Thursday, July 31, 2014

Best of the Bunch - July 2014

Best of the Bunch is a book blog hop hosted over at Always Lost in Stories on the last day of each month, where we can look back over the books we have read over this past month and give a Best of the Bunch award to our favorite book of that month.

July 2014

I thought I didn't read quite as much this month because it was kind of a crazy month for me, but when I looked at the number of books I reviewed, it ended up being more than last month!

This month I reviewed the following:

  • Destiny by Cindy Ray Hale | Review | Rating: 4/5
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell | Review | Rating 4/5
  • Seeker by Jerome Gilden | Review | Rating 3/5
  • Tempted by Brandi Leigh Hall | Review | Rating 4/5
  • I Am the Mission by Allen Zadoff | Review | Rating 4/5
  • Sunshine by Nikki Rae | Review | Rating 5/5
  • Sun Poisoned by Nikki Rae | Review | Rating 5/5
  • Sun Damage by Nikki Rae | Review | Rating 4/5
  • Carrier by Anne Tibbets | Review | Rating 5/5
  • How to Get Ainsley Bishop to Fall in Love with You by T.M. Franklin | Review 4/5
  • Revolutionary by Krista McGee | Review | Rating 4.5/5
  • My Life From Hell by Tellulah Darling | Review | Rating: 5/5
  • Synchrony by Cindy Ray Hale | Review | Rating 3.5/5
  • Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid | Review | Rating 4/5
  • The Rose Master by Valentina Cano | Review | Rating 4/5
  • Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry | Review | Rating 4.5/5
  • Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally | Review | Rating 4/5
  • Stim by Kevin Berry | Review | Rating 4/5
  • Kaleidoscope by Kevin Berry | Review | Rating 3/5
  • 15 Minutes by Jill Cooper | Review | Rating 4/5
    And my July 2014 Best of the Bunch winner is . . .

    Sunshine by Nikki Rae

    I had a hard time choosing this month because there were a few books that I really loved. But I finally decided that the Sunshine series stuck with me the most. These books just surprised me in so many ways and were really impactful. I was really blown away!

    Summary: Sophie Jean is pretty good at acting normal. She can pretend she’s not allergic to the sun. She can hide what her ex-boyfriend did to her. She can cover up the scars she’s made for herself. Ignore anything. Forget anything.

    Then Myles enters her life, and he has more than a few secrets of his own. Sophie discovers that when she's with him she is feeling too much. Remembering too much.

    It’s one thing covering up her own dark past, but does she really need to worry about people finding out just how much Myles likes her? Or that despite how much she doesn’t want to repeat past mistakes, she kind of likes him back? Not to mention the fact that she now has to conceal that Myles drinks blood-that he says he’s about four hundred years old.

    But Sophie can deal with this little glitch, no problem. Even if she’s putting the few people she loves at risk. Suddenly, those who were monsters before are just people, and the monsters? They’re real. Now being a normal human being is the least of her problems. Now she has to stay alive.
        buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

    Runner Up:

    Random Reads Review - 15 Minutes by Jill Cooper

    Title:  15 Minutes
    Series: Rewind Series #1
    Author: Jill Cooper
    Release Date: June 2013
    Pages: 234
    Goodreads Rating: 4.08/5 Stars
    My Rating: 4/5 Stars
    My Content Rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing)

    Summary from Goodreads: I have 15 minutes to save my mother’s life….

    15 minutes is all the Rewind Agency gives you in the past, but for Lara Crane it’s enough time to race through the city, find her mother, and stop her from being killed in a mugging that happened over ten years ago.

    But that’s not how it happened. The story she’s been told all her life is a lie and when Lara takes a bullet meant for her mother, her future changes forever.

    The love of her life acts like a stranger. Her simple life is replaced with a giant house, glamorous clothes and a new boyfriend. 

    Except someone knows her secret. And he will try to stop her at every turn as she races against the clock to unravel a dangerous conspiracy.

    15 Minutes is an edgy high octane YA thriller that can be described as Back to the Future meets Inception where the people Lara trusts change in an instant. She is in a timeline she doesn't understand, and is about to make one fatal mistake as she faces an enemy so familiar, he’s family.

    I had read a lot of great reviews of this book when it was released, so I was really happy when it came up as my Random Read for this month. Just as I'd hoped, 15 Minutes proved to be a time travel adventure with tons of twists and turns!

    What I loved:
    • Converging pasts.  One thing that made this book different from other time travel books that I've read was the idea that Lara's memories from both versions of the past were converging. When she first changed her past, she only remembered her original life, but then she slowly started to gain memories from this new version of herself. This caused her quite a bit of emotional confusion, especially where her relationships were concerned. She had conflicting feelings about people - some based on her original life, and some based on her changed past - and she wasn't sure which set of emotions to trust. She wanted her original life back in many ways, but then the relationships in her new life were compelling too once she started gaining her memories of them - it left her confused and torn, and made for a much more interesting story!
    • The action.  This book was action-packed right from the get-go. It takes off running and the pace never really slows down - Lara is in a constant race to fix the past and then to fix her "improved" version of the past. It doesn't take long for Lara to discover that everything is not as it should be in her new life - not just the fact that her life is different, but that this new version of her life is much more dangerous. She has to unravel the truth in order to keep herself and her family safe.
    • The twists and turns. There are some really interesting twists and turns throughout the book that keep you guessing. This is the type of book where you truly never know who Lara should trust or what's going to happen next!
    The negatives:
    • The cliffhanger.  The book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger - something that I pretty much saw coming based on what had already happened in the book. I felt like the ending to this one was drawn out just a little bit and wished that I could have just gotten back to the meat of the story (but I can't say much more than that).  Still, I'm definitely wondering what will happen next!
    • The romance. I didn't find myself being completely sold on either of the two boys that Lara is torn between, though I do think the guy she ended up with (maybe?) is the right guy. Probably. We'll see when we get to the next book.
      If you enjoy YA and time travel tales, I'd definitely check 15 Minutes out!  I give this book 4/5 stars.

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      Wednesday, July 30, 2014

      Review & $50 Gift Card Giveaway - Stim & Kaleidoscope by Kevin Berry

      Title:  Kaleidoscope
      Series: Stim #2
      Author: Kevin Berry
      Release Date: January 3, 2014
      Pages: 173
      Goodreads Rating: 4.55/5 Stars
      My Rating: 3/5 Stars
      Genre: Contemporary New Adult 
      My Content Rating: NA (Some sex; Language)

      Summary from Goodreads: The sequel to STIM…an Aspie new adult contemporary novel set in an earthquake zone.

      Chloe is different. She has Asperger’s Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder and probably a few other inconvenient conditions as well. She’s a quirky, resourceful and clever psychology student, but her world is literally about to be shaken apart. A devastating earthquake sparks a chain of events that spiral her life out of control. She’s off her meds. Her oddly-named cat is missing. She doesn’t know what she wants out of life any more. Misfortune and uncertainty don’t mix well with bundles of energy and Chloe’s tendency to ignore consequences. It’s as if mayhem and trouble are her constant companions.

      Will Chloe be able to cope with the earth-shaking events that rock her world? 

      ***NOTE: This review is for the second book in the Stim series. I tried not to include any major spoilers for either book in this review. Since this tour is technically for Kaleidoscope, I'm putting the review for that book first, but scroll down to see my review for book #1 in the series!***

      Book #2 in the Stim series gives us another fresh perspective on the Aspie world. In Kaleidoscope, we see Chloe's tumultuous response to the earthquakes that continue to plague her home. While I didn't love this book as much as I did the first in the series, I did enjoy it, and I think I might have enjoyed it even more if I hadn't read the two books back-to-back (read on for more details about why I think that ...)

      What I loved:
      • Chloe.  I fell in love with Chloe in the first book, so I was very happy that this book would be told from her perspective. Chloe is fun, interesting and quirky - and she knows it. She's used to having a pretty good grasp on how to handle the world, despite her Aspergers, but she finds herself completely adrift when the earthquakes take away all of her routine and stability. In the first book, Chloe always seemed pretty self-aware, but she definitely loses some of that confidence in herself in this book - I enjoyed her journey to get that back!
      • Depiction of Asperger's and Bi-Polar Disorder.  Just like Stim, this book gives great inside into the heart and mind of someone with Asperger's. I love Chloe's perspective - the fact that she doesn't see herself as having anything wrong with her, she's just different. At the same time, she does have parts of her personality (mostly her bi-polar disorder) that need to be tempered with medication. Otherwise, she puts her own life and the lives of those around her into turmoil. Chloe struggles with this - and her internal struggle makes for very interesting reading!
      The negatives:
      • Similarities to book #1.  I think my biggest issue with this book was actually that I read it right after reading Stim, and it just felt a bit too similar to the first book without all the fun, lighthearted moments (which were a big part of what made me love the first book!). Chloe's voice is very similar to Robert's, except that she replaces strange economics references with her own made up hybrid words. When disaster strikes and she finds herself without medication for an extended period of time, she responds much the same way that Robert did in book #1 when he upped his dosage of medication. I felt like it was just a little too similar, and therefore didn't enjoy it as much. But if more time had passed between reading the first and second books, I really think I would have appreciated the unique Aspie voice more and Robert's story wouldn't have been right at the forefront of my mind. It was hard not to compare the two books - and I found this one to feel a bit repetitive - similar, but a bit more depressing and not as much fun. Still a good read, though!
        While I didn't love this book quite as much as the first one, I still think that it's a great read and that anyone touched by Asperger's (which is pretty much everyone, in some way or another) should definitely check it out!  I give this one 3/5 stars.

        ***Disclosure: These books were provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given. All opinions are my own***

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        Title:  Stim
        Series: Stim #1
        Author: Kevin Berry
        Release Date: October, 2013
        Pages: 176
        Goodreads Rating: 4.21/5 Stars
        My Rating: 4/5 Stars
        Genre: Contemporary New Adult 
        My Content Rating: NA (Some sex; Language)

        Summary from Goodreads: Robert is different. He has Asperger's Syndrome. He experiences the world differently to 99% of the population. Follow his entertaining and highly empathetic story as he struggles to realise and accept who he really is, try to understand other people—which he cannot—and find a girlfriend. Especially find a girlfriend—he's decided it's his special project for the year. Accompanied on this transformative journey by his quirky flatmates, Chloe (who also has Asperger's, amongst other things), Stef (who hasn't, but doesn't mind) and their oddly-named kitten, Robert endures a myriad of awkward moments in his quest to meet a nice, normal girl...and not even a major earthquake will stop him.

        This absorbing and humorous story is starkly told from Robert's point of view, through the kaleidoscope of autistic experience.

        Stim is an incredibly insightful book, written from the perspective of a person with Asperger's. I so enjoyed seeing the world through Robert's eyes!

        What I loved:
        • Insight into the Aspie world.  Anyone who knows someone on the spectrum will benefit from reading this book because it's written from the POV of a person with Asperger's (and also by an author with Asperger's - so he knows what he's talking about!). Getting a glimpse into the mind of someone who thinks differently is such a unique experience - Robert doesn't see the world the way that we do. He knows this, but that doesn't mean he can change it - or that he even wants to. As we go through an average day from Robert's POV, we are shown how a person with AS responds the world around him - what he wants, what he needs, how he orders the world around him. It made me truly think about my interactions with other people, and it gave me an awareness of what people with AS go through on a day-to-day basis. I loved this unique insight!
        • So funny!  Robert's misinterpretations (or, at least, different interpretations) of the world around him often led to incredibly funny scenes in the book. I can't tell you how often I laughed out loud! One of my absolute favorite scenes was when Robert, Chloe and Stef decide to play monopoly. Robert, being an economics major (and being incredibly interested in economic theory and history) turns the game into something quite different than your average Monopoly game - I couldn't stop laughing at Robert and Chloe's solutions to the problems of the game!
        • The romance. Robert's plan to get a "normal" girlfriend leads to lots of entertaining moments. Throughout the book, I was rooting for Robert to find what he needed (which wasn't necessarily what he thought he wanted)!
        The negatives:
        • Overplayed jokes.  I felt like certain jokes seemed to go on for a bit too long. For instance, Robert and Chloe decide on a highly unusual name for their cat, which led to LOTS of humorous misunderstandings. I felt like that particular joke was played out a bit too much, though. 
        • Difficulty connecting sometimes. Robert's voice was unique and interesting, but his lack of contractions and sometimes emotionless delivery occasionally made the book harder to connect to. Of course, this is part of the character's innate personality and essential to the book. Luckily, the humor really helped mitigate the effects of this dry POV a lot!
          I highly recommend this book if you're looking for something unique and interesting. Robert's POV on the world will truly make you think about what is "normal" and why we value it so highly.  I give this book 4/5 stars.

          ***Disclosure: These books were provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given. All opinions are my own***
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          About the Author

          Kevin Berry is an indie author. His particular niche is writing Aspie New Adult contemporary novels set in an earthquake zone. The first of these is STIM, published in October 2013.

          His first novels, co-written with Diane Berry, are Dragons Away!, Growing Disenchantments and Fountain of Forever (humorous fantasy). These are available as paperbacks and ebooks at Amazon and elsewhere.

          Author Links:
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          Tuesday, July 29, 2014

          Review - Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

          Title:  Catching Jordan
          Series: Hundred Oaks #1
          Author: Miranda Kenneally
          Release Date: 2011
          Pages: 283
          Goodreads Rating: 3.88/5 Stars
          My Rating: 4/5 Stars
          My Content Rating: Mature YA (Sex is discussed - a lot, but not directly shown; Some language)

          Summary from Goodreads: ONE OF THE BOYS

          What girl doesn't want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn't just surrounded by hot guys, though-she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that's just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.

          But everything she's ever worked for is threatened when Ty Green moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he's also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan's feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart's on the line?

          I recently received Breathe, Annie Breathe for review, and I was really excited to read it, but then I realized that it's actually book #5 in a series!!  I know, I know, the books are able to be read as standalones, but I just can't do it. I always feel like I'm missing out on something if I try. So, I went and got all of the previous books from the library.  I'm really glad I started with this first book because I really enjoyed it - and this way I'm getting to know Hundred Oaks better - just like the rest of Kenneally's dedicated fans! 

          What I loved:
          • Jordan.  I loved that Jordan was this tough girl who really did fit right in with the boys and could hold her own with them. Jordan was completely dedicated to football, even in the face of so many people who were making it hard for her (including her own father), and I definitely respected her for that. I was kind of in awe of her actual ability too. (Are there really girls that play that well? I want to know!) 
          • The poems.  We get to see a different side of Jordan through her poetry. When things start to feel a bit out of control for Jordan, she decides to take her mom's advice and write in a journal, including writing some poems. I loved that her poems were really funny and insightful and matched her personality so well (they certainly weren't flowery).
          • Realistic relationships. This book showed high school life as it really is - kind of messy and often hard to navigate. Jordan's relationships aren't easy and they don't fall into place perfectly once she figures out what she wants. Both her friendships and her romantic life get complicated. It all felt very real - like something that could easily have happened to me or someone I knew in high school (okay, not the female football player part, but the relationship issues). I loved that Kenneally could make me relate to characters who are nothing like me as a high schooler.
          The negatives:
          • Aspects of the romance.  Okay, I know it's odd to say that the romance was a negative in a ... well, romance ... but there was a portion of the middle of the book where I was really concerned that the romance side of this book was a bit off-kilter. Everything righted itself pretty well, but there was a bit of the book that I just wasn't enjoying quite as much because I wasn't feeling the romance. Oh, and I also wasn't all that thrilled with the focus on sex - I guess I'm just a bit naive, but it made me sad that the entire football team seemed to be having sex with any and every girl they could get their hands on. And even the characters who were in something resembling a relationship - it was pretty much expected that you would have sex after the first or second kiss (not even date!). What happened to the world where kids at least dated for a while first? Does that really not exist any more? Sigh.
          • Football. Okay, I'm just not a fan of football. At all. So, I was definitely not as enthralled with the football aspect of the book as someone who really enjoys it would be. I still enjoyed the football atmosphere, though - if that makes any sense - and I appreciated Jordan's love of the game and the way she fit into this guy-centric sport.
            Overall, I really enjoyed this book! In fact, I moved right on to the second book in the series, so watch for my review of that one, coming soon!  I give this one 4/5 stars.

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            About the Author
            Growing up in Tennessee, Miranda Kenneally dreamed of becoming an Atlanta Brave, a country singer (cliché!), or a UN interpreter. Instead she writes, and works for the State Department in Washington, D.C., where George W. Bush once used her shoulder as an armrest. Miranda loves Twitter, Star Trek and her husband.

            Author Links:
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