Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nantucket Red - Leila Howland

[This is the follow-up to Nantucket Blue, so you might want to check out that review first!]

Nantucket Red book cover
Nantucket Red by Leila Howland
Series: Nantucket #2
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source/Format: BEA 2014 (YA Party) || ARC

Cricket Thompson's lifetime of overachieving has paid off: she's headed to Brown University in the fall, with a spot on the lacrosse team and a scholarship that covers almost everything. Who knew living in the dorm cost money? An Ivy League education seems to mean living at home for the next four years.

When Cricket is offered the chance to earn enough cash to afford a real college experience, she heads back to Nantucket for the summer. But the faraway island challenges Cricket in ways she hadn't anticipated. It's hard to focus on earning money for next year, when she finds her world opening up in entirely new ways-to art, to travel, and, most unexpectedly, to a future completely different from the one she has been working toward her whole life. A friendship blossoms with Ben, the gorgeous surfer and bartender who encourages Cricket to be free, even as she smarts at the pain of seeing Zack, her first love, falling for her worst enemy.

But one night, when Cricket finally lets herself break all her own rules, she realizes she may have ruined her carefully constructed future with one impulsive decision. Cricket must dig deep to fight for her future, discovering that success isn't just about reaching goals, but also about listening to what she's been trying to ignore-her own heart. (from Goodreads)

Nantucket Red is an incredibly awesome follow-up to last year's Nantucket Blue, and I dare to say that I enjoyed this even more than the latter. Howland perfectly captures during the summer after high school graduation and before college orientation, complete with all the good and bad feelings and surprising situations. Grounded in the familiar faces that pop up, it was a pleasant surprise to read Nantucket Red.

It was such a pleasure to revisit Nantucket, and post-novel, I want to go and visit in person one day. The setting is perfect for a book set in summer, and I felt like I had been transported with all the details Howland included. It was also great to see so many familiar faces in this novel, including Cricket herself, and I found myself pleased with how well-developed everyone was. It was a great reunion all around, and I happily immersed myself in this story without a backward glance!

Cricket is the central character, but she's facing different circumstances this summer. I loved that many things - friendship, romance, summer, college - were on her mind as she spends another summer in Nantucket, and Howland does an excellent job juggling them all. Contending with everything that's going on in her mind is no easy feat, particular considering all the emotions (good and bad) she feels. In spite of her doubts and her fears, Cricket finds her way, and that is the main reason I cried reading Nantucket Red.

Everything about Nantucket Red works - the characters, the setting, the story. It flows so easily and organically that it's almost as if Howland is just recounting the story of someone she actually knows in real life. Even though it's no longer summer, I'd still say that Nantucket Red (and Nantucket Blue) are totally worth the read!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Name of the Blade - Zoe Marriott

The Name of the Blade Zoe Marriott book cover
The Name of the Blade by Zoe Marriott
Series: The Name of the Blade #1
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: November 11, 2014
Source/Format: Publisher (Thanks!) || ARC
[I received a copy of this book for review. This in no way affects the opinions expressed in this review.]

When Mio sneaks the family's katana -- a priceless ancestral sword -- from her parents' attic, she just wants to spice up a costume. But the katana is much more than a dusty antique. Awakening the power within the sword unleashes a terrible, ancient evil onto the streets of unsuspecting London. But it also releases Shinobu, a fearless warrior boy, from the depths of time. He helps to protect Mio -- and steals her heart. With creatures straight out of Japanese myths stalking her and her friends, Mio realizes that if she cannot keep the sword safe and learn to control its legendary powers, she will lose not only her own life . . . but the love of a lifetime.

Japanese mythology + London + a powerful katana + battle between good and evil… All these elements make The Name of the Blade sound like a really great fantasy novel. While it was fun, and certainly had a few characters that left quite the impression, this story just isn't my particular cup of tea. This strikes me as particularly unfortunate, considering how much I adored Shadows on the Moon. While this partly has to do with feeling detached towards main character Mio, it is also because of the story’s pacing and a few plot threads that just didn’t fit right. It was a decent diversion for my long commute one day, but really, that’s all there is to it. 

While Mio is a decent main character, it is the secondary characters that really shine in The Name of the Blade: Mio’s best friend Jacqueline (who is an absolute firecracker), Shinobu (who just sounds like a hot Japanese warrior), and Hikaru (who is a feisty, frisky kitsune). With the promise of encountering these three on the pages, it was no hardship to continue reading! In terms of plot though, everything was simply okay – the conflict, the romance (though it really, really, really feels like instant love here), the explanation of the lore. The Name of the Blade was pretty average, and as a reader, I wasn’t swept away – which was a real disappointment.

Monday, December 15, 2014

An Author a (Mon)day: Lauren Smith

I'm so excited to be hosting an interview with Lauren Smith, the brilliant mind behind the historical romance series, The League of Rogues. There are two books out so far - Wicked Designs and His Wicked Seduction. Both novels are charming, fun, smart and swoony, and I honestly can't wait to read more about these rogues (and their ladies)! Without further ado, let's welcome Lauren!

Alexa: Hi Lauren! So excited to have you on the blog. So, let's talk about historical romance in general. Were you always interested in writing historical romances, or even just romances in general?

Lauren: I actually had never read any romances until 2009. My best friend Amanda and fellow law school student talked me into reading them when I told her that another friend and fellow writer Nadia suggested I look into writing romances. My stories before then were "high fantasy" like Terry Brooks, but I always had these love stories in there so I guess it was natural for me to switch to writing real romances. The historical period really appealed to me because that was my natural voice (funny, I know, since I'm a cowgirl from Oklahoma), but all those years of reading British lit and watching Jane Austen movies all the time had a deep influence on my natural writing voice. 

Alexa: Wow! That's an incredible story. I'm glad your friends steered you into writing romances though. Okay, so, one of my favorite things about The League of Rogues are the characters involved. How did you come up with these incredible characters, from smart, sassy women to dashing, brave rogues to the ever elusive villain?

Lauren: When I was younger, I used to write stories in my head about people I wanted to hang out with. It was a bit like really intense imaginary friends. As I grew older, I realized I could "write" them down, and it didn't seem so weird to other people. I wanted characters that were cool, fun, brave, adventurous. Basically, I wanted to write about people I would like to hang out with. So what you see on the page is the type of people I wish I could meet. Dashing heroes, lovable rogues, sassy heroines and smart, loving and brave souls that will hopefully touch a reader's heart.

Alexa: Well, you can be rest assured your characters have certainly touched my reader's heart! Now, not to insist you play favorites, but who is your favorite of the Rogues? (Currently, my favorite happens to be Godric.)

Lauren: I swear, if I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that... Just kidding. I love all my rogues, but every now and then, I find myself favoring one over the others. I am most excited to write Ashton's story (which is a book away from where I am now), but if I had to have a favorite, it might be Charles. His path is the darkest and hardest. He is the root of the secret past that binds the League together. They all met each other while saving his life. And that past, and the great cost still haunts him. He's a tortured soul who plays it off with humor, and he will suffer the most before it's through. I'm a bit like a mother with my characters, and I feel most protective of Charles, since I know what lies in store for him.

Alexa: Ooh, how intriguing! On that note, Is there anything you can tell us about the next book you've got planned for this series (like which Rogue it's going to be about, for instance)?

Lauren: Absolutely! Book 3, which I hope to release next year in the fall of 2015, will be all about Cedric. But don't worry, the other Rogues will make an appearance like they did in book 2 (interviewer's note: His Wicked Seduction). Then Book 4 is Ashton, Book 5 is Jonathan and Book 6 is Charles.

Alexa: Ah! 4 more books and one for each Rogue? I cannot wait to read them all! So, apart from your own novels, can you recommend some historical romance authors or books that my readers should check out?

Lauren: Some of my favorites are Lisa Kleypas, Christina Dodd, Johanna Lindsey and Julia Quinn. They all write very character driven, sexy stories that pull me right in.

Alexa: I adore Lisa Kleypas & Julia Quinn! I'm definitely going to have to check out the others too. Okay, so, since the holidays are upon us, my last question for you is: what are your favorite holiday traditions?

Lauren: I love spending time with my family. My brother and I like to watch the Friday After Next movie, and my mother and I like to bake cookies, and my dad and I like to relax by the fire and talk about historical stuff.

Alexa: Those traditions sound lovely! I hope you have a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends, Lauren. Thanks for dropping by to answer my questions, and I can't wait to read the rest of the books in your series The League of Rogues!

If you want more of Lauren, you can find her on her blog, Facebook, Goodreads or Twitter.  

Wicked Designs by Lauren Smith
Series: The League of Rogues #1
Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
Publication Date: January 7, 2014

For too long Miss Emily Parr has been subject to the whims of her indebted uncle and the lecherous advances of his repulsive business partner. Her plan to be done with dominating men forever is simple—find herself a kind husband who will leave her to her books. It seems an easy enough plan, until she is unexpectedly abducted by an incorrigible duke who hides a wounded spirit behind flashing green eyes.

Godric St. Laurent, Duke of Essex, spends countless nights at the club with his four best friends, and relishes the rakish reputation society has branded him with. He has no plans to marry anytime soon—if ever. But when he kidnaps an embezzler’s niece, the difficult debutante’s blend of sweetness and sharp tongue make him desperate for the one thing he swears he never wanted: love. 

Yet as they surrender to passion, danger lurks in Godric’s shadowed past, waiting for him to drop his guard—and rob him of the woman he can’t live without. (from Goodreads)

Why should you read this book? Let me quote my review in an attempt to explain why I adored this book so: "I really enjoyed Wicked Designs. I swooned, I yelled, I laughed, I was entertained, but best of all, I fell in love with a bunch of rogues. I really can't ask for anything better than that, except perhaps the second book to fall into my hands a whole lot sooner." For more thoughts on Wicked Designs, please check out my review! And also, the second novel - His Wicked Seduction - is available now. My review for that one is coming up in January!

And now, thanks to Lauren, you have the opportunity to win both books out in The League of Rogues series! Enter via the Rafflecopter form to win a paperback of Wicked Designs and an ebook of His Wicked Seduction. THIS GIVEAWAY IS US ONLY.


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