Fairytale Apocalypse by Jacqueline Patricks

Fairytale Apocalypse by Jacqueline Patricks(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

A ROMANCE OF APOCALYPTIC PROPORTIONS.

Two worlds bound by magic…
Three people joined by destiny…

Lord Kagan Donmall rules the Verge, the border that protects the magical Fae Inlands from the mundane mortal world. Recently, the Verge has been failing and he suspects the source of magic is fading. His prayers to Danu have gone unanswered, until now.

The young mortal, Lauren Montgomery, hears the message of Danu and eagerly agrees to be the Lady of the Verge, for she desires more than a mundane life.

But Lauren’s twin sister, Tessa-ever her sister’s protector, challenges the decision. The Verge falls, and the Fae and mortal worlds suffer a double apocalypse.

Now Kagan, Lauren, and Tessa must survive in this new, hostile world and discover a way to repair that which has been destroyed while navigating the bonds of duty, love, and vengeance.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I have a confession to make about this book.  When I requested it on NetGalley I expected it to be a shameless romance involving little or no thought.  I was looking for guilty pleasure reading that day.  So imagine my surprise when not only does Fairytale Apocalypse turn out to be serious, it turns out to be good!

What really surprised me were the characters.  Yes, there’s the typical older protective sister dynamic with Tessa (she is the older twin) but there also is a lot of resentment about her role as the protector.  Since Tessa and Lauren are essentially the same age, their totally different personalities come into conflict constantly.  Tessa is grounded and very mature for her age whereas Lauren…well she’s definitely a dreamer, but she’s also kind of flaky and naive.  Lauren is not necessarily the best match for Kagan, the Lord of the Verge, who is very serious, could never be described as naive and old by mortal standards.

I was also pretty impressed when Jacqueline Patricks decided to modify the tropes she was using, rather than being lazy and playing them straight like so many authors.  I can’t really reveal all that much without giving away the storyline, but just imagine a double apocalypse (in the Fae world and mortal world) where powerful people like the Fae can’t use their magic any longer.  How would they cope?  Could they even survive in a mortal post-apocalyptic world, let alone a Fae one?  It’s actually very interesting because it makes the plot far less predictable.

The world-building was excellent, no doubt about that.  Yes, the Fae world is sort of a typical fairy world: there’s dangerous lurking around every corner and the pretty things are probably what will kill you.  But at the same time, Patricks put her own spin on it and included some fascinating new creatures as well as older creatures that are usually neglected in fantasy.  All of the fae have swords that communicate with them, something you would think would end up being ridiculous but really didn’t.  It was actually quite a fascinating bond and I wish we had learned more about it.  There’s always next book, though.

So here we have a fantasy with themes of love vs. duty and sacrifice for the greater good.  We also have amazing characters, a really interesting and unpredictable plot as well as some pretty great world-building.  I really can’t ask for anything else, other than for Jacqueline Patricks to hurry up with the next book!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Zombies: More Recent Dead by Paula Guran

Zombies More Recent Dead by Paula Guran(Cover picture courtesy of Prime Books.)

The living dead are more alive than ever! Zombies have become more than an iconic monster for the twenty-first century: they are now a phenomenon constantly revealing as much about ourselves – and our fascination with death, resurrection, and survival – as our love for the supernatural or post-apocalyptic speculation. Our most imaginative literary minds have been devoured by these incredible creatures and produced exciting, insightful, and unflinching new works of zombie fiction. We’ve again dug up the best stories published in the last few years and compiled them into an anthology to feed your insatiable hunger…

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I’ve been suffering from a severe case of Walking Dead withdrawal for a few months, so I figured that I might as well get back into that zombie kind of mood with a new anthology from some well-known authors.  Jonathon Maberry, Neil Gaiman and so many more authors that I actually like were included in this anthology.  Where could it go wrong?

Apparently, almost everywhere.  This is a non-traditional zombie anthology, which I knew when I requested it.  All of these zombies are either thinking zombies or just kind of dead shells of their former selves come back to life.  I don’t mind reading about these types of zombies.  It’s a newer (more terrifying in some ways) take on a creature that is a little over-hyped by pop culture.  Of course, being that people are people, sometimes they would do disgusting things with these zombies: have sex with them, make them servants, etc.  It’s sad to see that my faith in the worst impulses of humanity is still justified.

Except, by the end of the anthology, I was really, truly struggling to finish it.  This is not a long book, by the way.  It’s only 480 pages and it should not have taken me so long to finish, but I really had to force myself to keep reading about 2/3s of the way through.  Why?  Because, for the most part, it was boring.  Most of the stories, even by authors that I really liked, were quite boring.  Yes, they showcased the new type of zombie very well but some of them didn’t seem to have a point (or a plot) and still others were so boring that you forgot how the story began by the time you got to the end.  It’s not like I have a short attention span, either.

None of the characters really stood out for me here and even though it’s only been a week since I read this, I couldn’t really name more than two or three of them.  This anthology just did not pack the punch I’ve come to expect from authors like this.  In the end, I was more disappointed than entertained, which is not something you want when you’ve just read through almost 500 pages.

I give this anthology 3/5 stars.

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Blood Diva by V. M. Gautier

Blood Diva by V. M. Gautier(Cover picture courtesy of Mythical Books.)

The 19th century’s most infamous party-girl is undead and on the loose in the Big Apple.

When 23 year-old Parisian courtesan, Marie Duplessis succumbed to consumption in 1847, Charles Dickens showed up for the funeral and reported the city mourned as though Joan of Arc had fallen. Marie was not only a celebrity in in her own right, but her list of lovers included Franz Liszt – the first international music superstar, and Alexandre Dumas fils, son of the creator of The Three Musketeers. Dumas fils wrote the novel The Lady of the Camellias based on their time together. The book became a play, and the play became the opera La Traviata. Later came the film versions, and the legend never died.

But what if when offered the chance for eternal life and youth, Marie grabbed it, even when the price was the regular death of mortals at her lovely hand?

In 2014, Marie wonders if perhaps nearly two centuries of murder, mayhem, and debauchery is enough, especially when she falls hard for a rising star she believes may be the reincarnation of the only man she ever truly loved. But is it too late for her to change? Can a soul be redeemed like a diamond necklace in hock? And even if it can, have men evolved since the 1800′s? Or does a girl’s past still mark her?

Blood Diva is a sometimes humorous, often dark and erotic look at sex, celebrity, love, death, destiny, and the arts of both self-invention and seduction. It’s a story that asks a simple question – Can a one hundred ninety year-old demimondaine find happiness in 21st century Brooklyn without regular infusions of fresh blood?

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

As my regular readers are probably well aware of by now, I love opera.  It makes up the bulk of music I’ve listened to in the past two years or so and since there’s nothing on television anymore it also makes up the bulk of movies/performances I watch.  I guess you could say I’m an opera fanatic, so when I saw this book on NetGalley I decided I’d go for it.  After all, while I’d never heard of the real Marie Duplessis, I sure loved Violetta in La Traviata.  I figured it would be nice to see a different take on the woman behind the legend.

 What was really clear from the beginning is the Gautier loves opera and she loves the book by Alexandre Dumas fils.  She has this excited energy about both of them that you really just can’t fake.  However, to me it seemed like her love of opera sometimes exceeded her knowledge of it.  When referring to a famous aria from Verdi’s Rigoletto she called it “Dona e mobile”, which is not correct Italian.  It should be “La Donna e mobile”.  At another point a vampire tells her he calls blood l’elisir d’amore because of the Rossini opera; that’s not really possible because Donizetti wrote the opera in question.  Some other errors like saying “vencere, vencere” is the last line of the aria “Nessun Dorma” can be attributed to the lack of knowledge of characters, but the two examples above should have been caught in the editing process.

For all of my nitpicking, I really did enjoy Blood Diva.  Marie/Alphonsine is a great character and is very three dimensional.  She struggled so much with her transition to being a vampire and now she struggles with being a vampire because she’s falling in love with a human.  A human that doesn’t (and can’t) know about her past.  Marie also really struggles about what she’s forced to do for work because sometimes the elder vampires (in order to gain funds for the communal fund to help other vampires) sometimes make her revert to her old profession.  It’s actually kind of sad that she was gifted an immortal life on her deathbed and yet, for all that she’s seen and learned, she’s back where she started 200 years ago.

This is mostly a character novel, so it helped that both Marie and Dashiell were three dimensional.  The one thing I really loved was that their relationship was intense and beautiful, but that it also had its rocky moments.  Contrary to how they’re portrayed in many novels, relationships are rarely straightforward and couples in love do argue.  Marie and Dashiell certainly argue, but you can always feel that they love each other.  Considering their relationship takes up most of the book, I really appreciated that Gautier spent so much effort on it.

The plot was pretty good right up until the end.  As I’ve said, this was character driven so of course it’s going to be slower than a plot-driven novel, but Blood Diva never really drags.  The characters are far too interesting for that.  My only problem is that the ending left me unsatisfied.  It fits with the theme throughout the book of Marie’s fictional incarnations, so I don’t mind that the ending was not necessarily the most cheerful ever.  I just felt unsatisfied, like “I read all that only for it to end like this?”.  It didn’t feel like there was much closure, really.

Still, Gautier’s writing style was beautiful, her pacing was excellent as well as her characters and she had that kind of excitement that you just can’t fake.  Despite the ending and the little mistakes I really, really enjoyed Blood Diva and I hope that Gautier, whether under this pseudonym or another, writes more novels in the future.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Atlas by Becca C. Smith

Atlas by Becca C. Smith

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Kala Hicks is part of a covert elite military team that answers directly to the President of the United States. But during an emergency mission aboard Air Force One, Kala is shocked to discover that the real threat is none other than the President himself. Defying her commanding officer, Jack Norbin, Kala takes the shot, and her life changes forever.

The moment the President is killed, a supernatural force speaks to Kala, telling her that she has to commit one act of atrocity every four days… or the world will end. Thrown into a reality she never could have imagined, Kala faces off with creatures of legend; from demons determined to make her fail and plunge the Earth into chaos, to angels who don’t trust her to do the job and are willing to kill her to claim it for themselves.

Pitted against the forces of good and evil, Kala must choose whether to save the world by doing the unthinkable, or sit back and let it burn. And four days later, she’ll have to do it again.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback copy in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

I’ll admit that with this one I was a little skeptical once I actually read the blurb.  To be honest, it sounded a little dumb and I thought that I’d accidentally signed up to read a total lemon.  Thankfully, that was far from the case.  This one is a diamond in the rough, so to speak.

The real strength of Smith’s writing is the fact that she can pace things so well.  I felt the tension ratchet up right from the beginning until it was at almost unbearable levels during the climax.  There were twists and turns in the plot, with plenty of “didn’t see that coming moments”.  I didn’t even see the end coming when Kala did something so unexpected that she shocked angels, demons and those in-betweeners that are desperate to keep up the balance of the world through an Atlas.  Some are determined to stop her and others are still more determined that she should succeed, so in the end who will win?  You just really don’t know.

Kala is a good character and she is quite memorable.  Having grown up largely in foster care until her teen years, she understandably has some trust issues, particularly in her relationships.  Her backstory is fascinating but just when you think you know everything about her, we learn something very interesting about her foster parents and who/what they really are.  What I really liked was her determination in the beginning to find a way out of becoming the next Atlas.  She doesn’t want to commit the atrocity that’s been assigned to her, but she doesn’t want literally billions of people to die.  It’s a fascinating inner struggle, believe me.

I really appreciated Becca Smith’s world-building.  She clearly knows a lot about Greek mythology (which you would expect) but she goes deeper into Christian theology in order to create some of her other creatures like the Grigori and Malaks.  I would have liked a little more time devoted to the creation and working of magic, but then that would have slowed down the plot and thrown the pacing off.  We still have good working knowledge of the whole different world Becca Smith created, but it’s more of a personal preference for me that I would have liked a little more.

All in all, this is actually a pretty good book and I’m glad that I went into it with an open mind, rather than judging it entirely on the blurb.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Castle Blues Quake by Linda Covella

The Castle Blues Quake by Linda Covella(Cover picture courtesy of Patch.com)

12-year-old Pepper Connelly leaves her best friend, Chrissie, behind when her family moves from New York City to Santa Cruz, CA. Pepper discovers a boy, Corey, hiding in her backyard shed. Unknown to Pepper, Corey is a ghost trying to contact his grandfather, Boppie, before he crosses over. He tells Pepper he must locate Boppie before Social Services finds him. Pepper agrees to help.

While Pepper’s communication with Chrissie dwindles, her friendship with Corey grows. She tells Corey about her passion for writing songs, and throughout the story, she composes a song about Corey. Corey teaches Pepper to play the harmonica. Soon, she’s torn between finding Boppie and knowing when she does, Corey will certainly go back on the road with his traveling-musician grandfather.

Other characters help her on her quest: new classmate Ally Cressman, who dresses in an odd-ball, non-mall style; Sawtooth Sam, the mysterious saw-playing street musician; and Madame Mchumba, who performs her psychic readings at the Boardwalk amusement park. Earthquakes, haunted house rides, poltergeists, and crystal ball readings propel Pepper toward the end of her search as she learns about the give and take, the heartache and joy, of true friendship.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

This is definitely a middle grade novel, probably one that’s not really all that suited for teens, but I decided to give The Castle Blues Quake a try anyway.  It wasn’t a bad decision in the end either.

Even though some characters are walking stereotypes, the main characters are at least a little fleshed out.  Pepper has had to move to a new house in Santa Cruz from New York City so she’s understandably not happy with the situation.  She’s drifting apart from her big city friend but then she makes a new friend: the house ghost, Corey.  The only problem?  She doesn’t know he’s a ghost and he’s not about to tell her he is either.  He’s waiting for his grandfather the whole novel (which would normally make him a boring character) but Corey is actually quite proactive.  He and Pepper essentially set out on a quest to bring his grandpa back home, not knowing that grandpa has secrets of his own.

My only real ‘complaint’ about the book is that the secondary characters should have been fleshed out more.  Sage, Pepper’s parents, the psychic, etc.  Even for a middle grade novel they were surprisingly stiff, like they were cardboard cutouts.  All they really served was to move the plot forward at convenient intervals.  Pepper’s parents especially seemed pretty oblivious to the goings on of their twelve-year-old so there was a little of that believability factor missing.  Still, this is not a bad novel.  It’s just not a great one.

I’ve read quite a few stories like this before so the plot was really no surprise at all for me.  I don’t want to give spoilers away, but I think it will probably be predictable even for the targeted audience.  Still, I like that Linda Covella maintained a decent pace throughout the novel and didn’t belabour the point in her descriptions yet the reader knows what’s going on.  As an older reader I felt the believability factor was a little low, but then again I’m not a 9-12 year old and haven’t been for a number of years.

The Castle Blues Quake is not a book made for my demographic, but it’s not a bad book for middle grade children.  There are better novels out there, but there are also a lot worse ones.  This book didn’t make me gasp in surprise or struggle to catch my breath because it was so beautiful, but it was a solid, generally well-written novel.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Discussion: Your Experience with ARCs

(I won’t be here most of the day but I will reply to discussion comments later this evening.)

ARCs are simply advanced reading copies of novels from publishers or authors.  They’re actually pretty simple when you think about it but they seem to cause a lot of controversy and drama in the book blogging world.  One blogger gets a coveted ARC, another doesn’t, you know how it goes.  But I don’t want to talk about drama today.  I’m going to be facing middle school girl drama most of the day already (I’m refereeing a volleyball tournament).

What I want to talk about is your personal experience with ARCs as a blogger.  Do you ever get physical ARCs in the mail?  Or are you all digital now?  Which is your preference?  And of the ARCs you’ve received, which is/are your favourite(s)?

My personal favourite is one I just got, The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton.  I had reviewed and loved her Daughter of the Gods so when the tour for her latest book came out I immediately jumped on it.  To my surprise, I got a personalized, signed ARC in the mail with the coolest note in a little scroll.  Stuff like that really shows an author cares about their readers, you know?  And I really do appreciate that.

If you’re an author, what has your experience been with sending out ARCs?  Did they get a good reception?  Was it worth it from a publicity point of view?  And, finally, would you do it again?

Book Blast: Gold Rush Deluge by Suzanne Lilly

 

Too late she realizes Kersey has a dark and murderous past
 

 

Publication Date: August 23, 2014
Genre: Historical Romance

When Lucinda Martin York and George Arnold leave Diggers Flat during a rainstorm, the Sacramento and American rivers crest, causing a deluge of epic proportions that engulfs the town of Sacramento. While Lucinda uses her medical skills to help save the citizens, George proposes a plan to stop the floodwaters and save the town.

Lucinda holds fast to her dream of becoming a doctor and apprentices to Dr. Mitchell Kersey. She falls under his spell, and too late she realizes Kersey has a dark and murderous past that has followed him to California. The danger she finds herself enmeshed in may end her dreams before they have even begun.

Based on historical events of 1850 Sacramento, Gold Rush Deluge is riveting and romantic.

 

 

 

Suzanne Lilly is a teacher and a writer who occasionally takes time off to zipline in Alaska, teach in China, and traipse around Rome. She writes sweet stories with a splash of suspense, a flash of the unexplained, a dash of romance, and always a happy ending.

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