ARC Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

I was beyond excited when I received a free advanced copy of Defy by Sara B. Larson. The synopsis seemed like it was right up my alley! With a badass heroine and a love triangle, I couldn’t resist digging right in.

17406847 A lush and gorgeously written debut, packed with action, intrigue, and a thrilling love triangle.

Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king’s army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince’s guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can’t prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.

The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she’s sworn to protect?

This book started off amazing. I loved that Alexa had to disguise herself as a boy or be condemned to the breeding houses where girls are used to, well, breed constantly. I LOVED her twin brother Marcel who looked after her no matter what. Their bond was incredible. I loved the historical feel with princes and guards and kingdoms. I always enjoy stuff like that where I can be taken away to a faraway land. The world around this kingdom was fairly well-formed but this book is all about the relationships between Alexa and the prince, Damian, and her relationship with Rylan.

I absolutely love love triangles. There is just something about two guys fighting for one girl that really intrigues me. I don’t know if it’s the competition between them or just double the delicious but it’s something I truly enjoy. However, in this book, the love triangle is where, unfortunately, it fell short. I think it was primarily the lack of character growth. I wouldn’t say it was an insta-love but it was a little too quick for my liking. From the moment Alexa is revealed as a girl, the boys are sooo in love with her and have been forever. However, in the book’s defense, apparently the both boys knew she was a girl for quite awhile. I guess the feelings between them didn’t come off as genuine?

I am totally team Rylan. As a fellow guard who actually knows Alexa, it makes the most sense for him to have feelings for her, where as Damian was all dark and mysterious and his intentions for Alexa seemed muddled until the very end. The love triangle wasn’t the best because throughout most of the book she was totally falling for one more than the other, so when she couldn’t make a decision between them in the end it didn’t make sense.

I know I’m being really hard on the love triangle but it’s kind of my thing. However, this book was exciting, intriguing and pulsing with action and passion. It’s good enough to deserve four stars. I enjoyed it so much I read it in one day. As book one in the Defy series, I can’t wait to see what Sara Larson cooks up next, which won’t be out until 2015. Defy comes out next week on Jan. 7, 2014.

 STARS: 4 out of 5

Thank you Netgalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review!

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A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Wow. Just wow. I am blown away by George R.R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones. I know I’m a little behind on jumping on the Game Of Thrones bandwagon, but my interest was piqued when the HBO series came out, and I vowed to read the book before I watched the TV series. It took me until now to find the time.

985873Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. To the south, the king’s powers are failing—his most trusted adviser dead under mysterious circumstances and his enemies emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the king’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but the kingdom itself.

Sweeping from a harsh land of cold to a summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, A Game of Thrones tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; a child is lost in the twilight between life and death; and a determined woman undertakes a treacherous journey to protect all she holds dear. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, allies and enemies, the fate of the Starks hangs perilously in the balance, as each side endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

I had a few misconceptions about this book. I thought it would be dense and hard to read. It is long— a little over 800 pages — but it was so easy to read. I thought there would be so many characters it would be hard to keep track of them all like in epic Stephen King novels.  However, I never once was confused about who was who. Also, I never realized the characters in this series were so young! As a lover of Young Adult fiction, I was surprised there were so many young adult elements in this fiction book meant for older readers.  I was ever so pleasantly surprised!

A Game Of Thrones is the first book in the A Song Of Ice and Fire saga. I found myself wondering, why had I never heard of this book until it was turned into an HBO series? All I ever read growing up was fantasy novels. A quick glance at the copyright page answered my question; the book was released in 1996 (I was only seven years old!). So I’ve forgiven myself the folly of not recognizing the genius of Martin earlier.

This novel is truly, truly epic. Martin crafted each character so carefully that I fell in love with each of them — even though each possessed both good and evil. The game of thrones is a tricky one, simply because at any given time the tide will turn. People change. People cave. People fight to live.

I thoroughly enjoyed the characters: my personal favorites being the rebellious daughter of Lord Stark, Arya; the bastard son, Jon Snow; and the younger Stark, Bran. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses that draw you in and make you become attached, even the “malformed” son of Lord Lannister, Tyrion. I also loved the direwolves, characters in their own right.

My biggest grievance with this book is the series-of-unfortunate-events tone. I found my heart both soaring and despairing as each character rises to the top only to be cut down. I fear nothing good will ever happen. That said, Martin does accurately reflect the hard truth of life in this mystic tale, especially a world as dark and dangerous as this one.

If you have any interest in epic adventures filled with knights set in a world filled with dark forests and colorful countrysides, or enjoy books filled with political intrigue that follow characters through their lifetime, this is the book for you. I highly recommend this intoxicating read that will get under your skin and invade your mind— it’s all you will think about! I’ll be indulging in the first season of the HBO series very soon. The next book, A Clash Of Kings, is on my to-be-read list. I may even have to move it up the line because A Game Of Thrones leaves the reader panting for more. After all, winter is coming.

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

 The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson is the sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns — a far greater masterpiece than its predecessor.

 In the sequel to the acclaimed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a seventeen-year-old princess turned war queen faces sorcery, adventure, untold power, and romance as she fulfills her epic destiny.

Elisa is the hero of her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy, and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old. Her rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no one within her court trusts her-except Hector, the commander of the royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone’s power. That is not all she finds. A breathtaking, romantic, and dangerous second volume in the Fire and Thorns trilogy.

 Warning: If you haven’t read The Girl of Fire and Thorns, please be aware there are spoilers ahead.

 I am so enraptured by this series. The first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, was good but I never got around to writing a review. It was too difficult to put into words how I felt about it. I just knew that I enjoyed it enough to read the second book, even though Rae Carson ended her first novel with some really depressing twists. I didn’t know if I would recover and I didn’t know how Carson could recover a series that ended so…bloody.

Alas, The Crown of Embers was magnificent, better than the first book. The main character, Elisa, is more confident and aware of herself. There is more character development and the plot churns on until the reader HAS to know what will happen. The best part, however, is the romance. Carson has perfected the forbidden love story. In the words of Mr. Darcy, Carson has bewitched me heart and soul. Hector and Elisa’s relationship blooms from the ashes of her loss of Humberto in the first book. I didn’t think it could happen, but Carson reignited hope into Elisa and into the reader. I clung to the tiny spark of hope like it was something precious throughout the entire book. Being Queen is not easy and a queen is never given many choices. Elisa is being pressured to find a husband, far too early since the death of the King only months prior. I was on the edge of my seat in desperation for Elisa to find love — and get to keep it.

 There is so much adventure and political intrigue in this book. I love the world Carson created and I love to watch Elisa’s failures and triumphs in the kingdom she is so desperately trying to save. She really puts herself out there to save her kingdom, making her an extremely relatable and likable character. I love that she also puts herself out there for Hector. There was all of this sexual tension and emotional turmoil. They were both torn between their feelings and duty, making for a very interesting plot twist in the end.

I have to mention how much I loved the “God” element. As the bearer of the Godstone, Elisa has this direct connection with God. (Just to clarify, I don’t know whether its the Christian God or Carson’s fictional god. Either way, I’m loving this additional layer of relationship.) The physical warning signs the Godstone puts out adds something unique to the story, and I, for one, can relate to such a devout character.

I really enjoyed this sequel. It was better than the first book now that the plot has been narrowed down to something more specific, not to mention Hector! The ending left me breathless in anticipation for the next book,  The Bitter Kingdom, which releases in September 2013. This will be a must-read in 2013 for me.

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

Guarding The Princess by Loreth Ann White

15803281As I turned the last (electronic) page of Guarding the Princess by Loreth Ann White, there was a smile on my face — for more than one reason. The first, this book was really refreshing and I enjoyed it. The second, it’s the first book I’ve read on my new Nook HD. (Yes, I know, I’ve turned to the dark side. I caved and purchased an eReader.) I still prefer the feel of print beneath my fingertips, but thanks to NetGalley, it was worth it because now I get to read advance copies. 🙂

“You’re not just a job anymore.” It was supposed to be a 72-hour mission, in and out, until Brandt Stryker got stranded in the arid African plains with predators before him, a killer at his heels and an exotic princess by his side. Dalilah Al Arif stirs his blood, makes him crave things he’d lost long ago—but she is off-limits, promised to a sheik.

Dalilah’s wedding contract stipulates she must wed before her 30th birthday—just months away. It’s a duty she accepts. But in the arms of her handsome protector, she’s torn between her sense of duty and honor, and her freedom. And as the terrorists close in, she fears the most dangerous creature in the savannah is Brandt himself.

I was immediately drawn to both of these characters. I could relate with each of them and also understand their initial contempt for the other. This is definitely a character-driven story. I was expecting a fast-paced romance but White delivered a slow, sincere romance that blossoms by the end. I felt invested in their lives and well-being. There was a connection that isn’t easy for a writer to create.

My favorite aspect of this novel that surprised me was the setting. This adventure takes place in Africa. White has certainly done her research or made a convincing fabrication because I feel like I’ve been to Africa. When Brandt and Dalilah are on the run, they traverse the wild of Africa; it was fascinating. I loved that she pointed out the terrain and the animals. She didn’t just mention these things in passing, she would stop and explain them but in a way that was pertinent to the story so it didn’t come off like a Discovery Channel segment. I loved it.

White’s writing style is very vivid and descriptive. I could see, taste and feel what the characters were, and that’s why I have a weird non-issue with this love story. If you’re looking for a take-me-now passion extravaganza resulting in the tearing of your own clothes, you won’t find it here. This love story is slow and sweet. There is one sex scene that White makes you wait for, and I found it lacking in emotion and quite frankly dull. It was “sweet” and “nice” but it wasn’t what I expected from a Princess and a Mercenary. I signed up for some battle-fueled passion! I commend White for not having scene after scene of carbon-copy love scenes though, which is expected in romance novels, but I wanted more. I felt she could deliver more. If this was book one in a series, I could understand but as a stand-alone, I found it lacking.

There were two other things I didn’t like about this novel. One: the cover. I felt like the couple on the cover didn’t match who I saw between the pages. However, the cover is what drew my eye. Two: the villain. Within the first few pages we are introduced to Amal, the one-armed killer. (I couldn’t help but hear Jim Carey’s voice as The Mask saying, “It wasn’t me, it was the one-armed man!”) Needless to say, I didn’t take him seriously at first; it was too cliché. However, White slowly changed my perspective throughout the story but I wish she would’ve showed how mean and cruel he was. Amal was constantly in the background and only a minor secondary character. He could have been more important, bigger, better.

I loved that this story has a happy ending. I’m actually glad that there wasn’t the expected showdown simply because my heart couldn’t take it. I wanted both of them to live — and live happily ever after. The story was tied up a little too nicely with a big, African-inspired bow, but it was just what I needed: A cool glass of water in the book-filled desert — a lovely, sigh-worthy, adventure-filled refreshment. This book will be released on December 18, 2012. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin books for providing me with an advanced copy!

The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda

I am a little overwhelmed right now. There is adrenaline in my veins and my heart is pounding in my chest as I turn the last page of The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda. Wow, all I can say is wow. I was introduced to this book through fellow book bloggers and it is every bit as amazing as they said it was.
 
Don’t Sweat.  Don’t Laugh.  Don’t draw attention to yourself.  And most of all, whatever you do, do not fall in love with one of them.
Gene is different from everyone else around him.  He can’t run with lightning speed, sunlight doesn’t hurt him and he doesn’t have an unquenchable lust for blood.  Gene is a human, and he knows the rules.  Keep the truth a secret.  It’s the only way to stay alive in a world of night—a world where humans are considered a delicacy and hunted for their blood.
When he’s chosen for a once in a lifetime opportunity to hunt the last remaining humans, Gene’s carefully constructed life begins to crumble around him.  He’s thrust into the path of a girl who makes him feel things he never thought possible—and into a ruthless pack of hunters whose suspicions about his true nature are growing. Now that Gene has finally found something worth fighting for, his need to survive is stronger than ever—but is it worth the cost of his humanity?

 Fukuda did an amazing job sucking in his readers. Any obstacle or flaw I saw in his writing or story was immediately overthrown by his awesomeness. For example, the premise of the hunt is what the Hunger Games would be if it lived up to the origin of its name, except its vampires hunting humans or hepers to digest their juicy, succulent flesh. Even though I immediately spotted the similarity, I didn’t compare it one bit to Hunger Games. The stories are simply in two completely different categories. Another thing that gave me room for pause was the strange and bizarre actions of the vampires in this story: the clicking, the twitching, the slobbering, and the strangest: elbows in armpits in place of making out? However, no matter how perplexed I was by the weird behavior, I was in Fukuda’s world. It’s his house, so I just needed to sit down and enjoy the ride. And boy, what a ride!
 
I was absolutely fascinated by the lead character, Gene. It was nice to read from a male perspective for once. Every once in a while I need a little more testosterone in my life, and Gene is awesome. I was immediately placed into Gene’s shoes. I felt his fear, his hunger, his thirst. Fukuda’s descriptions of Gene’s physical needs were poignant and detailed. I loved it. From the overwhelming fear to the goose bumps brought into sharp focus, Fukuda delivered an amazingly worded adventure. I was kept at the edge of my seat waiting for the inevitable betrayal of Gene’s human body. It was so exciting!
 
I particularly enjoyed the way Gene spoke in first person plural: We scratch our wrists; we snap our necks, etc. It reminds the reader that Gene is always watchful, waiting to see what others will do so he can respond in kind to hide his humanity. The writing is clever and witty. I absolutely loved it, you can tell it was written by a  nerd of sorts who appreciates good humor. 
 
“With my legs feeling like lactic acid, I push for the exit, ignoring the mathematical certainty of my own demise. That is the exact phrase as it enters my turbulent head: the mathematical certainty of my own demise.”
–The Hunt Page 239
 
This book is unlike any I’ve ever read. Fukuda’s take on vampires is extremely original. (Scratching your wrist instead of laughing or smiling? Come on, who thinks of that!) I was impressed that I never thought to contradict his world of vampires. So often, we as readers, have a preconceived notion of vampires because of what we’ve previously read. With The Hunt, I was so drawn in that I didn’t think to question anything. I took everything Fukuda wrote as truth and it was extremely rewarding.
 
Conclusion? Read this book people!

The second book, The Prey, comes out in early 2013. The story ends with so many questions, I can’t wait to see them hopefully answered in the next book!

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

This novel was surprising. I was even shocked at the mere size of it. At 549 pages, Grave Mercy by Robin Lafevers is a historical adventure/romance with bite. The writing was dark and vivid; the characters were well-crafted and intriguing, and the story was incredibly unique. The plot is reminiscent of the typical romance novel, except this story actually developed the plot and delivered it without all the cheesy sex scenes.
 
This Young Adult novel is the story of Ismae who escapes an arranged marriage to join the covenant of St. Mortian — the saint of death. He has blessed her with dangerous gifts, and with her brutal past with men, she fully intends to use them. In this historical dark adventure, Ismae is sent on a mission to the High Court of Brittany. As a handmaiden of death, Ismae encounters Gavriel Duval in her search for traitors to the duchess, and is surprised with what she finds.
 
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Lafevers’ writing grabbed me the instant my retina replayed the upside-down image and translated it to my brain. I was sucked in from the beginning. Ismae is such a geniunely likable character even though she’s got baggage. Guy baggage, as in her step-father was evil and tried to marry her off to a horrible, horrible man. For someone who’s never known love, Ismae finds it. It’s so beautiful to watch her unravel the secrets of falling in love, the fluttering butterflies, the unexpected moments, and the final realization that she’s fallen for the most unlikely man during the most inconvenient time. It was a great romance to read with a lot of build up AND delivering on the build up but in a classy and appropiate for Young Adult way.
 
Furthermore, as much as I loved the romance, Ismae’s mission to find the traitor was so exciting to read! She’s initially hardcore, goes in and kills the target without question or conscience. As the story progresses, Ismae grows and her independent realizations lead to redemption in those that are sentenced to death by St. Mortian. This aspect was really neat to me; it was neat to watch Ismae grow. This idea of redemption repeats and I have to give it to Lafevers, she really had me going. With the dark nature of Ismae’s task and the unforgiving historical setting, I was at her mercy with every step. (Dare I say, grave mercy?) She is one of those authors who can kill off your favorite character and you still love her, so waiting and watching, and anticipating the next turn of events was extremely exciting because anything could happen!  I am really pleased with the way Grave Mercy ended. I have full closure but I’m still anticipating the sequel. As this is the  first novel in the His Fair Assaisin series, I am definitely reading the next installment!
 
I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical romance but this one comes with a twist, Assasin Nuns!