Monday, January 22, 2018

The Valiant (The Valiant #1) by Lesley Livingston

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Princess. Captive. Gladiator.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

Fallon was an interesting character. She was a warrior through and through. Throughout the book it was as if nothing could pierce her armor because she was made of steel. I was happy that the author was still able to have her be so strong but also likable. She cares about winning battles but also in justice, honor, and courage to do what is right for her goddess and her homeland. I felt badly for her because of what she went through in the book but I found that I wasn't able to emotionally connect with her or the story as easily as I have with other books. I'm not sure if it was due to her hardened nature as a warrior or if it was because the author doesn't really explain her past in much detail. I would have liked to have gotten to know other characters better in order to feel their loss as Fallon did. I think that it can be difficult when a character dies before the time line of the book begins or right when it begins because there is not very much time to establish relationships and background. I also had a hard time with the romance in this book because it seems rather quick after they meet and also due to what Fallon went through beforehand. I wouldn't say that it was insta-love but it was close. I would describe it more as insta-attraction that grew into curiosity. I don't feel that the book needed a romance in it because it didn't seem to fit with the tone of the book. I still enjoyed the story and thought that the writing was well done. The pacing was good and I enjoyed the parts where Fallon was training and fighting. I hope that there is more fighting in the sequel because I would have liked to have seen more in this book. 

Seek by Mia Sheridan

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Wealthy socialite Olivia Barton never imagined her fiancΓ© would disappear on what was supposed to be a routine business trip. She's even more heartbroken and confused when a hired private investigator tracks him half a world away, to a seaside town in Colombia. But the country has recently been ravaged by a massive earthquake and deadly tsunami, shutting down outside communication and making travel all but impossible. Still, Olivia is determined to make it to Colombia to find the answers she so desperately seeks. What she needs is a guide—a mercenary.

The man named Thomas arrives in shadows, an unmistakable air of danger about him, promising to help lead her through the ruined, crime-infested country. But when Thomas and Olivia find themselves fighting an undeniable attraction, danger takes on a whole new meaning. Then again, in the lush jungles of South America, all the rules are different and Thomas and Olivia are about to discover that sometimes the thing you seek, isn't necessarily the thing you find.

*I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review*

There was not much character development in the story but the little bit of background that the author does give for the characters made me want to know more. I liked Olivia but I wanted more from her. There wasn't much more to her than being a naive, rich girl who wants to find her lost fiance. I did appreciate that she wasn't the typical rich girl who complains and turns up her nose at people but I wanted more. The author reveals something about her past but doesn't go deeper than the surface with the development of the information. I would have liked Olivia more if the author would have taken the chance and gone deeper. I loved Thomas! He was the strong, silent type but the author also revealed that there were other layers to him. I loved the portions of the book when I got to learn more about him as a character because he was a bit of a mystery. My heart broke for him when parts of his childhood were brought to light. He was what made the book for me and kept me reading!
As far as the actual story goes, I had a difficult time with it. I didn't love the reveal towards the end about what happened with Alec. It was a bit far fetched for me and took me out of the realism that the author had achieved up until that point. There were quite a few hints that were dropped during the story so it wasn't as if Mia Sheridan just dropped the issue into the book for kicks and giggles but it didn't work for me. I also had trouble buying into Thomas never getting injured. I know that he is a strong guy that has been trained but everyone can get injured. I did enjoy the portion of the book where Thomas and Olivia are making their way towards where Alec is located. It was interesting to see how each of them felt after parts of themselves were revealed to each other. I also enjoyed the progression of the romance that blossomed between the two of them.

Silent Song by Jaci Wheeler

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I’m Deaf. What most people view as a disadvantage, I see as an advantage.
I feel my way through life in my 1969 Ford Fairlane.
The vibrations and speed sustain me, the race track is where I dominate.
I thought racing was all I needed to survive…but I was wrong.

Music is my life. I inhale the melody and breathe in the lyrics.
That was until I met someone that opened my eyes to a new culture.
Who knew all it would take was silence for me to really experience music.

When Silence and sound collide it creates an explosion of the senses.

*Received an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review*
I want to start this review by saying that I have never read anything from Jaci Wheeler before so I wasn't familiar with her writing. I would like to take the time to mention the Letter to Readers at the beginning of the book before I dive into what I thought of the book itself. I appreciated what Jaci wrote in this letter and how she was able to explain the various difficulties that she had in the process. I think that it takes a lot of courage to write something that means so much to you and share that with the world leaving it open for critique by readers and others. I appreciated how she was able to explain how the dialogue was going to appear so that I wouldn't be confused as I read the words. I have to say that knowing all these things made this book even more special to me. I think that people that are reading this review can see what direction I am about to take this review in.
I am so happy that I got the chance to read/review Silent Song. I think that it is rare when a book comes along with the power to change you in some way after reading it. This is what reading Silent Song has done for me. It had a big impact on me in more ways than one. I am not deaf but was able to see myself in each of the main characters. Barrett is proud of who he is but has been heartbroken and felt alone in a world where he was treated like he was less than by others. As I was reading this book, I could not help but think that he was more not less than those around him. He was able to read people and care for them in ways that others were not capable of. He had so many talents some of which I can only dream of. Presley was the character that I saw myself most in. Music was her therapy and her passion. It helped her to heal others as well as herself. She cared more about others than she did herself and never wanted to see people in pain. 
These characters helped me to connect with the story but I also loved the messages that were contained within it and the lessons that I was able to learn from it. I had no idea each person had a ASL sign for their names. I've always thought that it seemed like a beautiful language but had no idea that it could be so personal and creative. I really loved how Jaci Wheeler was able to differentiate between the times when people were signing to each other and speaking the English language. It made the conversations all the more meaningful when I was able to see just how difficult it can be to communicate with others when they may sign poorly, switch back and forth between sign and English, and have to read lips. I was able to place myself in Barrett's shoes and get a glimpse of how hard it might be for someone whose world is silent. I learned so many things about the language and culture of the deaf community from this book. I realize that it is a work of fiction but it is my belief that you can learn a lot about people that are similar and different from you through books. It is part of the reason that I love books so much. 
Anyway, Silent Song contained thought provoking concepts such as what it is to truly accept and love another person, loss, and finding your place in the world. I could go on and on about what I loved about this book and how much it touched me but I would rather sum up this review by telling you to go buy it and read it. It is a beautiful story and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did! (P.S. bring tissues😊)

“Could you…I mean, would it be okay if you sang to me?” My head snaps up and I look at him. He’s looking down sheepishly, but he raises his eyes to meet mine.
“Why sing if can’t hear you?” 
“I can a little…if you let me put my head on your chest.” I look at him skeptically and he is quick to follow up, “I swear it’s not a line. My mom used to sing to me that way, and it’s been a while, so I was just curious if it would work with you.”
“Light on off which?” I repeat.
“I prefer low light, always on.” He flips off the main switch and turns on the nightstand light, which isn’t more than an amber glow. 

I roll to my back and he places his head on my shoulder. I think about what song to sing. It’s not like it’s really going to matter much to him, but I never make a song choice without thought. Music is the sound track of life to me, so I decide something a little sad and soulful is in order. I pick ‘Hallelujah’ by Jeff Buckley. Singing while flat on your back with a person on top of you is no easy feat. I guess it doesn’t really matter what the sound is like as long as the vibration is there, so with that in mind, I keep my tone low and raspy. Luckily, I tend to feel right at home singing alto, so this works out pretty nicely.
I start off soft and low, and let the music build. He is tentative in the beginning, who am I kidding, we both are. This should be seriously awkward. We hardly know each other and we’re entering major bubble territory…yet there’s also something very innocent and pure about it. I can tell when he starts to relax and is more comfortable. I’m really letting go as well now and just singing from my soul. He moves to where his head is fully on my upper chest, right below my throat. By the third verse I stop worrying about how weird this might be and the beauty of the situation full on hits me. I’m able to give this man something that he’s never been able to give himself. Sharing the joy of music isn’t only a passion for me, it’s a need, so we are just two souls fulfilling a great need in each other.
His tears are completely silent as they slowly hit my exposed skin and pool in the hollow of my throat. They spark my own tears. The idea that I can touch him so deeply this way, giving him nothing but my voice, touches me deeply. Without thinking, I bring his arms around me and place his hands flat against my back so he isn’t only getting the sound vibrations from my chest, but he can also feel them from behind. It has its desired effect when he sighs out against my neck. The song ends but neither one of us move. To be honest, I have no words. In this type of communication words are useless. I close my eyes and go right into ‘Brightest’ by Copeland. Somewhere around ‘As my guitar gently weeps’ by the Beatles, I drift off.

Free in Kindle Unlimited

Jaci Wheeler lives in the Central Valley of California with her husband and two precious kids.

Her love of literature began in Jr. High when she was introduced to Lowis Lowry’s books. Since then she has had a passion for writing Young Adult books, and creating strong female leads. When she’s not writing, she is advocating for Autism Awareness and involved in the deaf community.

Her favorite things to do are play with her children, craft with her friends, sleep while her husband watches movies and indulge in her favorite addictions: Coffee, candy and shoes.
There is a giveaway for a $20 Amazon gift card

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1) by Renee Ahdieh

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The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

This book was amazing! From the first page I was hooked, wanting to know more until the very last page! I felt like a person starving person with the way that I devoured every word that Renee Ahdieh wrote! I don't usually go for any kind of historical elements in books but there was something magical about the book being set in feudal Japan that had me transfixed. I enjoyed the way that the characters spoke with such formality when speaking with each other as well as learning about the history and traditions of the people. I really felt immersed in the culture. 
I absolutely loved Mariko! The author was able to portray her as a strong, independent woman but also showed her vulnerabilities/flaws. She was at times too confident in her skill set and let her emotions get the better of her. She was stubborn and able to see things clearly at times because she was so bullheaded but was humbled over the course of the book. I love the growth that the author was able to show for her in the book. Although she is the main character of this book the author also features other strong women leaving me with the impression that they are the ones to watch out for in the war being waged in the book. That is not to say that there are not strong men in the book as well. I loved all of the men that were a part of the Black Clan especially Okami and Ranmaru. They had a quiet type of strength that they didn't lord over others. They fought when necessary and at times relished in the battles that they fought. I fell hard for Okami. He was such a complicated person and I still don't feel like I have figured him out. 
I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Renee Ahdieh began with basic elements which grew into a twisted plot for power by different parties that were motivated by justice, honor, power, and/or control. A few of the characters were clearly pawns unbeknownst to them to be used for the bigger players' means. I did not see the some of the reveals/twists in the book coming but I hope that some of them are explained further in the sequel. I also hope that the author goes into more detail about the beasts in the forest as well as the magic that certain characters are able to wield. I don't remember the magical elements being explained but I could have missed something.

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

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The one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

Classic movie fan Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online as Alex. Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new archnemesis. But life is a whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever it is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.
I've been interested in reading this book for a while. I tend to like the mistaken identity type of romances so this one was right up my alley. I thought that this book was sweet with some angst mixed in. Each of the main characters has been through a trauma and they each seemed to withdraw for a time and were then changed by the experiences. We meet them when they have been talking online for a while in a movie chatroom and Alex is trying to persuade Mink to come to a film festival in his hometown. They seem like they are very close to each other but neither of them have had conversations about their lives with each other other than their interests like old movies.
Bailey avoids confrontation at all costs and is very cautious when putting herself out there. She was an interesting character for sure. I loved her vintage fashion sense and the fact that she owned it. Porter was a total goof but as the book progresses it is easy to see that there is more to him than being a comedian. He loves and is proud of his family. There are many different sides to him but not everyone sees the real him. 
I enjoyed the back and forth between Alex and Mink about what was going on in their lives as well as movies that they love. I liked the relationship between Porter and Bailey as well but I would have liked to have seen more online conversations between Alex and Mink throughout the book. It seemed like the online conversations were the lighter portions of the book and the conversations that they had in person had more depth to them. Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was low on drama and high on sweet romance. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Dare Mighty Things (Untitled Duology #1) by Heather Kaczynski

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THE RULES ARE SIMPLE: You must be gifted. You must be younger than twenty-five. You must be willing to accept the dangers that you will face if you win.

Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Gupta’s entire life has been leading up to this—the opportunity to travel to space. But to secure a spot on this classified mission, she must first compete against the best and brightest people on the planet. People who are as determined as she to win a place on a journey to the farthest reaches of the universe.

Cassie is ready for the toll that the competition will take; the rigorous mental and physical tests designed to push her to the brink of her endurance. But nothing could have prepared her for the bonds she would form with the very people she hopes to beat. Or that with each passing day it would be more and more difficult to ignore the feeling that the true objective of the mission is being kept from her.

As the days until the launch tick down and the stakes rise higher than ever before, only one thing is clear to Cassie: she’ll never back down . . . even if it costs her everything.

I wanted to start this review by talking about the cover as well as the title of Dare Mighty Things. I think that I understand where the author was coming from with the name of the book. I believe that she was trying to say shoot for the stars and dare to be great but to be honest it kind of threw me a little bit. I didn't really like the cover because it didn't seem to fit with the story. The first time I saw it at the library I passed by it because it looked like it would be a book about a game show or something. I automatically thought that it wouldn't be my thing but then I began to be more curious about it when it continued to be recommended to me through goodreads, amazon, and my public library. I saw the blurb and thought that it sounded like a good book. I'm extremely happy that I gave it a chance because it was a solid, unique, well written book
I found the characters in this book to be particularly interesting in comparison to other YA books that I have read. It was nice to see such a diverse population covering different cultures and races. The story is told from the perspective of Cassie who is Indian-American and has dreams of being a part of NASA and exploring space. Cassie was an interesting character to read about because she was almost inhuman with what she was able to endure in order to win the competition. She seemed almost robotic because she didn't let her emotions overtake her and was able to block them out. She didn't seem to care what happened with the other contestants as long as she came out on top. When I began the book, she seemed cocky which turned me off of her a bit but as the book progressed she did as well. She grew on me and I began to understand her. She was driven to achieve her dream with a single mindedness but did care about people. She was just able to compartmentalize her feelings so that nothing was holding her back. 

This story was different from other books of its genre because it seemed far more psychological in nature than action packed. The majority of the book focused on the competition and how it changed all of the contestants, including Cassie, both mentally and physically. There was a subtle intensity that was present from beginning to end that made the book have an interesting tone to it. Part of this intensity was due to the contestants being kept in the dark of the nature of the mission that they are competing to be a part of. Even the reader is kept unaware of the true nature of the mission until about the last 80 pages. It is clear that there will be a sequel to Dare Mighty Things and I am looking forward to reading it! The author reveals something else at the end of the book that has to do with the mission that was an awesome surprise leading me to believe that the next book will be even better. I believe that there will be some action sequences in the sequel as well. While the reveal surprised me, it made sense to me. I wish that the author would have hinted a bit more but overall I enjoyed the reveal.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Deviation (The Sophisticates #1) by Christine Manzari

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Being a Sophisticate of the Program seems like it’d be a pretty sweet deal: a little genetic alteration and anyone can be smarter, faster, and stronger. It’s a dream come true. All you have to give up is your freedom.

Cleo is a Sophisticate and she has a bright future in the Program. But she has a secret. When she gets upset, bad things happen. Explosive things. Things she can’t control.

When her secret is discovered, she’s sent to the Academy to train in the military branch of the Program. She’s destined to be a human weapon in the war that’s been going on since Wormwood occurred nearly 30 years ago. She soon learns that although her ability is unique, there are others like her — other Sophisticates with lethal skills and odd code names like Archerfish and Mimic Octopus.

Immersed in a dangerous game of supernatural powers and dubious motives, Cleo doesn’t know who to trust. Ozzy, the annoyingly attractive cadet who has perfect aim in weapons class and deviant lips behind closed doors, begs her not to use her powers. He’s the golden boy of the Program, but can she trust him? Or will she find herself a target, caught in his crosshairs?

I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
I really liked the idea that the author had for this book. Terrorism has gotten out of control and millions of people are dead. This forces "the good guys" to change their tactics in order to win the war which involves changing humans into genetically altered weapons to be wielded to eradicate terrorists. The book is from the point of view of Cleo who is a sophisticate who has special abilities and after said ability is discovered is sent off to train at military academy. The book mainly focuses on her having to adjust to life at the military academy and how she doesn't quite fit in there. She is more of an intellectual than a fighter. I wished that the author would have done more with this book. There were so many directions that she could have taken it in but I think that she had trouble deciding which made the book seem like it lacked direction. I don't understand where she is going with it to be honest. The end of the book surprised me because there was no foreshadowing at all pertaining to what was revealed. I thought that the book would be taken in a completely different direction. I wished that the book didn't focus so much on Cleo acclimating to her new school. I would have liked to have seen more action between the sophisticates and terrorists or for Cleo to find out something more about her parents. Anything else. I enjoyed the book but I feel like this story had so much more potential that went to waste.