Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I know what you’re thinking.

I’m late to the party. So late to the party, in fact, that the cleaning crew has already come and gone and I’ve shown up at the front door on a Tuesday with a cheap bottle of wine asking “Where’s the party at?”

I know, feel free to judge me. A few years ago, I tried to jump on the Outlander bandwagon but quickly jettisoned when I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. I was unimpressed with the married protagonist and the boring genealogy history lesson. Little did I know that if I’d only read a little bit farther, I’d have hit the mother load.

10964.jpgThe year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

Outlander really begins when Claire falls back into 1700’s Scotland and she meets the highlander, Jaime. Typically, I dislike time travel novels (which probably affected my earlier decision to DNF), but there’s something about Gabaldon’s storytelling that kept me hanging on every word. As a book, Outlander is long and slow and so ungainly it’s hard to hold onto or accurately describe. But once I found myself stuck in the past with Claire, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to know what was going to happen. I didn’t care how many mundane scenes I needed to read before we got to the good stuff.

Speaking of good stuff, most critics of this book will mention the “disturbing assault.” I went in fully prepared for it, expecting some kind of weird BDSM stuff, but it wasn’t that at all. And I was kind of disappointed because all the “assault” happens off the page and it’s clearly a construct of the age, not an abusive love interest. Now, it was enough to make any modern-day woman fume, but so did Claire. She fought back tooth and nail. So overall I’m okay with that part of the story because it’s a product of the time and the situation, not so much an unjust description of assault.

Anyway, my only issue with this book other than the slow-as-molasses pace is the confusing way Gabaldon presented some information. It was almost like foreshadowing but in the present — so present-shadowing? But the shadows were so thick, I didn’t fully get the author’s drift. I knew the author was trying to point something out, but I couldn’t see it. I didn’t know if it was because I just didn’t get it or if it was the writing. I muddled my way through, of course, but I wish it was clear one hundred percent of the time.

Overall, I was enchanted with the story. The relationship between Claire and Jaime is truly special, and the combination of Claire’s healing ability and Jaime’s badass highlander-ness, makes for an exciting story. I couldn’t stop thinking about it long after the final page had been turned and I quickly purchased the rest of the series.

I haven’t seen the TV show, but I can finally say that I get why so many women love this series.

STARS: 5 out of 5

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Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

Without Merit by Colleen Hoover was an extreme disappointment.

33280872.jpgNot every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

I’ve been a fan of CoHo since I first read Slammed and fell in love with her insane ability to create real characters with tangible emotions. I was so looking forward to Without Merit. I read a sneak peek before it was released and almost passed out from anticipation and unreleased sexual tension. The excerpt was that good! But there’s nothing wrong with Hoover’s writing, it was the story itself that I had problems with. The plot was too…weird, strange, awkward? I don’t even know the right words to use.

This story was quirky but it wasn’t my cup of tea.

I don’t want to give anything away, but I feel like the theme of this book got the better of Hoover. It overtook the characters, overshadowed the romance, and in general, pushed the storyline off track until it was a spiral of characters with hidden motives and random details (A dog. A Jesus Statue. A marquee? These strange items had way too much screen time.). I wish CoHo would get back to the basics of romance without the added pressure of an underlying serious theme that was a little too “spoon-feed the reader” for my taste.

I didn’t like the protagonist so it was hard to connect. And after finishing the story, I think I wasn’t supposed to like the protagonist at first because of the overall theme. The romance with Sagan was also odd. I can’t say too much without spoilers but there was some misleading information that stayed misleading for way too long.

To be honest, I almost DNF’d this book. I’ve NEVER DNF’d a favorite author before. However, the introduction of the quirky and odd character, Luck, kept me reading even though he gave me serious stranger danger vibes. Then as the story progressed, I was drowning in red flags, hopping about sporadically like an insane flag dancer at half-time, hoping and praying the protagonist would get with the program. Throughout this story, I just wanted to shake my head. In disgust. In confusion. In w-t-f-ness. I still don’t know what to think.

Without Merit was a well-written novel with a serious theme. I applaud Hoover for taking on such an endeavor, but it became more about the social change and less about the story. I can see where people who enjoy Literary Fiction may love this, but for a romance reader, it fell short.

STARS: 2.5 out of 5

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

I have a confession. I’ve avoided reading Shatter Me for one reason and one reason only — the cover. I hate it. It’s that cliche teen fiction cover with the girl in a dress that looks nothing like the main character.

HOWEVER, since I gave it a chance. I was impressed and pleased by Shatter Me.

10429045.jpgI have a curse
I have a gift

I am a monster
I’m more than human

My touch is lethal
My touch is power

I am their weapon
I will fight back

Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior

I gave this book a chance because it’s fandom is strong on Pinterest and I had a friend recently reach out and ask if I’ve read it. As a self-proclaimed YA lit connoisseur, it’s kind of ridiculous that I haven’t read it yet.

The writing popped off the page and smacked me with it’s beautiful, intriguing quality. I loved the way the author used the strikethrough technique, which surprised me because I thought it would be annoying.

Basically, this book didn’t meet any of my low expectations. It completely shattered them, revealing a beautifully written, exciting story that I couldn’t put down.

Juliette and Adam’s relationship was instantly steamy and intense but it surprisingly didn’t come off as lust or insta-love. It felt genuine and I was hanging on every scorching word. I loved the development of James and Kenji. They had the best personalities.

I honestly had no idea what to expect from the first page, but it wasn’t where it ended up. With every turn, I acclimated myself to the new situation thinking this would be the vibe for the rest of the novel but then something else would happen and Juliette would be thrust into a whole new reality. It made for a fast-paced read with unexpected turns.

The end of the novel took a turn that I didn’t see coming. I didn’t think it was going to be that kind of book. Had I known in the beginning it would turn into that kind of book, I may have avoided it, but now that I’ve fallen in love with Juliette and Adam and James and Kenji…I’m all in like flynn.

STARS: 4 out of 5

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

Brilliant. Beautiful. Unexpected.

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas is the fifth novel in the Throne of Glass series and a parallel novel to Empire of Storms, meaning it’s happening simultaneously in the timeline, which also means that we don’t get the usual snarky badass of Aelin and her gang because it follows Chaol Westfall and Nesryn Faliq. I seriously missed Aelin’s storyline but I fell in love with this novel.

31450852.jpgIn the next installment of the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series, follow Chaol on his sweeping journey to a distant empire.

Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken.

His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica—the stronghold of the southern continent’s mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them.

But what they discover in Antica will change them both—and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.

I typically strongly dislike any kind of companion novel or prequel novella. In fact, despite being a serious SJM fangirl, it wasn’t until recently that I purchased Assassin’s Blade to read The Assassin and the Healer novella in prep for this novel, which I’d recommend for anyone about to read Tower of Dawn. If you’re like me and typically don’t like books outside of the main narrative, I’d strongly suggest you read Tower of Dawn because a lot is revealed about the overall plot that’s important to the finale. However, I’m sure SJM will slide in all those truths as a refresher in the next book.

Let me tell you why Tower of Dawn was an unexpected delight. It had all the makings of an epic SJM novel with high stakes, masterful storytelling, and love-conquers-all romance. Toward the beginning of this series, I was seriously #TeamChaol (until, ya know, Rowan showed up), so I was fine with an entire book devoted to him, where he battles his inner demons and finds love. However, imagine my surprise when, yet again, another male swoops in and steals my heart *cough* Sartaq *cough*. I’ll admit that I was never a fan of Nesryn, but throw in a little Sartaq and I’m ALL about that storyline. There’s a specific scene when they are fighting beasts in the mountains and all looks dire and words are spoken and I couldn’t contain my emotions. I was running around the house like a crazy person screeching “It’s so beautiful!” as I tried to calm my thundering heart. I’m officially obsessed with the Ruks, the eagle-like birds, and their riders. The excitement of Nesryn and Sartaq’s adventure into the mountains was probably my favorite part of this novel, which was very unexpected.

Chaol’s storyline was more subtle, focusing on character development as he heals both inside and out from his injury and accepts his new reality. He and Yrene search for answers in the Torre’s library as opposed to the heart-stopping, death-defying adventure of Nesryn and Sartaq. Chaol’s enemies-to-lovers relationship with Yrene was a slow burn, but it worked. I loved how they bonded over each other’s mutual pain. The plot twist of the significance of Yrene’s healing ability was a great surprise. I’m interested in seeing what happens next. Overall, both love stories were so well crafted. Gah! So good!

Like all the cities SJM creates, Antica was an awe-inspiring setting with the Torre and the palace and the city itself. It made me want to go there but it also explained so much about the royal family and how that made them who they are. The setting was a great place for this story to unfold and I hope to revisit it.

My favorite thing about the ending was the sneak peek chapter from Fireheart’s POV. It didn’t give us much but it was enough to leave me salivating for the final installment in this epic series.

STARS: 5 out of 5

Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

If you flip to the back of Godsgrave, under the author bio, the very last line says:

He [the author, our dear Jay Kristoff] does not believe in happy endings.

In that moment, I wanted to go back in time and never pick up Nevernight, the first installment of the Nevernight Chronicle, which has led me through a dark and twisty tale of blood and murder and vengeance.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all about that bloodlust and death, but my heart is so invested in Mia Covere and her shadowfriends, and all the new gladiatii that we meet in the second novel that I NEED a happy ending. I want it so. bad.

23264671A ruthless young assassin continues her journey for revenge in this new epic fantasy from New York Times bestselling author Jay Kristoff.

Assassin Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo, or avenging her familia. And after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it’s announced that Scaeva and Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end them. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between loyalty and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.

Set in the world of Nevernight, which Publishers Weekly called “absorbing in its complexity and bold in its bloodiness,” Godsgrave will continue to thrill and satisfy fantasy fans everywhere.

Godsgrave was bloody brilliant! Better than the first. There was more bloodshed, more pain, more twisty, turny politics and deeply embedded plot lines of betrayal and lies. The genius plotting in this book is poured out to us like a blood offering on the sands of the Godsgrave Coliseum.

My heart about jumped out of my chest a bajillion times while reading this dark masterpiece. The humor was bordering discomfort and disgust, and I was squirming in my seat as I endured Mia’s dangerous tale of revenge. The added challenge of not only murdering the untouchable men that took away Mia’s familia but fighting TO THE DEATH through gladiator-style battles to reach her ultimate goal was a mesmerizing sight to behold.

“The choice between looking plain and pretty isn’t really a choice at all. But any fool knows looking dangerous is preferable to both.”

There were twists I didn’t see coming and twists I wanted so bad I could have cried that didn’t come to fruition. However, by the end, all seemed somewhat surprisingly well considering the circumstances. I fell in love with these characters much to my own demise. I knew not to get too close, but I did. And it hurt. It still hurts! In one particular scene where Mia has to choose between her ultimate goal and a familia-like bond with her fellow gladiatii, I thought I was going to have a heart attack and went to bed that night sick to my stomach. This book was painful. There were times I had to set it aside as I clutched the remaining shreds of my tender heart.

“No matter how dark life became, shutting out the hurt was as easy as opening a cover.”

I know my talk of pain doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but this book was the best kind of pain. Godsgrave is a story that grabs you by the genitalia, both a violation and intimate, and drags you into the darkness. I both loved and hated every minute of it, and if the spectrum of emotions this story elicits isn’t enough to get you to read it, then I don’t know why you read in the first place.

I’m now going to settle in to the raging book hangover I know is coming and wait with bated breath for the dreaded yet anticipated ending to Mia’s tale.

STARS: 5 out of 5