Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. ArmentroutWhite Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on 2014-03-01
Pages: 304
Genres: Paranormal YA, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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One kiss could be the last.

Seventeen-year-old Layla just wants to be normal. But with a kiss that kills anything with a soul, she's anything but normal. Half demon, half gargoyle, Layla has abilities no one else possesses.

Raised among the Wardens—a race of gargoyles tasked with hunting demons and keeping humanity safe—Layla tries to fit in, but that means hiding her own dark side from those she loves the most. Especially Zayne, the swoon-worthy, incredibly gorgeous and completely off-limits Warden she's crushed on since forever.

Then she meets Roth—a tattooed, sinfully hot demon who claims to know all her secrets. Layla knows she should stay away, but she's not sure she wants to—especially when that whole no-kissing thing isn't an issue, considering Roth has no soul.

But when Layla discovers she's the reason for the violent demon uprising, trusting Roth could not only ruin her chances with Zayne…it could brand her a traitor to her family. Worse yet, it could become a one-way ticket to the end of the world.

Thoughts: Some books take you completely by surprise. Last year, that was These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. And the 2014 winner for the title seems to be the fantastic White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

First off, let me address the cover. More confident women than I could no doubt read this book on the tube, but I was glad to have it on my kindle. I know, I know. Society’s misogynistic view of the romance genre should not be indulged – trust me I’m not proud. That being said: this book’s genre isn’t quite reflected in its cover. It is much more a YA Urban Fantasy novel so… yeah. Can’t say the cover really fits it in this case.

Moving on.

White Hot Kiss is absolutely fantastic. It’s an action-packed, well-plotted novel that borders the Young Adult and Urban Fantasy genre. The main character, Layla, had that ideal mix of gumption and self-doubt that makes for the perfect teenage narrator. And as a half-demon, half-Guardian (an Angel-ish type species – just go with it), Layla is quite rightly conflicted. She has been raised in a household where she is actively hated because of her blood and her only wish in life is to fit in. It is ludicrously relatable. But she isn’t just her angst: she wants to be of use to the world and is tough enough to pull off the role as a urban fantasy narrator. Thing Rose from Vampire Academy, only with fewer mood swings.

Of course, like all good Urban Fantasy novels, along come a few big reveals. Parents come out of the woodwork! No one is who they seemed to be! Evil is the new awesome! “No really, I’m a Prince”! If you read the genre, many of these may seem overly familiar, but they are all well handled as to feel fresh. I’ve read about Armentrout’s skill as an author, but I needed to read it to believe it.

Armentrout also managed to handle the dreaded romantic triangle flawlessly. I had not been looking forward that aspect of the novel but it really, really worked. You’ve got two leading men who are spectacularly different and yet so very likable… you can see the cause of Layla’s conflict. I could go on and on about them both for quite a while, but I’d rather not show my “team” hand. Just trust me when I say it will be a tough choice!

Bottom line: White Hot Kiss is, in a way, a very familiar book for the Urban Fantasy genre. What sets it apart is the skill of the writing, the stellar pace and fantastic character development. Go forth and read, my people!

Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth ScottHeartbeat by Elizabeth Scott
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on 2014-03-01
Pages: 256
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Life. Death. And...Love?

Emma would give anything to talk to her mother one last time. Tell her about her slipping grades, her anger with her stepfather, and the boy with the bad reputation who might be the only one Emma can be herself with.

But Emma can't tell her mother anything. Because her mother is brain-dead and being kept alive by machines for the baby growing inside her.

Meeting bad-boy Caleb Harrison wouldn't have interested Old Emma. But New Emma-the one who exists in a fog of grief, who no longer cares about school, whose only social outlet is her best friend Olivia-New Emma is startled by the connection she and Caleb forge.

Feeling her own heart beat again wakes Emma from the grief that has grayed her existence. Is there hope for life after death-and maybe, for love?

Thoughts: There aren’t many books I’d give the “For fans of The Fault in Our Stars” label to. Actually, before Heartbeat, there were exactly zero. But while reading this fantastically emotional book, I couldn’t help but remember my experience reading TFIOS. This isn’t a cancer book, but it is a book about love, loss and happiness… rather key themes of TFIOS, as well.

Heartbeat is one of those books that hits a little bit too close to home. A girl loses her mother but is forced to keep seeing her everyday. When she loses her mother, she loses the rest of her family too. And while that is all hideous, what’s worst is the shock of it all. Her life changes in less than a second. There was no time for goodbye, no time to prepare.

That she finds someone to love during this tragedy may seem unrealistic, but it is a bond forged with a shared understanding of loss. It felt real and it also felt healthy – so I wholeheartedly approved. Perhaps they weren’t a swoon-worthy couple, but hey. It’s hard to be charming when you are sobbing.

Speaking of which: add Heartbeat to the “Made Me Cry” pile. And, for the record, they weren’t tears of joy. Sometimes life really sucks for fictional characters, and us real-life characters are allowed to cry about it.

That said, I wasn’t quite as enchanted with Heartbeat as I was with Scott’s Stealing Heaven. While Scott is certainly an expert at packing a big punch into a little book, Heartbeat was just a tad too short for its content. At times, I felt like Scott was trying to jump to the next plot point without a proper emotional transition… it was a bit jarring at times, but didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the book.

Bottom line? Elizabeth Scott is a fantastic author and Heartbeat is another gem in her treasure-chest of novels.

Review: Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

Review: Crash Into You by Katie McGarryCrash Into You by Katie McGarry
Series: Pushing the Limits #3
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA
Pages: 474
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Dare You To

From acclaimed author Katie McGarry comes an explosive new tale of a good girl with a reckless streak, a street-smart guy with nothing to lose, and a romance forged in the fast lane

The girl with straight As, designer clothes and the perfect life-that's who people expect Rachel Young to be. So the private-school junior keeps secrets from her wealthy parents and overbearing brothers...and she's just added two more to the list. One involves racing strangers down dark country roads in her Mustang GT. The other? Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Walker-a guy she has no business even talking to. But when the foster kid with the tattoos and intense gray eyes comes to her rescue, she can't get him out of her mind.

Isaiah has secrets, too. About where he lives, and how he really feels about Rachel. The last thing he needs is to get tangled up with a rich girl who wants to slum it on the south side for kicks-no matter how angelic she might look.

But when their shared love of street racing puts both their lives in jeopardy, they have six weeks to come up with a way out. Six weeks to discover just how far they'll go to save each other.

Thoughts: Despite my adoration of Dare You To (review), I was once again skeptical about Crash Into You. I hadn’t been much of a fan of Isaiah’s based off of his (what seemed to me) possessive, bordering-on-stalker behaviour in Dare You To. I just really couldn’t imagine liking any story he had to tell.

Of course, as seems to be the case with Katie McGarry’s books, I was to be proved wrong.

Crash Into You tipped this series from 4.5 star arena into the 5 star Hall of Fame. I don’t give out too many 5 stars (I gave out exactly zero last year), as a book not only needs to be brilliant while I am reading it, it also needs to be a book I think about once I’ve put it down. Looking back on my other 5 star books, that’s what really sets them apart: emotion. Crash Into You had me dreaming about its characters; it had me savoring every word for fear the book might end; it had me wanting to shout and swear through the pages. It isn’t just intellectually good; it’s emotionally satisfying as well.

On to the specifics: as it turns out, Isaiah isn’t the controlling jerkface I thought he was. OK, so maybe he’s a wee bit controlling… but only in that “I am trying not to get you killed” sort of way. Fortunately, Rachel was there to tell him when enough was enough. While she’s not the in-your-face badass that Beth was, she has a quiet strength to her and she hates having people push her around. In short: she’s exactly what that boy needs.

But while she is strong in a way, Rachel is suffocating. Under the thumb of a stifling family and victim of a crippling panic disorder, she can’t be herself. Isaiah provides support that allows Rachel to flourish – in a healthy, not-co-dependent, “this is exactly what a relationship is supposed to be” sort of way.

Crash into You also featured some fantastic background characters. Namely: drug-dealer/best-BFF-ever Abby, Rachel’s twin brother Ethan, and I-have-a-need-for-speed Logan. I’d read any of their books in a heartbeat (hence my disappointment upon finding out that the next in the series will be about Rachel’s asshole brother West… though I am sure I’ll learn to love him by the end).

I also have to raise my hat to this book’s plot. While novels that require the characters to deal with “inner demons” are great reads (Dare You To was one of them), I love it when there’s a real Big Bad in play. Perhaps that’s my genre fiction side showing, but I think it makes for a better novel. Crash Into You’s Big Bad was deliciously menacing; his threats added a lovely extra dimension of tension to the book.

In my Dare You To review, I went on for quite a while about it being an “issue” book. Let me just confirm: Crash Into You is just as much of an “issue” book as its predecessor. It addresses child abandonment, panic disorders, the effect of sibling death on a family, the psychosis of rich people, etc. etc. Just as in Dare You To, this book is a flawless combination of romance and issues. Only this time, the characterization is even stronger.

Bottom line? I am in love with this series. Completely and utterly in love. This book just goes to show that reading outside of your comfort zone can be a very, very good thing.

Review: Dare You To by Katie McGarry

Review: Dare You To by Katie McGarryDare You To by Katie McGarry
Series: Pushing the Limits #2
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on May 28th 2013
Pages: 456
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Crash Into You

If anyone knew the truth about Beth Risk's home life, they'd send her mother to jail and seventeen-year-old Beth who knows where. So she protects her mom at all costs. Until the day her uncle swoops in and forces Beth to choose between her mom's freedom and her own happiness. That's how Beth finds herself living with an aunt who doesn't want her and going to a school that doesn't understand her. At all. Except for the one guy who shouldn't get her, but does....

Ryan Stone is the town golden boy, a popular baseball star jock-with secrets he can't tell anyone. Not even the friends he shares everything with, including the constant dares to do crazy things. The craziest? Asking out the Skater girl who couldn't be less interested in him.

But what begins as a dare becomes an intense attraction neither Ryan nor Beth expected. Suddenly, the boy with the flawless image risks his dreams-and his life-for the girl he loves, and the girl who won't let anyone get too close is daring herself to want it all...

Thoughts: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Dare You To. At first, I thought it would be too New Adult-y. 60 pages in, I thought it would be too misogynistic. But 100 pages in? I was completely sold. Dare You To pushed all my buttons and established – in a single book – a solid, believable relationship I could root for.

Simone Elkeles’ disastrous Chain Reaction (review) and her glorious Rules of Attraction (review) both lacked one thing: believability. They featured a heightened version of reality, in which even the worst scenarios were picture perfect. I bring this up because Dare You To was the exact opposite. It is gritty and dark and as close to reality as a romantic book can get. Thank goodness for that because the subjects it deals with – homophobia, parental abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual abuse – they are all deserving of a realistic setting. These aren’t subjects you can just brush off.

But while Dare You To is a coming of age novel and an issue novel, it still manages to remain a romance. Surprising, since most authors end up having to make a choice. Either you are Elizabeth Scott and Sarah Dessen, or you are Simone Elkeles and Stephanie Perkins. Katie McGarry somehow manages to merge both those worlds.

That’s not to say Dare You To is the perfect book: I wasn’t the biggest fan of the heroine Beth, though I did understand where she was coming from. To my surprise, I did grow rather attached to Ryan – and I could get 1000000% behind a book about his gay, jock brother – but I didn’t get those overwhelming I-am-thinking-about-them-on-the-bus feelings for him that I get for some characters.

Fortunately, this lack of extra connection didn’t stop me for adoring what Dare You To was: a romance that covers real teen issues without glossing over the harsh realities of life. I loved that and I loved it.

Bottom line? I was surprised by Dare You To, and I hope you will be to. Give it a go if you are looking to be swallowed into a world of well-handled teen angst.

My Goodreads updates for your amusement:

Dare You To Updates

Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

Review: Ink by Amanda SunInk by Amanda Sun
Series: Paper Gods #1
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on July 5th 2013
Pages: 384
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Katie Greene is lost in the wake of her mum's death. Sent to Japan, she meets gorgeous but aloof artist Tomohiro, whose tough attitude intrigues and scares her. Then things get really strange. When they're near each other, Tomohiro's drawings start to come to life…

Soon the wrong people begin to ask questions, and Katie and Tomohiro must risk everything to protect the truth.

Thoughts: Ink delves into a culture I didn’t even know I wanted to know about. I am not particularly knowledgeable about Japan*, but after reading Ink I felt like I had taken a mini-course in Japanese culture. Somewhat to my surprise, I was rather intrigued!

Ink’s protagonist, Katie, provides the perfect outsider POV on Japan’s culture and mythology. She is the perfect guide into a world filled with kendo, bento boxes and cherry blossoms. Oh, and of course, she introduces us to some pretty brilliant Japanese mythology: the Kami. These “Paper Gods” can control ink, making it into creatures and objects that are completely under their command. It’s pretty awesome – and pretty original.

So, I certainly loved the Japanese setting and mythology of Ink. Katie and her love interest Tomo, however, I could go either way on. I found Katie rather confusing to be honest. At times she seemed really self-conscious… but her actions contradicted that to the point of being reckless. I mean, I love a girl who refuses to sit back and let “her man” protect her… but at the same time, I felt like she wasn’t always doing it for the right reasons. It irked me a bit.

And as for Tomo, I’ve got nothing too positive or negative to say about the guy… he didn’t make a big impression despite him supposedly being a bit of a badass. Also, his relationship with Katie kinda reminded me of that of Kaylee and Nash in the first Soul Screamers book by Rachel Vincent. It’s puppy love and seems rather idiotic from the outside: I only hope they both grow from it and then proceed to grow out of it.

With that said, I thought Amanda’s side-characters rather awesome. I was drawn to Jun (aka Mr. So-going-to-enter-this-love-triangle), Yuki (the obligatory BFF we need to hide things from) and Aunt Diane (whose backstory I would lurve). I’m looking forward to them all getting a heck of a lot of “air time” in the next book!

Bottom line: Ink is a genuinely original YA novel that still feels familiar. If you love your paranormal teen mysteries but you’re sick of their middle-America settings, pick it up.

* Except for their hideous whaling policies and their annual Taiji dolphin slaughter… that I unfortunately know far too much about. *returns to happy thoughts*

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