Friday, December 19, 2014

REVIEW: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Ex-archaeology student turned international antiquities thief—though she'd be loathe to admit to the thief part—Alix Hiboux, better known as Owl, has only one rule: No supernatural jobs... EVER! Unfortunately, she has no choice but to accept a job offer from Mr. Kurosawa, the red dragon who owns the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. As luck would have it, he also promises to get rid of the pack of vampires that have been on her tail for the last year, a benefit Owl certainly can't overlook.

From Japan to Bali and back to Vegas, Owl hunts down the clues she needs to find the requested scroll for the dragon. With a little help from her best friend Nadya, along with a sexy mercenary, Owl bumbles her way through various dig sites, where trouble is never more than a step behind her. But will she be able to deliver the coveted treasure before her enemies catch up to her?

I truly enjoyed this great start to an exciting new urban fantasy series. As a character, Owl is extremely likeable. She's very headstrong, but also quite impetuous and even a bit frustrating at times. While she definitely knows her stuff when it comes to archeology, she lacks the forethought to plan properly and continuously places herself and her friends in danger with her short-sighted decisions. How she's managed to survive as long as she has is beyond me. It's a lucky thing Rynn is around to save her ass! Or perhaps she's got nine lives like her cat! ;)

Speaking of cats, I've never been much of a cat person but I have to say that Captain rocks! An extremely smart Egyptian Mau that's bred to hunt vampires, Captain has managed to save Owl's hide just as much as Rynn has. He can open windows, sneak through air ducts to get where he needs to be, and even understand and retrieve things for Owl. He's a wonderful companion for her and really adds a lot to the story.

With an assortment of supernaturals thrown into the mix, from nagas to nymps and everything in between, this was an exciting, action-packed read, and I look forward to adding this new urban fantasy series to my must read list. Going forward, my only criticism is that I sincerely hope Owl will take time to learn from past mistakes, as it's hard to imagine her being around much longer at the rate she's going. A few fighting lessons from Rynn could go a long way too.

Owl and the Japanese Circus will be released on January 13, 2015, but is available for pre-order at Amazon now. If you're a fan of urban fantasy with strong female characters, and particularly if you're interested in archeology, then I strongly recommend you check this one out!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Pocket Star Books, for providing me with a pre-release copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 15, 2014

REVIEW: Dark Prayer by Natasha Mostert

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Eloise Blake is on the run from a life she no longer remembers. Having went into some kind of fugue state that's lasted about two years now, she's left behind her former life as Jenilee Gray, taken up a new hobby with a tribe of free runners, and is living in a run down squat. Eloise's new identity is as different from Jenilee as night is to day.

Enter Jack Simonetti. Jack is a bit of a spoiled playboy, living off his rich father's purse strings, and recently transported from the UK to NYC. Dear old dad threatens to cut off Jack's money supply unless he does a favor for an old friend, Daniel Barone. Grudgingly, Jack agrees but eventually heads off to London to meet with Barone. Barone, who was Eloise's former guardian, fills Jack in and tasks him with getting close to Eloise and convincing her to return to her previous life. For as luck would have it, Barone is an expert in memory manipulation, and believes he has the skills to help Eloise return to her former self.

Unfortunately, things aren't quite that straightforward. Eloise has had one too many "accidental" close calls and Barone is certain that someone is dogging her, intent on doing her harm. Though Jack manages to get close to Eloise, using their common interest in parkour (free running) as his in, he starts to develop feelings for her. So if he manages to convince her to trust Barone and return to her previous life, she'll no longer remember him or any other details about her life as Eloise. So what's a guy to do??

I thought this was a fantastic story. I loved how much of the memory stuff was backed up by scientific fact, something I didn't fully realize until the author's note at the end. I know the whole "boy meets girl, falls in love, saves girl from bad guys" can be a bit cliché and overdone at times, but seriously, that small but overly simplistic piece of the plot was done up so well around an amazing thriller of a story, that you barely even realized that's what was going on.

The author did a wonderful job building her characters and the world around them. Eloise seemed tough as nails at the start, but as Jack gets to know her, she starts to let a bit more of her vulnerable side show, and you feel like you're peeling layers off an onion. (Shrek anyone? LOL)

Seriously though, if you like mystery and suspense thrillers, you owe it to yourself to check this book out. And now I realize I've had one of Mostert's other books, Season of the Witch, languishing on my TBR shelf for far too long. Must push that one towards the top of the pile!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Portable Magic, Ltd., for providing me with a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

REVIEW: Dark Screams: Volume One by Stephen King, Kelley Armstrong, Bill Pronzini, and Simon Clark

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

This collection of short horror stories, edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar, both of Cemetery Dance Publications, was both creepy and thought provoking. Some stories were definitely better than others, namely the one by Simon Clark which really stood out for me, seeing as he's an author I hadn't come across before.

WEEDS by Stephen King
Jordy Verrill wasn't all that bright, but when a meteorite lands on his farm one night, dollar signs flash before his eyes. Unfortunately, this is no ordinary rock, and it seems as if the life force inside has found it's first victim.

This was a decent short story, reminiscent of classic King, not surprising seeing as it was originally written back in 1976. But that said, I didn't care for it all that much since I didn't really relate to the main character. He was a bit of a lughead, by his own admission, and there wasn't a whole lot else going on.

THE PRICE YOU PAY by Kelley Armstrong
There's always a price to pay... just never pay more than you owe. Words Kara Snow has attempted to live by after the traumatic events of her childhood. Unfortunately, certain habits are hard to break, relationships in particular, and Kara finds herself in hot water all over again when her childhood friend Ingrid comes back into to her life.

I'm a fan of Kelly Armstrong and I found this short story more to my liking than the previous. The main character was quite relate-able and the circumstances surrounding her story all too real. The surprise ending indeed took me by surprise, but still delivered a closing I was quite happy with.

MAGIC EYES by Bill Pronzini
Edward James Tolliver lives his life among the criminally insane, convicted of a crime for which he insists he's innocent. Adamant in his innocence, yet constantly pressured by his doctor to accept responsibility for his actions, how can he do so without revealing the presence of these spectral invaders that have been visiting him... when doing so would only prove he's exactly where he belongs.

This was a creepy tale about an inmate who sees demons in the people around him. It's conducted mostly in monologue as the protagonist Edward writes in his journal, and I found that got a little tiring after awhile. But I suppose this type of delivery helped to emphasize the crazed mind behind the story. Overall, I found it just alright, but nothing special.

The best of the bunch. A gripping story reminiscent of old Saw movies. John York awakens in a large underground sewer, having no idea how he got there, and chained by the neck to a large, scary killer. How far will he go and what will he do to save himself?

I really enjoyed the suspense with this one, never knowing where it was going to lead next, the crazed killer a mere 10 feet away from the protagonist the entire time. The author did a really good job building the suspense, especially for a short story, and I found myself really empathizing with the main character. Simon Clark is now a name I will definitely watch for in the future.

THE WATCHED by Ramsey Campbell
Young Jimmy meets a man in the woods on his way home one day. Claiming to be a local policeman, the man asks Jimmy to keep an eye on the house next door. But why would a policeman have a young boy running errands for him, and why does this man look like he hasn't slept in days? What Jimmy discovers over the course of the next few days will impact his life forever more.

Though not nearly as suspenseful as the previous Simon Clark story, this one had enough going on to command a different sort of suspense. Keeping secrets, yet never quite sure what was really going on, Jimmy's actions leave the reader constantly searching for clues, just as Jimmy is himself.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for providing me with a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

REVIEW: Chronicles of Steele: Raven by Pauline Creeden

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

This was a highly entertaining steampunk fantasy. Raven is a reaper that lives by the reaper's code: for every life she takes, another must be redeemed. She's just about broken even, and has been seriously considering settling down and leaving the reaper life behind completely. But when she's asked to provide protection to the young Baron Darius of New Haven and bring him before the Wood Witch to help cure his malady, she decides to take this one last job. Unfortunately, things aren't quite as straightforward as she would've hoped, and along the way, it's not only her own life and that of her charge that are put in danger. To survive this trip, Raven will have to call upon all her reaper training, and examine her true feelings in the process.

I thought the author did an excellent job with the character and world building. The story takes place in an alternate universe, with cool steam-powered gadgetry, mechanical servants who look completely human, and yes evil witches too! I really connected with Raven's character. Despite her occupation, she's very real and vulnerable underneath her kickass exterior. I'm happy to see that Ms. Creeden will be releasing another book in the Chronicles of Steele universe in 2015 which will focus on young Darius, now the Duke of New Haven. I look forward to delving into more of this fantastic world.

Thank you to the author and NetGalley for providing a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

REVIEW: Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

This book is a collection of four short stories, each published individually but also sold together as a unit as well, told from Four's point-of-view. The first three take place prior to the events of Divergent while the last takes place during the events of Divergent, after Tris has entered the picture.

Four: The Transfer
This short story gives us a glimpse into Four's life with his father, Marcus Eaton, where he's known by his given name of Tobias Eaton. We see the hardships he endured under his father's control, get to experience his Choosing Ceremony, and learn the true reasons he left Abnegation to because Dauntless.

This was a well-written short story, engaging from the start, and though the enlightened reader who's already read the trilogy may already know most of the back story contained herein, it gave me a new appreciation for Four and everything he went through to get where he is today.

Four: The Initiate
This well-written and engaging short story focuses on Four's initiation into Dauntless, and the beginning of his rivalry with Eric. Although he's still learning to assimilate his learned Abnegation morals into his new Dauntless lifestyle, he's started to make friends and eventually makes a name for himself as he progresses through his initiation with the highest of scores.

As he's adjusting to the Dauntless way of life, Four begins to get the feeling that things are not as they appears to be. His father's fervent warnings that he not show awareness under simulation during the Choosing Ceremony's aptitude test begins to coincide with some of the things he's experiencing. Is this faction system all it's cracked up to be, or is it just another way of controlling people, the way his father always controlled him?

Like the previous story, I loved this glimpse into Four's initiation, and I loved getting to know Shauna and Zeke more too, who were more minor characters in the book trilogy. The foreshadowing at the end left me happy that I have the collection of all four stories to read on hand.

Four: The Son
This short story picks up right where Four: The Initiate leaves off. A major twist is introduced, causing Four to further question all he's known his whole life. Four: The Son finds Four examining the relationship he had with his parents, and how it's affecting his current situation.

Like the previous two short stories about Four, this one was just as good. As top of his class of initiates, Four's asked to be a leader, to help shape the future of Dauntless initiation, but after a couple meetings, he's come to realize this isn't what he wants at all. He's begun to feel that the faction system is just another form of control, one he was trying to escape when leaving his father and Abnegation. So instead, Four begins to exert himself through small acts of rebellion against being controlled, all while keeping it on the down low.

Four: The Traitor
It's been two years since the events of the previous short story, this one taking place during the time of Divergent. Four confronts his inner demons about becoming a traitor to his faction as he ponders what to do with some important information he's discovered. At the same time, he also begins to examine his feelings for Tris and decides to open up to her.

I enjoyed seeing the events surrounding Tris's initiation into Dauntless from Four's point-of-view. When I first read Divergent, I was slightly put off by his seemingly indifferent attitude towards Tris, but in this short story, we get to see what he was really thinking, and it allowed me to understand his character a lot better.

Though these short stories aren't necessary to the story line, I felt they added a lot to it, giving the reader a whole new dimension in which to view the events of the books. Almost makes me want to read the books all over again knowing what I do know about Four. :)

Monday, December 01, 2014

REVIEW: The After House by Michael Phillip Cash

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Remy Galway and her daughter Olivia are rebuilding their life in the small historic town of Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York after Remy's divorce. Little do they realize however that one of the house's previous occupants, a whaling boat captain who passed away in 1841, is still lurking... a specter who hasn't been able to find his way to the light. As Remy struggles to put her life back together, will the Captain's presence hinder or help her?

This was an alright read for me. The writing threw me off a bit at the beginning as I found it overly descriptive, particularly of characters as they were introduced, the author recounting details that often had very little to do with the rest of the story. In many cases, I felt it would've been better to leave some of those details out and allow the reader to discover them on their own, if indeed they were necessary. About 17% of the way through (I was reading on my Kindle), things got more interesting with the appearance of the ghost of Captain Eli in Remy and Olivia's life.

I'm not much of a romance reader—I find much of it too corny and cliché for my taste—and unfortunately there were a few romantic scenes between Remy and the local mayor, Hugh, that gave me that same feeling. This and the verbose descriptions were my primary criticisms which detracted from the story for me. But outside of those criticisms, the rest of the story had an interesting premise, and while the ending was a bit predictable, I was still satisfied with how it all turned out.

Thank you to the author and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

REVIEW: Prince Lestat by Anne Rice

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

It's been twenty years since the completion of the Vampire Chronicles, twenty years since Lestat brought his last fledgling, Mona Mayfair, into the blood and then retreated to the seclusion of his family home in the French Auvergne.

Now however, an evil presence has awakened, drawing the ancient ones from their long, dark slumber beneath the earth and inciting them to violence against their own kind. Vampires the world over are being hunted; it seems as if none are safe. As the radio ambassador to the Vampire community, Benji Mahmoud begs for the ancient ones to come forth and offer their assistance, for one to act as leader to their Undead tribe and provide a unified front against this malevolent Voice which can speak directly to ones consciousness. Lestat, while not quite a Child of the Millennia, has long been looked upon as the Brat Prince of Vampire kind, and as such is also implored by Benji to make himself known and come to their aid as well. But Lestat wants no part of this, his days in the limelight are done, and he'd much prefer to simply be left to his solitude to finish the meticulous restoration of his remote family estate.

But the Voice is not to be silenced, and as it continues its violent rampage, the Vampires realize Benji is correct, and if they have any hope of quieting this Voice, and getting out of this intact, they must join together as one.

If you didn't read the previous Vampire Chronicle books, you may not appreciate Prince Lestat all that much, not really recognizing most of the characters referenced throughout. Granted there is an appendix with characters and their chronology, but I found that more of a refresher for previous readers as opposed to a suitable introduction for new readers. But to keep things interesting all the same, there are a few new characters introduced that didn't appear in previous books.

My only criticism is that there were several parts of the book, especially in the middle, than the character's inner dialogue became a bit excessive and repetitive, like they were just droning on about a particular subject ad nauseum, i.e. how wonderful Lestat is, and I found my mind wandering during those times. This was probably the primary reason I didn't award it full stars. This 458 page book could have easily been 300 something just by eliminating a lot of the repetitiveness and babbling.

I also found it odd that while references to past events were scattered throughout the book, the most recent tales of the Mayfairs and the Taltos that took place in Blood Canticle were strangely absent. Perhaps due to the harsh criticism that book received, Ms. Rice decided to just act like it never happened. *shrug* Fortunately, its dismissal didn't really affect the current story in the least.

I think fans of the previous books will definitely enjoy this one, to find out where all the characters are at now, and what's changed for them over the last 20 years. Those who didn't already read the Vampire Chronicles may want to pass this one by for now.