Thursday 28 January 2016

Review: Glass Sword (Red Queen #2) by Victoria Aveyard

Glass Sword (Red Queen #2) by Victoria Aveyard
Publisher: Orion
Publication Date: February 11th 2016 
My rating: 3 stars

I fell hard and fast for Red Queen last year, the amazing world the Aveyard created, fast pace and brilliance of characters was sort of hard not to love. So of course I was eagerly anticipating Glass Sword, I couldn’t wait to be back with my favourite characters once more and see how everyone would be dealing with what had gone down, especially as the wrath of so many characters would be expected.

The world Aveyard created was once again brilliant, there was always danger looming around every corner, with you never knowing what could happen and you being in a constant fear of something happening to somebody you loved. But I think Mare’s character sort of dampened my experience of the book, yes I did expect her to be a changed character after everything that happened in Red Queen, but at times she really came across as this insensitive cold person and I think that really came across more strongly when a lot of characters who knew Mare pointed that out too. At times I wanted to shake some sense into her and be like look at all the good things in front of you, why do you keep being drawn back to that one person? And I could see that everything that she wanted to do and was willing to sacrifice, was for the greater good of everyone else, but I just wanted our old Mare back, the one who could have a joke about with Julian, who was clever and skilled but still knew when to reign her control into check. Who didn’t lie constantly to these who deeply cared about her and who just for once listened to her heart.

My complaints about Mare aside, other characters were able to step up and really make my reading experience of Glass Sword a worthwhile one. There was Cal who despite me not having a clue most of the time what he was thinking, I loved having him around, his demeanour always came across sort of scary and untrustworthy, but the poor guy had been through so much and he found himself with people he didn’t really know if he could trust. But I always loved how he came through, how he was always willing to do things he wouldn’t have dreamed of, he was such a torn character, but that I think made me fall for him so much more. Despite being vulnerable, his strength he displayed was immense. Then there was Kilorn, I loved the happy go lucky guy we were given in Red Queen, and although we got snatches of that in this book, again like many others Kilorn was another forlorn character who had been through so much but was still trying to hold his head up high. Alongside Cal and Kilorn there were a great bunch of new characters that Aveyard introduced that although I was wary of to begin with, they had me excited at every scene with them, in wonder of all the things that could come. These new characters also gave off a great X-Men sort of vibe, with their various abilities that I wish more time could have been spent getting to know these characters. Hopefully more time will be spent with them in future books.

Aveyard also knew exactly how to bring up the tension and create wonderful scenes of destruction and power. Also the journey along the way for our characters was exquisitely sprinkled with fast paced scenes of brilliance which really raised my heart rate and blood pressure through the roof. I only wish alongside this, all the potential romance that had subtle hints of coming through had been focused on more. But with so many things going on and the story being pulled in so many possible directions, I could understand Aveyard’s need to put it on the backburner. Overall despite me not enjoying Glass Sword as much as I would have hoped, this book didn’t end up putting me off the rest of the series. We were dropped with so much hurt and bombshells in the end, that I know the wait for book three is just going to be a killer.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Blog Tour: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Hi all, today I get to share my review of Dumplin' by Julie Murphy as part of the Dumplin' Blog Tour, before that though here's a bit about the book. 

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray 
Publication Date: January 28th 2016. 
Willowdean Dickson lives in Texas and abides by the Dolly Parton mantra ‘Find out who you are and do in on purpose’. She accepts herself for what she is – fat. But in her town The Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant is a way of life and skinny and pretty are considered paramount. Although Will is comfortable in her own skin, no-one else seems to accept her for the way she is. With a group of friends who are also categorised as ‘misfits’ in her town, she embarks on a mission to change perceptions– entering The Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant in a bid to show that she deserves to be there as much as any twiggy girl does.
Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository

I don’t know why I assumed that Dumplin’ wouldn’t be my sort of read, but Murphy really surprised me with this book. Willowdean isn’t your typical MC, she’s a big girl compared to others, but I admired the confidence and spunk that Murphy gave her character. When she found her back against the wall, I loved how she came fighting back. With the annual pageant around the corner, no one’s expecting Will to enter, I don’t think Will was expecting it herself, but before you know it Will and a couple of girls from school end up signing up. I liked how Will’s reason for entering wasn’t just to win, but just to show that she could.

Will and her friends really had a lot to deal with, but I enjoyed how this pageant actually made these girls find a friendship in the most unexpected of places, how it gave them the encouragement and belief to believe in themselves. It was a learning curve for them, but the character development which came out of it was fantastic. At the beginning of the story I thought I knew the way things would end up for Will, but I appreciated the problems that Will had to deal with along the way, her unexpected feelings for Bo, her topsy turvy relationship with her best friend and still trying to deal with the death of her aunt, because they made Will the person that she was. Like I mentioned before Will was a tough person, but the support she received in the most unlikely of places, from the girls or Bo was super sweet to watch play out.

I adored Bo, he was the moments of sweetness that Will needed when things were tough at home and confusing with her best friend. Their scenes together gave me the assurance and belief that everything was going to be okay and it was great to see Will happy. I’m not going to mention how things ended up, but Bo’s continual presence in the story really made my day, like I know a lot of things were happening for Will and although I didn’t agree with some of her decisions, all I wanted was for Will and Bo to be together.

Dumplin’ was such a rich and complex story which really had so much to offer. I appreciated the take home messages that Murphy had scattered throughout this story, how Murphy gave such a resilient character in Willowdean that I know a lot of readers would appreciate and look up to.

About the author: Julie Murphy is a potty-mouthed Southern belle who was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but found her home in Fort Worth, Texas. She's never seen Star Wars, but has yet to meet a made for TV movie she didn't love. When she's not writing, Julie can be found cruising Costco for free samples, watching Sister Act 2, stalking drag queens on instagram, obsessing over the logistics of Mars One, and forever searching for the perfect slice of cheese pizza. She lives with her bearded husband, two vicious cats, and one pomeranian that can pass as a bear cub. DUMPLIN' is her second young adult novel.

The Blog Tour for Dumplin' just kicked off this week, so make sure you check out the rest of the fantastic tour stops!


Friday 22 January 2016

Review: The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag

The Bitter Season (Kovac & Liska #5) by Tami Hoag
Publisher: Dutton
Publication date: January 12th 2016
My rating: 4 stars 
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Audible

#1  New York Times Bestselling author Tami Hoag returns to the bestselling series of her career with a Kovac and Liska case that will delight fans and new readers alike.

A murder from the past. A murder from the present. And a life that was never meant to be... As the dreary, bitter weather of late fall descends on Minneapolis, Detective Nikki Liska is restless. After moving to the cold case squad in order to spend more time with her sons, she misses the rush of pulling an all-nighter, the sense of urgency of hunting a murderer on the loose. Most of all she misses her old partner, Sam Kovac.

Sam is having an even harder time adjusting to Nikki's absence, saddled with a green new partner younger than pieces of Sam's wardrobe. Sam is distracted from his troubles by an especially brutal double homicide: a middle-aged husband and wife bludgeoned and hacked to death in their home with a ceremonial Japanese samurai sword. Nikki's case, the unsolved murder of a family man, community leader, and decorated sex crimes detective for the Minneapolis PD, is less of a distraction: Twenty years later, there is little hope for finding the killer who got away.

On the other end of the spectrum, Minneapolis resident Evi Burke has a life she only dreamed of as a kid in and out of foster homes: a beautiful home, a family, people who love her, a fulfilling job. Little does she know that a danger from her past is stalking her perfect present. A danger powerful enough to pull in both Kovac and Liska and destroy the perfect life she was never meant to have.

My Thoughts:
The Bitter Season is book five in the Kovac and Liska series, but you don’t need to read the previous books to enjoy this crime procedural type mystery.  The story kept my rapt attention as Nikki Liska and Sam Kovac questioned suspects, walked in the shoes of the victims, and dug deep down for clues.

Detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska have been partners in the Homicide division for many years, but Nikki has just transferred to Cold Cases to get away from the long hours required for fresh homicide investigations in order to spend more time with her two teenage sons.  As a single parent, she wants to put her boys first.  Nikki misses the excitement and adrenaline rush from Homicide, but she learns that Cold Case has its own special challenges.  I’m thinking that by the end of The Bitter Season, Nikki might just welcome boring once and a while!  I think I would! Sam and Nikki have their own cases they’re working on, but in a bizarre twist they end up tying together. 

Sam lands a sensational double homicide where a well-to-do middle aged married couple is murdered in their home with a samurai sword.  The scene is messy, bloody and attracts the media’s attention immediately.   The husband, Lucien Chamberlin was generally disliked by his work colleagues and family, so there is no shortage of suspects.

Nikki’s homicide, a sex crimes detective, shot and killed in his own backyard, happened twenty-five years earlier.  She’s hindered at every turn by almost every family member, which completely floors, Nikki.  Who doesn’t want the murder of a loved one solved?  The original investigating detective, a chauvinistic dinosaur, is also a pain in the ass, but no one gets in Nikki’s way when it comes to an investigation.  She’s a little determined powerhouse with balls!  Nikki had me cracking up throughout the story!

“Could we have some kind of signal for when you’re about to say something outrageous?” Seley asked. “I almost peed my pants!”
“A signal would require premeditation on my part. I just open my mouth and stuff comes out.”

I’ve enjoyed Tami Hoag’s mysteries for years.  The Bitter Season had many twists and turns, and I was glued to pages, but I thought the final reveal was rushed and there were a few things I wished would’ve been expounded on.  The main focus of the Kovac and Liska series has always been the main mystery with a sprinkling of personal their personal lives.  I do wish Tami Hoag would give them a love interest.   I thought (hoped?) that maybe they’d fall in love with each other, especially now that they’re separated somewhat in their job. I guess I’ll have to keep wishing and hoping.  Maybe in the next book?

3.5-4 Stars

Friday 15 January 2016

Books I'm Most Looking Forward to in 2016

There are so many books I'm (Rachel) really excited about this year so I thought I'd share some of them.  Most are adult books, but I do have a couple of young adult books on the list, too.

Several of these books I get to devour VERY soon. Feverborn comes out this coming Tuesday January 19th. I've been searching for it on Audible (which is how I've "read" the whole series) everyday and it just got added as a pre-order.  I'm shocked that Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross are NOT the narrators!  Luke Daniels and Jill Redfield are to be the narrators this time around. Even though I adore Luke Daniels, (he narrates the Iron Druid Chronicles, see below, Staked) I've come to LOVE Phil and Natalie's performance in the Fever series! We'll see how it turns out.

I happened upon Jane Steele on Eva's blog: All Books Considered.  It's a Jane Eyre re-telling, one of my all time favorite books, and it sounds amazing!  I'm so anxious about the ending to the The Raven Cycle! You better leave Gansey alone, Maggie, because Blue needs her love!

I'm sure it's no surprise to see the latest installments of The Others, Mercy Thompson, Kate Daniels (no cover yet), The Iron Druid Chronicles, and Laura Florand's latest Paris Hearts (no cover or title yet) on my list.

(click on cover for Goodreads link)
Feverborn (Fever, #8)  Staked (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #8) Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson, #9) 

Marked in Flesh (The Others, #4) He Will Be My Ruin  The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4) 

Jane Steele  The Visitor (Graveyard Queen, #4) 

 So what books are you most looking forward to this year?

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Review: Foreplay by Sophie Jordan

Foreplay by Sophie Jordan
Publisher: HarperAudio
Publication Date: November 5th 2013
My rating: 3 stars  

Before she goes after the life she’s always wanted, she’s about to find the one she needs. Pepper has been hopelessly in love with her best friend’s brother, Hunter, for like ever. He’s the key to everything she’s always craved: security, stability, family. But she needs Hunter to notice her as more than just a friend. Even though she’s kissed exactly one guy, she has just the plan to go from novice to rock star in the bedroom—take a few pointers from someone who knows what he’s doing. Her college roommates have the perfect teacher in mind. But bartender Reece is nothing like the player Pepper expects. Yes, he’s beyond gorgeous, but he’s also dangerous, deep—with a troubled past. Soon what started as lessons in attraction are turning both their worlds around, and showing just what can happen when you go past foreplay and get to what’s real…

Foreplay was one of those guilty pleasure reads that I knew how things would go down for our characters, but I didn’t care because I enjoyed the build up and tension along the way.

Pepper has always had her eyes set on Hunter, her best friends brother, he’d been the ideal guy that she needed after her up and down life that she’d had and when thinks were looking rough for her too Hunter was one of the first people to give her a chance. Despite having a crush on Hunter for the longest time and choosing to go to Dartmouth because of him, he hadn’t really noticed her the way she would have like to. But now that Hunter is a single guy, may be its time for Pepper to take her chance? Her friends think the best way to would be to get some experience first and they’ve heard of this hot bartender who’s known to play around, so he would be the perfect guy to start with.

Despite hearing great things about Hunter and how he had been there for Pepper at her time of need and how he could be her perfect boyfriend, as soon as Pepper met the hot bartender Reece I was immediately smitten! I know Pepper initially got hot and cold vibes from Reece and at times he could be hard to understand, but when finally Pepper overcame her shyness and told Reece exactly what she was after, I thought things would be over even before they began, but I’m glad that this is exactly the right push that Reece needed to make his move. Like I mentioned Reece was hot, guys with tattoos are always my biggest weakness, but I loved how Reece had this softer side to him, he was a guy who was upfront about his feelings. Even though Reece and Pepper’s relationship started off as them messing around, I could genuinely see it becoming something more. Their chemistry was off the charts and despite them leaving little snags along the way I adored how they always find their way back to each other. My only complaint about this read was that it took Pepper a long time realising she had something so good right in front of her!

This was my first audiobook that I listened to all the way through. I’m really fussy when it comes to narrators. But Kim McKean left me wanting more from the story and characters, and although I found it strange at first narrating Pepper and Reece’s voice, I was so deeply involved in the story by that point to care, however people who are particular about accents, may notice McKean pronouncing palms as “polms” a few times, but again I loved the story so much and couldn’t wait to see how things would turn out that I didn’t really care. Overall Foreplay was a hot, fun read which I really enjoyed; I’m hoping that I end up liking the rest of the series just as much!

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Interview & Giveaway: The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee

Today I'm excited to feature Janice Y. K. Lee's newest story, The Expatriates.  It sounds like a moving and emotional look at three American women living in a small Hong Kong community.  Viking/Penguin provided this very insightful interview with Janice Y. K. Lee detailing her motivations and writing experience.  Be sure to scroll down for a chance to win this stunning book packaged so beautifully!

Publication Date: January 12th 2016
Publisher: Viking/Penguin
Purchase Links:

Book Description:

Mercy, a recent Columbia graduate without a safety net, is adrift, undone by a terrible incident in her recent past. Hilary, a lonely housewife, is haunted by her struggle to have a child, something she believes could save her foundering marriage. Meanwhile, Margaret, once a happily married mother of three, takes every opportunity to escape from her life in the wake of a shattering loss. Chapter by chapter, the novel draws the reader into their stories and gives us glimpses of expatriate life’s surprising contradictions in Hong Kong, where these women are both insiders and outsiders, incredibly privileged but deeply unsatisfied, and attempting, above all, to connect with others and regain a sense of self that has slipped away. As each woman struggles with her own demons, their lives collide in ways that have irreversible consequences for them all.

A conversation with Janice Y. K. Lee, author of

Like The Piano Teacher, THE EXPATRIATES is set in Hong Kong. As a writer, what draws you in about this city?

I love Hong Kong and have spent a little over half my life there.   People view it as this world city, which it is, but that’s only one of its many facets. It is an amazing melting pot of cultures and experiences that, extraordinarily, still manages to have the feel of a small village, at least if you live there.  For me, there is the additional push and pull of home. You want to be there; you want to leave.  Like New York, there is always a tide of new arrivals, and those leaving.  I’ll always have Hong Kong with me.  

Did you do any research to prepare to write THE EXPATRIATES? Or did you draw mainly on your own experience?

I didn’t have to, which was a different experience from my first novel, The Piano Teacher, which was set during WWII in Hong Kong.  As I came to realize that these women lived in the same world I lived in, I find myself growing very thoughtful about this place I inhabited.  I was a constant observer in my own life, trying to see patterns and behaviors.  In a way, it was easy, because I just needed to live my life, but I wanted to be considered and fair to all of the people who were also living in this world. 

As American expatriates in Hong Kong, Margaret, Mercy, and Hilary share some concerns, but they are very different women. THE EXPATRIATES alternates among their stories and points of view. Which character did you find easiest to write? Which was the most challenging?

I found a bit of myself in each character.  Poor, hapless Mercy.  I felt for her, and felt I could have been her in another, parallel life.  And Margaret is the mother, the one who has children throughout the book, so I have lived some aspect of her life.  Hilary, I also felt I knew.  She didn't have children while everyone around her was reproducing like mad.  It must be off-putting and frightening at times.  Margaret and Hilary inhabit a more similar world than the one Mercy lives in.  For Mercy, I had to imagine what it would be like to come to Hong Kong as a twenty-something, but I thought it might be a bit like moving to New York as a twenty-something, which I did know something about.  I think human experience is more universal than we might think, even when people are from vastly different cultures, different generations.  

In many ways, THE EXPATRIATES is about loneliness and alienation, and about how the women feel like outsiders even as others might consider them the ultimate insiders. Do you think that the insular expatriate community is a useful lens for thinking about how people feel this all the time, in many different settings?

I am always surprised by how often you might find that someone you thought had it all, had it all figured out and was completely together was actually having a complete meltdown on the inside.  We are all, by our too-human nature, so self-involved that we necessarily experience life from our own perspectives, but wow, is there a lot going on all around if you pay attention.  Say, Clarke’s 50th birthday party, there were so many stories going on in that room, just about the characters we grew to know.  There are thirty other novels that could have been written about any of the other people who were there.  This is a long and roundabout way of saying that everyone who is living life in a thoughtful way feels like an outsider, I think.  I have always felt “outside” and I think that is a good thing.  It gives me perspective and distance. The expatriate community is a microcosm of society, in many ways, so it is a good lens to view what is happening on a larger scale outside.

As we see in the book, so-called “trailing spouses” of businesspeople in Hong Kong are thrown into a completely different world when they arrive—a world of drivers, nannies, housekeepers and leisure that leaves them with lots of spare time. As you’ve observed it, how does this change a trailing spouse’s sense of self?

If you take it in the most positive way, it allows you to have more time—that most precious of resources.  All the labor of taking care of the house, washing all the sheets and towels your baby threw up on, preparing meals, grocery shopping, having someone to receive all packages—all of that is subtracted from your life, leaving you free to... what?  And therein lies the rub.  What do you do when you discover 8 extra hours in your day? Who do you want to become?  I've seen people change drastically during their time as an expat, sometimes to become more free, evolve into someone completely different, and sometimes to become even more who they were when they arrived.  It's an opportunity to grow, and to change, away from the constraints of what is your “normal” life but everyone reacts differently to the experience. 

Motherhood, in THE EXPATRIATES, becomes a central, defining purpose for women, for Margaret and Hilary in particular but also for their friends and acquaintances. What happens, then, when a woman can’t conceive or faces a family tragedy?

Motherhood has been such a transformative and intense experience for me.  In the past thirteen years, everything has been refracted through the lens of motherhood.  It is central to my life.  So, I wrote this book while I was in the throes of that.  What struck me was how final it was.  Once you have a child, you are a mother.  That is it.  However you get this child: birth, adoption, whatever, when you do, you pass through this door and you cannot return from this new world.  A mother is a mother whether she loses her child or not.  For women without children, I think it must be awfully tiresome to be around mothers!  There is a large and vibrant part of society that doesn't have children, but luckily they have a lot of other things to occupy their time with.  Although since they themselves, since everyone, has mothers, I think they would find something in this book to connect with.

You lived in Hong Kong as an expatriate for ten years. Can you talk about the experience of moving abroad and being part of the expatriate community, and about your recent decision to return the United States?

When I moved to Hong Kong, I wasn’t your typical expat because I was returning “home” to a place I had grown up and where I still had family.  So I didn't go through the typical settling-in pains because I had a lot of local knowledge.  Still, I had to make friends, find a place to live, find schools for my children.  I loved my time in Hong Kong.  I made friends who I will remain close to for our entire lives, had wonderful experiences, experienced so much of Asia.  I liken it to college in terms of how formative it can be.  Because you are together for a temporary period, everything is heightened and intensified and there is also the sense that it is not “real life.”  Real life is waiting for you back “home.”  And that is why we decided to move back.  I wanted my children to start their lives in what I thought was the right place for them, long-term, as Americans. 

What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the writing of this novel? The biggest pleasures?

The biggest pleasure was... I really can’t say.  Writing is difficult.  The biggest pleasure was probably finishing! 

How was writing a novel set in the present day different from writing historical fiction (like The Piano Teacher)?

Research is really wonderful because it allows you to work without writing.  I cannot direct my writing at all.  It comes in fits and starts, so with The Piano Teacher, whenever I would get stuck I would head off to the library to research and read and some interesting fact or historical detail would usually loosen a knot in my head, or knock something loose.  With The Expatriates, whenever I got stuck, I just had to wait to get unstuck.  I would find inspiration and solutions in everyday corners of my life, but never know when that was going to happen.  So I had to learn to be patient.  Both books took around five years to write and I think that's my gestation period for a book, regardless.  These stories unspool slowly and I've learned to wait for them. 

About the author:
Janice Y. K. Lee was born and raised in Hong Kong, the child of Korean immigrants. She went to the United States for school and graduated from Harvard College with a degree in English and American Literature and Language.

After college she moved to New York and worked for several years as an editor at Elle and Mirabella magazines before getting an MFA from Hunter College and starting her first novel. The Piano Teacher was published to critical acclaim from the New York Times, People, and O magazine, among others. It spent 19 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, was a Richard and Judy Summer Read pick (UK), and was translated into 26 languages worldwide.

Janice’s writing has appeared in ELLE, Mirabella, Glamour, and Travel and Leisure, as well as numerous other publications.

She lives in New York City with her husband and four children.

Connect with Janice Y. K. Lee:

 The lovely people of Viking/Penguin have provided a galley copy of The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee packaged soooo beautifully (see picture below) with French flaps and in a gorgeous box with magnetic closures *sigh*.  The giveaway is open to US residents only.

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