The Chemist by Stephanie Meyer

I’ve been a fan of Stephanie Meyer from the beginning. As a proud member of #teamjacob, I read all the Twilight books, but I also enjoyed her adult sci-fi novel, The Host, which I consider the best of all her books. With The Chemist, Meyer is writing in all-new territory yet again with this thriller/spy adventure, and it was bloody brilliant.

31176886In this gripping page-turner, an ex-agent on the run from her former employers must take one more case to clear her name and save her life.

She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn’t even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning.

Now, she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They’ve killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon.

When her former handler offers her a way out, she realizes it’s her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the information she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous.

Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds herself falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of.

In this tautly plotted novel, Stephenie Meyer creates a fierce and fascinating new heroine with a very specialized skill set. And she shows once again why she’s one of the world’s bestselling authors.

My favorite thing about Meyer’s stories is her characters. She really spends time to reveal who they are, their fears, their dreams and what makes them tick. The Chemist is no different as we’re introduced to the main protagonist – a chemist on the run from the secret government organization that she used to work for. I’m typically one that gets bored easily with too many numbers and figures, but I really enjoyed the science in this book – the chemicals and drugs Alex uses to protect herself and interrogate others. The depth of knowledge in these characters required a whole lot of research and it gave this story the extra oomph that pushed it fully into the thriller genre.

I particularly enjoyed the strange relationship between Alex and Daniel. Saying they started off on the wrong foot is an understatement, yet Daniel’s optimism and Alex’s deep-seated need for companionship brought them together. The romance raised the stakes as Alex runs and then fights for their very lives. I was a bit disappointed with the fade-to-black love scenes, but that is so Meyer. (I’ll never get over the betrayal of limited information in Breaking Dawn.) However, I think it was fitting to the genre, and the romance took a backseat to the action.

The unraveling of the mystery of who is trying to kill Alex was exciting and I couldn’t help but sit on the edge of my seat as Alex fights for survival. The action scenes were spot on, and my favorites had to be the interrogation scenes at the beginning and the end. The progression of Alex’s relationships were endearing, and I turned the last page content in her journey.

I would be remiss to not mention the unexpected delight of animals in this story. I wish my dogs were so well-behaved, and they played such an important role in this story. If a dog can be kick-ass, then Meyer nailed it.

If you like badass heroines who fight with their brains, and action adventure with a splash of romantic tension, then The Chemist is for you.

STARS: 4.5 out of 5

Torn by Carian Cole

Thank you baby Jesus.

That’s what I’m thinking as I one-clicked Carian Cole’s latest novel, Torn. I devoured her Ashes & Embers series so I was oh-so-ready for her new Devil’s Wolves series.

28481104He’s loved me since the day I was born.
He’s taken care of me.
He’s awakened me.

Tor. My father’s best friend.
Fifteen years older than me, he’s always been my protector.
The one I should never, ever want.
But I was born to be his.

She’s always loved me.
She’s shattered me.
She’s healed me.

Kenzi. My best friend’s daughter.
I held her the day she was born, and I never let go.
She’s forbidden to me. But she’s the only one that really gets me.
We’re slowly being torn apart by everything we love.
Everything we want.
Everything we desire.

And now I want the one thing I can’t have… I want her.

I know what you’re thinking. A romance between a 32-year-old and an 18-year-old? That’s gross! But you couldn’t be more wrong. This book, at the heart of it, is two people falling in love despite external forces, age, societal expectations, timing, etc. It was so tastefully done. There was never a time I felt uncomfortable or my eyebrows raised in disbelief. The combination of Cole’s storytelling and these two wonderfully complex characters made for a whirlwind romance. I was hanging on every last word, the pages burning in my hands as the writing etched itself in my heart. I really frickin’ loved this book.

Tor and Kenzi’s love story was all about discovery and awakening and first love — for both of them. They had such a cute friendship that bloomed into a scorching romance. The obstacles they faced just to be together had my heart twisting. I was surprised at how sweet Tor was with the animal rescue he was involved in, and I loved the scene with their first kiss. It was beyond epic.

Cole does bad boys like no one else. They have the long hair, the tats, the bad ass attitude but they have hearts of gold and are gentlemen at their core. I loved seeing glimpses of my favorite characters of the Ashes & Ember series and I’m so looking forward to reading Tor’s brothers’ stories. The secondary characters in this novel are so real to me, and I want to hear their stories.

If you like bad boy romance, then you need to read Carian Cole.

STARS: 5 out of 5

 

Blood Vow by J.R. Ward

This is going to be a divided review because I’m split. Blood Vow, the second book in the spinoff Black Dagger Legacy series by J.R. Ward, was a love-hate kind of read. Let me explain.

29496208#1 New York Times bestselling author J. R. Ward returns as her thrilling, original spin-off series set in the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood continues! When a brooding vampire warrior-in-training teams up with a quick-witted aristocrat to solve a deadly mystery, the only thing more dangerous than their mission is their undeniable attraction.

I don’t think I need to reiterate this if you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, but I’m a HUGE fan of J.R. Ward and her vicious band of kickass vampires. I love that her books can be so dark and dangerous but still include love and loyalty. Her vamps are kickass and the setting in Caldwell is a place I’d never want to visit but is real to me all the same. Blood Vow was a great representation of this kind of story. It had the right formula with all the sexy times and badassery that only Ward can provide.

However, I feel like Ward has crossed a line by intersecting her two series – the Black Dagger Brotherhood and the Legacy series – too deeply. For a spinoff, Blood Vow had too much Rhage and Mary – the same couple that dominated the last BDB book that came out recently. The main characters in Blood Vow – Axe and Elise – had less face time than the various other perspectives, and barely interacted with Rhage, Mary and the rest of the brotherhood. Another issue I had was this book wa sold in hardcover, where the previous debut spinoff was sold paperback. It basically made Blood Vow a Black Dagger Brotherhood book with a few new characters. It made me feel like it was a publishing stunt to gain more revenue for the series and totally diverge from the original purpose of the spinoff – to go back to the paranormal romance formula without the tangled web of storylines.

Now, I’m not exactly complaining because I love these characters and I want to read all about them, but I felt it was inappropriate for a standalone spinoff to include a storyline that has been books in the making from a different series. If I’d never read a Ward book before and I picked up Blood Vow, I’d be very lost since it picks up later on in Rhage and Mary’s progressing plot line.

Perhaps Rhage and Mary were implanted so firmly in the story because Axe and Elise’s story wasn’t the strongest. It felt hurried and quickly put together. I was excited for pages of tension and anticipation knowing that Axe was going to guard the female he was attracted to. However, the tension was cut too soon with a rushed physical connection, and quite honestly, one of the weakest obstacles to being together I’ve seen from this author. I mean, people usually die because there is a murderer on the loose or people have to overcome death to be with the one they love! The obstacle that kept Axe and Elise from one another was a very simple misunderstanding that was easily overcome, making for a quick Happy Ever After.

As you can see, I’m conflicted. As an avid fan, it was the Ward fix that I needed, but as a reader, it wasn’t the best story.

STARS: 3 out of 5

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is a book that should be read in one-sitting with no interruptions. I literally blocked off a whole day and locked myself in my library so I could read it in peace because it’s such a gripping story.

27362503SOMETIMES THE ONE WHO LOVES YOU IS THE ONE WHO HURTS YOU THE MOST

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town in Maine where she grew up – she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. So when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life suddenly seems almost too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, and maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily, but Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan – her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

With this bold and deeply personal novel, Colleen Hoover delivers a heart-wrenching story that breaks exciting new ground for her as a writer. It Ends With Us is an unforgettable tale of love that comes at the ultimate price.

I’m a huge fan of Colleen Hoover. She has a way with words that’s a delight to the mind, and I give her full permission to name my firstborn child because her character names are always on point. I mean, come on, Atlas? Who thinks of such a perfect name as Atlas?

Everyone says readers should go into this book blind, and I agree. This will be a spoiler-free review but there are many reviews out there that claim to be and give a little too much away. I stopped looking at reviews after the first few because I didn’t want the book to be spoiled for me.

All you need to know is this story has a bottomless depth of pain, emotion and strength. It will have the romantic elements that you expect from Hoover, but it will cover a heavy topic that is as difficult to read as it is moving.

I didn’t cry with this novel, and I wish that I had because it really was a touching story. (It’s kind of like that one time I watched The Passion of the Christ and I didn’t cry. I’m not a bad Christian, I promise!) I think I didn’t get there emotionally because I agreed with the main protagonist’s decision. To me, it wasn’t that hard of a decision. I didn’t hold out hope as I suspect some readers did. Now, that’s not to say that’s what I would actually do if I found myself in the same position, but I hope that I’d make the same choice.

It Ends With Us is a deeply personal, moving story that was very unexpected. I didn’t know what to think of it when I turned the last page, but I found myself finding my husband after a while and giving him a long hug because it reminded me of the blessings I have in my own marriage.

STARS: 4.5 out of 5

The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward

I’ve been giddy with excitement for The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward since she first announced she was releasing a new series. I am a diehard Ward fan, but this new series didn’t meet my expectations.

23355896The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Black Dagger Brotherhood delivers the first novel in an enthralling new series set amid the shifting dynamics of a Southern family defined by wealth and privilege—and compromised by secrets, deceit, and scandal….

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

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

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

The Bourbon Kings is a wicked web of deceit following a rich family in Kentucky who owns a Bourbon company. The setup for this novel was a hefty thing because there were so many characters and perspectives to share. At one point, there was a new character introduced around page 300 and I was exhausted with trying to keep up. To be perfectly honest, this book was hard to get through. It was frustrating and I put the book down several times not wanting to pick it up again. However, this is Ward we’re talking about – one of my favorite authors! – I couldn’t give up so I finished it.

One big reason I didn’t like the book was the characters. They were so messed up. I’m all for damaged characters that can be redeemed, but the Bradford family was so effed up I don’t think there is room for redemption. The eldest brother is a physically-damaged drunk with a bad attitude, the sister is a stuck-up snob who only cares about money and the focus of this novel, main character Lane, is a scaredy-cat manwhore who’s afraid of confrontation. His love interest, Lizzie, is a strange farm-dwelling, heart-broken woman who was hard to relate to. The only sane people were the secondary characters. I particularly liked childhood friend and lawyer Samuel T. and Lane’s friend from New York, but that’s pretty much it. Everyone else was a drag.

This book felt like reading a series of unfortunate events but for adults. I’m all about suspenseful plots and obstacles to move the plot forward, but there was such an onslaught of evil and drama that there was never a moment for the reader to come up for air. The romance between Lane and Lizzie was weak. Their relationship didn’t sizzle like I’ve come to expect from Ward and that was a perfect opportunity for reprieve. The lack of emotional connection also caused me to not care about the characters. The plot also moved way too slow and spent too much time investing in boring characters like Lizzie.

Even though I wasn’t feeling it, I stuck it out until the end and it wasn’t satisfying. Most of the plot points came together, but I would have preferred a murder and cover up to the way the book ended. Surely these damaged characters are strong enough to murder the bastard that caused all this misery! I just wanted them to act as evil as their damaged souls were portrayed but they came off as weak.

I was mostly disappointed that there was no signature Ward anywhere in the novel. The Black Dagger Brotherhood series had plenty of damaged and effed up characters but they had honor and purpose. The Bourbon Kings characters had nothing to fight for or rely on, not family, not love, heck not even Bourbon could hold them together! I was hoping there would be a ruthless “King” of an empire of Bourbon, but the story came off like a bad soap opera with an evil that ends up winning.

The next book, The Angel’s Share, will be released in July 2016. Since there was so much setup in this first book, I do think there is potential for the sequel to be significantly better, but I don’t really care about the characters in the first place so I’m unsure if I’ll keep reading this series.

STARS: 2 out of 5

The Shadows by J.R. Ward

I just finished The Shadows by J.R. Ward and I don’t know how to feel. Don’t get me wrong it was amazing and everything I’ve come to expect from Ward, but this one has a bittersweet end.

21849362 Two brothers bound by more than blood fight to change a brutal destiny in the heart-wrenching new novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood by #1 New York Times bestselling author J. R. Ward.

Trez “Latimer” doesn’t really exist. And not just because the identity was created so that a Shadow could function in the underbelly of the human world. Sold by his parents to the Queen of the S’Hsibe as a child, Trez escaped the Territory and has been a pimp and an enforcer in Caldwell, NY for years- all the while on the run from a destiny of sexual servitude. He’s never had anyone he could totally rely on… except for his brother, iAm.

iAm’s sole goal has always been to keep his brother from self-destructing- and he knows he’s failed. It’s not until the Chosen Serena enters Trez’s life that the male begins to turn things around… but by then it’s too late. The pledge to mate the Queen’s daughter comes due and there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no negotiating.

Trapped between his heart and a fate he never volunteered for, Trez must decide whether to endanger himself and others- or forever leave behind the female he’s in love with. But then an unimaginable tragedy strikes and changes everything. Staring out over an emotional abyss, Trez must find a reason to go on or risk losing himself and his soul forever. And iAm, in the name of brotherly love, is faced with making the ultimate sacrifice…

As the 13th book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, The Shadows is the story of Trez and iAm, along with the rest of the BDB brothers and the Band of Bastards. At 576 pages, this novel is huge. The BDB world has grown to be pretty massive at this point but the story arc itself is still solid. I love Ward’s story telling. I love the intriguing world she’s built. Hell, I’m just a sucker for foul-mouthed, badass vampires.

The Shadows was interesting when you compare it to the rest of the series. Ward has definitely stepped away from the standard, standalone PNR track since her last book, The King. It’s become almost this epic story following multiple characters, so there is a lot going on in this book. You not only finally get the story for Trez and iAm, but we catch glimpses of other lives, like the relationship between Xcor and Layla (that I really, really want to happen), and Assail’s obsession with money, drug dealing and the innocent woman he desires, and of course, we check in with the effed up mind of the Forelesser.

I particularly enjoyed meeting Paradise, who will be the lead female protagonist in Ward’s new spinoff series the Black Dagger Legacy called Blood Kiss (Out in December 2015 and I CAN’T WAIT!!!).

Anyway, back to The Shadows, if anyone deserves a break it’s these two and I both loved and hated what Ward did. Their story had so many highs and lows, where I was hoping against hope during many scenes that the impossible would happen, and then I was dragging my depressed butt around the house, eyes rimmed with tears after some really, really awful scenes (But beautifully written, btw). Basically, this will be a roller coaster ride for your emotions, and surprisingly there isn’t a happy ever after for both of these brothers. There is a compromise of sorts, but it’ll take me awhile to get over it.

There isn’t much else to say. I’m completely bias. I love J.R. Ward and her books and her characters and her writing style and her cool-as-f**k vocabulary, pop culture references and modern day wording. No one does it like Ward does and I’ll read anything and everything she puts out.

The next book in the series, The Beast, will release in 2016 and will follow Rhage. He was alluded to a lot in The Shadows, like something bad is about to happen (No!!!) but we’ll see what Ward delivers.

STARS: 5 out of 5

Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

I LOVE this series. Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews is book 7 of the Kate Daniels series and it’s the best book yet!

12119529No matter how much the paranormal politics of Atlanta change, one thing always remains the same: if there’s trouble, Kate Daniels will be in the middle of it…

As the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe—especially those closest to Kate.

As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear…

I forget how much I love Urban Fantasy as a genre until I pick up a series I’ve been reading for awhile. Ilona Andrews, the husband and wife writing team, are amazing. Magic Breaks has to be the best book yet and that’s saying a lot because sometimes series that last for awhile simply deteriorate as they go on. Not so with Kate Daniels!

The action was spot on with this installment. Kate and Curran just want to enjoy each other but the obstacles of Atlanta won’t let them rest. This novel in particular had a life or death feel. So much so that the author note at the beginning of the novel letting readers know this is NOT the end of Kate’s story had me worried from page one. It really hits the fan for Kate and Curran when the long anticipated reunion between Kate and her father, Roland, FINALLY happens. (Side note: Kate is a complete badass!) Before that happens, there is a nasty collision with Hugh and the consequences are deadly. My heart was breaking during a lot of the scenes with Hugh and I wanted revenge so bad!

The internal turmoil of Kate as she’s separated from Curran during most of the action is what really brought this book to another level. She had to fight through the pain of potential loss and live through the agony of uncertainty. Kate is such a strong heroine but with a real and vulnerable heart. I really enjoyed the unwavering love between Curran and Kate that was missing in the last book. We all know they belong together so trying to pretend that they wouldn’t be in the last book was silly.

There is a lot of betrayal in this book, but also loyalty. The interplay between the various alphas and Kate’s friends/enemies was awesome to watch unfold. The plot in this book was simply perfection. I was on the edge of my seat, fighting for Kate just as she fought for the people she loved.

If you’ve never read Ilona Andrews, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys Urban Fantasy. The Kate Daniels series is truly one of the best out there.

STARS: 5 out of 5