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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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

Rule by Jay Crownover

Over the years, I’ve had Jay Crownover’s Marked Men series pop up as a recommended series based on my read list on GoodReads. Whatever algorithm Goodreads uses to recommend things works, because it was absolutely right. Rule, the first novel in the New Adult series, was wildly entertaining.

17200687Opposites in every way . . . except the one that matters

Shaw Landon loved Rule Archer from the moment she laid eyes on him. Rule is everything a straight-A pre-med student like Shaw shouldn’t want—and the only person she’s never tried to please. She isn’t afraid of his scary piercings and tattoos or his wild attitude. Though she knows that Rule is wrong for her, her heart just won’t listen.

To a rebel like Rule Archer, Shaw Landon is a stuck-up, perfect princess-and his dead twin brother’s girl. She lives by other people’s rules; he makes his own. He doesn’t have time for a good girl like Shaw-even if she’s the only one who can see the person he truly is.

But a short skirt, too many birthday cocktails, and spilled secrets lead to a night neither can forget. Now, Shaw and Rule have to figure out how a girl like her and a guy like him are supposed to be together without destroying their love . . . or each other.

I’m always down for a good girl falling for the bad boy. No matter how unrealistic it seems at times. Granted, I know from experience that every good girl has a wild side waiting to come out. For a New Adult novel, this book had some heavy subject matter – dealing with the death of a friend/brother, the fracturing of a family, disowning parents, and unfulfilled longing for love and acceptance. It added some tangible substance between the tension-filled bickering and scorching moments of surrender.

I particularly enjoyed Rule as a damaged bad boy with tattoos and piercings – LOTS of piercings. There were a few eyebrow raising moments, but that’s what made this story so fun to read. I loved that Shaw was the complete opposite of Rule, clean-cut, rich and well-mannered. It made their relationship like the joining of fire and ice; it could get explosive.

My one complaint is I think Rule is a dumb name. Who would name their kid Rule? However, I loved the variety of secondary characters. I’m excited to read the rest of the series knowing I’ll get to hear the stories of some of my favorites like Rome and Jet.

STARS: 4 out of 5

The Mighty Storm by Samantha Towle

The Mighty Storm by Samantha Towle has been on my radar for years. It was the New Adult book that everyone was talking about and I wanted in. Sadly, this book fell flat for me.

15724654It’s been twelve years since Tru Bennett last saw Jake Wethers, her former best friend and boy she once loved.

Jake Wethers, sexy, tattooed and deliciously bad lead singer, and brains behind The Mighty Storm, one of the biggest bands in the world, left Tru with a broken heart when he moved from England to America with his family when they were both fourteen.

Sent to interview Jake for her music column by the magazine she works for, they are both unprepared for the sparks that fly the instant they reconnect. Only, there’s a complication to their instant feelings for one another—Will, Tru’s boyfriend of two years.

Then Jake makes Tru a job offer she can’t refuse—travelling the world with him and his band. But taking the job means leaving Will behind, and being on the road with the band means spending an inordinate amount of time with Jake.

Is Tru strong enough to resist the delectable bad boy who once held her heart so completely, or will she willingly risk it all for one night with the world’s most notorious womanizer?

The Mighty Storm is the epitome of a new adult romance. It has the self-conscious heroine that doesn’t realize she’s beautiful and the arrogant, rich bad boy (in this case rock star) that demands her heart. Most of the time I’m okay with the stereotype, and even if there are moments that I cringe at the over-the-top, need-you-now, I’m-a-caveman dialogue, I can still fall into the story. However, I couldn’t get there with this book.

The first half of this novel was wildly entertaining. I enjoyed all the “Briticisms,” like saying boot instead of trunk or vest instead of a tank top. The story and characters were stereotypical, sure, but I enjoyed the first meeting, anticipated the first kiss and even endured the heart-wrenching love triangle. The first half felt like it was its own little story with a beginning, middle and end. About the half-way point is where I got lost. The story changes…it morphs into this obstacle-rich battle ground with dealbreakers coming in out of nowhere. Between one page and the next, the whole tone of the story flips from an authentic connection to a pessimistic interrogation.

Where The Mighty Storm fell flat the most was the character’s contradictory decision-making, specifically Tru. It’s impossible to describe without spoilers but she basically considers an act, that she had done herself, as unforgivable. It was such a hypocritical moment that I couldn’t side with either character. I was just done with the BS and didn’t want to read anymore. I skimmed through to the end to see how it all ended up, but it didn’t redeem this book for me.

The Mighty Storm was a letdown. It left me feeling like I wasted time.

STARS: 2 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 Heir by Kiera Cass

NOTE: Mild spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the first three books, but nothing you wouldn’t have already had spoiled by reading the synopsis.

I really enjoyed The Selection series by Kiera Cass (especially because I have an unhealthy obsession with The Bachelor and other reality dating shows). I was both pleasantly surprised and quizzically skeptical about the surprise fourth book in the series, The Heir, which is more like a spin-off since it follows the daughter of the winning couple.

22918050 Princess Eadlyn has grown up hearing endless stories about how her mother and father met. Twenty years ago, America Singer entered the Selection and won the heart of Prince Maxon—and they lived happily ever after. Eadlyn has always found their fairy-tale story romantic, but she has no interest in trying to repeat it. If it were up to her, she’d put off marriage for as long as possible.

But a princess’s life is never entirely her own, and Eadlyn can’t escape her very own Selection—no matter how fervently she protests.

Eadlyn doesn’t expect her story to end in romance. But as the competition begins, one entry may just capture Eadlyn’s heart, showing her all the possibilities that lie in front of her . . . and proving that finding her own happily ever after isn’t as impossible as she’s always thought.

Let’s be real, Princess Eadlyn is not a very nice person. I was taken aback by the level of hateful ugliness within this young heroine. I suppose it will create a larger story arc for character growth. She does redeem herself by the end of the book, and she isn’t so unpleasant that she’s unlikeable. We all have a mean girl hidden inside us.

I was initially annoyed at the Eadlyn’s attempt to subvert her own selection. I understood her motives — being too young, wanting to stay independent — but she took too long to get to the point where she realized she actually liked some of the boys. Granted, The Heir is only the beginning of Eadlyn’s story, so there is a couple more books, I’m sure, where she will continually grow.

I read this book in one day, breezing through the pages with my emotions ranging through excited, annoyed, laughter and hope. The reader gets to see how some of the characters in the last book are doing, but it focuses primarly on Eadlyn and her inability to see what’s right in front of her.

This book was strange because I didn’t really have a favorite suitor by the end. There were a couple I liked, but just like Eadlyn, I didn’t know how to feel about any of them. She hadn’t really tried yet so it was hard to judge who would be the best suitor for her. I’m looking forward to seeing their relationships blossom in the next few books.

Even though this book was a random experience, I thought Cass made good creative choices to differentiate Eadlyn’s selection process from her father’s. It’s cool to see the other side of the coin, instead of America’s poor mindset; you get Eadlyn’s rich girl identity. With that said, it had a few disrupting scenes like the almost sexual assault and the one, two punch major (and perhaps unnecessary) plot twists at the end.

This book is hard to judge because I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as smooth, the point of view was all over the place and the chain of events was random instead of natural. I’ll still be reading the next book. Just like The Bachelor, I’m always up for another season.

STARS: 3.5 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