Thursday, October 31, 2013

Best of the Bunch - October 2013

Best of the Bunch is a book blog hop hosted over at Always Lost in Stories on the last day of each month, where we can look back over the books we have read over this past month and give a Best of the Bunch award to our favorite book of that month.

October 2013

Wow!!  I read A LOT of books that I really enjoyed this month!!  Picking a Best of the Bunch is going to be even tougher than usual!

This month I reviewed the following books:

  • Cold Steel by Kate Elliott | Review | Rating: 4/5
  • Relativity by Cristin Bishara | Review | Rating 4/5
  • Breaking Nova by Jessica Sorenson | Review | Rating 5/5
  • Sleepless by Tracey Ward | Review | Rating 4.5/5

  • Iron Crowned by Richelle Mead | Review | Rating 3.5/5
  • More by T.M. Franklin | Review | Rating 4/5
  • The Curse Giver by Dora Machado | Review | Rating 4/5
  • The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau | Review | Rating 4/5

  • The Iron Traitor by Julie Kagawa | Review | Rating 4/5
  • The Long Game by J.L. Fynn  | Review | Rating 4.5/5
  • After the Ending by Lindsey Fairleigh & Lindsey Pogue | Review | Rating: 3/5
  • Unmaking Hunter Kennedy by Anne Eliot | Review | Rating 4/5

  • Switch by Janelle Stalder | Review | Rating 4.5/5
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth | Review | Rating 5/5
  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth | Review | Rating: 4.5/5
  • Starstruck by Brenda Hiatt | Review | Rating 4/5

  • Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma | Review | Rating 5/5
  • Allegiant by Veronica Roth | Review | Rating 4.5/5
  • Just Ella by Annette K. Larsen | Review | Rating: 4.5/5
  • The Island by Jen Minkman | Review | Rating 4/5
And my October 2013 Best of the Bunch winner is . . .

Divergent by Veronica Roth  &  Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

I just couldn't decide this month, so I had to call it a tie between Divergent and Forbidden.  I absolutely loved both of these books!  Divergent thrilled me and Forbidden wrecked me.  I won't be forgetting either of these books any time soon.

Divergent Summary: In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Forbidden Summary: She is pretty and talented - sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But... they are brother and sister.

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.


So, what was your best October read?

Random Reads Review - The Island by Jen Minkman

Title: The Island
Author: Jen Minkman
Release Date: June 1, 2013
Pages: 138, Paperback
Goodreads Rating: 3.22 stars
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
My Content Rating: PG-16 (References to sex, though none is shown; Some violence)

Summary from Goodreads: ‘I walk toward the sea. The endless surface of the water extends to the horizon, whichever way I look.

Our world is small. We are on our own, and we only have ourselves to depend on. We rely on the Force deep within us, as taught to us by our forefathers. 

If I were to walk westward from here, I would come across a barrier – the Wall. Behind it, there are Fools. At least, that’s what everyone says.

I have never seen one.’

Leia lives on the Island, a world in which children leave their parents to take care of themselves when they are ten years old. Across this Island runs a wall that no one has ever crossed. The Fools living behind it are not amenable to reason – they believe in illusions. That’s what The Book says, the only thing left to the Eastern Islanders by their ancestors.
But when a strange man washes ashore and Leia meets a Fool face to face, her life will never be the same. Is what she and her friends believe about the Island really true?

Or is everyone in their world, in fact, a Fool?

(Please note: this novella contains a few references to the famous sci-fi movie Star Wars which are pivotal to the plot. None of the characters in The Island are in any way related to the characters in the movie. Leia is named after one of the ancient heroes of her culture/religion.)

When picked The Island as my October Random Read I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed.  It seemed that it was getting some pretty mixed reviews and novellas don't usually really appeal to me.  Fortunately, I found that I was very intrigued by the concept of this book and that kept me enjoying it despite the fact that the characters could have used a bit more development.  

The negatives:
  • The development.  Because this was a novella, there really wasn't enough time for a lot of development of the characters.  Likewise, not much time was spent on the romance in this story.  It was fine and I liked Leia and Walt, but we just didn't get to really see anything develop between them, so I wasn't terribly invested in them getting together.  Also, the reveal of the society's history (while very interesting) was done all at once and I wished that it had been discovered a bit more, but there just wasn't time for that.
  • A few editing issues.  There were a few editing issues in this book, which were probably mostly caused by the fact that the book was written in Dutch and translated into English.  They weren't horrible, though.
What I Loved:
  • Society based on fantasy.  I thought that this was a really interesting and unique concept.  What if a whole society was based on the "truths" that were presented in a work of fantasy? (In this case, it was Star Wars  - actually, not even really Star Wars, but a version of it - I don't want to spoil exactly what that means.)  I thought it was very interesting to think about what this would mean and how people's beliefs can be formed. I was extremely intrigued by the history of Leia's island society and how it came to be and how the Fools and the Unbelievers ended up splitting apart.  
  • Kids on their own.  I also thought the idea of kids being sent off to raise themselves at age 10 was very intriguing.  What would a kid-led society look like and how would it work?  I enjoyed discovering how they came up with some of their odd customs and beliefs.
The Island is an intriguing novella that really got me thinking.  While it could have been longer, it was still a very enjoyable read.  I rate it 3.5/5 stars.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review & $25 Giveaway - Just Ella by Annette K. Larsen

Just Ella Tour

Just Ella
Title: Just Ella
Author: Annette K. Larsen
Release Date: August 14, 2013
Pages: 300, ebook
Goodreads Rating: 4.42 stars
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
My Content Rating: PG-13 (No more than kissing)

Summary from Goodreads: A Proper Romance 

Ariella was only looking for a distraction, something to break up the monotony of palace life. What she found was a young man willing to overlook her title and show her a new and vibrant way of life. But when her growing feelings for Gavin spiral out of control and clash with the expectations of her station, she will discover that the consequences of her curiosity are far more severe than she’d imagined. 

"I watched in helpless horror as two guards hauled Gavin to his feet and dragged him from the room. My voice was frozen, unable to protest as another guard took hold of my arm, leading me upstairs. From the confines of my room, I stared into the darkness beyond my window, hoping to catch one more glimpse of Gavin. He was gone, and I wondered if he would have been better off if he had never met me."

I write clean romance. Why? Because that’s what I love to read, but over the years I’ve discovered it’s quite a challenge to find good clean romance. I believe it’s a genre that many people are looking for and too few authors are writing. My first novel, Just Ella, took me many years to write because I wanted it to be more than just a cutesy love story. I wanted it to have depth, to feel genuine. Hopefully I succeeded, but you’ll have to be the judge.

Just Ella is a perfect fairy tale romance that will both bring you to tears and sweep you away!

The negatives:
  • Not the most unique plot.  Okay, let's face it, we've all read a book or seen a movie like this before - there's a princess who just isn't happy being all royal and boring.  She wants something more from life.  And she finds it when she falls in love with a handsome young commoner - someone she can never be with.  It should be boring, right?  Except that Larsen somehow manages to make it compelling!  How?  Well, keep reading...
  • Ella.  I absolutely adored Princess Ariella and thought that Larsen made her an incredibly sympathetic character.  While there is a sense that Ariella wants more adventure, she doesn't just come off as a bored, pampered princess. Ariella is a character who wants more from her life - she wants it to mean something. And, while she'd love a little more excitement, what she really wants are true connections with people.  It is this craving that drives her character.  Ella is intelligent and can be incredibly strong (and sometimes strong-willed), but definitely has moments of weakness and (realistically) can't always get herself out of any bad situation.  She has a strong moral compass, but she doesn't always feel in control enough of her own life and circumstances to do what is right - she is far from a perfect cardboard heroine, which made me love her all the more!
  • Gavin and the romance.  Gavin is a perfect swoon-worthy romantic pairing for Ella.  He is everything that she needs - practical and yet romantic; fiercely protective, but not in a way that makes Ella seem helpless.  He encourages Ella and reminds her that she is not a spectator in her own life.  I love that the pair start out as friends and the romance builds slowly.  We are able to witness the bond forming between these two and it feels authentic.  I also love that you are never quite sure what will happen with Ella and Gavin's romance.  They are, after all, in a very tenuous situation and it just gets worse and worse as the book goes on.  You start out thinking, "Surely they will end up together - this is a romance!"  But then, at certain points in the story you find yourself wondering... and then getting really worried...  and then hoping...  and then being almost certain that they won't end up together... and then feeling like they will make their way back to each other... and then - well, you get the idea.  You're never quite sure how this romance will end.  I found myself crying several times throughout the book when Ella was heartbroken over Gavin - Larsen did a beautiful job of making us truly care about these characters and what they were going through.  
  • Ella's other relationships.  Ella's other relationships were also really well-developed.  I loved that Larsen really put thought into Ella's relationship with her mother, her father, each of her sisters and with Prince Jeshua (who wants to marry her).  These are all complex relationships (especially with her mother and father) and they are each given weight and meaning, affecting Ella's thoughts and actions.  Plus, as Princess Ariella, she forms a bond with the people of her kingdom (including with her servants), which is developed throughout the book.  It is the complexity of all of Ella's relationships (both romantically and not) that really make this book shine and cause a plot that could feel overdone to come to life!  
If you love a fairy tale romance, then Just Ella is the perfect book for you!  The complexity of the characters and the situations that they find themselves in combined with some wonderfully suspenseful scenes make this a book that is both emotional and delightful!  I highly recommend it!  4.5/5 stars.

***Disclosure: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given. All opinions are my own***

Praise for Just Ella "I fell in love with this book. Treat yourself to something wonderful. You can't go wrong with Just Ella!" ~Inspired Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer
"By far one of the best romance novels I've ever read. Pulls you in with great, likable characters and keeps you going with a sweet and exciting love story--plus a good plot to give it even more substance. Full of those tender moments you want to go back and read again, plus exciting moments, clever humor, and some suspense as well." ~Jana Miller
"Annette Larsen writes a love story that takes time, is complicated, and yet still sweeps you up in the romance (without the cheese, thank you). It's compelling and emotional and sweet and you will love every page." ~Kimi  

Book Blast/Blog Tour Special
Grab your copy of Just Ella for just $4.99!

annette  Author Annette K. Larsen I was born in Utah, but grew up in Flagstaff Arizona and St. Louis Missouri, the fifth of seven children. I attended college at Southern Virginia University and Brigham Young University where I studied English and Theater. I now live in Idaho with my husband and four children. I have Charlotte Bronte to thank for the courage to write novels. After being bombarded with assigned reading about women who justified abandoning either their families or their principles in the name of love, I had the great fortune of reading Jane Eyre. And that was it: finally a heroine who understood that being moral and making the right choice was hard, and sometimes it hurt, but it was still worth it. After rereading it several years later, I realized that if I wanted more books to exist with the kinds of heroines I admired, then I might as well write a few myself. My books are about women who face hard choices, who face pain and rejection and often have to sacrifice what they want for what is right. The consequences are often difficult or unpleasant, but it the end, doing what’s right will always be worth it. I believe there is no substitute for good writing or good chocolate. Fortunately, one often leads to the other.  

Blog Tour Giveaway $25
Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash Ends 11/5/13   Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book Blitz & Giveaway - Tethered by Brandi Leigh Hall

Tethered Cover

Title: Tethered

Author: Brandi Leigh Hall

New Adult/Upper Young Adult Urban Fantasy

What if the life you were born into, was never really yours to begin with?

I’ve never felt normal in my own skin. Like an oversized pair of UGG boots, nothing about my life fits the way it should. At least, not the way I’d like it to. I was born a Witch, with an ability I despise. And I’d do anything to give it back. But how do you return a “gift” that came with no card? I learned long ago—visions are one thing—you can never send back.

For six years, I’ve been an in-the-closet Seer, desperate to escape the murderous vision that ruined my childhood, and the Wiccan family I tore apart in the process. But I can no longer deny who I am.
Something terrible awaits those I love. Something big.

I’ve only seen bits and pieces, but I know I’m meant to move back home to save them. And who’s the tall, dark and delicious mystery guy in this vision with my family? He kisses me with more tenderness than I’ve ever known, yet I can’t tell how he makes me feel. Are we in love, or is it just a physical thing?

All I know is, I have to meet him. And I have to protect my family.
No more hiding from the truth. The time has come to face the ones I left behind. It’s time my visions of the future—go head-on—with the demons from my past.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About Brandi Leigh Hall


Brandi lives in central Pennsylvania with her fur-ball cats (Onyx and Klepto), where she spends most of her time attached to her laptops, reading books, appeasing her sweet tooth, and watching TV for motivation.

Growing up in a haunted house inspired Brandi’s fascination with the paranormal, so it only made sense that she’d write Urban Fantasy books for both teens and adults. Brandi hasn’t been lucky enough to meet her soul mate (yet), so she writes paranormal tales of those who have. Her stories combine magical elements with real-life issues, strong female characters, semi-old fashioned men and family values, woven together and told from an emotional, first-person perspective. She enjoys writing sweet stories that teach girls it’s okay to speak your mind and be independent, career-driven, and not worry about fitting in to society’s mold.

 In addition to the BirthRight Novels, she also has four additional adventures she’ll be writing over the next few years, so stay-tuned.

You can follow Brandi at:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review - Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth

Title: Allegiant
Series: Divergent #3
Author: Veronica Roth
Release Date: October 22, 2013
Pages: 526, Hardcover
Goodreads Rating: 4.07 stars
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
My Content Rating: PG-16 (Sex is not directly described, but some intense violence)

Summary from Goodreads: One choice will define you.

What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

Wow!!  I had to wait a day or so to write this review because my head was just spinning when I put the book down (not to mention the fact that I was sobbing and needed time to catch my breath!).  I think it really helped that I read all three of these books in a row because I really got to see the full arc of the story and the characters that way (without having to try to remember what it was I loved about the first two books).  Plus, this way the series had momentum for me that would have been lost otherwise.

The negatives:
  • Failure to communicate.  Once again, there were periods in this book where Tris and Tobias had problems based mostly on their failure to communicate.  Just when I thought that they were going to really work together and face the world as a team, they would disagree over something and then pretty much not talk to each other - it made me crazy!  Tris' lack of compassion also got to me sometimes (for instance, she doesn't seem to understand why Tobias might have strong feelings about his father's sentencing and then, when she does realize it's bothering him, still doesn't bother to talk to him about it).  Now, to give Roth some credit, there were parts of the story where Roth did have Tris and Tobias hash out their issues (and where they made good relationship choices) - I just wish I hadn't had to suffer through their lack of communication to get to it.  (Although, honestly, the relationship might not have been all that unrealistic - lack of communication is a real issue in lots of relationships!)
  • I can't say this without spoiling somewhat!  (I'm not giving away what actually happens, but just knowing about this topic could spoil it for you!) 
    View Spoiler :
    Some people will HATE the ending. I honestly feel sorry for any author who is ending a hugely popular series like this one because it seems that there is no way to truly satisfy everyone - all these people who are waiting for their story to come to an end and might not agree with how the author does it. This is one of those cases where I can tell you right now that many people are going to hate this ending. Roth doesn't let all of our beloved characters live happily ever after in a world where all their problems have been solved - nowhere even close to that. I list this as a negative because I know many people will see this as a big negative. Most people will either love it or hate it. But I'm actually kind of on Roth's side on this one - see my note below.
  • About that spoiler...
  • View Spoiler :
    I didn't hate the ending. Okay, that's not exactly true.  In some ways I hated what happened at the end of the book. But I also felt that it made sense based on who Roth made these characters to be and the type of world they lived in.  Was it painful, horrifying and gut-wrenching when certain characters we've come to know and love didn't get their happy ending?  Definitely.  Was it still amazing?  I certainly thought so!  I will not be forgetting this book any time soon - I can't stop mulling it over in my mind, and that is a sign of a fantastic story in my opinion!
  • So many questions answered.  I LOVED that this book answered all of my questions and made sense of a lot of the holes in logic from the first two books.  I mean, I really didn't get why the Divergent were supposed to go out into the outside world and how they were expected to save humanity.  And why was it that people in the factions had such strong tendencies toward specific behaviors?  (It was explained - there was an actual reason based on genetic experimentation that was done!!)  I was honestly desperately worried that the answers I would be given in Allegiant would make no sense, so I sighed a huge sigh of relief when so many things were explained in ways that made sense to me!  Yay!!
  • Tobias' struggles.  I loved that we got to see half (or so) of this book from Tobias' viewpoint!!  I was thrilled to see the world through his eyes and to really be able to see and sympathize with his struggles.  Whereas, in the first book (and somewhat in the second), we got to see Tris' vulnerabilities and her struggles with who she was - selfless or brave - in Allegiant we got to see that Tobias, with only four fears, could still be haunted by those fears.  In this book, it is Tobias who doubts who he truly is - what makes him who he is. Is it his genes, his upbringing, his choices?  He struggles to come to terms with all of that and there are no easy answers.  I grew to love Tobias even more in his weaknesses and was that much more behind him when he overcame them!
  • The action.  The first half of this book didn't have nearly as much action as Divergent and Insurgent, but I found myself so intrigued by learning about Tris and Tobias' world, that I actually didn't mind much.  The second half of the book picked up the action quite a bit and there were enough twists and turns to keep me constantly wondering what would happen next.
Allegiant gave us an explosive ending to a thrilling series! While it had a few negatives, this is not a series that I will soon forget and I'm not disappointed.  I only hope that the upcoming movie does it justice!  

(I debated back and forth between 4 and 4.5 stars for this book, but when I compare it to other books that I rated 4 stars, I came to the conclusion that, even with its flaws, I enjoyed this book more than most.  From the reviews I've been reading on other blogs, I actually seem to be in the minority by enjoying this one, but I guess our different opinions are what make the world go round!) 4.5/5 stars.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Cover Characteristics - Hats

This is a new meme hosted by Sugar & Snark. It came about when Sugar was wondering which cover to use for her #70 Cover of the Week post. Sugar kept on thinking of more than one, and they all seemed to have a theme/characteristic. So she decided to switch things up a bit!
Each week we will post a characteristic and choose 5 of our favorite cover’s with that characteristic. If you want to join in and share your 5 favorite covers with the weeks particular characteristic, then just make a post, grab the meme picture (or make your own) and leave your URL in Linky (so we can visit).
You don’t even need to participate, just stopping by and saying hi would be great! Don’t forget to stop by the other participants!

Today’s cover characteristic: Hats

I actually had a really hard time finding books on my Read list that had hats on the cover.  I ended up finding almost all middle grade novels that I've read with my kids.  But since these were all books that we've really enjoyed (you can check my reviews of most of them out on Best Kids' Reads), I decided to use them anyway...

And my favorite:

This was my one non-middle grade option and she's not even really wearing the hat - but she has it, so that counts!! I loved this book and I love how the cover shows up how creepy it will be (and tells us about the Amish setting).