King’s Cage (Red Queen, #3)

Image result for king's cageErm, this is kind of uncomfortable for me to admit.

I didn’t finish this book.

I absolutely adored the first two books in this series.  Action!  Deception!  Risks!  Secrets and surprises around every corner!  They were thrilling and suspenseful and always kept me on my toes.

This one moved at the speed of a sloth stuck in molasses.

I tried, I really did.  I stuck with it for 2.5-3 weeks and I made it 190 pages in.  But nothing was happening.  It was just a mental chess match between Mare and Maven the whole time.  No action, just a stand-off between two stubborn and cunning characters.  Everything I had loved about this series was suddenly gone.  No action.  Little suspense.  Basically no deception.  No surprises.

I get the impression that those things were coming, and maybe I gave up on it too soon.  But if I can’t get through a book in 3 weeks and I’m constantly putting it aside to read other books (I read at least a dozen books in that time), then why am I still bothering with it?  It didn’t hold my interest.

I’m disappointed.  I really liked how this series started and I wish I could’ve kept going on it.  Maybe in the future I’ll try again, but for now?  I’m done.

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Nimona

Image result for nimona(Sorry, it’s a graphic novel and therefore doesn’t exactly have first lines.)

Alright, so I’m maybe not the biggest graphic novel fan in the world.  But I do enjoy them occasionally and when I was kind of bored at the library, I spotted this.  The name was familiar to me, so I thought I’d try it.

Nimona is a shapeshifter with a knack for villainy and an impulse control that doesn’t exist.  Lord Blackheart is a villain thirsting for revenge.  As sidekick and villain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are ready to wreak some havoc.  Specifically, they want to prove the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics is not the all-powerful good that everything thinks it is.  But as small acts of villainy escalate to dangerous levels, Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are more unpredictable than he thought.  And her wild side might actually be dangerous to everyone around her.

It was definitely interesting. This immediately felt more diverse than a lot of books I read. Nimona has a look that is entirely her own. Blackheart is missing an arm and tries to prove that he’s still capable. A couple of characters seem to be gay, though that’s more alluded than forthright.

But what I loved was that good and evil were not clearly defined. Nimona and Blackheart are the supposed “villains” of this story, but that sometimes doesn’t fit right because the “good guys” are sometimes more ruthless than the villains. It’s an interesting study in what makes someone evil. (Think Megamind.)

I’ll be the first to admit that I probably didn’t enjoy the art form the way I’m supposed to.  I basically read for the story and use the pictures to help fill in the blanks.  (I took a college class on how to read graphic novels–we dissected the art big time and it was never my strength.)  I couldn’t exactly get a good read on what Nimona’s look really was, like what’s going on with her hair and that kind of thing.  I just don’t think I appreciate it the way it’s supposed to be appreciated it.  I kind of prefer building my own pictures in my mind.

I won’t say I was entirely bowled over by this (because I wasn’t), but I thought it was a good story. While I didn’t exactly like Nimona herself some of the time, I did get quite sucked into Blackheart’s story. And really, he’s more the narrator than Nimona is.

The Secret History of Us

Image result for the secret history of usFirst Lines: The girl he pulls to the surface is dead.  I know it the moment I see her.  The camera zooms in, shaking a little as she comes into focus.  Even in the golden lights shining down from the bridge, her skin is an unnatural shade of blue.

For me, Jessi Kirby is a reliable author that I will keep coming back to time and time again.  She always writes deep stories with relatable characters that punch me right in the feels.  And when I saw this at the library, I had a feeling this would do the same.

After a near-drowning accident and being in a coma for days, Olivia finally wakes up…and realizes she doesn’t remember what happened.  Not just the accident, but the last four years.  Nothing, all of high school erased.  She doesn’t remember her boyfriend Matt at all, doesn’t remember why she’s not friends with her bestie Jules anymore, none of it.  That’s when it dawns on her that the accident may not have taken her life, but it took something just as important: her memory, who she’s become as a person.  The more she tries to remember, the worse things get.  And it doesn’t help that as she tries to figure out who she is, everyone keeps telling her who she was.  And then there’s Walker, the guy who saved her.  The more Olivia tries to talk to him, to find out what happened, the more he pulls away.  As her feelings grow toward him, tensions rise with Matt.  And Olivia realizes that there are plenty of secrets being kept from her.

There’s just something about Kirby that always draws me in.

In this story, we meet Liv, who is an interesting character.  People keep trying to tell her maybe it’s a good thing she doesn’t remember high school–who wouldn’t want to forget those awkward years? But Liv doesn’t see it that way. Not only has she completely forgotten her boyfriend of two years, but she’s suddenly not friends with one of her best friends from middle school. Her room is covered in memories she no longer has and everyone has some input on who she was before.

Of everything, I thought this was an interesting message about identity. Who are we? Are we the memories we create? Are we the person we are with our friends and family or the person we are when we’re alone? And how can we change that identity? It was fascinating because Liv isn’t exactly a blank slate, but she’s missing four years of her life, a time when most of us underwent radical changes. On top of that, the people around her are gently lying to her about who she is because they want to paint who she was in the best light–but it leaves Liv feeling like she has no idea who she is now.

The characters are a little shallow. Flat. Liv isn’t, but she’s the main character. And while I enjoyed the other characters in the story, especially Liv’s brother, not many of them had a whole lot of personality. And I suppose I can’t fully blame the story on that because Liv is pretty self-centered through all of this as she struggles to remember anything.

But I liked the plot. I liked how things unfolded and how Liv’s conflict played out. It kept my interest and I ended up finishing this book pretty quickly.

Jesse’s Girl (Hundred Oaks)

Image result for jesse's girl miranda kenneallyFirst Lines: Backstage, there’s so much security, you’d think it was the White House.  I’ve been to plenty of concerts, but I’ve never had a backstage pass, so I follow Dr. Salter’s lead and keep flashing my all-access badge over and over.

I keep working my way (slowly) through the Hundred Oaks series.  They’ve typically been cute, moving, and with a whole host of different types of girls.  No two stories feel the same at all and that’s so awesome you guys.  I’ve seen myself in many of the girls but all for different reasons.  And I had high hopes for a story about a country singer, since that was my dream job at 13.

At Hundred Oaks High, career day is a joke.  You want to be a famous chef? Shadow a small baker for the day.  You want to be president? Follow this lawyer for a day.  So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she figured she’d get a crappy job too.  It’s a shock when she ends up with the Jesse Scott, teenage country heartthrob.  But spending the day with Jesse doesn’t go the way Maya thought it would.  She’s constantly reminded of how much she’s lost: her band, her boyfriend, any chance to make the music she loves.  It doesn’t help that Jesse is pushy and opinionated–and he thinks Maya’s playing backup to other people.  Can Maya strike out on her own and finally own the spotlight?

Ok, so this was adorable. As I knew it would be.

In this book, we meet Maya (the younger sister of Catching Jordan‘s Sam Henry). She’s spunky, cool, driven, and an 80s tribute singer. She loves Queen and aspires to be a performer in her own right. So when her school sets her up to shadow Jesse Scott, the hottest thing in country music, she’s torn; it’s great to shadow a real star, but did it have to be a country singer? But Jesse’s not what she expected.

The story pulled me in very quickly. Part of it is because of my love of music. I’m a solid combo of Maya and Jesse, with a definite 80s throwback to myself (even though I wasn’t born in the 80s) but I grew up on country music and appreciate it as well. And at one point in my life, I thought about trying to be a singer. So it was kind of an interesting “what if?”

Jesse and Maya are both interesting characters with their own quirks. But the thing that kept me entertained is that they’re funny. Jesse is willing to say just about anything out loud for a reaction and Maya has a more sarcastic sense of humor. I loved both of them. And both of them showed their vulnerable side through the book and I thought that was great.

The plot isn’t very even in terms of the timeline, mostly because about half the book is devoted to the one-day career shadowing expedition. But it wasn’t bad. I mean, I barely realized it was taking so long until I stopped once and saw I was about halfway through the book. The timeline after that was better paced, but I was never bored.

This was super cute and I can’t wait to read the next one.

A Kiss in the Dark

Image result for a kiss in the darkFirst Lines: It’s funny how they say a picture is worth a thousand words, because the one I’m looking at has me pretty speechless.  There’s nothing special about it.  Not to anyone else, anyway.

You know, I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve read a straight-up YA contemporary romance.  It seems like there’s always something else to it than just the drama of high school and I was (weirdly) kind of missing that.  Also, like, that car is really hot.  Growing up in a family where my brothers and dad are all into fixing up cars and me being a history buff, I love looking at old cars.

When the power goes out at a Friday football game, someone kisses Macy Atwood senseless in the dark–and then disappears before the lights come back on.  All Macy knows is that there was something special–and a bit familiar–about that kisser.  Noah Granger, resident bad-boy and recent transfer student, has no problem accepting credit for the kiss, but Macy thinks he’s lying about it.  Especially since a photo resurfaced of Macy and former star football player Joel Hargrove only days before.  It’s all a reminder of how she fell for Joel last year and how her lifelong friendship with Meredith Kopala and Ben Collins went up in literal smoke.  Somehow, what happened last year is tied to this secret kisser, Macy just knows it.  But discovering his identity means opening old wounds with Meredith and Joel and Ben–and discovering what Noah is hiding.  And Macy must ask herself…what if the boy who stole her heart and the boy who stole a kiss are two different people?

Having read Ciocca’s first book, I thought this one looked cute. And the premise behind it is pretty cute. Macy, a former cheerleader and current yearbook photographer, has had most of her friendships implode around her in the past year. She’s struggled to pick up the pieces and create a new identity for herself that didn’t include the best friend she lost and the boy who broke her heart, all in a single night. So when the lights go out and someone kisses her in the dark, Macy is startled to realize this felt familiar, even though she has no idea who did it.

Probably what drove me craziest was the timeline. It jumps back and forth between junior and senior year, which in and of itself is fine. (Even if it is what Ciocca’s last book did too.) But it got so slow sometimes that I went a day or two without reading the book. I get why books do it, but it slows the plot down so much.

I did like the characters, even if I was kind of meh at the beginning. When their personalities and their secrets come out more near the end of the book, that really got my attention. I’m just sad that for a few of them it took that long to get to something meaty.

But what I did respect was that there were times when the story actually did hit on some really interesting topics.  Friendship, responsibility, and trust were common, but also things about identity and forgiveness and what it really means to stand by someone.  And there were a few others that I can’t even mention without spoiling the book.  I respected that it did some things thematically that I don’t see very often.

So, the book was entertaining, even if it wasn’t the greatest. It’s fluff, but it does delve into deeper topics at times.

Something Real

Image result for something real heather demetriosFirst Lines: It took me four years, seven shrinks, three different hair colors, one Zen meditation retreat, and over six hundred mochas to get to this moment.  I step up to the blue velvet backdrop and face the camera.

This is a book that’s been on my to-read list for years, but I always just kind of passed it at the library because I usually already had an armful of books.  But for whatever reason, this time I made room for it.

Seventeen-year-old Bonnie Baker has spent most of her life on TV, along with her twelve siblings as stars of a reality show called Baker’s Dozen.  Since the show cancelled four years earlier, Bonnie’s actually been living a fairly normal life.  She’s gone to high school, she’s had friends, and she’s been able to relax.  And it’s been…nice.  No one knows who she is.  But everything falls apart when Bonnie learns that her mom has signed the whole family on for more seasons of the show.  Bonnie’s mom and the producers won’t let Bonnie quit the world that nearly destroyed her before, and everything Bonnie’s built for herself is now crashing down around her.  Bonnie needs to do something drastic if she’s going to live her life the way she wants to, even if it means exposing more than she wants to.

I’ll be the first to admit that I rarely watch reality TV (in the form of family reality TV, like what you find on TLC). I have no interest in watching families fight on TV or watching as a family of 20 go to the zoo or whatever. But do I watch reality competitions like America’s Got Talent? Yes. And of course, even though I don’t watch those other reality shows, I still hear about then on virtually every commercial break on every channel.

So that was what I was picturing going into this: a Duggar-style family with lots of drama.

I wasn’t far off, but the story exceeded my expectations.

It didn’t start off that way. I struggled through the first fifty pages or so, simply because I A) had a hard time with the invasion of privacy that Bonnie/Chloe (she changes her name to Chloe to avoid the notoriety) deals with on the show and B) Chloe’s spinelessness. She’s a yes-girl, with a complete inability to say no when the show wants her to do something she painfully does not want to. Me, I have no problem stepping on toes in those situations. And since I realized that the issues I was having had nothing to do with the writing or the story, I stuck with it.

I’m glad I did. It kind of rocked my world.

Chloe simply wants a normal life, something that’s virtually impossible when she has 12 siblings and grew up (literally from birth) on TV. But she’s had the last 4 years off-air to discover some version of normalcy: great friends, a crush, and a whole school of people who don’t know about her past. And that all comes crashing down when her mom and stepdad sign back on to do the show without asking any of the kids.

Some of the characters were great. I came to understand Chloe and fight for her. I loved her brother, Benson, and her friends Tessa and Mer. I especially loved her crush Patrick and their government teacher, Mr. Schwartz. But there were an equal number of characters that were disgusting, grasping leeches. Welcome to the world of Reality TV. After I started seeing how Chloe’s world was intent on forming her into a demented doll, I was 100% on her side. And it was so hard to fathom how some people could see the damage it was doing to her and ask her to give more.

We already knew there was a dark side to reality TV, but seeing it through a character that you start to fall in love with was really hard. Like, I’m pretty sure I will never be able to watch reality TV the same way again.

Worth the read.

Daughter of the Siren Queen (Daughter of the Pirate King, #2)

Image result for daughter of the siren queenFirst Lines: The sound of my knife slitting across a throat feels much too loud in the darkness.  I catch the pirate before his corpse hits the ground and gently lower him the rest of the way.

You know, there aren’t a lot of duologies out there, and it’s kind of interesting to see how a story arcs over only 2 books.  But like, I also wasn’t going to turn this down when it has female pirates and clever plot twists and sirens.  Can’t turn that down.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Alosa has finally done it: she’s reunited the three pieces of the legendary treasure map and captured the pirates who tortured her.  The only thing that unsettles Alosa is that the devilishly handsome enemy-turned-first-mate, Riden, is loyal and taking orders from her…but she isn’t sure it’ll always stay that way.  Besides, he’s a distraction when all she wants is to have Vordan, the man who tortured her, face her father’s justice.  But when Vordan tells Alosa a secret her father has kept for years, she finds herself in a deadly race to outpace her father.  The Pirate King isn’t going to let Alosa wander free knowing what she does…but Alosa isn’t just the daughter of the Pirate King.  She’s also daughter of the Siren Queen, and she’s going to use it.

So when I read the first book in this series, I thought it was interesting. Pirates (which are awesome), sirens (which were interesting), and a hot first mate, OH MY! I noted that there were some issues with the writing from time to time, but it was something I could overlook.

Not this time.

Oh my God, the beginning was so slow. I struggled to even want to pick up the book for like the first sixty pages. It wasn’t because I’d forgotten what had happened or who the characters were; I read the first book only a few months ago and still remembered most of it. It was just irritatingly slow and the writing was frustrating to me. There were parts that just…ugh. It was a chore.

Thankfully, after I got past the beginning, things started to get more interesting. And this mostly came in the form of Alosa’s inner conflict. When she started being vulnerable to those around her, then I bought in. But for whatever reason (and I usually love a good fight), I just could not get very far into this whole Pirates vs. Pirates conflict without wanting to chuck the book across the room.

The book does do some interesting things. The pirate stuff and the siren stuff are expounded on more and we get to explore Alosa’s abilities more. Those were interesting. And there are some good cliffhangers that drew me in. I even started reading this during commercials while watching a show because I wanted to keep reading.

I know I sound pretty negative at the beginning, but don’t completely write this off either. Just make sure it’s actually something you’re interested in reading before committing because, if you’re like me, you’ll question your decision at least once.