Category Archives: Reviews

The Corn is Back! – BLIGHTBORN by Chuck Wendig – Review

Blightborn 3D

Blightborn (The Heartland Trilogy #2) by Chuck Wendig
Genre: Young adult dystopian
Publisher: Skyscape
Release date: July 29 2014
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 528

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: A worthy and energetic sequel, with several new characters to love, filled with action, adventure, secrets, and danger. Jeezum Crow, people—read this book!

**Mild spoilers ahead!

I’m gonna kill Cael McAvoy.

Then I’m gonna get Gwennie back.

Another glimmering thought: I love her. I love her more than I love anything. More than this boat. More than Momma. More than me.

Love and hate.

Two strong tastes that sit bright and bitter on the back of his tongue, and next thing he knows he’s ditching the spyglass and reaching behind him to grab a corn sickle, the blade gleaming along its moon-silver curve. Felicity’s knife, once upon a time.

Before he even knows what’s happening, he’s running.

Hate carrying him headlong into the corn.

In a sea of “second in a series” books I’ve read so far this year—and might I say that many of them have been disappointing—I’m happy to report that Chuck Wendig’s Blightborn is a more-than-worthy follow-up to Under the Empyrean Sky. Not only are the stakes higher this time around, but the characters are even grittier, the bad guys (and gals) nastier, and the fighting more violent. This series is definitely for young adults who are closer to the “adult” side, as the graphic violence is a bit over the top at times.

The story picks up soon after the end of Under the Empyrean Sky, as the various characters have been scattered here and there by events at the end of the story—and you really should read Empyrean first because I don’t want to spoil it for you. Our three intrepid friends Cael, Rigo and Lane are on the run through the corn. Boyland is trying to find Cael and exact revenge because he thinks Cael killed his father. Wanda is trying to find Cael because he is her “intended.” Cael is trying to figure out a way to get up to the flotilla, a city that floats above the ground, and find Gwennie, the girl he loves. Boyland also wants to find Gwennie, because she’s his intended…and add into the mix a whole new slew of characters who are also out to get Cael. It seems like a mixed up, crazy plot—which is partly correct, but Wendig keeps things together by telling his story in short chapters that switch from character to character, allowing the reader to clearly grasp what’s going on.

This time around we get to see what life is like on Ormond Stirling Saranyu, the floating city where Gwennie and her family have gone to live, having won the lottery at the end of the last book. But life is not all roses and fancy parties. Gwennie learns some horrible truths about her new life, but she also meets a boy named Balastair who eventually becomes her ally. There is plenty of danger both in the air and on the ground, as the POV switches back and forth. Although it was fun to see the life of the privileged on the flotilla, I actually felt more invested in what was going on in the Heartland below a bit more. Cael is still my favorite character in this series, and because he spent most of his time on the ground, well, let’s just say my heart was in the Heartland.

If you’re looking for a page-turner, then you’ve definitely found one. Wendig writes like a cocaine addict—or maybe he’s just hopped up on coffee from his Chemex—in either case, Blightborn is fully of crazy shit, and it never really slows down. My only issue with the story is that it might be too much. Not only is the action non-stop, but there are a lot of characters in this story, maybe too many for my aging brain cells to remember.  But I did fall in love with a couple of new characters, especially Balastair, the scientific genius behind the Pegasus project, and his bird Erasmus; and a ten-year-old girl named Squirrel, who charmed the pants off me with her enthusiastic attitude and mad knife-throwing skills.

Despite all the action, there are some quiet and sweet moments, mostly between Cael and Lane, and Lane and Rigo, as they each feel the need to confess some very personal and life-altering secrets. One character in particular broke my heart—Cael’s sister Merelda, who ran away from home in the last book to hitch a ride on the flotilla, but unfortunately got more than she bargained for.

As usual, Wendig’s writing skills are top-notch. He’s one of the few authors I’ve read that really understands rhythm in prose writing—he knows when to hit the beats, and he knows when to pause. It’s the kind of writing you want someone to read out loud to you.

And of course, THE CORN is back. Corn plays a very special role in this series. It’s scary, it’s creepy, and it’s everywhere.  Not since Children of the Corn have I been so grateful that I don’t live near a corn field!

Under the Empyrean SkyThe story does end on a cliffhanger—and you know how much we all love those (not!)—so here’s hoping book three isn’t too far away from publication (although I can’t find any trace of it on Goodreads…) If you haven’t started this series, I highly recommend it. Just take a deep breath before you start reading: you’re going to need it.

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

Read my review of Under the Empyrean Sky here.

Find Blightborn here:

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Filed under 4 1/2 stars, Reviews

Quirky & Erudite: INVISIBLE BEASTS by Sharona Muir – Review

Invisible Beasts 3D

Invisible Beasts by Sharona Muir
Genre: Adult speculative fiction
Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
Release date:  July 15 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via Edelweiss
Pages: 256

three stars

The nitty-gritty: A strange and magical look at some very unusual animals, a narrator with an insatiable curiosity, no plot to speak of, but beautifully written.

Imagine, however, some unlucky person who would die without ever having encountered a flower, a person whose footfalls regularly met cement, whose raised eyes bumped off a dead layer of clouds, whose hopes consisted of daily crusts, and whose fears were so familiar they couldn’t be bothered to wear faces. Smelling the Parfumiers’ honey, that sad soul would know precisely what a flower was and what it meant—the heart of change that makes hope possible. Our bees had become like the invisible sisterhood of the Muses: their honey was pure poetry.

Invisible Beasts is described as “fiction,” but honestly it felt more like non-fiction to me, a scientific and clinical look at our natural—and unnatural world. Muir has crafted a character named Sophie who comes from a family of people who can see invisible animals, and what sounded like an awesome premise for a story was instead a mostly dry observation about different types of invisible animals, all with their own odd names, as seen by a woman with an eye for very detailed descriptions. This book is meant to be a journal where Sophie writes down details of all the invisible animals she discovers, but unfortunately, there is no plot to this book at all. For a girl who loves a good story—I mean, who among us doesn’t?—it was a bit disappointing.

However, Muir is a lovely writer and I enjoyed many of her made-up creatures. I believe most, if not all, of these stories appeared in literary journals prior to being bundled together into this book, and on their own, some of them are perfectly crafted short stories. Sophie is a playful and wry character who infuses subtle humor into her observations of the creatures that only she can see. Her sister Evie is a biologist who knows her secret, and together they have many lively discussions about the natural world. And even though the talent of being able to see invisible beasts is supposed to skip a generation, Evie’s son Leif has the ability as well (although he only makes one appearance in the book).

Of all the creatures in this story—including the Fine Print Rotifer, the Wild Rubber Jack, the Glass Kraken, and the Feral Parfumier Bees—my favorites were the Truth Bats. Truth Bats are able to detect whether a person is telling the truth or not by the timber of their voice. They are small fuzzy creatures that hang around in honest people’s hair, but a lie will send them flying away. Sophie “loses” her Truth Bats when she lies to her sister, and the only way she can get them back is to tell her the truth.

I also loved the Grand Tour Butterflies, whose wings show beautiful designs of vistas and cities. When the butterflies flock, they can join together and mimic their surroundings just by changing the pattern on their wings. I found myself wishing that some of these creatures were real, so I could see them for myself, although some of them were just too strange and horrifying, and I wanted nothing to do with those.

The story ends with an odd Epilogue that for me, strayed from the topic of animals and biology and dealt with the nature of love. It felt completely out-of-place, but then perhaps I just didn’t understand what the author was trying to say. By that time I had grown bored with Muir’s fascinating creatures and I was ready to read something else.

If you are the sort of reader who loves science, and animals in particular, I believe you will love this book. Don’t get me wrong—it was fascinating to read Sophie’s descriptions of “her” animals, especially when she delves into the stories of how they evolved. Invisible Beasts is a love letter to animals, and Muir’s poetic and fervent writing even made me see the beauty of spiders (at least as long as that chapter lasted!). The obligatory cautionary message about global warming and destroying our environment was subtle, and while I normal cringe at such “messages,” in this case I whole-heartedly agreed with the author. Quirky, odd, and at times beautiful, this is definitely a book that will make you think.

Many 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.

Find Invisible Beasts here:

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Filed under 3 stars, Reviews

Grrrl Power: FULL FATHOM FIVE by Max Gladstone – Review

Full Fathom Five 3D

Full Fathom Five (Craft Sequence #3) by Max Gladstone
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: July 15 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages: 368

five stars

The nitty-gritty:  A world that shimmers with magic, female characters that do wonderful and impossible things, and a layered story that will keep you riveted.

They fell through space and worlds, following that unseen beacon. They did not slip from realm to realm so much as burst through. The color of the sea changed, wine-red and spreading. Constellations danced and transformed.

The volcano’s mouth approached. At its bottom, pinhead small but growing larger, lay the pool, another sky into which they could fall forever. The size of a cherry now, a fig, lemon orange apple pineapple watermelon—

She braced herself for impact, too late.

This is the third book in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, and as much as I loved the last two books, I think this may be his best yet. Each book in this series can easily stand on its own, so reading the first two books first isn’t necessary—but why would you want to miss out on them? Gladstone’s world is full of gods and idols, sea monsters and Craftswomen, nightmares and pools where you can remake yourself. Each detail is painstakingly melded into the story so that you feel as if you are right there with the characters. Things that we are all too familiar with—job security, market shares, salesman-client relationships—are cheekily disguised as fantasy elements, which makes them much more interesting.

In Full Fathom Five, idols are molded and created by the Order for pilgrims. But when Kai, a priest with the Order, witnesses the death of an idol named Seven Alpha, she makes a risky decision to jump into the pool to try to save her. But Kai nearly dies in the rescue attempt and is later fired by her boss for attempting something so risky. It is only after she meets a street kid named Izza and a poet named Margot that Kai realizes Seven Alpha’s death is only part of a much bigger scheme. With her friends, new and old, to help out, Kai must get to the bottom of what’s really happening to the idols, keep her distance from the murderous Penitents, and try to get her old job back, before anyone else dies.

The biggest surprise for me this time around was the fact that most of the main characters in Full Fathom Five are women. In fact, just about every male in the story is a side character or a bad guy. Not that I don’t love me some strong male characters, too, mind you, but it was a nice change of pace to see a male writer taking the time to create such interesting, strong and utterly human female characters, who are all flawed in one way or another, yet possess the strength to rise above those flaws. I think my favorite character was Izza, a fifteen-year-old thief who is distraught when her goddess the Blue Lady dies. Izza takes care of a rag-tag group of street kids who look up to her to tell them stories about the Blue Lady and restore their faith in the world—much like Wendy Darling telling tales to the Lost Boys.

I also loved Kai, who nearly dies from trying to save Alpha Seven, yet never gives up hope that she will figure out the truth of what’s going on. We also have two characters who make a return appearance from Three Parts Dead, Mrs. Kevarian and Cat (who along with vampire Raz was my favorite character of that book). Unfortunately, Raz is nowhere to be found in this story, but that’s ok, because all the other characters are so amazing. Each woman goes through pain (and sometimes torture), loss and disappointment, yet never do they lose their faith in the gods and idols they worship.

Gladstone’s brilliant writing skills are hard at work, as usual. His lush and poetic prose is one of the things that keeps drawing me back to his books, and it just gets better and better. And as far as the world-building goes, you don’t get much better than this. The island city of Kavekana (think Honolulu, Hawaii) is completely different from ours, yet there are moments of odd familiarity, like when Kai stops at a corner store to buy frozen yogurt. At its heart, this is a mystery story, as Kai tries to figure out who is killing the island’s idols. The pace is not the rip-roaring action-packed sort, but rather the slow-building kind that surprises you when you realize you’re in the middle of some desperate action and you can’t pinpoint exactly when you got there.

The scary monsters this time around are the Penitents, gigantic human-shaped creatures made of stone that patrol the city and keep order. The kicker, however, is that their bodies act as prisons for the city’s criminals, humans who have been caught and placed inside a Penitent, where their bodies and wills are bent to perform the duties of a Penitent, until their sentence is over and they are released. What a truly terrifying way to be punished!

The ending was perfect, and I wasn’t expecting to tear up like I did. But Gladstone hit all the right notes, both emotional and plot-wise, and I couldn’t imagine a better ending. Whether or not another Craft Sequence book is in the works remains to be seen, but I for one certainly hope Max isn’t done with this fabulous world.

Many thanks to Tor Books for providing a review copy. I was not compensated in any way and all opinions in this review are mine and mine alone. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.

Check back later this week, because Max himself will be stopping by with a guest post!

Catch the rest of the series:

You can find Full Fathom Five here:

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Filed under 5 stars, Reviews

Aliens & Androids: IRREDEEMABLE by Jason Sizemore – Review

Irredeemable 3D

Irredeemable by Jason Sizemore
Genre: Adult horror/science fiction/mixed genre short stories
Publisher: Seventh Star Press
Release date: Available now
Source: Finished paperback from publisher
Pages: 231

four stars

The nitty-gritty: An odd collection of short stories that are by turns violent, hopeless, humorous and perverted, filled with aliens, androids, ghosts and even humans, all of them trying to survive in one way or another.

Getting used to Tommy’s personality was like letting those nasty green shit-flies bite you until you didn’t notice anymore. But after six long summer weeks trapped in a new town without friends, I decided a pair of idiots like Tommy and Wilson were better than watching my momma drink herself to sleep every evening. – Shotgun Shelter

Jason Sizemore is better known (at least to me, anyway!) as the editor of the wonderful Apex Publications, a small press that has pushed the envelope in more ways than one when it comes to weird genre fiction. But it turns out that Sizemore is also a writer, and a pretty good one at that. I was happy to receive Irredeemable for review from Seventh Star Press, a collection of eighteen of Sizemore’s short stories that have appeared in various publications over the past eight years, although seven of the tales appear here for the first time. Indeed, the title says it all: the most pervading theme of this collection is hopelessness. In several of the stories, the world is literally about to end, and in many, the protagonist seems to be facing his or her last moments. What these stories lacked for me was any sense of optimism. They paint the world as a place of destruction where life is violently short, and even the future is bleak and terrifying.

But lacking optimism gave them something else: a hard-edged look at who we are, or who we could become. These stories don’t pull any punches. There is humor, yes, but it’s the type of humor that laughs at you while you’re tied to a tree naked and about to be attacked by zombies. Many times I found myself start to chuckle over a particular scene, only to stop when I realized that I probably shouldn’t be laughing at all. Within these pages you will find aliens, androids, ghosts, witches and regular humans too, although these humans are mostly of the unsavory variety: rapists, killers, and drug dealers, people on the fringes of society who’ve never learned how to behave in polite company. Sizemore’s upbringing as the son of a coalminer in rural Kentucky shines through in many of these stories. The feelings of desperation and fear are palpable, and I felt uncomfortable while reading this collection.

Which is exactly the way you are meant to feel. These are not feel-good stories, so if you’re looking for something along the lines of a Ray Bradbury tale, then you should keep looking. Sizemore made me grimace and gag and sometimes I actually wanted to look away from the page. But in the end, I’ll find it hard to forget this book and the odd assembly of characters that he has brought to the page.

For a taste of what you’re in store for, here is a quick recap of some of my favorites:

City Hall – A gleefully nasty tale of a bunch of city employees who get stuck in an elevator at work. Someone’s getting fired…

Samuel – One of the more poignant stories about a man who watches at his mother’s death bed, trying valiantly to keep Death from taking her away.

Hope – A well-written story with beautiful imagery about an asteroid that is about to hit earth and destroy it for good. Told through the eyes of an interesting woman who may just be immortal.

Yellow Warblers – Invading aliens stumble upon a small, hidden Appalachian town, whose residents do not want to be found.

Plug and Play – A humorous tale of a man with a job on a space station who is unwittingly used as a drug mule.

Mr. Templar – I loved this story about two androids who live on a dying earth, looking for a petroleum source that will keep them going. This story reminded me of the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

Not all the stories worked for me, and one was just downright distasteful and made me sick to my stomach (it involved animal cruelty, that’s all I’m going to say). I also felt that some of the stories seem to cater to the male reader, as they deal with male lust and sexual perversion run amok.

But despite these unpleasant aspects, I applaud small publishers for pushing the envelope and giving writers room to experiment with different kinds of fiction. The short story is alive and well, and I will be curious to see what Mr. Sizemore writes next.

Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Don’t miss Jason Sizemore’s guest post later this week!

You can find Irredeemable here:

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Filed under 4 stars, Reviews

REBEL NATION by Shaunta Grimes – Blog Tour Review

rebel

Welcome to my stop on the Rebel Nation blog tour, presented by Rockstar Book Tours! This is the second book in Shaunta’s series, after Viral Nation, and I’m very happy to be sharing my review with you.

Rebel Nation

Title: REBEL NATION
Author: Shaunta Grimes
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Pub. Date: July 1, 2014
Pages: 320
Find it: AmazonBarnes & NobleGoodreads

Sixteen years ago, a plague wiped out nearly all of humanity. The Company’s vaccine stopped the virus’s spread, but society was irrevocably changed. Those remaining live behind impenetrable city walls, taking daily doses of virus suppressant and relying on The Company for continued protection. They don’t realize that everything they’ve been told is a lie.

Clover Donovan didn’t set out to start a revolution—quiet, autistic, and brilliant, she’s always followed the rules. But that was before they forced her into service for the Time Mariners. Before they condemned her brother to death, compelling him to flee the city to survive. Before she discovered terrifying secrets about The Company.

Clover and the Freaks, her ragtag resistance group, are doing their best to spread the rebellion and stay under The Company’s radar. But when their hideout is discovered, they are forced, once again, to run. Only this time, The Company has special plans for Clover, plans that could risk her life and stop the uprising in its tracks…

About the author:

author photoShaunta Grimes has worked as a substitute teacher, a newspaper reporter, a drug court counselor, and a vintage clothing seller. No matter which direction she strays, however, she always comes back to storytelling. She lives in Reno with her family, where she writes, teaches, and perpetually studies at the University of Nevada. Viral Nation is her debut traditionally-published novel.

Connect with Shaunta: Twitter | Facebook | Blog | Newsletter

My review:

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A post-apocalyptic story with an unusual protagonist, a spare writing style that works well for this story, and a budding romance that doesn’t take over the plot.

Rebel Nation is book two in Grime’s young adult dystopian series, and after finishing it I sincerely hope that book three is in the works and will be making an appearance in the world soon. I enjoyed Rebel Nation, although I’ll admit it didn’t have quite the excitement of Viral Nation. It definitely felt like a “middle book” to me, something I’ve been running across more and more. It’s almost as if authors are saving up all their best writing for the final book in the series (and I’m not just talking about debut writers—one of my big “Book Two” disappointments was none other than Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear, which I did love, but it couldn’t compare to The Name of the Wind.) And I’m not saying I’m disappointed in Rebel Nation at all, but Grimes ends it in such a way that now I am clambering to get my hands on the next book.

The best part of Rebel Nation, and Viral Nation as well, is main character Clover, a sixteen-year-old autistic girl who has joined a rebel group who is trying to get out of the walled city of Reno, where people are supposedly safe from the killer virus that decimated the United States sixteen years earlier. But Clover knows some hard truths about the suppressant injections that citizens are forced to take daily in order to keep the virus at bay: they are nothing more than a way to keep everyone compliant, and they aren’t even necessary.

Clover is one smart cookie, and her autism doesn’t seem to hinder her day-to-day life much at all. I don’t know the ins and outs of autism myself, but to me, Clover is definitely a higher-functioning autistic. She has many of the traits associated with autism—she doesn’t like to be touched and she doesn’t like loud noises or too much outside stimulation—but she knows how to communicate with people and she can usually take care of herself, although she does get a fair amount of help from her brother West and her service dog Mango. I love the fact that Clover is brave and selfless and cares for others, and she’s especially dedicated to the cause of freeing the orphans from Foster City and banning together with the “Freaks,” who are the country’s best chance at rebelling against the city’s controlling regime.

I don’t think it would be too much of a spoiler to tell you that Clover also falls in love and has her first kiss in this story, which I loved reading about. The fact that she doesn’t like to be touched, yet she will allow a particular boy to kiss her, made her such an interesting character. The romance is slow to bloom, and the way it was handled felt just right to me.

My main issue with the book is that it felt as if the plot were building up to something, but that something never came. There was an impending sense of doom throughout, as Clover and her friends risk sneaking out of the city to try to find a safe place to start a new life, all the while trying to avoid being seen and captured by the guards at the city wall. Clover is also being chased by a man named Bennett, who wants to use her as a “time mariner,” a person who can travel through a time portal and bring back information about future criminals (à la The Minority Report). The kicker is this: only autistic people can time travel in Grimes’ world, and Clover is a valuable commodity.  There is quite a bit of the gang running from place to place and staying just ahead of the bad guys, but I never felt as if their running was getting them anywhere. Only near the end do we glimpse the exciting conclusion that I’m hoping Grimes has planned for book three.

Even though the time travel elements are mentioned several times throughout the book, they really don’t come into play this time around. I missed those elements, because they were so strong in Viral Nation. But if the hints the author drops are any indication, I expect time travel to play a much bigger part in the next book.

Grimes has created such a bleak and dangerous world, but she’s also created a heroine who adds much-needed warmth. Clover will go down in history as one of my personal favorite young adult characters, and I hope many readers get the chance to experience her wonderful traits. As for me, I’ll anxiously be awaiting the conclusion to this intense and very unique story.

Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

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Filed under 4 stars, Blog Tours, Giveaways, Reviews

“You’re my bread.” THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.R. Carey – Review

The Girl 3D

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Genre: Adult horror
Publisher: Orbit Books
Release date: June 10 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 407

five stars

What she thinks is: this could have been me. Why not? A real girl, in a real house, with a mother and a father and a brother and a sister and an aunt and an uncle and a nephew and a niece and a cousin and all those other words for the map of people who love each other and stay together. The map called family.

Growing up and growing old. Playing. Exploring. Like Pooh and Piglet. And then like the Famous Five. And then like Heidi and Ann of Green Gables. And then like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether what’s inside is good or bad. Because it’s both. Everything is always both.

But you have to open it to find that out.

What a wonderful decision it was to read this book, which is now high on my list of 2014 favorites. There are so many things I’d like to tell you about The Girl With All The Gifts, but I don’t want to give away too much, because I want you to experience the surprises of the story for yourself. Luckily, the blurb doesn’t tell you much, but I sort of feel as if this is a hindrance, because as readers, sometimes we need to know at least a little of what we’re in for. So I’m giving it to you straight: this is a zombie story. I’m not going to tell you much else about the plot, but just in case you’re wondering, this is an awesomely wonderful, violent, terrifying, fascinating, beautiful and heartbreaking zombie story. You should read it if you love zombies. And you should read it even if you don’t love zombies, because it’s full of other great stuff as well. So in lieu of a normal book review, I’ve come up with my top ten reasons why you should drop everything and read The Girl With All The Gifts:

1. It’s a nail-biter of a survival story. Who knew? You certainly can’t tell that from the cover. This is a down-and-dirty survival story, no question about it. It will make you jump at shadows and hide under your covers. Somehow Carey combines thrilling action with terrible, creeping horror and it all works.

2. These are not your mother’s zombies. Carey takes zombies to an entirely new and mind-numbing level of scary. And he doesn’t stop there. These zombies are much more than the shambling undead, and you won’t be able to guess what they are until it smacks you in the face.

3. Fewer characters make for a better story. Instead of bogging down the reader with a cast of thousands (à la Stephen King, for example), Carey gives us five main characters and makes us care for them deeply. Each one, even the “bad guy,” becomes critical to the emotional development of the story. The action is fast and furious, but in this book, character is king.

4. There already exists, in the scientific world, the capacity for zombies to exist. Yes, folks, Carey delves into the scientific reasons behind his zombies, and he makes us believe them completely. I’m not a scientist myself, but I am now convinced (whether it’s true or not) that something like this could actually happen.

5. A zombie story can make you cry. Or sob, actually. Carey’s unassuming and spare writing style evoked heart-wrenching emotions. I grew to love and understand these characters so much, and each poignant moment snuck up on me. Tears, people, tears.

6. You’ll never take your childhood for granted again. Through Melanie’s eyes, you will experience the wonders of the world for the first time. Melanie is an innocent—and yet she’s not. Her wide-eyed appreciation of everything reminded me of my kids when they were little. Melanie’s entire world is built on the stories that Miss Justineau has told her. When things change, her world view must change as well. It’s a bit heartbreaking.

7. Zombies are violent, period. This story is no different. There are some spectacular gross-out scenes that rival The Walking Dead. Don’t let the innocent-looking cover fool you. Be prepared, people. That’s all I’m sayin’.

8. This story takes place in England. I didn’t know this when I started reading, and when I finally caught on it threw me a little. British zombies, yes, they are now my favorite!

9. The POV changes from character to character, and that’s a good thing. That’s how we get to know each one of them. You want to be inside each of their heads. It’s crucial to the story’s overall impact. To you naysayers who don’t like this form of storytelling, get over it! This time it works.

10. Oh hell yes, this would make an awesome movie. I hate turning books into movies as I’m reading them, but this one is so cinematic and perfectly plotted and paced, that the movie version unfolded in my mind unbidden as I was reading. (Oh, did I mention the author also writes screenplays?)

Have I convinced you? I hope so. This is storytelling at its finest, and I can’t wait to read what Mr. Carey comes up with next. I’ll leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes, quotes that won’t mean anything to you until you read the book:

“From now on, every day will be a Miss Justineau day.”

“You’re my bread when I’m hungry.”

That is all. Many thanks to Orbit for supplying a review copy. Quotes used in this review came from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version.

You can find The Girl with All the Gifts here:

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Filed under 5 stars, Reviews

Secrets & Lies: THE SOURCE (WITCHING SAVANNAH #2) by J.D. Horn – Review

The Source 3D

The Source (Witching Savannah #2) by J.D. Horn
Genre: Adult Paranormal
Publisher: 47North
Release date: June 3 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 339

four stars

The nitty-gritty:  Witchy magic and grave danger, family secrets and lies, and enough action to satisfy any action-junkie.

My fear and anger bound themselves together and I poured my focus entirely into the blade in his hand. The knife glowed red and then blue, the metal losing shape and transforming into a molten glove that charred the flesh beneath it. He howled, and then grasped his wounded hand. Rage burned in his eyes. His jaw unhinged like a snake, and he vomited foul-smelling black orbs that fell to the floor. Unrolling, they revealed themselves to be horrible little creatures, rats with nearly human faces that scurried along the floor, surrounding me. Razor-sharp claws protruded from their very human fingers and ripped into the bar’s wooden floors.

I read the first book in Horn’s series, The Line, earlier this year and loved it. And while many of the same elements are present in book two, it didn’t have quite the same punch as the first book. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast reading The Source and revisiting Horn’s family of southern witches, but I feel as if it suffered from Second Book Syndrome—it didn’t feel as tightly edited, as finely plotted, or as carefully focused as the first one. In many places I felt as if there was just too much story, and that Horn was trying to include every awesome idea he could think of in one book.

But what it did have were some pretty amazing characters and wonderfully developed relationships, and for me, this took precedent over the over-stuffed plot. I loved reacquainting myself with Mercy Taylor, young witch and newly appointed “anchor” of the line, a magical force that keeps bad things from crossing over into the human realm. I won’t give away too much of the plot (although it’s almost impossible not to include some spoilers if you haven’t read the first book), but I will briefly set the stage for you.

At the end of The Line, Mercy has discovered that she is pregnant with Peter’s child, and she now has something very important to protect, as her life is once again starting to spin out of control. When she runs into her presumed-dead mother Emily, Mercy’s world is turned upside down, and everything she’s been told by her aunt and uncle seems to have been nothing but lies. Emily says she wants to help and protect her daughter, but suddenly Mercy doesn’t know who to trust. A battle is about to be waged by those witches who uphold the sanctity of the line and those (like Emily) who want to destroy it—and Mercy and her unborn son are caught in the middle.

We are introduced to a whole slew of unsavory characters in The Source, many of whom mean to harm Mercy. First there is Emmet, an odd creature who was “made” from magic at the end of The Line, a man who has been tasked with protecting Mercy and teaching her how to use her magic abilities. On the surface he seems benign, but as the story progresses, I started to distrust him more and more. Plus there was the slight creep factor of his crush on Mercy (he’s one of those annoying men who just can’t take “no” for an answer.)

Then there’s Tucker, another creepy guy who stalked Mercy in the last book, and who is now dating Mercy’s Aunt Ellen (much to her disgust). I didn’t like Tucker then, and I still didn’t like him this time, although he surprised me (in a good way) and I ended up understanding him better by the end.

Once again, one of my favorite characters is Mother Jilo, an old woman who practices root magic and has become one of Mercy’s most trusted friends. She’s a tough old bat who seems mean and unpleasant on the outside, but who has a heart of gold buried underneath. Jilo and Mercy clearly love each other, and I loved that Jilo stands in as Mercy’s surrogate mother and becomes the one person in her life that she can trust.

Mercy herself is a wonderful character, and I thought Horn handled her pregnancy very well. She’s unmarried and not even sure how she feels about Peter, and despite everyone around her pushing for the two to get married, Mercy holds her ground and refuses. Even Peter’s mother Mrs. Tierney can’t persuade Mercy to do something she doesn’t want to do—and believe me, that woman was very opinionated on the subject!

In my review of The Line, I used the expression “soap opera on steroids,” and that’s exactly how I felt about The Source. The complex family relationships made my head spin at times, and they were even more confusing because I could never tell who was lying and who was telling the truth. Horn’s enormous cast of characters didn’t help with my confusion, and I think the story would have been tighter if he’d focused on fewer of these larger-than-life people.

The LineBut the author’s imagination is alive and well, and I loved many of the small details Horn brought to his story. He uses the color “haint blue” to great effect (click here to learn more) and incorporates many details about witchcraft, magic, and the fae. There is also a large house where some very unsettling but fascinating things take place—and the movie that came to mind as I was reading these sections was Eyes Wide Shut—I was alternately cringing and unable to look away.

This series isn’t over. The third and final (?) book, The Void, comes out this fall. I may not have loved this one as much as the first, but you can bet I want to finish this series to find out what happens to Mercy’s baby and the rest of the characters!

Big thanks to 47North for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may be different in the final version.

You can find The Source here:

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Spookies and Sparklers: DEADLY CURIOSITIES by Gail Z. Martin

Deadly Curiosities 3D

Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Solaris
Release date: June 24 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 464

four stars

The nitty-gritty: An atmospheric tale filled with fascinating historical details, a protagonist with a very cool ability, and lots of scary ghosts and shadowy corners.

Chuck rolled his eyes. “You guys ever hear about how Hitler wanted to collect supernatural objects? You know, like in Indiana Jones?”

Teag put the kettle on to boil and came over to listen. I nodded in response.

“Yeah, well over the years, he wasn’t the only one. Every two-bit dictator and narco lord thinks he’s be so much more bad-ass if he just had a demon or two on his payroll. Or an old Egyptian artifact that makes enemies turn into cockroaches. You get the picture. Well, we were the guys they sent in to steal that shit back.”

This was my first outing with Gail Z. Martin, and I have to say it was lovely! This urban fantasy felt almost like a cozy mystery to me at times, although of course it has a strong supernatural element. The story takes place in Charleston, South Carolina, and Martin’s wonderful descriptions of the city were among my favorite parts of the book. She also adds lots of historical tidbits about Charleston, especially spooky details that pertain to the ghostly residents of the city. Add in well-developed characters and a tension-filled plot, and you have a winning story that has something for everyone.

Cassidy Kincaide runs an antique shop called Trifles and Folly, which has been in her family for generations. But the “shop” part of the business is simply a cover for what Cassidy really does: she uses her gift of psychometry to tell if an old object has bad psychic vibes, which she does by simply touching it. With the help of her assistant Teag and her vampire friend Sorren, Cassidy makes sure these objects never reach the hands of the general public.

But when ordinary objects start acting up in bizarre and frightening ways, Cassidy and her friends must try to figure out what’s going on. With mysterious murders happening to the homeless residents of Charleston, Cassidy knows it’s all connected somehow. And then there are the weird shadows that start following her. Things are getting spookier—and more dangerous by the minute.

The story is told in Cassidy’s first-person voice, and I really enjoyed her character. I was expecting some kind of romantic entanglement, and frankly I was expecting that guy to be Sorren the vampire, but I was pleasantly surprised that Martin decided to leave out the romance. And honestly, I didn’t really miss it. There was so much going on with the plot and the characters, that a romance would have felt tacked-on. Cassidy’s psychic gift was pretty cool, and the fact that she can “see” emotional impressions on old objects made me wonder if anything in my house has any psychic fingerprints, LOL! (But judging by Cassidy’s reactions to the worst of the objects, I don’t think I’d want that gift for myself.)

I also loved Teag, who has his own unique gift. He’s a “weaver” and can cast spells by weaving things together, like string or yarn. He also puts his talents to use on the internet and is able to access the Darke Web, a clandestine area where dark magic and secrets collide on the interwebs.

But I have to say my favorite character was someone who showed up way late in the story, but added so much despite his late arrival. Chuck Pettis is an older guy who is convinced that if the hundreds of ticking clocks in his house wind down, he’ll die. So he goes to great lengths to keep the clocks wound, and he even has a warehouse full of back-up clocks to replace the ones that die. (And this warehouse is very important to the story, which is how Cassidy and company meet Chuck.)  Chuck was full of life and humor, and I wish that he’d made an appearance much earlier, because I would have liked to get to know him better. Plus his story line had a very Twilight Zone feel to it.

Sorren, the 600-year-old vampire who is Cassidy’s partner and protector, was a bit of a puzzle to me. Strangely, he doesn’t really show up until about a third of the way through the story, and then he’s suddenly there without much explanation. His character fascinated me, however, and I wanted to know more about his previous life as a thief. I would love a Sorren short story or prequel to read!

The cozy feeling of the story eventually turns dark and dangerous as the group faces shadow monsters, a man named Moran who is trying to locate a deadly artifact that was supposedly lost in a shipwreck, and even a demon. There is a slow build up to the suspenseful parts, and by the time you reach the end, the tension is nearly unbearable.

I noticed a few places that could have used more editing, in particular the fact that Sorren’s teeth are described as “long eye teeth” over and over again. I also felt there were times when the characters did too much explaining in their dialog, and what should have felt natural began to feel stilted and awkward.

But small quibbles aside, I had so much fun reading Deadly Curiosities. There were some very special emotional moments with Cassidy, especially when she uses her dead Grandmother’s wooden kitchen spoon to ward off evil, and her dearly departed dog’s collar as a protective talisman. The ghost dog, named Bo, also shows up to help out the gang, and the story would not have been the same without him.

If you love southern charm, historical details and a ghostly tale, this book should go on your reading list. 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.

Come back next week for my stop on Gail’s blog tour! I have a cool interview with her, and I’ll be giving away a copy of Deadly Curiosities as well!

Find Deadly Curiosities here:

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Sexy & Thrilling: DARKNESS BOUND by J.T. Geissinger – Review

Darkness Bound 3D

Darkness Bound (Night Prowler #5) by J.T. Geissinger
Genre: Adult Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release date: June 24 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages:  432

five stars

The nitty-gritty: Another well-rounded entry into this fantastic series, with Geissinger’s trademark combination of sex, thrills, danger and heartbreak.

The air was warm and humid, redolent with the sweet perfume of flowers, heavy with clouds. The dragon sliced through them as neatly as a scythe. She climbed higher, breaking free of the clouds, then tipped to the left, following an updraft of heated wind. The earth below peeked through in patches of glistening emerald through the fluffy cloudscape. The horizon was aflame with the rising sun, bleeding scarlet into infinity.

Jack wanted to cry at the beauty of it. Instead she laughed, and screamed with exhilaration. The dragon turned back to look at her—grinning, its muzzle and lashes beaded with moisture—then surged forward with a powerful thrust of its wings and climbed higher still, until the air was so think it was hard to breathe.

I don’t think it would be a spoiler to tell you that yes, there is indeed a dragon in Darkness Bound. But it’s not what you think. Or who you think. (That is if you’re unfamiliar with this series. If you’ve read Geissinger’s other books, you probably know what I’m talking about.) Geissinger never fails to amaze me with her storytelling prowess, world-building and her deeply wrought characters. What they say is true: the more you write (or you can substitute “write” for whatever it is you love to do), the better you get. This is book five in her Night Prowler series, and simply put, I never want this series to end. When I finished Edge of Darkness, I was sure she wouldn’t be able to top herself. But she has. Darkness Bound puts a new spin on relationships (and if you’re a fan already, you know this series has seen some really unique ones!) and brings our friends the Ikati closer and closer to danger.

I usually say in my reviews that each of these novels can be read as a stand-alone, so if you’re new to the series, you can easily pick up the story without too much trouble. And I’m saying that again, although I am also begging you to start at the beginning, because there are certain characters and plot threads that do continue from one book to the next, and your enjoyment will be enhanced by reading the series in order. Each book focuses on a different couple—keep in mind that these are romance novels, and yes there is a lot of romance!—one person is usually introduced in the previous book and then takes center stage in the present story, and the other is usually an outsider whom we haven’t yet met.

This time around the outsider is a human, a gritty reporter named Jacqueline “Jack” Dolan who has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize with her fervently written editorial in the New York Times decrying the existence of the Ikati, a group of shape-shifting creatures who have wreaked havoc on humans. Jack’s passionate hatred of the Ikati has gotten the attention of Alejandro, the Alpha male of an Ikati colony that is currently living in the Brazilian rain forests.  Alejandro’s plan is to bring Jack to live with the colony—by force, if necessary—in order to sway her opinion and get her to retract her hateful rant.

But Alejandro’s plan backfires in a big way, as soon as Jack arrives in Brazil. An Ikati male named Hawk has been assigned to watch over Jack during her stay, and Hawk is less than thrilled with that idea. And there’s danger brewing. Several enemies are out to either destroy or capture the Queen of the Ikati, and they’re all headed to Brazil on a deadly collision course. With their very way of life hanging in the balance, the Ikati must work together to protect themselves.

Let’s talk about the romance first. The first thing you should know is that if you are about to stop reading this review because eewww romance, Geissinger’s books are loaded with everything that makes a great story: a fantastic fantasy world, deeply developed characters, exciting action scenes, humor and nasty bad guys, all tied together with really good writing. And then there are the sexy times. And boy, are they hot, people! Having read her four previous books, I knew the sex scenes were coming, and yet she made me blush anyway. If I had to complain about anything with this series, it would be that the romance is a wee bit over the top (Hawk is about as alpha male as they come, Jack is about as stubborn but beautiful as they come, and together they practically split atoms with their love-making), but hey, it’s romance. And every other element makes up for the romantic stereotypes. What Geissinger does differently this time is throw in a couple of I-didn’t-see-that-coming twists into their relationship that make the romance feel fresh. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Hawk is a gorgeous stud with a vulnerable side that will make everyone fall in love with him.

Geissinger brings the Brazilian rain forest to vivid life with her descriptions of the towering trees and unusual wildlife, and I thought it was a perfect setting for this story. Add to that the Ikati themselves, who are shape-shifters that can turn into black panthers, and the rain forest becomes a highly dangerous place to be. She contrasts this with several scenes that are set in Jack’s hometown of New York City, although I much preferred the parts set in Brazil.

The author also throws in a bit of social commentary about racism and accepting those who are different, when Hawk calls Jack a “bigot” for her unfounded hatred of the Ikati. There are some lessons imparted in Darkness Bound, including a subtle story angle about the decline of the rain forests, but the stars of this tale are definitely the complicated characters, who are simply trying to survive in a world full of hatred.

If you are looking to invest in a series with just about everything there is to love about paranormal romance, then this series is for you. I’m beyond excited that book #6, Into Darkness, will be released this October. Highly recommended. Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote is taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version.

J.T. Geissinger photoJ.T. Geissinger is an award-winning author of paranormal and contemporary romance featuring dark and twisted plots, kick-ass heroines, and alpha heroes whose hearts are even bigger than their muscles. Her debut fantasy romance Shadow’s Edge was a #1 bestseller on Amazon US and UK and won the Prism award for Best First Book. Her follow-up novel, Edge of Oblivion, was a RITA Award finalist for Paranormal Romance from the Romance Writers of America, and she has been nominated for numerous awards for her work.

She resides in Los Angeles with her husband.

Don’t miss the rest of the series:

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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:

Shane Morgan

 

 

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