Waiting on Wednesday [138] SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS Edited by April Genevieve Tucholke

WOW 2014 copy

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, and is a fun way to share the books we’re excited about with other bloggers and readers. This particular book has been on my Goodreads TBR shelf—without a cover, I might add—for almost a year! And I’m thrilled that the cover has finally been revealed:

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke. Releases from Dial Books in August 2015. This is a short story collection with horror and thriller stories from some of YA’s biggest names! Just take a look at the roster up there, and I’m sure you’ll be familiar with at least one of them. I’m very excited to see Jay Kristoff’s name on this list, as well as Cat Winters and A.G. Howard:-D Here’s the description from Goodreads:

For fans of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Lois Duncan, and Daphne Du Maurier comes a powerhouse anthology featuring some of the best writers of YA thrillers and horror

A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.

Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

Fans of TV’s The Walking Dead, True Blood, and American Horror Story will tear through tales by these talented authors.

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Let me know what you’re waiting on this week!

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Tammy’s Top Ten Favorite Heroines in Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday new 7-14 copy

 Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and each week they give us a Top Ten theme to blog about. This week it’s heroines! We all love our heroines, right? It seems there are so many great heroines these days, that it was hard to narrow this list down to only ten. But I did, and here are my choices (in no particular order):

1. Yukiko from The Lotus War series by
Jay Kristoff

I mean, just look at her! She’s a small girl with a big sword, not to mention a big heart. Yukiko stole my heart in Stormdancer, and she never lost her charm throughout the entire series.

2. Sydney from Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious is a very special book, it’s probably one of my all-time favorites, and Sydney was one of those characters that you hope you’ll find again someday, in a different book. I just adore her. I don’t want to tell you too much about her, if you haven’t read Vicious yet (and why haven’t you??), but let’s just say she has a dog she loves, and her special power is bringing back the dead.

3. Nora & Skelly from The Blue Blazes by
Chuck Wendig

The Blue Blazes

Chuck Wendig always writes strong and interesting female characters, and The Blue Blazes has two of my favorite heroines ever. Nora is an angry, unpleasant woman and has a very complicated relationship with her father, Mookie Pearl. But I fell in love with her anyway. (Wendig seems to have a talent for that!) Skelly belongs to a girl-gang called the Get-Em-Girls, gets around on roller skates, and was an all around fun character to read about.

4. Elizabeth Barnabus from The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan

The Bullet Catcher's Daughter

This book was such an unexpected surprise! If you love steampunk and characters with moxie, you should read this if you haven’t already. Elizabeth leads a secret dual life that I can’t tell you about here, so you’ll just have to pick up the book! She’s a mistress of illusion and carries a battered suitcase around with her. I mentioned in my review that Duncan has perfectly captured a female protagonist’s voice, unlike any male writer I’ve ever come across.

5. Maude from the Golgotha series by R.S. Belcher

I loved Maude for her Buffy-esque characterization. She’s a warrior with a great burden who will eventually pass her knowledge and skills on to her daughter. Such a great series, I hope Belcher is working on Book #3!

6. Widdershins from the Widdershins Adventures by Ari Marmell

I just recently read my first Widdershins book, and I fell in love with her! Of course, I didn’t start at the beginning of the series like I was supposed to, but that didn’t really matter. Widdershins  has a charming sense of humor, not to mention she uses some very quirky swear words, and I loved her relationship with her own personal god, Olgun.

 7. Lila from A Darker Shade of Magic by
V.E. Schwab

U.S. cover, Tor Books

U.S. cover, Tor Books

I just finished this and reviewed this yesterday, and I couldn’t leave the wonderful character of Lila out of this top ten list! Lila is a thief who wants to be a pirate and live a life of freedom, a life full of adventure. She’s sarcastic (all my favorite heroines are!), a terrific fighter, and she doesn’t take crap from anyone. Plus she’s got a soft spot for fashion!

8. Persimmon Gaunt from Gaunt and Bone series by Chris Willrich

Willrich’s entertaining and wonderfully written fantasy is about a married couple, Persimmon Gaunt and her husband Imago Bone, but Gaunt is certainly not the type of wife to let her husband do all the dirty work. In the first book she’s pregnant, but still manages to hold her own during a perilous journey.

 9. Cass from The Legends of the Duskwalker series by Jay Posey

Cass is a mother to Wren and is determined to protect him, in Posey’s post-apocalyptic world. She’s also a drug addict, which makes her a refreshingly human character. I loved the way she grew throughout the two books, becoming increasingly stronger and able to defend the people she loves.

10. Atlanta Burns from the Atlanta Burns series by Chuck Wendig

Atlanta

I just couldn’t leave Atlanta off this list, even though I had so many other heroines to fill this last spot. Atlanta truly is the definition of “heroine,” and even though this book was tough to read, and made me all kinds of mad at times, Atlanta is a character you’ll never forget.

How about you? Who are your favorite heroines in fiction?

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A Magical Journey Through Londons: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V. E. Schwab – Review

 

 A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab
Genre: Adult fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: February 24 2015
Source: Finished book from publisher
Pages: 400

Note: With this review, I’ve decided to change my rating system from a five-star system to a ten-point system. It gives me more flexibility for the subtle nuances I find in books, and also gives me a reason to justify why I would normally give this book five stars, when I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as Vicious.

The nitty-gritty: A unique world (or should I say worlds), a fascinating magic system, and characters I want to follow from world to world, and beyond.

“The bones are the same in every world,” he said, gesturing to the city, “but the rest of it will be different. As different as this world is from yours.” He pointed across the river, and toward the center of London. “Where we’re going, the castle is there. Athos and Astrid will be there, too. Once we cross through, stay close. Do not leave my side. It is night here, which means it is night in White London, too, and the city is full of shadows.” Kell looked at Lila. “You can still change your mind.”

Lila straightened and tugged up the collar of her coat. She smiled. “Not a chance.”

Schwab’s second novel for adults gave me everything I loved from Vicious (which to this day remains one of my all-time favorite books) and brought new wonders to the table as well. That being said, I subconsciously compared it to Vicious as I was reading, and I ended up enjoying A Darker Shade of Magic slightly less, which is to say I still loved it immensely! Because “slightly less” than perfect is still pretty damn good. I’ll get to my reasons for this later in the review, but first I want to assure you that this book is everything you hope it will be, if you are a V.E. Schwab fan like I am. Schwab’s imagination is endless, and even though the idea of creating doorways to other worlds has been done before, many times, she puts such an original spin on it that I was mesmerized.

One thing that Schwab does so well is that she knows how to construct a story. I’m not privy to her personal writing process, but I’m almost certain that she must do lots of outlining, either as a written outline or a visual one, because each element of the story is so perfectly placed. It’s something that only seasoned writers can pull off, and it’s hard to do. But she makes it seem easy, the way everything comes together, each element finding its place in the story. Her storylines are complex and intricate, but she manages to juggle each piece, seemingly effortlessly.

The story goes like this: Kell is an Antari, one of only two magicians in the world that has the ability to travel among the three different Londons: Red London is Kell’s home, a wondrous world where magic enhances lives and joy and beauty are everywhere; Grey London where magic is scarce and people live a hardscrabble existence, doing what they can to survive; and White London, a land of terror where bloodthirsty rulers wear the crown and punish anyone who uses magic. There is also a fourth London, Black London, that used to exist but doesn’t anymore, after the people who lived there let magic get so out of control that it destroyed them. Kell’s official job is to travel from London to London, through magical doors that only he knows about, and deliver messages between the rulers.

But Kell also has a secret business on the side, smuggling magic from Red London to Grey London in exchange for artifacts, which he collects and hides, since it’s illegal to transfer objects from one London to the next. One day he unwittingly takes a highly dangerous stone back to Red London and sets off a chain of events that will leave all the Londons in peril. He reluctantly accepts help from Lila, a thief from Grey London who only wants to escape her miserable life and go on an adventure. Both characters get more than they bargained for, and it will take all their wits to survive.

As usual, Schwab creates unforgettable characters that you’ll fall in love with. Kell is a man of mystery, one of the last of his kind. He’s an extremely powerful magician, and yet he yearns for a normal life with a loving family—which he mostly has, as he has been “adopted” by the royal court in Red London, and is as close to his “brother” Rhy that you can possibly get without being related by blood. He wears a most marvelous coat that can be turned inside out numerous times to become many different coats.

Lila is also a wonderful character (and she’s making an appearance in my Top Ten Tuesday tomorrow!), a scrappy, skinny fighter of a girl who lives by her wits and is hell on wheels with a weapon. She has big dreams and will do anything to break out of her miserable life. When she meets Kell—and I love the way they meet!—she begins to see what her life could be like. I also love that she doesn’t let a man stand in the way of what she wants. When Lila and Kell are together, their dialog practically crackles and sparks, it’s so good.

Rhy is the prince of Red London, and I adored him as well, although I wanted more of him in this story. He’s the opposite of Kell, and yet their bond was so special. And Holland! Oh how I felt for him, even though he’s evil, I just wanted to give him a hug!

Schwab’s Londons are glorious creations, similar to each other yet completely different. In Red London a river called the Isle runs through the city, a red river that is the city’s source of magic. But in Grey London it’s called the Thames, and in White London it’s something else entirely. Likewise, a tavern sits in the exact same spot in each London, even though each has a different name and appearance. All of this is described in Schwab’s lyrical writing, which has the rhythm of music about it that makes me want to read passages of the text aloud.

Where the story faltered a bit for me was the ending, which was not at all what I was expecting. (Nor should it be! Clearly Schwab did her job well by not going where readers expected her to go.) Because this is the first in a trilogy, I wanted to have something to carry me forward to the next book, some mystery that remained unsolved to puzzle over while book two is being written. And while she does give us small mysteries, like where Kell came from before he was part of the Royal Court of Red London, and why Lila has an artificial eye, the story mostly wraps up very cleanly with no cliffhangers whatsoever. I know many readers will be rejoicing over this fact, and I must say I’m usually relieved not to come face to face with a cliffhanger, but this time I predicted a certain ending that never came to pass, and I was just slightly disappointed.

And yet—the ending was actually perfect the way it was. Schwab concludes her story on a lovely beat that made me smile, and I am happy that I will get to meet these characters again very soon.

Final rating: 9/10

Cover Love: I love both the US and the UK covers! They both use the bold red, white and black color scheme that the story is base on. If I had to pick a favorite, I think I’d pick the UK cover, simply because it’s so graphically appealing. Which cover is your favorite?

Big thanks to Tor Books for supplying a review copy! Don’t forget to stop by next Monday, which is my stop on the blog tour. I’ll have an international giveaway for a copy of the book and a signed poster!

Find the book:

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My Rating System: Why I’ve Decided to Change It

no more stars

I’ve been thinking about doing this for quite a while, and it’s only after finishing A Darker Shade of Magic that I’ve decided to finally go for it. I’ve seen other bloggers use a number rating system, rather than stars, and I quite like the idea of being able to dig deeper into stories and fine-tune my ratings. I often give two books the same star rating, when I actually feel quite differently about them, but not different enough to award one more stars than the other.

With a numbering system of 1-10, I can now rate my books more honestly, and I’m hoping this system will make more sense to my readers. In the past, I’ve reviewed books in a series and said things like “I enjoyed this even better than the last book,” but I’ve rated them with the same star rating, which really doesn’t make any sense! I’m frustrated by this inconsistency, and I think the 1-10 system is going to work much better for me.

So for now, here’s what those numbers will mean for a book:

10/10:
The Best. Book. Ever. One of my all-time favorites.

9/10:
Nearly the Best. Book. Ever. With one or two very minor flaws.

8/10: I loved it and highly recommend it. But I did have a few issues with something in the story.

7/10: A really good book. Probably has some small problems with the writing and pacing.

6/10: I enjoyed parts of it, but it had lots of issues for me.

5/10: This book has potential, but it just wasn’t executed very well.

4/10 and below: I probably won’t have many of these ratings. For me, anything under 5/10 would be the equivalent of a one- or two-star rating. Either a DNF or a book with so many problems I don’t know how I’m going to review it.

I anticipate most of my reads will fall into the 7-10 range, because I do try to choose books very carefully. My first review using this system will be posted tomorrow, and after you read my review of A Darker Shade of Magic, I think you’ll understand why I’ve decided to do this.

And how will I translate these ratings to Amazon and Goodreads, you ask? Well, for now at least, I’m thinking of 9-10 as five-star books, 7-8 as four stars, 6 as three stars, and 5 and below as 1-2 stars. (And I rarely give out those ratings anyway.)

I know everyone’s rating system is slightly different. I’d love to hear what you think! Do you use stars? Or do you use numbers? Or do you just write a review and not give it a rating at all?

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Over-Booked [19] – A Book Haul Post

Over booked banner

Welcome to Over-Booked, my twice-monthly book haul post! I’m linking up with Stacking the Shelves over at Tynga’s Reviews and The Sunday Post at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Check out their links and you can see other book hauls. Despite my efforts to dial down review requests, I always end up with something new to share. How does that happen?? In any case, of course I’m thrilled with my new books. Here’s what I have this week:

Physical pile:

over booked 2-21

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab & signed double-sided poster. I was SO EXCITED when this came in the mail! I’ve been salivating for this book since I finished Vicious in 2013 (it probably hadn’t even been announced at that point, but I wanted to read her next book). I’m reading this now (and may be finished by the time this post goes live) and I’m loving it with the ferocity that I save for my favorite authors! Don’t miss out on my blog tour stop next week March 2nd, when I’ll be giving away a copy of A Darker Shade of Magic as well as one of those cool  signed posters you see up there. Thank you Tor Books!

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman. I didn’t request this, but I may have entered a giveaway. In any case, I’m thrilled to get this, even though I need to catch up on the first book. Everyone I know loves this series:-D Thank you Random House!

Vostok by Steve Alten. I accepted this for review from a new publisher (to me) and I believe I’m on the blog tour (but I don’t have a firm date yet). Big thanks to Rebel Press!

Purchased:

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’ve been hearing nothing but raves over this book, so I bought myself a copy. It takes place in the 80s, in Mexico, and it involves teens who learn how to cast spells using music!

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. I’ve been dying to read this for the longest time, and now I can:-D

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory. Here’s another book that’s getting lots of love from readers. And it’s MY kind of book, about a support group for people who have had…weird experiences happen to them.

For review from NetGalley/Edelweiss:

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach. I’m thrilled to have been approved for this YA apocalyptic novel! It was on my Top Ten Debuts of 2015.

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey. Here’s another YA I’ve heard really good things about. People are comparing it to City of Bones, one of my all-time favorite books, so of course I’m going to read it!

The Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu. So, I NEVER highlight books on this blog that don’t have a cover design yet, but oh what the hell, instead I have a photo of the very handsome Wesley Chu for you to gaze at! And I hear there will be a cover reveal very soon for this title from Angry Robot Books…

Big thanks to Simon & Schuster, Delacorte Press, and Angry Robot!

Digital review books from Night Shade Books:

I was approached by a very nice publicist from Night Shade Books, who sent me three review copies. I’m not sure I have time to read them all, but I will at least read the first two:

King of the Cracksmen by Dennis O’Flaherty. Steampunk! This one sounds like bunches of fun.

Evensong by John Love. This is a near-future political thriller that sounds great.

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher. I’ve also heard really good things about this book, and even though there’s a military SF vibe to this, I may read it if I can find the time.

 Thanks to Night Shade Books!

Won:

Transmuted

Have you ever heard of the Holy Taco Church? No? Well, if you love authors like Kevin Hearne, Chuck Wendig, and Karina Cooper (among others), you should definitely subscribe. It’s sort of a combination of random recipes and book news, and each month they give stuff away. Last month my name was randomly drawn for an e-book of Cooper’s latest, Transmuted! I do need to catch up since this is a series (story of my life!) Has anyone started this series yet? Big thanks to Karina Cooper for my copy!

As you can see, I’m completely OVER-BOOKED:-D What’s new with you?

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The Beauty. The Horror. THE DAMNED by Andrew Pyper – Review

The Damned

The Damned by Andrew Pyper
Genre: Adult horror
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release date: February 10 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via Edelweiss
Pages: 304

 four and a half

The nitty-gritty: A top-notch horror story with depth and emotion, beautifully written, with enough chills to keep me on edge.

Sometimes there is a scent that precedes her appearances, less borne on the air than held tight against my face, an invisible, smothering cloth. And soaked in this cloth an odor that carries a feeling with it, particular as the past. It’s the same sugary, teenaged-girl perfume that clouded the rec room parties and school gym dances of our youth, combined with something foul, something gone wrong. A neglected wound spritzed with Love’s Baby Soft.

This was my first Andrew Pyper book, but it certainly won’t be my last! The Damned is a fresh take on ghost stories and life after death, and at times it reminded me of both The Lovely Bones and What Dreams May Come, although it’s completely different from either of those books. Pyper has come up with one chilling and terrifying ghost named Ash, who hitches a ride back from hell to terrorize her family. This story scared the pants off me, and if you love the kind of atmospheric horror that creeps up on you slowly, rather than the bloody slasher variety, then you will love this book.

Danny Orchard is a semi-famous author who wrote a book about his experience in “heaven” when he briefly died in a house fire but was resuscitated soon after. But unfortunately, Danny didn’t come back alone. He brought back his twin sister Ashleigh, who died in the fire with him. Ash was a disturbed girl in life, and she’s even worse as a ghost. Danny’s grown up now and has met a wonderful woman named Willa that he wants to get to know better. But Ash is determined to keep Danny from ever finding happiness, because she’s convinced he shouldn’t be alive. If  Danny wants to start a new life, he’s going to have to figure out a way to get rid of Ash for good.

That’s a very brief synopsis of a rather complex story, but I didn’t want to get into too much detail, because you’re going to want to experience each surprise for yourself. Danny narrates the story and flits back and forth through time, gradually revealing what’s happening. I love this method of storytelling, which may frustrate some readers, but it works so well for a story like this with so many mysteries to unravel. Danny tells us of his near-death experience in the fire, but he later admits that it wasn’t the only time he died and went someplace else. Little by little, the reader comes to understand what a terrible and lonely life Danny is living, all because he is being haunted by his psychopath of a dead sister who will go to any lengths to keep him from any kind of lasting relationship.

The best part of the story for me was Pyper’s atmospheric descriptions of Detroit, a city that nearly becomes a character itself. After reading The Damned, I’m convinced that the best city in the world to set a horror story in has got to be Detroit (side note: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes is set there as well). I’ve never been there, and after reading this book I’m not sure I ever want to go there. Not only do we get to experience Detroit as it is today, with its seedy, rundown neighborhoods and abandoned car factories, but Danny’s various trips to the afterlife take place in a Detroit that is a scarier and more twisted version of the real place. I don’t think I’ve ever run across a story that pulls off this kind of “duality” as well as this one.

If you’re going to write a proper horror story, then you need to have some tormented characters who suffer at the hands of an evil entity, and Pyper gives us plenty of torment in this book. It seems Danny can never live a life of happiness, because each time he starts to get close to someone, sister Ash comes along and ruins things for him. And when I say “ruins,” I mean she injures or kills the new person in Danny’s life. So he has resigned himself to a lonely existence, rather than cause harm to someone he loves.

That is until he meets Willa at a support group for people who have had near-death experiences, called “Afterlifers.” Willa is an outspoken woman with a ten-year-old son named Eddie, who has her own terrifying death experience to deal with, but she and Danny recognize something in each other, and despite his fear of Ash screwing things up, the two begin dating. I loved their relationship, mostly because Willa is such a strong woman and doesn’t scare easily. She sticks with Danny even after she sees proof of Ash’s evil. I also loved Danny’s growing relationship with Eddie, who is wise beyond his age and even saves Danny’s life at one point.

And Ash. I can barely talk about her without getting goosebumps! She is the epitome of evil, a girl who is popular and beautiful on the outside, but has a twisted mind and is able to manipulate people to do the unthinkable.

If you’ve ever given any thought to what happens when we die (and who hasn’t?), I’m afraid The Damned will not offer any comfort to you, because even those souls who are “good” end up in places that aren’t necessarily considered heaven. Pyper doesn’t actually use the words “heaven” and “hell” to describe the afterworld, but readers will understand what he’s talking about without them. In this version of the afterlife, heaven and hell are inexorably entwined, and  Danny, who is intimately familiar with both life and death, can easily navigate this strange territory.

The only misstep for me, and really I can hardly call it that, was an odd shift at about the half-way point of the story, when Danny decides to investigate Ash’s death, convinced that someone murdered her. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of a murder mystery, and although the horror elements were still present, the tone of the story at that point felt different. As it turns out, Danny uncovers even more horrors surrounding his sister, and this section ultimately made the story stronger.

Pyper throws in lots of small details—like Danny’s mother’s Omega watch that he brings back from the afterlife—that give this story so much depth. A final showdown (you know there had to be one!) between Danny and Ash takes place in a location that is not only poignant but somehow brings the realms of the living and the dead together. The Damned is a perfect book for fans of horror stories, but it will resonate with many types of readers, and therefore I recommend it to everyone!

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy! Quote above was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.

Find The Damned:

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Waiting on Wednesday [137] DRAGON COAST by Greg van Eekhout

WOW 2014 copy

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, and is a fun way to share the books we’re excited about with other bloggers and readers. You must all know by now how much I love Greg van Eekhout’s Daniel Blackland series, and I’m thrilled that Book #3 will be out later this year! Plus, this cover was just released, and I think it goes perfectly with the first two book covers. Here is my WoW pick this week:

Dragon Coast

Dragon Coast (Daniel Blackland #3) by Greg van Eekhout. Releases in September 2015 from Tor Books. Just seeing a picture of the dragon on this cover makes me so happy! If you’ve read Pacific Fire then you’ll know what happened at the end, and you’ll be excited to read this, too! The Goodreads description isn’t up yet, but that’s OK, because the description I read from the Tor catalog gives too much away:-D

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Have you started this series yet? Let me know what you’re waiting on:-D

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Tammy’s Top Ten Book Related Problems

Top Ten Tuesday new 7-14 copy

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and is a weekly feature with a different bookish topic every week! Today we’re talking about our Top Ten Book Related Problems. I’m usually an optimist when it comes to books, because BOOKS! They’re awesome! But I do have some issues, and I’ll bet that a few of these are on a lot of lists this week:

1.  Too many books.

This just goes without saying, right? There are just TOO MANY BOOKS out there that I want to read, and it’s impossible to read all of them. There was a time about 15-20 years ago when I knew EVERY SINGLE FICTION TITLE COMING OUT! I mean, I had heard of everything. That isn’t the case anymore. And I’m not even talking about independently published books. I’m talking about legitimate publishers. There are so many new small publishing houses these days that are putting out top-notch books, and I want to read them all too, in addition to the titles from the bigger houses. Why has publishing exploded so much?

2. Too little time.

By the time I finally finish everything that I HAVE to do during the day, there is precious little time left to actually read. Most days I only get about an hour or so, mostly because the only time I can read is in bed at night, right before I fall asleep. I get up early, check my email and visit blogs and leave comments, get ready for work, take the kids to school, go to work, come home, walk the dogs, make dinner, clean up dinner, help kids with homework or projects, and go to bed. On the weekends I spend a lot of time doing crappy stuff like laundry and housework and grocery shopping, all that time-suck stuff that I can’t do during the week. Then I have to spend hours actually blogging! Cause you know, blog. If anyone out there is working on inventing a machine that can stop time, please let me know! I’m happy to help you test it:-D

 3. Too little space.

Some readers I know have a finite amount of bookcase space available, and they actually give books away when they start to run out, so they can fill the bookcase up with new books. I am NOT one of those people. I don’t really care if I don’t have enough bookcase space, nothing is going to stop me from buying a book I really want. Thus, my house is a veritable pile of books. Luckily, my husband has learned to put up with it:-D

4. Too little money to buy ALL the books.

I may be working full-time again, but I don’t have the kind of disposable money I used to have, back before I had a family and a house. So I do have to pick and choose. I’m the type of book hoarder that doesn’t feel bad if I haven’t read every book I’ve ever bought, so there will always be way more books that I want to buy, even if I know I’ll never have time to read them.

5. eBooks – Out of sight, out of mind.

 I only read ebooks for review purposes, which I know is a little weird. I don’t think I have ever PURCHASED an e-book (well, maybe once!). If I’m reading a book for pleasure (non-review), I’m always going to buy a physical copy. So what happens when I love a review book? It stresses me out not to have a physical ARC or finished copy to sit on a shelf (or in a pile) so that I can see it and remember how great it was. If I had unlimited funds, I would certainly buy a copy of every eARC I read, but…see #4 above.

6. Separating the potentially amazing from the potentially awful.

It’s a problem all readers face: if you only have so much time to read, you want ALL of the books you choose to be the best book ever. To feel as if you wasted hours of your life reading something disappointing can be a real downer. I know lots of readers are able to DNF books that they know aren’t going to be for them, but I have a hard time not finishing something I’ve started. I’m very careful to select books from authors that have good track records and good reviews on Goodreads, but sometimes you want to take a chance and try something new. And sometimes, even books that have glowing reviews from other readers don’t always work for you.

7. Review books vs. “me” books—what to do?

I’ve struggled with this from the day I started blogging, or at least the day I accepted my first review request. I find myself reading nothing but review books, and I never seem to make time for all the other books I want to read. I’ve vowed to cut back on review books several times over the years, and I can just never make it happen. I guess I have a hard time saying “no” and I always feel bad when I do. If you have this problem, I’d love to know how you keep review books under control!

 8. Getting to the end of an amazing book.

Also known as the “book hangover,” this actually isn’t a bad problem to have! Some books are so emotionally immersive that it takes hours for me to come back to the real world after finishing them. These books are rare, but I know we’ve all had this experience at one time or another. A book’s ending leaves you stunned and uncommunicative, and all you can do is stare into space until the drug of the book wears off.

 9. Time lags between books in a series.

This is one of those problems that can’t really be fixed—unless you wait until the entire series is published before you start reading. And who among us is that strong? I think authors and publishers invented series just to torment their readers:-D

 10. When a book’s pub date keeps getting pushed back.

Has this ever happened to you? You hear about a book coming out that you can’t WAIT to read (Armada) and it’s got a reasonable release date. And then, the next thing you know, that date is changed and it’s WAY far away. Or a book you can’t WAIT to read (The Hellsblood Bride) has a release date and then the author says NO THAT BOOK ISN’T COMING OUT YET, I’M HAVING A DISPUTE WITH THE PUBLISHER. What?? These things just kill me.

Do we share any of these book related problems? I’d love to hear yours:-D

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Full of Pulpy Goodness: THE LOST LEVEL by Brian Keene – Review

The Lost Level 2

 

The Lost Level by Brian Keene
Genre: Adult Pulp Fantasy
Publisher: Apex Book Company
Release date: January 2015
Source: eBook from publisher
Pages: 186

four stars

The nitty-gritty: An outrageous, pulpy, bloody, dimension-hopping story that by turns made me laugh and cringe, and had me running to Google more than once.

I turned my attention back to the cliff. The slope had been hidden by thick vegetation, but now that I stood on its edge, I could see a deep, narrow valley below us. But the gorge wasn’t what caught my attention. What did were the two opponents who were fighting on the valley floor. I had seen many bizarre things since coming to the Lost Level, but it was at that moment that the full otherworldly strangeness of my situation hit me full fold. Below us, engaged in a fierce battle, were a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a giant robot.

So. Much. Fun! I had a blast reading The Lost Level, which as the author states in his Acknowledgements is an homage to the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard (among others). Keene takes every crazy idea and pulp fiction trope he can think of and crams it into less than 200 pages, and the result is a very crowded but completely entertaining story. Keene’s idea of a dimension in space called the Lost Level, where all the “lost” things of the universe wind up, gives him free rein to do just about anything, and he takes full advantage of that idea.

Aaron Pace is the narrator of the story, a man who fancies himself a practitioner of the occult and has figured out a ritual that opens doorways into other dimensions. One day, peeking through one such doorway, he spies a lush and tropical vista that beckons him to cross over. But once there, he looks back, only to find that the doorway has vanished. Aaron is now trapped in the Lost Level, the one world where no traveler can ever leave.

As he wanders through the fascinating but increasingly dangerous land, he manages to rescue a beautiful woman named Kasheena and her Wookie-like companion Bloop from a deadly race of snake people. Together they set out towards Kasheena’s home, where the wiseman of her village might be able to help Aaron get home again. But they will have to face many obstacles before they reach their destination. . .

The Lost Level, for all its non-stop action and fight scenes, gets off to a slow start, mostly because our narrator Aaron is alone almost up to the 25% mark. He’s writing down his story in a journal he finds on an abandoned school bus, as he introduces us to how he came to be here and what wonders he’s seen so far. The fact that there isn’t any dialog to move the story forward worried me a bit, but once he runs into Kasheena and Bloop things really get going, and the story moves at high velocity all the way to the end.

Like I said before, Keene adds everything but the kitchen sink to his story, including dinosaurs, killer grass, aliens, robots, giant killer slugs, and tiny birds that can clean the flesh off a body in seconds flat. He uses the mystique of the Bermuda Triangle to explain some of the odd things that pop up in the Lost Level, and I was curious enough a couple of times to actually hit up Google to see if octophants and Xerum 525 (red mercury) were actual things. (They are!)

If you’re going to read this book—and you really should!—you will need to put your feminist side in a box and lock it up tight, because in order to enjoy this story you have to remember that Keene is playing with tropes, especially when it comes to the female role in the pulp stories of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Take the lovely Kasheena, for example. Seeing her for the first time causes Aaron to become “awestruck” by her beauty. And it’s not only her “luxuriant chestnut and auburn colored hair” and “bronzed skin” that cause this reaction. Kasheena, you see, is completely naked when Aaron meets her, and remains so for the rest of the book, except for a tiny loincloth! If I hadn’t been laughing so hard at the notion of a gorgeous naked female running around fighting robots and dinosaurs, I would have been horrified. Luckily, I recognized what Keene was trying to accomplish, and I enjoyed Kasheena despite her unfortunate nudity.

The author has great fun with over-the-top violence, and he managed to gross me out more than once. Unfortunately, Aaron’s voice is rather dry and matter-of-fact, and so all the hacking off of heads and stabbing through eyeballs with swords felt a bit dry and unemotional. But Keene certainly knows how to keep a story moving, and our intrepid explorers are faced with one impossible situation after another, with barely time off for Aaron and Kasheena to stop and have sex (which they do a lot).

I can’t leave out one of my favorite characters, Bloop, who is a hairy, dog-like creature that walks upright and can only mutter the word “Bloop!” He reminded me of Chewbacca, since he turned out to be a loyal friend to Aaron and Kasheena, as well as a vicious killer when he needed to be.

A mysterious underground world is alluded to, but never explained, and I hope the author decides to write about it in a sequel. I also thought the story ended very abruptly, but luckily, Brian Keene explains in his Afterword that he is planning a multi-volume series, which makes me very happy. The Lost Level may not be great literature, but it was everything I expected and more, and I can’t wait to go back.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy!

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Book Review Giveaway! Win a Book I Reviewed in December/January

Book review giveaway button 2014 Oct copy

Happy Valentine’s Day! To celebrate, I’m kicking off this giveaway a day early. Every month, I run a giveaway for one of the books I reviewed the previous month. I skipped December because it was a very slow review month for me, so this time I’m combining my book reviews from December and January, and at the end of the giveaway I’ll be selecting TWO WINNERS! As always, this giveaway is international, provided The Book Depository ships to your country. First of all, congrats to the winners of my December giveaway:

Sarah K received a copy of Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff and
Emma M. received a copy of Endsinger by Jay Kristoff!

You guys—I read so many awesome books in the last two months! Check out the selection you have this time around. I’m not even going to try to pick a favorite:-D Click on the titles to read my reviews:

five stars

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Pacific Fire by Greg van Eekhout

four and a half

Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

four stars

War Stories edited by Jaym Gates & Andrew Liptak

Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

Hellhole by Gina Damico

Tunnel Vision by Susan Adrian

three stars

Severance by Chris Bucholz

Dead Funny: Horror Stories by Comedians edited by Robin Ince & Johnny Mains

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Ready to enter? Simply fill out the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

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