REVIEW: Valor on the Move by Keira Andrews

I received this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review.51BwE+hbQzL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

TITLE: Valor on the Move

AUTHOR: Keira Andrews

GENRE: LGBT Contemporary, Romance

TAG LINE: “He’d give his life to protect the president’s son. But he never expected to risk his heart.”

 

RATING: 1 Stars

SUMMARY:  Growing up gay in the White House hasn’t been easy for Rafael Castillo. Codenamed “Valor” by the Secret Service, Rafa feels anything but brave as he hides in the closet and tries to stay below the radar in his last year of college. His father’s presidency is almost over, and he just needs to stick to his carefully crafted plan. Once his family’s out of the spotlight, he can be honest with his conservative parents about his sexuality and his dream of being a chef.

It’s definitely not part of Rafa’s plan to get a new Secret Service agent who’s a walking wet dream, but he’s made it this long keeping his desires to himself. Besides, it’s not like Shane Kendrick would even look at him twice if it wasn’t his job.

Shane’s worked his way up through the Secret Service ranks, and while protecting the president’s shy, boring son isn’t his dream White House assignment, it’s an easy enough task since no one pays Rafa much attention. He discovers there’s a vibrant young man beneath the timid public shell, and while he knows Rafa has a crush on him, he assures himself it’s harmless. Shane’s never had room for romance in his life, and he’d certainly never cross that line with a protectee. Keeping Rafa safe at any cost is Shane’s mission.

But as Rafa gets under his skin, will they both put their hearts on the line?

BUY LINKS: Amazon

 

REVIEW:

 

I’ve been meaning to write this review for awhile. I was putting it off because I know I’m one of the few that didn’t like this book, and well, I hate saying bad things about novels, especially when I have nothing good to say about it.

I did finish it—so hey, that’s something—but I skimmed a huge chunk of the book. The writing wasn’t terrible. Keira Andrews has a style that’s very simplistic, not really igniting much spark, but still painting a basic enough picture that you get an idea of the characters and the environment. I’ve never read anything else from her, so I don’t know if this is a-typical of her writing, but I will admit, it was on the lackluster-side of things.

Going into Valor on the Move, I had high hopes. I love me some age gap, some forbidden love, and some interracial love. This book seemed like a tri-fecta. This is one of those situations where, when you think it’s too good to be true, you’re right. I’m going to try to break this down as succinctly as possible.

My first biggest issue was the writing. There was nothing that drew me in. I wasn’t eager to read the next page. I could set the book down, not come back, and even skip paragraphs and feel like I hadn’t missed anything. This also says much about the plot. There really wasn’t much of a plot, other than Rafa being whiny/sad. I get his plight, I do, but it didn’t make for an interesting read. There was some side plot about Rafa wanting to cook and not being able to. I didn’t understand why his parents thought it was too feminine to cook, especially since there are a lot of famous male chefs, a large chunk of who are heterosexual (since that’s the only reason I could glean from them being anti-cooking). It was a weak attempt at adding conflict and just didn’t really hold.

These weak conflicts carried on throughout the book. Towards the end, when Rafa is kidnapped, none of it made sense. The motive was poor. While I’ll give nod to the fact that Keira Andrews did do a good job of foreshadowing, it still came off as a stretch, and the execution was really messy.

I think what frustrated me most was that she had an opportunity to really make the story exciting, and she decided to go the safer route. Instead of giving us an amazing action scene with Shane, we had to read about Rafa being in a box. Personally, I believe that if you can’t write fight scenes, don’t set yourself up for them. Because you’re only going to let your readers down.

The characters were all really flat. I didn’t like any of them. None. Rafa was alright, but he got on my nerves. And he acted so much younger than his 21 years. Shane wasn’t much better. He was the opposite and came off very old. And while I don’t mind huge age gaps, it is an issue when your characters aren’t acting their appointed ages.

I didn’t get Rafa’s parents. I didn’t get the other agents. They all came off as shadow people, just background characters to fill in the void between Rafa and Shane’s interactions. When Rafa and Shane were with other characters the story really took a dip in the boring direction.

This brings me to my third issue. There was no chemistry between Rafa and Shane. I’ve said it throughout, I like age gaps, but only when it’s consensual and when both characters are also emotionally mature. Since Rafa had the mentality of a sixteen year old, this just felt weird and awkward between them. They never fully developed into a relationship.

After Rafa gets kidnapped, when they’re stuck in the cavern, we get the “big moment” which was nothing more than some blow jobs and such. Honestly, I didn’t like it. It wasn’t hot. It wasn’t romantic. They’re stuck. Rafa is emotionally upset about being kidnapped. He isn’t in the right headspace. He was in no way in a state of mind to consent to anything. Shane also knew how much Rafa cared about him. Shane should have been the adult and said no, because neither needed to be giving out blow jobs or handies.

Plus, it’s dirty, they’re sweaty, and bloody, and they have limited air supply. They should be conserving energy and focused on getting out. And yes, they decide to sit and wait because rescue is coming, that doesn’t mean they should reek up the place with spunk. Because the scent of sex would have lingered, especially since it was closed off, and people would have noticed.

After that we get a time jump and Rafa finding Shane in California, being kind of stalkerish. I actually did stop there (so okay, I guess I didn’t finish). I just didn’t care if they finally had penetrative sex. I didn’t want them to be together. I didn’t like them. And their relationship was weird.

TL;DR: Did not like. Did not ship. Would not read.

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REVIEW: Through Adversity by Amelia Faulkner

I received this book for free by the author for an honest and impartial review. My receiving the book in no way affects my review.

Through-Adversity-0TITLE: Through Adversity

AUTHOR: Amelia Faulkner

GENRE: Historical Romance, LGBT

RATING: 4 Stars

SUMMARY: Tortured German fighter ace Lt. Siegfried Krämer has a terrible secret which could ruin him: he prefers men. Hurried, loveless encounters have armed him with a sardonic wit and a bleak outlook, and he faces a life in which his only companion is his dog, Eike.

The young and talented Lt. Valentine Westbrook should be considered an ace, but most of his victories are unconfirmed, and now that his squadron is relegated to bombing missions the chances of him ever reaching the magic number are dwindling. When he encounters an equally-skilled enemy pilot during a terrible storm, Valentine is unable to resist the hunt.

Both men soon abandon all common sense and – with a protracted dogfight at their backs – crash-land in the midst of the German Empire’s last great offensive push. Injured, stranded, and with no idea which side of the Line they are on, they must work together if they are to survive. One of them will become the other’s prisoner just as soon as they figure out where they are, but until then they are stuck with no food and no shelter in storms which don’t seem ready to end. But worse still, their mutual respect blossoms into something dangerously intimate, and their lives are about to become forever intertwined…

BUY LINKS: Lovelight Press | Amazon

REVIEW:

Through Adversity is a historical romance that tells the story of a British pilot and a German pilot falling in love. It’s the kind of forbidden romance that we can all get on board with, so I was eager to read this story. All together I was really happy with the book, but there were still some points that I think could have used some work.

The beginning was slow and it almost turned me away from the story. It took about three chapters for me to really grow invested. As soon as Valentine and Siegfried met, though, I felt an instant chemistry and was pulled in. While Valentine and Siegfried interacted naturally, some of the conversations Val and Siegfried had with others around them felt artificial and forced.

I was pulled in once we into the meat of the story, when Valentine and Siegfried have to trek across the countryside, not sure where they are, and slowly falling in love. It only took me a couple days to read the book. The nice thing was that when I did set it down (not because I was bored, but because life interrupted or I had to go to bed), it was easy to pick back up where I left, as if I’d never even set it down.

Ms. Faulkner crafted wonderful characters. There was an authenticity to Valentine and Siegfried that a lot of m/m novels lack. They were human. It was refreshing to read about two male characters falling in love and neither being pigeonholed into an “Alpha Male” status. They reacted to their situation appropriately and their romance felt real. Watching it unfold was heartbreaking, because you knew that things wouldn’t end well, but you hoped they would get their happy ending.

Ms. Faulkner’s style is gorgeous. She weaves in the descriptions beautifully so that you feel as if you’re stuck in the French countryside right along with Val and Siegfried.

My only other issue was that I wanted more at the ending. While it was touching and had me choking a bit, I really wished that the story had an extra fifty pages where she expanded on Val and Siegfried’s separation. I wanted to hurt while reading this. I wanted to feel their pining and the distance, and I wanted to see them suffer because of it. I feel a little cheated that we didn’t get this moment, especially after the great build up of their relationship. It would have made the reunion (which was so sweet) much more emotional.

I went back and forth on how I should rate this one by about ½ a star. While Through Adversity has some faults and parts that could use work, for the most part the story was engaging and beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In the end I settled on four stars, because despite some cons, all together this was a very entertaining read and I would recommend it to other readers.

Review: The Homecoming by J. Scott Coatsworth

I received this book for free by the author for an honest and impartial review. My receiving the book in no way affects my review.

 

TITLE: The Homecoming

AUTHOR: J. Scott Coatsworth

GENRE: LGBT Romance, Fantasy 

RATING: 2 ½ Stars

Buy Links: 

Less Than Three Press

Amazon US

All Romance eBooks

Kobo

SUMMARY: When his own world is destroyed, Aldiss and his crew barely manage to escape, leaving friends and lovers behind. What was meant to be an exploratory trip back to the home world turns into a mad dash for survival.

When they awaken from stasis on Earth, which was abandoned by humanity five centuries before, they must quickly learn about their new home. While exploring the region around the ship, Aldiss meets Hari, a shape-changer, whose people harbor secrets that might cost the crew their lives.

BUY LINKS:

REVIEW:

The Homecoming had a mixture of pros and cons. I think the biggest issue with the book was that it was too short. There’s a reason fantasy stories are long. It’s to allow ample room for world building and character development, to key points in the genre. The story didn’t allow for this. Important details and developments are crammed into a short number of pages, leaving you wanting (and needing) more.

Scott Coatsworth is talented. The writing was strong, with great imagery. The characters were intriguing and I was genuinely interested about the worlds, but for the majority of the story I was confused and wanting to know more—why did humans leave earth, what happened on their new planet, what are all these unique things they keep mentioning? How do wolves shift to humans? Why are there only certain wolves that do?

Aldiss and Hari had potential as characters, but the space the author allowed for them to grow and form a relationship, wasn’t enough. The romance felt rushed, especially since it doesn’t start till a good portion of the way through the story.

To put simply in terms of pros and cons:

Pros—Great writing. Interesting characters. A unique world.

Cons—A little too much tree imagery. Too short, not enough world & character development.

What I’d like is to see the author take the story and turn it into a full length fantasy. I’d be happy to see 90-110k of the world. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be about sex, but rather about the environment and the characters as a whole. If J. Scott Coatsworth did that, I’d happily throw my money at the story and buy it.

REVIEW: Bear Wanted by Julia Talbot

I received this book for free by the author for an honest and impartial review. My receiving the book in no way affects my review. 

BearWanted_1400X2100-300dpiTITLE: Bear Wanted

AUTHOR: Julia Talbot

GENRE: LGBT Romance, Shifter

TAG LINE: “He always wanted a bear to keep him warm at night…”

RATING: 2 Stars

SUMMARY: Lane knows want he wants in a lover, but hasn’t been able to find the perfect bear of a man in his small Colorado hometown. So he turns to the Grizzly List, a regional personal ad service for bears and their lovers. He’s not sure what to expect when he meets Fin, but what he gets might be his perfect man.

Bear shifter Fin has been looking for someone with whom to spend his days, nights, and winter hibernation. He’s a happy guy, but needs someone who wants a big, burly, slightly dominant mate. When he meets Lane, Fin knows he’s found what he needs, but will he be able to convince Lane that they’re made for one another, in human form and bear?

BUY LINKS: Amazon

REVIEW:

I didn’t expect much when I started Bear Wanted. It’s a bear shifter story, so I can’t take it too seriously. I did have some expectations though—basic ones that all readers have, including quality writing, engaging characters, and a sense of belief. The concept behind Bear Wanted is a really fun idea. I think shifter stories, when done right, can be really fun quick readers. They’re great for when you’re killing time and want something light to get lost in. Plus, some of them can be really steamy. I love bears. They’re cuddly and cute. I also like the other bears, the big burly men with a thatch of hair on their chest and a well-groomed beard (yum!). This story was supposed to encompass both of those things, and it did.

For the most part, Ms. Talbot’s writing wasn’t bad. I think the biggest issue with the story was that she took a story that needed to be more than 80 some pages and condensed it down, so her writing was stilted and the characters didn’t have enough time to develop a true voice. While Lane and Fin each have their own personalities, they start to blend together rather quickly, until neither voice is distinguishing.

I have to give props to Ms. Talbot though for writing an authentic first day. When Lane and Fin meet its awkward, but not in a bad way. It’s the kind of awkward you get when you’re meeting a blind date. As someone who has done her fair share of the online dating, I can say that she accurately showed how anxiously and fumbling those first few moments in your date can be.

Of course, after the initial first date, my belief starts to go out the window. Lane and Fin sleep together on the first date. Which, sure, that happens. But it was really random and felt rushed and forced, like she was trying to get the sex out there immediately to snag the reader.

Then there was the issue with the lore of the story. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Fin is not only a bear as in a big hairy man, but he’s also a bear shifter. Okay, that’s fine. That’s what I expected when I went into this story. But nothing is explained about shifters. Are they accepted? Does society know about them? Are there others? Ms. Talbot gives us a vague and convoluted answer, which only makes me more confused. So there are others, but not everyone knows about them…but they’re accepted? And then there are some people who don’t even know they’re shifters, even when they’re well into their twenties? Wouldn’t they have been affected by the moon? Or by a heat cycle? Or something!?

Once Lane started finding out he was a shifter (because he had sex with Fin??), that’s when the story really lost me. My sense of belief went out the window. Plus, Lane’s dependency on Fin and the abrupt way their relationship developed really turned me off. Their relationship didn’t feel authentic. It felt written.

The idea she had was good. I think if she’d allowed herself another hundred pages or so to develop Lane and Fin’s relationship healthily and to focus on world building, than this story would have been a four star story. It has potential, but right now it feels like a first draft.

Review: Lip Service by Adele Downs

TITLE: Lip Service

AUTHOR: Adele Downs

GENRE: Contemporary Romance, Erotica

TAG LINE: “Some ghosts won’t take ‘yes’ as an answer.”

 

RATING: 4 Stars

BUY LINKS: Boroughs Publishing     ARe     Amazon    BN   Kobo   Smashwords

SUMMARY: Getting Between Jack…

Orphaned at a young age, Legs Anderson owes her Aunt Ada everything. The stoic old lady raised her, and Ada’s warnings about men—and the Harris boys in particular—have stuck, even after her death. Of course, that could be because Ada stuck around, too.

…And His Legs

Patience is not one of Jack Harris’ virtues, and he’s waited too long to start a life with the woman he’s loved since childhood instead of them just knocking boots. Now Ada is interfering from beyond the grave, haunting the old Victorian house she bequeathed to her niece and reinforcing Legs’s fears of commitment.

But Jack won’t give up. No matter what trouble may follow, the house will be renovated, Ada will learn to let go, Legs will put her money where her mouth is… then Jack’ll put his lips everywhere else.

REVIEW:

 

I really enjoyed Lip Service. I didn’t know what to expect when going into it. I figured it be a short, sweet read, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how much I did enjoy it. The story isn’t very long; an afternoon read that will leave you tingly and yearning for a taste of Jack’s lips. The plot is rather basic, but it provides enough that you feel satisfied.

Ms. Downs did a wonderful job of distinguishing the voices of her characters, and I had a clear image of both of them. It made the transition between POVs smooth, without causing any real confusion. The sex its self was steamy and ice-melting. She does a great job of building up to it. It starts off as a bit of back and forth between Legs and Jack, to painting a bedroom and some heavy decisions about their relationship. When we finally get to the goods, it’s a satisfying conclusion.

I loved the banter between Legs and Jack. They had great chemistry, and I grinned in the beginning when they both shot their mouths off. Ms. Downs has a knack for banter, and it’s very clear with these two.

My biggest issues with the story were at the beginning, we get a POV that’s completely separate from the story. This third person isn’t necessary for the story, and it easily could have been rewritten to go from either Jack’s or Legs’s POV. I understood it was to provide a bit of backdrop, but it really felt unnecessary. I also wasn’t a large fan of Legs’s nickname, but that’s a personal issue.

All together I think Lip Service was a great story and I think anyone looking for a sultry, quick read would enjoy the story.

REVIEW: One Two Three Kiss Box set by E.J. Kimelman

I received this book for free in order to get a fair and honest review. My receiving this book does not affect my opinion.

TITLE: One Two Three Kiss Box Set

AUTHOR: E.J. Kimelman

GENRE: Urban Fantasy

RATING: 3 Stars

SUMMARY: The International Council for the Exploration of the Universe exists to consider and conduct investigations into the dimensions of the Universe; to examine how far humans are being depleted by zombies; to investigate natural methods, such as by breeding, etc., of keeping up the stock; and in cases of certain future failure of supply to suggest the necessary remedial measures. For the most part it deals with the humans common to all dimensions, but a special sub-committee considers the vampires, and a second the shifters; disembodied spirits are not investigated.

BUY LINKS: Amazon  iTunes  BN

 

REVIEW:

The One Two Three Kiss box set is a whirlwind adventure. There’s a lot going on. And by a lot, I mean a lot. We have zombies, vampires, shifters, warlocks, and more. Kimelman somehow finds a balance in all of this to create an exciting story that leaves you on the edge of your seat. This is definitely a new twist on the urban fantasy genre, taking try-and-true monsters and giving it a new spin.

Darling and Megan’s relationship was my favorite part. It was nice to see two strong females as a focus in the story, and I loved that they could stand on their own, but also enhanced one another. I’d love to see more stories like this, focusing on female relationships.

While Kimelman’s writing isn’t the strongest I’ve read, the story still can stand on its own. She crafts suspenseful scenes and her dialogue flows naturally. I would have liked a little more showing and not telling in certain parts, but it wasn’t a large enough issue to detract from the story. She definitely proves she has the chops to become a great writer.

REVIEW: I’ll Still Be There by Keelan Ellis

TITLE: I’ll Still Be There

AUTHOR: Keelan Ellis

GENRE: LGBT, Erotic Romance

RATING: 2 1/2 Stars

SUMMARY: The summer after high school, Eli Dunn and Jess Early explore an abandoned brothel in the rural Florida Panhandle. They’ve always kept their mutual attraction unspoken, but in an upstairs room at the end of the hall, everything changes. Suddenly, all the longing Eli and Jess have tried so hard to conceal bursts free, and passion like they’ve never experienced comes to light, along with the ghosts of Clay Bailey and Silas Denton, murdered owners of the brothel. And Clay and Silas have no problem possessing Eli and Jess in order to express their love for each other, without thought for the living.

Deeply disturbed by the experience, Eli and Jess part and try to get on with life as best they can. But after several years, Eli returns to Florida, only to find that Jess has made some questionable choices. These eventually lead him back to the abandoned house and a confrontation with Eli. Old scores are settled and Eli and Jess reunite. But Clay and Silas’s ghosts aren’t finished yet, for they’ve always believed in the power of open and honest love.

 

REVIEW: Keelan Ellis had a very interesting premise for I’ll Still Be There, and I think if it had gone through a couple more rounds of edits and some fleshing out, the story would have been great. She had a lovely cast of characters and she did a good job of distinguishing the two separate time periods, so that you could visualize each one.

Ms. Ellis did a great job of character development. We got to see how each character grew and adapted to their situations. Each character had a personality, and it showed in their choices and actions.

My biggest issue with the book was that it dragged. I found myself struggling to read on, especially in Eli’s and Jess’s parts. I was interested in Clay and Silas more than anything, and I really wish the author would have made the focus about them.

The story is listed as an erotic romance, but we don’t actually get to the sex until over half the story is complete, and it isn’t very “erotic”. The sex scenes are basic and short, not really doing their job of exciting the reader. I didn’t feel connected to the story and characters, and I found some of the “sex talk” a bit off putting (at least for me).

That was the major flaw in the story; I’ll Still Be There is advertised as an LGBT erotica, but it feels more like a romance or contemporary novel. Even the ghost/haunting aspect seems to be an afterthought. The interaction between the four characters doesn’t happen until a good portion of the way through the story, well after the point of actually hooking the reader. It’s because the story couldn’t hold my attention that I’m giving it a 2 ½ star rating.

REVIEW: Phoenix by Elle King

I received this book for free by the author for an honest and impartial review. My receiving the book in no way affects my review.

 Phoenix Cover

TITLE: Phoenix

AUTHOR: Elle King

GENRE: Urban Fantasy, Mystery, Romance

TAG LINE: “They must die so he can live.”

 

RATING: 2 Stars

SUMMARY: New York City homicide detectives Rachel Wayland and Artemis Gregory are first on the murder scene of a beautiful young gay man, the third victim of a serial killer dubbed the Moon Killer by the department. Their investigation leads them to Talis Kehk, charismatic lead singer of the rock group Phoenix Rising.

As the next full moon approaches, Rachel and her partner uncover clues that lead straight to Talis, even as Talis, exhibiting behavior Rachel finds strange indeed, considering the circumstances, uses every means possible to keep her close. Innocent or not, Talis has a secret, and discovering what it is will change Rachel’s world forever.

BUY LINKS:

Amazon | All Romance | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Scribd

REVIEW:

Elle King had an interesting premise for this book. She took a classic mythological creature and attempted to give it a fresh spin. Ms. King is an unpolished diamond—she holds raw talent, but she still needs to be cleaned and shaped. Throughout the story there were brief moments of insightful and crisp prose that showed Ms. King’s potential. I suspect that with time she will develop into a very talented author. Right now, though? Her story, while having some bright spots, lacked depth, intrigue, and characters; all of these are required in order to create a gauging mystery, which is what Ms. King is marketing her story as.

As the blurb states, the main character, Rachel Wayland, is a police detective. At the very beginning of the story we’re introduced to a murder (sans gore). That’s about as far as we get with the whole cop drama. After part one (side note: for a story barely over a 130 pages, it didn’t need four parts), the mystery is set onto the back burner and the attention is turned to the uncomfortable budding romance between Rachel and Talis.

I think Ms. King did her research on how police procedures go, which was evident in the way she explained every minute detail of the investigation process. There were moments when the story read like an instruction manual on how to inspect a crime scene. Kudos to her for actually doing her homework, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to explain everything to the reader. It shows a lack in faith that your reader is intelligent, and also slows down the story.

Now the entire plot of the story is Rachel investigating the murder of “young people” (which is how every vic is describd), who are all gorgeous. They die by mysterious causes during sex (talk about a killer orgasm). The only lead is front man Talis Kehk, the charismatic singer for Phoenix Rising. Rachel and Talis are the main pairing, and without giving away too much, I can say that I did not ship. In fact, I didn’t find Talis charming at all. I found him creepy, boring, and a little flat. While he isn’t necessarily a Christian Grey or Edward Cullens, he is definitely a contender for stalker boyfriend of the year.

This is where the story rubbed me the wrong way. It glorified what in reality is an abusive and unhealthy relationship. Talis kidnaps Rachel, transports her halfway across the world, and refuses to let her leave, forcing her to spend time with him so she can “fall in love” with him. He watches her while she sleeps, and ignores her requests to put on clothes, even when she tells him it makes her uncomfortable. He doesn’t cross the line of forcing himself on Rachel, but he definitely crossed several other lines. I didn’t feel any chemistry between them. The entire time I was hoping that the story wouldn’t end with them getting together, and that Rachel would kill him or arrest him instead.

Since this is a romance and is thus held to the same HEA rule that all romances are required to have, I can say (spoiler-free) that Rachel neither kills nor arrests him.

It should be noted that the sex scenes in the story were light and not erotica heat level.

I know it seems like I’m bashing the story, but for all its flaws, there were some redeeming factors. Ms. King provided us with interesting side characters (Artemis Gregory is someone I’d love to read more on). Grammatically, the story was crisp and clean. While there were some structural issues (such as a bit too much showing and not telling), Ms. King does have a flare with words. I think if she had lengthened the story, cut the romance (including killing the romance between Rachel and Talis, and making Talis the antagonist) and made it solely a mystery, Phoenix would have been a great story.

REVIEW: Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara

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TITLE: Lovely, Dark and Deep

AUTHOR: Amy McNamara

GENRE: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance

TAG LINE: “A resonant debut novel about retreating from the world after losing everything—and the connections that force you to rejoin it.”

 

RATING: 2 1/2 Stars

 

SUMMARY: Since the night of the crash, Wren Wells has been running away. Though she lived through the accident that killed her boyfriend Patrick, the girl she used to be didn’t survive. Instead of heading off to college as planned, Wren retreats to her father’s studio in the far-north woods of Maine. Somewhere she can be alone.

Then she meets Cal Owen. Dealing with his own troubles, Cal’s hiding out too. When the chemistry between them threatens to pull Wren from her hard-won isolation, Wren has to choose: risk opening her broken heart to the world again, or join the ghosts who haunt her.

REVIEW: I picked this book up by random at my local Half Price Book Store. I really wanted something YA to read and I was feeling a bit romantic, so it seemed like a perfect fit. The cover is absolutely gorgeous and the summary intrigued me, plus it was only like five bucks.

My first impressions of the book were pretty positive. Wren has a fairly strong voice, and Ms. McNamara has a way of stringing words together very poetically. I’ll go ahead and give the grammar Nazis out there a warning: this is written in first person, and Wren speaks in incomplete sentences a lot. At first it was a bit off-putting, but then I got use to it; but, to be completely honest, by the end of the story the short and jilted sentences were getting on my nerves. It would have been okay if it was only once and awhile, but Wren doesn’t seem capable of speaking in complete sentences at all, and by the end of the novel it was tiring, and at times, a tad confusing.

I’m torn between giving this book a two-and-a-half star rating and a three. I really enjoyed it when I first started reading it, but the further I went, the more I stopped liking it. By the time I was done, I wasn’t particularly fond of the story.

The summary says it all: girl meets tragedy, escapes to the woods, meets a boy, and they both heal one another. I feel like the story could have been considerably shorter, and if it had been, it would have been ten times better—probably even a five star rating. Wren is wonderfully tragic. She saw her ex-boyfriend die in front of her in a car accident she helped play a part of. When she comes to her father’s house, which is isolated in the woods of upstate New York, she meets Cal, an architect student who also escaped to the woods for refuge. Cal is running from the fact that he has MS and it most likely will kill him, just like it did his mother.

Throughout the story, Wren and Call develop a bond that helps heal them. They’re never too co-dependent, and for the most part are really freaking cute.

Ms. McNamara is talented at writing. She describes the moments between Wren and Cal, and the pain that Wren suffers, elegantly. She can draw you into an environment and leave you just as chillingly breathless as Wren. You (or at least I did) get all squishy and warm inside when Wren and Cal are being adorable together.

But she made the story last about a hundred pages too long, her secondary characters are weak and all of them are pointless/forgotten about, and she adds unnecessary drama/angst, which she then forgets about, leaving several loose ends. Plus, in the end, the ending was horrible, and if it hadn’t been one o’clock in the morning when I finished the book, and I wasn’t afraid about waking my roommate, I would have hurled the book across the room screaming.

It was that bad.

I’ll address each point, to break it down for you.

First, the length was unnecessarily long. This is because of all the points that followed. If she had trimmed back on some of these plot issues, she could have shortened the length and had a much stronger and well-written novel. Because she seemed determine to turn her gorgeous story into a horrible preteen Lifetime movie, the story suffered.

Ms. McNamara provides a slew of secondary characters, most of who are fleeting and only there to stir the pot. I didn’t come to care for the secondary characters at all. They were just background noise, objects meant to drive Wren into Cal’s arms. They were a means to an end, and nothing more. I prefer stories where I fall in love with the entire cast, not just the two protagonists.

I also want to say that Wren’s dad belongs in the Bad Dads Rad Club, because he’s the worst father. Up until like the very end of the story (and I mean the last two chapters), he’s a useless father who seems to give zero cares about his daughter. He makes horrible decisions about her, including leaving her alone to go screw his girlfriend, when Wren is evidently emotionally delicate and volatile. Plus he was a raging dick to Mary, who spent all of her apprentice with him taking care of his daughter so he could work. If he had died in a fire, I wouldn’t have been sad. I hated him 100% of the time.

And the characters Nick, Mike, and Meredith were all pointless. They had zero point. I’m not kidding. If you removed their arch from the story, it would change nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The loose ends and plot twists were mind numbing. There are four points in the story where unnecessary plot devices are used to up the angst game, and for all but one (sort of), they’re left without any kind of closure. This continues up until the last two chapters of the story. Yes, that’s right, one of those plot arcs, which helps bring the story to an end, isn’t really explained and you’re left scratching your head as to what happened.

I’ll spare the details, mostly because I don’t want to put in spoilers, but needless to say, those characters I mentioned that could have been removed? Yeah, all these loose ends are tied to them.

Now, the ending. The ending, which is the ultimate reason I want to give this a lower rating. I seriously didn’t realize it was over until I turned the next page and there was nothing there—and I don’t mean that in a good way. I was so mad. Raging.

She ended it there? And with that?

I spent the entire book wondering how it would end—dying to know how it would end. Would Cal’s MS win? Would Wren turn to Nick? Would her depression (which grew really old and childish by the end of the story, by the way) consume her? HOW?

Have any of you heard of a deus ex machina? Well, the award for biggest deus ex machina goes to Ms. McNamara. I mean, you can’t get more freaking obvious with the trick she pulled. I’ve been good about spoilers up until now, but I have to put one in here. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, go ahead and quit reading this. All you need to know that the ending sucks and it’s the reason I’ve decided to drop this rating to a two-and-a-half stars.

SPOILERS

The entire story ends with Wren having a very abrupt and last minute epiphany on how life doesn’t absolutely suck, and with Dr. Williams telling her there’s a magical, experimental cure for MS that’ll make Cal’s symptoms go away. The only problem is Cal, for some dumb reason, is refusing to take the pills—not because they’re experimental and could be dangerous, but because he doesn’t believe he’s that bad—so it’s up to Wren to convince him. The last chapter is literally Wren going into his bed room, saying like two things, and him going ‘Okay, I’ll do it because you asked’. That’s it. That is the end.

I read 341 pages to get to that; for a magical cure and Wren to be all hunky dory. No real resolution. About a dozen loose ends not explained.

I can forgive a story for a lot, but I can’t forgive it for pulling one of the most obvious deus ex machinas I’ve read in a long time. Ms. McNamara took a story that held so much potential and began so strong, and finished it with a wet fizzle.

Reviews: EYES LIKE STARS

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TITLE: Eyes Like Stars

AUTHOR: Lisa Mantchev

GENRE: Young Adult, Fantasy

TAG LINE: “All her world’s a stage.”

REVIEW: 1 Star

SUMMARY: Welcome to the Théâtre Illuminata, where the actors of every play ever written can be found behind the curtain. They were born to play their parts, and are bound to the Théâtre by The Book—an ancient and magical tome of scripts. Bertie is not one of them, but they are her family—and she is about to lose them all and the only home she has ever known.

REVIEW: I tried to like this story. You can’t imagine how badly I wanted to. I’ve waited a long time to read this, and when I finally got my hands on it at Half-Price Books, I was ecstatic! The cover is beautiful. The summary drew me in. AND it was super cheap. A recipe for success.

Wrong. How wrong I was.

This is a good example of not judging a book by its cover. Here I thought I’d have this elegantly written novel, but it wasn’t. It was far from what I had anticipated. I’m going to point out right now that I haven’t even finished the book. I made it to page 155 and finally said, “Enough is enough!”

Beatrice Shakespeare Smith is about to be kicked out of the only home she’s ever known, the Theatre Illuminata. With the aid of four fairies from A Midsummer’s Nights Dream and a pirate from The Little Mermaid, she decides to put on a retelling of Hamlet in order to prove she belongs at the theater. There are some people that don’t want Bertie to stay though, and some that want to use her for other purposes, including an air spirit from The Tempest.

That’s about the extent of my knowledge on the plot. I skimmed through the end to kind of piece together what happened and decided I didn’t much care for continuing on.

The plot sounds like a bad teen movie. It wasn’t anything like what I expected. The premise of the story was amazing. A magical theater where every character ever created could exist, a single book to bind and control them, and one girl who could change everything. What the summary tells you isn’t anything like what you get in the actual story.

Bertie wasn’t a very interesting heroine. She was annoying, irresponsible, and selfish. The first chapter was about her dying her hair. I wasn’t rooting for her. In fact, I could care less about what happened to her. She made poor decisions and then didn’t expect repercussions.

Nate, the pirate, was flat. I just… I can’t. I don’t know anything about him. He just seemed thrown in there. He’s supposed to be Bertie’s love interest, but he’s flatter than the paper the book was printed on. He’s a pirate, but he doesn’t act like one (other than speaking in a horrible pirate accent that was really annoying to read). Pirates are rough around the edges, crude, and tough. Nate was none of these. He was a tool. A complete and utter tool.

The fairies were somewhat amusing, but their antics grew old fast.

Ariel… oh Ariel. He’s supposed to be the third member of the love triangle. He has more dimensions than Nate, but he’s just as bad. He acts like a girl. In fact, I’m still not sure if he’s a girl or not. There was no dick to prove he wasn’t. He threw temper tantrums whenever he didn’t get what he wanted. He tried to ruin Bertie’s play. He acted more like a villain than anything.

There was supposed to be chemistry between Bertie and Ariel, but it always felt non-con. I wasn’t sure why the author tried to push them together. It was completely uncalled for.

This brings me to the story its self. My first issue with the plot was the fact that there was no distinct time period. The author never specified if the theater was in a dimension where time didn’t exist, but that was the feel. There was a blend of eras that made it hard to decide what time period they actually existed in.

It was hard to keep track of what was going on with the constant scene changes. Bertie used the stage like it was her own personal house. I could understand why the Stage Master was so pissed. If I had some girl coming along and calling for a scene change just to take a bath, I’d be in rage too. There wasn’t a need for how many times Bertie changed scenes, and it made it really hard to keep track of what was going on. I didn’t understand half the reasons why she did it (which brings us back to her selfish choices).

In the beginning of the story the author used scene scripting in order to do flashbacks. This was extremely jarring and confusing. It took me a minute to catch on. The idea could have been neat if it was carried through the story, but it’s used only in the first 50 pages and then just forgotten about. It was random, like she decided she needed to add to the word count and threw it in.

I didn’t much care for the author’s writing style. She made poor word choices and used far too many similes and metaphors. Every other sentence was ‘like a [insert an object]’.

All together it was a bad story. I have no interesting in investing anymore time in it. I don’t care what happens to Bertie. I don’t care about her succeeding, or if she fails. I just don’t care. And that, in its self, is what makes this story so bad. It just didn’t make me feel.