Blog Tour: Branded: Abi Ketner, Missy Kalicicki

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Fifty years ago the Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society. He created the Hole where sinners are branded according to their sins and might survive a few years. At best. 
Now LUST wraps around my neck like blue fingers strangling me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit and now the Hole is my new home. 

Darkness. Death. Violence. Pain. 

Now every day is a fight for survival. But I won’t die. I won’t let them win.

The Hole can’t keep me. The Hole can’t break me. 
I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter. 
My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.
I turn on the faucet for a long while only to discover ice-cold water rushing out. The water never warms and I begin to understand. The Commander thinks he can wash away my soul by freezing me to death. He thinks he can destroy me by stripping away my possessions. But he can’t and I won’t let him take my memories, my ambition, and my pride.

He thinks I’m so easily broken.

The Commander doesn’t know anything about me, what I grew up with, what I endured—the father I lost, the mother I hate, the brother who walked out of my life, and the stepfather I was forced to accept. He thinks since I was rich, making me poor will cause me to give up. What he doesn’t understand is that, after my father passed away, I grew up behind walls of hatred. I had nothing, but had everything at the same time. I owned expensive clothes, enjoyed good schooling, and lived in a nice home. But my body was just a shell protecting an empty, desperate heart. My life was a colorful fa├žade.

I had so much time to sit and think. I spent the majority of my life between four walls. I was abandoned, neglected, starved, betrayed, and abused. I’ve already been treated like the scum of the earth, so the Hole is nothing new. He wants to erase every sign of my existence on this earth, but I won’t let that happen. He can strip me naked, but he’ll never reach my soul.

It’s personal, completely personal.

I have combined my brief review from my first read of the book with my thoughts after reading the extended version for this full review.

With the new, extended version of Branded coming out, I was excited to see how Abi and Missy developed the story in the time since the original version was published. I loved the storyline the first time around - it had great world-building, likeable characters, and good action and plot sequences. 

The first book of a dystopian series, Branded does a great job of building the world the Commander created and enforces, while telling a story of a girl and those around her surviving in a place with little resources and no hope of escape. The Commander reformed the judicial system 50 years before, by removing all forms of trial or appeals. An accusation of immorality is enough to get a person sentenced to the Hole, and once one is in the Hole, there is no way to prove one’s innocence, no way out, no hope. 

Sent to the Hole and branded a Sinner based on an accusation with no evidence, Lexi must learn how to navigate in a new place where she is immediately judged by the blue band around her neck. She is assigned a guard, given a job, and must quickly learn to navigate the harsh reality of living amongst the chaos and lawlessness of the Hole. 

Cole is the guard assigned to Lexi on arrival at the Hole. Lexi is his first female assignment, and he knows all eyes are on them as there is something about Lexi that has made her a larger target, both among other prisoners and the guards. 

This read-through, I took extra time comparing the original version to the new one. The new material is spread through much of the book, in the form of better, more fleshed out descriptions and expanded dialogue. Areas that seemed shallow are now fully explained. What that also means is there aren’t many completely new scenes in the new edition, mostly re-written or re-edited existing scenes. A few of the flashback scenes have been rewritten to change the emotions evoked from Lexi’s past, and the final showdown is expanded to make it into the epic battle it should be. 

The challenge that came from re-reading both the old and new versions at the same time is that I also noticed small details and nuances that I hadn’t noticed the first time around (and yes, they were word for word in both versions). I didn’t notice anything that bothered me when I read Branded a year ago, so I don’t know if it was the extra attention I was paying to those details this time through or if it was simply an evolution of myself as a reader. 

Branded is a great adult dystopian book, taking all the best features of a general or YA dystopian book and adding in more of a focus on the relationship between Lexi and Cole. That’s not to say the relationship is the central plot point, but it does certainly add to the danger and tension that living in the Hole brings. There is so much detail and action, and because of where things leave off in Branded, I cannot wait to find out what happens next!

Thanks to Abi and Missy for providing a review copy of Branded in exchange for an honest review.

"Darkness. Death. Violence. Pain.

Now every day is a fight for survival. But I won’t die. I won’t let them win.

The Hole can’t keep me. The Hole can’t break me.

I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter. My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story."

Cole and Lexi are forced to live in a province ruled by dictatorship and commandeered solely by one vile and vicious man. Innocents and guilty alike are branded based on which one of the seven deadly sins they have been accused of committing. Immediately following the guilty verdict they are imprisoned in the Hole, a controlled and guarded environment filled with pain, suffering, corruption, filth, violence, lack of humanity, death, degradation and despair. Evil lurks around every corner. This dystopian world left us with a sense of unease and fear for those who reside there.

"I'm innocent, but they won't believe me or care."

Lexi, an 18-year-old girl, already living in her own personal torment is about to enter into a whole other kind of hell. The blue ink now wrapped and branded around her neck screams specifically which of the seven deadly sins she has been accused of committing. With absolutely no chance of judge and jury, Lexi has been found guilty and convicted of her "crime." Her fate now consists of imprisonment in a world where rules and humanity cease to exist. In order to survive she has to find the strength within to live in an atmosphere where violence such as gun fire, murder, executions, and rapes are second nature. To top it off, Lexi has also lost all of her privacy and independence when she is forced to be guarded by Cole. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for her because he is the only man who has ever made  her senses soar.  

"They're the Guards of the Commander. They keep the order of society by using violent methods of intimidation. No one befriends a guard. Relationships with them are forbidden inside the hole." 

Cole is a one hell of a sexy bad ass. His character is powerful and filled with many layers. On the surface, he is a hard stoic alpha. Below that pretense, we find a man who is very different from the other guards in the Hole. For reasons unknown, he has held onto his humanity and sense of loyalty that ran deep. Cole never deviates from the rules, his self-preservation won't allow him to, until his newest assignment. Once Cole meets Lexi, he is forced to redefine his natural instincts. His personality is so riveting and charming that you become hooked and addicted to him from the first introduction. It was fascinating watching this strong disciplined man living in a world so far depraved begin to show signs of lightness when there was only ever darkness. It left us captivated and totally in love with him.

Lexi is refreshing and in her own way, just as fierce as Cole. She was strong, selfless, compassionate, and determined. Underneath the girl who emptied her stomach contents at the slightest trigger was a beautiful rare young woman who experienced the hardship of life way beyond her years. Her past is full of tragedies and cruelty.  The nightmares never really go away. She has had to endure the unthinkable at the hands of a monster, but all it did was prepare her for the hellish turn her life was going to take once she enters the Hole. She takes on her new fate as well as can be expected and we get to see her good heart and devotion to those that are suffering. 

You can overcome anything, short of death.

Behind the closed door of their shared room where prying eyes don't exist, their feelings for each other blossom, however, outside those four walls they are not allowed to show anything other than disgust, otherwise their secret runs the risk of extreme and inhuman punishment. Cole and Lexi are a force to be reckoned with. Their relationship with its roller coaster like tendencies added an extra dimension of excitement amongst all the action wrapped drama, especially since it was absolutely forbidden. In the Hole, Guards and Sinners are outlawed from entering into a relationship with each other. Sinners are looked upon as immoral creatures that should be treated as though they don't deserve to exist. If by chance this illicit relationship is exposed the implicated guard and sinner not only put others’ lives at risk, but are punished to the extreme with torture and murder execution style. Cole and Lexi risk everything to chase those stolen moments, hidden touches and kisses, and declarations of love.

"Then please tell me what the hell I'm supposed to do because I don't know. I have orders that I have to follow. If I follow them, I'll lose you. If I don't, I'll be executed and then you'll lose me. Either way I'm screwed and so are you. Damn it, you've complicated everything. You're all I think about. My mind is constantly consumed by you and it scares the crap out of me." 

"Lexi...It's real. I'm real. We're Real. Everything's real."

Our hero and heroine are heart wrenching, raw, and breathtaking as they stood alongside one another finding the strength to love and trust in a society where such feelings are criminal. Their emotions flawlessly flowed off the pages. Abi and Missy didn't just tell you with no supporting actions to believe that Lex and Cole were in love, no, they used detailed descriptions that pulled on your own emotions and made you feel their deepening feelings right down deep in your stomach. The authors laid bare the brutality and rawness of Cole and Lexi's secrets, truths, and love. They didn't hold back and spare the explicit details for the weak; it was a raw and gritty tale. Prepare yourself for the pain, fear, excitement, and uncertainty that went with that developing love. Cole and Lexi's connection was strong, even amongst the fear, distrust, and despair they faced every moment of every day, their emotional and physical chemistry continued to be powerful as their relationship grew. We found ourselves seduced by the little moments experienced by these two that seemed so inconsequential, but left such an impact on our hearts.

"Most of all, I wish for peace. If I survive this, all I want is to live with Cole and to live in peace for the rest of my life, knowing I made the right choice."

Branded is a unique story that engages the reader with its fast-paced thrilling plot of action packed drama and forbidden love that every woman wishes she could experience. The unexpected twists and turns will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat with its many sweet, intense, and nerve wracking moments. This book sucks you in from the first page, locks you into this world, and has you pulling for these characters.

If you’re looking for a gritty suspenseful page turner that leaves you wrapped up in its kick ass characters then we suggest you pick this book up now! Even if you are not a fan of dystopian type books, this one will draw you in and totally surprise you. We promise you won't be disappointed. Missy and Abi are AMAZING, seriously TALENTED. To say we will be stalking them until the next edition in Cole and Lexi's adventure is an understatement! (They may need a restraining order by the time the book comes out. ;p) No, there is no big ugly cliffhanger, BUT you will be left wanting more of this dynamic duo and their continuing story. We promise you will not only fall head over heels in love with our damaged hero and heroine, but you will fall fast and you will fall hard. 

P.S. There is also tons of humor mixed into this emotional roller coaster of a journey, lightening the mood when the darkness gets to be a bit overwhelming, in the form of Zeus, a Great Dane and some of the playful interactions between Cole And Lexi.

Thanks to Abi and Missy for providing a review copy of Branded in exchange for an honest review.

Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki

Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now become an incredible adventure.


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