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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Immortal by Gene Doucette

Immortal by Gene Doucette(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

“I don’t know how old I am.My earliest memory is something along the lines of fire good, ice bad, so I think I predate written history, but I don’t know by how much. I like to brag that I’ve been there from the beginning, and while this may very well be true, I generally just say it to pick up girls.”

–Adam the Immortal

Surviving sixty thousand years takes cunning and more than a little luck. But in the twenty-first century, Adam confronts new dangers—someone has found out what he is, a demon is after him, and he has run out of places to hide.Worst of all, he has had entirely too much to drink.

Immortal is a first person confessional penned by a man who is immortal, but not invincible. In an artful blending of sci-fi, adventure, fantasy, and humor, IMMORTAL introduces us to a world with vampires, demons and other “magical” creatures, yet a world without actual magic.

At the center of the book is Adam.

“I have been in quite a few tight situations in my long life. One of the first things I learned was if there is going to be a mob panic, don’t be standing between the mob and wherever it is they all want to go. The second thing I learned was, don’t try to run through fire.”

–Adam the Immortal

Adam is a sixty thousand year old man. (Approximately.) He doesn’t age or get sick, but is otherwise entirely capable of being killed.His survival has hinged on an innate ability to adapt, his wits, and a fairly large dollop of luck. He makes for an excellent guide through history . . . when he’s sober.

Immortal is a contemporary fantasy for non-fantasy readers and fantasy enthusiasts alike.

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

What I’ve always wondered at is if there really are immortals, how will they live in today’s society where you need an ID to do almost anything?  At what point do mortals discover their existence?  Well, Gene Doucette certainly deals with that in Immortal.

Adam is probably one of my favourite characters I’ve read about in a long time.  Sure he’s a drunken lecher of the first degree, but after sixty thousand years, wouldn’t you be too?  He’s clever and street smart, which has kept him alive over the millennia and yet he still holds onto the romantic idea that he’s not the only immortal, that the redheaded beauty he keeps seeing will one day reveal herself to him.  If they all don’t get captured by scientists to be poked and prodded and exploited first.  I love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I have to say that quite honestly, Immortal does have the feel of the classic as Adam tries to sober up to run away from his many would-be captors.  I don’t compare classics like Douglas Adams’ book to contemporary works very easily, so you can be certain that I really do enjoy and recommend Immortal.

Even though not all that much is revealed about the origins of Adam’s immortality, I can still say that the world-building in this book was excellent.  Why?  Because there are very good reasons for his immortality being shrouded in mystery: humans were quite primitive at the time and he himself says that he wasn’t engaging in the kind of complex thought that is present today.  “Fire good, ice bad”, indeed.  We see flashbacks of his travels across the centuries, sometimes drunken and sometimes not as he encountered everything from demons to famous gangsters.  He’s certainly had a pretty cool life, but not in the “I’m immortal so I’ve met every famous figure ever” way.  No, sometimes he lived a pretty ordinary life and sometimes not, which makes his current political savvy believable as well as his street smarts.

As for the plot, it was surprisingly fast-paced when you consider that there were occasional interludes into the past.  Normally those slow the plot down unbearably, but not so in this case because Gene Doucette is a good writer.  I wanted to know more about Adam’s fascinating background not only because it was fascinating but because it was also relevant to where he is today: being hunted so that scientists can figure out how to recreate the conditions for his immortality.  Adam’s not too keen on being poked, prodded and possibly dissected so things get very, very interesting toward the end of the novel.  Particularly when we see our red-headed friend again.

So all in all, Immortal was a very enjoyable read and I would definitely recommend it to others.  Adam is a very memorable character and the world-building is so well done that even with the little knowledge you’re given, you remain fairly satisfied that you know most everything that is relevant to the story itself.  Of course I can’t wait to see that expanded in the next book, Hellenic Immortal.  I’ll definitely be watching and waiting to read the rest of Adam’s story.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Aranya by Marc Secchia

Aranya by Marc Secchia(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Chained to a rock and tossed off a cliff by her boyfriend, Aranya is executed for high treason against the Sylakian Empire. Falling a league into the deadly Cloudlands is not a fate she ever envisaged. But what if she did not die? What if she could spread her wings and fly?

Long ago, Dragons ruled the Island-World above the Cloudlands. But their Human slaves cast off the chains of Dragonish tyranny. Humans spread across the Islands in their flying Dragonships, colonising, building and warring. Now, the all-conquering Sylakians have defeated the last bastion of freedom–the Island-Kingdom of Immadia.

Evil has a new enemy. Aranya, Princess of Immadia. Dragon Shapeshifter.

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

As with a lot of books I seem to read, I was a little skeptical about this one from the blurb.  It had the potential to be either a totally awesome book or really suck.  Good thing for me it was the former and not the latter, right?

I am just blown away by Aranya.  The plot, the world-building, Marc Secchia’s incomparable writing and the vivid characters all come together to make this book one of the best I’ve read in quite literally years.  Considering the fact that I read around 200 books per year, that’s no small feat either.  Sometimes books take the words quite literally out of my mouth and this is one of those instances (which is why I had to write this review hours after finishing the book, just to process it).

I’ll start off with the world-building, which was fabulous.  Here we have a complex geo-political situation within an epic fantasy world!  There are various alliances and rivalries and each little island on this world has its own distinct culture and history.  Its ruling families are all different, as are their customs and languages.  At the same time, for those of you worrying that this just becomes a political thriller, don’t worry.  Marc Secchia walks the fine line between political thriller and awesome world that has complicated politics (but ones that are not the main focus of the story).  So while his world is excellently built, we never get the backstory dump that sometimes happens in similar works.

And the dragons?  Wow.  I like that despite the impossibility of somehow having more matter when you shapeshift from human to dragon, the overall concept is very well thought out.  There are limitations for people like Aranya in both forms and her dragon form is far from invincible like it is in so many other stories.  She actually has to work at developing her powers, with the help of an incurable old letch, Nak.  And her limitations as a new dragon do significantly hinder her as she goes about her journey to save Immadia and her friends/family.  It’s very well done in my opinion.

As I said, Marc Secchia’s writing is incomparable.  He can not only describe action sequences with the ease of a writer with 50+ years of experience, but can also slow down and write heartbreakingly tender moments.  At the same time, the plot never really slows down.  There’s always something going on, a hint of background tension that forces you to keep reading in order to find out what happens next.  I was sucked into the world of Aranya, feeling everything from the humidity in the jungles of the Pygmy and the cool volcanic climate where Aranya gets kidnapped inadvertently.

Last but certainly not least are the characters.  Aranya and Zip are certainly some of the more memorable characters I’ve ever read about and they defy gender stereotypes left, right and centre.  How many female characters have a serious duel nearly to the death and then become the best of friends?  Not as many as male characters, I can tell you that much.  Both of them are well-rounded and three dimensional characters, but Aranya will always hold a special place in my heart.  She’s willing to leave her family and Immadia behind in order to secure the future of her country, even if it means living in obscure exile for the rest of her natural life.  And she does it with minimal whining as well, accepting her duty to her country.  Does that mean she’ll go down without a fight?  Certainly not!  But she also doesn’t spend all her time pining after every attractive guy who crosses her path and whining about how awful her lot in life is.  It’s quite a novel concept after the many, many YA novels I’ve read with similar concepts that were far less well carried out.

I just can’t recommend Aranya enough.  Even if you’re not big into epic fantasy, I think you can still enjoy this book.  Not only are the characters some of the most memorable I’ve ever encountered, the plot was amazing and Marc Secchia’s writing is always superb.  I just don’t have anything to say but this: buy the book already!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Charming by Krystal Wade

Charming by Krystal Wade(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and that’s great . . . as long as you don’t die.

Sixteen-year-old Haley Tremaine had it all: top-notch school, fantastic family, and a bright future, but all of that changed when an accident tore her family apart. Now, an alcoholic father, a bitter younger sister, and a cold headstone bearing her mother’s name are all she has left.

Chris Charming has it all: a powerful CEO for a father, a prestigious school, and a fortune at his fingertips, but none of that matters when he lands a reputation as a troublemaker. Struggling to follow in his father’s footsteps, he reaches out to the one person he believes truly sees him, the one person he wants: Haley.

Little do they know someone’s determined to bring the two together, even if it means murder.

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

I’ve read all of Krystal Wade’s books since she debuted a few years ago, but I think Charming is pretty much my favourite out of them all.

Yes, it’s a Cinderella retelling, but it’s not like you’re thinking.  There’s certainly a Prince Charming (named, of course, Chris Charming) but there’s far more depth to their relationship than in the original.  Haley is a very put-upon Cinderella, what with her alcoholic father and her perfect sister who doesn’t see him for what he really is: an abuser who beats his own daughter because she looks like her dead mother.  And there’s plenty of romance and even a ball, but it’s not so simple as that because not only is this a Cinderella retelling, it’s a mash-up of Saw as well.  (So yes, it does get a little gory at the end.)

Haley was an awesome character for me.  Her little sister hates her, thinking that Haley is always deliberately trying to annoy their dad and that she only thinks of herself.  In truth, Haley is the one who takes her dad’s beatings and his verbal abuse so that Jocelyn herself doesn’t turn into a target.  She pretends not to care at school, works late on school nights and then goes home to do several hours of chores caused by their alcoholic father’s natural messiness.  It’s a pretty bad scenario but I was still pleasantly surprised that when Chris Charming turned his sights on Haley, she didn’t immediately fall head-over-heels for him.  No, she didn’t even trust him to be a decent human being because that’s how bad her father’s abuse has shattered her trust.  Their relationship takes a while to develop and it’s not all smooth, which is far more realistic considering both of their backgrounds.

For a book that’s largely character-driven in the beginning, Charming sure has a fast-paced plot.  Just when you think things are winding down, we get a wildcard thrown into the mix and then Haley has to fight for the lives of her ungrateful family.  The mysterious third man who wants to bring Haley and Chris together is around every corner watching, listening and waiting.  He’s just the sort of character to bring a little zip back into the Cinderella story, so it sort of retains its original dark overtones.

To sum up, I just really loved Charming.  After the sort of disappointment that was Shattered Secrets, I love to see that Krystal Wade is back to her classic style of writing (only improved!).  This book is a great retelling of Cinderella and if you’re into very nontraditional retellings of your favourite fairytales, you’ll particularly enjoy it.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Stolen Skye by Nina Loard

Stolen Skye by Nina Loard(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

It’s been years since the car accident, but with every disappointment Evelyn finds herself wondering about her forgotten days in London. After being dismissed from her job, she unknowingly wanders past an old friend who reintroduces himself by breaking into her home. Armed with a photograph and a handful of gems, he convinces her that after dropping out of her study abroad program, she befriended a group of accomplished thieves. Drawn to the handsome stranger in her living room and seduced by the idea of finally knowing the truth, Evelyn travels to London to face her past and understand what could’ve caused her to make such uncharacteristic life choices.

As conflicting memories surface, Evelyn fights her attraction to the Irish rogue, Finn, while sparring with the intimidating group leader, Ari. There’s the added problem of forgetting where she’s stashed a small fortune. Realizing too late that darker forces are closing in on her, Evelyn fights to save herself and the lives of those she’s grown to care for.

I hate to admit it, but the only reason I even considered reading this book is that it was free on Amazon at the time.  Normally something like this would scare me off because I’d think “Oh, just another action movie wannabe”.  You could say that I’m a little judgmental with these things, but I still did go into Stolen Skye with an open mind.  You never know, right?  It might actually be good.

The truth is, it’s better than good.  It’s great!

I know it sounds like Evelyn has Hollywood Amnesia and she sort of does, but at least Nina Loard justifies it as the rare fugue amnesia (where victims can get their past memories back and don’t lose the memory of how to do basic things like tie their shoes).  The main reason why I didn’t throw this book at the wall despite the amnesia cliche is that it wasn’t actually a cliche in this book.  Evelyn is significantly hindered by her lack of past memories and she knows it.  Sometimes memories come back to her if she’s in a setting from that memory, but it’s not a great big rush just when the plot finds it convenient.

Evelyn was a great character, to be honest.  She’s smart and determined when she has a goal, but at the same time she’s still a little unsure of herself.  I know I would be too if I was in the place where I lost my memories with these people who knew my former self.  The whole art theft ring wouldn’t help either.  Ari and Finn are two very different men and no, it’s not a typical love triangle in this case.  Evelyn naturally grows attracted to Finn, but then something happens to sort of spoil their relationship.  I can’t say anything without giving away a major spoiler, but let’s just say that it both did and didn’t surprise me.

For a character-driven novel, Stolen Skye is quite fast-paced.  Of course there’s Evelyn rediscovering her past, but then a lot of the plot consists of her re-training as a thief and helping to plan a theft at one of the most famous museums in the world.  (This particular theft not being illegal as they were hired for a publicity stunt.)  We also see Evelyn try to learn what led to her accident and subsequent amnesia.  Trust me when I say that where there’s lots of money involved, there’s a lot of criminal activity and the people with said money become targets.

What really stood out for me in Nina Loard’s book were her vivid descriptions of the locations.  I’ve never been to London (something I plan to remedy in the future) but through her writing I felt like I was right there along with Evelyn.  Her descriptive style appeals to me and although it’s not typically what you’d see in an action thriller, it somehow works because she has a good sense of timing.  Few authors can both describe the characters’ surroundings adequately and still have lots of action going on.  It’s an important skill and Nina Loard certainly has it.

This was definitely one of the best books I’ve stumbled across, paid or free.  I’m so glad that I gave it a chance and went into it with an open mind because I’ve found a great new series that I’m dying to read the next book of.  So check out the Skye Trilogy, people!  It’s hard not to love it!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Goddess Born by Kari Edgren

Goddess Born by Kari Edgren(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Pennsylvania, 1730

Selah Kilbrid keeps a dangerous secret: she has the power to heal.

A direct descendent of the Celtic goddess Brigid, it’s Selah’s sacred duty to help those in need. But as the last of the Goddess Born living in the New World, she learned from an early age to keep her supernatural abilities hidden. The Quaker community of Hopewell has always been welcoming, but there’s no doubt they would see her hanged if her gift was revealed.

When a prominent minister threatens to try her with witchcraft unless she becomes his wife, Selah has only one hope–that her betrothed, a distant cousin from Ireland, arrives as planned. Marrying Samuel would keep her secret safe, preserve her sacred bloodline, and protect her from being charged as a witch.

But when news of Samuel’s death reaches the Colonies, Selah is truly on her own. Terrified, she faces an impossible choice–forfeit her powers and marry the loathsome Nathan? Or find an imposter to pose as her husband and preserve her birthright?

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

From the blurb, I had pretty high expectations about Goddess Born.  Not only that, it came highly recommended to me from a friend/colleague!  So you could say Kari Edgren’s book had a lot to live up to.  As it turns out, Goddess Born would far exceed my high expectations.  The characters were excellent, the world-building was fantastic and Kari Edgren brought the early Colonies to life.

First off, the characters were excellent.  Selah in reality, had a horrible decision to make when she learned of her cousin’s death.  Her father is dead so there’s no man to protect her from the law and Nathan’s wrath.  Her only hope is to marry her cousin, who’s dead.  But nobody in Hopewell knows that, do they?  So she embarks on a long, arduous and sometimes funny journey when she marries Henry, an indentured servant set to play the role of her cousin.  I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that yes, of course Henry and Selah are going to develop feelings for each other, but I also have to say that those feelings were far from Insta-Love.  In fact, it was almost Insta-Hate for a while there.

Both Selah and Henry stand out for me as characters.  They both have complicated histories behind the circumstances that found them married and neither one is really keen to divulge their past to the other.  At the same time, it’s obvious that both of them feel for the other’s plight.  Selah doesn’t like forcing Henry into a marriage just to save her own skin and Henry doesn’t like the fact that he’s the only one standing between Selah and Nathan’s considerable wrath.  He feels for Selah and she for him, but of course things are always more complicated than that.

As for the magic of Selah’s line, I think it was pretty well thought out.  It comes from the Celtic goddess Brigid and puts a lot of strain on its possessors.  They have the power of life and death over medical matters, so you really have to appreciate the fact that Selah is a good person who would never hurt anyone, even her own worst enemy.  Power like that can become heady and change people, but Selah is the sweet and level-headed young woman that she always has been.  What I really liked about the fact of Selah’s power is that she does run out and she does have to do a complicated ritual to renew it by going to the Otherworld.  Maintaining her power is not easy and adds another layer of conflict, rather than like in most stories where the power is never-ending and/or naturally replenishes itself.

I have to say that I also loved both the descriptions of the time as well as the pacing of the plot.  Kari Edgren really made me feel like I was in Pennsylvania in 1730, even though obviously I haven’t and I’ve never even studied that period of history.  I can’t vouch for authenticity in her descriptions but I do know that her writing really makes you feel like you’re in the period.  Sometimes that’s almost better than being accurate and boring.  The pacing, however, doesn’t allow for boredom.  It starts out a little slow at first, but quickly we have Selah’s life spiraling out of control as Nathan makes his ultimatum, her father dies, she learns her cousin dies and she marries an indentured servant to pose as him.  There is no such thing as a boring moment in Goddess Born.

So, at the end of all this, I don’t have anything but praise for this book.  It came highly recommended and exceeded my expectations.  It was fast-paced, felt historically authentic and the characters were amazing.  I can’t recommend it enough and even if you’re not necessarily a big reader of historical fiction, I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Best Seller by Martha Reynolds

kindle cover(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Set in New England at the time of the American Bicentennial, Best Seller is the poignant story of a displaced young woman struggling to figure out who she is within the context of her hometown and the carefully masked dysfunction of her family. “Everything can be fixed by writing a check.” Words to live by for Robin Fortune’s wealthy father, until he can’t buy her way back into college after she’s expelled for dealing pot. Now he chooses not to speak to her anymore, but that’s just one of the out-of-whack situations Robin’s facing. At nineteen, she feels rudderless, working in a diner by day and sleeping with a buddy from high school by night – all so strange for her because she was always the one with the plan. While her college friends plotted how to ensnare husbands, she plotted a novel, which she scratched out into a series of spiral-bound notebooks she hides in the closet. But now, there’s nothing. No vision, no future, no point. In fact, the only thing she feels she has to look forward to is that her favorite author, Maryana Capture, is paying a visit to the local Thousand Words bookstore. Robin surmises that if she can convince Maryana to help her get her novel published, she’ll finally get herself back on track. Except that life never takes a straight path in this intensely satisfying coming-of-age novel.

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

I have to say that for all of my hesitation about Best Seller, it actually isn’t a bad book.  It’ll never be a great book but Martha Reynolds is a pretty solid writer.

Her main strength is her characters because although I hate people like Robin in real life (naive, unambitious sorts of people who have never done a thing for themselves) I actually didn’t mind her in fiction.  Do I like every decision she makes?  Of course not, particularly when it concerns her love life.  However, it’s a testament to the strength of Reynolds’ writing that I didn’t throw the book at the wall like I normally would with a character like this.  In some ways I enjoyed Robin’s journey from pretty darn naive for a 20 year old to an almost adult by the end, and in some ways I was a little frustrated at the same time.

The reason I was frustrated was the plot.  I love a good character novel but I do feel that a book has to have some sort of overarching plot or theme that the main character struggles with.  That wasn’t necessarily so in Best Seller.  There’s a lot of inter-character conflict but the main point of the novel (Robin is an aspiring young writer) gets wrapped up in just a couple of pages at the end.  Just like every other conflict Robin faces, it gets wrapped up in a pretty little bow at the end with not even a little ambiguity anywhere.  It’s just too perfect, really, especially when you consider characters like David who do a total 180 by the end.

I haven’t exactly lived through 1976 so I’m not going to talk about any historical accuracy in the novel.  But, at the same time, Martha Reynolds’ writing made me feel like I was there with the characters: breathing in the smoke before smoking indoors in public places was illegal (which I do actually remember), tasting the breakfast at the diner and so much more.  She has a very descriptive writing style and yet she never crosses into boring territory.

So when a writer can make me like the sort of person I’d rather slap in real life and can bring me back to an era I’ve never lived through, I can definitely appreciate their efforts and their talent.  I just wish that Best Seller had more of a plot/point.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

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