19 June 2018

Barbed Wire Heart // A Surprising Read That Was Filled With Women Kicking Some Ass

Barbed Wire Heart
Published: 6th March 2018

Source: Netgalley

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

My Rating:
Never cut the drugs-leave them pure.
Guns are meant to be shot-keep them loaded.
Family is everything-betray them and die.

Harley McKenna is the only child of North County's biggest criminal. Duke McKenna's run more guns, cooked more meth, and killed more men than anyone around. Harley's been working for him since she was sixteen-collecting debts, sweet-talking her way out of trouble, and dreading the day he'd deem her ready to rule the rural drug empire he's built.

Her time's run out. The Springfields, her family's biggest rivals, are moving in. Years ago, they were responsible for her mother's death, and now they're coming for Duke's only weak spot: his daughter.
With a bloody turf war threatening to consume North County, Harley is forced to confront the truth: that her father's violent world will destroy her. Duke's raised her to be deadly-he never counted on her being disloyal. But if Harley wants to survive and protect the people she loves, she's got to take out Duke's operation and the Springfields.

Blowing up meth labs is dangerous business, and getting caught will be the end of her, but Harley has one advantage: She is her father's daughter. And McKennas always win.

From a powerful new voice in suspense fiction comes the unforgettable story of a young woman facing the most difficult choice of her life: family or freedom.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Wow. Just wow. I did not expect what I got from this book. I was expecting a thriller which seemed set to take a dark turn but instead got given an awesome feminist read. It was a book filled with strong female characters and was realistic in showing women’s struggles in society both getting respect from one another when they aren’t from the right background but also getting respect from the men in their lives too. It was an amazing read which was wholly realistic of society today but also happened to have a really good mystery/thriller element to it too.

I admit I wasn't completely certain about this book when I first started reading. The characters weren't exactly the most likeable and I was questioning the actions of a lot of people and why I should care for their story. But this book was written with flashbacks to past events interspersed throughout the current day storyline and those small snippets really drew me in and made me care for the characters, especially as it was told from Harley’s perspective and so the characters she cared about (even if she grew to understand they weren’t good people) were also the people I cared about in a twisted way.

Harley is a girl who has been raised to be suspicious of everyone, trust no one and expect to forge a brutal path through life. Very few are truly close to her and she prefers it that way because too many people close to her just means she has more weaknesses. Like I said, it's kind of brutal. Her dad is Duke McKenna and he rules North County with an iron fist. He's fought dirty to get that power and control the area and he is not a man to cross. But that's exactly what Harley is doing; she is slowly dismantling his power base. I will reveal no more than that to avoid spoilers but hot damn did I cheer Harley on, especially as you see more and more flashbacks to the past seeing the way he raised her. He was in no way a soft and caring parent, but you can tell there was love there but as you see the extremes of her childhood you begin to understand why Harley has been driven to the extremes and forced to betray a man she both loves and hates.

Tess Sharpe skilfully crafts a story filled with characters you really shouldn't like but as you see Harley's own memories of her past and upbringing I found myself feeling for Duke. Even though the man raised his daughter in questionable ways (testing her by kidnapping her and forcing her to shoot a deer? He's kind of a dick) but Duke did it because he loved Harley in his own messed up way and she loved him all the same. Despite him being a villain in many people's stories he also had some vaguely good points, he'd just twisted himself up a bit. And then there were good people interspersed throughout who proved that North County wasn't a truly awful place to be and helped explain why Harley loved it there.

More than crafting likeable flawed characters, though, Tess Sharpe crafts plenty of strong female characters which make this such an amazing feminist read. These women have struggled and they don’t have life easy, but it’s realistic, especially in a struggling small town. Some of the women were on Harley's side and others weren't but they were all strong and, despite having men in their lives bringing them down or holding them back, they were powerful. From Mo, the woman Harley trusted to keep the Rubies (the girls who get safe haven in a motel owned by Harley. A refuge for women from abusive homes or for those who are addicted and struggling to get clean) safe. Mo was trusted to keep these vulnerable women safe and help them move forward and she was amazing at it. There was Harley's best friend, Brooke, who went through some awful things but same out of it strong with a friend she would do anything for and would do anything for her. She was from the good side of town who looked down on the rubies but she didn't. She was awesome. It was amazing to read a see women fighting and holding positions of power in a county overrun with men who thought they knew what was best and what was best was brutality and power and women were weak and to stay at home. This is especially obvious towards the end of the book where you will be cheering the women on because damn are they amazing. Just trust me on this one.

It was such a good book and it went in a direction I did not expect. I enjoyed every page and only wish I'd gotten around to reading it sooner.

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? Have you read anything else by Tess Sharpe?

12 June 2018

Strange the Dreamer // An Enchanting Read and The Vaguest Review For It

Published: 28th March 2017

Source: Purchased

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

My Rating:
The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.
I decided to begin the week with a none romance related review. I’ve been sat on this one for a couple of weeks so I needed to post it. I want you guys to know how much I loved this book and I honestly wasn’t sure I would.

I have frequently claimed Laini Taylor as a favourite author of mine so when I heard she had a new book coming out I was excited to read. When the release was pushed back and it was revealed to be a duology my excitement didn't wain at all, I still knew I would preorder as soon as it came available. I was there preordering so I could have those blue sprayed edges and pretty signed page within it. I didn't care about cost because I needed that book on my shelves and in my hands. When it finally arrived I was excited… but it was a weekday and I didn't fancy carting around a heavy hardcover on my commute so I waited to read. Then I saw the reviews slowly coming out for it and avoided spoilers at all costs, but then I saw a small snippet of a thought from a reader whose opinions I trust… and it wasn't wholly positive like I had expected and then I became wary. When I get wary I get hesitant to read, thinking up excuses until a gorgeous book gets left to gather dust on my shelf for no other reason than someone didn’t say wholly positive things about a book so I question if I’ll be the same. Hype is a dangerous beast and many a book has fallen from my TBR because of it.  Sadly, this book almost fell victim to such things.

It took me over a year to finally get to reading this book and it was only with the announcement about the next book having sprayed edges on the first print run which motivated me to finally pick this book up off of the shelf. I chose a sunny Sunday to begin reading and it took me over a week to finish (which in my bookish world is an extremely long time). I wasn't immediately hooked from the first page, but Lazlo Strange charmed me with his story and his dreams. He was not the typical hero, he was quiet and forgotten about and if he hadn't have been as brave as he was he would have spent his whole life stuck in the shadows of a library underappreciated and not knowing all of his potential. Instead, he ran off and risked everything for even the smallest chance of pursuing his dream and visiting a place he had only dreamt about. He charmed me slowly and then I was hooked. I wanted to learn the mystery of Weep and I wanted to see what he would discover. I knew he was going to have a major role to play (why else would he be an MC) but I don’t think I expected how big a role he would play, I don’t think he realised it either and that’s what made him charming. He wasn’t full of himself and frequently doubted himself and his abilities and what role he could possibly play but he was just excited to be involved in an adventure he has always dreamt about.

I don't want to reveal too much of the book in this review, I think I enjoyed not knowing what to expect when I picked this up. Sure, it meant I was uncertain and nervous, but it also meant I was slowly swept away by the story. I may not have rushed through it and devoured it in hours, but I enjoyed slowly getting lost within the pages and enjoying the magical and intense world within its pages and it's meant I've had no choice but to preorder the next book. I wasn't certain I was excited about this being a duology, but I think it's needed. There will be a very clear divide between this story and the next I think. There is a clear before and after and I can't wait to see what the after brings. I want only good things to happen but I can see a struggle to come and I can't wait to read it (and this time I might actually read upon release). This does mean this is probably the vaguest review ever but I don’t even care, I adored this book and all you need to know is that Lazlo is a precious cinnamon roll to good for this world. What else is there to know?

Have you read Strange the Dreamer? What did you think and are you excited for the next release?

05 June 2018

A Personal Challenge // AAR Top 100 Romances

A Personal Challenge
Anyone who has stopped by of later will have heard the continual complaints of my reading slump. It’s an ongoing issue, I don’t know why I’m not wanting to read as much or why I can’t settle on a good book but I just can’t. I’m trying to reign in my spending habits to counter it but I am sad about it because I want to be reading and it’s seriously impacting my wish to blog because when I blog I remember how much I’m not reading.

Anyway, because I’m not reading as much I’ve felt a bit lost on how to decide what to read next. Then Twitter started popping up with various things about the AAR Top 100 Romances. Now, I didn’t know what AAR was or anything, but boy did I want to know what the top 100 romances were going to be so I used a little Google-fu and discovered not only the list but also what on Earth it even was.

AAR stands for All About Romance, and as per their about page the site was established way book in 1996 (was the internet even a thing back then, my computer time at that age was limited to Acorn computers (of which there was one per classroom) and then there was the seminal MS Paint (which I feel like might have been later than that, but we all remember scribble monsters and the fill tool, right?) but anyway, All About Romance has history is what I’m saying. They seem to organise a vote every few years to discover the Top 100 Romances and that’s pretty damn cool. I figured, why not see how many of the Top 100 I’d read, for research purposes and what better way to get back into reading than procrastinating, right?

Anyway, they conveniently had a list of all the romances (in alphabetical order) so I was looking through but then I got the bright idea to put it into a nice spreadsheet, make it way easier to collate together what I have read/haven’t and also which ones I own and just haven’t got to reading yet. I had already read a respectable 30 of them and I’ve DNF-ed Jane Eyre so many times it’s getting a little ridiculous now. I am never going to like that book, why can’t I just accept it? But anyway, I was like a third through the list already and there was about a dozen more I had available to me to read so I figured why not and try to conquer the Top 100?
2018-05-31 (2)
And thus this post was born, me and my little spreadsheet are on a mission to read (or DNF) and maybe even review all of these books. I have already read two more and I’m contemplating a third. It’s in no way helping me conquer my TBR pile of books but I’m enjoying myself.

I will say a few things about this list. I am aware and have had it pointed out to me, that this list is not filled with the most current reads and whilst a few of these may be old favourites in the romance world, they probably do not all age well. Hell, one of my reads has already raised some questions about consent and I know I may experience this again. I know there are a couple of my own favourites on the list, but I am prepared for questionable romance in here as well. Also… it’s historical heavy and this may be down to the audience voting on this one, but it’s something I am obviously aware of this, this is still a list limited by the audience voting for it. And the most key thing I recognise about this list? There is very little diversity on the list either. It’s a reflection of the publishing world in general and that doesn’t make it okay, but I do not fault the voters or AAR for the lack of diversity but instead see it as another sad reminder that the romance world needs to do better at making their published work more diverse, there are writers out there and publishers need to do more to find them.

But I’ll get off my soapbox now and get back to being excited about my own personal romance reading challenge. I may not get through all 100 but right now it’s making me excited to pick up a book and that’s an achievement in itself. I am going tot ry and have regular reviews up from this list and maybe a couple of discussions of things I think of while I power through but who doesn't like a good Summer project?

Have any of you checked out the list? Is one of your favourites on there or are there books I’d be better off avoiding? I know there’ll be a few I don’t like but got to give them a shot, right?