Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Anything But Broken, by Joelle Knox


Title: Anything But Broken
Author: Joelle Knox
Release date: August 2015
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Won

Description: After five years, tragedy brings Hannah Casey back to Hurricane Creek to bury what’s left of her family.  She’s flunking out of college, haunted by scandal, and the only person who cares is Sean Whitlow, an irresistible bad boy with a soft spot for her. The problem? He’s her dead sister’s ex.
Sean doesn’t bleed red, he bleeds motor oil. During the week, he struggles to turn his auto repair shop into a profitable business.  But when Saturday night rolls around, he’s the reigning stock-car king of the local race track.  He doesn’t know how to lose–or how to walk away and leave Hannah alone with her grief.
Between her grades and her wealthy family’s dark secrets, Hannah’s barely holding her life together.  And the last thing Sean needs is to get tangled up with another Casey girl.  As the attraction between them spins out of control, they’ll either find a love with no limits–or go up in flames.

My thoughts: Yes, this is another contemporary romance where something emotionally traumatic happened in the characters' past which they're now trying to deal with and it affects a new romance. Yes, this type of story comes up again and again. But I love them. As with any romance novel, it's about the journey.

Hannah has come back to the town she grew up in after she inherits her childhood home. She wants to come back, do the dutiful daughter stuff, and then leave again as quickly as possible. Of course it doesn't go that smoothly and as she struggles to deal with what happened in the past and what is happening now, she finds other things to lean on to 'help'. And while she really wants to like Sean, there are secrets her late sister confided in her which would tear him apart.

The chapters alternate between the two perspectives of Hannah and Sean and I really liked getting to see what was going on in Sean's head and life from his own perspective. Another thing I really liked was the community of Hurricane Creek which Joelle Knox introduces. There are some great side characters who I'm looking forward to seeing more of. However, I felt like a bit too much time in this story was spent focussing on the couple who star in book two of the series. They're Hannah & Sean's best friends (of course) so it's understandable that they should feature heavily in this story but at times I felt like Anything But Broken was their story as much as Hannah & Sean's. The problems of a first-in-the-series book, I guess. The other criticism I have is that I thought some of Hannah's 'big secrets' about her sister were very easy to guess.

Overall, I did find this a very enjoyable read and I'm looking forward to the sequel. This was a fun contemporary romance and introduced some characters who I really want to see a happy ending for in future books. Joelle Knox is the pen name for one of my favourite authors but if I hadn't known that, I would never have guessed! This book really proves the versatility of the author. Overall I'm giving this book 6 out of 10.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Book Review: All Of The Above, by Juno Dawson


Title: All Of The Above
Author: Juno Dawson (formerly known as James Dawson)
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Release date: summer
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Won

Description: This is a funny and moving love story about friends, first loves and self-discovery by Queen of Teen 2014. When sixteen-year-old Toria Bland arrives at her new school she needs to work out who her friends are in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets the funny and foul-mouthed Polly, who's the coolest girl that Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the 'alternative' kids take Toria under their wing. And that's when she meets the irresistible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band - and it's instalove at first sight! Toria likes Nico, Nico likes Toria, but then there's Polly...love and friendship have a funny way of going round in circles.

My thoughts: I didn't know much about this book until I saw Juno in conversation with George Lester on George's YouTube channel. I really liked the sound of the story & was lucky enough to win a copy in George's giveaway.

All Of The Above starts with Toria on her first day at a new school, for her penultimate year of high school. She’s quickly adopted in to a group of friends who, if we’re using high school group stereotypes, would be the ‘alternative kids’. The main characters apart from Toria are [name], Polly and Beasley. The story follows them, through Toria’s eyes, through the year.
It’s hard for me to review this without feeling like I’m doing it a disservice. It’s a girl and her friends in high school, like you’ve read before. What’s it about, beyond that? Friendships. A first serious relationship. Physical intimacy. Eating disorders. Self-harm. Figuring out your sexuality. Breakups.
Some people might dismiss it as being too many ‘issues’ crammed in to one book. But that’s rubbish. If they think that, it’s been too long since they were a teenager. In a friendship group, there are so many things going on at one time and I think Juno Dawson captures that perfectly. She also manages to make it laugh out loud funny in so many places, and grabs you by the feelings in others. I cried on the train to London reading one part - and if you’ve read the book, it probably wasn’t the part you’d first guess.

It’s a rollercoaster of a book, just as a year of high school is and absolutely captures being an older teenager. I'm giving All Of The Above by Juno Dawson 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Leave Your Mark, by Aliza Licht


Title: Leave Your Mark
Author: Aliza Licht
Publisher: Piatkus
Release date: May 2015
Genre: Non-fiction - Advice/Autobiography
Source: Bought

Description: LEAVE YOUR MARK isn't an advice book -- it's a mentorship in 288 pages.

Aliza Licht -- global fashion communications executive, AKA fashion's favorite 'PR girl' and Twitter phenomenon -- is here to tell her story, complete with The Devil Wears Prada-like moments and insider secrets.

Drawing invaluable lessons from her experience, Licht shares advice, inspiration, and a healthy dose of real talk in LEAVE YOUR MARK. She delivers personal and professional guidance for people just starting their careers and for people who are well on their way. With a particular emphasis on communicating and building your personal brand, something she knows a thing or two about, Aliza is your sassy, knowledgeable guide to the contemporary working world, where personal and professional lines are blurred and the most important thing you can have is a strong sense of self.

My thoughts: Although Leave Your Mark charts Aliza Licht's route into working at a fashion magazine, it provides excellent advice for starting careers in the media and in general. I read it just as I was starting to apply for publishing jobs and found all the advice very helpful. As that's the stage I was at, I was mostly interested in the early sections, which focus on getting your CV into shape, and how to get work experience. I read through the whole book once, then made particular notes based on those sections. Later, as I was invited to interviews, and got a longer work experience placement, I read on to the bits dealing with those. I found the section on making the most of a placement particularly helpful.

The book charts Aliza Licht’s career so far, so there are definitely sections which I’ll revisit as they become relevant - such as the etiquette for looking for internal and external jobs, or requesting a pay rise. Even though these sections weren’t stuff I needed to hear, it’s still an interesting account of Aliza’s life and I enjoyed hearing about the trials and triumphs she experienced as she started out in the world of media. She became the voice of ‘DKNY PR girl’ when the account was started and shares the story of how the account was planned and how it became her running it.
That lead in to the other section which I really enjoyed, something you can appreciate and learn from even if you’re not looking for careers advice: using social media as a marketing tool. I think a lot of bloggers would find some interesting things in this section as Licht writes about figuring out the defining features of your personal brand and how to harness social media to tie in to it.

Overall, I give Leave Your Mark by Aliza Licht 8 out of 10. It has excellent careers advice, particularly for anyone looking to work in media. I’m really glad I found the book when I did as it gave me some very helpful tips.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Book review: Ice Forged by Gail Z Martin


Title: Ice Forged
Author: Gail Z Martin
Publisher: Orbit
Series: #1 of the Ascendant Kingdoms series
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Source: Borrowed

Description: Condemned as a murderer for killing the man who dishonored his sister, Blaine "Mick" McFadden has spent the last six years in Velant, a penal colony in the frigid northern wastelands of Edgeland. Harsh military discipline and the oppressive magic of the governor's mages keep a fragile peace as colonists struggle against a hostile environment. But the supply ships from Dondareth have stopped coming, boding ill for the kingdom that banished the colonists.

Now, McFadden and the people of Velant decide their fate. They can remain in their icy prison, removed from the devastation of the outside world, but facing a subsistence-level existence, or they can return to the ruins of the kingdom that they once called home. Either way, destruction lies ahead...

My thoughts: I love a good epic fantasy, and this is an excellent start to just such a series. Blaine is sentenced right at the beginning of the story, and takes on the name Mick to hide from the past and give himself a new start. The story covers his long journey on the ship full of other convicts to Velant, where the winters are long, harsh, and with virtually no daylight. However the story is equally focussed on a young man (whose name I can't find just now, it's a while since I've read this one!) who lives in the capital city of Dondareth, Blaine's homeland. He is the aide to someone on the ruling castle and through him you see some of the events that cause the supply ships to stop going to the colonists.

As the reader, seeing both viewpoints, you get a much clearer view of what's going on than the characters and that made it frustrating sometimes to see one group discussing a course of action based on what they knew, when to me it was clear that they should be taking a different path. This is particularly relevant nearer the end, when one group of characters knows that a bad thing will happen if someone does a certain thing, and the other group, unable to talk to them, decides to do that thing. It actually added a lot more tension to the story, having the collective knowledge which the characters lacked, and knowing they were walking into danger when they were unaware of it.

There is a slight supernatural element to the story, which I wasn't expecting. It caught me completely by surprise when it was revealed. I'm still not sure why it was necessary to bring in but I'll hold my judgement until I've read the second book.

Overall I'm giving Gail Z. Martin's 'Ice Forged' 7 out of 10. I'm planning on picking up book 2 next time I'm home and can raid my parents' bookshelves.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Book review: Beyond Ruin by Kit Rocha + GIVEAWAY


 Title: Beyond Ruin
Author: Kit Rocha (aka Moria Rodgers or Bree & Donna)
Series: Beyond #7
Genre: Dystopian/Romance
Source: eARC from author

Description: The sectors will never be the same...
Adrian Maddox fled his royal life—and tragic past—in Sector One, choosing instead to join up with the O’Kanes. For years, he’s lived by one rule: love fast, love hard, and always be willing to walk away. He’s managed to guard his heart, keep it whole and untouched—until now.
They couldn’t be more different—Dylan, the brilliant, burned-out doctor from Eden who drowns his pain with drugs and self-destruction. Scarlet, the sensuous, sexy rocker from Three, a woman unafraid to embrace the world. And Jade, the whore turned spy from Sector Two, who battled addiction and came out stronger than anyone he’s ever met.
Separately, they make Mad long to open his heart, to tumble head-first into a sea of possibilities and wild love. Together, they make him burn, inside and out, with lust and unbearable, unimaginable pleasure.
Then one fateful moment shakes their world to its foundations—and leaves the sectors on the verge of all-out war with Eden. It’s the biggest fight the O’Kanes have ever faced, and Mad and his lovers are at the dead center of it. They could end up with everything they never knew they wanted—or lose it all. Including their lives.

My thoughts: A dystopian future, political intrigue, lots of sex, and a happily ever after - what more could you ask for in a story? And Kit Rocha delivers that with every single book in the series.

The political posturing and scheming has been a growing issue in the past few books but in Beyond Ruin it really comes in to front and centre. As part of one of the strongest groups in the Sectors, Mad, Scarlet, Dylan and Jade will join the other O'Kanes in playing a critical role in what happens next, now that Eden is drawing lines in the sand.

Four people trying to figure out how to love each other was always going to be complicated and messy so it seems fitting that it takes place against a background of the first volleys of open war. While I found it interesting to see them figure out how they all fitted together (figuratively and literally!) I had two favourite overarching things in this book: how the four of them grew individually and getting to see more of the other Sectors. Jade was my favourite, stepping up and pushing forward to find a version of herself that she knows she can be, trying to embrace all of her past and make it into a good future, for herself and those around her. But Scarlet was also a favourite, being one of the quieter ones in the background, more of the glue holding other people together and with all the doubts which can come with holding that sort of position. And then there is Mad, one step away from the throne of Sector One, forced to spend a lot of time in Beyond Ruin looking at why he's running so hard away from any ties there and the status his family have there as religious leaders as well as sector leaders. There's a fascinating world in Sector One and this book gives the most detailed picture of it so far. (There's just two more books left in the Beyond series, then Kit Rocha will write a spin-off series, set in Sector One - there are several characters introduced in this book who I can't wait to get to know better in that new series.)

Decisions are made early on in Beyond Ruin which decisively bring the O'Kanes onto a path against the rulers of Eden. Then when you think you're starting to guess where things might lead, something else happens, forcing the hands of the sector leaders. Then something else. My favourite twist came near the end - yes, there's something of a cliff hanger at the end of this book, but the story is wrapped up enough that this is a good stopping point. I'm desperate to see what happens next! While I wait for the next one though, I'm going to get stuck in to a re-read - there are so many developments, reveals and hints in this books that I know I will have missed things on my first read through. So excuse me, I've got a sector war to get back to.

I'm giving Beyond Ruin 9/10 - definitely one of my favourite books in the series so far!



*** GIVEAWAY TIME***

If you'd like to win an ebook collection of the first three Beyond books, just:
1) Leave a comment
2) Say how you follow - via GFC, email, or Twitter. 

The giveaway closes on 24th March and is open internationally.
Here's the blurbs for the first book in the series, Beyond Shame:
BEYOND SHAME (87,000 words, 354 pages)

All Noelle Cunningham has ever wanted is a life beyond the walls of Eden, where only the righteous are allowed to remain. But ruins lie outside the City, remnants of a society destroyed by solar storms.

Those ruins house the corrupt and the criminal--men like Jasper McCray, bootlegger and cage fighter. He'll defend the O'Kane gang with his life, but no fight prepared him for the exiled City girl who falls at his feet.

Her innocence is undeniable, and so is their attraction. But if she wants to belong to Jas, she'll have to open herself to a world where passion is power, and freedom is found in submission.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Stacking the Shelves: February Book Haul part 1


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews as a way to share books you've received recently. 

Between things I've bought, been given, borrowed, and got from work, I've got quite a stack of books this month! I know we're not quite at the end of February yet but I'm going to break it into two haul posts and do the other one next week.

I went on a 'London Bookshop Crawl' a couple of weeks ago, visiting lots of independent bookshops, organised by Bex at An Armchair By The Sea. I was very restrained and came home with two books:

The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. I've seen so many people talking
about this book and loving it since it cam out, I had to give it a go. It's space opera, I'm a couple of chapters in and really enjoying it so far.







Vendetta, by Gail Z Martin. Second book in an urban fantasy series, the main character is a
psychometric who runs an antique shop and takes dangerous magical objects out of public circulation.




A couple more books I'm very excited about are:
Dumplin, by Julie Murphy. I've seen great reviews from a lot of US book bloggers about this, and it just came out in the UK. Hopefully I'll get to reading this one soon.






Beyond Ruin, by Kit Rocha. The latest book in the 'Beyond' series, this one is
an ARC and comes out on Tuesday. I'll be doing a release day post with a giveaway, so come back on Tuesday to enter!






And then there were these, which I don't know much about (with the exception of the Julia Kagawa books, which my friend Karen has been raving about for years), but they sounded good, and were in the freebie box at work:


My final book is one my Dad got me, and that's The Death Of Dulgath, by Michael J. Sullivan. It's book 3 of the Riyria Chronicles. I haven't read the rest of the series yet, but my parents (who got me in to reading fantasy in the first place) have all of his other books and love them. 



What books did you get recently? Have you read any of these? Don't forget to come back on Tuesday for the Beyond series giveaway!

~Ailsa

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mini Review: Autumn Bones by Jacqueline Carey


Title: Autumn Bones
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Publisher: Roc
Series: Agent of Hel #2
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Bought

Description: Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel.
Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one.
He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything…...

My thoughts: This is the second book in Carey's 'Agent of Hel' series. I really enjoyed the first one so I was really excited to get to this. I loved getting to see more about the various potential romantic interests in Daisy Johanssen's life - all of whom have a lot of complications! Particularly this book focuses on Sinclair, who is her sort-of boyfriend for most of the book. I've heard a very little bit about obeah magic, and it was really interesting to learn more. I haven't read many books with supernatural elements that utilise magic from Caribbean culture.

I found the mystery of this book - who was responsible for setting the evil spirit on the town - quite interesting. There are two big enemies facing and her friends in the story, the person setting the evil spirit, and Sinclair's family. I think that made it more interesting. It wasn't just a two strand story, mixing Daisy's personal life with a fight against one bad guy. It made it a more complex story, which is always good.

My favourite of Daisy's potential romantic partners is Stefan the ghoul, who can feed on her enhanced, otherworldly emotions and help balance her out. I loved the glimpses of him in this book and the progression in their friendship and working relationship. I finished the book really hoping that more would happen between the two of them soon.

Overall I'm giving Autumn Bones 8/10.
 

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