Tag Archive | contemporary

Review: The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee

the-secret-of-a-heart-note-stacey-leeAn evocative novel about a teen aroma expert who uses her extrasensitive sense of smell to mix perfumes that help others fall in love while protecting her own heart at all costs

Sometimes love is right under your nose. As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, sixteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of weeding, mixing love elixirs, and matchmaking—all while remaining incurably alone. For Mim, the rules are clear: falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa doesn’t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of a normal high school experience with friends, sports practices, debate club, and even a boyfriend. But when she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the lovesick woman’s son, the school soccer star, to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice you can make.

At once hopeful, funny, and romantic, Stacey Lee’s The Secret of a Heart Note is a richly evocative coming-of-age story that gives a fresh perspective on falling in love and finding one’s place in the world.


4 Drink Me Potions


Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

**The Secret of a Heart Note comes out December 27, 2016**

If you want a story filled with a diverse cast of characters and a little bit of magic thrown into your every day lives, then The Secret of a Heart Note is the book for you.

Mimosa, or Mim as she liked to be called, was a very intriguing protagonist. She was different (obviously, what with her special nose that could scent practically as well as a bloodhound), but she still held those same desires of any teenage girl her age. I liked that she was relatable yet still so interesting to read about due to her unique abilities that run through her family.

The world building, including the history of aromateurs and their ways, was fascinating and I very thoroughly enjoyed the quotes from aromateurs past at the beginning of each chapter. Even though she lived in California, a very familiar location that should not come as a surprise to anyone for the setting of a contemporary novel, the whole world felt so different when described through Mim’s eyes (or should I say, through her nose?). Stacey Lee really went into detail about the different scents for different emotions, and the ingredients that go into the makings of their love potions. The in-depth details of how their concoctions even work, and the rigorous rules they must follow in their line of duty to their special olfactory abilities was fascinating. I was thoroughly pleased to gain such insight into how it looked like being in Mim’s life.

Because, after all, it wasn’t all so easy being her. ‘Cause apparently, an ancestor cursed them from falling in love at the risk of losing their noses.

Beyond the world building that was superb, I really enjoyed the diverse ethnicities and cultures that were represented in the characters. Mim’s best friend was Samoan, one of their main clients was African American, and a star soccer player was Asian. It was great. I have never seen such representation in the YA genre before in one book. I normally don’t mind so much, but being Asian myself, I’m very proud of Stacey Lee trying to be so inclusive in her writings. I look forward to reading some of her other works because they seem to follow this same pattern. If you like seeing diversity in your books, I’d definitely think this story (and author) is for you!

The only problem I had with the story was, oddly enough, the romance. I did not enjoy it as much as I had hoped. Frankly, I didn’t care much for the love interest, to the point that I’ve even forgotten his name. Sure, I felt bad for Mim when there were misunderstandings because high schoolers of course would not understand what it means to empathize with those who are different. When their relationship got rocky (’cause of course it would), I just felt really sad for her, but I couldn’t bring myself to care as much as I would if I had thoroughly enjoyed the two of them together. Don’t get me wrong, this book was lots of fun and portrayed themes that were important. The romance was obviously a huge glue in the story as it’s a story about falling in love, after all. I just wish the love interest had a bigger personality that didn’t bore me.

Needless to say, I am very glad to have found this story. Lee is being added onto my list of authors to read more from, and I think you should give her a try too. Be sure to check this book out when it hits stores!

Overall Recommendation:
The Secret of a Heart Note was my first Stacey Lee book, and it’s opened my eyes to how a well-done story about falling in love, with a diverse cast and a hint of magic and fun, should look like. With every person holding a unique scent made up of many different scent notes, Mim and her family hold the unique ability to hone in on these to make potions to guide people to love. A very unique idea that was marvellously written with a witty and humorous voice, this novel is sure to entertain. If only the central romance had held more of my interest, this book would honestly have been one of the best of the year for me.

Review: By Your Side by Kasie West

by-your-side-kasie-westIn this irresistible story, Kasie West explores the timeless question of what to do when you fall for the person you least expect. Witty and romantic, this paperback original from a fan favorite is perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Morgan Matson.

When Autumn Collins finds herself accidentally locked in the library for an entire weekend, she doesn’t think things could get any worse. But that’s before she realizes that Dax Miller is locked in with her. Autumn doesn’t know much about Dax except that he’s trouble. Between the rumors about the fight he was in (and that brief stint in juvie that followed it) and his reputation as a loner, he’s not exactly the ideal person to be stuck with. Still, she just keeps reminding herself that it is only a matter of time before Jeff, her almost-boyfriend, realizes he left her in the library and comes to rescue her.

Only he doesn’t come. No one does.

Instead it becomes clear that Autumn is going to have to spend the next couple of days living off vending-machine food and making conversation with a boy who clearly wants nothing to do with her. Except there is more to Dax than meets the eye. As he and Autumn first grudgingly, and then not so grudgingly, open up to each other, Autumn is struck by their surprising connection. But can their feelings for each other survive once the weekend is over and Autumn’s old life, and old love interest, threaten to pull her from Dax’s side?


4.5 Drink Me Potions


Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

**By Your Side comes out January 31, 2017**

Rating: 4.5 stars

You know a story is amazing when you zip through it so fast that you don’t even realize you’re almost to the end until you’re practically there. I thought By Your Side would take me longer to finish, but oh boy, was I in for a surprise! This is a contemporary novel that you should definitely pick up in the new year.

Autumn is the most relatable girl I’ve had the pleasure of reading about this year. Yes, I may love strong characters and those girls who do things I wish I could do as well as they do, but sometimes, you just need one of those girls who seem to understand you intrinsically.

Autumn is that girl for me.

She has anxiety attacks and that is really relatable to many young women, me included. But she is strong and tries her best to not let it deter her from living life. Being trapped in a library by herself that is barely staying warm over a long weekend, I’m sure most people would find it hard to remain calm too. (Of course, being that the building IS a library….it might be the best place to be in if I were to choose a building to be stuck in)

The boy she ends up being trapped with is a bit stereotypical. A hardened young man who is going through the foster system and a rough childhood, Dax is the picture of seriousness. But Autumn’s witty (and sometimes sarcastic) comments are like minor victories when they bring out a tiny smile or amused look on his face.

Their romance was beautiful. It was never rushed and totally done right. Kasie West is a genius when it comes to writing romances that make you wish the characters get together faster, but pull you in anyway as you anticipate nervously. This one was no exception. It was a glorious slow-burn process that had you hooked from the beginning. Their friendship was slow too, as Dax didn’t do commitments or attachments. He wanted freedom over anything else. He was just waiting for that time to come. Meanwhile, Autumn was hoping for a relationship to come about, although maybe with the wrong guy.

This story is beyond the simple plot of a girl and a boy being trapped in a library together and falling in love. It’s about falling for someone even when you least expected it. It’s about learning more about yourself, taking care of yourself sometimes even when others need you as well. It’s about courage in sharing our hardest secrets and hoping others will still look at you the same.

By Your Side is one story you don’t wanna miss in 2017. It’s the best yet of Kasie West’s stories. I can’t wait to see more.

Overall Recommendation:
I’m a huge fan of Kasie West’s works, but By Your Side blew me away. With a seemingly simplistic plot revolving around two very different teens stuck in a library together for a long weekend, this story is so much more than that. Autumn is such a relatable protagonist and her friendship (and later, romance) with Dax is honest and full of trust. This is what a relationship should look like in real life and in stories! How can you not root for these two through their journeys of self-reflection and love? You definitely must add this to your 2017 to-read list!

Review: Diplomatic Immunity by Brodi Ashton

diplomatic-immunity-brodi-ashtonRaucous parties, privileged attitudes, underage drinking, and diplomatic immunity…it’s all part of student life on Embassy Row.

Piper Baird has always dreamed of becoming a journalist. So when she scores a scholarship to exclusive Chiswick Academy in Washington, DC, she knows it’s her big opportunity. Chiswick offers the country’s most competitive prize for teen journalists—the Bennington scholarship—and winning will ensure her acceptance to one of the best schools in the country.

Piper isn’t at Chiswick for two days before she witnesses the intense competition in the journalism program—and the extreme privilege of the young and wealthy elite who attend her school. And Piper knows access to these untouchable students just might give her the edge she’ll need to blow the lid off life at the school in a scathing and unforgettable exposé worthy of the Bennington.

The key to the whole story lies with Rafael Amador, the son of the Spanish ambassador—and the boy at the center of the most explosive secrets and scandals on Embassy Row. Rafael is big trouble—and when he drops into her bedroom window one night, asking for help, it’s Piper’s chance to get the full scoop. But as they spend time together, Piper discovers that despite his dark streak, Rafael is smart, kind, funny, and gorgeous—and she might have real feelings for him. How can she break the story of a lifetime if it could destroy the boy she just might love?


3 Drink Me Potions


Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

**Diplomatic Immunity comes out September 6, 2016**

I will admit, reading this book about wannabe journalists had my blood boiling at times. It might just be some odd bias, or it could have just been Piper’s callousness, but her desire to get whatever she wanted over what may happen as a result of her story just made me wanna poke her at times.

Let me start from the beginning.

Piper comes from a family that’s facing money problems so her only way of getting into college was obviously by way of a scholarship. Having won the chance to study at a prestigious school that happens to cater to a bunch of diplomatic families’ kids gave her the brilliant idea that her featured story would be some expose on the antics they throw without having to face the consequences. ‘Cause they’re rich. And ’cause they’re DI kids.

Don’t get me wrong. I thought the plot summary sounded fun because this is basically what was written there. But having to read through Piper’s thoughts as she kept persuading herself that she could do this, write something objectively on people she encountered day after day without feeling like this could all go so wrong, I couldn’t handle it.

And the subject of her attentions? Rafe was indeed something. He played up the antics, looking for danger and not seemingly too worried about the consequences of such actions. I didn’t particularly like him all that much in the beginning either. He was the clichéd bad boy who had a deeper sensitive side that would slowly open up to our protagonist.

Of course, that’s what happened. Okay, I sound kinda snippy and I guess I am a bit, but the last 30% of this book made up for the rating. There were very romantic moments set up by Rafe that made me wish I had a Rafael of my own. That’s why it bugged me that Piper could go and continually deceive him even though he could be rather sweet and vulnerable towards her.

Diplomatic Immunity follows a rather predictable storyline, a storyline that I normally would really enjoy, but at the end of the day, its execution could’ve been better. And maybe Piper could’ve been a tad less annoying.

Overall Recommendation:
Your typical girl meets boy kinda story, Diplomatic Immunity just adds a bit of extra flavour because it involves the kids on Embassy Row. Piper Baird was a little too aggressive in her means to attain her goals which made the story harder to swallow when you’re annoyed with the protagonist. It eventually gets a bit better as she finally grows a conscience – I mean, realizes her mistake – and that’s where the entertaining bit of the book comes in. Overall, it’s like any chick lit kinda novel, being mildly entertaining without sticking out a whole lot in its genre.

Review: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

V23 new typeface tagline.inddEverything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

Julie Buxbaum mixes comedy and tragedy, love and loss, pain and elation, in her debut YA novel filled with characters who will come to feel like friends.


3.5 Drink Me Potions


(1) I just finished it and let me tell you. The ending was perfect. P-E-R-F-E-C-T. Others say it was a bit rushed and there could’ve been more, but I think it was the proper place and way to end it off because of the way Julie Buxbaum set it all up from the start.

Let me start from the beginning (in which it might make more sense with my ramblings that way).

(2) I initially didn’t like this book. At all. Was thinking it pushed 2 stars at most. It wasn’t necessarily ’cause Jessie’s all sad and lonely and nothing seems to be going right in her life with her familial situation. And not necessarily ’cause it was slow. It might just be a slow accumulation of all these things happening to her at the less-than-fast pace it was going. The only thing that kept me somewhat interested was the Somebody Nobody (otherwise known as SN, of course) angle which really kept me guessing (I’ll come back to this later).

Heck, around this time, I wished I was able to escape Jessie’s life as much as she did. I suppose that should account for something if the writing brought out such a strong emotion in me too.

It got to the point where I needed to take a week-long break from this novel at around the halfway mark. But when I came back to it, it was like opening my eyes to a whole new story. Yes, Jessie still was hurting from her change in environment and situation with her dad and steppeoples, but it didn’t feel like just whining anymore. She really was like a ninja, a kick-ass fighter who could maker he way through hard stuff alone even if at the time she didn’t realize she could be so strong.

Jessie grew a lot in the second half. And what made me inhale this part so fast was that she was relatable. No, I never lost a parent (and I don’t wish that to happen any time soon), but her insecurities and her with to be seen was all very real. The pain and loss she felt were also a huge part of who she was, and it may have been annoying at first when it was all that her character seemed to be, but I wouldn’t exchange this part of her now ’cause it helped her figure things out about herself and learn to take a step forward in moving on, little by little. She didn’t solve anything big about her grief for her mom, but the little things do matter. Like patching things up a bit with her remaining parent and learning to tolerate (may I even say “love” even?) her stepbrother and stepmom. Nothing is 100% wrapped up, but these things were a start to hopefully a realistic (but happy) story for Jessie.

(3) Now, my fav. part and what cemented this story together (in my honest opinion) was SN. And his identity. I thought I knew who he was from the start, yet Buxbaum made me guess and re-guess as she threw out red herrings and what not.

And I wanted to know because SN’s conversations with Jessie were absolutely amazing. Their little game of telling each other 3 things (where the title was obviously taken from) about themselves each day was fun yet also made opening themselves up to each other easier. Their honesty about what they feel was real. Their connection over loss and grief was potent, but they knew that the other understood. That even when they felt so alone in their every day life, they were still seen.

So the ending that seemed a little abrupt? I wholeheartedly disagree. It should end there, with SN’s identity. It’s one thing to connect and say all these well-edited words on a screen and not have the person staring back at you as you open up your heart of all that’s burdening you. Buxbaum even acknowledges that every time Jessie wondered whether her connection to SN was because she could so easily be someone different, someone better, on screen since she had the time to edit her words and change them if she didn’t like it. Real life is harder. There are no delete buttons and things pop out your mouth before you can filter them. So upon meeting the one person who kept Jessie grounded since she moved to Cali was very fitting. And knowing that their identity doesn’t necessarily change everything about their relationship.

Romance and grief aside (along with my not-so-humorous attempt to list 3 things this book was to me), this story also had its hand of strong supporting characters. Jessie had a pretty strong and distinct narrative voice, but still had that quality that made her someone I could connect with – a feat that is hard to create well. From her flamboyant, gay stepbrother to the wise and brave bestie she left back home in Chicago, this cast was well-developed, each with their own personalities and problems to overcome.

There were hints of a love triangle, even in the synopsis, but personally, it didn’t ever really feel that way. It can still be construed as one as you read it, but Jessie made it clear there was only one guy she was interested in that way from the start. So I’m not sure you can really count it as one. Ethan, her English partner, was totally a delicious character. His aloofness, hot-and-cold moodiness, plus being a rocker guitar player automatically lands him the bad boy status. But his sensitivity to poetry and smart comments about what matters in life beyond what rich kids at their school normally think are important made me wish I had an Ethan in my life too. He ranked pretty much as high as SN in this book for me.

All in all, Tell Me Three Things took me on a roller coaster ride that in hindsight I’m glad I continued all the way to the end. It may seem like just another romantic book on first love and dealing with loss, but Buxbaum crafted it realistically and beautifully.

Overall Recommendation:
A story full of emotion, Tell Me Three Things follows Jessie, a girl you may feel is quite familiar to you even if you haven’t experienced half of what she did, on her journey across the country to a brand new start she never wanted. From the excitement of conversing with an anonymous person dubbed Somebody Nobody and wondering at his identity, to dealing with the pain and loneliness of moving into her new stepfamily home, Jessie’s experiences moved from fun to heartwrenching in the next moment. Buxbaum makes the things Jessie’s going through realistic and the connections she makes with new friends in Cali are sometimes very deep and profound. After struggling for a good half of the novel, I will say that Tell Me Three Things thoroughly redeems itself, and by the end, left me sighing with an ending that was just right.

Review: Shooter by Caroline Pignat

shooter -caroline pignatThe Breakfast Club meets We Need to Talk About Kevin

A lockdown catches five grade 12 students by surprise and throws them together in the only unlocked room on that empty third floor wing: the boys’ washroom. They sit in silence, judging each other by what they see, by the stories they’ve heard over the years. Stuck here with them–could anything be worse?

There’s Alice: an introverted writer, trapped in the role of big sister to her older autistic brother, Noah.

Isabelle: the popular, high-achieving, student council president, whose greatest performance is her everyday life.

Hogan: an ex-football player with a troubled past and a hopeless future.

Xander
: that socially awkward guy hiding behind the camera, whose candid pictures of school life, especially those of Isabelle, have brought him more trouble than answers.

Told in five unique voices through prose, poetry, text messages, journals, and homework assignments, each student reveals pieces of their true story as they wait for the drill to end. But this modern-day Breakfast Club takes a twist when Isabelle gets a text that changes everything: NOT A DRILL!! Shooter in the school!
Suddenly, the bathroom doesn’t seem so safe anymore. Especially when they learn that one of them knows more about the shooter than they realized…


3.5 Drink Me Potions


Shooter unites four (potentially 5) very unique narrative voices in a story that touches on loss, academic pressures and familial responsibilities. Initially, I thought this was going to be a scary, suspenseful mystery on the school shooter, and yes, it totally is that. But it was also so much more.

I at first came in thinking it would be a similar kinda read like Are You Still There which I read last year. In some ways, it definitely had that kinda vibe. However, there are so many more protagonists in Shooter and their own unique back stories that I’m not sure it’s fair to really compare the two to each other.

Each voice was very distinctive and true to that character. They weren’t simply cliched personalities I’ve read many times over in many other books. Alice can’t be simply narrowed down to “that book-ish Nerd Girl who can’t handle herself in the real world outside of her books”. Likewise, Hogan isn’t just the “jock with no brain and a tragic past to overcome”. Or Isabelle as the “popular It-Girl who cares about herself only” (although it sure seemed like she fit this portrayal very accurately at first).

Trapped in the men’s washroom while on lockdown, these 5 characters got to know each other a little better, maybe in a way that no one ever took the time to know them in this way before, all because of a shooter let loose in school building. So for the first half of the story, it wasn’t so much focused on the mysterious person shooting up the school. It was on these people who really didn’t “know” each other at all, even after so many years of school together. It was learning about what made them tick, what uncertainties they were facing at the end of high school, and just how much they had in common with each other no matter how different they were on the outside.

Alice was probably my favourite voice. This may be due to the fact that I associate myself most with her. I’m not as introverted, but she was also not just a simple cliche. She may love her book facts (that no one else cared about) and could care less about social media or school spirit but she had courage when it came to protecting her autistic brother Noah.

The way the other characters saw each other made them seem more real, like we as readers get the full glimpse of who they were because we can see the subjective (and biased view) they have of themselves and also the objective one from the others as they’re practically strangers at the beginning of the story.

Xander, strangely enough, was also another POV I enjoyed immensely. The way he saw the world was very straightforward. He didn’t understand social cues very well. He just saw the world through his lens and tried to capture not the good and “positive” aspects of life, but also the negatives which make life all the more real. He captured the honest moments we have that sometimes are easier to deny than to deal with. The way the author described his photographed pictures of each of the characters trapped in the washroom with him truly captivated me, probably making it my favourite part of the whole story.

Through learning to understanding each other, these 5 protagonists captured my heart. I gobbled the story in one sitting. It was deep in certain ways. They all had something they were dealing with, something pressing on their hearts. Their lives weren’t perfect, weren’t simple. I couldn’t believe the supposed time span of the whole novel was only an hour. There was so much grit, so much heartfelt conversations that took place in that time period. They laid down their masks to show each other what was truly on the inside so that maybe, just maybe, true healing could take place.

And then the next half of the book came learning about who was attacking their school. It wasn’t as much of a mystery as I thought it would be. The name of the perp was literally given right in the middle, but it was learning who the person was and why they were doing this that made the story more exciting. Locked away in one of these characters’ minds and back stories was the key to figuring out how this day was going to end.

Continuing with the honest voices of each of these characters, Pignat made this novel more than just another bullying story that ended in violence. It was a story that really made these teenagers real and showed the brutal honesty of what high school life can be like. I am so glad that there is such a great Canadian author like her, and I can’t wait to see what else she may write in the future.

Overall Recommendation:
Told in 5 very unique and distinctive voices, Pignat made Shooter both a suspenseful story about a shooter let loose in a high school but also one that explored the lives of teenagers that were very different on the outside yet had so much in common once they learned more about each other. I enjoyed the different POVs, but most of all, I loved the way I got to see how such unique people lived with their day-to-day problems. It felt very real, like I could find an Alice or a Xander in my own life. At the end of the day, this novel brought out the honest moments of life as a teenager in high school, something I can still remember pretty clearly. This is one story I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Review: The Collector by Nora Roberts

the collector -nora robertsFrom #1 New York Times-bestselling author Nora Roberts comes a novel of a woman who needs nothing, a man who sees everything, and the web of deceit, greed, and danger that brings them together—and could tear them apart . . .

When professional house-sitter Lila Emerson witnesses a murder/suicide from her current apartment-sitting job, life as she knows it takes a dramatic turn. Suddenly, the woman with no permanent ties finds herself almost wishing for one. . . .

Artist Ashton Archer knows his brother isn’t capable of violence—against himself or others. He recruits Lila, the only eyewitness, to help him uncover what happened. Ash longs to paint her as intensely as he hungers to touch her. But their investigation draws them into a rarified circle where priceless antiques are bought, sold, gambled away, and stolen, where what you possess is who you are, and where what you desire becomes a deadly obsession. . . .


2 Drink Me Potions


Nora Robert’s The Collector was probably the worst mystery I’ve read from her so far. I might even be inclined to call it the worst book of hers that I’ve read as well.

I’m not sure why, but before I began this novel, I had this weird assumption that this would be another creepy serial killer kind of mystery. A Collector that collects people, by which I mean kills them because, of course, these killers have no empathy for people. However, even when I figured it wasn’t a serial crime, what this book really was about was so far below expectations.

First, writing itself was bland and boring.

Roberts describes the locations and settings in fine detail sometimes. That’s okay. It really sets the mood and pulls the reader into the story with the characters. This time? I just couldn’t stand the tedious effort of it all. I found myself skimming all the long paragraphs about what Ash was painting or Lila was writing. Sure, it was enjoyable to see what these characters so passionately loved to do, but was the ridiculous amount of detail really necessary to further the MAIN plot?

As for the main mystery, there was absolutely NO suspense at all.

The culprit that initially killed Ash’s brother was just given to us, name and all. We don’t even have to guess or wait anxiously for the who-dunnit. It’s literally right there on the pages for you and I to read . I was incredibly annoyed with this.

So then I had hoped there would be more of a mystery when confronting the hired assassin’s boss. Well, that turned out to be a bust too. No drama or flair when Ash and Lila figure out who was behind it all, or why. It made everything so boring.

Then there’s also the fact that the characters weren’t all that easy to like or connect with. Lila lives a life as a house-sitter (which sounds kinda fun, if you ask me). She moves about and doesn’t set any roots down. A gypsy, as even Ash saw her as. But this definitely made her one of those prickly, “I can’t commit” kinda gals, which obviously led to romantic frustrations for Ash. It was all so tiring to see her go through her list of reasons for why she couldn’t go faster with the progression of their relationship, or to read her waiting for some kind of disaster to occur.

Ash was an okay male love interest, but he was nothing special. He deeply cared for his extremely large family, and he’s the one responsible for taking care of whatever problems befell them all. I liked that about him, but beyond a mild admiration, Roberts didn’t instill any great love for him. He was just another normal guy who fell into a bad situation.

Without the emotional attachment to them, I struggled several times to get through the extremely long length of this book. And I do mean, this book was extremely long. I swear half the book was filler material that didn’t really add much to the overall story.

The only thing I really enjoyed reading was the very beginning, with Lila looking through her binoculars and imagining the lives the people in those apartments were living. That’s what drew me into writing in the first place. The joy of picturing the endless possibilities of what was going on with other people. I didn’t mind those heavily described passages in this case.

With a huge, huge sigh, I’ve gotta say, The Collector was a huge disappointment to me. I hope more of Robert’s newer mysteries don’t all suck like this. I wish for stories similar to her older ones, like Sacred Sins.

Overall Recommendation:
The Collector doesn’t live up to some of Robert’s older and better mysteries, with absolutely no suspense and a plot that deviates into unnecessary details that just don’t overall matter. Lila, the protagonist, was hard to enjoy as she had commitment issues. The length of the book felt overdrawn with minute details on Lila’s work as an author and artwork that wasn’t essential to the mystery. If Roberts had spent more time on the main crime and mystery, without giving us the name of the killer like it was nothing, maybe there would’ve been hope for it. At this point, I’m surprised I even finished the book. The Collector lacked the chilling crimes and mysterious culprit that I had come to enjoy from Roberts. That in itself is a disappointment.

Review: Fatal Disclosure by Sandra Robbins

Series: Ocracoke Island #3

fatal disclosure -sandra robbinsWhen a gunshot victim dies in front of Betsy Michaels, his last words make her a killer’s next target.

The undercover agent investigating the murder is none other than Mark Webber, the man who’d broken her heart. Now she has to trust him with her life.

Mark feels duty bound to protect Betsy from the drug smugglers responsible for his partner’s death. Yet every time he looks at her, he’s reminded of the choices he made that hurt Betsy to the core.

And despite their rekindled attraction, this time the danger isn’t just to their hearts.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


Fatal Disclosure concludes the series located in Ocracoke Island. Now focused on a lovely character, Betsy Michaels, whom I admired in the earlier two books, I found myself enjoying her story in some ways more than the others.

Betsy is a strong character, an independent woman who went off to school away from the island and had planned on going to New York for her art career. However, with her mother dying and her sisters needing her back on the island, she found she could love art here just as much. Honestly, if I had such a beautiful island to call home, I’d want to be there to paint my pictures too. Unfortunately, the island itself and island life weren’t described as heavily as in the first two novels. It’s a pity because reading so much about it has really made me want to visit this island for real someday. I never thought I’d go to North Carolina, but now I’m really curious. But I digress.

The thing that made me get upset with Betsy sometimes was also because of her independence. She was almost too independent and prideful of her ability to take care of herself. She didn’t want to trouble others, especially not the man who caused such trouble in her life a few years back.

That was another thing. Betsy’s romance with him was interesting. The antagonistic feelings due to their past only lasted so long (thankfully). Sandra Robbins didn’t blow it up into something so big that it ruined the story. But this also brought out a negative. It left space in the story where their romance could’ve progressed a little more than it was, but since it didn’t, there were other random complications that kept them apart and sometimes misunderstanding each others’ true feelings.

All in all, Fatal Disclosure was a nice ending to Ocracoke Island. I just wished there was more on the island and the wonderful people there that we’ve gotten used to. Instead, I learned loads about duck hunting. Beyond my comprehension considering I’ve never seen what real duck hunters do or use.

Review: Shattered Identity by Sandra Robbins

Series: Ocracoke Island #2

shattered identity -sandra robbinsSomeone—with a very personal motive—has it out for Lisa Wade, Ocracoke Island’s sheriff’s dispatcher.

She was viciously attacked, her home was ransacked and one very precious possession was stolen. Deputy Scott Michaels plans to stay close until the culprit is caught …but that means involving Lisa in the investigation. And her assistance may cause more trouble for Lisa when she finds clues in a journal to a deadly mystery.

As Lisa and Scott cross dangerous territory, they inch closer to the truth— and to each other.

But lurking in the shadows is a killer determined to keep some secrets buried forever.


3 Drink Me Potions


After reading the first Ocracoke Island book, I fell in love with the island and the Michaels family. I just had to gobble down the next book in the series.

This story focused on the new big brother in the family, the events which introduce him to us occurring in Dangerous Reunion. However, a little different from the previous book, the mystery felt a little more flat to me.

First, the culprit was slightly predictable (in my opinion, which may be biased considering I read a ton of mysteries), which is never good sign when it comes to who-dunnit mysteries. It still took a while to get to that point where I could 100% say I’m positive on the identity, but it definitely occurred before the climax of the story.

Second, Lisa’s character was a little more reckless and defensive when it came to her mother. Granted, it was warranted considering the small town didn’t always have the nicest things to say to her. But always fighting with Scott’s protective concern for her was a little tiresome. She honestly could’ve been killed so many times during the course of the book, if not for the fact that it couldn’t happen since she’s one of the protagonists.

And lastly, the romance was just harder to swallow. Both Lisa and Scott have emotional scars from their past. I understand this was the connecting point that brought them to each other, but also the point from which the healing powers that only come from Jesus can work its way through the story. I did like that. Peace that transcends all understanding comes only from Him. And in a beautiful setting such as this island? I can imagine what it would feel like if I were to bask in His glory there.

I will end with saying that this novel didn’t stick out all too much from the pack of Love Inspired Suspense books and its formula, but it still was an enjoyable enough read. My favourite point was the real-life story of how a lamb sacrificed itself to save several soldiers from being killed by an IED. That is the best story I’ve heard in a long time.

Review: Dangerous Reunion by Sandra Robbins

Series: Ocracoke Island #1

dangerous reunion -sandra robbinsA murderer on tiny, safe Ocracoke Island?

Deputy Sheriff Kate Michaels doesn’t want to believe it—until someone at the crime scene starts shooting at her. Then Nashville detective Brock Gentry shows up.

Brock broke her heart years ago when he called off their engagement. Now, torn apart by a case, Brock seeks sanctuary on the island. Yet as the threats against Kate escalate—and Kate’s sisters are targeted—she turns to the man she’s never stopped loving.

Even if their reunion is more dangerous than it ever was before.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potion


It’s been a long while since I’ve read a Love Inspired Suspense book, but I think it was fortuitous that I picked up a Sandra Robbins book as my first. In Dangerous Reunion, we get to see and experience Ocracoke Island off the shores of North Carolina. I’ve never been there, but from the beautiful descriptions of this place, it makes me wish that I could someday visit it.

There’s someone out to make life difficult for Deputy Kate Michaels. On such a beautiful little island that mainly attracts tourists in the summer season, they don’t expect to have a murder, let alone multiple incidents, in the span of several days. To make things worse, the culprit seems to be targeting Kate, leaving messages for her specifically at the scene of different crimes. With many red herrings thrown our way, it took me a while to try to guess who may be the antagonist. But when the identity finally came out, Robbins wrote it in such a way that this reveal made sense to me and that there were enough hints that justified choosing this character.

The romance wasn’t very strong in this one. I think the highlight of the relationship between Kate and Brock was that they wanted to rebuild a strong foundational friendship first before it can ever amount to more. I appreciated this. As such, the focus wasn’t on the potential romance between them but on how Brock could find peace on this lovely stretch of land called Ocracoke Island. Personally, I think this book came at the right moment. Finding peace isn’t easy; life gets way too busy and noisy for most to sit still enough to hear God’s voice. Sometimes His message doesn’t come flashing on crashing thunder. Sometimes, it’s written in the soft brush of the wind or the cries of a bird in the silence. I want to thank Sandra Robbins for inputting such a sweet message in the midst of a fun mystery.

All in all, this is a great taste of what the Love Inspired Suspense line brings. I suggest you give this book and others a try.

Overall Recommendation:
Dangerous Reunion is set in the beautiful island of Ocracoke, a place that feels so real to me although I’ve never stepped foot in North Carolina. The mystery was en par as the actions of the culprit escalates, all the while targeting Deputy Kate as she tries to keep everyone on her island safe. With the additional stress of seeing her ex-fiance, this story revolves around friendship, forgiveness and finding that peace that only comes from God. I can’t wait to come back to Ocracoke Island with more from Sandra Robbins.

Review: Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts

blue smoke -nora robertsReena Hale grew up with an intimate knowledge of the destructive power of fire. When she was a child, her family’s restaurant was burned to the ground, and the man responsible was sent to jail. The Hale family banded together to rebuild, and Reena found her life’s calling.She trained as a firefighter and then as a cop, always with the end goal in sight: to become an arson investigator.

Now, as part of the arson unit, she is called in on a series of suspicious fires that seem to be connected-not just to each other, but to her. And as danger ignites all around her, Reena must rely on experience and instinct to catch a dangerous madman who will not stop until everything she loves has gone up in smoke.


1 Drink Me Potion


DNF’d at ~25%

I was itching for a good mystery with a sprinkling of romance, and I thought, Hey I really adored some of Nora Robert’s mysteries before. Let’s give another one a try. Unfortunately, Blue Smoke may have sounded interesting in the synopsis but it’s really such a bore to get through.

The synopsis states in a concise manner how our protagonist Reena first encountered a fire and thus, set her on the path in becoming an arson investigator. But oh no! The prologue in this novel isn’t like, one chapter long like you may think. It stays in the good ol’ past for several chapters when Reena was 11. And then, when there’s finally a flash forward (thank heavens!), it only moves 7 years to when she’s 18 and in college and experimenting with things.

The pacing is way too slow in my opinion. Yes, the mystery and the fires revolving around her start in her past but I swear Roberts could have written it in a more concise manner. Descriptions of everything , from the food laid out (’cause they’re Italian so there’s gotta be a lot of food) to wedding decorations and planning, it just gets overwhelming. Not to mention, the names of different people coming in and out of the story in just the first several chapters.

Honestly, I think this plot had a lot going for it, but I just can’t make myself go through 20 more years of Reena’s life in this slow cadence of things. I hate giving up on books, but this one really deserves my DNF shelf.

And by the way, I could already tell who the culprit of all these mysterious fires was even from where I stopped.

Overall Recommendation:
With plenty of intrigue that has become one of Nora Roberts’ signatures, Blue Smoke seemed to have a lot of potential. However, with the slow progression in plot, moving in increments by the years through Reena’s life since she was a child, I just couldn’t make myself follow along with the intensity I wanted. It just became so boring, especially with the ridiculously in-depth descriptions of the tiniest details. I’m a little disappointed as I’ve loved some of her mysteries in the past, but if you’re okay with a slow pace and detailed paragraphs, then this might be an okay book for you. As for me? Hasta la vista.