Friday, March 24, 2017

Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer


Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Rating: 5 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

What I Liked:

I've read all six of Kemmerer's previous novels (and some of the novellas too), and for the most part, I enjoyed all of what I read. Kemmerer has a way of writing broken teens who are trying to find their way. But I think Kemmerer is at her best, with this book. This, to me, is her best work. This book split me open and made my heart hurt - in the best of ways. I wouldn't say that I get emotional over books, but this one made me feel some feels. 

This is Juliet Young's and Declan Murphy's stories, which becomes one story. Juliet's mother died in a hit-and-run car crash, and she has been grieving ever since. Juliet used to write letters to her mom since her mother was often overseas, as a photographer in war zones and such. And so Juliet continues to write letters to her mom, but leaves them at the grave site. Declan Murphy has community service, which involves mowing and lawn of the cemetery. He finds one of the letters at a grave site, reads it, and writes back. An exchange of letters occurs, and then it becomes emails. Juliet and Declan have no idea that they are reaching out to each other and helping each other through their grief and pain. But in real life, Juliet misjudges Declan, and Declan misjudges Juliet. Both are not the other's biggest fans; but when one finds out that the other is the letter writer, will it matter?

I sat down with this book with the intention of reading only half of the book, and saving the other half for the next day. I started reading really late into the night (after 9 PM) and had no intention of finishing. But hours went by, my family went to bed, and I didn't even notice. I was so engrossed in this book, and I couldn't stop reading, and the next thing I know, I've finished it. It was that wonderful, and heartbreaking, and thought-provoking. 

Usually when there is a YA book with dual, first-person POVs, I adore one of them, and feel so-so about the other (I don't have this problem with adult books, which is a relief). With this book, I liked both characters a lot. I think I liked Declan more, and I really connected him more (for some reason - it's not like I have a stepparent or a father in prison or a shred of the problems he has). 

Declan is so misjudged, and by everyone. Everyone labels him as a thug and a criminal, and when someone says something bad about him, no one comes to his defense. If he is anywhere near a bad situation, it gets blamed on him. He and his stepfather practically hate each other, and his mother is so passive and doesn't even talk to him. His sister is dead, his father is in jail, and he has to work off ninety hours of community service for one very bad decision. But... Declan isn't a bad guy. He has an attitude and he doesn't hide his anger, but he isn't a terrible person. He has a strong sense of morals and he is very intelligent, But again, misjudged. Even - and especially - by our heroine, Juliet.

Juliet is overwhelmed with grief. Her mother's death is still fresh, and even the thought of getting rid of her mother's cameras makes Juliet break down in tears, or panic. Juliet hasn't had an easy year, but she isn't alone. She misjudges Declan badly, and slowly, she starts to realize that. Juliet is a good girl, though at first she is a little judgmental (towards Declan). In general she isn't... but to him, she was. She was to the point where she was afraid of him, which I thought was silly. 

To me, it's a testament to Kemmerer's talent as a writer, how she can characterize these two teens so well, and bring about those fears and angers and pain so well, such that the reader is incredibly aware of them. There wasn't a chapter that went by that I didn't distinctly feel Declan's fury and his hurt, or Juliet's panic and grief. Such good writing, in terms of the development of these two characters.

The letter-writing aspect of the story was so wonderful. At first it was odd - Juliet was furious to find out that someone wrote on her private letter to her dead mother. But then the letter-writing turned into something more meaningful and necessary. Both characters had a lot of pain and hurt to work through, and the anonymous letter-writing really helped. Imagine being able to lay out your big problems, your little problems, your crappy day, to someone who knows exactly nothing about you. Someone who knows nothing, and yet everything. Letter-writing isn't new in YA (P.S. I Like You by Kasie West, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum...), but it's a concept that I adore so much.

This is YA contemporary with a lot of "tough issues" explored. Declan's relationship with his stepfather, with his mother, Juliet's relationship with her father, Declan's crime and his community service, his anger, Juliet's grief, Juliet's judgment of Declan... there is a lot to unload and handle, in this book. The most meaningful (or one of them) was Kemmerer's message about misjudging people - someone like Declan will get blamed and beat down because people already expect him to be a bad person, a thug and a criminal, but that isn't fair and it isn't right.

There is romance and it's both there and it's not. Letter-writing Declan and letter-writing Juliet definitely fall for each other through letters - their connection is very powerful. In-person Declan and in-person Juliet have more of a slow-burn, hate-to-love romance. They bicker and fight nearly every time they see each other, and they constantly snipe at each other and misjudge each other. But their relationship changes a lot. There is a lot of chemistry between them, but it's often off the page. I liked the romance, despite the "physical" side of the romance not really being there.

There were a lot of wonderful secondary characters in this book! Rev, Declan's best friend, who has a heartbreaking past but a positive outlook on life. He is an amazing friend and I loved their bromance. He's one of my favorites, and I can't wait to read his story next. Rowan, Juliet's best friend, who is so supportive and such a good best friend. Then there is "Melonhead" (his name is Frank), who is Declan's community service supervisor. He actually plays a huge and very positive role in Declan's life, and I'm glad he is in the story. Same with Rev's parents. Positive role models - not like Declan's mother and stepfather. Ugh, to both of them. 

The ending is perfect! Things work out well for Declan in many areas of his life. It's not like all of his problems are fixed overnight, but he takes a lot of baby steps in the right direction. Same with Juliet. And of course, same for the two of them, in terms of togetherness. Although, I have to say, we need an epilogue, or a loooooot of cameo appearances in Rev's book. There is a distinct lack of physical swoon that needs to be made up for, in Rev's book!

What I Did Not Like:

The only thing I wanted more of was the thing I just mentioned - more physical swoon. I shared a snippet of this book on my latest Swoon Thursday post, and notice how it isn't a kissy swoon! Yeah, there could have been more kissy scenes. A lot more.

Would I Recommend It:

YA contemporary fan or not (I'm not one), I recommend this book. It is such a meaningful and thought-provoking book. Also, I can't remember the last time I got that swept up in a story, to the point where I unintentionally finish it or stay up really late without being aware. (I stay up late reading books all the time but it's always intentional). There are a lot of tough topics explored in this book, but it's not overwhelmingly heavy. This is an excellent story that is powerful beyond it being a YA contemporary story about two teens who meet in more than one way.

Rating:

4.5 stars -> rounded up to 5 stars (a rare 5 stars from me!). I am incredibly excited to read Rev's book next year! So far I'm seven for seven with Kemmerer's books and I have yet to be really disappointed. While I certainly do recommend her Elemental series, I recommend this book even more so! 


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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Swoon Thursday (#217): Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer


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

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


This week, my swoon is from Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer!


He turns to face me, and before I'm ready for it, he moves close. Very close. So close that his cheek is against my cheek, and one hand is against my neck. If I take a deep breath, I'll be pressed up against him. His breath tickles my ear, his stubble brushing my jaw.

"Is this okay?" he says softly.

"Okay? This is about three thousand times better than my idea with the phones."

He laughs, and our chests do touch. One of his hands finds my waist. We could be dancing instead of sharing secrets. I have the sudden urge to wrap my arms around him.

- eARC, page 386



I don't remember the last time a book utterly consumed me like this one did. I planned on reading this one over two days, but instead, I found myself completely immersed in the story and unable to stop reading, and suddenly it's well past midnight and I've finished the book. It was wonderful! This is a non-kissy swoony scene and one of my favorites of the book. =)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

1,000,000 Pageviews Giveaway!

Happy Wednesday! In addition to my usual Waiting on Wednesday post (below this one!), I've got a thing to celebrate! 

I've been remiss! An entire month has passed since I announced that my blog passed 1,000,000 pageviews. Yup, you read that correctly. 1,000,000 pageviews! ONE MILLION!


I wanted to do something special for the milestone, and I do apologize for posting about it so late. The Eater of Books! is now well past 1,000,000 pageviews so, ah, I'm sorry!

Thank you all so much for your support! These 1,000,000+ pageviews couldn't have all come from me! Some days I wonder though - maybe it's just me visiting my own blog? But no, it's all you guys. Thank you for everything! Especially these last few months; I'm still incredibly behind and I will definitely catch up soon (maybe by the end of spring break, which is this week?). A downside of publishing blog posts every day (and sometimes more than twice a day) is that I'm always going to have posts to catch up on (in terms of comments). But I'd be lying if I said that I didn't love it. I appreciate every pageviews, every comment, every visitor. Hugs to all of you - you make my life brighter every day. =)

And I promised a giveaway! Well, I have three of them. You ready?


Giveaway #1:

Head to my Twitter to enter this prize pack! Note that this is a prize pack of both ARCs and paperback copies. Some are old, some are new!


Giveaway #2:


Win five hardcovers of diverse YA books! Winner has 48 hours to respond. Titles are below. Open internationally. Giveaway rules apply.


(Note: if you win this prize pack, and indicate that you like adult romance, I may be able to sneak some adult romance novels in your box! It looks like there will be room in the box when I ship the books. I'm specifying extra adult books because they are small in length/width. So, extra books for those who like adult in addition to YA! Just saying!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway #3:


Win twelve adult romance novels! A mix of finished paperbacks and ARCs.  Winner has 48 hours to respond. Titles are below. Open internationally. Giveaway rules apply.


Thank you for your support! And if you don't win one of these prize packs, don't fret! There is plenty more where those come from. I'm going to be moving soon, and I need to make a looooot of books disappear (especially ARCs). :D

Waiting on Wednesday (#221): A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess


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


This week, I'm featuring:


A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess
Book Two of the Kingdom on Fire series
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 19, 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The magicians want her to lead.
The sorcerers want her to lie.
The demons want her blood.
Henrietta wants to save the one she loves.
But will his dark magic be her undoing?

In this seductive and explosive second book in the Kingdom on Fire series, Jessica Cluess delivers her signature mix of magic, passion, and teen warriors fighting for survival. Hand to fans of Victoria Aveyard, Sarah J. Maas, and Kiersten White.

Henrietta doesn’t need a prophecy to know that she’s in danger. She came to London to be named the chosen one, the first female sorcerer in centuries, the one who would defeat the Ancients. Instead, she discovered a city ruled by secrets. And the biggest secret of all: Henrietta is not the chosen one.

Still, she must play the role in order to keep herself and Rook, her best friend and childhood love, safe. But can she truly save him? The poison in Rook’s system is transforming him into something monstrous as he begins to master dark powers of his own. So when Henrietta finds a clue to the Ancients’ past that could turn the tide of the war, she persuades Blackwood, the mysterious Earl of Sorrow-Fell, to travel up the coast to seek out strange new weapons. And Magnus, the brave, reckless flirt who wants to win back her favor, is assigned to their mission. Together, they will face monsters, meet powerful new allies, and uncover the most devastating weapon of all: the truth.




I'm looking forward to reading this sequel! Hopefully it doesn't succumb to Sequel Slump.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: His Custody by Tamsen Parker


His Custody by Tamsen Parker
Publisher: Intermix (Berkley)
Publication Date: March 21, 2017
Rating: 2 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley

***Warning: this is an adult book, and for the eyes of mature readers***

Summary (from Goodreads):

He needs to be a better man for her sake, but she makes him want to be so bad...

Keyne O’Connell leads a charmed life. She has a caring family and a terrific boyfriend. Her senior year is about to begin, and her future looks bright. But one dark summer night robs her of everyone she loves, thrusting her into the care of her boyfriend’s intimidating, much older brother.

Dark and brooding, Jasper Andersson is not a good man. His business dealings are barely legal. He’s a womanizer and a casual drug user. He has no interest in becoming Keyne’s guardian, although given her limited options, he doesn’t have much of a choice. He knows he must protect her at whatever the cost.

But living in close quarters soon stirs up feelings inside them both that are far from platonic. Keyne needs a firm hand to keep her in line, but what she desires could lead Jasper into trouble...

What I Liked:

I'm going to begin my review by saying that I really enjoyed this book... until the last fifty pages of the book. Yes, I'm giving the book three stars, despite loving the book (again, until the last fifty pages or so). I'm so disappointed in the last part of the book because it had been so good (for me), until that point. Please be warned - this review will have spoilers (especially in the "What I Did Not Like" section). 

I've never read a book by Tamsen Parker, and I don't think I've read a true "guardian/ward" book. I wanted to try one and test my boundaries, and I really enjoyed this book - minus the last fifty pages. I picked this book up on a whim, and while I wish I could say I was glad that I did, I really can't.

Life comes to a halt when Keyne's family - her parents her boyfriend Gavin, and his parents - are killed in an accident while they were on a cruise. She has known Gavin since birth, since their parents were best friends. Which means that she has also known Gavin's older brother Jasper since she was born. Jasper fights for custody of her, knowing that while she has blood family, he is her only real family. He doesn't know anything about being a parent or raising a teenager, but he isn't going to let Keyne go. Living together was never going to be easy, but it gets even harder when the pair recognize their fierce attraction to each other, and how deeply they've fallen for each other.

I loved both of these characters from the start, but especially Jasper. He is fourteen years older than Keyne (thirty-one at the start of the book), a successful and rich businessman with a very kinky dominant side, and a very pleasure-filled life. When his parents, Keyne's parents, and his little brother are killed, he has no time to process his grief. Keyne's grief is overwhelming and very present, and Jasper wants to be there for her before anything else. I love how Jasper puts Keyne first in everything, and takes care of her, from start to finish.

Keyne is incredibly broken after the five deaths, and for months. She doesn't process the grief well. It's good that Jasper is so caring and understanding because Keyne becomes a zombie for a few months, before she begins to be alive again. I liked Keyne and her fragility, but I also liked her quiet, budding strength. She leans on Jasper and learns to live again because of him.

Okay, you probably wondering - he is thirty-one and she is seventeen and HOW is this a romance novel? I assure you, nothing sexual happens between them until she's eighteen. In fact, about half of the book is spent over months (maybe eight months? I can't remember), in which they live together and heal together, but they ignore their attraction as best they can. Nothing happens until she turns eighteen. But even before then, it wasn't really weird. Nothing about the situation struck me as weird.

And even then, Jasper is careful to always give her an out. He gives her so many options, and makes sure that she knows that she is safe with him and can stop him at any time. He is gentle with her in that regard... but nothing about the romance is gentle. He is kinky and a true dominant, and she discovers that she likes some kinky aspects of sex that she didn't fully understand. The two of them together are tough, passionate, and fiery, and a lot of the scenes with them in the second half of the book are scorching hot. There are BDSM-type scenes in this book, though nothing super super erotic or hardcore. 

But the last fifty pages... the ending really threw a damp towel over the inferno. I'm very sad about the last fifty pages. There IS a happily-ever-after ending, don't worry. It's how we get there that makes me sad and angry. Read on for spoilers and my dislikes.

What I Did Not Like:

I'm going to be blunt - the last fifty pages made me angry, and disappointed. This is the part of the story in which Keyne goes to college. She goes to Yale, about an hour away. But Jasper, being the noble guy that he is, tells her that she should go and meet boys and have sex and do whatever, even though he also tells her that he loves her and will wait for her, and she clearly tells him that she loves him and only wants him.

You can probably see where this is going.

I'm 100% confident that Keyne didn't have vaginal sex (i.e. penetration) with anyone. But she did get a boyfriend in the first few months at college, and she lets him touch her and do stuff to her, and she does stuff to him. Again, no penetration, but... none of this sat well with me. How can you claim to love someone and be devoted to them, but also go "exploring" with someone else? Jasper was furious about that, but sad nothing, because he wanted her to be happy. Also, we as readers know that Keyne (probably) didn't have sex with that boy, but Jasper never knew that. And of course, I could be wrong, and Keyne most definitely could have had sex with the boy at some point. A lot of time passes. 

Look, I'm all about choices and empowerment and whatnot. This really bothers me though, because Keyne loves Jasper, and she always claims she wants to make him happy and doesn't want to hurt him. But in a lot of ways, her "exploration" in college (four years, by the way) makes me feel like she did all of that to spite him for giving her this choice. Which is f***ed up, if you ask me. I get it, he told her to go and live life and have sex with whomever, but that does not mean she had to - especially since she really didn't want to. She didn't even like that boy! She recited her homework and schedule while he put his hands on her. Do you see my frustration?

Friends, while (penetration) sex is regarded as intimate and personal in most instances, I think the "other stuff" that people do is also really intimate and personal... and the fact that Keyne allowed herself to do those things with and to other people, when in fact she only wanted one man, really bothered me. Especially since Jasper was over there with his very celibate self, not letting anyone touch him. 

Yup, those last fifty pages though.

Would I Recommend It:

I really don't recommend this book and kind of wish I hadn't read it. Which is a shame, because I loved it, up until Keyne goes to college (which is in those dreaded last fifty pages I keep mentioning). I'm so annoyed and also very disappointed and sad. This could have easily been a new favorite romance novel of mine, had the climax/ending not marred it so much for me. So, no, I don't recommend it. 

That being said, I'm sure most readers will love this book. I'm very strange and strict when it comes to my tastes in romance, in that I'm usually on the conservative side (i.e. two people in the romance - no love triangles or outside partners or menages or orgies, etc.). And arguably, Keyne had one boyfriend (Tyler) and she may not have even had sex with him, and anyway this whole thing may not be a big deal to others. But it's a loyalty/cheating thing to me, and it's a big deal to me.

Rating:

2 stars. This hurts for me to dish out this rating for such a wonderful book that I loved until the climax/ending. I was loving this book, and flying through the heartbreak and the slow-burn romance and the sexy, sexy times! But the last fifty pages really ruined the story for me, and I can't look at this book this same. I might even delete it from my Kindle, because I can't stand to look at it anymore. I think I got too invested and then I got too hurt by this book!


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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis


Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis
Book One of the Given series
Publisher: Putnam's Childrens
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Rating: 2 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

Khosa is Given to the Sea, a girl born to be fed to the water, her flesh preventing a wave like the one that destroyed the Kingdom of Stille in days of old. But before she’s allowed to dance – an uncontrollable twitching of the limbs that will carry her to the shore in a frenzy – she must produce an heir. Yet the thought of human touch sends shudders down her spine that not even the sound of the tide can match.

Vincent is third in line to inherit his throne, royalty in a kingdom where the old linger and the young inherit only boredom. When Khosa arrives without an heir he knows his father will ensure she fulfills her duty, at whatever cost. Torn between protecting the throne he will someday fill, and the girl whose fate is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is at odds with his heart.

Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race whose dwindling magic grows weaker as the island country fades. Animals cease to bear young, creatures of the sea take to the land, and the Pietra – fierce fighters who destroyed the Indiri a generation before – are now marching from their stony shores for the twin’s adopted homeland, Stille.

Witt leads the Pietra, their army the only family he has ever known. The stone shores harbor a secret, a growing threat that will envelop the entire land – and he will conquer every speck of soil to ensure the survival of his people.

The tides are turning in Stille, where royals scheme, Pietrans march, and the rising sea calls for its Given.

What I Liked:

I've read four of McGinnis's books (this one being the fourth), and it's a shame to say that I really haven't enjoyed anything I've read. On the one hand, all of her books have been very well-written and so unique. On the other hand, all of her books (that I've read) have not been for me. And therein lies the distinction - her books just don't seem to be for me. I thought I'd give her books another shot because Given to the Sea is her first fantasy novel, and fantasy is my favorite genre. But not even my love of fantasy could save me. 

This book is told in four different points-of-view, though there are arguably five protagonists. Vincent is the prince of Stille and third in line for the throne. He doesn't want to become king, but he is destined to claim the throne in the future. Khosa is the Given, the female child who has been groomed since birth to choose a mate, bear a child, and then sacrifice herself to the Sea, to keep the sea calm and restful. Dara and Donil are the last Indiri, a race that is magical and ancient. They are adopted royal children, and they grew up with Vincent like brothers and sister. And finally, Witt, the Lithos, deadly leader of the Pietra. The Pietra rise against Stille, and look to destroy them as they also destroyed the Indiri. Strange events are occurring - the Given washes up on the shores of Stille, but she is not pregnant nor did she have a child. The sea levels are rising, though it may not be due to the lack of Given. And the Pietra are coming for the people of Stille, who are wholly unprepared for war.

If there is one thing that I can say McGinnis does consistently well, it is her world-building. Every book of hers that I have read has had a very well-constructed world and setting. Her books are so unique because of the varying worlds she has created. This world, with Stille and Pietra and a vast, unpredictable sea, is strange and entirely its own. McGinnis has written a very strong fantasy world, one that is dangerous and rigid and unforgiving. 

I didn't love all of the characters, and there were some that I didn't care about, or flat-out hated. But I really liked and connected with Vincent from the start. He is the only surviving child of Prince Varrick, and only grandchild of the current King, who is a good man. But that King dies in this story, and Vincent's father becomes King. Vincent does not want the throne, which is evident throughout the story. I really felt for him, because he has no options. Vincent is a good man with a soft heart, though not soft enough that he wouldn't defend his mother, or the twins, or Khosa. 

What else did I like about this book... I'm drawing a blank. Vincent somewhat redeemed this story for me. He was the only character I was rooting for. Not even the ending of this book, while slightly satisfying on the surface, could change my opinion of the book. 

What I Did Not Like:

This book was a bit of a mess (for me). The romance, the characters, the plot, the treatment of women... there were a lot of things that just didn't sit well with me.

I'll start by going through the other four protagonists that I didn't talk about. I already said how I liked Vincent. But I didn't really care for the other four (or just didn't like them). For example, Witt, the Lithos. I didn't hate him or dislike him - I just didn't feel much for him. His chapters were always extremely short (1-3 pages long) and not very interesting. I bet I would have liked him more if his chapters were longer and he had more action in his life.

Next, Khosa. I didn't dislike Khosa, but I also didn't like her. She is a weak, spineless girl who has always accepted her fate as the Given. She knows no better than to accept the fact that she must choose a man, have sex with him until she gets pregnant, give birth, and then throw herself into the sea to die. Barbaric, right? Khosa never fights this, not until towards the end of the book. So I didn't really care for her. The thing that made me dislike her was the romance. It would appear that she doesn't like to be touched by anyone - any touch brings her physical revulsion. But not Donil's touch - Donil is the male Indiri twin, and his magic is all about life (think: sex). So after Donil touch's Khosa hand for the first time, all she can think about is his potent touch. Buuuuut, she is in love with Vincent. She can't stomach Vincent's touch, but it would appear that she loves Vincent.

I'll get to that in a second. The fourth character is Donil, and I didn't like him. In fact, he was probably my least favorite character. Yes, partly because I didn't want him with Khosa. Yes, because I see him as the "other leg" of the love triangle. But mostly because I find him sleazy and his actions and words towards women make me uncomfortable. He flirts with all of the girls, and his magic calls to girls (life = sex, remember?). So even though they are willing, it's a subconscious call that he has, that makes them want to have flirt and have sex with him. That bothers me a lot. And yes, you could say that he can't help his power. I still don't like how he wields it. I still don't like him. He claims he would never let a woman come between him and Vincent, and yet, he lets it happen. 

And finally, Dara. I almost felt bad for Dara. She's been in love with Vincent, and he's never been in love with her. Until one day, her magical power leaks a little, and it's like a flip switches in Vincent, and he sees her in this brand-new (and very sexual) light. But that pretty much disappears, because Vincent is pretty smitten with Khosa.

Because who isn't, at this point? Literally everyone wants in this girl's vagina. I kid you not. It's kind of disconcerting, and disgusting. But I'll get to the treatment of women. 

Back to Dara. I almost felt bad for her because she has to deal with unrequited love. But Dara is so annoying too. Because Vincent doesn't love her, she goes around acting like the world owes her something. She isn't a good person, and I would never want Vincent to end up with her. She seems selfish and cruel, and as kickbutt and tough as she is, I can't root for her.

You can probably tell by now, but the romance is so frustrating. It's this weird love triangle/cycle thing. Let me break it down for you:

Vincent loves Khosa, but his touch repulses her. Khosa seems to love Vincent but his touch repulses her. Khosa is very physically attracted to Donil, and it's possibly that she feels affection for him. His touch is the only touch she can bear (because again, his magical abilities are rooted in "life", which is rooted in sex). Donil is attracted to Khosa, and I'm assuming he has feelings for her. Dara has feelings for Vincent. Vincent has never had feelings for Dara not has he ever been attracted to her, until this one random moment in the book.

Confusing, right? I hate confusing romances. I hate messy attractions and broken hearts. I hate seeing two men who are like brothers fight over a woman. They LITERALLY fight over Khosa at one point. They literally fight over Dara at one point (not in the same way as Khosa though - Donil is looking out for his sister, and Vincent is not happy with Donil). I don't enjoy books love triangles, and so this love... cycle is an actually nightmare for me.

I will say, believe it or not, that no one has sex with anyone, in this book. Khosa kisses Donil once. That's pretty much all of the sexual action that happens in this book, which is funny because the characters do a lot of fighting over each other. Sex is clearly on all of their minds, though no sex actually happens. 

The treatment of women - ugh, this world is frightfully patriarchal and it seems like there are no women's rights. Now, here me out: this is obviously intentional and McGinnis is showing us a world with retracted women's rights. I get it. It still disgusts me. Men in this book talk about having sex with an unwilling female (i.e. rape), or their sexual encounters, or putting a seed in Khosa, and it really set my teeth on edge (that's putting it mildly). Vincent's father is the most unfaithful man to ever exist, and Vincent's mother is naively still hoping that he'll come around and love her. And then there is Khosa, who probably enjoys being bounced between Vincent and Donil, in terms of their affections, but has no real power. This book made me want to scream!

But again, I'm sure this is very intentional (all of the negative treatment of women's rights). It still makes me mad though. 

Basically, I think the horrible romance is what tipped the scales and made me rate this book down. I hate messy romances, I hate love triangles, and I really hate whatever is going on in this book, in terms of the romance. It's weird and pisses me off a little.

The ending! Was! Terrible! I can't say why, but I'm furious. It's hastily done, and it ruins the romance further, and I'm just beyond frustrated with the book at this point. Not enough to go all the way to one star (though I'm thinking...), but definitely enough to consider expelling this one from memory.

In general, the story wasn't great, romance aside. Two countries are going to war - great! There wasn't anything super original about the story, if you take away the part about the Given and the rising seas. Given how romance-driven this story was, part of me isn't surprised. But then, I would have rather read a much less romance-driven book than dealt with the irritating romance that was presented.

Would I Recommend It:

I hate to say it, but I don't recommend this book. It's a really gritty fantasy novel, and if I wanted to read a gritty fantasy novel, I'd dig out an adult fantasy novel written by a middle-aged man who seems to think murder, rape, torture, and mutilation are good things to have in fantasy stories. Well, not the type of fantasy stories I like to read. This is a frustrating, irritating, and confusing fantasy story. There aren't a ton of redeeming qualities, besides the very strong world-building and the one really likable protagonist (out of five though? That's sad). Definitely do not read this book if you like linear, obvious romances. Don't read this book if you want a happy ending. Don't read this book if you a story with a clear issue or journey. Don't read this book if you want action or adventure or a plot that moves at a healthy pace. (I starting skimming at certain points.)

Rating:

2 stars. I wanted to love this book so badly, and I got so invested in wanting to love it so badly, which is why, when I finished it and didn't love it, it hurts so much that I'm giving it 2 stars. I almost wish I had cared less about loving this book, because then I might have given it 3 stars and moved on. But this book wasn't "meh", it was painful and frustrating at times; therefore, 2 stars it is. Will I read the sequel? I don't know - I have a feeling I'll be disappointed in any of McGinnis's books, given my track record. I think I need to accept the fact that her books just aren't for me.


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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Review: Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey


Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

Miss Lydia Whitfield, heiress to the family fortune, has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father's choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Mr. Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.

Until Lydia—and Robert along with her—is kidnapped. Someone is after her fortune and won't hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert's help, Lydia strives to keep her family's good name intact and expose whoever is behind the devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she truly wants…

What I Liked:

It is no secret that I adore adult historical romance novels. Tessa Dare, Elizabeth Hoyt, Caroline Linden, Katharine Ashe... you name it, I've probably read it or heard of it, one of the two. Historical fiction set in the 1800s isn't super common in YA fiction, especially since when there is a YA novel set in the 1800s, it's usually of a story with paranormal or steampunk aspects - basically, not a purely historical fiction novel. Cindy Anstey's books are exceptional: they are YA historical fiction novels that anyone who loves adult historical romance will love. 

Duels and Deception is a standalone novel, not related to Love, Lies and Spies in any sense (not a companion novel, not a sequel). It begins with Miss Lydia Whitfield meeting Mr. Robert Newton for the first time, in which Robert comes to Roseberry Hall (Lydia's home) to discuss important legal matters with Lydia and her uncle. Robert is the apprentice of the Whitfield's solicitor, Mr. Lynch. Lydia and Robert discuss mundane things like replacing the estate manager, and figuring out what to do about Lydia's greedy uncle... oh, and drawing up Lydia's marriage contract. Lydia has always know that she won't marry for love, and marrying her equally reluctant neighbor, Lord Aldershot, will suffice. So, the marriage contract is drafted. But while in town, Lydia and Robert are kidnapped, and only barely escape. And then someone starts threatening Lydia. Someone is trying to ruin Robert and extort a lot of money from Lydia - and they must find out who, before irreparable damage is done.

I am seriously in love with this book! I loved Love, Lies and Spies, which had been my favorite Swoon Reads book to date. Has anyone else been disappointed by the books published by Swoon Reads? They are hit-or-miss for me, mostly miss. But Cindy Anstey's books give me hope. Maybe it's because I love adult historical romance so much, maybe it's because her books have such swoony and undiluted romances, but Anstey's books are easily my favorite of the Swoon Reads line, and the best I've read by far.

Lydia is such a lovely young lady. She is clever and kind and selfless. Perhaps in the beginning she comes across as too selfless and agreeable - she puts her family first in everything, and puts up with so much. She stands to inherit everything when she comes of age (which is shortly, since she turns 18 soon), or marries. Her uncle, aunt, and two cousins live with her, since her father died. So she lives with them, her mother, and her sister, and she gives in to a lot of their crap, Lydia is so sweet and honestly a better person than I'd be. Family is so important but sometimes, family needs to be put in their place. I loved seeing the development of this character - Lydia becomes more vocal as the book goes on. In many ways, she was assertive to begin with - she is a bit of a control freak, which is why she is arranging her own marriage and drawing up the paperwork with Robert.

Robert! I love Robert. This book is writing in third-person limited POV, switching between Lydia and Robert. So Robert is equally as important in this story, as it is shared between him and Lydia. Robert is a new book boyfriend for sure! He is intelligent and hardworking and such a sweetheart. He's a gentleman to a fault, and always looks out for Lydia in a protective, loyal, sweet way. He's not an overly aggressive alpha type, but he is commanding and authoritative in a distinct way. He is an apprentice to become a lawyer, but he's also the third son of a nobleman (earl, I think?). Basically he is a good man and I want one of him! I'll take the excellent manners and kind but protective disposition any day.

The world-building is so flawlessly written. At no point did I feel like I was reading anything but an 1800s England story. The towns, the peerage, the mode of dress, the language/phrases, the customs and norms of society... Anstey has really done her research, because this world was created so well and so unshakably. I usually read and seek out anachronisms in historical fiction novels, because they're pretty common if you really look. But with this book, I'm not sure I found any! Or perhaps I was so captivated that I missed any. 

I loved the light, fun tone of the book, with the sense of adventure, even with the terrible kidnapping and the harm that came to Robert and Lydia (Robert especially). The overall tone of the book was incredibly lighthearted and warm, which is so refreshing. YA books can be so grim, you know? This book was fun, and incredibly enjoyable. I was hooked from start to finish. 

The romance made my heart so happy! I finished the book with a serious case of the warm and fuzzies. Yes, it might seem like there might be some sort of love triangle or something, with Lydia drawing up a marriage contract for her and Aldershot. But they're not engaged, and Aldershot is enamored with someone else, and Lydia doesn't care for him - she sees marrying him as duty. When she meets Robert, this changes, and the more time she spends with him, the more seriously she considers not marrying to preserve family honor and such. Trust me, there is no love triangle.

The romance between Robert and Lydia is so adorable and swoony. Once they meet, you can clearly see how much the two of them want to be in the other's company. Eventually it gets to the point in which they are always thinking about each other, which is so cute. There are so many swoony moments in this book, even though there isn't a ton of actually touching going on (I mean it's 1800s England, what do you expect). I loved watching these two fall for each. 

And I loved the ending! It's perfect! You might wonder how there could be some sort of ending, with Lydia being a rich heiress, and Robert being an apprentice (though he is the third son of an earl - I think it's an earl). But the author pulls it off really nicely. The ending is excellent and the whole story is wonderful - trust me!

What I Did Not Like:

I don't really have any dislikes! Maybe more kisses? Every book needs more kisses...

Would I Recommend It:

I highly recommend this book especially if you love adult historical romance! It's a very "clean" version of an adult historical romance novel, like Tessa Dare's or Elizabeth Hoyt's. And with the wonderful characters and swoony romance, I think any YA reader would enjoy this book. 

Rating:

4.5 stars. I'm trying to decide if I want to round up or down, so I'm going with down for now! This book and Anstey's debut novel, Love, Lies and Spies, are so brilliant, and probably Swoon Reads's best books (in my opinion). I really hope Anstey writes more YA historical fiction for Swoon Reads, because I am impressive and dying for more!


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