The Keeper of Crows by Casey Bond

I had the pleasure of meeting Casey Bond at Utopiacon. She spoke on a panel, and I was so impressed I wanted to read her books. The Keeper of the Crows was a unique, imaginative story. I enjoyed it, but there was something missing for me.

34644925.jpgCarmen Kennedy is a spoiled brat from Beverly Hills with a chip on her shoulder and a cocaine addiction to match. Using drugs to suppress reality, her life is more than she can stomach most days. All she wants is to disappear, and on one fateful night, her wish is granted.

There is a world that exists just beyond the fabric of our own. When Carmen is dragged there against her will, her hopelessness seems to disappear, replaced by a determination to survive. The Keeper of Crows is charged with guarding Carmen, but is safety a possibility in a world so desolate? Can love blossom when danger lies in wait? Together, they fight like hell, seeming to lose more ground than they gain with each battle against the dark enemy threatening to tear them apart. Can love keep her safe? Can it give her the strength she needs?

When the lines between life and death, reality and dream become blurred, who will save the souls trapped in the spaces between Heaven and Hell? Who will save Carmen’s only love, The Keeper of Crows?

I was drawn in with the very first line. From the moment Carmen calls her father the Antichrist for sending her to rehab, I was sold. She was a take-no-sh#t, abrasive protagonist. She was bad news and she knew it. Her character arc throughout the novel is what kept me reading. I liked her snarky attitude and I enjoyed watching her change and mature as she worked to overcome obstacles. She was a take charge kind of gal.

The story line and world-building was different from anything I had read before. It reminded me a bit of Angelfall by Susan Ee. I enjoyed the mind-reading banter and the crows. The biblical history with the veil was a nice touch. It was historical without being preachy. I enjoyed the author’s interpretation of heaven, hell and purgatory.

The one piece that was missing for me was the slow burn. The romantic relationship between Carmen and the Keeper moved a bit too quickly for my taste. I could tell the author was attempting to slowly build their relationship – the enemies-to-lovers feel – but it felt too much like insta-love. I’m not sure what it was but it felt rushed. Maybe it was the pacing? If the pacing didn’t feel so forced, I feel like the sacrifices they made for each other would have meant more. In addition, I didn’t really feel anything. I was a detached, third-party observer. I felt more for Gabriel than the keeper.

The story ends with an ominous feel and I want to see what happens next, but I’m not burning to get my hands on book two. Overall, I liked it but I would have liked to have seen more depth in the character development and relationships.

STARS: 3 out of 5

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Sanguine Moon by Jennifer Foxcroft

I freaking LOVED Sanguine Moon by Jennifer Foxcroft. I devoured it in one sitting.

When Connie Phillips began keeping secrets from her adoptive parents, she was unaware of the darkness she would bring into her world. Discovering she is the daughter of a crime lord had consequences even she could never have predicted. Consequences that put her first real love—Rocks—and her adorable baby sister in mortal danger.

With many lives balanced in her hands, Connie must find a way to save Rocks’ life, while keeping his identity a secret. Navigating the antiquated ways of the Camazotz culture, while trying not to offend the colony’s leaders with her modern technology, is harder than Connie ever imagined.

When Rocks defies certain death using present-day medicine, the Camazotz are torn. If they consider modernizing, they risk discovery and subsequent extermination by the aeronaughts. But hiding away in their mountain roost has left them vulnerable to an unidentified enemy slowly picking them off one bat at a time.

I met this author at a writing conference a few years ago and I’m so glad I did, because I might not have known to pick up this wonderful story. I loved book one in the Camazotz Trilogy, Sanguine Mountain. I was ecstatic to read book two when it finally arrived because these characters have been in my head, and I want more of them.

Bottom line: I love me some Rocks! Rocks is the best kind of love interest. He’s bad boy on the outside, good guy on the inside. Since he’s been isolated from civilization, he’s slightly naive, and with Rocks’ supernatural background as a shape-shifting bat, it’s totally believable. I loved the scenes where Connie had to explain modern technology or common turns of phrase. Rocks and his band of friends were so sweet and endearing. I wanted to squeeze all of them in a big hug, bat-form or no.

Sanguine Moon is the sweetest form of YA lit. The romance between Connie and Rocks was so pure. I loved the slow development of their relationship. It had that sweet high school crush, blush when you see each other feel.

I loved how this book expanded on the bat way of life. The leader of the Camazotz is a bit of a hard ass and I loved peeking into their sacred customs and secret lairs. The danger and tension of protecting the bat colony combined with the forbidden aspect of Connie and Rocks’ relationship was so compelling and had me turning pages as quickly as possible.

I was thoroughly impressed with this book. The writing was excellent and held my interest the entire time. There were only a couple times that I felt the plot slowed a bit, but it always picked right back up until the very end. Just like book one left me reeling, book two left me wanting more — more Connie, more drama, and most definitely more Rocks!

Read this. You won’t regret it.

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

The Hunted by C.J. Hart

The Hunted by C.J. Hart just wasn’t for me.

26028508Just your average boy-meets-girl, boy-kills-people story.

The Native American Navajo tribe has stories of a monster so wicked, so blood-thirsty, that they are to be hunted down and slaughtered. But are they just legends? Or is something sinister lurking in the shadows? The Yee Naaldlooshi—skinwalkers—have the ability to transform themselves. And they can be anyone. Anything.

The Hunters—a group dedicated to tracking the creatures—are hot on their trail and they won’t stop until every last one is dead. But are they all as evil as foretold? Seb, alpha of the Taylor, Arizona reservation pack, begins to question the acts of their kind. But he’s broken a rule and must choose between killing the girl he loves or risking everything to save her. Cassie must fight for her survival. The pack is after her. And they’re no joke. Cass is about to find out how sadistic they can be.

I had a really hard time getting into this book. I stopped reading about a quarter of the way through. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but I’ll try to explain. It was one of those things where I saw more of the words within the pages not the world. I kept tripping over sentence structure and unanswered questions which prevented me from being immersed into the story.

This book seemed like it would be perfect for me. I am a diehard werewolf fanatic and I’m pretty lenient on the implausibility of a story as long as the plot holds my attention. In this case, I didn’t buy it. One factor was the two main characters, Seb and Cassie. There was no background or world-building to help me find my feet within the story, and the attraction between the two main characters was more like insta-infatuation instead of love. In fact, I didn’t understand why they were so drawn to each other. Why wouldn’t the author disclose how the characters felt?

Each chapter was short and filled with dialogue that was so forced and typical day-to-day chatter that I didn’t care to read further. Where was the complexity of the story? Why couldn’t the main characters explain their motives better? Perhaps these questions are answered later in the novel, but I didn’t have the energy to plow through the words to get there.

Stars: 1 out of 5

Thanks Clean Teen Publishing for a copy in exchange for an honest review!

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

Storm by Brigid Kemmerer

I’m constantly looking for recommendations from other readers/bloggers that enjoy the same things as me, and I heard about the Elementals series by Brigid Kemmerer from Stephanie at Stephanie’s Book Reviews. Where has this series been all my life??

10401084Earth, Fire, Air, Water – they have more power than you dream.

Ever since her ex-boyfriend spread those lies about her, Becca Chandler is suddenly getting all the guys—all the ones she doesn’t want. Then she saves Chris Merrick from a beating in the school parking lot. Chris is different. Way different: he can control water—just like his brothers can control fire, wind, and earth. They’re powerful. Dangerous. Marked for death.

And now that she knows the truth, so is Becca.

Secrets are hard to keep when your life’s at stake. When Hunter, the mysterious new kid around school, turns up with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time, Becca thinks she can trust him. But then Hunter goes head-to-head with Chris, and Becca wonders who’s hiding the most dangerous truth of all.

The storm is coming . . .

I absolutely adored this series. The characters were so realistic even though they had supernatural tendencies and I loved the dynamics between the four Merrick brothers. They each had their own issues, for a lack of a better term. They all struggled differently with the loss of their parents and it tugged violently at my heart strings.

Becca was such a fun heroine. She was brave, compassionate and caring. I loved how she always wanted to help others, but had the guts to stand up for herself. She was also hilariously snarky and I enjoyed her witty comebacks.

As someone who enjoys multiple love interests, Becca’s back and forth between Chris and Hunter was realistic, sweet and respectful. It wasn’t a girl going back and forth trying to decide, the story flowed nicely where her feelings ruled where her heart landed. I thought it was beautifully done. The more romantic scenes were electrifying but clearly within the bounds of the Young Adult genre. I was impressed that I didn’t crave more during those scenes to be like a New Adult, so I think the writing and character development had me sufficiently wrapped up in the character’s emotions.

The author gave glimpses into the lives of all the brothers and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series, which centers around each brother. They all deserve love, peace and happiness. *sigh* I’m going to devour this series, and you should too.

STARS: 5 out of 5

Dire by Alyssa Rose Ivy

I stumbled across Dire by Alyssa Rose Ivy somewhere on the internet and I immediately bought it on my Nook because it was so intriguing. The cover was gorgeous and I am a HUGE sucker for werewolves, well in this case direwolves.

22433850Gage was the first guy I ever wanted. He was my first crush and my first fantasy, but he wasn’t my first in any other way because he never saw me as anything more than a friend— at least not until the night that changed everything.

It was all Gage’s fault. He insisted we drive through the storm and take the back roads. By the time the storm hit full force we had no chance. One night of snowbound sex changed our relationship forever. The problem was at the same time I caught another guy’s attention. This other guy happened to be the alpha of a pack of shifter wolves. I thought the wolves were the worst of my problems, but I was wrong. When things went from bad to worse I had to make a lifelong sacrifice to save Gage, but what price is too much to save the one you love?

I was so disappointed by this book. I’ll be honest; I didn’t finish it. I made it almost to the very end and couldn’t bring myself to finish the last chapter, which made me very, very sad.

This novel had such a promising premise but suffered from poor execution. Mary Anne is in love with Gage and they finally get it on while stranded in the middle of nowhere huddled in Gage’s truck. I think the first major problem was Mary Anne and Gage physically connected but there wasn’t anything mental, so when the story progresses into being kidnapped by direwolves and held against their will, I didn’t believe Gage when he all the sudden cared about Mary Anne and wanted to save her. I get that desperate times call for desperate measures, but I didn’t want Gage to be anywhere near Mary Anne.

Then comes in Hunter, the dire wolf jailer. I was really intrigued by him but his personality fell flat; he just had a nice body and repeated the same possessive dialogue.

The story got crazier and crazier and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t connect with the characters and the plot couldn’t keep my attention. I give this book two stars for having an interesting premise, but I couldn’t get past the poor execution.

STARS: 2 out of 5.