Thursday, January 28, 2016

Interview with Lindsay McKenna, Author of Night Hawk + Giveaway! (US/Can only)

I'd like to welcome the Lindsay McKenna, to the blog today to celebrate the exciting release of Night Hawk from HQN Books, a imprint of Harlequin Romance.

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Lindsay! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief introduction with us?

A U.S. Navy veteran, Lindsay McKenna was a meteorologist while serving her country. She pioneered the military romance in 1993 with Captive of Fate, Silhouette Special edition. Her heart and focus are on honoring and showing our military men and women. Creator of the Wyoming Series and Shadow Warriors series for HQN, she writes emotionally and romantically intense suspense stories.

It's amazing to get to feature you today! Readers, here's a bit about the book, the 10th installment in the Jackson Hole series, which hit shelves last month:


Once upon a ranch in Wyoming...

After losing his comrade, Sergeant Gil Hanford thought a visit to the man's widow would be the decent way to honor his late friend. But Gil found more than comfort in Kai Tiernan—he had always secretly desired beautiful Kai, but a sudden, mutual passion helped assuage their grief... until duty reared its head, removing him from her arms, seemingly forever.

Four years later, Kai is starting over at the Triple H Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Born a rancher, she is looking for a new beginning—but her new boss is unforgivably familiar. Kai has tried to move past the memory of what happened between her and Gil, even though she's never forgiven him for leaving her. But even as they begin their journey toward something new and oh-so-uncertain, a shadow emerges, determined to claim Kai for itself.
Buy the book from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Books-a-Million | iTunes | Kobo | Google Play | Publisher

How much of your real life is in your plots?

I always write from direct or indirect experience. I write “close to the bone,” which means I take reality and turn it into fiction for my readers.

Are the characters based off people you know in real life?

I never base a character on an individual person. Rather, I look at the type of personality needed for the plot I’ve hatched, and then begin to cobble the hero, heroine, and secondary characters around them.

As a sucker for first lines, I'd love to hear the first sentence of the book. Can you give us a brief commentary as well?
Kai tried to get her heart to stop pounding so hard in her chest.
I wanted to convey to the reader that something was happening to Kai, the book's heroine, implying danger or threat or that something bad is going to happen—or something she dreads. In this case, she’s on another job interview with another rancher to be hired as a mechanic to take care of all the machinery on the ranch. She’s already tried many others and been told no, because she’s a woman. And most male ranchers never think of a woman being a mechanic, only a man. Kai has come to this ranch in Wyoming, hoping that the man who owns the ranch will look beyond her gender and see that she’s a highly competent mechanic.

Where can you be found on the web?


It was a pleasure to be able to get to know you better today, Lindsay! Thank you again for dropping by, and best of luck with future endeavors!

Giveaway!

Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of Wolf Haven, the 9th and previous installment of the Jackson Hole series—woohoo! To enter, all you have to do is tell me:
What's something you've been told you can't do because of your gender?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Lindsay and I really want to hear your thoughts! :)

In the professional field, I've experienced many women facing discrimination and having to work harder than men to keep their jobs (or equal salaries). Growing up, I personally have always been told I can't behave roughly/loudly or "like a boy" because it's unladylike. As a kid this seemed like the most unfair thing in the world!

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publisher and tour publicist—a huge thank you to the lovely folks at Harlequin and TLC Book Tours!
Giveaway ends February 11th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US and Canada residents only. Sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar on the right for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Exclusive Sneak Peek: The Lady’s Command by Stephanie Laurens + The Tempting of Thomas Carrick Giveaway! (US/Can only)

The Lady’s Command
Stephanie Laurens

How does marriage work? If convention is set aside and is no longer there to guide…what then?

#1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens brings you The Adventurers Quartet, a riveting blend of Regency-era high seas adventure, a mystery shrouded in the heat of tropical jungles, and the passionate romances of four couples and their unexpected journeys into love.


The instant Captain Declan Frobisher laid eyes on Lady Edwina Delbraith, he knew she was the lady he wanted as his wife. The scion of a seafaring dynasty accustomed to success, he discovered that wooing Edwina was surprisingly straightforward—not least because she made it plain that she wanted him as much as he wanted her.

Declan’s vision of marriage was of a gently-reared wife to grace his arm, to manage his household, and to bear his children. He assumed that household, children, and wife would remain safely in England while he continued his life as an explorer sailing the high seas.

Declan got his wish—up to a point. He and Edwina were wed. As for the rest—his vision of marriage...

Aunt of the young Duke of Ridgware and sister of the mysterious man known as Neville Roscoe, London’s gambling king, even before the knot was tied Edwina shattered the illusion that her character is as delicate, ethereal, and fragile as her appearance suggests. Far from adhering to orthodox mores, she and her ducal family are even more unconventional than the Frobishers.

Beneath her fairy-princess exterior, Edwina possesses a spine of steel—one that might bend, but will never break. Born to the purple—born to rule—she’s determined to rule her life. With Declan’s ring on her finger, that means forging a marriage that meets her needs as well as his.

But bare weeks into their honeymoon, Declan is required to sail to West Africa. Edwina decides she must accompany him.

A secret mission with unknown villains flings unexpected dangers into their path as Declan and Edwina discover that meeting the challenge of making an unconventional marriage work requires something they both possess—bold and adventurous hearts.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

6 Heart Review: The Furies by Natalie Haynes

The Furies
Natalie Haynes

Page Count: 297

Release Date: November 17th 2015 (US Paperback)
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (MacMillan)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, St. Martin's Press!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

After losing her fiancé in a shocking tragedy, Alex Morris moves from London to Edinburgh to make a break with the past. Formerly an actress, Alex accepts a job teaching drama therapy at a school commonly referred to as "The Unit," a last-chance learning community for teens expelled from other schools in the city. Her students have troubled pasts and difficult personalities, and Alex is an inexperienced teacher, terrified of what she's taken on and drowning in grief.

Her most challenging class is an intimidating group of teenagers who have been given up on by everyone before her. But Alex soon discovers that discussing the Greek tragedies opens them up in unexpected ways, and she gradually develops a rapport with them. But are these tales of cruel fate and bloody revenge teaching more than Alex ever intended? And who becomes responsible when these students take the tragedies to heart, and begin interweaving their darker lessons into real life with terrible and irrevocable fury?

Natalie Haynes's The Furies is a psychologically complex, dark, and twisting novel about loss, obsession and the deep tragedies that can connect us to each other even as they blind us to our fate.
I met them on the 6th of January 2011, in the basement room at 58 Rankeillor Street. And I wouldn't have believed any of them could do something so monstrous.

Theater director Alex Morris flees to Edinburgh in wake of her fiancé's brutal, unexpected death, seeking the position of a grade school drama teacher as refuge. But her background is not education, and this is no ordinary school; dubbed "The Unit," this alternative learning center takes in teenagers who have nowhere else to go, other than correctional facilities. The most troubled of these students, the oldest of the bunch, stand out to Alex as the darkest, the most mysterious, even though on the surface, they just seem like normal, albeit temperamental, adolescents.

The anxieties of a novice teacher and both the languid aftermath of tragedy are excellently portrayed through Alex's first-person voice. Although her character is rather stale and boring, I could easily relate to her concern for the troubled students, and her grief over her fiancé. When one particular student's interest is piqued by this newcomer teacher, Alex finds herself in a freaky whirlwind of events where the haunting tragedy of her past and the eerie environment of The Unit intersect.

Based loosely off Agamemnon and incorporating other Greek mythological symbols and themes into the plot line, The Furies is a provocative account of the danger of obsession and curiosity and the urgency for vengeance. Greek tragedies are discussed in vivid detail in Alex's classroom lessons, which I found fascinating. However, overall I found this book to be rather disappointing because it is lacking just a hair in every other area: a relatable but oftentimes lifeless protagonist, intriguing yet shallowly written character relationships, and a back-and-forth narration that had potential, but was ultimately exhausting.

Told in alternating past and present narratives, The Furies slowly unravels what happened before, and what happened after, but doesn't reveal what actually happened, until the near-end in a rather unexciting climax. I felt the tension regarding the uneasiness surrounding the students is well conveyed, but the "terrible and irrevocable fury" is not what I expected. The dark twist isn't necessarily predictable, but it just isn't thrilling, especially after all the long, slow (veerry slow) rising action that precedes it.

Pros


Incredible suspense created // Original, vibrant plot // Characters are memorable and entirely take on their own personalities within the story

Cons


Rather flat climax and ending // Past/present narratives are confusing // Slowly paced // As much as I loved the basic plot, I just don't think it was executed phenomenally; overall, I just didn't find it as electrifying as I expected it to be // Alex's voice is monotonous—it just didn't capture my attention most of the time

Verdict


Tied closely to common themes of Greek tragedy including revenge, fate vs. free will, and obsession, The Furies is a compelling exploration of the power that comes with awareness and education, as well as the power of naïve youth. While I found this novel to be thought-provoking in its discussion of grief and humanity, the thriller aspects were lost on me because of the rather anticlimactic ending—it could have been accomplished more cleverly. Regardless, Natalie Haynes's unusual plot and smooth-flowing storytelling combine memorably in this debut; it's certainly unlike any other book I've read before Americanflag

6 hearts: Decent for a first read, but I'm not going back; this book is decidedly average (whatever that means!) (x)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Fallen Land by Taylor Brown Giveaway! (US/Can only)

Fallen Land
Taylor Brown

Fallen Land is Taylor Brown's debut novel set in the final year of the Civil War, as a young couple on horseback flees a dangerous band of marauders who seek a bounty reward.

Callum, a seasoned horse thief at fifteen years old, came to America from his native Ireland as an orphan. Ava, her father and brother lost to the war, hides in her crumbling home until Callum determines to rescue her from the bands of hungry soldiers pillaging the land, leaving destruction in their wake. Ava and Callum have only each other in the world and their remarkable horse, Reiver, who carries them through the destruction that is the South.

Pursued relentlessly by a murderous slave hunter, tracking dogs, and ruthless ex-partisan rangers, the couple race through a beautiful but ruined land, surviving on food they glean from abandoned farms and the occasional kindness of strangers.

In the end, as they intersect with the scorching destruction of Sherman's March, the couple seek a safe haven where they can make a home and begin to rebuild their lives.

Dramatic and thrillingly written with an uncanny eye for glimpses of beauty in a ravaged landscape, Fallen Land is a love story at its core, and an unusually assured first novel by award-winning young author Taylor Brown.

Giveaway!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of Fallen Land—yay!!

To enter, all you have to do is tell me in the comments below:
What's something someone said that forever changed the way you think? Whether it be a direct conversation or a quote you really like!
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Taylor and I really want to hear from you guys! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publisher—a huge thank you to the lovely folks at St. Martin's Press!
Giveaway ends February 5th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US and Canada readers only—sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar for the list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide. There are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Newsmakers by Lis Wiehl Giveaway! (US only)

The Newsmakers
Lis Wiehl, with Sebastian Stuart

TV reporter Erica Sparks has become a superstar overnight. But is it due to her hard work and talent? Or is she at the center of a spiraling conspiracy?

Erica Sparks is a beautiful and ambitious reporter who has just landed her dream job at Global News Network in New York. And while it was hard to leave Jenny, her cherished eight-year-old daughter, in the custody of her ex-husband, Erica is determined to succeed in the cutthroat world of big-time broadcasting. She can only hope her troubled past won’t come back to sabotage her dreams.

Although the wounds from her divorce are still fresh, Erica can’t deny the chemistry between her and her new producer, the handsome and empathic Greg Underwood. But a relationship is the last thing she wants right now.

On her very first assignment, Erica inadvertently witnesses—and films—a horrific tragedy, scooping all the other networks. Mere weeks later, another tragedy strikes—again, right in front of Erica and her cameras.

Her career skyrockets overnight, but Erica is troubled. Deeply. This can’t just be coincidence. But what is it?

Erica will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. But she has to make sure disaster—and her troubled past—don’t catch up with her first.

Giveaway!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of The Newsmakers—yay!!

To enter, all you have to do is tell me in the comments below:
What kinds of things do you tend not to believe in the news?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Lis and I really want to hear from you guys! :)

I'm pretty weary of articles in the popular press about psychological experiments that say "Studies show..." and act like a correlation (or even an insignificant relationship) is a causation. As a psychology major, this stuff just irks me and I never choose to fully believe it without investigating the primary research!

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publicist—a huge thank you to the lovely folks at FSB Media!
Giveaway ends February 3rd at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US readers only—sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar for the list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide. There are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Top 5 Guilty Pleasure Foods by Elizabeth LaBan, Author of The Restaurant Critic's Wife + Giveaway! (US/Can only)

The Restaurant Critic's Wife
Elizabeth LaBan

What could be better than being married to a restaurant critic? All those amazing meals at the best restaurants... pure nirvana, right? Well, Lila Soto, the heroine of Elizabeth LaBan’s charming new novel, The Restaurant Critic’s Wife, might tell you otherwise. Sure the food is heavenly, but the downsides are considerable—especially being married to a man who is obsessed with his job and paranoid to the point of absurdity about being “outed” from his anonymity. Add to the scenario the fact that Lila has given up her own career to follow her husband’s job to a new, unfamiliar city, and that she is now a fulltime stay-at-home mom—a gig she never aspired to, despite loving her kids—and you begin to see why Lila is doubting every life decision she’s ever made.

Though it is not an autobiography by any means, it can’t be overlooked that Elizabeth LaBan is herself married to Philadelphia restaurant critic Craig LaBan. “This book wouldn’t exist without my husband,” she says, “who brings excitement, adventure, love, and great food into our lives every day, and has always been open to my writing a novel about a woman who is married to a wacky restaurant critic. For the record, Craig is not obsessive or controlling like Sam—and Craig did not tell me to say that.” But, even if her main characters are fictitious, there is no denying that Elizabeth draws on aspects of her own life to lend a delicious verisimilitude to the novel.

The Restaurant Critic’s Wife is a charming portrait of the complexities of life that many women face when dealing with their marriages, their children, their friendships, and their careers. All the talk about exquisite food is merely the icing on a one-of-a-kind cake.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones Giveaway! (US/Can only)

The Dirt on Ninth Grave (Charley Davidson #9)
Darynda Jones

In a small village in New York Charley Davidson is living as Jane Doe, a girl with no memory of who she is or where she came from. So when she is working at a diner and slowly begins to realize she can see dead people, she's more than a little taken aback. Stranger still are the people entering her life. They seem to know things about her. Things they hide with lies and half-truths. Soon, she senses something far darker. A force that wants to cause her harm, she is sure of it. Her saving grace comes in the form of a new friend she feels she can confide in and the fry cook, a devastatingly handsome man whose smile is breathtaking and touch is scalding. He stays close, and she almost feels safe with him around.

But no one can outrun their past, and the more lies that swirl around her-even from her new and trusted friends-the more disoriented she becomes, until she is confronted by a man who claims to have been sent to kill her. Sent by the darkest force in the universe. A force that absolutely will not stop until she is dead. Thankfully, she has a Rottweiler. But that doesn't help in her quest to find her identity and recover what she's lost. That will take all her courage and a touch of the power she feels flowing like electricity through her veins. She almost feels sorry for him. The devil in blue jeans. The disarming fry cook who lies with every breath he takes. She will get to the bottom of what he knows if it kills her. Or him. Either way.

Giveaway!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of The Dirt on Ninth Grave—yay!!

To enter, all you have to do is tell me in the comments below:
What do you believe is something all parents should teach their children? Regardless of culture, gender, etc.
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Darynda and I really want to hear from you guys! :)

Being considerate of others' time is a huge thing that I think most children don't grow up learning (which carries on to adulthood and is a significant problem). Things like sticking to plans, notifying ahead of absences or lateness, generally showing up on time, etc. As I've grown older I realize how reckless I was when I was younger, and how strictly my parents would try to keep me in check to teach me to be considerate of others' time. Fortunately I realize why they pushed it so hard, and now I try to incorporate it in my life daily... UNfortunately, many adults I know do not realize the same.

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publicist—a huge thank you to the lovely folks over at FSB Media!
Giveaway ends January 27th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US and Canada residents only—sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide. There are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Deep by Jaine Diamond Giveaway! (Open Internationally!)

Deep
Jaine Diamond

The more lines they cross, the deeper they get...

Top cadet Lana Marsden lives by the rules. The most important rule of all: no messing around with an officer. She learned that one the hard way.

Now her only desire is to survive the grueling DEEP Training program and leave that scandalous past behind.

When she reports to Station Six amid wild rumors of erotic hazing rituals and sadomasochistic games, she’s not prepared for any of the rumors to be true—or for her insatiable attraction to Sergeant “Catch” Durant, her tattooed rebel of a trainer.

One touch from Catch, and Lana knows she’s in trouble. One night of white-hot ecstasy, and the rules melt away.

Catch knows sweet, sexy Lana is forbidden. She’s his trainee, and her overprotective brother is his best friend. But one taste and Catch knows the last woman he’s supposed to touch will be the one to bring him to his knees. Which is exactly where he wants to be...

A cadet with a secret.
An officer with a secret kink.
A whole lot of rules to be broken.
Buy the book from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Smashwords

Giveaway!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy and one electronic copy of Deep—that's two winners total. Yay!!

To enter, all you have to do is answer Jaine's question in the comments below:
Which is your preferred alpha male?
1) cowboy
2) biker bad boy
3) military hero
4) highlander
5) billionaire
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Jaine and I really want to hear from you guys! :)

Okay!! This is a more complicated question (and answer) than you'd think. So let's just say the military hero is my "fantasy romance hero," but would I actually go for one? Not sure. I have a thing for biker bad boys... Although dating a billionaire wouldn't be so bad LOL!

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the author—a huge thank you to the lovely Jaine Diamond!
Giveaway ends January 25th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open internationally—woohoo! However, the print copy is limited to US and Canada readers only. Everyone else can only enter for the eBook.
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Friday, January 8, 2016

2 Heart Review: Mastered by Maya Banks

Mastered (The Enforcers #1)
Maya Banks

Page Count: 358

Release Date: December 29th, 2015
Publisher: Berkley (Penguin Random House)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Sullivan and Partners!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Breathless Trilogy comes the first novel in the Enforcers series—a bold new direction in erotic romance that explores the games men and women play, and the price they’re willing to pay for pleasure. 

What he wants, he takes with no remorse or guilt.

She stood out in his club like a gem, unspoiled and untouched. A lamb among wolves, she clearly didn’t belong. Drawn to her innocence he watched as she was surrounded by men who saw what he did—but no one but him could touch her. He summoned her to his private quarters. He sensed her fear. He also recognized the desire in her eyes. And he knew she wouldn’t leave before he possessed her. She had no need to know his secrets. Not until he had her under his complete and utter control.

What he wants, she isn’t sure she can give him.

The moment he told her want he wanted, she couldn’t resist. Instinct told her to run, but her heart said stay and walk the fine line between pleasure and pain. Though she wasn’t sure she could ever completely surrender, the primal part of her wanted to try, even knowing this man could break her in ways she never imagined. Because once he possessed her, he owned her and it would be too late to turn back. She can only pray that he doesn’t destroy her in the end.

Review


DNF @ 27%

I'm going to preface this review by acknowledging how painful it is to write. Maya Banks's KGI series is one of my favorite romantic suspense series ever, so I was over the moon when given the opportunity to give her new trilogy, The Enforcers, a shot.

Unfortunately, I have almost nothing good to say about Mastered, the first installment. I can't bash it completely or discredit her as an author because I know what she's capable of, but Mastered is a cheap, clichéd Fifty Shades knockoff, featuring even more despicable characters and written in as equally ridiculous writing style.

Mastered begins with Evangeline (literally, "angel") stuck in a wonderfully stupid scenario: her best friends/roommates collectively dolling her up for a night at Impulse, the most exclusive and expensive club in all of New York; of course, this is accompanied by some of the worst monologues of vain, gratuitous compliment barf I've ever read:
"You look hot. And I don't say that as your best friend trying to make you feel better about yourself. I say that as another female who is aware that a much hotter female is in her territory and I'd like to scratch her eyes out because I know I don't have a chance in hell of looking as good as she does."
"You don't get it, Vangie. And hell, I think that's half the turn-on for guys. You have no clue how beautiful you are. You're all big eyes, gorgeous hair, a figure to die for and you're good and sweet to your soul. If you had any hint of interest, you'd have men tripping over themselves to get next to you. They'd treat you like the queen you deserve to be treated as, but you honestly have no idea and that just makes them want you even more."
And of course, Evangeline bats these "you're sooooo hot" statements away—the innocent, doe-eyed, clueless saint she is:
[She] shook her head, utterly baffled. "You guys are crazy. I'm a twenty-three-year-old recently ex-virgin who's as gauche as they. I'm barely off the farm and have a southern drawl that makes New Yorkers roll their eyes and want to pat me on the head and say, 'Well, bless your heart.'"
Because we couldn't just have a flawless bombshell main character; we needed a completely un-self-realized idiot bombshell main character.

This huge night at Impulse is solely for the purpose of pissing off her abusive ex-boyfriend, Eddie, whom they know will be at the club that night, to "show him what he missed out on." As if that isn't immature enough, her friends are sending her alone, via taxi, because they only have one VIP pass among the five of them. Already, this is sounding like a bad teen rom-com, because there has to be a punchline to it. But there isn't. A girl alone in a dark sex club to confront her maniacal jackass ex? At least her friends are looking out for her safety. (The sex club part is a spoiler technically, but it won't spoil anything for you because it really is irrelevant).

The owner of Impulse, of course, is the predatory, unstable, neurotic Drake Donovan, who isn't only strong, tall, and handsome, but also rich, powerful, mean, and dominant in every which way, including in the bedroom. Oooh. Drake notices Evangeline standing out in Impulse like a sore thumb (hello? She's completely insecure and alone!) and it's love at first sight. He knows she's different, worth fighting for, etc. Just by looking at her from afar.

My immediate problem with Drake was not his all-encompassing dominant personality, but his utter lack of reason or manners. Yes, he's obviously a Dom who gets whatever he wants because he knows he can, but at the expense of treating others disrespectfully and being a temperamental dickhead. Drake treats any woman who isn't Evangeline like garbage, with very little forethought that goes into his infuriating thoughts and actions. Not sexy, not cute:
"Oh, I know damn well what I'm passing on," he drawled. "And I couldn't be any less interested in a skank who throws herself at me with promises to please me when the very sight of you displeases me very much."
Normally I would have powered on, but when Drake pretty much sexually assaults Evangeline upon their first meeting—yes, first—and it's supposed to be a sexy scene, but is so poorly written that it wouldn't have been sexy anyway, I knew at that moment that I couldn't give this book more than 1 star. It was just too outrageous (unrealistic, weird, strangely and coarsely executed) for me to continue.

I stopped reading completely when Drake, upon their second meeting, offers Evangeline a magical, optimistic solution to her current woes, including a new place to live (for free), complete responsibility over her financial worries, as well as her family's, and her roommates' (since they will be short one person's portion of rent if Evangeline moves in with him, after all), AND spoil her materialistically AND give her the best sex of her life. ...What? Literally, he spits out one paragraph saying all this and I knew I was done.

I wish I could tell you that it gets better, or the characters get some sense knocked into them, or the sex scenes improve, but alas, 100 or so pages in, I was faced with the same frustrating, static story, so I gave up. I don't know how the book ends, other than that there's a cliffhanger ending since the sequel, Dominated, is a direct continuation of Mastered—which I find distressing—so I can't comment on the broader story elements, such as the climax or ending. I have very little motivation to find out however, and when I finally put this book down, I was overcome with a giant wave of relief.

Pros


I thought I was a Maya Banks fan before this—it's really making me rethink my position though // Intriguing (albeit unoriginal) plot that had potential

Cons


Everything else. Every single thing.

Love


Here's a collection of my favorite quotes due to their WTF-ness. I stopped at three because Drake's unreasonably hilarious behavior just goes on and on and on; consider this section a preview. It's NSFW, but mostly because you'll be laughing very hard which will make your boss and coworkers very suspicious. Unfortunately, it's also actually NSFW (warning: poorly executed smut ahead) so you don't want to be caught reading this in public:
"He sat her ass on the edge of his desk and with an impatient gesture, he swept the surface of his work area clean, knocking the contents to the floor. Shit scattered in all directions and her eyes widened, her pupils dilated so that only a thin ring of blue circled the black orbs as she stared warily at him.
Not only does this start off with a stock scene from any B-grade office porno, but that dilation thing just freaks me out. My pupils looked like that the one time I tried LSD, and it wasn't as angelic as the author makes it out to be.
It had taken every ounce of his restraint not to tear his pants down and plunge so deeply into her that she would feel him to her soul.
She would feel him TO HER SOUL. Because his peter's that big. Ha ha. Get it??
He was becoming more pissed by the minute, and he was seething as he stared at her. The idea of those bastards putting their hands on what he'd already claimed, fondling her, disrespecting her, had his teeth on edge, and his temper, already bad enough, was becoming overwhelmingly foul.
To provide some context, this is all in response to finding out that Evangeline works a night job as a bartender. A FREAKIN' BARTENDER. And this is literally the second time they've met, and he's already marked her as "what he'd already claimed." This dude has no chill.

Verdict


A nasty "hero," a moronic heroine, unintentionally comical dialogue, and a ludicrous storyline all litter this first installment of The Enforcers. Full of clichéd scenes, overused phrases, and a completely unoriginal and unappealing plot, Mastered is not Maya Banks's best work. Not only did I find the story intolerable, but also the writing unrefined and unseasoned. I'm sure there are authors out there who could have made even this smutty, absurd plot work, but Banks is not one of them. I cannot recommend Mastered to any audience—even romance and BDSM lovers won't find much to enjoyment in this—and I'm glad I didn't bother finishing it; reading this was ever only bad for my blood pressure Americanflag

2 hearts: A lost cause for me, although it may not be for others; did not finish and did not enjoy (x)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

7 Heart Review: Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern

Rules for 50/50 Chances
Kate McGovern

Page Count: 342

Release Date: November 24th, 2015
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers (MacMillan)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Goldberg McDuffie Communications!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

If you could find out how it all ends, would you?

Seventeen-year-old Rose Levenson has a decision to make: Does she want to know how she's going to die? Because when Rose turns eighteen, she can take the test that tells her if she carries the genetic mutation for Huntington's disease, the degenerative condition that is slowly killing her mother.

With a fifty-fifty shot at inheriting her family's genetic curse, Rose is skeptical about pursuing anything that presumes she'll live to be a healthy adult—including her dream career in ballet and the possibility of falling in love. But when she meets a boy from a similarly flawed genetic pool and gets an audition for a dance scholarship across the country, Rose begins to question her carefully laid rules.
I'm not sure I'll ever really know if I want to know. It sort of depends on the answer, doesn't it? I mean, obviously, if I don't carry the gene, it would be nice to know that now. But if I do... I don't know. In the interim, every time I drop a pencil, or mess up a turn in rehearsal, or trip over my own feet—which is more or less all the time—I wonder if it's Huntington's. This is ridiculous, I know, because even if I am carrying the mutation, it's super rare for symptoms to show up before your thirties or even later. But still. That's the thing about the uncertainty. It puts the possibility of this disease in everything. 

Rose Levenson lives by four rules:

1. Don't make plans you can't keep.

The Huntington's disease gene she has a 50% chance of having inherited from her progressively ailing mother is set in stone. Her mother will die from it, and Rose can see every day her condition getting worse—as for herself, she either has it, or she doesn't. Regardless, it seems like her fate is already written in the stars; what's the point of planning out a future, if by adulthood, she may not even be healthy enough to enjoy it?

2. Falling in love confuses everything (so don't do it).

Enter Caleb Franklin, a boy who understands what it's like to suffer under the weight of a genetic disorder, a boy from a completely different background, the first boy she's ever felt worthy enough of breaking her second rule.

While Rose and Caleb's budding relationship is nowhere near consuming or romantic—it just fell a little flat for me—I found Caleb to be a fascinating choice of love interest. McGovern intelligently explores race and class differences in a mature way, rather than solely throwing them in as character devices (aka "that one black friend") as I've seen other YA novels do. I totally appreciate how she doesn't gloss over Caleb's African-American background; she incorporates its relevance into his relationship with Rose, while carefully avoiding anything too political or current to make everything COMPLETELY about race. Because that's really not the point; the point is that race isn't something that can be ignored or glossed over, because it does make a different in real life, despite what white privilege will insist. White privilege isn't just about white people having it better than black people, etc., but the inability for non-minorities to recognize that this sort of stratification exists. McGovern handles this so gracefully and naturally, without being preachy; I've never seen it done in YA (that isn't primarily about race) before.

What's so conflicting about my opinions overall is that I found Rules for 50/50 Chances to be stunningly realistic and layered, but just couldn't stand Rose, our protagonist. For me to grow attached to a story relies heavily on a likable—if not relatable—narrator, and unfortunately Rose is my biggest quip about this entire book. I understand that her characterization was fully intentional on McGovern's part, especially since Rose's main flaws are pointed out by many of the secondary characters and eventually self-realized, but sludging through her narrow-minded first-person narrative was a little too irritating for me.

It isn't that she's particularly bratty or stupid or mean, but she's one of those types who wallows in her own pity—in this case, due to her genetic "curse" as she calls it, completely pulling the "you just don't know how I feel!" card at every instance, without leaving much room to understand that other people, in fact, also have issues, even if not the exact same as her own. There's one scene where Caleb, the love interest, calls Rose "exhausting," and that's exactly how I feel about her: tiring, drawn-out, worthy of eye rolls. It takes her a long, long time to figure this out, but when she finally does, I felt like the book finally redeemed itself.

3. Knowledge is power.

The novelty of the book's plot is something to praise, for sure. I wasn't even certain what Huntington's disease was before I read this book, so it was both an educational, and emotionally charged account on how it could affect a teenager's life, even before symptoms show.

The difficulty of living with a 50/50 chance for inheriting a degenerative disease is expertly illustrated from Rose's point of view. It isn't so much the misfortune of the disease itself, but rather a matter of knowing and not-knowing: a lifetime of uncertainty. This is mainly the reason why Rose is convinced that she needs to take the test to find out whether she carries the gene or not as soon as she turns eighteen. It's not HD she's concerned over, because she knows well too much about it already, watching it eat away at her mother every day. Rather, being kept in the dark is what she can't stand.

Rules for 50/50 Chances won't sugar-coat anything. From the frankness of dialogue between family members and friends, and the way Huntington's manifests uglily in her own mother, it gives you an honest, oftentimes abrasive account of Rose's life, which is already hard considering she's a senior in high school. To me, the plot about her ballet career and college decisions fell to the backdrop because the primary issues with Caleb and with her taking the genetic test took center stage. While not always pretty, teenage relationships and degenerative diseases are portrayed with extraordinary authenticity here.

4. Rules are meant to be broken.

As Rose slowly tests herself through the hardships of competing for a ballet scholarship, the acknowledgment of her genetic results, and through the turmoil of working out her first love—and heartbreak—she learns that everyone has their own problems, not exclusively herself. Soon, she finds herself breaking all her previous, pristinely set rules, and in this way, she discovers that everyone's human and that pain is not measurable on a spectrum; no one has it more or less "worse" than anyone else just because of superficial reasons.

It definitely took Rose a long time to come to this conclusion, but when she finally did, I felt triumphant. I honestly didn't enjoy this book to this extent until the last few chapters because it seemed to drag on and on with Rose complaining about this and that, but the ending was definitely worth it.

Amazingly, while the main characters are hard to relate to, the book itself isn't. Rose isn't the most sympathetic or level-headed character, but McGovern approaches this complex dilemma richly and with emotional resonance.

I learned a lot from this book, not only about race and difficult relationships and difficult genes, but also general astute observations from Rose's everyday life, from the lessons she learns during auditioning for her ballet scholarship, to her mom's passion for trains, which she also shares. I feel like this is the kind of book I would have loved to have read in middle school—and I don't say that to lower the audience age or cheapen its poignance; I only mean that it's an incredibly eye-opening and grounded account that has the power to vastly change the way most people think.

Pros


Plot, characters, and relationships are very lifelike and well-written // McGovern's prose flows naturally and swiftly; she is obviously a talented storyteller // I learned a lot about Huntington's disease and trains (look up the California Zephyr if you don't already know what it is) // Overall narrative contains sophistication and self-awareness, despite Rose's lack thereof // Rose's family dynamic is beautiful and diverse; we experience the touching highs and all the dysfunctional lows // Ending ties everything together beautifully, and actually is the saving grace considering how prolonged Rose's petty narrative is, prior

Cons


Rose is not the easiest character to like and relate to (condescending towards her friends, short-sighted, self-pitying) // There isn't anything romantic or clever about Rose and Caleb's relationship; it kind of just happens

Love

"What do I look like without your glasses on?" I ask after a moment.

He squints at me. "You look like an elderly black man. Like my grandfather."

Verdict


Kate McGovern tackles tough topics like genetic diseases, race and class issues, the ugliness of growing up, and the uncertainty—and blessing—of not knowing, with poise, wisdom, and cultural sensitivity in her debut novel. This is the kind of YA book I would like to turn back time and give to my adolescent self: fairly clean, but far from naïve; never happy-go-lucky, but still optimistic. It taught me a lot, and made me reflect a lot, and I think teenagers of all ages and reading levels will feel the same way. Rules of 50/50 Chances challenges perceptions and preconceptions, depicts a genetic disease that is as rarely informed on as it is hideous, and demonstrates that love, whether romantic or familial, is never as tidy or as faultless as it seems—even in a young adult novel. While I did find Rose's character to be a headache as a whole, the uncommon yet well-executed plot will stick with me forever. Mindful, mature, and genuine to its core, 50/50 Chances is a book you should 100% take a chance on Americanflag

7 hearts: Not perfect, but overall enjoyable; would recommend, but borrow a copy before you buy! (x)