Forbidden by Amy Miles

Forbidden by Amy Miles(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Roseline Enescue didn’t ask to become an Immortal, to have all of the guests at her wedding slaughtered, or be forced into marriage with a man whose lust for blood would one day ignite the vampire legend. Willing to risk everything for a chance at a normal life, Roseline escapes to America. Terrified her husband Vladimir will find her, Roseline enrolls as a senior in Chicago’s elite Rosewood Prep school. Mingling with humans is the last place he would look for her. But her transition into the human world isn’t easy. Mortal men flock after her while cutthroat girls plot her demise. Yet Roseline remains relatively unfazed by the petty hysteria until she falters into the arms of Gabriel Marston, reluctant MVP quarterback, unwilling ladies man, and sensitive artist in hiding. Troubled by the bond that pulls her towards the mortal boy, Roseline tries to ignore him, but Gabriel is persistent. As their lives entwine, Roseline begins to realize that Gabriel is much more than he appears. His ability to toss a football the entire length of the field and grind concrete into dust pales in comparison to the glowing blue cross tattoo that mysteriously appears on his forearms. Despite the forbidden bond between them, Roseline can’t help wondering what Gabriel is: He’s not human. He’s not Immortal. So just what is he?

[Full disclosure: I requested and received this ebook through NetGalley as part of the 'Beautifully Unnatural' four book package.]

I thought the premise of this book sounded a little dumb, to be honest.  An immortal who just wants to be a teenager?  Meh.

And yet, after all the effort Amy Miles went to in order to develop her characters, I kind of get it.  Roseline was never allowed to be a child.  She was raised for marriage into another wealthy family from birth and was a child bride on her wedding day.  Add to that the fact she watched her entire family die before her eyes and that the blood of dead younger sister made her immortal and you’ve got a basic recipe for stunted growth.  Not to mention all the myriad tortures Dracula inflicts on her.  I think anyone would turn out with a lack of trust, not to mention an odd mix of maturity (because she had to deal with torture and politics) and immaturity (a response to being forced into said torture and politics).

From all this, you can definitely guess that Roseline is a pretty memorable character.  I still don’t quite buy the whole 300-year-old immortal falling for a teenage boy, but I’m willing to give Amy Miles a little leeway here after she semi-justified Roseline’s immaturity.  Gabriel is not bad in the beginning and I like how he actually develops into a character rather than just your typical love interest.  He won’t abandon Roseline, no matter how much she pushes him away in order to protect him.  Compared to other love interests, he also knows how to act and lie, which make him a far more compelling character than your usual guileless but oddly heroic male.

Even if the characterization was iffy in spots, the plot was not.  Even when it was ‘slow’ (i.e. there were no major events happening), there was still an element of tension throughout the novel that kept your attention.  I generally liked Roseline as a character so I was very invested in what happened to her, especially when she got the word that Dracula was going to go on a killing spree unless she returned to him.  She has trouble adjusting to high school life in America but she does find a lot of things to be happy about at the same time: Gabriel, finally being allowed to be herself and (again) the whole not being tortured thing.  Anyone would act a little irrationally after being denied freedom for centuries and then being given it back.

So overall, Forbidden at least had a solid plot and generally well-developed characters.  The world-building was okay and I expect we’ll see a little bit more of an explanation in the other two books of the trilogy.  For something I picked up as guilty pleasure, I actually found myself enjoying it on a more intellectual level.  And that’s why I’ll be reading the next book to find out what happens.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory


The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Spies, poison, and curses surround her…

Is there anyone she can trust?

The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the gripping story of the daughters of the man known as the “Kingmaker,” Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick: the most powerful magnate in fifteenth-century England. Without a son and heir, he uses his daughters, Anne and Isabel as pawns in his political games, and they grow up to be influential players in their own right. In this novel, her first sister story since The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory explores the lives of two fascinating young women.

At the court of Edward IV and his beautiful queen, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne grows from a delightful child to become ever more fearful and desperate when her father makes war on his former friends. Married at age fourteen, she is soon left widowed and fatherless, her mother in sanctuary and her sister married to the enemy. Anne manages her own escape by marrying Richard, Duke of Gloucester, but her choice will set her on a collision course with the overwhelming power of the royal family and will cost the lives of those she loves most in the world, including her precious only son, Prince Edward. Ultimately, the kingmaker’s daughter will achieve her father’s greatest ambition.

Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick during the time of Elizabeth Woodville was queen has never been one of my favourite figures throughout history.  He seemed to go wherever the winds blew, betraying this cause and that to make sure his own blood got on the throne of England.  I’ve never liked historical figures like him, but I always pitied his daughters Anne and Isabel, who were nothing more than pawns in his schemes.  Married off to men much older than they, told to think and act certain ways depending on their family’s current alliance and such.

I was also reluctant to pick up The Kingmaker’s Daughter because the last Philippa Gregory book I just read was The Other Boleyn Girl, which I hate with a passion right now.  Still, I couldn’t resist the Cousins’ War series, not after loving The White Queen that featured Elizabeth Woodville.

What was interesting to me was seeing Elizabeth Woodville as the villain of the peace.  In this story, everyone sees her as an evil witch who curses anyone who gets in her way.  Why, she even kills her own brother-in-law.  Anne Neville, our novel’s main character, is predisposed to see Elizabeth as the enemy and a witch because in reality she probably did.  Gregory doesn’t make her out to be some sort of super-heroine that manipulates everyone around her either; she stays relatively true to historical fact and at the same time, tells a story of a woman who seized her own destiny only to realize its true cost.

Anne Neville is a three-dimensional character and not only that, she’s interesting.  She’s brought to court at a young age and has to stay in that viper’s nest for a little while.  It certainly makes an impression on her, but her naivete wins out when her father orchestrates a match that would make her sister Isabel Queen of England as well as later when her father does the same thing for her.  As she grows, though, losing her father and her first husband, Anne really realizes the cost of all these ambitions both morally, personally and politically.  Eventually she does get her dream, but it is a Pyrrhic victory.

I wouldn’t say that the plot of The Kingmaker’s Daughter is fast-paced by most standards, but it was interesting enough to keep me wanting to find out what happened to Anne.  Although I’ve never been fond of her as an historical figure, I like how Philippa Gregory went above and beyond in terms of effort so that she would shine as a person, not just as a political pawn.  Anne had a hard life, made only worse by the tragedies that occurred later on, so you can’t help but feel sorry for her and feel a vested interest in what happens to her next.

All in all, The Kingmaker’s Daughter was a pretty solid book.  The character of Elizabeth of York really shone through in the end as her star was rising so I honestly can’t wait to read her take on things in The White Princess.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Short Story: Merry Christmas, Henry by Aubrey Wynne

Merry Christmas, Henry by Aubrey Wynne(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Henry, a shy and talented artist, moonlights as a security guard at a museum and loses his heart to a beautiful, melancholy woman in a painting. As his obsession grows, he finds a kindred soul who helps him in his search for happiness. On Christmas Eve, Henry dares to take a chance on love and fulfill his dream.

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

Normally I’m not in the mood for Christmas books until at least December 20th.  However, I put my grumbling aside about having to review a Christmas story while it’s still warm out and decided to take a chance on Aubrey Wynne’s short story.  The blurb sounded interesting enough, so I figured I’d give it a go.

You know, in the end I was not disappointed in the least.  Aubrey Wynne somehow managed to give me that warm and Christmassy feeling in the middle of October, which is certainly a testament to her writing skill.  Yes, Merry Christmas, Henry is your typical heartwarming semi-sappy story about Christmas and the magic surrounding it, but I still loved it.  It’s nice to read a story where the good guy gets what he deserves and life improves for him after having a hard life.

Henry is a pretty three dimensional character, especially considering the fact that this is a short story.  He’s a shy and retiring artist who passionately loves his work at the museum.  One day he becomes obsessed with a woman in an obscure painting in the back of the gallery and can’t get her out of his head.  He visits her, talks to her and generally thinks of her as real.  As Christmas approaches, the pull becomes stronger and stronger.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but let’s just say that anything can happen on Christmas Eve in Aubrey Wynne’s world.

The plot was fairly fast-paced since it was a short story, but at the same time I feel like I knew the main characters intimately.  There was no one-time info dump, but rather an organic growth of Henry’s sad backstory and the events leading up to his getting a job in the museum.  By the end, you really do feel like you know him intimately and Aubrey Wynne spins such a beautiful tale that you can’t help but cheer for the heartwarming ending.

In short, it’s the perfect Christmas story.  Even in October.

I give this short story 5/5 stars.

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*No link because B&N is stupidly telling me I don’t have permission to access the requested search.  I know: huh?

Seed by Lisa Heathfield

Seed by Lisa Heathfield(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

All that Pearl knows can be encapsulated in one word: Seed. It is the isolated community that she was born into. It is the land that she sows and reaps. It is the center of her family and everything that means home. And it is all kept under the watchful eye of Papa S.

At fifteen years old, Pearl is finally old enough to be chosen as Papa S.’s companion. She feels excitement . . . and surprising trepidation that she cannot explain. The arrival of a new family into the Seed community—particularly the teenage son, Ellis—only complicates the life and lifestyle that Pearl has depended upon as safe and constant. Ellis is compelling, charming, and worldly, and he seems to have a lot of answers to questions Pearl has never thought to ask.

But as Pearl digs to the roots of the truth, only she can decide what she will allow to come to the surface.

Lisa Heathfield’s suspenseful, scintillating debut features a compelling voice that combines blithe naïveté, keen observation, and sincere emotion.

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

If you know anything at all about cults, or have even read any first-hand survivor accounts of former cult members, Seed will hold absolutely no surprises for you.  I wish it had been a more unique and less predictable take on how cults keep and manipulate their members, but Lisa Heathfield really doesn’t stray from the typical cult modus operandi.  That’s not a bad thing because it makes it realistic, but for me it was so predictable that it got a little boring at points.  It won’t be true for everyone, but for anyone with the aforementioned knowledge of cults you aren’t going to encounter any surprises.

That said, Lisa Heathfield does paint a very realistic picture of what someone raised in a cult would be like.  Pearl constantly wants to please Papa S., wants to be his Companion without realizing what that fully implies (and yes, it means exactly what you’re thinking) and laughs off Ellis when he tells her of the wondrous things in the outside world.  She’s been kept naive about absolutely everything and while she questions some things, she doesn’t question them like you or I would.  It’s more realistic than if she were questioning everything and you’d think it would become annoying, but it doesn’t.  Lisa Heathfield writes very good characters and while sometimes I was exasperated with Pearl, her character still rings true.

As I said, the plot is predictable for people who know a little about cults, but somehow that adds to the overall suspense toward the end.  I knew how things were going to end and I knew how they were going to get there, but I was still anxious to find out what happened.  Heathfield’s pacing was a little slow in the middle (thus my occasional boredom) but despite that she really ratcheted up the suspense toward the end.  Particularly in the barn scene.

I would have liked for a little more even pacing throughout the novel so that it didn’t drag so much in the middle, but this is her debut novel so you can’t really expect everything to be perfect.  Her character development was still amazing and in the end I do have to say that I enjoyed Seed.  Will it ever be on the list of my top 10 favourite novels?  No, not really.  But it is quite a good book and a decent debut so I think we can expect great things from her in the future.  Heathfield has a good grasp of psychology and with a little practice, she can write some truly terrifying novels in the future.  I for one can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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The Vampire’s Bite by Eve Grant

The Vampire's Bite by Eve Grant(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

She’s responsible and takes life too seriously

Susan Ethans is a model student: perfect grades, a dream scholarship, and a promising career ahead of her. But her grades alone aren’t enough to flirt with the hot guys on campus. She doesn’t want to end up being a wallflower, but there isn’t much she can do about it.

A vampire bites her

A madman bites her neck and drinks her blood. She tries to get away, but he drains her life away until she collapses.

She thinks she’s going to die, but she wakes up at an eccentric millionaire’s home. She feels healthy, renewed, and even smarter. Something is changing within her.

He has everything… except love

Nicholas Hill has power, money, and an English accent to die for, but he speaks like a man from the 19th Century. His notions of propriety and manners make him different to every other man in the world. Susan is instantly attracted to him and knows that he likes her, but something tortures his soul and doesn’t let him follow his heart.

Will an ordinary girl change a powerful businessman’s life, or will their personalities clash until they can no longer stand each other?

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

This is mainly a character-driven novel so first I’m going to talk about the main character: Susan.  Susan is essentially the same kind of person that I am.  She works hard to please everyone at the expense of following what she really loves as well as having a social life.  When she becomes a vampire and is intoxicated by her new powers, I can totally understand her suddenly wanting to leave it all behind despite working so hard for her spot in university and her scholarship.  Sometimes you just want to say “screw you” and leave it all behind and a life-changing event like realizing you’re a vampire can do just that to a person.  So while I know that a lot of people will hate Susan for giving up everything, for me she was definitely easy to relate to as a character.

The Vampire’s Bite is ridiculously short at only 85 pages, so we really do have quite a fast-paced plot.  Susan herself sometimes slows it down, however.  She takes interludes to describe everything in great detail as she comes into her new powers, but then never really goes anywhere with those new powers.  I would have liked for her to have more interaction with Nicholas simply because then things would be explained, but that was not to be.  I really would have liked for Eve Grant to extend her book for a little more detail, rather than shoving the explanation into the sequel because while it does make the plot fast, it leaves you with more questions than answers.

With all that said, The Vampire’s Bite is not a bad book.  It will never be high literature and for myself it’s more guilty pleasure than anything.  I wasn’t intrigued enough to want to read the sequel, but some of you might if you give it a try.  If you’re into the modern vampire (suave, sophisticated and rich) then you’ll probably like it, but if you’re new to the whole vampire thing it wouldn’t exactly be the first book I’d recommend.  In the end, it falls somewhere around the middle: it’s not great and it’s not bad.  It’s just a solid ‘meh’.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

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The Hunger Games and The Third Servile War

The Third Servile War is probably one of the most famous wars you’ve never heard of.  What I mean by that is that everyone knows about Spartacus’ rebellion from the movie Spartacus, but few people know that there really was a Spartacus and he really did start a rebellion that morphed into what the Romans knew as the Third Servile War.  In Roman history, it was a monumental event that forced the Romans to reconsider their treatment of slaves and paved the way for later legislation to give slaves some protection (you could be charged for murder if you killed a slave during Claudius’ reign!).

What really struck me when I read The Hunger Games is that the Third Servile War is startlingly similar and is probably at least what partially inspired Suzanne Collins’ depiction of the rebellion of the Districts.  First I think we need a little background on the inspiration behind this and then we’ll go more in depth into why there are so many similarities.

The Third Servile War didn’t start out as a war.  It started out as a breakout from a gladiator school in Capua that included some two hundred slaves and gladiators.  Unsurprisingly, with that many people involved, the plot was discovered and the rebel slaves had to fight their way out of the school.  Spartacus was among them and he was naturally looked to as a leader, but what most people forget is another man who was a key player: Crixus.  Crixus was a Celt who had also been captured to fight in the gladiator schools of the Roman Republic and he didn’t like his situation any more than Spartacus did.  He and Spartacus, even though it may not have started out that way, became the ringleaders of their little revolt. Continue reading

Fever by Lauren DeStefano

Fever by Lauren DeStefanoRhine and Gabriel have escaped the mansion, but danger is never far behind.

Running away brings Rhine and Gabriel right into a trap, in the form of a twisted carnival whose ringmistress keeps watch over a menagerie of girls. Just as Rhine uncovers what plans await her, her fortune turns again. With Gabriel at her side, Rhine travels through an environment as grim as the one she left a year ago – surroundings that mirror her own feelings of fear and hopelessness.

The two are determined to get to Manhattan, to relative safety with Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. But the road there is long and perilous – and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and young men die at twenty-five, time is precious. Worse still, they can’t seem to elude Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, who is determined to bring Rhine back to the mansion…by any means necessary.

In the sequel to Lauren DeStefano’s harrowing Wither, Rhine must decide if freedom is worth the price – now that she has more to lose than ever.

I actually sort of liked the first book, Wither; enough to give it four stars.  But unfortunately, Fever didn’t do so well.  It suffers from severe Book 2 Syndrome.

I hate to say it after liking the first book, but Fever is just plain boring.  Rhine and Gabriel run away and get caught in a creepy brothel-carnival before again escaping into the city to find Rhine’s brother Rowan.  There’s a little bit of action in the end and we finally find out what those stupid June Beans from the first book were all about, but that’s it.  It’s a slow pace for a book that’s only a little over 300 pages and that’s why it seems like it’s much, much longer.  Face it: the plot is just boring and the pacing was too slow.

So let’s talk about characters.  Rhine and Gabriel didn’t really change all that much from the first book.  Rhine got a tiny bit more cynical, but that’s essentially it.  She really has no character development in Fever; she just sort of reacts to events unfolding around her like she pretty much always has.  And I hate that in a particularly spoiler-y situation, she still hasn’t learned to keep her mouth shut and stop herself from blurting out the wrong things.  Rhine lacks subtlety, as she always has.  Gabriel is just sort of your Generic Male Love Interest, there to protect her whenever she needs it and to make out with her but obviously never have sex with her.  He looked like he was almost a good character in the first book, but he’s pretty one dimensional in this one.

What about world-building?  Well, unfortunately, we learn nothing further about why the genetic modification in children left them with a decreased life expectancy and a horrible new way of life once society realized that.  The older generations are still trying to hold it together and the younger generations are essentially contributing to the anarchy of society by not really caring what they do because they’re going to be dead soon anyway.  We get to see vague flashes of the people in power, which is fine, but I really would have liked for there to be a little more information about the science of Lauren DeStefano’s world.  It doesn’t have to be hard science fiction, but some information would have been nice, even if it were just mentioned in passing.

Essentially, except for the last few pages, Fever was a rather boring disappointment.  The next book Sever has potential, but I really wish that DeStefano hadn’t dropped the ball so bad on her second book in the trilogy.  It’s a textbook case of Book 2 Syndrome, unfortunately.  I’m still probably going to end up reading book 3 despite that, but I am seriously having doubts about this trilogy right now.

I give this book 2/5 stars.

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