Category Archives: Reviews

DARK METROPOLIS by Jaclyn Dolamore – Blog Tour + Review

DarkMetropolisBlogTour

Welcome to my stop on the Dark Metropolis Blog Tour, hosted by Itching For Books. You can read my review below.

Dark Metropolis - Cover Image - High Res

Series: Dark Metropolis #1
Release date: June 17th 2014
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Cabaret meets Cassandra Clare-a haunting magical thriller set in a riveting 1930s-esque world.

Sixteen-year-old Thea Holder’s mother is cursed with a spell that’s driving her mad, and whenever they touch, Thea is chilled by the magic, too. With no one else to contribute, Thea must make a living for both of them in a sinister city, where danger lurks and greed rules.

Thea spends her nights waitressing at the decadent Telephone Club attending to the glitzy clientele. But when her best friend, Nan, vanishes, Thea is compelled to find her. She meets Freddy, a young, magnetic patron at the club, and he agrees to help her uncover the city’s secrets-even while he hides secrets of his own.

Together, they find a whole new side of the city. Unrest is brewing behind closed doors as whispers of a gruesome magic spread. And if they’re not careful, the heartless masterminds behind the growing disappearances will be after them, too.

Perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare, this is a chilling thriller with a touch of magic where the dead don’t always seem to stay that way.

Find Dark Metropolis: Amazon | Goodreads

My review:

three and a half

The nitty-gritty: An unsettling story full of subtle magic, dark deeds, and the living dead, beautifully written, but confusing in some parts.

But how horrid to be glad, even for a moment, that her mother was gone, just so she had time to try on new hats. Mother’s words kept haunting her. I know he is alive! Suppose she was right all along. Suppose Father had lived through the battle, and the vision was a sign? If there was any chance at all, she had to find out. She owed it to Mother, who was now trapped behind the asylum walls, losing her precious memories.

If I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be “atmospheric.” There is a dark and brooding quality to this story, and it’s made even more dark and brooding by Dolamore’s beautiful prose. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started reading, as I had heard all sorts of words bandied about from “zombies” to “magic” to “LGBT characters.” Dark Metropolis has all of these things—sort of—but I certainly wouldn’t classify this as your standard zombie story, nor did the LGBT aspects stand out as such. (Which disappointed me a bit. I would have liked to see a more developed relationship between Sigi (the gay character) and Nan, the girl she falls for.) Although parts of the story were confusing and not nearly developed enough for my taste, what I did love about this book were the emotional situations the characters find themselves in as they try to cope during a very dark and depressing time.

Dark Metropolis is based on the 1927 movie, Metropolis, a movie I haven’t seen, yet felt compelled to research. There are definite similarities in the story lines, but why the author chose such a depressing subject to write about is anybody’s guess. The story takes place in an alternate history 1930s Germany, where the war has caused many people to fall on hard times and magic has been outlawed. Thea is a young girl who works as a hostess at the Telephone Club, an upscale venue where the rich enjoy extravagant stage productions and are served by beauties like Thea. But Thea’s real life is anything but exciting. Her mother is suffering from “bound-sickness” since her husband died in the war, but she insists that he isn’t dead at all because she can still “feel” him.

One evening Thea meets a young man with silver hair named Freddy, and when she accidentally touches his hand, she has a disturbing vision of her father, rising from the dead. Shortly after, her best friend Nan stops coming into work, and Thea knows something is terribly wrong. With Freddy’s help, she is about to discover a world she never knew existed, a dangerous world where the dead are forced into hard labor and will never see their loved ones again.

From the outside, this doesn’t really seem like a story about magic. So when the first offhand mention of it came up, I was caught off guard. It turns out that since the war, magic has become illegal, and we discover early on that Freddy has a very rare gift: he can bring the dead back to life with only a touch, although whether these people he brings back are actually alive or not, well, you’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself. (I did love Freddy’s magic because it reminded me of Torchwood and the resurrection glove—anyone?) But Freddy isn’t the only one with magical abilities. Thea’s friend Nan also has some magic in her, but here is where things fell apart a little for me. Nan’s magic is hinted at but never really explained. We also learn about a spell called “marriage-binding” which magically links two people together so that they can always find each other. It seems like a good idea but it has terrible consequences. I guess my feeling about the author’s use of magic is that it just didn’t feel as if all these types of magic belonged together in the same story.

The pacing felt slow to me in the beginning, as we’re introduced to all the characters and trying to uncover the mystery of why so many people are disappearing, but it picks up in the last third of the book, and I was racing to turn the pages (of my Kindle) to see what would happen. Dolamore gives us lots of emotional and melancholy moments, like Thea’s mother going crazy from the bound-sickness because she wants to find her husband, and the consequences of Freddy’s reviving magic and how he comes to terms with accepting that his “magic” isn’t natural and is only causing pain. Many of the characters are downright sad, lonely, and simply trying to get by in a harsh city, and it was sometimes hard to read page after page of misery with very little happiness to break up the sadness.

Dark Metropolis is the first in a series, although honestly I can’t figure out where the author will go next, since this book wrapped up quite nicely (and no cliffhanger in sight, thank god!). If you love your stories dark, your characters tragic, and your magic subtle, then this book may be just what you need.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

About the author:

Jaclyn DolamoreJaclyn Dolamore was homeschooled in a hippie sort of way and spent her childhood reading as many books as her skinny nerd-body could lug from the library and playing elaborate pretend games with her sister Kate. She skipped college and spent eight years drudging through retail jobs, developing her thrifty cooking skills and pursuing a lifelong writing dream. She has a passion for history, thrift stores, vintage dresses, David Bowie, drawing, and organic food. She lives with her partner and plot-sounding-board, Dade, and two black tabbies who have ruined her carpeting.

Find Jaclyn: Webiste | Twitter | Facebook

Big thanks to Shane Morgan at Itching for Books for organizing this tour. Click the button below to visit all the tour stops:

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Lip-Smacking Fun: THE SAVAGES by Matt Whyman – Blog Tour + Review

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I’m so excited to be part of The Savages Blog Tour, hosted by Book Nerd Tours and Hot Key Books! This book was so much fun, so well-written, and a fun read that will appeal to both teens and adults.

About the book:

The Savages

They’d love to have you for dinner . . .

Sasha Savage is in love with Jack – a handsome, charming … vegetarian. Which wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that Sasha’s family are very much ‘carnivorous’. Behind the family facade all is not as it seems. Sasha’s father rules his clan with an iron fist and her mother’s culinary skills are getting more adventurous by the day. When a too-curious private detective starts to dig for truths, the tight-knit family starts to unravel – as does their sinister taste in human beings . . .

Find the book: Amazon | The Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

My Review:

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: A delectable family tale with heart as well as bite, and a cast of larger-than-life characters that will make you laugh out loud.

The boy shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.

“We could always eat her,” he suggested.

Titus closed his eyes for a moment more than a blink.

“Ivan, we have no idea where she’s been.”

“But we have to do something,” he said.

Grandpa eased himself down to take a closer look.

“It would be a shame to let her go to waste,” he said, and gently grasped her bicep as if to evaluate the flesh. “At least that way we know there’ll be no evidence left.”

Titus glanced at his wife. Angelica looked down at the body, but Kat was back in her arms and wriggling to be set on the tiles.

“Normally this takes planning,” she said. “I’m all out of onions, for one thing.”

What’s a girl to do when the hottest boy in school asks her out? Why, bring him home to meet the parents, of course. But when your boyfriend is a vegetarian, and your family…isn’t, well things are bound to get interesting. Meet the Savages, a close-knit family with long-standing traditions and a taste for…human flesh? Yes, you read that right. The Savages may seem normal on the outside, but their celebrations at home include carefully and lovingly prepared meals of the cannibalistic variety.  When sixteen-year-old Sasha Savage decides to go vegetarian for a month in order to impress Jack, the family will never be the same again. The Savages is full of black humor of the hysterically funny kind, and will no doubt end up one of my favorite reads of the month.

In order for mom Angelica Savage to afford her expensive shopping sprees, she’s agreed to rent their house out to film crews for commercials. An unfortunate freak accident in the guest bathroom leaves actress Lulabelle Hart dead, and the Savage family wondering what to do with her body. When a private detective becomes suspicious about Lulabelle’s disappearance, the Savage family will need all their wits to stay one step ahead of the law.

Whyman’s writing style is snappy with perfect comedic timing. He does dialog so well, that despite the absurdity of the storyline, I could easily see this story playing out on the big screen. Each character adds something special to this book, and I loved all of them, even the bumbling and inept PI Vernon English, who spends most of the story trying to figure out exactly what the Savage family is hiding.

Grandpa Oleg was one of my favorite characters, a man who fretfully wanders the house in a state of confusion (he can never remember where the bathroom is). But he has a heart of gold and a soft spot for his granddaughter Sasha, who tries to explain to him why she doesn’t want to eat meat anymore, to which he replies: “If giving up meat makes you truly happy, then so be it. Just so long as you don’t give up on family.”

I also loved Sasha’s younger brother Ivan, a misunderstood boy whose talent is devising elaborate (and often dangerous) pranks that usually get him in trouble. And baby Katya, who is about to be initiated into the family’s carnivorous traditions once her teeth come in, has some very funny moments of her own, one of which involves a large chunk of tofu.

But as hilarious as the story is, Whyman throws in some social commentary about vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, but makes it all part of the plot without really taking sides. I’d love to hear from some of my vegetarian/vegan friends about whether there is actually a rivalry between the two groups. Sasha does pretty well when she decides to give up meat, but when her boyfriend Jack turns hardcore and gives up dairy and eggs, their relationship takes a turn for the worse. Whyman manages to poke fun of just about everyone in the story without going too far, which makes for a lively and highly entertaining tale.

Reading The Savages might just make you hungry for a perfectly prepared steak, or it might turn you off meat altogether. Whichever side you fall on, I guarantee you’re going to have a blast. Highly recommended.

About the Author:

Matt Whyman is a bestselling author, also known for his work as an advice columnist for numerous teenage magazines.

He has written two novels for adults, Man or Mouse and Columbia Road, as well as both fiction and non-fiction for teenagers, including Superhuman, XY, Boy Kills Man, XY:100, The Wild, the So Below trilogy, Inside the CageGoldstrike and The Savages.

His most recent books, Oink! My Life With Minipigs (also known as Pig in the Middle), and Walking with Sausage Dogs, are both comic memoirs about family life with problem pets, published by Hodder and Stoughton.

Matt has worked as ghost-writer for the recent autobiography of a celebrity dancing dog, and under the pen name of Carnegie-nominated mystery writer, Lazlo Strangolov, author of Feather and Bone and Tooth and Claw.

A graduate from the University of East Anglia’s MA in Creative Writing, Matt is often invited to teach the subject for writers of all ages. Recently, he has hosted workshops across Russia and the Middle East.

In 1995, Matt became the first agony uncle for 19 magazine, and has subsequently written regular advice columns for B, Fox Kids, AOL UK and Bliss. He often appears on television and radio in this role. Over the years he has co-presented a series of ITV’s cult Saturday morning show, Love Bites, and a live weekly phone-in on LBC. He is currently resident agony uncle on BBC Radio 1′s The Surgery

Matt is married with four children, and lives in West Sussex, UK.

Find Matt: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Big thanks to Book Nerd Tours for organizing this blog tour and supplying a review copy! Click the logo below to see all the other stops on the tour:

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Mean Girls Meets Carrie: THE MERCILESS by Danielle Vega – Review

 

The Merciless 3D

The Merciless by Danielle Vega
Genre: Young adult horror
Publisher: Razorbill
Release date: June 12 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages: 279

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: A thrilling, terrifying and shockingly gruesome story that held me under its spell until the bitter end.

We walk past the living room, where the sleeping bags are rolled and stacked next to the pillows in a corner. None of the tea lights are lit, and it makes this place feel emptier than before. I realize how alone we are out here, with nothing but dirt and the skeletons of half-built houses surrounding us. Wind rattles the plastic at the windows. I imagine it rolling over miles of empty land to press against this house, and suddenly it seems strong enough to rip off walls.

As I’m preparing to write this review, I’m glancing over the notes I took while reading The Merciless, and they are very scant indeed. This was one of those rare reading experiences where I was so caught up in the story that I forgot to take review notes. This book will grab you by your throat and it won’t let go, even when you’re gasping and about to faint from lack of oxygen. Readers beware: on the back of the book is a warning that states “For Mature Audiences Only.” Take heed! I would not let my thirteen-year-old read this, and probably not even my fifteen-year-old. No, there isn’t any sex to speak of. But there are some extremely scary and heart-racing slasher-type scenes that are not for the faint of heart. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about the plot, other than to briefly set up the story. Going into this book blind is the best way to experience it, and I wouldn’t want to ruin anything for you. In fact, try to avoid reading the story blurb if you can (I feel like it gives way too much information.) Danielle Vega takes mindfuckery to a whole new level with The Merciless, and I can honestly say I was surprised by the twisty turns of events in this story.

We’ve seen this set-up before—the new girl in town awkwardly tries to fit in her first day of school—but you’ve never seen it done like this before. Sofia has just moved to a small town in Mississippi and is trying her best to make friends. She meets an interesting girl named Brooklyn, a cute boy named Charlie, and a group of queen bees named Riley, Grace and Alexis. All of these characters come together one very fateful night, and no one will ever be the same again.

And that’s all you’re getting from me, as far as the plot goes. Vega’s writing is as sharp and honed as a knife’s edge. Her present tense narrative is told in first person from Sofia’s POV, and even though each character is well-developed and I honestly would have loved to read this story from other points of view, I thought giving Sofia the reins was a good choice. Sofia transitions from “innocent new girl” to someone who is forced to make snap decisions that could mean life or death, and I loved her growing realization that her normally boring life has just become a nightmare.

Vega knows how to write a suspenseful story. Each scene builds steadily from innocent to slightly creepy to downright terrifying. It’s one of those reading experiences where you finally look up from the page and wonder “How in the world did we get here??” In the beginning I tried to guess where Vega was headed with the story, but after being wrong several times, I decided to just sit back and enjoy the ride. And boy, what a ride! Besides the build-up of suspense, she plants small but effective details into the story that make the reader uneasy—but you don’t realize why you feel that way. For example, at one point Sofia is walking up to her house after school, and a garden snake crosses her path. It’s not a big deal, but it seems to suggest that there are bad things to come.

At its heart, this is a story about secrets, and each character is hiding something. Riley, the girl with the perfect hair and make-up who is the instigator of most of the horror in this book, believes that each girl should confess their sins before God, in order to be cleansed. This religious fervor simply made the story more creepy for me, hence my comparison to Stephen King’s Carrie.

For the most part, this is realistic thriller fiction, although I was surprised at the end to find a twist that I wasn’t expecting. About three-quarters of the way through the story I started to wonder how Vega was going to wrap things up. The characters find themselves stuck in one dire situation after another, and I couldn’t think of any scenario that didn’t end tragically for everyone. But she surprised me yet again by taking the story in a direction that had me gasping and saying “WTF??”

There were only one or two plot contrivances that seemed more convenient to the story than realistic (and I can’t even tell you what they are!), but they are easily forgiven. If you love thrillers, and especially if you love horror, The Merciless will blow you away. I can’t wait to see what Danielle Vega has in store for us next.

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

You can find The Merciless here:

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Filed under 4 1/2 stars, Reviews

Severed Heads & Buckets of Blood: TECHNICOLOR TERRORISTS by Andre Duza – Review

Technicolor Terrorists 3D

Technicolor Terrorists by Andre Duza
Genre: Adult Bizarro/Horror
Publisher: Deadite Press
Release date: March 2014
Source: e-Book from author
Pages: 268

four stars

The nitty-gritty: Over-the-top violence, killer clowns with more to them than meets the eye, and a slew of carnival misfits that leave the carnival and venture out into the world, leaving chaos in their wake.

The bouncy ball named Louie had rolled further away and was watching from a safe distance and under the cover of heavy shadows. It was darker on this end of the block, but darkness suited Louie just fine. The congestion in front of Kurt Sadler’s house was as good a sign as any that it was time to move on from this place. But the limbo between haunts was the most agonizing part of being alone. Appeasing his lecherous proclivities was becoming secondary to finding a permanent haunt or, dare he dream, legitimate acceptance.

Author Andre Duza says in his bio that he is a leading member of the Bizarro movement in contemporary fiction. I’ll admit I had never heard of Bizarro until I read Technicolor Terrorists, but I won’t soon forget these odd and violent stories. This book is certainly not for everyone. The graphic violence is almost comical, it’s so ridiculously over-the-top, but it is graphic violence nonetheless, and reading it made my stomach heave more than once. What Duza does to justify this violence is frame it in a story about carnival clowns and other oddities, and seen in that light it works extremely well.

A collection of loosely connected stories, Duza starts the book with a tale about a traveling carnival, whose disgruntled clowns and the few remaining sideshow freaks are about to be thrust out into the real world. From there, we get to see the various characters out of their element and trying to survive without the constraints of the carnival. Some of the same characters pop up again and again, and I did like the fact that the first and last stories focus on the same character, a large stone statue of a weeping Jesus. I thought the stories ended rather abruptly, however, as though Duza was trying too hard to be clever by giving us a shock ending. And although each story features at least one character from the opening tale, I did miss the cohesiveness that a novel gives you. These stories are more like vignettes, snapshots of some very bizarre characters that are more mood pieces that a complete story.

But overall this is a well-written bunch of stories that will certainly go under the “new and different” category of genre fiction. Here’s a quick break-down of each one:

The Holy Ghost Claw—Harley Cooper, the head of the Toxic Brothers Traveling Carnival, has just acquired a new side-show act, one that he thinks is bound to get the carnival back on its financial feet. But the carnival’s clowns, a family group known as the Ton brothers, don’t like the way Marley’s been running things, and they want payback. The story starts out innocently enough, but soon turns horrific as the reader begins to realize that these are not your ordinary clowns.

Paper Cuts—After the terrible events at the end of The Holy Ghost Claw, the carnival freaks have been set loose on the world. One of them, an odd character named Louie 2D, turns up in a suburban real estate development called Utopia Springs Estates and begins to terrorize the people who live there. It doesn’t take long for this story to turn bloody, and after reading this you’ll never look at a rubber ball the same way again.

Technicolor Terrorists—The longest story of the bunch, this one focuses on the Ton brothers clowns, a bunch of the weirdest and scariest clowns I’ve ever met in fiction! A detective named Officer Mars gets caught up in a bizarre murder investigation and realizes—too late—that he is in way over his head. This whacked out story is crowded with murderous clowns who have more than one face, the mob, guns, and buckets of blood. Duza keeps the reader off guard by leaving us to wonder what is real and what isn’t.

Indo and the Killer Rockstar—This story features another oddity from the carnival, a creature named Indo who can turn into mist at will.  Indo sets out to help a rock star named Jason Sykes, whose music causes people to turn on and rip each other to shreds. When Jason is framed for a club fire that kills everyone inside, he finds himself on the run from various demented groups of people who want to bring him to justice. No clowns in this story, but plenty of Duza’s brand of graphic violence.

Drug Runnin’ Blues—The final, and shortest, tale in the collection, this is the only story that I didn’t really enjoy. Maybe it was just too short and ended way too abruptly. A man on a drug run is contemplating whether or not to finish the job—he’s worried about getting caught and going to jail—when some key events on the road help him make his decision.

Bizarro indeed. Technicolor Terrorists will pull you out of any reading rut you happen to be in, if only by shocking you with its blend of horror, dark humor and violence. Duza’s stories are an unfocused everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mixture that seems like it shouldn’t work at all. But in the end, I looked back over the book as a whole and caught a glimpse of the author’s vision. I’m not sure I understood everything he was trying to accomplish, but it was a fun ride.

Big thanks to Andre Duza for supplying a review copy.

You can find the book here:

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Filed under 4 stars, Reviews

Magic Carpets & Dragon Horses: THE SILK MAP by Chris Willrich – Review

The Silk Map 3D

The Silk Map (Gaunt and Bone #2) by Chris Willrich
Genre: Adult fantasy
Publisher: Pyr
Release date: May 6 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages:  445

four stars

The nitty-gritty:  A finely detailed story of a quest, with subtle wit and humor, beautifully written, complete with thoughtful meditations on life and love.

It was among the more terrifying moments of his life, yet he would always treasure it afterward, the time he soared, more or less, on a magic carpet. That it was more of a whirling dive than true flight, and that he was hanging from Deadfall rather than standing atop it—these were quibbles. Earthy, dusty heat rose from below. Sunset dunes twisted with jabbing shadows, like persimmons spattered with ink.

 I am coming, Persimmon.

I very much enjoyed Willrich’s first Gaunt and Bone story, The Scroll of Years, and because it ended with many questions unanswered, I was anxious to find out what happened to Innocence and A-Girl-Is-A-Joy, the children of Gaunt and Bone and Snow Pine, who were trapped in a magical scroll at the end of the story. And I can tell you that some things were resolved in this follow-up, but not all, and I was relieved to discover that there will be a third book coming out called The Chart of Tomorrows, which will hopefully tie up all the loose ends. Willrich’s world is an interesting blend of East meets West, and his love of Asian culture is evident in both books. But even more than his world-building, I simply adore his writing style. Scattered throughout the story are poems written by Persimmon Gaunt, who is a poet (and she’s pretty good with a sword as well), poems that are startlingly good.

The Silk Map is not a book you should rush through, however. I found myself frustrated at times that the story was moving so slowly—mostly due to the fact that I am way behind with review books—but I realized when I finished that this story is meant to be savored.

The short version of the story is this: Gaunt, Bone, and their friend Snow Pine are trying to find the scroll where their two children are trapped. They stumble across a Great Sage who strikes a bargain: if they can locate and bring back ironsilk caterpillars, the Sage will help them find the scroll. The three friends set out to do just that, but a perilous and circuitous journey awaits them. For in order to locate the caterpillars, they must first find the missing pieces of the silk map, pieces that have been scattered around the world. And it turns out they aren’t the only ones looking for the map, as ironsilk is highly prized and a fortune worth killing for.

The characters of Gaunt and Bone are unusual in genre fiction, because they are a married couple with a child. This time around, Willrich shows the cracks that are beginning to show in their marriage, and honestly portrays such things as jealousy, anger, and losing a child. Although it may sound as if this is a serious story, that isn’t the case at all. Willrich subtly adds these observations and gives them a humorous twist, like the time that Bone dreams he is married to both Gaunt and Snow Pine, and wakes up in a cold sweat, thankful that it was only a dream.

There were many cool fantasy elements that made this story special, my favorite being a sentient magic carpet named Deadfall, who is on his own journey and meets up with Gaunt and Bone to help them at one point. I also loved the dragon horses, multi-colored animals that help transport the gang, and Gaunt’s sword Crypttongue, who imprisons the souls of its victims inside the gems that adorn the hilt.

The story itself is full of other stories: tale upon tale buried inside like Russian nesting dolls. I did like this idea, but I also felt it slowed down the pace quite a bit. I found myself getting caught up in a certain scene, only to have the action stop abruptly as one character or another felt the need to tell a story. Sometimes I even lost the story thread completely and found it hard to get started again, especially when the points of view were constantly changing. But upon finishing the book, I could see what Willrich had set out to construct: a carefully planned but meandering maze, with many starts and stops, and even places where reality shifts entirely. This is one case where you need to look past the trees to see the grandeur and beauty of the forest.

Willrich’s sly observations about relationships and life in general kept the tone light throughout, and I found myself chuckling and nodding my head in agreement. Some of the philosophical discussions between characters lost me at times, but I did appreciate the fact that almost every character in The Silk Map is intelligent and thoughtful.

If you’re looking for a page-turner, this probably won’t work for you. Which is not to say that The Silk Map isn’t exciting. There were some thrilling scenes, but they are interrupted by quiet and thoughtful moments, which lull the reader into thinking they are safe, before the author throws his characters back into danger once more. Willrich leaves poor Gaunt and Bone in yet another tricky situation at the end of the story, ensuring that I will be reading the next book to find out what happens.

Big thanks to Pyr for providing a review copy.

You can find The Silk Map here:

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Filed under 4 stars, Reviews

Jane Austen Meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer: THE FALCONER by Elizabeth May – Review

The Falconer 3D

The Falconer (The Falconer #1) by Elizabeth May
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Publisher:  Chronicle Books
Release date: May 6 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via Edelweiss
Pages: 378

five stars

The nitty-gritty:  An irresistible mix of steampunk and Scottish faery lore, a feisty heroine with depth, a yummy male love interest, just enough violence for the boys, and just enough romance for the girls.

I’m about to double back to the gardens when the full taste of the faery’s power hits me. My head snaps up and I briefly savor the sensation. Honey and dirt and pure nature, a thousand flavors that are difficult to describe. The taste of the wild—running through trees with wind in my hair as my feet pound soft dirt. The sea on a misty morning, with sand and water swirling around my legs. A taste that conjures images that look real and significant. There is only one faery I’ve ever met with that signature.

The title of this blog post sums it up: Aileana is Buffy, except she’s Scottish and she kills faeries instead of vampires. Kiaran is Angel, but he’s actually more like Angelus, the bad Angel. (Apologies to those of you who are going “Huh?” right now.) In addition to all that Buffy goodness, May has the language of Austen down pat, and she somehow manages to add sprinklings of steampunk elements to the mix. And the entire thing works, believe it or not. I had the best time reading The Falconer, and if I could sum up this book in one word, it would be “charming.” Aileana’s first person voice was charming, May’s unique Scottish/Steampunk/fantasy world was charming, and the growing romance between faery killer Aileana and her bad boy faery mentor Kiaran was, yes, charming! In many ways this book reminded me of my reading experience with Stolen Songbird, two cases where the authors just got it right. They managed to pull all sorts of elements together in just the right way, and because of this, their books stand out from the crowd. (Although what’s up with the cliffhangers, ladies?? More about that later…)

We meet Aileana Kameron at a party straight out of Pride and Prejudice, as she is trying to blend in with the other girls her age, while stalking and killing an evil faery before he attacks. She is a Falconer, the last in a line of faery killers, and she’s out to avenge her mother’s death by hunting down the faery that killed her. But Aileana’s life is complicated by many things, including a father who wants to marry her off as quickly as possible, a faery named Kiaran who saved her life and now trains her to kill other faeries, and an annoying yet lovable pixie named Derrick who lives in her closet and mends her clothes.

But when a mystical seal that is preventing faeries from spilling out into this world begins to weaken, it’s up to Aileana to fix it, and she only has six days to do so. It’s a race against the clock as she tries to stop the end of the world, kill her mother’s murderer, and try to keep her secret life secret, all while battling her growing feelings for a decidedly improper man who just happens to be a faery himself. It is any wonder she’s exhausted?

The faeries in The Falconer are not of the Tinkerbell variety at all. They are vicious, evil creatures who come in all shapes and sizes and whose sole purpose is to kill humans and absorb their life energy. Most of them have long pointy teeth that can rip out your throat in an instant, as well as all manner of disgusting facial features that put them firmly in the “monster” category. And there is certainly no shortage of blood in this book. May’s fight scenes are almost gleefully violent and bloody, and Aileana spends most of the story trying to recover from one injury or another. I loved that one moment Aileana is a proper young lady in a billowing ball gown, and the next she’s ripping off her skirts to go chase after faeries.

At first I was a bit thrown by the steampunk bits, but May made them work. In addition to everything else Aileana is doing, she is also an inventor, and she spends her free time tinkering with mechanical devices to make weapons. I especially loved her flying machine, an odd contraption like a flying car that resembles a large bat as it flaps through the skies. I know what you’re thinking: Flying cars? Swords? Magical faery realms? High society? How could all these things fit into one story? Trust me, they do.

May incorporates the Scottish element by throwing in lots of terms from Scottish mythology, like the types of faeries that Aileana hunts. She clearly did lots of research, and even though I couldn’t begin to pronounce terms like baobhan sith or sgian dubh, I didn’t mind because they made the story that much more authentic.

But even though I loved May’s unique world-building, it was the characters that really stood out for me. I adored Aileana’s grit and sass, but I have to admit that her pixie friend Derrick was the character who stole my heart. He was like a male Tinkerbell who is loyal to his mistress but gets drunk when he eats too much honey. I mean, who wouldn’t want their own Derrick sitting on their shoulder, invisible to everyone else?

Buffy vs. Angelus

Yes, there is a romance in this story, because hey, it’s young adult. But I loved the subtle way the author handled it, and I’ve never said this in a review before, but I completely shipped Kiaran and Aileana. Kiaran is a delightful blend of bad-ass/dangerous/mysterious/loyal/protective/gorgeous, and I knew the moment he walked onto the page that I was going to love him.

Other reviewers have complained about the cliffhanger ending, and I’m no exception. It does end abruptly and right in the middle of the action, leaving us to wonder how on earth our characters will survive long enough to make it into book two. But other than that, and a few too many instances of Aileana biting her tongue (I actually started highlighting them because she does it so often!), there is little not to like in The Falconer. May’s writing is polished and practically dances across the page, and I fear it’s going to be a long wait for the next book in the series. Until then, watch your back and don’t get lured by a faery who may be after your life energy. And why don’t you read this book while you’re waiting? Please excuse me while I go binge-watch my Buffy DVDs…Highly recommended!

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ from the finished version.

Find The Falconer here:

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PEACEMAKER by Marianne de Pierres – Review

Peacemaker Tour Banner

I’m very excited to be part of the Peacemaker Blog Tour. I loved this book! It was a refreshing change from the standard science fiction fare, and I’m so glad I had the chance to read it.

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Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres
Genre: Adult science fiction
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release date:  April 29 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 416

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A quirky mix of old west and sci-fi, a kick-ass heroine who can’t seem to stay out of trouble, and just a bit of romance, in all the right places.

Heart without the smile was a good looking guy with a great body. With the smile he became a weapon of mass destruction.

I was immediately intrigued by this book when I first saw the eye-catching cover by Joey Hi-Fi, an artist who has done many of the Angry Robot covers. And can I just say, this cover perfectly captures the tone of Peacemaker. It’s a kick-ass western/sci-fi/urban fantasy that was unlike anything else I’ve read, and I had a blast reading it. Marianne de Pierres has a compact and finely honed writing style, filled with snappy dialog reminiscent of great noir fiction. Not only is this story an awesome genre mash-up, but it takes place in Australia, which for me, added to its charm. I’m happy to say that this is only the first book in de Pierres’ new series, and I am anxiously awaiting book two.

Virgin is a park ranger who patrols and cares for Birrimun Park, one of the last sprawling natural parks around. Her father taught her to respect the land and its natural resources, and she’s taken that lesson to heart, especially after his suspicious death inside the park. But a new Marshall named Nate Sixkiller has come to town to monitor some suspected drug trafficking, and now he’s Virgin’s responsibility. When Virgin witnesses a murder in the park after dark, all hell breaks loose, and she and Nate must figure out why they’re being targeted by a group called Korax.  Virgin suspects that Nate knows more than he’s telling her, and he may even know what happened to her father. When an imaginary eagle from Virgin’s past named Aquila shows up unexpectedly, she knows things are only going to get weirder. With so many mysteries to unravel, what’s a girl to do?

My favorite thing about Peacemaker was Virgin’s first person narration. She’s sassy and quick with the snarky retorts, and she doesn’t take shit from anyone. Virgin has a lover—not a boyfriend, mind you—who she spends one night a week with, a hot male stripper named Heart. I adored their relationship, mostly because I loved the way Virgin only wants Heart for sex, and nothing else. It was such a great way to turn the tables on what is usually a stereotypical male relationship scenario. Virgin is the type of woman who knows what she wants, and doesn’t let anyone stand in her way.

When Sixkiller comes into the picture—and boy, do I love his name!—I thought at first a love triangle might be brewing. And in a way, there is one, but it was skillfully done and didn’t take over the story. This is most decidedly not a romance, but it had romantic elements that felt natural and fit within the fast-paced mystery without bringing the action to a screeching halt. Sixkiller is one of those characters with lots of secrets, and it was fun watching Virgin try to figure him out.

de Pierres’ dialog is so good, I just have to share a snippet with you, like this scene between Sixkiller and Virgin’s friend Corah:

“Caro Jenae, and Marshall Nate Sixkiller,” I said by way of introduction. “Meet…um…Corah.”

Marshall Sixkiller. What a shame…all the best men are always in law enforcement,” she said, completely ignoring Caro.

“Well I take that as a compliment, ma’am,” said Sixkiller in his broadest drawl. “And hope you don’t hold it ag’in me.”

“I’d like to hold many things ag’in you Marshall. Perhaps I could make you a list.”

The genre mash-up I mentioned earlier really makes Peacemaker stand out from the usual fare of science fiction. The story has an overall feeling of a western, what with all the pistols and gun-toting characters. But small sci-fi details remind us that we’re not in the old West, details like the invisible force field that covers Birrimun Park, and the dissolving gloves that Virgin uses in one scene.

The city itself, which lends an urban fantasy vibe to the story, is divided into small factions that employ their own methods of law enforcement, rather than rely on the government to help them. Society is slowly falling apart, and parts of the city are downright dangerous, such as Mystere, a place where you can go to get your tarot read, but if you wander too far off the main road, you’re likely to be shot for looking at someone the wrong way.

The story has many funny moments, and I found myself laughing out loud more than once. One particular running gag was perfectly done. When someone breaks into Virgin’s apartment and Sixkiller saves her by killing the intruder, the police tape outline of the murder victim almost becomes a character itself, when Virgin names it “John Flat.”

My only issue with the book is that there is a lot going on, and I lost track a few times of what the characters were doing. But there is so much to love about Peacemaker: colorful characters, references to mythology, lots of mysteries to solve and some complex relationships that leave lots of fodder for book two. Several surprises are revealed near the end, which makes me want to read the next installment even more. If you are ready for a story that stands out from the crowd with a unique feel all its own, Peacemaker is truly worth your time.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

You can find Peacemaker here:

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About the author:

SONY DSCMarianne de Pierres is the author of the acclaimed Parrish Plessis, the award-winning Sentients of Orion science fiction series and the upcoming Peacemaker SF Western series. The Parrish Plessis series has been translated into eight languages and adapted into a roleplaying game. She’s also the author of a teen dark fantasy series.

Marianne is an active supporter of genre fiction and has mentored many writers. She lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband and three galahs. Marianne writes award-winning crime under the pseudonym Marianne Delacourt.

Find Marianne: Author Website | Twitter | Goodreads

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Atmospheric & Emotional: MORNINGSIDE FALL by Jay Posey – Review

MSF 3D

Morningside Fall (Legends of the Duskwalker Book #2) by Jay Posey
Genre: Adult science fiction
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release date: April 29 2014
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages:  512

four stars

The nitty-gritty: Atmospheric, terrifying, and emotionally wrenching, with a group of likable side characters that steal the show, and one missing hero that dulls the shine on this story.

The calls of the Weir were coming almost on top of each other now, from all directions. At least that’s what it seemed like to Cass. With the way the walls carried the sounds and the echoes, it was impossible to accurately judge numbers, distance, or location. But Cass felt the hair stand up on her neck and knew they were walking a knife’s edge. She could feel the Weir, in a way. A kind of wild pressure, like the tension in the air just before a violent storm.

SPOILER ALERT !!!!

Yes, there will be spoilers. I cannot write this review without touching on one of the events from Three. I usually try to keep my reviews spoiler free, but many of my feelings about Morningside Fall hinge on this event, and I can’t properly convey my reactions to the book without mentioning it. I’m whiting out the spoiler, so if you’ve read Three and don’t mind reading it, simply highlight the blank area below.  There, you have been duly warned. Turn back now and you won’t be hurt;-)

Last year Three was one of my top ten books of the year (you can read my review here), and so I was highly anticipating the second book in Jay Posey’s series. And while I did enjoy Morningside Fall for the most part, it didn’t grab me the way Three did. Three made me cry, big time. The entire book was infused with emotion, and Jay’s stunning writing made me feel as if I were right there with the characters, travelling across the Strand, the barren wasteland where the zombie-like creatures called the Weir roam and hunt. Morningside Fall made me cry as well, but it was the last quarter of the story that really lived up to its predecessor, which came a little too late for me to give it a higher rating. Nonetheless, Posey is a talented writer and has an amazing future in the world of science fiction/fantasy, and even if I wasn’t completely wowed by this book, you can bet I’ll be clamoring to read the next one.

When the story begins, young Wren and his mother Cass are living in the compound of Morningside Fall, where Wren is ruling as Governor of the city, after having saved the people of Morningside at the end of Three. But Wren’s shaky relationship with his advisors has created a tension among the people, who seem to be split on the idea of Wren’s ruling to allow Awakened Weir (people who had been claimed and turned by the vicious once-human creatures that prowl outside the walls, and then returned to near-human form by Wren) to live within the city walls.

When Wren is attacked in his room one night, events start to spiral out of control, and Wren and his mother Cass are forced to flee the city, to avoid being blamed for a murder. As they struggle to stay alive outside the walls, with only a handful of loyal friends to help them, the Weir begin to change, and Wren wonders if they’ll ever be safe again.

ThreeSo let’s get the spoiler out of the way. And we’re actually told this, more or less, in the blurb for Morningside Fall. But in order to understand my feelings about this book, you need to know this: Three, hero, bad-ass, and all-around awesome character from the last book, is dead. I cried buckets of tears over him at the end of Three, but I held out a small sliver of hope that perhaps he wasn’t actually dead. You know, authors do that all the time. Bring people back from the dead in one way or another. And so I began this book with hope, that Three might miraculously reappear, or at the very least, he would be replaced with another awesome, bad-ass hero that I could root for. Unfortunately, neither of these things happened. Three was what made the last book so special for me, and I wanted Morningside Fall to give me someone else to love as much. Instead of a central hero figure, we get some pretty awesome side characters, but for me, they couldn’t take the place of Three. At one point Wren says, “I wish Three were here.” I couldn’t agree more. *End of Spoiler.

I want to talk about some of these side characters, because they were the main draw for me this time around. Painter is one of Wren’s best friends, a damaged boy who has been Awakened by Wren after becoming a Weir himself. Painter is now living in the complex, but the Weir side of him is still very strong, and he often yearns for his old life outside the city walls. He is torn by his love for and loyalty to Wren, but something is calling to him, and it’s getting harder and harder to push that voice aside. Painter is such a tragic figure, and I absolutely loved him.

I also loved the group of soldiers who steadfastly protect Wren and Cass. I could have read an entire book dedicated to these people! Swoop, Gamble, Sky and Wick are fiercely protective of young Wren and his mother, and I loved the military jargon and short and snappy dialogue they use to communicate with each other.

The overall atmosphere of Morningside Fall was one of tense, edge-of-your-seat terror. Posey knows how to convey suspense, and he put his characters in danger over and over again, which left my pulse pounding and my heart racing. This is science fiction, but like the best SF, it’s also horror. Every time the characters are exposed to the Weir, we’re never really sure what’s going to happen to them. Posey also loves to make his characters suffer by separating them from the people they love most, and I had more than one bout of tears while reading this book.

But for whatever reason, Morningside Fall’s pacing suffered because there was just too much going on. The story felt fractured to me and could have used a little more editing, in my opinion. A mysterious character referred to as “Blindfold” (yes, the guy on the cover) appears near the beginning of the story, but then disappears almost until the end, making me wonder why Posey even included him. (We do find out who he is eventually, although honestly I was hoping he would turn out to be someone else…) Blindfold’s mission is never really explained, though, and I’m baffled as to why the publisher decided to put him front and center on the cover. (I would have given that distinction to Cass.)

But as you see, I’ve given Morningside Fall four stars, which means there is a lot to enjoy in this book. It might not be everything I wanted it to be, but I did love being back in Posey’s terrifying, post-apocalyptic world, where danger can be found around every corner, even when you think you’re safe behind the walls.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote is from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version. Don’t forget to stop back here tomorrow, where I’ll have an interview with author Jay Posey, and a giveaway for Morningside Fall!

You can find Morningside Fall here:

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SCAN by Walter Jury & Sarah Fine – Blog Tour & Review

ScanVBT

Welcome to my stop on the Scan blog tour! Today I’m reviewing the book, and if you come back on Friday, I have a very cool interview with author Walter Jury.

Scan 3D

Scan by Walter Jury & Sarah Fine
Genre: Young adult science fiction
Publisher: Putnam Children’s
Release date: May 1 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages: 336

Tate and his father don’t exactly get along. As Tate sees it, his father has unreasonably high expectations for Tate to be the best—at everything. Tate finally learns what he’s being prepared for when he steals one of his dad’s odd tech inventions and mercenaries ambush the school, killing his father in the process and sending Tate on the run from aliens who look just like humans. 

All Tate knows–like how to make weapons out of oranges and lighter fluid–may not be enough to save him as he’s plunged into a secret inter-species conflict that’s been going on for centuries. Aided only by his girlfriend and his estranged mother, with powerful enemies closing in on all sides, Tate races to puzzle out the secret behind his father’s invention and why so many are willing to kill for it. A riveting, fast-paced adventure, Scan is a clever alien thriller with muscle and heart.

four stars

The nitty-gritty: Fast-paced and exciting, an engaging main character, lots of awesome gadgets and just the right amount of romance.

I am sitting next to my dead father in the backseat of a blood-smeared, bullet-pocked SUV driven by my girlfriend. Who is an alien.

I love that quote because it perfectly sets the tone of the story and gives you an idea of the voice of main character Tate Archer, a teenaged boy whose life has just taken a hard left turn without any warning. I enjoyed Scan so much! It was a breath of fresh air to read a fun and exciting adventure story with plenty of action and characters that I could really relate too—without getting too heavy-handed and preachy. The word that keeps coming to mind about Scan is fun. This book was a fun read, and even though it wasn’t perfect, it came at just the right time for me when I needed a story that wasn’t too complex. The writing is succinct and snappy, and Tate’s voice is one of the best things about this book. This is Jury’s first book for the young adult crowd, but his co-author Sarah Fine is a seasoned writer, and her skills shine through. The small issues I had with the story did not detract from my enjoyment at all, and I honestly cannot wait to read the next book in the series.

To briefly set up the story, Tate is a high school junior whose life is anything but normal. On the outside, he goes to his classes and hangs out with his girlfriend Christina, but during his off hours, his schedule is rigidly set by his controlling father. Tate’s father makes him study advanced chemistry and multiple foreign languages in addition to his subjects in school, puts him on a grueling schedule of daily jiu jitsu classes and body building, and gives him carefully controlled meals with just the right amounts of calories and protein to keep Tate in top physical shape. Tate can’t stand his father, mostly because he won’t tell Tate why he’s making his life miserable.

But one day, Tate and Christina decide to break into his dad’s secret home laboratory, and what they find there changes their lives in an instant. Tate’s father has been developing an instrument made with stolen alien technology, a scanner that glows either blue or red, depending on who it’s focused on. Tate steals the scanner and foolishly takes it to school the next day, but when the cops, some menacing men in suits, and his father show up in the school cafeteria, Tate realizes he’s made a huge mistake. Now he and Christina are running for their lives, and trying to keep the scanner from getting into the wrong hands.

The story is told in first person from Tate’s POV, and frankly, I loved being inside his head. Tate is a teenaged boy through and through. He’s angry at his controlling father and rebels against him every chance he gets, often by using the knowledge he’s gained from all those extra hours of studying by thwarting his father. The blurb on the back of the book compares Scan to MacGyver, which is a great comparison. Tate can make fireworks out of powdered sugar and toilet bowl cleaner and bombs out of oranges and lighter fluid, and his quick thinking and clever ideas save him more than once. His voice is at times snarky and sarcastic, but sometimes you can see the uncertainty and confusion of being a teen come through.

The best part of Tate’s character is the way he feels about Christina. I’ve never actually been inside the head of a teenaged boy, but I can imagine this is exactly what it must be like. His feelings for Christina are of course sexual in nature, but he also loves and respects her and doesn’t want to do anything to hurt her. Even when he finds out that she’s, well, different.

I also loved Tate’s mom, who turns out to be a bad-ass character that saves the day more than once. Since Tate’s parents are divorced, Tate is surprised when his mom shows up, and even more so when she turns out to have mad survival skills. But as you’ll find out when you read Scan, Tate doesn’t know who to trust, and even as the people in his life are starting to take sides over certain issues, Tate is hesitant to make a decision about what is right and what is wrong.

So yes,  Scan is about aliens. But I don’t want to say much more than that and spoil some of the surprises for you. Although I did find parts of the story to be predictable and ridiculously easy to figure out (for example, I was never in the dark about what the blue and red lights emanating from the scanner meant), I’ll admit I was never 100% sure about other things, and that made me flip furiously through the pages as quickly as possible. Also, I never really felt as if the aliens were aliens, if you know what I mean. These aliens look and act exactly like humans, and I sort of missed that feeling of otherworldliness that you might have with stories like Alien, for example.

But despite these small issues, I had a great time reading Scan, and I can’t wait to get my hands on Burn, the next book in the series. Honestly, there is nothing like a chase story, and this one is a perfect example of how much fun they can be. Mystery, action, romance, and danger: Scan has it all, and this should be the next book you read.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Quote above was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ from the finished version.

You can find Scan here:
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Walter Jury (Pouya Shahbazian)Walter Jury was born in London, has a background in the film industry, is a big fan of the New York Giants, and enthusiast of Jamba Juice’s Protein Berry Workout smoothie only with soy, never whey. Scan is his first book for teens. Oh, and under his real name, he’s a producer of one of 2014’s biggest blockbusters. Let’s just say he “diverges” in his career from film to literature quite well.

Sarah FineSarah Fine was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast, where she lives with her husband and two children. She is the author of several young adult books, and when she’s not writing, she’s working as a child psychologist. No, she is not psychoanalyzing you right now.

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THE MAKING OF NEBRASKA BROWN by Louise Caiola – Review

Nebraska Brown 3D

The Making of Nebraska Brown by Louise Caiola
Publisher: Immortal Ink Publishing
Release date: February 2014
Source: e-book from publisher
Pages: 318

About the story:

The last thing eighteen-year-old Ann Leigh remembers is running from her boyfriend in a thick Nebraska cornfield. This morning she’s staring down a cool Italian sunrise, an entire continent from the life she once knew. The events of the eighteen months in between have inexplicably gone missing from her memory.

All at once she’s living with Tommy, an attractive, young foreigner asking for her continued love. Though he’s vaguely familiar, she recalls a boy named Shane in America who she reluctantly agreed to marry. Juggling a new world while her old one is still M.I.A is difficult enough without the terrifying movie scenes spinning a dizzy loop in her mind: glimpses of a devastating house fire, a romance gone wrong, an unplanned pregnancy, and a fractured family – each claiming to be part of who she once was – a girl and a past somehow discarded.

Ann Leigh must collect the pieces of herself to become whole again, but she doesn’t know who to trust especially when Tommy’s lies become too obvious to ignore. And above all, her heart aches to discover what became of the child she may or may not have given birth to.

The Making of Nebraska Brown tells the story of one girl’s coming apart from the inside and the great lengths she’ll go to reclaim herself and find her way home.

three and a half

The nitty-gritty: An engaging main character, a journey of self-discovery and a slow-brewing mystery.

Last thing I remember, Shane Kirkland had his left hand on my right boob, and I could feel the nub—the missing chunk of his pinky finger that got chewed off in the gristmill. So I ran, mostly because the idea of marrying him and his sad punk of a finger sent a shiver straight through to my bones.

I have to admit, when I read the blurb for this book, I could have sworn it had a time travel/paranormal feel to it. Or perhaps that’s what I wanted to see. In fact, The Making of Nebraska Brown is a contemporary story. I rarely read contemporary, and when I do, it’s mostly because it’s an author I love and I will read anything they write. And so as I was reading, I kept expecting to run into paranormal elements. When that didn’t happen, I decided to just go with it and enjoy it for what it was, a moving story about a girl who has lost her memory and the consequences she faces.

And I am glad I read this book, even though it isn’t my normal genre. Caiola has a way of evoking emotions from her readers without getting sappy. There is a huge mystery to this story—one that I will not share with you—that slowly builds until the final emotional reveal. You must go through the process of reading and experiencing all the clues for the full impact, which simply proves that Caiola knows how to tell a story. And even though there were things about the book that didn’t work for me, I did appreciate her overall storytelling skills, pacing and character development, certainly enough to recommend this book to lovers of contemporary fiction.

The good stuff.

Caiola’s pacing is excellent. She sets up her story by immediately telling us about the mystery that is Ann Leigh/Ana Lisa. By jumping back and forth between the two time frames—2002 and 2004—in alternating chapters, we slowly begin to realize that Ana Lisa, who lives in Campania, Italy with her Italian boyfriend Tommy, is troubled by a past she can’t remember. Flashes of that past keep coming forward, especially when she falls asleep and dreams about people and places that have nothing to do with Italy. As the clues to her “other” life start to stack up, she realizes that some very important things happened, and in order to move forward, she needs to figure out exactly what those things are.

But the story doesn’t completely take place in Italy. The chapters that take place in 2002 describe a girl named Ann Leigh who lives in Nebraska and and is getting ready to marry her boyfriend Shane. The real mystery is why can’t Ana Lisa remember anything about this other person? What exactly happened to her, and why is she living in Italy? Pieces of her memory are missing, and unfortunately they are important pieces. Caiola handles all of this with assured skill, drawing the mystery out until nearly the last page of the book. At 90% on my Kindle, I made a notation that said “What is going on???” Not being able to guess the mystery is always a good sign that the writer knows what she’s doing.

The emotions.

There were lots of poignant moments in the story, times where I had to catch my breath because I was overwhelmed with emotion. Many of these involved Ann’s sister Sissy and their relationship. Both of them have secrets, and both are terrified of their parents finding out. This creates a special bond between them that I really loved. One very emotional part near the end I can’t discuss, because it would be a major spoiler to a big plot point. But let’s just say I definitely had tears in my eyes at that point.

The story had a Wizard of Oz vibe to it because the main theme is that Ana is trying to find a family that she knows exists but that she can’t remember. Ana often tells Tommy that she just wants to “go home,” much like Dorothy trying to find her way out of Oz.

Some things that didn’t work for me.

As well-paced as the story was, however, I mostly had a hard time with Caiola’s prose. Her writing tends to be flowery and overblown, and while this style might work well for contemporary inspirational stories, it was too over-the-top for me. Phrases like

Tommy wore a heaving, swollen happiness with abandon, so much so he nearly burst open, bliss running out all over the place.

or

The wind was wrestled by the sun, held down by ghostly sun arms, and subsequently defeated.

made me roll my eyes or scratch my head in puzzlement. Likewise, some of her sentences were awkward and could have benefited from more editing, like “No boy to crane his neck over his ankles for me.” What?

I also had an issue with the way Ana was “handled” by Tommy (and I can’t say much more than that without giving some things away). Whenever female characters (or male, for that matter) are made to come across as frail because of a handicap—in this case, memory loss—and the significant other in their lives treats them as little more than problems to be dealt with, well, that doesn’t sit well with me. Ann/Ana has two men in her life and I couldn’t stand either one of them for that reason.

But aside from my personal issues, many readers will love this engrossing mystery and journey of self-discovery. Caiola certainly knows how to tug at your heartstrings, and I officially declare that mine have been duly tugged.

Find the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBookstore

About the author:

Louise CaiolaAs a young girl who spent her allowance on Nancy Drew mysteries, Louise realized that one day, she might have a story of her own to tell. Maybe even more than one story. After years focused on raising her children she eventually reconnected with her passion for creative writing. She soon began to craft a large collection of short stories which were published in the inspirational online magazine, Faithhopeandfiction.com. Shortly thereafter, she authored her first novel, Wishless, a contemporary YA, released in 2011.

Find Louise: Author website | Twitter | Goodreads

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Filed under 3 1/2 stars, Blog Tours, Giveaways, Reviews