For the last three months, I was living in New York City for a summer internship at The New York Times. It seems weird to type that using the past tense, because it simultaneously feels like only yesterday and forever ago that I graduated with my bachelor’s in May. Now, after years of following a clear-cut path — brush your teeth, go to school, get good grades, graduate — I’m left wondering, what now? In a lot of ways, this summer helped answer that question for me, but in other ways, I’m left even more confused than before.

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(Cover image and summary courtesy of Goodreads)

Emma looks forward to the day when she can let go of her past—both of them. After more than a year on the run, with clues to her parents’ whereabouts within her grasp, she may finally find a place to settle down. Start a new life. Maybe even create new memories with a new family.

But the past rises to haunt her and to make sure there’s nowhere on the planet she can hide. Declan Burke wants his wife back, and with a little manipulation and a lot of reward money, he’s got the entire world on his side. Except for the one man she dreads confronting the most: Noah Tucker.

Emma returns to face what she’s done but finds that the past isn’t the problem. It’s the present—and the future it represents. Noah has moved on and another woman is raising their daughter.

In the shocking conclusion to M.D. Waters’s spectacular debut, Emma battles for her life and her freedom, tearing down walls and ripping off masks to reveal the truth. She’s decided to play their game and prove she isn’t the woman they thought she was. Even if it means she winds up dead. Or worse, reborn.

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(Cover image and summary courtesy of Goodreads.)

Sam Kercher is every inch a wickedly hot Marine. Tall. Sexy. Lethal. When his best friends call in a favor, Sam is forced to face an entirely new line of duty—playing nanny for their newly divorced sister and her squirming seven-month-old twin boys. If Sam can dissemble an M16 in his sleep, diaper duty should be a cakewalk…right?

Unfortunately, Operation Nanny isn’t quite that simple. Sheridan has sworn off overbearing military men, so Sam must protect her from her dirtbag ex without revealing just how much he has in common with her brothers. Or that he’s been ordered not to touch her. Ever. Problem is, Sheri’s one hell of a gorgeous woman, capable of making this hard-bodied marine even harder. And Sam wants her bad.

Protect the girl. Care for the babies. Hide his identity. And keep his hands off. But even the most disciplined Marine has weaknesses…and Sheridan is one Sam might not be able to resist.

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If you’ve been on social media at all in the past month, then you’re probably well aware of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. I have to admit that it was extremely surprising (and humbling!) to see how many readers, writers, and publishing professionals are passionate about this issue and actively working to change things. There have been a lot of people who have discussed why #WeNeedDiverseBooks in detail in blogs or on Twitter, including me.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks because quality representation can often be the difference between life and death.
— Sydnee (@SydneeThompson) April 30, 2014

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Publish Date: February 25, 2014
Kensington Books (Aphrodisia)

Sexy as sin and hot as hell, these firefighters smolder with passion and burn with desire. . .

“Fired Up” by Anne Marsh

Hannah Green watches for wildfires from an isolated fire tower in Sequoia National Park by day and radios Cajun firefighter Cole Henry at night to share carnal fantasies hot enough to start a forest fire. . .

 “Sizzle” by Lynn LaFleur

When photojournalist Maysen Halliday arrives in Lanville to take calendar pictures of the sexiest firefighters in Texas, red hot Fire Chief Clay Spencer makes her want him for her own personal centerfold…

“Five-Alarm Masquerade” by Stacey Kennedy

With her home destroyed in a fire, Abby has only the muscular arms of a rock hard firefighter to hold her up and the dream of blazing hot nights of pure erotic pleasure to keep her going. . .

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Emma wakes in a hospital, with no memory of what came before. Her husband, Declan, a powerful, seductive man, provides her with new memories, but her dreams contradict his stories, showing her a past life she can’t believe possible: memories of war, of a camp where girls are trained to be wives, of love for another man. Something inside her tells her not to speak of this, but she does not know why. She only knows she is at war with herself.

Suppressing those dreams during daylight hours, Emma lets Declan mold her into a happily married woman and begins to fall in love with him. But the day Noah stands before her, the line between her reality and dreams shatters.

In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which. . . .

As I’ve stumbled upon a few books with this same basic premise, I was pretty skeptical. Uncomfortable subject matter doesn’t necessarily turn me off, but I find it hard to root for submissive, meek heroines even if the submissive and meek parts aren’t necessarily her fault. But I’m also a sucker for complicated love triangles, so hey, how could I not try this one on for size?

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There is need… and then there is Fate.

Being destined to become some kind of supernatural electrical outlet isn’t exactly awesome — especially when Alexandria’s “other half” is everywhere she goes. Seth’s in her training room, outside her classes, and keeps showing up in her bedroom — so not cool. Their connection does have some benefits, like staving off her nightmares of the tragic showdown with her mother, but it has no effect on what Alex feels for the forbidden, pure-blooded Aiden. Or what he will do — and sacrifice — for her. 

When Daimons infiltrate the Covenants and attack students, the Gods send furies — lesser gods determined to eradicate any threat to the Covenants and to the Gods, and that includes the Apollyon…and Alex. If that and hordes of aether-sucking monsters didn’t blow bad enough, a mysterious threat seems willing to do anything to neutralize Seth, even if that means forcing Alex into servitude…or killing her.

When the Gods are involved, some decisions can never, ever be undone.

 ***

Half-Blood by Jennifer Armentrout was one of my favorite books of 2011, and the sequel, Pure, is just as awesome; maybe even more so. It’s jam-packed with emotional conflict, romantic tension, suspense, and some very sexy demi-gods that keep my heart fluttering and my stomach twisting through all 329 pages of awesome.

As with the first book, Aiden and Alex’s relationship steals the show. I absolutely adore both of them as individual characters – Alex is stubborn and impulsive but she’s hilarious and kicks so much butt, and Aiden is sweet and compassionate and the sexiest, most well-rounded YA hero I’ve ever encountered. The idea of them hooking up (however forbidden it may be) fills me with fangirlish glee, and the awkward sexual tension really carries the book in a surprising way. It’s kind of scary how addicted I am to it, but I’m not about to question something that seems to work so well. The writing is simple but just vivid enough to make me feel like I’m right there in the story, which explains all the angry/happy/fangirlish outbursts… let’s just pretend those didn’t happen, shall we?

The plot doesn’t falter either. The various elements interweave together perfectly so that there’s never a dull moment. By the end of the novel there are plenty of unanswered questions that keep me excited for the next book, but at the same time enough is resolved to make me feel satisfied with this particular experience. There was one event, though, that broke my soul into several jagged pieces, but it’s followed by enough engrossing distractions to keep me from wallowing in the misery.

And honestly, I appreciate that Alex makes a lot of mistakes with serious consequences, because it makes her more ‘human’ and less of a super-special-mary-sue snowflake. I’ve seen a lot of heroines like that in YA fiction, so Alex’s complete lack of refinement and common sense is refreshing, if not a bit frustrating at times.

The only flaw I find with Pure is the constant bickering between Seth and Alex, as it gets old very quickly. Although I knew a love triangle was about to rear up the moment Seth appeared in Half-Blood, he just doesn’t give off the right vibe for me. Sure he’s hot in that bad boy kind of way, but he’s also a moody, immature slut, and just the thought of him ‘winning’ Alex makes me want to launch an apple at his nose. Ugh. Team Aiden fo sho.

I definitely recommend this to all the paranormal romance fans out there (and look at that cover! So shiny!)

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Occasionally, a book comes along that is so delightfully weird, magical, and heartbreaking that it leaves me staring at the last page, speechless long after I’ve finished… this is one of those books.

The novel follows seventeen-year old Karou, an art student studying in Prague, Czech Republic. She lives a life shrouded in mystery, with not even her closest friend knowing who she really is or where she comes from. Among her classmates, Karou is known as the enigmatic, blue haired girl who draws a specific array of chimeric creatures in her sketchbooks. But there’s one small twist – these creatures are real, and they’re the only family Karou has ever had. They include kind, maternal Issa, who is half serpent, half woman; “giraffe-necked” Twiga; parrot beaked Yasri, and, finally; Brimstone, a crocodile-lion-lizard-ram combination famously known as the “Wishmonger,” who grants wishes of increasing denominations to clients in return for teeth.

Despite having been raised in the small shop that Brimstone runs, Karou knows very little about the world her chimera family comes from, or the true purpose of the teeth Brimstone collects. That all changes when an excursion to Morocco for human teeth ends with Karou meeting the most beautiful, deadly creature she’s ever known – a “Seraph,” or angel – that leaves her, and her world, eternally changed.

The one chink in this amazingly creative and well-spun tale is, oddly enough, the romance. As soon as Karou and Akiva first lay eyes on each other, I know that they are meant to fall in love, and it annoys me. I’ve read so many fantasy and/or science fiction books lately that include star-crossed lovers as a subplot to the action, and most of those books did not do this well. Unless I’m reading a book that has romance clearly marked as its genre, I’m usually not fond of seeing it in fiction because the chemistry just isn’t there. I felt the same way for Daughter of Smoke and Bone; from the beginning the couple has the starry eyed, ‘omg-you-are-so-perfect-and-beautiful’ syndrome that means death to meaningful characterization. Akiva never becomes more than a pretty face for me because of this, and Karou loses the sarcastic bite that I’d come to love. Some conflict finally enters the relationship towards the end, but it’s not the kind of conflict that aids characters and makes romance more meaningful… It’s the tragic, hopeless kind that always kills the passion for me. Speaking of which, the book as a whole is very disheartening, a la Harry Potter.

I can enjoy sad novels – as I clearly have enjoyed this one – but reading too many in succession is probably bad for my health. The YA genre as a whole has taken a rather dark turn, and while I don’t mind it, someone really needs to recommend me a book about puppies or rainbows, or at the very least a novel where large amounts of people don’t die in a grisly fashion. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a gripping, wholly original story that takes the concept of angels, demons, and magic to a different plane entirely.

This book has two sequels: Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters. The final book in the trilogy will be released April 2014.

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10 Steps to Creating a Male Hero that Every Girl Swoons Over

1. Give him a tragic past of epic proportions. Someone close to him must be dead (usually mother), and most likely he was verbally and physically abused. Even though he’s been struggling with his demons for years, he will be cured immediately when he sleeps with his Soul Mate at least once… but you should apply daily for maximum effect.

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(From Goodreads)

YOU CAN BE A VII. IF YOU GIVE UP EVERYTHING.

For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There’s only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that’s not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she’s only beginning to understand.

***

Pawn is a fast-paced political thriller that explores the standard dystopian tropes of social stratification and government corruption with a dash of science fiction mixed in. The novel takes place in the former United States in the distant future, after an exploding population depletes the country’s resources and plummets citizens into the worst famine in history. In response, the Hart family assumes power under the guise of eradicating the problem–now, citizens take a test on their 17th birthday that determines their ranking (I to VII, with I being the worst and VII being reserved only for members of the royal family) and their role in society. Naturally, this means everyone gets what they deserve and are rewarded only for their merits! …J/K, basically everyone is miserable and starving, because screw poor people, that’s why.

The book is told in Kitty’s point of view, and oddly, this seems to be its major flaw. She’s just not very interesting and empathetic to me, but I can’t really pinpoint why. She’s determined and intelligent with a strong moral compass, but at the same time she’s extremely naive and a bit too idealistic. There were a couple times where I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and groan with frustration when she decided to put her conscience before everything else. I understand the hesitation, especially for a 17-year-old, but considering what’s she been through and what she’s seen happen to her friends and family, you’d think she’d have learned to pull on her big girl panties and get over it. She’s also very selfish, which is, again, understandable, but reluctant, wishy washy heroes don’t make good thrillers.

The romance between Kitty and Benjy (who in the world named these kids?) also feels lackluster. Their relationship seems underdeveloped, with no true context given for their undying loyalty and passion for one another… I mean, they’re 17, for God sake. Slow down and smell the roses. Benjy is a nice enough kid, but he gets no real characterization other than him being incredibly smart and a lovesick puppy dog. I would have loved to see him show some weird quirks or rattle off a Shakespearean poem from memory or take charge and make some changes of his own – something tangible that could make him seem like a real person rather than a cardboard cut-out – but in the end he’s only there as Kitty’s burden and plaything. Maybe this will change in the sequel, but right now Benjy blends in with the wallpaper.

But let’s talk about what Pawn does have going for it: It diverges from the dystopian formula early on, with a lot of twists and turns that kept me guessing (and reading). On the other hand, there is SO much going on here that it gets convoluted and over the top really quickly. The complex social issues explored are also great food for thought, but I felt they could’ve been fleshed out more. Overall, the political intrigue and suspense delivered a refreshing change of pace for the genre, but the characters diluted the impact of the plot. 3/5

**I received an eBook copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review**

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