Review: A Stone in the Sea by A.L. Jackson

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Genre: New-Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Pages: 383
Series: Bleeding Stars #1 (Story concludes in book 2) 
Release Date: February 21, 2015
Publisher: Self-published

1 Star

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There are like a bajillion authors who write romance. But out of those, there are some who pop up more often than others. A.L. Jackson is one of those. Because of that, you’d think she’d be really good. But from my experience so far, she’s not.

This novel is about Sebastian Stone, the lead singer of a semi-popular rock band called Sunder. Sebastian’s in trouble for assaulting someone (he was trying to protect his younger brother) so it’s advised that the band take some time off. They go to live in Savannah for a while, where Sebastian meets Shea in the bar she works at. There’s an undeniable pull that they both feel toward each other. But Shea doesn’t have time for distractions and Sebastian’s only in town temporarily.

…And that’s about as civil as I can be when it comes to this novel. You know I don’t take one star ratings lightly so you also know there’s a shit ton of not-nice stuff to be said. Let’s get on that, shall we?

First and foremost, the writing. It’s terrible. While I was reading, I was trying to think of the right way to describe it. And I came up with: a romantic comedy directed by Zack Snyder. For those who don’t know, Snyder is the guy who turned Superman, the symbol of hope, into a guy who almost never smiles and is kinda scary. So you can imagine that if he were to direct a rom-com, it would be quite colourless. Making the Snyder thing worse, the book is also really fucking boring.

The tone of the novel and the prose is choke full of unnecessary details and has a complete lack of life. Sebastian steps into a bar and it’s like he’s describing a graveyard, instead of a place with live music and lots of people having fun. And it’s so repetitive and redundant. Not only do we get the repeat-same-word-three-times treatment, we also have to read one or the other character describing their mopey, overdramatic feels in extensive, overdramatic detail every two pages. Their entire romance consists of staring intently at each other and then composing mental essay that analyse that stare. For the first half of the book, they had like two proper conversations. They basically fell in love via intense stares.

I barely made it through. I think I started skipping some of the how-do-I-say-the-same-thing-ten-different-ways paragraphs about a third of the way through. By the time I reached two-thirds, I’d given up. I skimmed the rest. I think I read about 20-30% of that last section because that was the percentage of the content that was actually relevant. I swear to you, there are entire pages full of words that say nothing.

Onto characters. For the most part, they were lost in the over-the-top, suffocating prose. What was left wasn’t impressive. Sebastian is the “bad boy” type. Except he has major issues. He has a history with drugs, a criminal record, he’s spent time locked up, and he’s got serious anger management issues. Every problem he encounters is usually solved with anger, and his fists. And since he lacks control, he’s cause many broken bones, as well as internal bleeding. He’s a mess, but every single character in the novel is hell-bent of justifying his actions. They all claim that he’s a really great guy who’s just defending those he loves.

I’m sorry, but the saying is “the best offence is a great defence”, not the other fucking way around! Sebastian needs help and Shea needs to see that there is something wrong with a guy who’s constantly on the receiving end of assault charges.

Also, she needs to not lie about things because the “twist” in the end about what she’d been hiding was not only a terrible fucking twist, it also made me hate her (or maybe it made me hate the book more). It was such a stupid thing . And the fact that the next novel is based on said stupid thing, there’s no way I’m reading it. Not that I was planning to read it before, after I made it through this one with only my sheer force of will.

Overall, this is a badly written book with bad characters and bad everything. It’s also really fucking boring. Like, it might be the only romance novel ever that almost put me to sleep. Even the sex was boring. It’s an angst-y, overdramatic mess and I highly suggest avoiding it.

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Review: Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

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Genre: New-Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Pages: 294
Series: WAGs #2 (Can be read as Standalone)
Release Date: June 20, 2017
Publisher: Rennie Road Books

Star

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This novel took me by surprise. I can’t really say why, it’s not like I didn’t like Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy’s other books, but something was different from the other I’ve read by the two.

It follows Hailey, the co-owner of a virtual assistant service, who suspects that her favourite client may be the hockey player Matthew Eriksson, from the Toronto NHL team. Her suspicions are confirmed when, as a way to say thanks, he gives her two amazing tickets for the next game. The problem is that this means she might have to meet him and she’s pretty sure she won’t be able to form complete sentences when she does.

You see, Hailey’s a huge hockey fan and Eriksson is her favourite player. Meaning there’s a risk of her totally fangirling. And while she doesn’t fangirl exactly, her fear of losing the ability to form complete sentences is proved valid. It’s almost like her brain short circuits in his presence. It’s hilarious, and also adorable. Between Hailey being star stuck so often and Blake, Matthew’s teammate, with his made up lingo, this book is really funny. And we get team bonding scenes, which we didn’t in Us or Good Boy. I loved it when some of the guys got together.

Back to the protagonists though, I really liked both of them. Hailey’s recently gone through a divorce and her previous marriage, while not being bad, was kinda… boring. She’s known her ex-husband since they were kids. She’s never really dated and her chemistry with her ex was just not there. But her chemistry with Eriksson is sky-high and since it’s a new thing for her and her divorce killed her confidence a little, she’s skittish. It doesn’t help that she’s a huge fan of he guy. It’s overwhelming. She’s not sure it’s a good idea.

Eriksson wants to go for it. But nothing serious. He also had a recent divorce. A very unhappy one. And he blames himself because his wife constantly told him that his career was ruining their relationship. Now he doesn’t think he’s capable of one.

Both have complications in their lives. Both have careers and both have reasons as to why a relationship would be a bad idea. And yet things between them are really good. You’d think that with this many problem, the book would be sad or frustrating. But it was fun, enjoyable, sweet and I loved Eriksson and Hailey together. Hailey doesn’t have any problems with his career and understands that he has to travel, while Eriksson helps her regain her confidence. Great couple.

So great, in fact, that I wasn’t even waiting for Jamie and Wes to show up. Much. Still love those two more than anything but I also love Hailey and Eriksson. Which is why I totally recommend reading this novel.

Review: Good Boy by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

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Genre: New-Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 269
Series: WAGs #1 (Standalone; but please read the Him duology first) 
Release Date: January 21, 2017
Publisher: Rennie Road Books

3.5 Stars

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Blake and Jess met when Jess’s brother and Blake’s friend, Jamie, got sick and she came over to take care of him. They bickered the whole time …And also hooked up. Then Jess went back. Now Jess’s brother is getting married and she’s planning the wedding, in which Blake is the best man. She wants nothing to do with him while he’s hoping for another hook-up.

Sadly, Blake, the goof that he almost always is, thinks that the best way to achieve that is to piss Jess off even more. It doesn’t work very well but he’s determined, especially after Jess moves to the city for college.

The city we’re talking about is Toronto. Blake is a player in the Toronto NHL team so he’s used to getting what he wants, often without having to ask. He loves that Jess can’t stand him. He finds it refreshing and he likes how feisty she is. Jess, on the other hand, thinks of him as kind of a dumb jock. He’s loud, wild, goofy and half the shit he says makes no sense. But as she gets to know him, her opinion changes.

With Sarina Bowen, you don’t have to worry about the book not being well-written or the pacing being off. She’s a great writer. So I’m just concerning myself with story and characters. Mainly the characters since that’s who the story’s about.

Blake is a great guy. He has a very big heart and cares so much about people. He always puts other people above himself. You’ll see that for yourself when you read the book. Though if you’ve read the Him duology, you probably already have some idea. The problem, though, with being so good is that sometimes people take advantage of that. Jess balances that out. If you try to hurt Blake, she will slap you.

Jess’s own story is about her career. She’s spent many years trying to figure out what she wants to do. So many times, she’s sure she’s got it, only to realize that she hasn’t. It’s something that anyone who’s struggled with trying to find their right path can relate to. And even though her family never pressures her, she lacks confidence from having disappointed them so often. It’s difficult and it makes her quite stiff for a while. It was a tiny bit annoying, waiting for her to stop being mean, but we got through it.

Her and Blake’s story is good. They have chemistry and their bickering is entertaining. It took me a while to figure out why they work together, and I have some idea now (some I stated above), but they still don’t click like I want them to. And the fact that I read this novel so quickly doesn’t help. I’m gonna reread this one. Maybe I missed something.

The main problem I had with the novel was with Blake’s character. He’s overdone in how goofy-ness. In Us, he’s kind of the comic relief. And there’s a reason comic reliefs don’t get their own books and movies. It’s because there’s not enough emotional depth. And even though the author added some, it wasn’t enough. He still felt too much like the funny-guy-who-breaks-the-tension. Blake really is a great guy. I wanted more for him, that’s all.

Overall, a good novel but it’s missing something. I really do hope the reread will change that. I’ll update the review regardless. Still recommend reading it, especially if you’ve read the Him duology. Jamie and Wes are the cutest. I’m obsessed with those two and I adored them in the novel.

Review: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

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Genre: Middle-Grade, Young-Adult, Fantasy, Mythology (Norse), LGBT+
Pages: 432
Series: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard  #3
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Star

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Took me a while to get my thoughts in order. I honestly thought I was over my reading slump. And in a way, I am. Just have to take things slow. And avoid big books.

This book isn’t that big, but it also isn’t that small. And we again have a whole lot of names I can’t pronounce (though there’s a guide provided). Seriously, where do all these giants and their names even come from? Half the problem while reading came from there. The other half came from Alex, but we’ll discuss that later.

This is the final novel of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy. Loki’s free and his ship of nails is almost ready to sail. And as soon as it sets off, with Loki on board, Ragnarök will begin. It’s up to Magnus and the crew to stop him from sailing or the world will end. But since that requires a sea voyage, Annabeth suggests that he gets some helpful tips from, none other than, Percy Jackson. By the way, ending the last book with a tease like that was so not cool.

But yeah, Percy’s in the book. Not for long, because uncle Rick lives to torture his fans, but he’s there and it’s awesome. Percy’s my favourite person in the whole world.

Afterwards, they’re off. There are a lot of giants and gods and god-giants. They get vague clues about what they should do and have to figure the rest of the stuff out on their own. The book is funny, as usual, with lots of exciting adventures. Magnus is a great protagonist. And another great thing in the novel was how each character (like Mallory, TJ and Halfborn) got their moment to shine. There was lots of getting-to-know and development for each character.

My favourite of the series is still Hearthstone. I can’t explain it, but I don’t think there’s any character who makes me as fiercely protective as he does. I want to tuck him into the world’s most comfortable bed, wrapped in the softest blankets, in the world’s coziest room and, outside the room, post the Avengers on guard duty. It’s that bad. He’s just so… good and innocent. He’s also has the worst. He was shunned by his entire species. And then his brother died and his father put him through so much. Basically, I love him and I will, honest to God, murder anyone who hurts him.

Hearthstone aside, I like all the other characters too. It was really great finally getting to know where they came from. One character that bothered me was Alex (for the sake of the review, I will be referring to Alex as a he), who I loved in Hammer of Thor.

It’s wasn’t a huge thing. Alex still kicks major butt. The problem was with his relationship with Magnus. I felt that he was a bit too harsh. He’s harsh with everyone but with Magnus, he was almost cruel. To the point where Magnus doubted he (Alex) cared about him (Magnus) at all. Magnus has low (or zero) self-esteem in the first place and the way Alex treated him was like kicking a man when he’s down. It was unnecessary and I didn’t like it.

Other than that, things were fantastic. This was a great novel. Loved the ending. It concluded the current storyline perfectly, while also dropping hints of a future Norse series, one that I would be very interested in. Fingers crossed that uncle Rick writes it.

Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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Genre: Young-Adult, Contemporary, Fantasy
Pages: 317
Series: None
Release Date: August 27, 2015 
Publisher: Walker Books

3 Stars

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I finally understand why this novel is getting so many three stars. It’s not because this is a bad novel. Just an underwhelming one.

The concept of the novel is great. Even when I didn’t know about it (or maybe before it came out), I wondered if someone would write about the people who weren’t the chosen ones or in the thick of things. You know, the rest of the people. And then I heard of this novel and was pretty freaking excited. But the lukewarm response gave me pause. Finally read it though.

Like I said, it’s about the people who aren’t the protagonists. In this case, that’s Micky. Bad shit is going on with beams of lights and fissures to another world, but none of it is happening to Micky. He’s just living his life, worried about graduation, going to college, his OCD, a girl he’s been in love with since forever. It’s all normal stuff. He doesn’t know much about what’s going on with the “indie” kids. “Indie kids”, in this novel, are the usual MCs to whom bad shit happens.

At first, I found Micky to be interesting. But then it turns out that it was his disorder that I found interesting, not him. I’m not sure if that’s insensitive, but take away his struggle with anxiety, and he’s just a guy pining after a girl who seems to be stringing him, and another guy, along. He’s also prone to douchiness caused by jealousy.

Safe to say, he’s not very likable. His older sister is better, but not that much. His best friend, Jared, is okay. The girl he’s pining after, Henna, and the whole arc between her and Micky, is nothing but a source of annoyance. And there’s this other guy who’s just… there. It’s like all the character have a gimmick. Micky’s obsessive-compulsive, his sister has history with anorexia, his friend is one-quarter god, Henna’s the love interest and the one going away soon, Nathan’s the new guy who’s part of the love-triangle. These are the gimmicks, and we don’t explore the characters much further than these facts. We don’t really get to know them and, therefore, don’t connect to them.

There were things I liked. The disorders for one, especially Micky’s, and how they was portrayed. I thought it was a really good representation. There was a chapter in which mental illness and it’s perception was discussed which was my favourite chapter.

Also, at the start of each chapter, we would get a paragraph summarising what was going on with the “indie” kids (I still don’t know what, specifically, makes someone an indie kid). Those paragraphs were great. They played with common genre tropes. They were funny and I loved the contrast between the shit going on in them and the normal stuff with Micky.

I wish the rest of the novel had that humorous tone because the overall tone was really off. On one hand, we got the summaries of supernatural stuff going on, the talk about “indie” kids and how some shit like that happened once every decade and yet adults never got involved and basically tried to pretend that they didn’t know anything. On the other hand, we has serious stuff like OCD, anorexia, and Henna’s parents taking her to a country that’s in the middle of a war. There wasn’t a proper balance between the two.

Overall, like I said before, this is not a bad novel. Very readable and with some good parts and truly good insight into OCD. But it didn’t live up to its potential.

Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

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Genre: Science-Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
Release date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Tor.com

4 Stars

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I was pleasantly surprised by this novella. Even though the synopsis sounded really cool, I didn’t have many expectations. It’s about a robot, but since it also has organic parts, I’m thinking more of a cyborg. But that’s beside the point. The protagonist, and narrator, refers to itself as Murderbot. It’s managed to hack into its system and sever the part which makes it obligated to obey the company that created it. The first line of the novella is this:

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites.

I mean, how awesome is that? Anyone who decides to forgo mass murder because there are so many book and TV shows to watch… that’s my kind of person.

Then there’s the fact that it genuinely does not give a fuck about anyone. It just wants to watch the shows and be left alone. It only does a half-assed job whenever it’s assigned to accompany a team of employers for their survey on a planet, acting as monitor and security. This time, there’s another team, people who actually seem nice. Not that it cares. It usually avoids people. But then stuff starts to go wrong and our beloved Murderbot may be the only chance of the team’s survival.

It’s a good plot. And the side characters are likable. I especially liked the team leader and the one guy who didn’t like our Murderbot. The world building could use work. I still can’t get a clear picture of what kind of world the novella is set in. And the writing is a bit dull. If it weren’t for the protagonist being as brilliant as it is, the novella wouldn’t have been nearly as good.

Back to Murderbot. I love this guy (I think it’s a guy because it sounds like one but I’m not a 100% sure). In fact, I have a couple more quotes from the novella.

“Are you all right?”
That was too much attention. I turned around and walked into the corner, facing away from them.

I liked the imaginary people on the entertainment feed way more than I liked the real ones, but you can’t have one without the other.

How could you not love it?! I can’t wait to see where it will fo next, especially after that ending, which I also loved. I highly recommend this novella, if only just so you can get to know Murderbot.

Review: The Thing About Love by Julie James

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Genre: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 373
Series: None (but I’ve heard it has cameos from other Julie James characters)
Release Date: April 18, 2017
Publisher: Berkley

3.5 Stars

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I have a lot of negatives to discuss. But because they’re either small or don’t always affect the overall enjoyment much, they don’t have a huge impact on the rating. Synopsis first:

Both Jessica Harlow and John Sheppard are FBI agents. They also have a past. They were both in the same class in the Quantico training academy and did not get along. And even though it’s now been six years, when Jessica transfers to the same office as John, it’s not good news. What’s worse is that they’ve been assigned as partners in an undercover sting involving a corrupt politician. So now they have to work together, without strangling each other.

The reason John and Jessica didn’t get along in Quantico is one that we find out via… wait for it… backstory. And if you know me, you know how much I fucking hate those.

In this case, we got two chapters, one from Jessica’s perspective and one from John’s. Combined, that made like 30 pages of backstory. And what was worse was that half of John’s chapter was the same as Jessica’s, just from a different perspective. I get that the author wanted to show how they each saw each other, but it still meant that I had to read thirty pages of backstory, some of which was repeated. And I swear to you, I almost died.

Thankfully, that made up less than 10% of the novel. The rest of it was in the present and while they did talk about the past, that’s not something that bothers me.

As for the present, I liked it. The banter that the book promised wasn’t entirely there but I did have fun with the two characters. They had chemistry and things were sweet. I liked how the dynamic between them changed slowly. The relationship was based on mutual respect and equality. I liked John as a character and I was okay with Jessica, but I had a few problems with her.

Jessica is described as a “saucy” person. She’s all about the quips and sarcasm. And usually, I would love that. I live for sarcasm. But she never took anything seriously. And she used quips to deflect. We were told how their past rivalry was a result of misunderstandings and faults on both sides. And where John apologised for his actions, Jessica simply joked or changed the subject. She never got perspective about what happened in Quantico. It got to the point where she was no longer sassy, but immature; never accepting her flaws and always making light of serious situations. Like, sweetheart, you’re a thirty-two-year-old FBI agent, don’t you think it’s time for you to grow up?

She was bothersome, and the word “saucy” got old. What helped out was the FBI stuff. The case they were handling was simple enough. A mayor who was accepting bribes in exchange for some mayor-ly help. And while there were some readers who didn’t like the amount of time spent on the case or the amount of details about the FBI, I really liked those.

The focus on the romance wasn’t heavy. We interacted with some others from the FBI, and with both John and Jessica’s family and friends. John’s brother was a brilliant addition. He was really funny. Kinda wish he’d been more present even though he showed up quite a few times. John’s dynamic with his dad was interesting. Jessica’s older brother and sister ware funny. It was nice that we got to know some of the people in their lives. But I wish we’d gotten more resolution about John’s ex, who, in the very beginning, he found out was cheating on him.

Also, I found it strange how little an impact John’s break-up and Jessica’s divorce has on their relationship. The main conflict was just always about the fact that John was moving away for a different job, and the effect of their previous relationship was minimum.

Last thing to discuss: the word/phrase that was even worse than “saucy”. Well, not worse, per se, it just showed up way too much. And that was “undercover” and “undercover agent”. You know how many times the world “undercover” was in the novel? 151 times. And “undercover agent”, 35 times. We get it, they’re undercover agent. You don’t have to keep telling us. And there were other phrases as well. The writing, while good, was quite repetitive. The pace was okay. The ending… I disagreed with a thing or two (but not with John decision about his new job; that was the right call).

Overall, this is an enjoyable read. I really did like it and I’m looking forward to reading more by the author. But it also had many flaws. Still recommend read it, as long as you’re not nitpicky.