Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Review: The Midnight Sea by Kat Ross

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About The Midnight Sea

Book cover for The Midnight Sea by Kat RossThey are the light against the darkness.

The steel against the necromancy of the Druj.

And they use demons to hunt demons….

Nazafareen lives for revenge. A girl of the isolated Four-Legs Clan, all she knows about the King’s elite Water Dogs is that they bind wicked creatures called daevas to protect the empire from the Undead. But when scouts arrive to recruit young people with the gift, she leaps at the chance to join their ranks. To hunt the monsters that killed her sister.

Scarred by grief, she’s willing to pay any price, even if it requires linking with a daeva named Darius. Human in body, he’s possessed of a terrifying power, one that Nazafareen controls. But the golden cuffs that join them have an unwanted side effect. Each experiences the other’s emotions, and human and daeva start to grow dangerously close.

As they pursue a deadly foe across the arid waste of the Great Salt Plain to the glittering capital of Persepolae, unearthing the secrets of Darius’s past along the way, Nazafareen is forced to question his slavery—and her own loyalty to the empire. But with an ancient evil stirring in the north, and a young conqueror sweeping in from the west, the fate of an entire civilization may be at stake…

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Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

three stars
(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

The Midnight Sea is a tale of magic and forbidden love, set in ancient Persia. Let me repeat that. Magic. Forbidden love. Ancient Persia. Need I say more?

For those of you who need just a little more information before you run off and grab a copy of this book, allow me to set the stage. The book’s protagonist is Nazafareen, a young nomad whose life is forever altered when her sister is possessed and killed by a Druj, a kind of demon. Devastated, Nazafareen devotes her life to eradicating Druj from the land and joins the Water Dogs, a special force that harnesses the powers of chained Druj – daevas – and uses them to fight their evil brethren.

“It had been five years since the wight took my sister, but the flames of my guilt and hatred had not dimmed. If anything, they burned hotter than ever. I had fed them everything I was, everything I had. In many ways, they were all that was left of me.”

Nazafareen is assigned to a young and mighty daeva named Darius. The two are bonded to one another so that Nazafareen can wield his power, a necessity that both parties resent. It facilitates a flow of thoughts, emotions, and sensations between the two that’s disorienting at best and panic-inducing at worst.

“I wasn’t alone anymore. Floodgates opened in my mind, releasing a torrent of alien emotions. Next to me, Darius drew a sharp breath as the same thing happened to him, although I barely heard it. Panic surged through me, followed by an aching loss so deep it tore a hole in my heart. I didn’t know if it was mine or his, or both feeding off the other. And I felt his power, a deep, churning pool of it, held tight in my fist.”

As you can guess from the book’s synopsis, the intense dislike Nazafareen and Darius feel for one another eventually morphs into acceptance, then into grudging respect. They begin to see each other as more than vicious daeva and tight-fisted master, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’ve been taught about the conflict between their races. Their doubts are further amplified when the Water Dogs are dispatched to track down a group of escaped, rampaging daevas, a journey that brings several unpleasant revelations.

I thought I would be most captivated by the forbidden romance in The Midnight Sea, but what ended up being even more compelling was the theme of repression that runs through the book. Darius has been raised in captivity, conditioned to believe he is twisted and sinful, redeemable only through discipline and control. He must suppress his “wicked nature,” just as he and Nazafareen must reject their “unnatural” feelings for one another. These two aren’t the only ones battling against themselves. Ilyas, the Water Dogs’ captain, is also waging an internal war, one I found endlessly fascinating and that made him one of the most interesting characters in the story.

“We all had our ghosts, I thought. People we had loved – or hated – so much that they had become a part of us. No one’s choices in this life were really their own. Even our brave captain was driven by desires and insecurities that had more to do with the accident of his birth than anything else.”

I was enamored of the book’s setting as well. The story takes place in a fantasy version of ancient Persia, a backdrop to which I haven’t had much exposure. Not everything is historically accurate, and in her author’s note Ross admits to placing real people and events in contexts that aren’t necessarily factual, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment. It was refreshing to read descriptions of religious practices, scenery and climates, dietary norms, and other cultural matters that I haven’t seen a thousand times before. Hurray for originality!

All in all, The Midnight Sea is a promising start to this new series, and I have high hopes for the sequel. Ancient-Persian fantasies with conflicted characters may not have been my standard fare in the past, but I’m thinking I need more of them in my future!

Author Bio

Author photo of Kat Ross

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Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She lives in Westchester with her kid and a few sleepy cats. Kat is also the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day (Skyscape, 2014), about a world where the sea levels have risen sixty meters. She loves magic, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Preferably with mutants.

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Giveaway

Xpresso Book Tours is giving away a $30 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner. The giveaway is open internationally and can be entered via the Rafflecopter form below.

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Review: The City’s Son by Tom Pollock

The City's Son Book Cover The City's Son
Tom Pollock

Tom Pollock's debut novel and the first volume of the Skyscraper Throne series, The City's Son is an imaginative tale of adventure set in a city that is quite literally alive.

Beneath the streets of London lies a city of monsters and miracles, where wild train spirits stampede over the tracks and glass-skinned dancers with glowing veins light the streets.

Following a devastating betrayal, Beth Bradley, a sixteen-year-old graffiti artist, is suspended from school. Running from a home that she shares with her father who has never recovered after Beth's mother's death, Beth stumbles into the hidden city and meets Filius Viae, London's asphalt-hued crown prince. And her timing couldn't have been more perfect. An ancient enemy is stirring under St. Paul's Cathedral, determined to stoke the flames of a centuries-old war, and Beth and Fin find themselves drawn into the depths of the mysterious urban wonderland, hoping to prevent the destruction of the city they both know and love.

Review:

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The City’s Son is the essence of urban fantasy: a tale of wonder, set in a city whose very foundations are alive with magic. In Pollock’s novel, London is the domain of Mater Viae, a powerful goddess who rules as Lady of the Streets. After reigning for centuries, Mater Viae has been mysteriously absent from her realm for nigh on 16 years, and a usurper is gathering his forces to take control of the city.

Reach, the Crane King (we’re talking the machinery crane, not the bird crane), is slowly overtaking London, increasing in power each day. A force of urban sickness, Reach is the “city’s own greed, killing itself in its haste to grow.” With Mater Viae gone, the only person left to defend London is Filius, Mater Viae’s 16-year-old son. The task seems impossible until Filius’ path crosses that of Beth, a lonely human teenager whose recently-widowed father is too sunk in his grief to properly care for his daughter. Beth joins Filius in his quest to battle Reach and his minions, and The City’s Son chronicles their attempts to recruit the various magical beings living in London and wage war against the Crane King.

The City’s Son reminded me very much of The Night Circus, in that I enjoyed its creativity and imagination but wasn’t sold on the characters and plot. What first drew me to this story was the promise of London being “a city of monsters and miracles,” and in this matter Pollock certainly delivered. Unbeknownst to most of London’s human inhabitants, nearly everything in the city is alive, animated by magic. The trains are powered by Railwraith spirits, and the streetlights are illuminated by glowing lamp people who communicate by blinking in flashes of semaphoring light. There are Scaffwolves – vicious metal beasts formed of construction scaffolding – and glass Pylon Spiders that scurry about the city via Internet/telecom wires and feast on people’s voices.

Pollock’s got a vivid imagination, and he fills his pages with inspired creatures and striking language. Filius has skin the color of cement, sweats oil, and has arms that can crush steel girders. Another character gives the impression that his “smile was indestructible, that you could put [his] smile through a car-crusher and his grin alone would come out whole on the other side.” Mater Viae is said to have “laid the foundation of the streets[…] and the bones of the roads buried under them. She stoked the Steamwraiths’ engines and gave the lamps their first sparks. She forged the chains that hold old Father Thames in place.” The City’s Son is a fantastical, wondrous world in which anything is possible.

As creative as the world building is, the plot and characterization leave something to be desired. Beth’s allegiance to Filius, in particular, felt like a stretch. Beth meets Fil in the street one day and decides almost immediately to not only join his cause, but to forsake her father, home, and life to do so. I realize the two of them are supposed to be kindred spirits, drawn to one another because they both know what it’s like to feel lonely and abandoned, but Beth’s instant and unwavering devotion felt unnatural to me.

I wasn’t impressed by Filius, either. He is foundering under the weight of his subjects’ expectations, unable to measure up to his beloved, mighty mother. Although I usually root for underdogs, the problem with The City’s Son is that Filius isn’t just perceived as inept by other characters; he’s seen that way by the reader as well. I like my crown princes brave and heroic and powerful; Filius is none of those things. He lacks experience, has no clue what he’s doing, and especially doesn’t know how to lead an army against a force of evil.

The City’s Son is great in terms of imaginative magic and creative world building, but if you’re looking for something more I’m not sure this book will provide it. It does have great quotes, though, so I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites:

“Only the people you love can scare you witless enough for true courage.”

“Graffiti tangled over the wall, but there was nothing interesting, only messy, graceless tags. Beth had no time for signatures like that. Bricks were a journal for her, not a megaphone; she didn’t paint to shout about her impact on the city but to show the city’s impact on her.”

“‘Inseparable, they used to call us,’ she said, ‘like it was ordinary. Like it wasn’t a bloody miracle to have someone who can tell you’ve got a broken heart by the way you button your coat.’”

Review and Giveaway: Why We Came To The City by Kristopher Jansma

Why We Came To The City Book Cover Why We Came To The City
Kristopher Jansma

A warm, funny, and heartfelt novel about a tight-knit group of twentysomethings in New York whose lives are upended by tragedy—from the widely acclaimed author of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

December, 2008. A heavy snowstorm is blowing through Manhattan and the economy is on the brink of collapse, but none of that matters to a handful of guests at a posh holiday party. Five years after their college graduation, the fiercely devoted friends at the heart of this richly absorbing novel remain as inseparable as ever: editor and social butterfly Sara Sherman, her troubled astronomer boyfriend George Murphy, loudmouth poet Jacob Blaumann, classics major turned investment banker William Cho, and Irene Richmond, an enchanting artist with an inscrutable past.

Amid cheerful revelry and free-flowing champagne, the friends toast themselves and the new year ahead—a year that holds many surprises in store. They must navigate ever-shifting relationships with the city and with one another, determined to push onward in pursuit of their precarious dreams. And when a devastating blow brings their momentum to a halt, the group is forced to reexamine their aspirations and chart new paths through unexpected losses.

Kristopher Jansma’s award-winning debut novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, was praised for its  “wry humor” and “charmingly unreliable narrator” in The New Yorker and hailed as “F. Scott Fitzgerald meets Wes Anderson” by The Village Voice. In Why We Came to the City, Jansma offers an unforgettable exploration of friendships forged in the fires of ambition, passion, hope, and love. This glittering story of a generation coming of age is a sweeping, poignant triumph.

Review

(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

During the first few chapters of Why We Came To The City, I feared this book and I weren’t going to be a good match. The sweeping, grandiose prose was too contrived, the characters too unrelatable. As I read on, however, I discovered there were two levels to this story. The lofty, contemplative level of philosophy and grandiloquence, the level at which the book started, didn’t do anything for me. The intimate level of emotions and personal insights, on the other hand, was spot-on, moving, and changed my perspective about the book.

Jansma’s novel opens with a wide view, introducing the reader to the five main characters as they hobnob at an art show. They’re positioned as five variations on the “Aspiring Young Professionals in NYC” theme, up-and-coming 20-somethings with starry eyes and big dreams. For the first few chapters, I despaired of connecting with any of them. They were so pretentious with their big-city affectations and tweed jackets, arguing the superiority of various translations of The Iliad and debating the meaning of Art, with a capital “A.” They seemed like two-dimensional representations instead of real people; they were the Free-Spirited Artist, the Go-Getter Newspaper Editor, the Gay Poet, etc., when what I really wanted were unique individuals with their own traits and fears and experiences.

A few chapters in, I got the character development I was after. One of the protagonists was diagnosed with cancer. The lens narrowed, the focus became personal, and Why We Came To The City hit its stride. The characters stopped being two-dimensional caricatures and simply became five people who were hurting and trying to figure out how to deal with that hurt in in their own personal way.

Through tiny, precise details, Jansma peeled back the layers of his characters like the layers of an onion. There was wise-cracking Jacob, trying to mask his fear with sarcasm and sass, and take-charge, hyper-organized Sarah, who tried to control the situation with medication charts and precisely timed visitation schedules. There was George, whose fraying nerves could only be soothed by a drink or 10, and William, who questioned whether he was somehow to blame for his girlfriend’s illness.

“In those dark hours with his eyes shut, he had been counting disappointments on a hundred imaginary fingers. Not things that he was disappointed by but disappointments of his own making. Things like having made more money than he deserved, doing mergers for companies with questionable ethics, being a terrible son – anything he felt the universe might be punishing him for by making the woman that he loved so sick.”

As a rule, I generally avoid “cancer books.” In fact, if I’d known that’s what I was getting in Why We Came To The City, I probably wouldn’t have requested a review copy. However, Jansma’s book isn’t really about the disease, it’s about coming to terms with the fact that life doesn’t pull its punches, no matter who you are or what you think you deserve. The five friends in this novel start out on top of the world, expectant and ready for the best life has to offer. When life dishes up tragedy instead, they must figure out how to regroup and keep moving forward.

“For she was special, and had always believed it. She was more punctual, and she was better prepared. […] Always recycling and never littering. Better behaved and never hypocritical. Harder working at the office, tipping more generously, and possessing of a thousand pardons. And yet she couldn’t save Irene just by trying hardest or being best. Because no one was immune to tragedy. No matter how respectfully Sara lived, death could not respect her in return. She, Irene, all of them were susceptible to collapse, regardless of preparations or punctuality or propriety. None of them were special.”

As I’ve already mentioned, Jansma’s attention to detail and ability to paint an intimate picture of the characters’ experiences are what really won me over to Why We Came To The City. At times, Jansma would move away from this personal focus, broadening the book’s gaze to a more abstract, contemplative view. During these sections I would find myself losing interest and feeling the distance growing between the characters and myself.

Eventually, the lens would narrow again and there would be a poignant, penetrating line that socked me in the chest and actually brought tears to my eyes. There would be a moment when one of the friends would try his hardest to give up a vice, to make a deal with God that if he could just be good enough his friend would recover. Or another moment when another friend would look back at their collective lives and wonder how they’d become the people they currently were:

“Now it seemed undeniable to him that, whereas his New York family had indeed been happy in the way that all groups of young dreamers are happy before they’ve given up, they were all quite unhappy now, each in their own special ways. That was what made it all the more miserable: they couldn’t even be unhappy together.”

It’s these small but important insights that Jansma does exceptionally well. They resonated with me and affected me deeply. [START SPOILER] When Jacob revealed his last words to Irene, I had to put the book down and walk away until I’d calmed down enough to read again. [END SPOILER] They’re also what taught me the lesson of this book: Life may not care about our dreams, but that doesn’t mean we should stop dreaming. As Jacob aptly points out:

“You’ve got to entrust yourself to the waves, lash yourself to the mast, pray the gods are on your side, and rely on cunning to survive the rest. The seas are full of forgotten monsters, yes, but they’re full of forgotten glories too. And the people who stay home and sit out the war never get to see them.”

Giveaway

Viking/Penguin has graciously offered to host a giveaway of Why We Came To The City! This is a U.S.-only giveaway, and it ends at midnight on May 12, 2016. To enter for a chance to win, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below.

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Blog Tour, Review, and Giveaway: Temper by Beck Nicholas

Tour banner for Temper by Beck NicholasAbout Temper

Book cover for Temper by Beck NicholasFREEDOM COMES WITH A PRICE.

Free from the spaceship and reunited with Samuai, Asher should be happy. But thoughts of her dead family weigh heavily on her mind.

Things worsen when temper problems in camp lead to a murder. When Asher volunteers to get the drug needed to calm people down, tension ignites.

Loyalties are questioned.

Jealousy rears its head. Sparks fly.

And when rumor of a second ship hits close to home, all bets are off.

Have the aliens returned? Is this the end of everything Asher has ever known?

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Review

three stars

 


*This review contains spoilers for Lifer, the first book in Beck Nicholas’ Lifer series.*

Ever since I finished Lifer in 2014, I’ve been checking Goodreads and Beck Nicholas’ website for news of a sequel. After continually coming up empty-handed, I began to despair that Lifer had been a stand-alone novel instead of the start of a series. Then, lo and behold, I got an invitation from Chapter By Chapter to participate in the Temper blog tour. Cue the “Hallelujah Chorus!”

Temper begins several weeks after the Lifers’ and Fishies’ escape from The Pelican. The camp the Lifers, Fishies, and Green Robes have established together is a simmering cauldron of fear, distrust, and tension. As Samuai notes, “Freedom sounds great, until people who’ve always lived a certain way are dragged kicking and screaming into a new way of life.” Not only does each group have a very different opinion about how to proceed in their fight against the Company; they’re also dealing with strange after-effects from the experiments the Company performed on them. Violent outbursts erupt and tempers flare at the slightest provocation; the camp is a simmering cauldron ready to boil over.

In hopes of finding a cure for the strange behavioral changes, Asher and Davyd set off on a mission into the heart of Company territory. Samuai is left behind to keep the peace among the camp’s factions until his brother and sweetheart return. This is a hard enough task in and of itself, but it proves even more challenging when Samuai discovers that the Green Robes have been keeping secrets, secrets that could change everything for the people in the camp.

Something I really enjoyed about Temper – as terrible as this is going to sound – was watching Samuai shift from the bright, optimistic boy that Asher first fell in love with to a more practical, somewhat cynical young man. He’s still the great guy I fell for in Lifer, but he develops a harder edge in Temper, growing more suspicious and more disenchanted, his faith in people shaken by the secrets he’s unearthed. It made him an even more interesting character than he’d been before.

Davyd, too, remains one of my favorite characters in this series. He’s just as unpredictable and fun as he was in Lifer, and I loved his role as instigator, charmer, and manipulator. You never know for sure which side Davyd is on or what his motivations are; what you do know is that he’ll always keep things exciting.

One complaint I had with Temper is that there wasn’t quite as much romantic drama as I anticipated. One of the aspects I liked most about Lifer was the love square that developed between Megs, Samuai, Asher, and Davyd; to be perfectly honest, I was more concerned with their relationships than the rest of the plot. That being said, I couldn’t wait to see what would transpire between the four of them when they were all brought together in Temper. I was hoping for some fireworks, or at least some confrontations and awkwardness. There was a little of this, but I can always use more relationship angst!

Temper also suffers from a mild case of second book syndrome. At times I felt like its primary purpose was to set up events for Fighter, the next book in the series, and serve as a bridge between books 1 and 3. That being said, it was still an engaging read, and I remain a big fan of this series. I’m anxious to find out more about the mysteries of the Company, the direction the characters’ relationships will take, and what the heck will come of Temper’s cliffhanger ending!

I received a free copy of this book from Chapter By Chapter in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

Beck-Nicholas-head-shot-248x300

I always wanted to write. I’ve worked as a lab assistant, a pizza delivery driver and a high school teacher but I always pursued my first dream of creating stories. Now, I live with my family near Adelaide, halfway between the city and the sea, and am lucky to spend my days (and nights) writing young adult fiction.

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Giveaway

You could be one of 5 winners to receive a digital copy of Temper by Beck Nicholas! To enter the giveaway, please fill out the Rafflecopter below. The contest is open internationally and ends March 11, 2016.  

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Review: Without A Doubt by Lindsay Paige

Without A Doubt Book Cover Without A Doubt
Lindsay Paige

Emerson Montgomery loves his high school sweetheart, Kelly Price. He’d do anything for her, including agreeing to a break where they’ll see other people as he heads off to college. Struggling with the break and guilt over dating other people, Emerson meets Eva, a beautiful, funny, easygoing, and nosey junior.

Eva Harvey chose this particular college with the hopes of fulfilling her own fairytale and falling in love at the same college where her parents met. She does her best to go with the flow and simply see what happens, but Emerson simultaneously causes her to fall in love while making her second guess everything along the way.

There’s some things you know without a doubt. However, Eva causes Emerson to doubt everything he believes about his future while he causes her to doubt what’s right in front of her. Can they find a way to erase all doubts or will it tear them apart in the process?

Review:

(Actual rating: 2.5 stars)

I received a free copy of this book from Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

In many ways, Without A Doubt was a pleasant surprise. So far, my experience with New Adult fiction hasn’t been quite as positive as I would like, so I went into the story cautiously optimistic yet bracing myself for the usual pitfalls I run into with the genre. Happily, Without A Doubt ended up side-stepping those pitfalls and standing out as an example of New Adult done well.

Emerson and Eva make an adorable couple. Emerson’s not your cocky, swaggering, impossibly chiseled love interest – he’s just a regular guy, cute and sweet and chill. Eva, too, is likable and pleasant. They’re both good people, practical, hard-working, and down to earth. They do normal things together like baking brownies, hanging out with mutual friends, and watching movies. In short, they’re refreshingly authentic.

There’s no pointless drama in their relationship, which is a pleasant change. They have their disagreements, but they’re mature enough and respect each other enough to open a dialogue and air any potential issues before they burgeon into real problems. As compelling as I find dysfunctional relationships in fiction, it is occasionally nice to see a happy, healthy romance represented. Emerson and Eva are playful and cute and fit together so well. When Emerson says something sweet, it doesn’t seem like a line – it just seems like Emerson:

“Emerson wraps around me and I cuddle closer. ‘How was your day?’
‘Similar to yours.’ His blinks are coming in longer intervals and I know he’s getting closer to falling asleep.
‘How come you never have bad days?’ I ask […].
‘I do,’ he reassures me, never opening his eyes. ‘But then I see you and it all goes away.’”

Another huge win for this book is its approach to sex. Eva and Emerson treat sex as important and meaningful, something to be valued but not rushed into. When they do get physical, the scenes are tasteful and avoid graphic play-by-plays. The sex doesn’t overshadow characterization or plot, and it’s not a constant in the book. Emerson and Eva are flirtatious and sensual, but their relationship isn’t all sex, all the time. There are moments when Eva and Emerson pass up an opportunity to be intimate because they have stuff to do, or are sad, or have somewhere to be. Hooray for realism in books!

Something else that impressed me about Without A Doubt is that school is actually a significant part of the characters’ lives. Several of the New Adult books I’ve read have been set at universities, but you’d never know the characters are students other than a passing reference to a homework assignment or the occasional use of the words “after class.” In Without A Doubt, though, Emerson and Eva are students first and foremost. They spend lots of their time working on assignments, writing papers, and studying for tests, and the events of their personal lives have to be scheduled around their school obligations.

With all these positives I’ve listed, you’re probably wondering why I only gave Without A Doubt 2.5 stars. The problem was that it was just missing that “wow” factor for me. It was a cute, light read…and that’s about it. There’s a fine line between excluding unnecessary drama and still having some level of conflict and tension to keep things interesting. The plot and writing style are very simplistic, and Emerson and Eva’s relationship is just too…easy, I guess? Most of their arguments are over little things that are quickly resolved. The few major conflicts seem kind of far-fetched and are over almost as soon as they’ve begun. The main challenge the couple faces – Emerson’s lingering ties with his ex-girlfriend – doesn’t cause nearly as much trouble as I expected, resulting in a very laid-back, chill kind of book. While that may work for many readers, it wasn’t enough to really draw me in and keep me engaged.

That being said, I’m still very pleased by how authentic and fresh Without A Doubt felt and am hopeful that it signifies a positive direction for a genre I haven’t been too crazy about up to this point. Between Without A Doubt and my recent success with Informant by Ava Archer Payne, I’m starting to think there may be a future for New Adult fiction and me after all!