Rhapsodic by Laura Thalassa

Do you need a Rhysand fix? Yes? Yes, of course you do.

Then let me introduce you to The Bargainer from Laura Thalassa’s Rhapsodic. The first book in the bargainer series.

25820414.jpgCallypso Lillis is a siren with a very big problem, one that stretches up her arm and far into her past. For the last seven years she’s been collecting a bracelet of black beads up her wrist, magical IOUs for favors she’s received. Only death or repayment will fulfill the obligations. Only then will the beads disappear.

Everyone knows that if you need a favor, you go to the Bargainer to make it happen. He’s a man who can get you anything you want… at a price. And everyone knows that sooner or later he always collects.

But for one of his clients, he’s never asked for repayment. Not until now. When Callie finds the fae king of the night in her room, a grin on his lips and a twinkle in his eye, she knows things are about to change. At first it’s just a chaste kiss—a single bead’s worth—and a promise for more.

For the Bargainer, it’s more than just a matter of rekindling an old romance. Something is happening in the Otherworld. Fae warriors are going missing one by one. Only the women are returned, each in a glass casket, a child clutched to their breast. And then there are the whispers among the slaves, whispers of an evil that’s been awoken.

If the Bargainer has any hope to save his people, he’ll need the help of the siren he spurned long ago. Only, his foe has a taste for exotic creatures, and Callie just happens to be one.

Rhapsodic is a unique take on the fae and other supernatural creatures, including a certain King of the Night, his sexy, dark mysterious ways, and a healthy wingspan. *wiggles eyebrows* It’s by no means a replacement for SJM’s Rhysand but the bargainer has a certain magnetic quality that stands on its own, giving me the fix I needed for more broody, winged heroes.

This story was like A Court of Mist and Fury meets Daughter of Smoke & Bone. It was romantic and enthralling. I felt myself falling under the bargainer’s spell just as Callie did. The story built and built and built until my heart was pushed off a cliff only to realize that I had wings to fly me safely back to the ground.

Callie was a strong heroine with kickass Siren powers. I loved that we get to see both sides of Callie – the past and present – where she’s broken, abused and searching for herself, and then later when she’s built a life her herself and can stand on her own two feet. The alternating past and present POV made for delicious tension and shocking reveals. It also had a nice combined Young Adult v. New Adult feel.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this book while I was reading. Outside of the romance, Callie and the bargainer attempt to unravel a dangerous mystery in the fae realm, and I was pleasantly surprised and adequately disgusted by the big bad in this story and his terrible, horrifying antics. *shudders*

I read and loved Thalassa’s Fallen World Trilogy. Her writing is effortless, her heroine’s relatable – both strong and broken – and most importantly, her male leads are dark and hella swoon worthy.

This book would have been a perfect five stars, but the ending felt a little rushed and pre-packaged. I will, however, be reading the next book The Strange Hymn.

STARS: 4.5 out of 5

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Tied by Carian Cole

Tied by Carian Cole was worth the wait.

34454485.jpgHe was the myth and the legend of our small town. But no one knew the truth… except me.

Me
My childhood was stolen by a monster. I’ve forgotten what love feels like. What happiness feels like. What hope feels like. I am numb.

Him
He’s possibly as damaged as I am. Maybe even more. Scarred just as much on the inside as the outside. Just like me. He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t smile. He hides in the woods like an animal. I should be scared of him. But I’m not. He’s the only one who has ever made me feel. And I want to make him feel, too.
Everything…

Since I discovered Cole, I’ve devoured everything she’s written. There is just something about her characters and the situations she puts them in that calls to me. I’m like her ideal reader. She also writes about some taboo subjects that I usually don’t entertain, but from her, I’ll try anything.

Tied was a story that I can only describe as the dawn breaking into the night. Her characters are both in such dark, dark places at the beginning and it was amazing to watch them slowly unfurl and ultimately flourish with each other by the end.  I laughed. I cried. I held the book close. I threw it across the room. I devoured it in one sitting.

The pain that Cole created with just her fingertips and the way she weaved their story together had me gobbling up her words like it’s Thanksgiving. I couldn’t stop reading. I wanted to know more. More. More. More.

By the end, Cole left me a satisfied reader. I loved this story. It’s a story of love and redemption and the strength that can only come from pain. I can’t wait to read more of her work.

STARS: 5 out of 5

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

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

When It’s Real by Erin Watt

When It’s Real by Erin Watt was the cutest, most addicting story!

30731416From #1 New York Times bestselling author duo Erin Watt comes the addictive contemporary tale of a teen rock star in need of an image makeover and the teen girl hired to be his fake girlfriend.

Meet Oakley Ford-teen celebrity, renowned pop star, child of famous movie stars, hottie with millions of fangirls… and restless troublemaker. On the surface he has it all, but with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry, and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley’s team decides it’s time for an intervention. The result: an image overhaul, complete with a fake girlfriend meant to show the world he’s settled down.

Enter seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett-devoted sister, part-time waitress, the definition of “normal.” Under ordinary circumstances she’d never have taken this gig, but with her family strapped for cash, she doesn’t have much of a choice. And for the money Oakley’s team is paying her, she figures she can put up with outlandish Hollywood parties and a team of publicists watching her every move. So what if she thinks Oakley’s a shallow, self-centered jerk? It’s not like they’re going to fall for each other in real life…right?

This is the first novel I’ve read by Erin Watt, and it surely won’t be the last. I loved it!

I love enemies-to-lovers stories and the fake girlfriend trope, and When It’s Real pulls it off! Vaughn and Oakley had me laughing and swooning in no time. Their chemistry gave me the shivers and I gobbled this story up in one sitting.

It was addicting. I couldn’t not keep reading. Somehow Watt nailed the tortured bad boy without being over the top and Vaughn was the perfect girl next door without being too cliche. I don’t know how Watt pulled it off, but it was amazingly wonderful.

As far-fetched as the fake girlfriend trope is, I thought the story line with Vaughn helping Oakley with his image was fantastic. The fake romance muddled the real feelings growing between them and watching them slowly fall for each other brought a smile to my face.

There’s really nothing else to say. It was so cute and addicting! I can’t wait to read more from this author.

STARS: 5 out of 5

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

Until It Fades by K.A. Tucker

Until If Fades by K.A. Tucker was a delightful surprise. It wasn’t what I expected at all.

31208654Twenty-four-year-old truck stop waitress and single mother Catherine Wright has simple goals: to give her five-year-old daughter a happy life and to never again be the talk of the town in Balsam, Pennsylvania: population two thousand outside of tourist season.

And then one foggy night, on a lonely road back from another failed attempt at a relationship, Catherine saves a man’s life. It isn’t until after the police have arrived that Catherine realizes exactly who it is she has saved: Brett Madden, hockey icon and media darling.

Catherine has already had her fifteen minutes of fame and the last thing she wants is to have her past dragged back into the spotlight, only this time on a national stage. So she hides her identity. It works.

For a time.

But when she finds the man she saved standing on her doorstep, desperate to thank her, all that changes. What begins as an immediate friendship quickly turns into something neither of them expected. Something that Catherine isn’t sure she can handle; something that Catherine is afraid to trust.

Because how long can an extraordinary man like Brett be interested in an ordinary woman like Catherine…before the spark fades?

I am a sucker for a hockey sports new adult romance. I eat those suckers up like candy. I mean, Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy, Toni Aleo…I can go on and on. There’s just something about hunky hockey guys and the girls who love them that’s the perfect formula for nighttime entertainment. So, I was super excited to hear that Tucker had written one. However, it’s not what I expected.

Tucker’s take on a New Adult Hockey romance is slower, more realistic in that she spends more time in the details than the typical formula. In fact, I was surprised how much of the book was the “before” they sparked a romance. There was a lot of background and character building. Even though it was about more of the mundane things in life, I never got bored or felt the pace slowed. I could have read about Catherine’s mundane life all day.

Even though this book is the typical trope-y Cinderella story, where poor girl meets handsome rich guy who solves all her problems with his wealth, the story had eccentric qualities that didn’t match the formula I was talking about earlier. For example, it didn’t have the pivotal “I love you” scene nor the expected sex scenes. This book was definitely more sweet and wholesome than the typical New Adult novel. It had unexpected depth that kept me reading late into the night.

Despite the unexpectedness, I didn’t miss anything that I expected to be present in the story. It left a big ole smile on my face and it’s a must read to anyone who’s a sucker for the classic boy meets girl, boy saves girl story.

STARS: 5 out of 5