to get close to Simon, provided her traumatic experience.  I think the story would have been a bit stronger and more suspenseful if there were more tense, dramatic, frustrating moments between the two before they became obviously a couple.

Conclusion

This is a fantastic professor-student romance mixed with tragedy.  The story flowed almost seamlessly, excluding a handful of grammatical errors and some unusual slang. In the end it’s a beautiful story of hope and moving on from anguish towards contentment.

Order this book on Amazon.

My 5 Favorite Fiction Novels…So Far

This past week I got sidetracked from my book reviewing schedule.  For several weeks now, I had been simultaneously reading Wuthering Heights along with whatever book I was supposed to be reading for a review.  While I enjoy reading new authors’ books, I always like to be reading one of the classics.  TIME Magazine has a great list of the 100  Best Novels of All Time; there’s also a site called thegreatestbooks.org I reference when perusing for the next ‘essential’ book.

There’s no way I will get through all of TIME’s 100 novels in my lifetime, and I don’t mean to.  Wuthering Heights had always been on my British lit list of must-reads, and this past week the story pulled me in.  After finishing it last night, I became inspired to make a list of my 10 favorite books of all time.  Well, so far.  Keep in mind I’m 25 now, and if I’ve left out one of your favorites, it’s very possible I haven’t gotten to it yet!

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë6185

I can only say I can’t believe I hadn’t read this sooner.  I always believed Pride & Prejudice was the quintessential love story, and yes, I am very fond of Jane Austen.  Wuthering Heights however is about a love so maddening, so powerful, it’s stronger than death.  I do not comprehend the distasteful reviews of this book on Goodreads.  Yes, the character Heathcliff is at times unlikable but I’m assuming these readers didn’t really ‘get’ this story.

2.  A Secret History by Donna Tartt29044

This is a fascinating tale about a group of rich students at an New England college.  This elite group is not only unapproachable because of their over-priveleged snob status, but also because they are knowledgable worldly Greek scholars.  When a new student is invited into the group, he uncovers the real reason these five students tend to keep to themselves.  Ancient rituals, murder, and scandal ensues.

3.  The Razor’s Edge by William Somerset Maugham31196

The fact that The Razor’s Edge is number three here is irrelevant; this is still my all-time favorite story ever since I read it freshman year of high school.  I don’t know if it’s Maugham’s prose, or the enchanting characters, or the fact that setting himself in the story as the narrator, or if all three of these aspects of the novel together make it so endearing and uniquely diverting.  The Razor’s edge is an illustrious work of writing without needing to be action-packed; I think that’s why I love it so much.

4.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald4671

This is NOT on my list because the move is soon to be released (and I love the idea of Leo as Gatsby).  Typically, I am drawn to any book set in the 1920’s Jazz Age, because I think I would have loved to live in New York during that time.  And gone to one of Gatsby’s Long Island parties.  Fitgzerald is also one my favorites; This Side of Paradise, Franny & Zooey, etc.

5.  The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien34

I am a Tolkien-ite, and though I love everything he has written related to Lord of The Rings (even the Silmarillion, the Appendices) the first book in the trilogy is my favorite.  I’m not sure why — perhaps because it’s the beginning of Frodo’s journey, and the only book in which the Fellowship is unbroken.  Maybe I just want to live in the Shire.  (That’s probably true, but unrelated to my preference for this book over the other two).

If I had to make a top 10 list, these would be the other 5:

6.  Candide by Voltaire

7.  The Odyssey by Homer

8.  A Room with A View by E. M. Forster

9.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

10.  The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Are any of these your favorites?  What other books should I include on my must-read list?

Review: Seeing Red by Sidney Halston

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I couldn’t decide between three or four owl rating for this book, as you can see.  About 75% of the way through I was almost set on a four owl rating, but then the cliffhanger at the end threw me off a bit along with the words “Coming Soon — Book 2 of Seeing Red Series.”  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book.  It just didn’t expect this book to turn into a series, and I can’t conceive what the sequel would be about.  Still, this was without a doubt a page turner, filled with suspense, intrigue, and LOTS of sexual tension.

A Brief Synopsis:

Jillian Stone, Oliver and Alexander Jacobs are an unusual group of 22-year-olds.  They were raised on a deserted island under the guardianship of a woman named Helen.  After twelve years they’re rescued and go their separate ways, only to be reunited years later at the funeral of their beloved Helen.  A love triangle erupts between them.  Jillian struggles with the decision of which of the twins she should be with, all the while trying to comprehend her psychic abilities that resurfaced from her time living on the island.  At the same time, a mystery unravels through Helen’s old journals.  Jill begins to uncover why she ended up on the island in the first place and whether she’s in danger now back in the real world.

Now Let’s Break It Down

Despite its categorization under ‘paranormal romance’ on Amazon, I personally would define Seeing Red as a romance with a mystery twist.  Unlike most romance novels, there are two main story lines in this book:  a love triangle (and for a hot second a love square) plus an added level of mystery, distinguishing this book from your typical love story.  Each story line integrates a level of suspense into the novel.  The intense love triangle is one reason you want to keep reading — to find out who Jillian will choose.  The perpetual question going through my head was, is it going to be Oliver?  Alexander?  Halston sure knows how to build sexual tension well.  There are so many hot and cold moments between the characters, especially Jillian and Alexander.

There isn’t really one main character in this story, as it rotates between three points of view:  Jillian and the twins Oliver and Alexander.  Despite this, Jillian still feels like the protagonist as she is the target of every male character’s affections and the individual the mystery revolves around.  That said, I loved every character except for hers.  Especially next to her kind, generous, selfless, good-natured southern belle of a roommate Heather, Jillian comes across as very selfish woman.  She’s entirely too comfortable leading on three men at the same time, two of whom genuinely worship her.

This is when the love triangle starts to get on my nerves as much as it keeps me hooked.  At halfway through the book, Jill’s mind had gone back and forth between the guys so often she began to drive me mad.  Can anyone be more indecisive?  Or dissect a situation more?  Just pick a guy already and take everyone out of their misery!  But still I kept reading through Jill’s long-winded rants and rationalizations because in the end, she does pick a man.  The reader isn’t left hanging — in regards to the romantic story line.

My only other complaint aside from Jill’s frustrating character is how slow the book starts off.  The first few chapters feel more like a memoir simply because there’s a lot of telling over showing, a lot of listing “Then this, then that.”  This type of writing is almost unavoidable when catching the reader up on a character’s background, or to convey long periods of time passing.  Once the book gets going however, the pace picks up and the slow start is history.

Conclusion

I truly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a good romance and occasional mystery.  Sure there are a few typos and the writing isn’t too eloquent at times but that’s not why you would read this book anyway. If that’s the reading experience you seek, I suggest you pick up a Brontë novel.

Review: Curse of the Beast (Curse of the Beast #1) by Ashley Lavering

13479898I am not giving this book a rating.  That’s not because I didn’t think it deserved even One Owl, but because I only made it 40% through the book.  It didn’t seem fair to give the book a bad rating since I did not reach the halfway mark — so I’m simply giving it none.

I’m a bit shocked by the abundance of 5 star reviews for this YA fantasy fiction.  That goes to show you how subjective writing is.  Remember:  We book bloggers give our opinions based on past reading experience but it’s also a matter of personal taste.  My unenthusiasm towards this book is not a matter of writing ability — on the contrary, I believe the author to be very talented in that regard.  What didn’t appeal to me is the author’s modern spin on the classic  tale of Beauty and the Beast.  Which is kind of funny, because according to Goodreads  and Amazon that’s exactly what other readers liked — no, loved about the book.

I still enjoyed parts of the book.  In the beginning, our 17-year-old protagonist Tayla is dealing with more pressures than your average teen.  What with the responsibility of taking care of her cousins and mentally unstable aunt along with dealing with the stresses of moving every few months I could appreciate Tayla’s teenage angst.  When Kyle, the hot, popular guy at her new school is suddenly fawning over her, I think I’m happy for her, and she deserves the attention she never had.

Perhaps because I just came off of reading a handsomely executed werewolf fantasy fiction (My Wolf’s Bane)  I wasn’t into this author’s portrayal of the all-empowering, controlling alpha male Kyle.   But not only that, I couldn’t understand why almost the first half of the book consists of Tayla crying and running away from Kyle who I believed to be the ‘Beast.’  But no, suddenly she meets the real Beast through a wacky, drawn out exchange in the woods during which he shoots a magic lightening bolt into her stomach.  The description of the wolf-man alone baffled me — I couldn’t picture this Beast at all.  Is it a wolf?  Is it an exceptionally hairy man?   This first interaction between them was just so strange and I couldn’t get into the book after that. Even knowing full well the story of Beauty in the Beast, I didn’t know where the story was going nor did I care.

All that said, I give The Curse of the Beast a non-rating because I did not finish the story and you never know when a book might redeem itself later on.  Perhaps I missed out on a great rising conflict.  All the same, life is short  and I’m moving on to the next one.

Review: My Wolf’s Bane (Shapes of Autumn Book 1) by Veronica Blade

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You know that feeling of disappointment when you’ve finished reading a really exceptional book?  That’s what happened to me with My Wolf’s Bane.  I read this book in about 2 1/2 days, and that says a lot since I am a slow reader and usually read 2-3 books simultaneously.  Within the YA paranormal romance genre, this book excels.  For me (and for many other Goodreads reviewers) it’s one of the best, and I’ll tell you why.

For one thing, the characters in My Wolf’s Bane aren’t annoying but actually well-developed and different from one another.  One thing that kills my attention span is when all the characters in a novel start melding together as the same person, not one of them distinct from the next.  Autumn is the sarcastic, attractive high-school aged protagonist who at first is preparing to unceremoniously dump her popular douche-bag of a boyfriend, Daniel.  As Daniel begins harassing Autumn, she becomes increasingly more attracted to Zach — the mysterious hot new guy at school.

When a change appears in Daniel that causes both Zach and Autumn to believe he’s off his meds (or worse), eventually a feud breaks out between the two boys.  Zach is suddenly at Autumn’s side night and day as her protector.  Zach proves himself a complex character by giving Autumn the cold shoulder despite his obsession over her safety and her obvious interest in him.  Unable to read the feelings of this gorgeous boy who she’s coming to realize is anything but human, Autumn struggles internally with facing the reality that she has acquired her own supernatural abilities.

Enough plot synopsis.  It should already be apparent that along with formulating interesting characters, Veronica Blade can weave details together into a seamless and captivating storyline.  This is no easy feat.  I find often times when reading any sub genre of fiction, I subconsciously delete sentences or phrases in my head that are unnecessary.  Those works of writing needed more editing.  My Wolf’s Bane was not one of those works.  The story flowed and was without the awkward, extra wording that  slows a story down, making the reader all too aware of the writer’s inability to edit their own work.

In regards to plot — again, I loved it.  There is a ton of YA paranormal romance about werewolves.  It feels overdone, and I’m always wary of any fantasy fiction I pick up these days involving vampires, werewolves, or shifters.  But I enjoyed this book so much that I didn’t mind it.  Veronica Blade has described a human world in which werewolves exist that is actually believable.  This is how I imagine werewolves to act and exist among us humans, with a hierarchy similar to the packs in the HBO show Trueblood.

My only complaint about this book is the very last paragraph.  It’s a pet peeve of mine when the author ends a book in a way that is almost a sale pitch for the sequel.  I just don’t think it’s needed.  If the reader liked the book, as I did, they’re likely to read the sequel.  There’s no need to set up the next book with a series of questions like, “What’s going to happen with ____?” or “Will so and so character do _____?”  If you really want that to be the last thing your reader sees, then put it on the next page as an afterthought but don’t make it part of the book.  It gives the impression the author is trying too hard and with a book this good, there’s really no need.

On that note, I truly hope I’ve convinced people to read this excellent book.  You’ll find it hard to put down, I assure you.

Review: Coexist (Keegan’s Chronicles #1) by Julia Crane

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The purpose of my blog is to seek out books with little to no reviews (based on Amazon and Goodreads) and determine if they deserve more attention.  However I did not apply this logic when choosing to download Coexist (Keegan’s Chronicles #1) by Julia Crane.  The book — the first of three in the series, which also inspired a few spin-off series — had plenty of reviews already on both websites.  Most were four and five star, though there were a significant amount of one and two star reviews.  I was intrigued by the split opinion, and by the premise of elves living in modern times.  To top it off the ebook was free, so I thought I’d see what the fuss was about.

Young adult paranormal romance is one of the most written genres, which creates a struggle for authors to create a unique plot and carry a distinct voice.  Unfortunately, this book reminded me of many others in its category.  What bothered me more than this was the central character of this series.  Keegan is the teenage elf protagonist living in a nondescript American suburb with her elvish family, all creatures of the ‘light.’  Her father is the leader of the good ‘light’ elves; throughout the book, he and Keegan’s genius younger brother along with the rest of her relatives train and prepare for the fast approaching Great Battle between the light and dark elves.

But Keegan couldn’t care less about preparing for the war between good and evil.  She’s too busy shopping with her friends, buying clothes and having fun in general.  To put it bluntly, Keegan is a spoiled brat with no concern for anyone but herself.  Oh–maybe for her ‘chosen,’ the male elf who is destined to be her significant other from the age of eighteen when they meet for the rest of their lives.  When Keegan isn’t whining to her parents (who are, mind you, still busy preparing for the Great Battle) about getting a custom made SUV for her birthday or about how she absolutely cannot wait to meet her ‘chosen,’ she’s busy going to Starbucks and the mall with her friends, all things she ‘loves.’  Oh–she also ‘loves’ the feel of the wind on her face.  Just FYI.

Aside from the lead character, the one major flaw in the book was the scene where Keegan and Rourke, her chosen, meet for the first time.  As much as I find the protagonist annoying, the key moment when the chosen pair meet could have been way better.  For preceding chapters, everything is built up so that you expect this suspenseful, intense initial interaction.  Instead the meeting lasts for barely a page.  One minute Keegan and Rourke are complete strangers and the next they’re spinning around stupidly in a field, falling down and laughing.  It comes off corny instead of romantic.  They were irritating and I as the reader was disappointed.

Recall this review has two owls, not one.  Why is that?  Because I enjoyed Rourke’s character, as much as he reminds me of Edward Cullen from Twilight.  As Keegan’s chosen and the love interest, Rourke is a brave, honest, caring, protective elf warrior — basically he has the polar opposite personality of Keegan.  He lives by his morals, and he’s just all around the ideal love interest in this type of YA fantasy fiction.   As much as I like Rourke’s character, I was equally frustrated with his scenes because he constantly is preoccupied with protecting oblivious Keegan who doesn’t deserve to be with such a good person.

Another reason I gave this book two owls is the battle sequence.  I thought these last few chapters were the most captivating.  Without giving too much away, the dramatic events that ensue in these scenes set up the sequel nicely.  Not that I’m going to read the rest of the trilogy.   But for everyone else I’ll say this:  if you don’t think the protagonist’s shallow, bratty, somewhat obnoxious character traits would annoy you then perhaps you would enjoy this book.  I’ll let you decide.  For me,  I know if I dislike the central character of a book, chances are I’m not going to love it.

Review: The Temple by Heather Marie Adkins

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Heather Marie Adkins is a born story teller.  There’s no debating that with regards to this book.  A good balance of description, consistent action and likable characters all carry the story along agreeably.  That is, for most of the book.  What disappointments me most about reading a story is when it starts off so strongly and I’m loving every bit of it — but then something goes awry.  It gets weird.  For me, that’s what happened with The Temple.

First, I want to point out the strong points about this book.  The rising conflict is perfectly set up.  Vale Avari is a small town U.S.A. turned small town U.K. female protagonist who recently moved overseas for an unusual job — to help guard a temple dedicated to the goddess Cerridwen (worshipped by Wiccans today).  Vale has superhuman powers along with the other temple protectors, one of which she becomes romantically involved with.  The temple is protected at night from the ghost-filled gang of men and wild horses (picture the Headless Horseman).  The legend has haunted the town for centuries, and the residents blame it for the lost lives of several of its inhabitants.  While residents believe in this myth, our protagonist thinks a serial killer is in fact committing the murders and using this ‘Wild Hunt’ as a coverup.

I liked this premise.  I was into it.  Though it isn’t evident from the synopsis, the book was starting to feel like its own fun genre — a paranormal romance crime thriller.  But as the story moved on, I don’t think this premise was executed that well.  About 60% way through the book, to be specific.  At this point the two genres that were coelesced so well earlier on — crime thriller and paranormal romance — become separated.  The two concepts even get their own climaxes and resolutions.

I enjoyed the part I thought was the resolution, when I thought the ‘bad guy’ was caught.  And sometimes this works really well in literature and film — when you think the bad guy is gone, but then you realize they didn’t catch the right person because bad things are still happening.  The Temple did not succeed at the second-ending concept.  Mainly because the second climax/resolution is so bizarre, so suddenly very supernatural with a scene in the temple involving a living breathing goddess coming to life unexpectedly and solving the world’s problems.

Aside from the incongruous plot, my only other critique of this book is the neat, too-tidy of an ending.  I honestly believe the book would’ve been better without the bow-tie last chapter.  Nothing was learned about the characters at this point, and it didn’t move the plot along any further.  I don’t need to know how happy the characters are and how well they’re doing months after the conflict resolution.  The final chapter could have been left out entirely.

Don’t get me wrong — these things don’t ruin the book entirely.  There’s enough suspense with the consistent killings, the sketchy Temple employees, and the question of whether the ‘Wild Hunt’ is a hoax or not to keep you turning the pages.  My issues were with a) the last chapter and b) how the paranormal aspects of the story were not always weaved together well with the normal.  I like it to be apparent what genre book I’m reading.  I don’t think this book knows what genre it is.  If I had to categorize it, I’d have to say “crime thriller turned weird fantasy.”  If that sounds appealing to you, you may truly enjoy this book.  The seamless writing and suspense will certainly keep you entertained until the end.

Review: Prophecy of the Flame by Lynn Hardy

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The difficulty with deciding to purchase a self-published book is that you’re taking a gamble both with your money and your time (if the book was free.)  Life is short–you don’t want to spend hours reading a poorly written, dull story.  And if you, like me, have strict yet at times irritating reading principles ingrained in you then you also will hate not finishing a book.  Thankfully, my reading principles weren’t compromised with Prophecy of the Flame.

First and foremost the cover of this book caught my attention.  It’s not overly detailed, a trait I come across perusing Amazon books which shamefully will cause me to dismiss a potentially good read.  The image of a solitary, red-headed female clad in a blue-silver cloak had an air about her that screamed bad-ass warrior.  I normally am more partial to male protagonists when it comes to fantasy and sci-fi.  But from the first chapter I knew Archmage Reba, the lead in this work, was a heroine of a different flavor.
I don’t believe in giving away plot details in a book review.  All you need to know is that the plot premise is simple yet imaginative.  Five characters including Reba (Rebecca while still on earth) are initially still on earth in a hotel at a Live Action Role Playing convention.  In a flash of light, they are summoned to a parallel universe–a kingdom called Cuthburan that is in grave need of the services from these newly transformed warriors.
While Reba is the only woman among the company, she isn’t 100% warrior like her male peers.  She has a definite feminine side the author brings out, describing Reba’s inner conflict of remaining faithful to her husband who is back on earth while being immersed in a new culture where nobody gives a second thought to infidelity or promiscuity.  I believe women who enjoy fantasy/paranormal romance novels would identify with this character and her struggles that are similar to that of many women in today’s world.  Reba struggles to remain in check while being constantly pursued by a crown prince she finds physically irresistible if not personably.  All the while the crown prince’s brother provides a relief to the reader as a more likable character and match for Reba, even if she isn’t taking the bait.  At the end of Book 1 we still don’t know how this game of cat and mouse ends up, but luckily the next two books are already available on Amazon.

While I am not a religious person and usually shy away from novels with any mention of religion, the Christian undertones in this book were subtle and did not mess with the plot.  There is enough romance in this book that is enjoyable without the graphic sex scenes that can be irritating and feel out of place and sometimes take over the plot entirely.  To conclude, this book was a quick read and I found myself wanting to find out what happens next which is the ideal reading experience, I think most readers can agree.  I highly recommend this novel for fantasy readers, especially females who love a good, strong ass-kicking heroine like Archmage Reba.