Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

The Wedding Date
by Jasmine Guillory
Read: December 23 -25, 2017
Published: January 30, 2018 by Berkley
Source: NetGalley (Thank you!)
Category: Contemporary Romance, Adult, Fake Wedding Dates, Elevators, 
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Descriptions: A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in a fun and flirty debut novel.

Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn't normally do. But there's something about Drew Nichols that's too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex's wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend...

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she's the mayor's chief of staff. Too bad they can't stop thinking about the other... 

They're just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century--or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want...

The Wedding Date was delightful from start to finish. I am not generally a fan of the "we're saying it's just 'hanging out' but really we're falling in love and can't admit it" setups. I need more assurance than that. And true, I wanted to smack Dr. Drew Nichols a time or two. But overall Dr. Nick and this book won me over. I think that is because of how much I liked our MC Alexa Monroe - the mayor's chief of staff and all around real-world badass making a difference in her community (well, in her fictional world). 

I also adored how natural Alexa and Drew's romance felt. From insecurities to working through misunderstandings to learning each others lives and favorite foods (this story basically revolves around their meals), Alexa and Drew's romance grew in a way that seemed natural. Plus it was super swoony from their first meeting in the elevator, and I could definitely understand their connection. Alexa is black and Drew is white and they talk about being an interracial couple, including ways they view the world differently. For instance, Alexa asks Drew if she's going to be the only black person at the engagement party they attend at the start of the book, and it's something Drew hasn't even thought about before that moment. I appreciated those small moments of reality and honesty in this story. 

The Wedding Date is a book you should put on your radar and make sure to pick up a copy when it releases at the end of the month. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone - I'd love to read more from this author

Monday, January 22, 2018

Ally by Anna Banks

by Anna Banks
Read: July 6 - 9, 2017
Published: October 3, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends 
Source: Galley from publisher (TY, Macmillan!)
Category: YA, Fantasy, 
Series: Duet 2/2Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: Princess Sepora of Serubel and King Tarik of Theoria have formed an uneasy truce between their kingdoms since the deadly plague began to rip through Theoria. Since their feelings for each other are entangled in politics and power, they must use their own trusted resources to find common ground.

But when traitors with powerful allies arise from unexpected places, Tarik and Sepora face challenges that will change both of their kingdoms forever. Will they learn whom to trust—including each other—in time to save their kingdoms, their relationship and even their lives?


NOTE: Ally is the second book in a series, see my thoughts on Nemesis. 

I'm pretty devastated to say book was a huge disappointment. I liked a lot about Nemesis, especially the banter and tension between Sepora and Tarik. I also loved the way the first book ended. It's such a great cliffhanger, achy and angry feelings and all, and it set everything up so well for book two. I had a lot of questions about world building that I wanted to see fleshed out in the future, but for the relationships between the characters, I enjoyed it. Needless to say, I was very excited for the second part of the series. Sadly, the second book did not live up to my expectations. At all.

While there were some aspects of Ally that I liked - namely many of the parts I wanted to see more of, such as a broader and richer look at this world of five kingdoms, and greater scheming between the different nations - many more things bothered me. 

The first issue I had, which was a problem for me in both books, is the switching between first and third person narratives. This is a huge pet peeve of mine and always slows down the book while making the flow of the story feel choppy. Sepora narrates in first person while Tarik is in third, and I always had to readjust in each chapter, and it never got better for me. However, I could have gotten over this narrative choice if the story had won me over more. I also thought this plot was all over the place, especially when (highlight spoiler) Sepora gets kidnapped, what?!

But what drove me over the edge, was the romance. The romance between Tarik and Sepora is what drew me to this series, and it completely fell apart for me here. It takes until nearly the last chapter for these two to finally communicate and get on the same page, and as the book went on, Sepora and Tarik's charming banter and arguments turned into something that was just frustrating. It was too much drama and not enough communicating, especially from Tarik who never seemed to grasp why Sepora was angry with him at the start of this book (highlight spoiler) then he just gave up on her! I wanted to strangle him! The way the end plays out did not work for me at all either. I found it to be too late coming and completely unsatisfying. (highlight spoiler) I needed to see Tarik put himself out there and fight for Sepora, not test her to see if she wants him. I cannot tell you how angry I was about this.

Sadly, this isn't the first of this author's series that hasn't held up over time and it's definitely made me wary of attempting one again. 

Love Triangle Factor: None. Unfortunately, this fact didn't save the book for me. 
Cliffhanger Scale: series end

Friday, January 19, 2018

Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk

Blood and Sand
by C.V. Wyk
Read: January 4 - 16, 2018
Published: January 16, 2018 by Tor Teen
Source: NetGalley
Category: YA, Ancient Rome, Legends, Retellings, Gladiators, 
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound


Book Description: The action-packed tale of a 17-year-old warrior princess and a handsome gladiator who dared take on the Roman Republic―and gave rise to the legend of Spartacus...

For teens who love strong female protagonists in their fantasy and historical fiction, Blood and Sand is a stirring, yet poignant tale of two slaves who dared take on an empire by talented debut author C. V. Wyk.

Roma Victrix. The Republic of Rome is on a relentless march to create an empire―an empire built on the backs of the conquered, brought back to Rome as slaves.

Attia was once destined to rule as the queen and swordmaiden of Thrace, the greatest warrior kingdom the world had seen since Sparta. Now she is a slave, given to Xanthus, the Champion of Rome, as a sign of his master’s favor. Enslaved as a child, Xanthus is the preeminent gladiator of his generation.

Against all odds, Attia and Xanthus form a tentative bond. A bond that will spark a rebellion. A rebellion that threatens to bring the Roman Republic to its end―and gives rise to the legend of Spartacus...

The story continues in Fire and Ash, coming in 2019 from Tor Teen.

Blood and Sand was thrilling from start to finish! Right away I loved Attia’s strong spirit and refusal to be broken, despite being the sole survivor of the destruction of her people. Then even more, she finds herself sold as property in a slave market. Only things don’t go smoothly at all, and Attia escapes, leading a huge manhunt through the city. Eventually she is recaptured and taken to the home of a Roman Patrician where she is given as a "companion" to his champion gladiator. 

Xanthus is the other narrator of this story. Called the Champion of Rome he is a fierce competitor in the Colosseum. By all appearances he is a hardened warrior. But despite Xanthus’s acclaim as a gladiator, he is still a slave too. As a reward for his wins, Xanthus is given Attia by his master. This is an uncomfortable arrangement for both of them, and neither of them expects the connection that they will form with each other.

Below are 5 more exciting things about this book: 

1) Blood and Sand has moments of high intensity and action that kept me on the edge of my seat from page one. Attia and Xanthus have been forged by war and survival and loss and rage, and it was thrilling seeing them both in action, especially when they fought together. But this story is also deeply character focused, and getting to know the heart of both Attia and Xanthus in the quieter and even painful moments made this book for me. 

2) I adored the romance between these two. Attia and Xanthus are the perfect compliment and despite the horrible situation they are both in, their romance is slowly building and beautiful to watch. It begins through trust, and as they open up to each other, they start to care for each other. Even though they are thrown together against their wills, I could completely understand their connection and why they fell for each other. I’d also like to point out that though there are lots of other males in this story, there is absolutely zero love triangles or drama in that way. No one else even expresses interest in either of them. It was a major relief and honestly, these two didn’t have time for any more angst in their lives. 

3) This is an origin story, which I didn’t realize until I got into this book. And it is so clever and fun to see how Spartacus comes to life. I cannot wait for more of her evolution! Also, in general, t
his book felt well researched and present in Ancient Rome, even though historical events have been shifted around (admittedly by the author).

4) Although the story is very focused on Attia and Xanthus, I also found so many of the secondary characters intriguing. I loved Xanthus’s camaraderie with his gladiator brothers and Attia’s friendship with Rory, while Lucretia’s circumstances were a heartbreaking contrast to Attia’s situation. I’m so curious what becomes of many of the characters, and I’m hoping we get to see more of them in the next book. 

5) Thank goodness this is not the end of the story! We are just at the start of Attia’s journey and I cannot wait to see what’s next. Also there are so many unanswered questions and unresolved situations that need to be fleshed out, and some things I'm going to ignore and assume they'll be worked out in the next book. I think my only complaint about this story is that the last 10% of the book moves so quickly, there’s no time to process anything!

I am absolutely freaking out to get the next part of this story!! I cannot wait to find out what’s coming for Attia and co. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium - More with anticipation than any immediate danger

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

To Kill a Kingdom
by Alexandra Christo
Read: December 3 - 7, 2017
Published: March 6, 2018 by Feiwel & Friends 
Source: NetGalley (TY Macmillan!)
Category: YA, Fantasy, Mermaids, Sirens, Pirates
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

To Kill A Kingdom was so much fun! Five things I enjoyed about this book: 

1) These characters are vicious. Lira is a Siren, literally stealing the hearts of princes to fuel her power and her mother’s wishes. In the very beginning of this book we see her in action and it’s brutal and horrifying to behold. Elian is a prince and captain, sailing the seas with his crew killing as many sirens as he can. These two couldn’t be more opposed. So when Lira ends up on Elian’s ship, I couldn't wait to see what would happen. 

2) A major theme this book explores is Lira's siren nature vs her human one, and I loved watching Lira discover her humanity. Realizing that to feel is not actually a weakness. All the while she’s trying to keep her identity from Elian. It’s a tricky place she straddles and makes the story all the more compelling. 

3) One of my favorite things about this To Kill a Kingdom was the romance between Elian and Lira. It is enemies to love and very slow burn. The banter and tension between them was just so good through all of the story. These two start standing on completely opposite sides of a war and slowly realize that they are a lot more similar than they ever imagined. Watching that transformation was so delicious to see. 

4) This is a fantasy world and all the different kingdoms it comprises were so interesting. I enjoyed learning about the very different countries. But Elian and Lira barely dip their toes into the different places they visit. I’d love to read more stories in this world in new places. I also enjoyed the few characters we got to know on Elian's crew, but only four were mentioned by name. I wish that more of them had been visible. 

5) I thought this was the start of a series for some reason, but it reads like a standalone. I'm definitely excited about more fantasy standalones, or even companions!

From the gorgeous cover, all the way through, I had the best time reading To Kill A Kingdom. I can't wait to see what Allie writes next! 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone? (Would love to read a companion story from world!)

Monday, January 15, 2018

Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

Daughter of the Siren Queen
by Tricia Levenseller
Read: December 9 - 12, 2017
Published: February 27, 2018 by Feiwel & Friends
Source: Galley from publisher (Thank you, Macmillan!)
Category: YA, fantasy, pirates, sirens, romance
Series:  Yes. 2/2 end of duet

Book Description: Alosa's mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he's under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father's justice.

When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first . . . after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.

NOTE: This is the second book in a series. See my thoughts on Daughter of the Pirate King

What an excellent end to a thrilling duet! I think I may have even liked it more than the first, which is rare for me these days. Everything I loved about Daughter of the Pirate King was even more intense and exciting in Daughter of the Siren Queen

This time, instead of infiltrating another crew, Alosa is back on her own ship of incredible lady pirates. Right from the first page we get to see them in action. I enjoyed getting to know Alosa's crew better and seeing Alosa back in charge as captain. Alosa also faces some new revelations in this book, both discovering more about her mother's siren nature and finding out what it's like to be on the opposite side as her father. Neither of these revelations is easy for Alosa, but it was rewarding to watch her continue to grow and become even more comfortable with herself as she fought though them. 

All this is happening while Alosa is in a race with the Pirate King to follow the map pieces to the siren's hidden treasure. Danger, death and enchantments are lurking everywhere, and not everyone will make it out alive, but Alosa is a great leader and friend and will do anything to succeed. Joining Alosa's crew is Riden, former first mate of the ship Alosa infiltrated in the last book. The tension continues to crackle off of these two. One of my favorite parts of this book was the continued building romance between them. I couldn't get enough of every interaction between them. 

This duet comes highly recommended from me! I can't wait to find out what Tricia Levenseller writes next! 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: 2/2 End of duet

Friday, January 12, 2018

Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Prince in Disguise 
Read: January 4 - 7, 2018
Published: December 19, 2017 by Disney-Hyperion 
Source: BEA
Category: YA, Romance, Contemporary, Scotland, Reality TV, Secret Identities, Hidden Passages
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: Someday I want to live in a place where I never hear “You’re Dusty’s sister?” ever again.
Life is real enough for Dylan—especially as the ordinary younger sister of Dusty, former Miss Mississippi and the most perfect, popular girl in Tupelo. But when Dusty wins the hand of the handsome Scottish laird-to-be Ronan on the TRC television network’s crown jewel, Prince in Disguise, Dylan has to face a different kind of reality: reality TV.

As the camera crew whisks them off to Scotland to film the lead-up to the wedding, camera-shy Dylan is front and center as Dusty’s maid of honor. The producers are full of surprises—including old family secrets, long-lost relatives, and a hostile future mother-in-law who thinks Dusty and Dylan’s family isn’t good enough for her only son. At least there’s Jamie, an adorably bookish groomsman who might just be the perfect antidote to all Dylan’s stress . . . if she just can keep TRC from turning her into the next reality show sensation.

This was completely utterly adorable! Our heroine Dylan attends a wedding at a Scottish castle and gets her own cute romance with a boy in the wedding party, who has a delicious English accent and is in fact a prince, though she doesn’t know it. Throw in secret passages and a camera crew filming the entire experience and hilarity is sure to ensue and does frequently. I love how awkward and sweet Dylan and Jamie’s romance is. And that it’s clear they like each other being entirely themselves. I was also pleasantly surprised that their romance is such a central focus of this book. While the side cast seems very one dimensional at first, I enjoyed watching several of them become more fleshed out as the story went on. Especially Dylan’s sister Dusty, as well as their mom. 

For anyone who has dreamed of marrying a prince, loves an adorkably good romance, secret identities and lots of hilarious, awkward situations, this is for you! 

Here are the things I wish about this story (the latter 2 are a little spoilery)

1) Based on the cover, I thought this book was MG or very young YA and put off reading this for a while because of that. While the story is light and appropriate for upper MG, the cover is a little misleading. I think this book could have a broader appeal if it was repackaged with a different cover. (And the bonus content I mention below LOL) 

2) I really wanted to see what happened when Dylan actually watched the TV show she unwittingly became part of. That must have been hilarious. I wanted a later scene showing that!

3) My biggest wish and only real complaint about this story deals with the end. I'm desperate for an epilogue of Dylan and Jamie in the future! Although the end is more realistic and does have some hope, my romantic heart wanted something more concrete for their future. Despite all the obstacles, these two were made for each other!

Love Triangle Factor: None 
Cliffhanger Scale: Stand-alone 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

by Amie Kaufman nd Meagan Spooner
Read: December 14, 2017 - January 9, 2018
Published: January 9, 2018 by Disney-Hyperion
Source: BEA (TY!)
Category: YA, Sci-fi, Space travel, Archaeology, Aliens
Series: YES  1/2? (not sure if it's a duet or trilogy)
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying's advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study... as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don't loot everything first. Mia and Jules' different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race's secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race...

After loving Kaufman and Spooner's Starbound trilogy, I was so excited to hear they were collaborating again for a new series. These two rock the YA Sci-fi genre and Unearthed is a great addition to that and so much fun! 

Although there's never a dull moment for Mia and Jules and exciting, or rather dangerous, things start happening right away in the story, it wasn’t until they reach the temple they're set to explore that I got hooked. That's also when my Indiana Jones loving heart got all the feels. I absolutely adore the Indiana Jones in space vibe to this story, even with the alien a la CRYSTAL SKULL angle. If this was what was made of that movie, I would have been all over it. But I digress. 

In Unearthed, Mia and Jules meet after they’ve both landed on the uninhabited planet Gaia, led by messages from a long-dead alien race. They are there for very different reasons. Jules wants to explore the planet for historic and academic reasons, Mia is there to scavenge treasure. They clash immediately but they also both realize the benefit of having the other around and team up, albeit tentatively and with lots of secrets and mistrust between them. 

I loved watching Mia and Jules learn how to work together and trust each other. And the romance that blooms from that made me so happy. Of course so much is going on at the same time and these two barely have a moment to breathe, let alone make out.. They’re trying to survive an uninhabited planet, follow the clues and avoid the traps in the alien temple they’re exploring (Think LAST CRUSADE) and outrun all the people trying to get to the end first. Then as is standard for Spooner and Kaufman, some wild and surprising things happen near the end that change everything. How do they do it, I don't know, but they never fail to leave me with my mouth gaping. 

Instead of standalone companions, this appears to be a true series and it ends on quite the cliffhanger. I can’t wait to find out what happens next! 

Love Triangle Factor: None 
Cliffhanger Scale: High

Here's my photo inspiration for Unearthed
Can you guess where I was in the book when I took this?
Find these and other pictures on my bookish Instagram

PS. I kept trying to connect this to the world of the Starbound trilogy and didn't quite manage to make that happen. There was one thing that made me pause, but I don't think this is the same universe as that. So no Lila or Tarver pop up, sadly. Though I can't wait for more of these new characters. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne

by Livia Blackburne
Read: October 25 - 30, 2017
Published: November 7, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends 
Source: Galley from Publisher (TY, Macmillan!)
Category: YA, Fantasy, Plagues, Wars, Roadtrips 
Series: Duet 1/2
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: A healer who cannot be healed . . .

When Zivah falls prey to the deadly rose plague, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she fully succumbs. Now she’s destined to live her last days in isolation, cut off from her people and unable to practice her art—until a threat to her village creates a need that only she can fill.

A soldier shattered by war . . .

Broken by torture at the hands of the Amparan Empire, Dineas thirsts for revenge against his captors. Now escaped and reunited with his tribe, he’ll do anything to free them from Amparan rule—even if it means undertaking a plan that risks not only his life but his very self.

Thrust together on a high-stakes mission to spy on the capital, the two couldn’t be more different: Zivah, deeply committed to her vow of healing, and Dineas, yearning for vengeance. But as they grow closer, they must find common ground to protect those they love. And amidst the constant fear of discovery, the two grapple with a mutual attraction that could break both of their carefully guarded hearts.

This smart, sweeping fantasy with a political edge and a slow-burning romance will capture fans of The Lumatere Chronicles and An Ember in the Ashes.

I was lucky enough to beta read an early draft of Rosemarked, and I'm thrilled to see the book now published and out in the world. As I've also read its sequel Umbertouched (you can't wait for this!), I'm struggling to separate this gorgeous series into a coherent review about just the first book. But here goes. Rosemarked has so many great and complex situations in it that weave through the entire duet. Political maneuvering, spying, secret identities (even from oneself), a long journey, memory loss, a sweet but also complicated slow-building romance, all under the shadow of a deadly disease that ravages nearly all it encounters (even if they survive). 

Zivah and Dineas are two very different characters from two very different cultures - she is a healer, he is a soldier - but they must band together in this story for a common and very dangerous mission. Both willing to sacrifice everything for their people. I enjoyed watching these two as they were forced together, and as a result come to understand each other so much more than they ever thought they would. This book also has a cast of secondary characters that intrigued me so much. I especially appreciated how we get to see them from several different angles in a way that makes them much more complex than just a good or evil. 

Rosemarked is excellent YA Fantasy and comes highly recommended from me. I enjoyed Livia Blackburne's Midnight Thief series, but this new duet is truly stunning. Complimenting the gorgeous insides of this book, the pink matte finish and gold lettering of the cover is also something you want in your hands. Don't miss this book!

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: This is the first in a duet and definitely ends mid-series, though not in a harrowing moment.

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