Kristen Otte

Finding Love and Laughter through Story


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January Book Spotlight: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

For the past couple years, my routine is to post my monthly book reviews on the blog. In 2015, I’m changing my reading routine, and therefore, the monthly book review posts. In the past year, my reading habit was centered on finishing as many books as I could, and I wasn’t enjoying some of the books I read. This year, I’m slowing down the amount of books I read. I also am focusing my reading to authors I love and some books I’ve read before. Since I may only read 2 books a month, I am shifting away from the monthly book reviews. Instead, I will highlight a book or two each month.

This month’s book spotlight is Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry.

Katie McGarry has been on my author radar for several months now. She writes contemporary young adult romance, but her novels are much more than love stories. I picked up Pushing the Limits and blazed through the book in a few days. The novel  switches point of view with each chapter between Noah and Echo, the main characters. Noah and Echo are both dealing with issues in their past. Noah lost his parents, and Echo had a traumatizing event with her bipolar mother. Their school counselor sets their romance in motion by assigning Echo to tutor Noah.

I loved this book. I know it follows many young adult and romance tropes, but you can’t help but love Echo and Noah. You are rooting for them to figure out their lives together. But this novel is much more than a romance. The characters are battling inner demons and learning how to let go and move forward. The author does a great job of bringing forth the emotion of the characters. I was in tears at the end of the book.

Pushing the Limits is the first in a series by McGarry. The next books in the series follow secondary characters from Pushing the Limits. I’m excited to read how she connects the dots between the series, especially since my contemporary young adult follows the same pattern. Katie McGarry is definitely on my list for this year. 6 out of 7 stars

What are you reading in this snowy, cold January?


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Kristen’s Favorite Books of 2014

Every year, I take a look back at the books I read throughout the year to pick some of my favorites. I have a hard time ranking the books because each stands on its own for different reasons. Therefore, my list of nine books is broken down into a few categories. Also, my reading list in 2014 was littered with young adult novels, so many of the books listed below are young adult. In 2015, I plan to read more outside the YA genre and also read more nonfiction. Finally, my list below is from books I read in 2014, not books that released in 2014.

My Favorite Book of 2014

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson – This was an easy favorite to choose for me. I love fantasy, and the writing is brilliant.

Here’s my review: The only disappointing part about Words of Radiance was knowing the next book in the series won’t be out until Fall of 2015. Words of Radiance is the 2nd in the ten book epic fantasy series titled the Stormlight Archive. Words of Radiance is perhaps the best book I will read this year, and better than its predecessor. Whereas The Way of Kings focused almost entirely on world building and character development, the second book dives into story and action. But the world building continues in breathtaking fashion with more depth and layers added to the main characters as well. Since I knew what I was getting myself into, I didn’t mind the length at all, and the pacing of the story was great. I often had to force myself to shut off the Kindle every night to get sleep. If you like epic fantasy and haven’t read the Stormlight Archive yet, do yourself the favor and start reading.

Series I loved in 2014

The Matt Archer Series by Kendra C. Highley – I read all five books of this series in 2014 and loved them. Matt Archer is a young adult urban fantasy series. The series is action packed, funny at times, and heart wrenching at other moments.

Here’s my review of Redemption, the conclusion to the series: With Redemption, Kendra Highley did something great–she finished a young adult series well. The storyline is tied up by the last chapter. Even though you want to see more from the characters, you don’t need it. The story is complete.

If you have read the previous Matt Archer novels, Redemption follows the same pattern. It has plenty of action, but humor laced in the dialog to ease the tension. By book five, you are rooting for the characters so it’s tough to lose any of them, but it’s an epic battle of good vs. evil, and Highley isn’t afraid of characters making the ultimate sacrifice.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series by Laini Taylor – I would classify this series as one that surprised me. I didn’t expect to enjoy a book about devils and angels as much as I did. The first book in the series is a love story, but the series moves beyond the love story into a complicated tale of war and two worlds wrapped up in it. The real beauty of this trilogy is the writing. Taylor’s prose is breathtaking and reason enough to read the books.


The Final Formula by Becca Andre – The Final Formula series is fun. I love reading these books because they are a great mix of fun and laughs with action and tension. I’ve read the first two novels and the two novellas. The first novel is free so check it out.

Here’s my review from second full-length novel in the series. The Blood Alchemist is the follow up to The Final Formula, and just like the first in the series, this book is very enjoyable. The book is packed with explosions, magic, and murders. Addie, an alchemist, works with her element friends to solve the seemingly random murder of magical people using bullets designed by Addie. Throughout the mystery and action, the character relationships continue to develop and evolve, and I really enjoy the snappy dialog between the characters.

Young Adult Books to Tug on Your Emotions

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – My review is below. I adored this novel as an adult who loves reading young adult. My only concerns of the book dealt with the intended audience of this book. But, the story is so good. So Good.

Here’s my review: I loved The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson’s debut novel, so I was excited to read this one. It didn’t disappoint. The story is stunning. I adored the dual point of views from the varying time periods. I also liked the element of mystery to the novel and figuring out exactly what happened to Noah and Jude. But most of all, I loved the story of Noah and Jude. It was so good. I did feel a little bogged down with the long chapter lengths (especially since it’s YA), and some of the quirky language. I also wonder if teens are truly the target audience of the book. It just didn’t sit with me as a novel teens will flock to reading. Maybe too literary? Either way, I liked it. You probably will too.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – I’m waiting for this one to be made into a movie.

Here’s my review: I’m sorry it took so long for me to read this book. It’s been on my to-read list for awhile, and I finally got an audio book copy through overdrive. I don’t do audiobooks often–I simply enjoy reading more than listening, but Eleanor & Park was a great audiobook. The narrators were fantastic. I loved the dueling point of views. It really added depth to this book. Eleanor and Park are adorable and their love story is much different than many of the YA books I’ve read. I don’t want to give too much away, so just read the book.

The Most Imaginative Book

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane is my first Neil Gaiman book. It won’t be my last! First, his writing is stunning. He is able to create beautiful pictures with his words without bogging the page down with big words and long sentences. I could read it over and over simply for this reason. With its 7-year-old protagonist and shorter length, the book reads more like a kids’ or YA book. (Think Narnia or A Wrinkle in Time) But I loved the imagination of the story and how it addressed themes of sacrifice, loss, and good vs. evil.

 

An Oldie but a Goodie

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak– The Book Thief is a book that has been on my to-read list for a long time, but I kept putting it off because it was another WWII book. I listened to the audio book version of The Book Thief, and I found myself drawn in right away. It was a refreshing change of pace from some of my recent reads. I loved Death as the narrator, and the author using Death to create an omniscient point-of-view. I loved the theme of the power of words, and the questions the novel brings up about morality, war, our words, and more. The Book Thief is a worthy read for teens and adults.

My Favorite Book on Writing of 2014

Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeerWonderbook is a great guide to help creative writers (especially those in the fantasy or sci-fi realms). The book is very dense–I will need to read through sections a few more times. But it’s worth buying a copy and keeping around the house if you are a writer. I especially loved all the illustrations and visuals throughout the book.

 

 

What were your favorite reads of 2014?


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November 2014 Book Reviews

Happy Christmas Season! November was a busy month with the start of basketball season combined with finishing up The Evolution of Lillie Gable. I only read two new books (although I did read another a book a second time). With only two reviews, I decided to skip the video post, especially since both books are two in the same trilogy. If you are looking for an original, beautifully written fantasy series, start with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, then continue on to those below. By the way, the audio book versions are also phenomenal.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (Book 2 of the series) – Days of Blood and Starlight is a fantastic second installment in a trilogy. The book is darker than the first, and the story is bigger than the love story of the first. The first half is a slower pace, setting up the characters for the action in the later half of the book. Speaking of the characters, the character growth is phenomenal. Taylor introduces us to a few new characters while strengthening our feelings toward the others. The ending was big and epic. I saw one aspect coming, but that didn’t take from its grandeur. I can’t wait to read the final act! 6 out of 7 stars

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor (Book 3 of the series) – The third and final book in this trilogy was bigger than the first two. Taylor introduces more characters, more world-building, more intrigue, while continuing the epic love story of Karou and Akiva. The story centers on Karou and Akiva bringing together the chimaera and seraphim to stop the Apocalypse on the planets of Earth and Eretz, but when Taylor wraps up that plot line, the book isn’t over. She could have wrapped up the story nice and neatly. Instead, she goes bigger and beyond the chimaera and seraphim to the bigger forces of light and dark at work in the world. I found her decision to leave threads of the story untied interesting, and I wonder if one day she will continue this bigger story arc. Overall, I loved the book and series. Taylor’s writing is breathtakingly good. 7 out of 7 stars

I am aiming for a better selection of books to review the next month, or at least back to the regular number of four books each month.

What are you reading this holiday season?


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October 2014 Book Reviews

October was a packed reading month. Three of the books I read were brand new releases that I was excited to read right away. They didn’t disappoint! Check out the video or the reviews below for more details on the books I read. What have you read recently?


Balanced on the Blade’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker – Balanced on the Blade’s Edge is so much fun to read. The novel is a steampunk romance with a heavy dose of adventure. I love the witty dialogue and narration throughout the book. It made me laugh out loud several times. The characters develop nicely, despite it being a shorter book. The action scenes keep the pace moving, and I even liked the steamy romance sections. I am excited to keep reading this series by a great indie author! 6 out of 7 stars

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas – The Throne of Glass series evolves in this third installment. The first two books were action packed and fast paced with some character development along the way. In this third book, the structure changes. The story focuses on character development and world building with very little action, especially compared to the first two books. This makes the book seem slow at parts, especially in the first half. I knew the story was building to something greater, so I didn’t mind, but I could see how the slow pace could turn off readers. However, the last third of the book was great. I couldn’t put it down at that point. The POV chapters from Manon (a witch) also feel misplaced and disconnected, but I am confident it will make sense in the greater story arc of the next book. I think this is morphing from a light young adult fantasy to a high fantasy series. I like it. 6 out of 7 stars

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – I loved The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson’s debut novel, so I was excited to read this one. It didn’t disappoint. The story is stunning. I adored the dual point of views from the varying time periods. I also liked the element of mystery to the novel and figuring out exactly what happened to Noah and Jude. But most of all, I loved the story of Noah and Jude. It was so good. I did feel a little bogged down with the long chapter lengths (especially since it’s YA), and some of the quirky language. I also wonder if teens are truly the target audience of the book. It just didn’t sit with me as a novel teens will flock to reading. Maybe too literary? Either way, I liked it. You probably will too. 6 out of 7 stars

Unstrung by Kendra C. Highley – Unstrung is the first in a new YA series from Kendra Highley. Unstrung is a sci-fi, dystopian novel where artificial humans were created to be a new workforce. As the technology increases, these artificial humans or “Bolts” have become more and more human. Lexa, the main character, is on a crusade to free these bolts from their slavery. I enjoyed this novel. The pacing of this story was great–it really kept the plot moving. I found myself intrigued at the greater story arc about the bolts and this society. With so many dystopian novels these days, I am curious how Highley plans to differentiate Unstrung. I did want a little more character development and backstory, but I hear there is a prequel on the way to address it. Overall, Unstrung is a fun, enjoyable ya novel, and I’m looking forward to more in the series. 6 out of 7 stars

 

The Girl in Between by Laekan Zea Kemp – The Girl In Between is an intriguing young adult novel. Bryn, the main character, suffers from a condition that causes her to sleep for days or weeks at a time in a coma-like state. She starts having vivid dreams during this state, and meets a boy named Rowan in this dream. The dreams cause her to search for him when she’s awake while she meets with doctors searching for a cure. We also learn about her family, friends, and school for Bryn. On the positive side, I loved the unique concept of the story. It caught my interest, and I am intrigued to see where the story goes, especially with the cliffhanger at the end. I did find the pacing a little slow for my liking, but I’m not a reader who likes extra fluff and exposition.  5 out of 7 stars

 

 

Rating System Guide

7 stars = Phenomenal book – one of the  best books I’ve read

6 stars = Great book – worth your time to read

5 stars = Solid book, if you like the genre pick it up

4 stars = Okay book, maybe lacking something in the way of language, character development, story

3 stars = I probably should have stopped reading this book.

1 or 2 stars = Serious issues with plot, structure, language, or not a book for me.


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September 2014 Book Reviews

This month I’m trying something new, so here’s my September book reviews by video! If you aren’t a video person, my written reviews are below. Happy Reading!


Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – I enjoyed this book more than I expected because I don’t consider myself a big fan of paranormal young adult books. Here’s what I loved: the stunning imagery and the strong female lead. The romance was a little tropey (is that a word?), but I love the world building and the story arc this first book sets up. I can’t wait to see where the author takes this series. Since I am several years behind in reading this book, I get to cruise from one to the next! 6 out of 7 stars


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – The Book Thief is a book that has been on my to-read list for a long time, but I put it off for an unknown reason. I saw the movie a month or so ago and finally decided to read the book (even though I don’t think the movie does the book justice). I listened to the audio book version of The Book Thief, and I found myself drawn in right away. It was a refreshing change of pace from some of my recent reads. I loved Death as the narrator, and the author using Death to create an omniscient point-of-view. I loved the theme of the power of words and the questions the novel brings up about morality, war, our words, and more. The Book Thief is a worthy read for teens and adults. 6 out of 7 stars


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – I always scan the reviews of a book after I finish reading, but before I write the review. This time I was surprised to see that the top reviews on Goodreads and Amazon were either 5 stars or 2 stars. Apparently this book polarizes reviewers, but I’m going straight down the middle for my review. On the positive side, I enjoyed the short choppy sentences and using language in a fresh new way, along with the fairy tale chapters. I didn’t see the big twist coming, although I was a little disappointed with it. What can I say? I like happy endings. I think the book makes readers reflect on issues of materialism, socio-economic status, greed, and of course, love. On the negative side, I never really grew to love the main character Cadence. Plus, I’m not a fan of characters with amnesia-it just seems a little played out. The emotion of the story didn’t hit me either, but it could be great for you. If you like twisty, contemporary stories, I’d read it. 4 out of 7 stars

The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley – The Splendour Falls is a mix of mystery, romance, and history in a beautiful setting. Emily, the main character, is on holiday in Chinon, France. She is supposed to meet up with her cousin, but he never shows. She ends up befriending others staying at her hotel. Together they discover a long lost treasure hunt and learn the history of those who lived in Chinon many years before. The story was good, albeit a bit predictable at times, so I found myself reading to finish the book, not reading because I was excited about the book. This is the first I have read by Kearsley, but I realized this was one of her early novels, written in 1996. Reviews state her most recent works have more depth and mystery to them, so I will probably try another by Kearsley to satisfy my historical fiction craving. 4 out of 7 stars

 

Rating System Guide

7 stars = Phenomenal book – one of the  best books I’ve read

6 stars = Great book – worth your time to read

5 stars = Solid book, if you like the genre pick it up

4 stars = Okay book, maybe lacking something in the way of language, character development, story

3 stars = I probably should have stopped reading this book.

1 or 2 stars = Serious issues with plot, structure, language, or not a book for me.