Taken By Storm (Taken By Storm, #1)

First Lines: What does it matter if / another jock pinches me / as I walk down the hall to Physics / and high fives Troy, celebrating / like he just scored / the season’s first touchdown?

When I was at the library last, I was half looking for something that just jumped out at me from the shelves.  This was it.  Between the cover and the author (who wrote this beautiful book called Sing Me to Sleep), I figured I had a pretty decent shot at liking it.

Leesie lives by more rules than most teenagers she knows: No kissing.  No sex.  No dating anyone outside the Mormon faith.  But when Michael enters her life, she needs to rethink her rules.  Michael is hurting badly.  A deep-sea diver whose parents just died in a hurricane on their boat, he suddenly finds himself orphaned and away from the diving world he knows.  In him, Leesie sees someone who needs her help.  They fall for each other, even though his heart is in the depths of the ocean and hers is in the salvation above.  Which will win out: their hearts or their beliefs?

The story is told in a slightly unconventional way.  Leesie’s perspective is nearly entirely poems and chat messages.  (This book is a little older, so it uses something like AIM rather than texting to communicate between characters.)  Michael’s is from his diving log, which he uses much like a journal.  It seemed to fit both of their personalities and I felt like it was another way for me to get to know them.

The characters were interesting as well.  Michael is completely wracked with guilt over his parents’ deaths and doesn’t know how to deal with that.  As an outsider, I kept seeing his missteps and wanted to push him back on the right path.  He’s a sympathetic character because he’s hurting and he’s got a kind heart, but he’s also the kind of character who has a short-fused temper.  So sometimes he wasn’t always that sympathetic.  And I think I liked him that way.  I didn’t pity him the whole story.

Leesie is a devote Mormon, which was a little weird for me as I knew absolutely nothing about their actual faith.  (It’s a bit different from the bits of Catholicism and Protestantism I’ve picked up over the years.)  She was sweet and trusting, though sometimes a bit naive and too helpful.  Again, having that as something slightly negative actually made her a more appealing character.  It also helped that she (perhaps unintentionally?) struggled with her faith.  And that’s incredibly relatable.

There is a fair amount of religion in this.  I’m not going to say there’s not.  I’m not a religious person and I’m really finicky about what I’m ok reading, and this passed my test.  Here’s why: even though Leesie tries to convert Michael, she never comes off as preachy.  She comes off more of “This is who I am, this is who I want to be, and I would like to introduce you to this world that means so much to me.”  That kind of attitude I’m fine with.  It’s when you get forceful that I have a problem.

As if it wasn’t already somewhat obvious, it’s a clean romance.  Which does not mean it’s boring.  Far from it.  It takes some expert skill to make a reader melt just from characters holding hands.  I totally melted…and sometimes it was less contact than holding hands!

It was actually a really gripping story, which I wasn’t expecting.  There were times that I was glued to the book trying to figure out what happened next.

The only real negative I had with this book was that sometimes it dipped into the realm of melodrama or the over-dramatic.  It didn’t happen often, but there were times when I nearly laughed going, “Really?  That’s the way the plot’s going to go?”  But hey, lots of books do that.

Overall, a very impressive read.  Just go in with an open mind.

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Gilt

First Lines: “You’re not going to steal anything.”  I left the questioin–Are you?–off the end of the sentence.  But Cat heard it anyway.

You guys, I have committed the reader’s Cardinal Sin: I judged a book by its cover.  I’d seen this book around for a while, but I thought the cover was ugly…and frankly, it weirds me out.  It looks like a cold, blue dead body.  So I never picked it up because ew.  It wasn’t until I started getting interested in this author’s newer books that I decided I needed to give this a shot.

Kitty Tylney doesn’t think she’ll ever move out of the shadow of her best friend, Catherine Howard.  Cat is beautiful and vivacious and a natural leader.  Kitty…isn’t.  Then Cat worms her way into the court of King Henry VIII–before she sneaks into his heart as well.  Cat brings Kitty along as a favored maid, and Kitty begins to discover that court is not just about beautiful gowns and dazzling parties.  Behind smiles are deadly secrets, behind a curtsy is a desire to see someone fall from grace.  Kitty is soon entangled in many of Cat’s secrets…secrets that could literally cost Kitty her head.  Once you’ve been up at the top, there’s nowhere to go but down.

I am an avid fan of history, and King Henry VIII’s court is one of infamy.  It really is too bad sometimes that we remember him merely for being a fat aging king who lost interest in his wives at the drop of a foul word.  He’s such an interesting figure, and he’s more than that.  …But admittedly, he’s gained that reputation for a reason.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve brushed up on my Tudor history, so I didn’t quite remember all of Cat Howard’s story.  Which was fine for this.  And even if I did know her history, I don’t think it would have ruined the story any.

The characters are really interesting.  There are actually despicable characters, in the “well-written because the point is to hate them” kind of way.  I love to hate those kinds of characters.  It was a different world in 1540, so Kitty runs across a lot of sexist characters that just infuriated me.

Kitty is a headstrong female character, though she does tend to bow (literally and metaphorically!) to Cat’s wants.  It was an interesting juxtaposition because Kitty is quite firm about a few things.  And then other things…she just lets Cat decide.

Cat is the kind of character you want to hate, but you feel just a little too much sympathy for them to really pull it off.  Cat is selfish, self-centered, and manipulative.  That becomes apparent from the first few chapters.  It’s really not a surprise that she fell into Henry’s court as a teenager.  But there’s also something about her that inspires sympathy.  Even queens lacked choices and the ability to make their own decisions.

It was also really cool to compare Kitty’s place in the palace (as a “chamberer” or chamber maid) to Cat’s royalty.  There were striking differences in their lives and strange similarities.  But even being a maid brought Kitty a lot of privilege.  Again, 1541 was a completely different world.

And the plot.  I love court intrigue.  Mostly, the plot just follows Cat and the court, though Kitty does have a plot line that is entirely her own.  (Let’s just say some courtiers are quite dashing.)  But I love the secrets and reading between what people say and what they mean.  It’s fascinating that this is actually how people lived their lives.

One thing I’m torn about is the language.  The speech/speech patterns between the characters is quite modern, which made it harder for me to take it seriously that this was set nearly 500 years ago.  But at the same time, I realize that makes the book accessible to its demographic.  Torn, I tell you.

Truly an interesting historical fiction if you’re into Tudor history.  A lot of the big players make appearances, and all those faces and names suddenly get personalities.

Just One Year (Just One Day, #2)

First Lines: It’s the dream I always have: I’m on a plane, high above the clouds.  The plane starts to descend, and I have this sudden panic because I just know that I’m on the wrong plane, am traveling to the wrong place.

There are certain authors that I keep trying to play catch-up on because, for whatever reason, I just stopped reading their books.  Forman is one of these.  I wanted to keep reading them…I just never got around to it.

They had one magical day in Paris together.  And for Willem, it may not have been enough.  A wandering traveller at heart, Willem doesn’t have anywhere to call home and barely any family to his name.  Longing for his Lulu, Willem decides to scour the world for the girl whose name he doesn’t even know.  Because, you know, the course of true love never did run smooth.

In case you’re unfamiliar with this series, this is more of a companion novel to the first book than a sequel.  That’s why I didn’t put the spoilery notice on this.  It takes place at the same time as Just One Day, but from Willem’s perspective.

After Allyson’s side of the story, I was really looking forward to Willem’s side.  I figured it would be hugely enlightening.  And it was.  I mean, Willem’s travels say a lot about him.  But just seeing the world through him was incredible.  Mexico, India, Amsterdam.  Gorgeousness.  Places I’ll never probably go, but I’m ok exploring them with someone like Willem.

But…erm…eh…augh…Willem is incredibly angsty.  Like annoyingly so.  His personality clashed with mine pretty badly.  Because of that, I found myself reluctantly reading.  It didn’t help that I never felt like the action took off.  Willem was too busy moping.  He spends the whole book pretending he doesn’t need anyone or anything and it just got old.  I just kept waiting for something interesting to happen and it so rarely did.

And I can’t even really tell you about other characters besides Broodje because, as I mentioned, Willem pretends he doesn’t need anyone else.  Oh.  Maybe that’s why I struggled with this book.  I love characters and there were so few of them here.  (P.S. Broodje is the total comic relief and he was fun.)

But the English major gives major props to the extensive usage of Shakespeare.  (Thank God Willem is a Shakespearean actor.)  That did help me get into the story a bit more.  I loved the parallels between Shakespeare and Willem’s life.  That helped me understand Willem a little better too.

I’m not saying it’s a bad read.  It’s really deep.  But all the angst and personal discovery was apparently not what I was in the mood for right now.

Fragile Spirits (Souls, #2)

First Lines: “Do you know the answer, Mr. Blackwell?” Ms. Mueller tapped her pencil on the grade book laid open on her podium.  I didn’t know the answer.  I hadn’t even heard the question.

I read the first book in this series nearly 3 years ago and let me tell you, that was one that I remembered more about than I ever expected.  Lucky me.  I hate having that much time go by between reading books in a series, even though I do it all the time.  I need to work on that.

*Potential Light Series Spoilers Ahead*

Paul has always know it’s his fate to be a Protector.  It’s his job to protect the Speaker–someone who can see and speak to ghosts.  He’s always accepted his fate and looked forward to it.  Until he finally gets his assigned Speaker, Vivienne.  Vivienne is the opposite of Paul: she hates that she’s a Speaker, she breaks all the rules, and she wants to stand out in a crowd.  And Paul has little choice but to go along with whatever Vivienne does.  But their dynamic changes once they start meeting trouble.  A kidnapping, powerful secrets, and a dangerous Malevolent spirit may just show Vivienne and Paul that they aren’t so different after all.

For those of you who have read the first book, this seems to take place maybe a month or two after Shattered Souls.  It is told from a different perspective (Paul’s, instead of Lenzi’s), but Lenzi and Alden are still main characters in this book.  So it’s probably a good idea to read the first book before trying this one, though it may not be strictly necessary.

I love the concept of this story.  It’s a unique way to tell a ghost story.  Most good ghost stories have some sort of “Speaker” role, but they usually don’t have a Protector.  And there’s so much other stuff that so cool!  Possessions, conspiracies, and bureaucratic maneuvering to make everything work.  Secret organizations!  But really, it’s the possessions that make this really cool.  That’s how the ghosts move on…sort of.  I’ll leave you to find out the specifics.

And this plot really moved.  It flew under my fingers.  I was up late reading this without realizing what time it was because I kept wanting to know what happened next.  There were a few twists and things to throw you off track of how the plot was going to go.  It made it that much more exciting.

The characters are super interesting.  Both Paul and Vivienne have deep secrets and things in their backgrounds that they need to work through.  (Character development!)  And they are strangely similar, given their major differences.  I mean, she’s a goth girl with hot pink hair and he’s a rule follower to the extreme.  They shouldn’t work, but they do.  And it’s beautiful.

Sometimes the writing does get a little vague.  I wasn’t always sure what was happening.  For example, instead of coming right out and saying something was happening, it was like I was expected to know that’s what happened based off of a character’s suggestion.  I mean, if I say to my friend, “We should watch this movie!” it doesn’t mean we do.  So I lost the thread of the story once or twice when I really needed to know what was going on.

But this end of this is so entertaining!  I was thrown so off-kilter for it and I loved it.  It was amusing and fun to read, even though it was so tense. Definitely one of the best endings I’ve read in a while.

A different kind of ghost story, one with lots of action and tons of fun twists.

Hello, I Love You

First Lines: Big Brother, I want you to know something: It wasn’t your fault, not any of it.  And I’m so sorry.  Sorry for ditching the family and for shipping off to the other side of the world.

I lucked out, you guys.  I got this in a giveaway almost 2 months before it’s released to the public!  Weeeeee!  (Official release date is June 9, 2015, FYI.)  I was so pumped to read this.  And really, any free book I win is a friend of mine.

Grace needs a break from life.  Life with her record producer father, her famous country music superstar brother, and her mother who blames Grace for her brother’s breakdown is just too much.  So Grace decides to spend her senior year of high school at a boarding school–in South Korea.  This is going to be Grace’s fresh start…but then she learns that her new roommate, Sophie, has close ties to the music industry Grace has been trying so hard to escape.  Sophie’s twin brother, Jason, is a Korean pop (KPOP) superstar.  Grace can’t stand Jason’s ego or his status, but they become reluctant friends for Sophie’s sake.  Only, as the months go by, that friendship doesn’t feel so reluctant.  It feels like it may be…more.  But Grace can’t be with Jason without breaking promises she made to herself.  What’s a girl to do?

The jacket indicated that this would be somewhat similar to Anna and the French Kiss, which I’m all about.  And there are some similarities.  Boarding schools in foreign countries, boys who are adept at acclimating to the country’s customs and a girl who can’t, and that first taste of real independence and love.

I was originally drawn to this because of its setting.  I can’t say I’ve ever read a book set in South Korea, nor have I read a book about KPOP.  Speaking of music, I’m much more like Grace and her brother: I’m a country girl.  To me, KPOP sounds like chipmunks on a sugar rush after being awake for three days.  It’s trippy.  But I love musicians and singers, so I couldn’t turn this down, even if I don’t like Jason’s music.

…That’s really here nor there, is it?  I thought the setting was really impressive.  There was a lot of information woven into the story about Korean customs, food, and language.  It was cool.  I mean, it’s not the kind of book that’s going to teach me everything I need to visit the country, but it was a nice introduction.

The characters were sweet.  Grace is sweet and stubborn, and she has secrets she’ll do just about anything to protect.  Her life hasn’t been as easy as you would think.  Jason and Sophie, as twins, had a lot of things in common, but it was their differences I liked.  Sophie is your typical bubbly BFF who spends most of her time jumping around like an excited golden retriever.  Jason is far more subdued and you really get to see how fame negatively impacts his life.  I thought that was an interesting touch, since so many people are focused on being famous and they never stop to consider the downsides.

The story itself was incredibly enjoyable.  It plays out like your typical rom-com, and that’s not a bad thing.  I love rom-coms.  But I also loved reading about Grace acclimating to South Korea (and she made more than a few mistakes along the way).  The story also tends to tiptoe around Grace’s deep dark secret, which was sort of easy to guess ahead of time.  But that was fine.  I felt like I knew her secret, but I was still waiting for her to tell me.  Like I was trying to gain her trust or something.

One thing that stood out to me is that Grace tends to over-exaggerate to an extent that took me out of the story a few times.  She seemed to be unironic whenever she said a few characters had “a bazillion problems.”  But…from my reading of the story, I saw like less than 5.  It seemed like every word out of someone’s mouth was something that Grace planned to use as ammo later.  I know people do this in real life.  I just didn’t get the impression this was an intentional character flaw of Grace’s.  It felt like a writer’s near-cliche that “well, someone has to have issues, so let’s have Grace say this person has problems.  The audience will believe it.”  It cropped up at the most emotionally tense times and popped me out of the story.  That was unfortunate.

Otherwise, I thought this was a really cute story.  I’ve even gone back and reread a few of the more emotionally charged scenes I enjoyed.

Spotlight Friday (130)

Hello my lovelies!  And what a wonderful Friday it is!  It’s finally feeling like spring out there (I’m wearing SHORTS!) and some of my favorite spring/summer smells are out, like grilling food and fresh cut grass.  I’m sharing the wonderful with you in the form of new, upcoming books!

The Summer After You and Me by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

Release Date: May 1, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sunbathing, surfing, eating funnel cake on the boardwalk—Lucy loves living on the Jersey Shore. For her, it’s not just the perfect summer escape, it is home. And as a local girl, she knows not to get attached to the tourists. They breeze in over Memorial Day weekend, crowding the shore and stealing moonlit kisses, only to pack up their beach umbrellas and empty promises on Labor Day. Lucy wants more from love than a fleeting romance, even if that means keeping her distance from her summertime neighbor and crush, Connor.

Then Superstorm Sandy tears apart her barrier island, briefly bringing together a local girl like herself and a vacationer like Connor. Except nothing is the same in the wake of the storm. And day after day, week after week, Lucy is left to pick up the pieces of her broken heart and broken home. Now with Memorial Day approaching and Connor returning, will it be a summer of fresh starts or second chances?

What’s To Like: This reminds me a lot of What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick, though that book was more of a distinction between socioeconomic classes.  I can’t tell if that’s what this is too or if it’s just a tourist-vs-resident story.  Either way, they still sound similar.  But I think this looks cute.  It’s that feel of an almost forbidden romance, or at least of a love that can’t be and Lucy fell for it anyway.  I want to see what happens.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Release Date: May 5, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

What’s To Like: I must be insane because when I first read this description I went, “Eh, I don’t know about this.  It is Sarah Dessen but…does this really sound like something I’d read?”  I plead temporary insanity.  Because this looks so nuanced and interesting.  There’s going to be so much character growth in Sydney and I’m already drooling over that.

Some Kind of Normal (Boys Like You, #2) by Juliana Stone

*This is more of a companion novel than a true sequel.

Release Date: May 5, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

What is Normal?

For Trevor normal was fast guitar licks, catching game-winning passes and partying all night. Until a car accident leaves Trevor with no band, no teammates and no chance of graduating. It’s kinda hard to ace your finals when you’ve been in a coma. The last thing he needs is stuck-up Everly Jenkins as his new tutor—those beautiful blue eyes catching every last flaw.

For Everly normal was a perfect family around the dinner table, playing piano at Sunday service and sunning by the pool. Until she discovers her whole life is a lie. Now the perfect pastor’s daughter is hiding a life-changing secret, one that is slowly tearing her family apart. And spending the summer with notorious flirt Trevor Lewis means her darkest secret could be exposed.

What’s To Like: The first book in this was really emotional and one of those where your heart just goes out to the characters.  I have a feeling this is going to be the same way.  Besides, I love musicians and flirts, so Trevor is perfect for me.  And as someone who grew up basically like Everly, I’m all set for this book.

Miss Mayhem (Rebel Belle, #2)

First Lines: “This is going to be a total disaster.  You know that, right?”  There are times when having a boyfriend who can tell the future is great.  And then there are times like this.

I cannot turn down a Rachel Hawkins novel to save my life.  I can always count of them to be funny and have a lot of heart.  And the first book in this was particularly up my alley.  I hoped this would live up to my expectations.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Life is about as normal as it’s every going to get anymore for Harper Price.  The dust has settled from the attack on Cotillion and the Ephors have been conspicuously silent.  And Harper’s bestie Bee has been returned after her long disappearance.  Now Harper can focus on being normal again: going to school, canoodling with her boyfie David, and spending time with her friends.  If only that would last.  The Ephors have decided that they’d rather train David than kill him (which, you know, Harper’s on board with).  The catch is that Harper must take part in the training…and she can’t remain as David’s Paladin if she doesn’t pass a trial of her own, a trial that will either kill her or link her to David forever.

First of all, I love how Hawkins builds Harper’s character.  Love it.  Harper is a character who was made to break stereotypes.  She’s a total Southern belle and perfectionist as she is class president, Cotillion participant, and pageant material.  She’s all manners and charm, especially to those she doesn’t like.  But on the flip side, she’s this solid strength, courage, and fighting skills.  She’s the furthest thing from fragile she could possibly be.  And it’s such an amazing juxtaposition.  It creates so much of the tension and humor in the story.

The other characters were great as well, though the upped tension means that everyone is a bit more subdued than they were in the last book.  But still.  What’s not to love about David, the powerful nerd who can charm Harper into a good mood with a smile?  He’s cute.

But…the ending wasn’t quite what I was hoping.  I don’t want to say it was anti-climatic because that’s not it, but it was…unexpected.  Like I totally felt the book was building up to one ending and suddenly it completely shifts gears.  So all that anticipation I’d built up was just…useless.  It was more like, “Oh.  Uh, sure, I guess this will work.”

I think part of this feeling also comes from the fact that this book is shorter than Rebel Belle and there are fewer main characters.  So the story was more intense in places and then when that intensity just dissipated instead of crescendoing, I was a hint disappointed.

OH.  And there had better be another book in this series.  Because if that was the ending, I am going to pull a Harper on this and turn on some passive-aggressive Southern charm.  That ending is ok if there’s another book coming, not ok if it’s an actual end.

Still funny and exciting, but it didn’t quite go the way I was hoping or expecting.