[682]: The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

28763485 The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
Stand Alone
Double Day Canada | November 1st, 2016
Source: ARC Paperback from Penguin Random House Canada
Young Adult Fiction | Contemporary
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Nicola Yoon has become an instant star in the annals of contemporary fiction for young adults. And this after only releasing one book under her belt. Everything, Everything showed me a glimpse of Nicola’s writing chops that I’ve only seen in some of the more experienced authors out there. She immortalized Maddie in such a revealing acuity. She also handled the delicate topic of a serious disease that may or may not have been brought on by an overprotective instinct by a mother that only wanted to protect her child. In this book, however, she goes beyond the personification of the main characters. She gave insights on side characters and nuances that was both amusing and somewhat informative. All the while tying them all in a nice cohesive bow of this story.

In this book, she tackles the plight of a couple of young immigrants in America. One is about to be deported. And the other, an American-born Korean boy whose future is already predetermined by his parents.

Having been situated in America for several years, Natasha has acclimated well in her life as an American teenager. She is determined to succeed and does very well in school. She doesn’t take anything for granted because she knows the alternative is a life back home where the future is unknown. Natasha is a big believer of things that can be explained. Love, God, and fate are words that give her pause.

By contrast, Daniel’s future is set in stone if his parents has a choice in the matter. But Daniel is a dreamer; a poet who believes in serendipity and love. If they’d met under different circumstances, and if time was on their side, Daniel and Natasha could’ve lived everyday discovering what makes them the way they were. But they live in a reality where their parents’ hopes, dreams, and indiscretions are hopelessly tied to their own.

This book has a lot of moments characteristic of a contemporary read. But underneath the surface belies the seriousness of what typically happens to the lives of immigrants in America. The family does what they can to survive, to make their dreams a reality. But sometimes, hard work is not enough. Nicola Yoon showed that with an honest clarity that a person like me (an immigrant) can whole-heartedly relate. I’ve seen my parents worked 12-15 hours everyday just to get us out of the basement we lived in when we got here. And while things turned out well for us, it sure hasn’t been easy. It’s the same reality I saw in Daniel’s and Natasha’s parents.

Daniel’s parents were well on their way to the fruition of their dreams, if only their oldest son didn’t screw up his short stint in Harvard. That’s why they’re doing everything they can for him to get accepted in Yale. On the other hand, Natasha’s parents only ever saw hardship. Because of the bad choices her father made fueled by his determination to pursue his dreams, things didn’t go so well for Natasha’s family.

Once again, Nicola Yoon delivers another unforgettable story rich in love, family, and diversity. It’s not all fun and games, but her succinct intuitiveness in all things about culture, race, and relationships shine cover to cover.

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[676]: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

28815474 The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Double Day Canada | August 23rd, 2016
Source: Publisher for review
Adult Fiction | Crime | Suspense
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

How well do you know the couple next door? Or your husband? Or even—yourself?

People are capable of almost anything. . .
Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

No. You can’t pay me a million dollars to leave my 6-month old baby at home just so I can drink wine with people that I don’t even like. And even if we literally share a wall, and that I will be checking on her in half an hour intervals, there’s nothing you can say to me that will convince me otherwise. But then again, I’m not Anne.  And if Anne refused to leave the baby at home, then we wouldn’t have a story now, would we? So yeah. The stuff nightmares are made of happened: the babysitter cancelled at the last minute, the parents of the year then decided the baby will be fine if they check on her every half an hour. They got home only to find a door ajar, an empty crib, and no baby in sight.

Our troubled couple has been having marital problems ever since the baby was born. Anne, suffering a bout of post-partum depression, has had to deal with watching her neighbour shamelessly flirt with her husband on the night of the party. You can say she’s already unstable so the discovery that their baby was taken only pushed her over the edge.

It’s easy to put the burden of the blame to the parents for negligently leaving a baby at home. And even more so when the detectives handling the investigation didn’t find any evidence that shows anyone else was in the house during the baby’s disappearance. But little by little, information would come to light about other possibilities. Unlike other suspense novels I’ve read as of late, this one was pretty transparent. Readers will know the key players and motives of the kidnapping pretty early in the game. However, Ms. Lapena still left a card up her sleeve to make it worth your while.

The Couple Next Door has a different flavour of suspense. Although at times it would seem that Lapena guides her readers through a lit room, little surprises jump at the readers along the way. It’s not entirely predictable but the break-neck pace will lend to a much enjoyable read, nonetheless.

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[670]: The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

22399997 The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan
Hogarth | March 24th, 2016
Adult Fiction
Rating 4 out of 5 Stars

Set in a Scottish caravan park during a freak winter – it is snowing in Jerusalem, the Thames is overflowing, and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to arrive off the coast of Scotland – THE SUNLIGHT PILGRIMS tells the story of a small Scottish community living through what people have begun to think is the end of times.

Bodies are found frozen in the street with their eyes open, euthanasia has become an acceptable response to economic collapse, schooling and health care are run primarily on a voluntary basis. But daily life carries on: Dylan, a refugee from panic-stricken London who is grieving for his mother and his grandmother, arrives in the caravan park in the middle of the night – to begin his life anew.

This book is tough to review. On the one hand, I’m somewhat disappointed because I assumed this book to be about panic and hysteria brought on by the coming ice age. On the other, I’m in awe of what Ms Fagan was able to accomplish here. Although there is an unfair balance between the two plot arches in this book, I was able to appreciate the sentiment.

I’ve always been a fan of apocalyptic books. I’m especially fond of reading (or watching) something close to reality like environmental and natural disasters. The Sunlight Pilgrims is about global warming and how it melted the icebergs. Consequently, it brought a cooling of the oceans, which then created  the weather phenomena that would usher in an Ice Age of biblical proportions. But if you’re expecting mayhem and chaos, you’d be disappointed like I was. We don’t see the panic that Hollywood is only too happy to show us in films. We don’t see people hoarding sweaters, food, and firewood. What we see are three people going about their lives not at all worried about the coldest, longest winter they’ll ever have.

In the forefront is Dylan who just lost his mum and gran almost simultaneously. They’d been his life along with a cinema that he’d had to give up because he could no longer afford it. His mum made provisions for him to live in a Scottish caravan community where he would meet Stella and Constance. In Clachan Fells, he hopes to deal with the grief of losing the two people who have been the sum of everything he was. Not knowing anything else but tending to a defunct small theatre would prove to be a struggle.

Constance is a fiercely independent woman who gives zero fucks about the gossips from her neighbours. From a long affair with two men that sometimes overlapped, to her daughter, Stella who once was a boy named, Cael, Constance marched to the beat of her own drum. Stella is transgender on the cusp of puberty. If she ever has any hopes of completing her change, she needs to start taking her hormone pills soon. But the coming ice age might impede the very thing she’d always wished for since she’d become aware of her true self.

These three people are survivors regardless of whether or not they survive what’s coming. Their false fearlessness convinced me that there was nothing to worry about; which is an odd thing to feel considering the scope of the impending doom.  The ice age was always in the periphery but the book spotlights humanity above all else. I am a newbie to Jenni Fagan’s writing (though, I own her other book, Panopticon). Well, let me tell you that this woman can write. The poet in her shines through with every beautiful imagery despite the bleakness of the situation. The ending was the kind of ending that left me scrambling and wishing there was more. Definitely more than the Acknowledgement page, that is.

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[669]: The Angels’ Share by JR Ward

26024583 The Angels’ Share by JR Ward
Series: The Bourbon Kings, #2
NAL | July 26th, 2016
Adult Fiction | Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

In Charlemont, Kentucky, the Bradford family is the crème de la crème of high society—just like their exclusive brand of bourbon. And their complicated lives and vast estate are run by a discrete staff who inevitably become embroiled in their affairs. This is especially true now, when the apparent suicide of the family patriarch is starting to look more and more like murder…

No one is above suspicion—especially the eldest Bradford son, Edward. The bad blood between him and his father is known far and wide, and he is aware that he could be named a suspect. As the investigation into the death intensifies, he keeps himself busy at the bottom of a bottle—as well as with his former horse trainer’s daughter. Meanwhile, the family’s financial future lies in the perfectly manicured hands of a business rival, a woman who wants Edward all to herself.

Everything has consequences; everybody has secrets. And few can be trusted. Then, at the very brink of the family’s demise, someone thought lost to them forever returns to the fold. Maxwell Bradford has come home. But is he a savior…or the worst of all the sinners?

The Bourbon Kings ended with the mystery of the patriarch’s death; consequently laying the foundation for this installment. And since this is JR Ward, I didn’t expect that death to be the only story arch in this book. There was the ongoing saga of Gin’s trainwreck of a life; the lingering pest that was Lane’s ex-wife, and the long-lost brother who decided to show up for the funeral. But where has he been? If you’ve read the first book and are dying to know, you won’t get your answer, unfortunately. Not to be outdone, Edward -scarred and battle-worn as he was, struggle with his feelings for two women: one, a long time family adversary, and another, a young ranch helper left in his care.

So the patriarch is dead. And the suspicion fell heavily on one of the Bradfords. Particularly, the eldest son. The long tumultuous history between Edward and his father went as far back as when he was only a child himself. Cumulating to when Edward was abducted for ransom in South America only to find out that his father orchestrated it all. To say the two had bad blood is putting it mildly.

No one is free of guilt and Tulane can also be a suspect if revenge is the name of the game. After all, their father had an affair with his soon-to-be ex-wife, who, by the way, is carrying his father’s child. So his enemy is a mile-long list. The majority of the book was also about the non-existent family fortune. It turns out that millions of millions of dollars have swindled by their father. Close to being destitute, the burden now rests on Tulane’s shoulders since Edward wants nothing to do with the family and Maxwell is still MIA.

The majority of the book was also about the non-existent family fortune. It turns out that millions of millions of dollars have been swindled by their father. Close to being destitute, the burden now rests on Tulane’s shoulders since Edward wants nothing to do with the family.

The plot thickens.

JR Ward has kept up the same pace with The Bourbon Kings. Lots of intrigues and mysteries; excess and gossip. Lane and Lizzie are working hard to keep their heads above the water, but it’s been a constant struggle. In this instalment, we also see a change in Gin’s and Samuel’s attitudes toward the other. I’m glad to see it, as they were exhausting in the first book. They finally realize how destructive they’ve been and that perhaps now was not their time.  We also see a bit more clarity with the Edward/Shelby, Edward/Sutton quasi-love triangle. I’m glad it didn’t go the way I thought it was going to go. But oh, man. Things are not going to end well for dear Edward but I’m keeping fervent hope that it’ll all workout.

Folks, this is the kind of soap opera I could waste my brain on.

I can’t wait to see Lane bring their family fortune from the brink.

I can’t wait to find out where Maxwell has been all this time.

I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen to Edward.

And lastly, I can’t wait to see Gin and Samuel’s song and dance come to an end.

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[667]: The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner

27163154 The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner
Double Day Canada | July 12th, 2016
Adult Fiction | Historical
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

A sweeping, propulsive family saga set on a romantic and beautiful Italian island, for fans of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Beautiful Ruins.

On the tiny, idyllic island of Castellamare, off the coast of Sicily, lies The House at the Edge of Night, an ancient bar run by the Esposito family. There, over the course of three generations–from the eve of World War One to the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis–the Esposito women will fight to hold their family together against the threats that break across their shores. As lush and magical as the island at its centre, The House at the Edge of Night is a story of love and secrets, endurance, loss and, ultimately, triumph.

Admittedly, The House at the Edge of Night’s initial attraction was its similarities to Beautiful Ruins; a book that I’ve read recently and have enjoyed immensely. The  small town setting has always inspired a community ideal that’s magical to me. And the townspeople possess a certain magnetism that I fail to describe time and again. Catherine Banner showed the town’s beauty so viscerally at times that I can almost hear the cacophony of the tides lapping the shores and the seagulls circling the open seas for a snack or two.

The House at the Edge of Night is the  kind of book that you take to the beach because it is truly relaxing. The drama is virtually painless and much like Beautiful Ruins, it’s the perfect escape book. You will fall in love with the town and its people; its legends and myths. Castellamare may be fictional but it’s the very idea of such a town surviving in spite of itself, amid natural disasters and global economic collapse that makes it idyllic.

How do I explain the four generations of stories involved in this book? I suppose the story should begin with the patriarch of the Esposito family. So we start off with a foundling who grew up to be a doctor. After serving his time in the military, he found himself in a small town that was to become the root of his family genealogy. After a scandal involving this doctor and the count’s wife, he was shunned and was forced to either leave or do something else. But he loves Castellamare despite the humiliation and shunning he endured. He decided to stay put and opened a bar that  he called, The House at the Edge of Night. Over the years, this establishment will become more than just a watering hole.

Indeed, it wasn’t just a bar; it’s where he would raise his family for generations to come. It’s where he would lose two of his sons and watch another barely survive the aftereffects of war. It’s where he would see his daughter fall in love with an Englishman and watch her fight for her true self – broken heart and all. It’s where he would learn to appreciate the triumph of family and love amid loss; the strength of the townspeople’s faith in the face of troubles and camaraderie and comfort in what was simple and familiar.

This book might not be intellectually challenging but it’s viscerally beautiful. It is full of love and sensuality, superstition and charming candor. The simplicity of the way of life in the small town is its foremost attraction; the heart is its people. I’ve always said reading is the cheapest way to travel and Castellamare is as close as I’m ever going to being in Italy. This book reminded me of how wonderful it is to appreciate the comfortable and easy. Not everything we read has to break our hearts, reduce us to tears or make us think about the uncertainty of the future. Sometimes, we just have to watch the story unfold like a rolling film in black and white.

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[663]: The Beast by J.R. Ward

25293695 The Beast by J.R. Ward
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood, #14
April 5th, 2016 | NAL
Urban Fantasy | Paranormal Romance
Rating: 4 out 5 Stars

Nothing is as it used to be for the Black Dagger Brotherhood. After avoiding war with the Shadows, alliances have shifted and lines have been drawn. The slayers of the Lessening Society are stronger than ever, preying on human weakness to acquire more money, more weapons, more power. But as the Brotherhood readies for an all-out attack on them, one of their own fights a battle within himself…

For Rhage, the Brother with the biggest appetites, but also the biggest heart, life was supposed to be perfect—or at the very least, perfectly enjoyable. Mary, his beloved shellan, is by his side and his King and his brothers are thriving. But Rhage can’t understand—or control—the panic and insecurity that plague him…

And that terrifies him—as well as distances him from his mate. After suffering mortal injury in battle, Rhage must reassess his priorities—and the answer, when it comes to him, rocks his world…and Mary’s. But Mary is on a journey of her own, one that will either bring them closer together or cause a split that neither will recover from…

Life has been relatively quiet for the Brothers of the Black Dagger. With everyone settled in their marital bliss, and threats from the Band of Bastards have been temporarily neutralized, it seemed we’re all heading into a state of freedom from chaos and disturbance…or so it seems. And so the novel opens with the Brothers at an all-out, no- holds-barred fight with the Lessening Society. For a time it looks like it was a fight that will end all fights – with the Brothers at the losing end of the stick. But the lessers didn’t account for Rhage’s beast.

Rhage, however, was distracted. Life is supposed to be perfect now that he’s got his shellan by his side. But he finds himself in a state of panic and anxiety for reasons he couldn’t pinpoint. It’s not that his feelings had changed for Mary; it’s the opposite, actually. He’s still madly in love with her and couldn’t see himself without her. So why, then can’t he shake off the feeling that something was missing?

I’ve been trying to capture the same excitement I’ve had for this series but it seems to have momentarily disappeared. There’d been so many books, it seems, but I’ll always remember why I looked forward to each instalment. It’s great to see the characters we’ve come to love but it’s hard to get excited about them nowadays. It’s not that I’ve grown tired of them, it’s just I found myself complacent and the plots have gone stagnant. Sometimes, I think this series will be best served with an introduction of new characters. But on the other hand, my loyalties lie with the original crew and so I don’t know if that would help. As it stands, I could’ve gone without the Shadow brothers. I didn’t think it added any value to the series. Right now, I can’t name a series plot point that has me interested enough to keep going.

At the same time, I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. Because the truth is, it gives me pleasure knowing that I’m up to date with a series that presently consists of 14 books. It’s my badge of honour. But I keep fervent hope that things will get exciting again.

I do like that we’re finally moving forward with Xcor and Layla. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for the next book to see it all play out. Rhage’s feeling of ennui worried me a little bit. I was worried that he was going to be a whiny little b*tch the entire time. Bemoaning about how his life sucks and what not. In the end, I like what happened to him and Mary. I still didn’t get the relevance of his beast, though. Perhaps it’s a…metaphor?

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[656]: The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward

23355896 The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward
Series: The Bourbon Kings, #1
NAL | July 28th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 420 pp.
Adult Fiction | Family Drama
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

For generations, the Bradford family has worn the mantle of kings of the bourbon capital of the world. Their sustained wealth has afforded them prestige and privilege—as well as a hard-won division of class on their sprawling estate, Easterly. Upstairs, a dynasty that by all appearances plays by the rules of good fortune and good taste. Downstairs, the staff who work tirelessly to maintain the impeccable Bradford facade. And never the twain shall meet.

For Lizzie King, Easterly’s head gardener, crossing that divide nearly ruined her life. Falling in love with Tulane, the prodigal son of the bourbon dynasty, was nothing that she intended or wanted—and their bitter breakup only served to prove her instincts were right. Now, after two years of staying away, Tulane is finally coming home again, and he is bringing the past with him. No one will be left unmarked: not Tulane’s beautiful and ruthless wife; not his older brother, whose bitterness and bad blood know no bounds; and especially not the iron-fisted Bradford patriarch, a man with few morals, fewer scruples, and many, many terrible secrets.

As family tensions—professional and intimately private—ignite, Easterly and all its inhabitants are thrown into the grips of an irrevocable transformation, and only the cunning will survive.

After almost a year of ignoring this book, I finally succumbed and read it. Perfect timing too, considering the next book comes out at the end of the month. You see? Sometimes, procrastination is a good thing.

Dysfunction is an Art Form.

This brand new series by JR Ward is a take off from her usual Urban Fantasy fare. Fashioned after the 80s tv series, Dallas, it has family drama, scandal, murder mystery, skeletons, and romance. It features a prominent Kentucky family who owned the monopoly on Bourbon in America. The patriarch and matriarch of the Bradford Family are in a what you could consider as a stereotypical marriage of convenience amongst rich people. For appearance’s sake, they live in the same mansion but sleep in different beds. He sleeps around, controls the family’s finances, and treats his family like shit. In short, a perennial Father of the Year candidate. The mother is no better. You don’t even see her through the entire novel. She’s in her room all the time – apparently hooked on whatever painkillers she could get her hands on. But I’m willing to bet that in the end, she will save the entire family from ruin, therefore giving this series the mother of a plot twist. Don’t quote me on that, though.

The Prodigal Son Returns.

So this story is about Jonathan Tulane Baldwine and his return to the family after receiving some bad news. Lane hasn’t lived in Kentucky for years for two reasons: one, he can’t stand his family. And two, because of Lizzie King – aka, the one that got away. Lizzie King is the girl who broke his heart but she’ll tell you that he trampled on her’s first by getting another woman pregnant.  And since she still works for the family, the reunion will be spectacularly bad. While the focus of the book is how they get over themselves and realize they belong together, this book is also an introduction to the rest of the family.

The Bradford Brood.

It’s implied that Max, the second oldest is out of the picture for –  perhaps the same reason Lane has for leaving; Edward the oldest, left after he was rescued from a kidnapping for ransom in South America. He is scarred beyond recognition. Gin was the only one who stayed because the woman loves luxury too much to have any sense of pride. Later, Lane will find out that the family is well on their way to financial ruin all thanks to father dearest. So it’s up to him to figure out how to save the family from everything else.

In Retrospect

This series is turning out to be one for the ages. The kind that will incite a fervor devotion from her already loyal fanbase. It is enthralling, in as much as a soap opera or a reality tv show devotees follow their beloved shows religiously. We may have gotten a resolution to Lane and Lizzie’s relationship in this first installment, but it left a number of plot arches wide open for speculation. As it stands, there are a few that has me anxiously waiting for the next books: I’m curious about the death of one character; Edward’s relationship to the daughter of a rival family; Sam and Gin’s toxic love affair over the years, and of course, Max’s whereabouts and eventual return.

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[654]: The Truth About Him by Molly O’Keefe

25387182 The Truth About Him by Molly O’Keefe
Series: Everything I Left Unsaid, #2
Loveswept | November 24th, 2015
Adult Fiction | Romance | Suspense
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

We played our roles, told each other lies.

But now Dylan is no longer just a mysterious deep voice on the other end of the line. We’re face-to-face and our relationship is very, very real.

We still have secrets—but so much is crystal clear:

The thrilling danger.

The raw, naked desire.

The need to keep feeling the way he makes me feel. Forever.

Dylan is putting up walls, trying to keep me safe, but he can’t shut me out. He has seen my darkness and rescued me. Now it’s my turn, if only he will let me.

The end of Everything I Left Unsaid just about killed me. I can’t even imagine the pain of reading this book the first time it came out. To have to wait just to find out what happened next is a torture I’m lucky enough not to have endured. Sometimes, it pays to be unaware and I’m glad I was a latecomer to this series. Like I mentioned in my review of the first book, I had to fight the urge to pull an all-nighter because Ms. O’Keefe’s ending was torturous, to say the least. And so, I devoured this installment with the same fervor I did with the Everything I Left Unsaid.

In here, we find Dylan and Annie coming to terms with what they need from each other and what they have to do to move forward. Annie’s past will thankfully be behind her at the beginning of this novel. Dylan, however, still had a lot of shit to deal with. First and foremost, the burden of his missing brother that will threaten everything he cared for. And he’s yet to reconcile the fact that he can’t see himself ever forgiving his father who’s practically near death. The past is rushing up to collide with his present in possibly the most devastating way. Unless he can somehow stop it. 

This felt like a prolonged ending of the first book and an introduction to the third  (Burn Down the Night), which is Max’s story. He’s Dylan’s older brother who, unfortunately, couldn’t escape the life their father forged for him. But we’ll learn that Max did everything he could to give Dylan a fighting chance at a better life. Though it would seem that Dylan has succeeded, he’s never fully escaped. Because the criminal clutches of that motorcycle club Max belonged to is far-reaching, revengeful, and they never forget.

Annie and Dylan’s relationship finally moved forward in this book. Dylan had a few moments of self-flagellation and pity party which drove me insane. The martyrdom didn’t suit him, which made me want to kick his ass every time he thought Annie deserves better (I’m sure she did, but come on.). I’m also happy that Annie stood her ground. She wanted Dylan to have a semblance of a relationship with his father regardless of how tumultuous it had been in the past.  So she made sure he understood how important it was for her to stay put so she can care for him.

I’m happy with the resolution of Annie and Dylan’s story. I’m ready to move on to Max. I’m not gonna lie, I’m terrified too because Max’s story sounds like a road trip to Angstville. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m really glad I found these books. It made me realize that not all NA are created equal. This series is definitely one of the good ones!

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[652]: The Talented Mr. Rivers by HelenKay Dimon

The Talented Mr. Rivers by HelenKay Dimon
Series: End of the Line, #2
Source: Publisher via Net Galley
Loveswept | September 13th, 2016
Adult Fiction | M/M Romance | Suspense
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

As the son of an international crime lord, Will Rivers only inherited one thing after his father died: trouble. The Pentasus organization deals in kidnapping and murder, and Will wants no part of the power grab that’s tearing leadership apart. But the only way he’ll be able to escape is with some help from his former bodyguard, Hunter Cain, whose sculpted body and brooding looks keep Will awake at night. Somehow, Hunter has resisted the tension between them . . . until, suddenly, he gives in.

As a German intelligence officer working deep undercover, Hunter has a very good reason to keep Will in the dark about his identity and his intentions. Although the sex is hot, Hunter’s true feelings are a growing liability. Now the only way to save Will from his old life is to push him deeper into danger. But when two strong men are each determined to protect the other, the heat isn’t just combustible—it’s a firestorm.

I couldn’t be happier to get an email notification from Loveswept that this book was available for request on Net Galley. I became an instant fan of Ms. Dimon after reading the first book of this series, Mr. and Mr. Smith. I was easily swept away by her suspenseful and sexy spy novel filled with the type of he-man characters I love reading about in an M/M romance. I knew I had to get my hands on Will Rivers’ story as soon as it became available because the glimpse of what was to come at the end of the first book was nowhere near enough. This book will not be out until September 13th, but heck, letting it sit in my iPad unread is just too much a temptation for someone like me.

We met Will Rivers and Hunter Cain in the first book. Hunter is a member of a German secret agency working with the CIA to stop The Pentasus organization from selling more weapons and secret agents to terrorists. In the first book, Hunter was playing Will’s bodyguard. Being the heir to a dangerous family who has enemies left and right puts will in a constant precarious situation at all times. He needed someone to keep his ass on the line and Hunter was more than happy to provide that for him.  Will and Hunter’s interactions, though, limited was explosive in the first book. And at the end of Mr. and Mr. Smith, Will and Hunter got separated. I was dying to see the reunion between the two.

So we opened this book with Hunter tracking the elusive Mr. Rivers. The reunion was as heated as I’d expected it to be. I knew that they were bound for a head on collision. The sexual tension that has followed them from the first book exploded in the most glorious way! But with the organization still on Will’s heels, and with another weapons group vying to marry into the family, the danger was far from over. And even though Hunter can protect him to the best of his ability, he would do everything to give Will a chance to get his old life back as a carefree student in the States. More than anything, he wanted Will out of the life and the legacy of his family. The couple has a lot of problems to work through, but it was fun seeing them face the issues together. In some way, they’re like the pairing from the first book: tormented with the decisions they’ve made with regards to their relationship.

We also see the return of the CIA motley crew – to my delight. They are as every bit sarcastic and hilarious as I remembered them to be. Ms. Dimon was so efficient in bringing these characters to life. Their personalities clash and meld in perfect synchronicity. This installment was pleasurably fun, sinfully sexy, romantic, and suspenseful in every sense of the word. As much as I’d loved reading this installment way ahead of its release, I’m a little sad I have to wait forever and a day for the next one.

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[646]: The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon

29008738 The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon
Stand Alone | Createspace Independent Pub
May 11th, 2016
Adult Fiction | Fantasy | Romance
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Swallow, Daughter, pull them in, those words that sit upon your lips. Lock them deep inside your soul, hide them ‘til they’ve time to grow. Close your mouth upon the power, curse not, cure not, ‘til the hour. You won’t speak and you won’t tell, you won’t call on heav’n or hell. You will learn and you will thrive. Silence, Daughter. Stay alive.

The day my mother was killed, she told my father I wouldn’t speak again, and she told him if I died, he would die too. Then she predicted the king would trade his soul and lose his son to the sky.

My father has a claim to the throne, and he is waiting in the shadows for all of my mother’s words to come to pass. He wants desperately to be king, and I just want to be free.

But freedom will require escape, and I’m a prisoner of my mother’s curse and my father’s greed. I can’t speak or make a sound, and I can’t wield a sword or beguile a king. In a land purged of enchantment, love might be the only magic left, and who could ever love . . . a bird?

I had high hopes for this book. After all the great things I’ve been reading about it, I was sure I was going to love it. I mean, I should’ve known better, you know? There is something about fantasy novels that just do not appeal to my reading sensibilities. But I didn’t let that stop me because most of you have given this book such a high rating. Y’all know how easy it is to persuade me.

The first thing that appealed to me was the cover; it just doesn’t look like a fantasy novel, in my opinion. So because of that, I decided to give it a go. The second thing is that Lark cannot speak. And I’m the kind of reader who’s eternally intrigued by characters with disabilities. There is something about them that’s even more admirable than a character with their full capacities. They’re inherently stronger because of the things they had to overcome day in and day out. So yes, even though that cover is gorgeous, Lark was the major draw. Though, I should mention that her being mute is not a birth defect or as a result of an injury.

Fantasy is so tricky for me. My attention span can’t deal with the legends, the curses, the myths that I have to keep track of. Moreover, the seemingly archaic narration just doesn’t suit me. The last fantasy series that I’ve devoured and loved was The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta. I’ve grown to appreciate it more over the years because I’ve re-read the books at least a thousand times.

So in this book, the story was propelled by a curse (as fantasy novels often do) inflicted by a witch that was about to be slaughtered by Tiras’ father. She ordered her daughter (Lark) to keep her words because her words are powerful. Lark’s ability is a variation of the power of persuasion. She can order animals and some people to do her will. In this land, anybody who has powers is found and killed. People are afraid of those with abilities. But she made sure that her curse was woven tightly that it would affect her husband (who didn’t do anything to protect her) and the, then King’s son (Tiras).

Years later, when the King died, Tiras took over. The kingdom is constantly under threat. Because the many years of injustice directed towards those with powers, a group of shifters wanted the royal blood and their people. In short, this book has the right recipe for some good old-fashioned fantasy. The kind that fans of the genre can easily like. As much as this book didn’t tickle my fancy, I’d like to say that it’s something fans of romance novels could like. It is heavy on the romance. I like Tiras and Lark. They were perfectly matched in temper and as much as couples ought to be well-suited.

Tiras was a little off-putting sometimes, though. He more often throws it in Lark’s face that she is “of use” to him in his war. And no matter how indignant Lark was with her role as a sword to be wielded, she doesn’t say no – not that she couldn’t (she was a way of speaking to Tiras telepathically).

I really wish I’d loved it more, but it just wasn’t in the cards. The pacing was inconsistent, impeded by Tiras’ constant disappearing acts. I do love the smooth prose, though. It wasn’t overly prettified but it had enough gorgeousness to be purple.


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