Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh | Book Review

The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
First Published: 2015
Young Adult, romance
Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a terrible surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she may be falling in love with a murderer.
Shazi discovers that the villainous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. It's up to her to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.
"So you would have me throw Shazi to the wolves?"
"Shazi? Honestly, I pity the wolves."
I've been trying to figure out a way to open this review for the last two hours, but I just don't know where to begin. So, I'll jump right into things - from the very first page, this novel grabs hold of you and refuses to let go, as it urges you to figure out what's going on, and find out the truth behind all this apparent cruelty.

Ahdieh made such a clever choice by opening the book with Jalal and his father and their worry and love towards Khalid, because that opening immediately colors what we think of him, allows us to be sympathetic towards him where Shazi and her friends cannot, and promises us that there is more to this boy king than meets the eyes.

Which also creates delicious tension between us and Shazi herself as we read of her coming to the palace with malicious intent, but hope she will be open enough to realize there is more to this story as she interacts with her murderous husband.

While I strongly suspected the nature of the truth, my biggest unanswered question was always why. I wanted to understand Kahlid. And I was blessed with a heroine who, despite vowing to avenge her friend, cannot close herself to these questions either, especially as she comes to know the man she's supposed to hate. Shazi is everything I wanted her to be - strong and stubborn, almost foolish in her bravery, but also loving and loyal.

Khalid and Shazi's love story is heartbreaking. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I cannot pretend there aren't some insta love elements to it, but despite my usual tendency to condemn and story who has those, The Wrath and the Dawn managed to completely win me over. I don't know how Ahdieh did it, but she managed to make the instant connection between these characters, the way Shazi immediately stood out to Khalid and how just a few conversations managed to melt her walls into something very natural and poetic. Into something captivating and genuine. Something that almost glowed in its rightness.

So yes.
Now, let's talk love triangles. Mostly to say - there isn't one in this novel. While The Wrath & The Dawn does have two guys in love with the same girl, the girl in question knows who she wants throughout it all. Even if it breaks her heart to admit it, even to herself.

That second guy I mentioned is Tariq. Sometimes, the book left our protagonist and the super engrossing main story to go and peek into his life and what he's going through... and, admittedly, those were my least favorite parts of the whole affair. I wanted them to be gone and stop threatening my beautiful ship, even though as far as secondary love interests go, Tariq is pretty decent as a human being and all.

But while Tariq didn't steal my heart, there were two side characters that totally did - Khalid's cousin Jalal and Shazi's handmaiden Despina. These two are so incredible. Not only do they offer constant support and levity for our main characters respectively, they also kick butt. I really wanted more scenes between these two, and this book definitely left me desperate for more of them.

The few things that stopped it from being a rounded five stars was the fact that, for an Arabian Nights retelling, I barely got any stories! What were there, one and three quarters of a story? I wanted more because those were fun, and they would have added some element of time to Shazi and Khalid's blooming romance.

Despite this, this book was utterly fantastic in my opinion. I started reading the sequel almost immediately.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Destiny Binds by Tammy Blackwell | Book Review

Destiny Binds by Tammy Blackwell
First Published: 2011
Paperback & Omnibus
Young Adult, fantasy
Scout Donovan is a girl who believes in rules, logic, and her lifelong love of Charlie Hagan. Alex Cole believes in destiny, magic, and Scout. When Alex introduces Scout to the world of Shifters, men who change into wolves or coyotes during the full moon and Seers, women who can see your most private thoughts and emotions with a mere touch, the knowledge changes everything and everyone Scout thought she knew.
One of my all-time favorite YA shifter series, and all time most underrated series, is the Timber Wolves Trilogy. People, I implore you, stop reading this review and go read this novel instead. You will not regret it.

Destiny Binds starts the epic journey of Harper "Scout" Donovan, a kick-ass, headstrong young woman who will take none of your shit, thank you very much. But she is not just strong, inside and out, she's also funny, smart and logical, but most important - loyal and loving. So what if she happens to be stubborn, snarky and odd looking? the girl is my perfect kind of heroine.

As many of these stories go, and mark this down because it's just about the only typical thing about this whole series, Scout's journey begins with the arrival of Alex Cole and his brother Liam into town. Alex is every girl's dream - sweet, charismatic, loving and... hot, with two killer dimples and a tortured past that gives out that edge we so love. Can you blame Scout for falling for him? I sure can't.

But there are things to consider... such as Alex's threatening brother, and Scout's protective brother (and also a personal favorite of mine), the infinitely awesome Jace Donovan, who is against the Coles for some reason. And as Scout and Jace are closer than real siblings, their relationship built equally on banter and devotion, Scout can't just ignore what he thinks.

Now, the romance in this book, and series as a whole, is really unique, and I mean that in the best way possible. In this book alone we are introduced to a heroine who picks a guy when confronted with a sort of love triangle, instead of twiddling her thumbs for three books. Then, there is the beautiful slow build to Alex and Scout's romance, starting slowly from simple attraction, into wary friendship, and then into far, far more.

But it doesn't end there, because the romance of the Timber Wolves trilogy can only be truly appreciated when looked upon as a whole, and it is truly a sight to behold.

So, I've sang enough praise about our main characters, but have I mentioned the array of utterly fantastic supporting characters? First, there is Talley, best friend to Scout and the kind of girl who sees the best in everyone, while also understanding her friends to their core. So yeah, she's going to see the best in you... but she also knows your worst.

Then, there is Charlie, Jace's best friend and cousin who is Scout's crush for, like, forever. He's a peacemaker, the logical one in any situation. Together; Scout, Jace, Talley and Charlie are the Fantastic Four of their small town.

And then there was the ending. Not gonna lie, I cried, both times I read it. The one thing I feel I need to say is that Ashley is a stupid bitch, and I don't brandish the B word lightly.

Blackwell is not afraid to take chances and mess with her readers, and it simply works.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian | Book Review

Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian
First Published: 2007
Adult, Paranormal Romance
He comes to her more dead than alive, a towering black-clad stranger riddled with bullets and rapidly losing blood. As she struggles to save him, veterinarian Tess Culver is unaware that the man calling himself Dante is no man at all, but one of the Breed, vampire warriors engaged in a desperate battle. In a single erotically charged moment Tess is plunged into his world—a shifting, shadowed place where bands of Rogue vampires stalk the night, cutting a swath of terror.
Haunted by visions of a dark future, Dante lives and fights like there is no tomorrow. Tess is a complication he does not need—but now, with his brethren under attack, he must shield Tess from a growing threat that includes Dante himself. For with one reckless, irresistible kiss, she has become an inextricable part of his underworld realm…and his touch awakens her to hidden gifts, desires, and hungers she never knew she possessed. Bonded by blood, Dante and Tess must work together to thwart deadly enemies, even as they discover a passion that transcends the boundaries of life itself….
A small confession: I usually give a series somewhere around two to three books to impress me, if the series is of the intertwined standalones verity, for the simple reason that one couple/protagonist may not be my favorite, but another might be.

So it's always somewhat of a trial and error process to figure out if it was these set of characters I didn't like, or the authors storytelling (although, sometimes it's fairly obvious).

Kiss of Midnight, the first of the Midnight Breed series, was an underwhelming experience for me, especially considering the hype surrounding this paranormal series. But, this being a series of standalones, I gave it another chance... only to be disappointed again.

It's fair to say I will not be reading another book in the Midnight Breed world.

The one word that pops to my head when I think Kiss of Crimson is "meh". It was an okay story, for the most part. A fast, mindless read to pass time with that I can barely remember now, two years later. But I will give these books that - they are readable. So if you're looking for something that won't demand too much of you... pick them up.

My biggest issue with this book (and the likes of it) is the romance itself, and this being a paranormal romance... it's a pretty big deal. But I never understood Tess and Dante's love. It came about too quickly, with the physical element of it happening too fast for my liking. The startling "you're my life" type of declarations sprang out of nowhere, considering neither could name the other's favorite color to save their lives, not to mention anything more fundamental than that.

I find it really hard to swallow romances where it feels like if you were to ask our two main characters to describe each other, they won't be able to fill up more than two sentences. This isn't love - it could be attraction or infatuation or even in lust, but not in love.

Therefore, I simply didn't believe their love. And that kind of means I didn't believe the story, period.