Tuesday, September 15, 2015

REVIEW: The Undying Legion: Crown & Key, Book 2 by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

A deluge of black magic is sweeping through Victorian London. It began with a single ritual murder in a London church. But that one murder has turned into many, and as the dead begin to rise and walk the streets, magical scribe Simon Archer knows he has to hunt down the necromancer behind all this dastardly activity and put an end to it.

Joining forces with the lovely alchemist Kate Anstruther, monster hunter Malcolm MacFarlane, and brilliant engineer Penny Carter, the team battles an unrelenting army of powerful gods, demi-gods, demons, and walking dead. I was happy to see the young werewolf Charlotte joining in on the action and playing a more prominent role in this book too. And Malcolm, warring with his own inner demons, as he struggles to accept Charlotte into the group was a poignant glimpse into an otherwise rough and gruff man.

This series reminds me a bit of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris, though I actually like the latter series better. In Crown & Key, it feels like there's too much unnecessary narrative during the action scenes, slowing things down so it doesn't feel quite as fast or punchy. I found myself losing focus a few times because of that and had to go back and reread. I don't really think this minor criticism however should detract from what is otherwise a really good series.

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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

REVIEW: The Shadow Revolution: Crown & Key, Book 1 by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

It's Victorian London and Simon Archer is a scribe, a magick practitioner that uses runes and tattoos to focus his magical energy. Posing as a handsome rogue playboy to infiltrate society and hide his abilities, he and his mentor Nick Barker, attend a society ball to discover more about the pesky werewolf problem plaguing the city. While at the ball, the striking headstrong alchemist Kate Anstruther catches Simon's eye. He is intrigued at her boldness and willingness to jump in to help. Come to find out, Kate's sister Imogen is embroiled in a sinister plot devised by these very same wolves. Accordingly, the two team up, and along with partner Nick and new acquaintance Malcolm MacFarlane, a fierce Scottish monster hunter, the four are a force to be reckoned with.

I thoroughly enjoyed this start to the Crown & Key series. The action was intense with werewolves, magic, alchemy and mad science all playing a role to make this steampunk urban fantasy speed along at breakneck speed. All this action was delivered with a slight detriment to other aspects however, that being character development and world building as other reviewers have mentioned. Not that I found it completely lacking in those departments, but it was enough that I never fully embraced any one particular character. Since this is an ongoing series however, I can only hope that many of these aspects will be further expanded upon in the upcoming books in the series which I look forward to reading soon.

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

Monday, April 27, 2015

REVIEW: The Diamond Conspiracy: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

OMG this was the best one yet! The introduction of time travel to the mix, and the way the author handled it, was simply superb. I felt like I was in an episode of Doctor Who, a favorite series of mine to be sure.

There were new characters introduced, and the alter-ego of other characters revealed... but I cannot say more lest I spoil it for you. Simply know that even if you were slightly disenchanted by the previous novel as I was, this one takes it to 11!

As agents of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Eliza D. Braun and Wellington Books have faced their share of danger, blowing things up and barely escaping with their lives. But now, the nefarious plans of an evil doctor is set to bring the British Empire under his control, and with the help of the Queen, eliminate all the Ministry agents standing in the way. Can Eliza and Wellington survive when the entire Empire is out to get them?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

REVIEW: Dawn's Early Light: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

This third book in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series was a fun addition to the series, although I must admit that like other reviewers, I didn't like this one quite as much as the first two.

In this adventure, Eliza and Wellington set off for America to provide support to their sister office, the Office of the Supernatural and Metaphysical (OSM), for a case they are currently working. The Ministry's Doctor Sound assumes this will keep his two agents out of trouble for a little while since their last case got them both in a bit of hot water with the higher ups, but what starts out simply as mysteriously disappearing ships turns into something much, much bigger, and the agents are fighting for their lives.

Because Eliza and Welly spent a lot of time working with their American counterparts and not with each other, the spark that makes these characters so lovable was missing throughout a lot of this book. Eliza and Wild Bill just didn't jive in the same way Eliza and Wellington do. The same held true for Wellington and the American librarian Felicity. Despite this, everything worked out quite well in the end for the pair, and Eliza and Wellington actually made significant progress in their burgeoning relationship.

The series as a whole is wonderfully steampunk, with all manner of gadgets and gizmos an integral part of the story. If you love steampunk and secret agents, I strongly recommend you check this series out.

Monday, March 30, 2015

REVIEW: The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

It's 1894 and twenty-five year old Sandrine Salome has just arrived at her grandmother's house in Paris, fleeing an abusive husband in New York who she believes also had a hand in her father's death.

Sandrine comes off a bit scared and intimidated at first, bemoaning the death of her father and her loveless marriage, though I do applaud her for escaping from such an uncomfortable situation. Once she's settled in Paris however, she discards her married surname, reassumes her maiden name of Sandrine Verlaine, and embarks on an empowering journey to a whole new life and attitude.

The Verlaine family history abounds with tales about the ghost of La Lune, the sixteenth-century courtesan that inhabits the female members of their family in an attempt to relive her lost passions, eventually driving them mad in the process. And Sandrine is discovering that her deep love for the arts is now exhibiting itself in a longing for painting that she didn't have previously. Even now, as Sandrine is becoming a very different person, with several new talents and traits she didn't previously possess, she refuses to acknowledge what might be happening to her, that La Lune may be attempting to possess her. And it is her close mindedness that caused me to dislike her character so much. To be fair, close mindedness is one of my biggest pet peeves. But for that reason, I never really cared for Sandrine all that much and probably can't give this book the full accolades it deserves.

I'm not sure if it was the author's intention for the reader to strongly dislike the main character, or if it was just me and my strong aversion to her close-mindedness, but I felt as strongly about her as I did Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, so I couldn't really connect to her. I actually felt sorry for her love interest, Julien, and was hoping he'd be smart enough to get away from her.

The writing style was flowery and descriptive, almost exceedingly so at times, and while I enjoyed the descriptions of Paris, the Louvre, and the amazing artwork of the time, there were scenes when it felt a bit unnecessary and over the top. This book took me 11 days to read—more than twice as long as it normally takes me to read other book of this length—and I'm sure the verbose language was a strong factor in this.

While I found the first half of this book a bit slow, things picked up about halfway through, and from that point, events got a bit more interesting for both Sandrine and Julien. I still didn't care for Sandrine however as she went about making up silly excuses in her head for what was happening to her, refusing to acknowledge the facts that were right in front of her. She even went so far as to let her grandmother be committed to a sanitarium when she tried to help her.

Up to this point, my review has focused mainly on the negatives, though I have to say that with regards to the tempo of the book, the second half redeemed it for me. And even several days after I'd finished reading, I found certain key scenes replaying in my mind. I fondly recalled the charming streets of 1894 Paris, the amazing art galleries, the bell tower in which La Lune, and later Sandrine, painted... it was the beauty of Belle Epoque Paris and the way in which the author so vividly painted these locations in the reader's mind that stuck with me. I can honestly say that I truly felt like I was taking in all the glory of Paris right alongside Sandrine as the imagery was so vividly real.

And that is why, despite my earlier criticisms about the main character, I really can't give this book any less than 6 stars (or 3 on Goodreads/Amazon) because it definitely made it over the halfway hump with its strong, haunting sense of location.

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

REVIEW: Infinity Bell: A House Immortal Novel (Book 2) by Devon Monk

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

LOVED IT! This second book of the House Immortal trilogy was just as awesome as the first. Infinity Bell picks up right where House Immortal, the first book, left off. And like the first, it too ends on a cliffhanger (aaargh!), leaving the reader eagerly panting for the third and final book in the series, due September 2015, to wrap everything up.

Matilda Case and her brother Quinten return to their family farm, with a plan to fix time and save the the world. Quinten believes he can travel back in time to change the events that caused the break in the first place. But can such a thing really be done when one doesn't possess a little blue police box? ;) Besides, we all know that changing history can have unexpectedly drastic and dramatic consequences, right?

Caught in a race against time, and willing to do whatever necessary to save the lives of those she loves, Matilda jumps right into the heart of the matter, quite literally. With Slater Orange still on her tail, time is ticking away as Matilda struggles to set things right while trying to avoid a raving lunatic hell bent on taking everyone down with him. Can she do it? And if so, what will the world be like upon her return?

The same cast of characters from the first book, plus an interesting new addition, are back in this one and they're just as fun, strong, and exciting this time around, perhaps even more so. As the main character, Matilda is fiercely loyal, brave, and headstrong... but also kind and caring. I was completely enthralled by her and her plight. And we get to know Quinten much more in this book than we did in the first, since he was in captivity then, and he's just as brilliant as previously described... not to mention loyal and headstrong just like his sister. And Abraham... oh what can I say about Abraham except hot hot hot! The burgeoning relationship between him and Matilda is bittersweet, and I look forward to seeing how things progress between the two of them.

Heart pounding non-stop action from beginning to end, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat. And beyond... as I often found myself walking into walls, bunny gates, etc. because I simply couldn't put it down. :)

Science fiction and urban fantasy fans who enjoy unique world building, riveting action, and great writing, should definitely check this one out. I do recommend reading them in order though, so House Immortal first, followed by Infinity Bell, and then pre-order Crucible Zero so it'll be waiting for you on release day. Enjoy!!

Thanks to Penguin Group and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

REVIEW: House Immortal by Devon Monk

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Wow! Cliffhanger alert! Lucky thing I've got the second book, Infinity Bell, here ready and waiting to go. I'm gonna start on it next.

House Immortal is the first book in what looks to be a fantastic trilogy. Filled with strong, intriguing characters, and a very well drawn world, it's unique, original, fast paced and exciting... definitely one of my favorites reads of the year thus far!

Matilda Case isn't completely human. Although she looks mostly human for all intents and purposes, she's actually stitched together from various parts and pieces, like a modern day Frankenstein, albeit without the bolts. But her extreme strength, not to mention the stitches running along her body and down the side of her face, would give her away to anyone who looks closely enough.

In a future world where all the resources of the world are controlled by eleven powerful Houses, these stitched-together immortal beings, thirteen in number and known as the galvanized, are actually prized commodities owned by the heads of the Houses.

Matilda has remained below their radar thus far, living off the grid on a farm in the middle of nowhere, with an assortment of peculiar animals stitched together by dear old dead dad. She's not yet been claimed by any House, and her existence is known only to a select few. But all that is about to change as one very greedy head of House will go to any lengths to discover the secrets of this modern galvanized girl.

Friday, March 06, 2015

REVIEW: The Janus Affair: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

This is the second novel in the entertaining Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk series featuring former Field Agent turned Junior Archivist Eliza Braun and her partner, Archivist Wellington Books.

The suffragist movement is experiencing a bit of a shock as many prominent women in the movement are disappearing in a most unusual way, via a sizzling bolt of lightning. The only thing these women seem to have in common is their affiliation with the suffragist movement. But what's the reason behind these abductions? And what's happening with the stolen women... where exactly are they disappearing to?

On the request of her old friend and fellow New Zealand native, Kate Sheppard, also a very important figure in the movement, Eliza Braun is anxious to get the bottom of the abductions before people she cares for go missing too. Agent Books is as eager as ever to be by Eliza's side... completely for her protection of course. ;)

But as things go from bad to worse, and more and more women go missing, Braun and Books have to wonder what they're up against, and hope they can get to the bottom of the mystery before that dazzling bolt of lightning strikes them next.

This was another fun adventure in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. I really like the chemistry between Eliza and Wellington, and their escapades never cease to amuse me. The steampunk world here is vivid and real and very well incorporated into the story. The author seamlessly transports us back to Victorian London not only thru various gadgets and gizmos of the steampunk era, but also through the language, dress, and mannerisms of the characters. A very well done book with interesting and engaging characters. I look forward to reading more in this series.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

REVIEW: Dragonflies: Magnificent Creatures of Water, Air, and Land by Pieter van Dokkum

My Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

This is one of the few non-fiction books I've read this year. I usually stick to fiction for the escape from reality it provides, but I do like to indulge in some good non-fiction now and again, especially if it relates to a subject I am particularly passionate about. And dragonflies are indeed one of those passions... beautiful, splendid, awe-inspiring dragonflies!!!

I have been an avid lover of dragonflies for a long time. When I lived in the Boston area, I was surrounded by many more dragonflies than I have been since moving to California, probably due to the lack of ponds, marshes, and streams in the immediate vicinity of where I live now. And I do very much miss seeing them on a daily basis, precluding winter of course, like I used to.

Dragonflies are often seen as a symbol of change, reflecting a profound understanding on the deeper meaning of life, due to their metamorphosis from nymph to adult, and the fact that their underwater nymph stage is very different from their adult life spent soaring through the air. There is plenty of other symbolism associated with the dragonfly, but more often than not, these symbols deal with self-actualization and strength, particularly the strength to make positive change in yourself. This site describes a lot of the symbolism I've come to associate with dragonflies over the years. When I moved from Massachusetts to California, and made some major life changes in the process, I got a dragonfly tattoo on my ankle which spoke to me of these very same changes I was experiencing in my own life. But I digress...

I found this book quite informative and interesting, filling me in on several facts about these graceful, elegant insects, all without getting too bogged down with scientific and technical terms. For example, did you know that the majority of a dragonfly's lifespan is actually spent underwater in their nymph stage? The adult dragonfly, once it's gone through it's metamorphosis, is usually only a few months beyond that. This book is not a field guide, but instead geared towards the layman dragonfly lover or beginning hobbyist, those who love these mysterious and transformative creatures as much as I do, and want to learn as much as they can about them. It's filled with page after page of beautifully photographed images, all while explaining their life cycle, hunting habits, mating habits, and lots more. If you live in the Northeastern United States, you may recognize a lot of the dragonfly species photographed within its pages as this is where the author hails from, and he claims that about 1/3 of the photographs were taken from the pond near his home. The remainder come from various locations in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, and The Netherlands.

I think this would make a great coffee table book, the pictures within so fascinating to look at again and again. At the end of this 176 page volume is an appendix with specific recommendations for further reading, especially useful if you wish to further study dragonflies in the field.

This book will be published in March 2015, by Yale University Press, and I may well pick up a hardcover copy at that time. For now however, I am extremely grateful to NetGalley and Yale University Press for allowing me to review an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of this exquisite, exceptional book.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

REVIEW: Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars
In her first novel for middle-grade readers, bestselling author Alice Hoffman tells a bewitching story of love and friendship that is truly magical.

Twig lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumored to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell.

This was an entertaining and well-written children's book. While older readers may well enjoy it, some may also find the plot a bit too predictable and simplistic. But seeing as how this book is geared towards children age 10 and up, a bit of simplicity is to be expected.

To that end, the story was hauntingly beautiful, the characters well defined, and the world building superb. I'm originally from Massachusetts and have visited the Berkshires of western Massachusetts on several occasions, and the small town feel of Sidwell, MA came through vividly in the writing. Twig was a easy character to like; smart and imaginative, but also devoted and determined, a great protagonist to root for. Were it not for her ingenuity, her brother James would not have found the happily ever after he was looking for. And it was indeed a fairy tale ending for all.

Thank you to NetGalley and the Random House Children's for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

REVIEW: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Neil Gaiman takes us on a moving and fantastic journey, through the mind of a middle aged man who's returned to his childhood home while back in town for a funeral, and his visit to the old Hempstock farm at the end of the lane. Though most all of the housing and landscape has changed significantly over the intervening decades, the old Hempstock farm stands just as he remembered it. It's as if time's stood still down that narrow lane... past the brambles and briar roses, the hazels and the wild hedgerow.

At the farm, our protagonist is greeted by Old Mrs. Hempstock, who informs him that his old friend Lettie isn't available but invites him to sit by the duck pond for a spell nonetheless, and he fondly recalls how Lettie used to refer to the duck pond as an Ocean. As he sits and reflects, an entire sequence of events passes before his eyes, as if it all happened only yesterday.

He's brought back to the time a few days before he meets eleven year old Lettie Hempstock and the rest of her strange and unusual family. When one of their boarders commits suicide, an odd chain of events is set into motion, beginning with the appearance of a peculiar woman named Ursula Monkton whose only desire is to grant the people of town all that they desire. But we all know the saying to be careful what you wish for, right?

The three women of the Hempstock farm—young Lettie, her mother Mrs. Hempstock, and grandmother Old Mrs. Hempstock—each possess curious skills of their own, and endeavor to right the wrongs committed by the unnatural being. Though they claim not to do "spells", the three Hempstock women appear to represent the Triple Goddess—Maiden, Mother, and Crone—and the workings they perform are of a magic older than time itself. There were many other Pagan undertones to this story that delighted me equally, one of the foremost being how when Lettie was injured, she was returned to the Ocean for the water to heal her.

This story was deep and moving on so many levels that it sits with you awhile. Even after I'd finished reading, I found myself contemplating something that occurred and then proceeded to see it in an entirely new light. A day later and some of the more subtle nuances of the story are coming to me even now. A wonderful adult fairy tale I can wholly recommend to any fantasy fan.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

REVIEW: Southern Spirits by Angie Fox

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Verity Long is on the verge of losing her grandmother's family home after her ex-fiancé's dragon of a mother decides to stick her with the full cost of the wedding for running out on her son at the altar. Now Verity's in dire straights and would do just about anything to secure the funds to save the family home that means so much to her. Including taking a job with the enemy!

When Verity unknowingly dumps an urn full of ashes onto the rose bushes at the back of her property, she suddenly finds herself in possession of a very unusual gift. With the help of her new ghost friend, Frankie the German, she's now got the ability to see the spirit world. And wouldn't you know it, Beau's brother just so happens to have a ghost problem at the old distillery he acquired. So when Ellis Wydell approaches Verity with an offer that would allow her to save her home, she knows she can't turn it down. Who cares that angry ghosts now haunt the old distillery.... or that most of the rest of the small town of Sugarland has spurned her. For Verity knows what she wants, and she wants to keep her house no matter what the cost!

This was a fast, fun read, and while not quite literary with regards to the writing, it held my interest nonetheless. There were several parts where the writing seemed a bit awkward, but I could maybe blame that on the fact that I just finished reading two very well-written pieces of work, so the writing here seemed a bit more amateurish in comparison. Despite that, it was still an engaging read, and I was rooting for the main character the whole way through.

I did hate how she was taken advantage of by the Wydell family though, and that hate cemented a strong sense of injustice for what she was going through. If the story hadn't progressed as it had, I would've found myself quite turned off by such an injustice, and her inability to right it. But fortunately, everything works out for her in the end and I found a smile on my face as the story came to a close.

Southern Spirits is the first book of a new series, and despite having several of the author's Accidental Demon Slayer books on Mt TBR, this was actually the first book I've read by her. I will definitely pick up the second book of the Southern Ghost Hunter Mystery series when it's released in the Fall. Though it looks like Ms. Fox just released a short story in this universe a few days ago to tide us over: A Ghostly Gift.

Thank you to Angie Fox, Season Publishing, and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

REVIEW: Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

It's 1869 and Edward Clark lives a comfortable life as a reporter for the Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia. He's happily engaged to a pretty, delicate girl named Violet Willoughby and has pretty much moved on from the tragedy that struck his young life at only 10 years of age. But when Edward's editor assigns him the task of writing a series of articles exposing the many fraudulent mediums overrunning the city, Edward is set on a downward spiral that has him not only witness to a murder, but also one of it's primary suspects.

As one of the city's few legitimate mediums, the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor, which occurred in a locked séance room, has all of its participants under suspicion. With the help of Ms. Lucy Collins, a medium who uses sleight-of-hand to prey on the unwary, and his friend Inspector William Barclay, Edward is determined to clear his name. But the secrets they unearth go much deeper than any of them expected, and the possible ties Edward's past—a tragedy he's kept secret from both his fiancée and closest friend—may tear his comfortable world apart.

I really liked this book a lot! The story was exciting, captivating, and fun. I'm a sucker for all things ghostly and supernatural so it was not only the subject matter that appealed to me but also the mystery behind it—who killed the medium Lenora Grimes Pastor inside that locked room?

The author, Alan Finn, writes extremely well and has a masterful command of language and how to use it, keeping the reader fully engaged without getting too wordy or revealing too much. The timing and suspense is perfect. The author knows the exact right words to use at the right time to elicit the desired effect, and he knows exactly how to set the right mood with his words. This book's prose truly flows like like classic literature in my opinion. Just check out his gorgeous website which just oozes with atmosphere.

Edward's character did grate on my nerves at times however because he continually left his fiancée in the dark, not only about his past, but also about everything he was doing with Lucy to try to clear his name and solve the murder of Mrs. Pastor. A relationship built on so many lies is doomed to failure, which leads you to wonder, just who did Edward eventually marry anyway? Though the story was written as a memoir with Edward looking back on an event that took place in his life 50 years in the past, that tidbit of information was never definitively stated, and I was left to wonder if the author did this intentionally, or if I just missed some subtle hint in the Foreword or Postscript.

I did see reference on his Goodreads Author page that the author working on a sequel to Things Half in Shadow. Woot woot!! I'm very much looking forward to that. (Do check out the video trailer on that page too if you didn't already do so at his website.)

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

REVIEW: Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran by Marion Grace Woolley

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Wow what a great read! If you love The Phantom of the Opera as much as I do, then I strongly suggest you pick this one up!

In this Phantom-inspired tale, we meet Afsar, eldest daughter of the Shah of Iran, actually Persia at that time. It's around 1851 and Afsar is 10 years old when her father offers to bring the circus to their palace for her birthday. For within this traveling circus, there is talk of a conjurer with a face so ugly but with the voice of an angel, and the Shah decides that he simply must meet this man for himself, on the pretense of his daughter's birthday of course.

It is a year or so later when the circus finally arrives at the palace, and it seems that everything the trader has said is true. Afsar is quite taken with the conjurer—who is known by many names: the Comte de la Mort Rouge, Vachon, and eventually Eirik. Eirik makes a striking impression on both the Shah and his hauntingly beautiful daughter. As a man of many talents—quite useful, he claims, in overcoming the hideousness of his appearance—Eirik is charged with building a grand place for the Shah, opulent and lavish in design, yet full of secret rooms, passageways, and trap doors, and he also becomes the Shah's favored assassin. His extended presence at the palace allows Afsar to spend more time in Eirik's company, reveling in his darkness and trickery, all the while exploring and embracing her own dark side. For what she learns about herself and the world around her whilst in Eirik's presence is more valuable than any other life lessons she's learned at the palace thus far.

Though Afsar is only a young girl when this story begins, she grows to about 15 years old at the time of it's conclusion. Though that may seem young for everything she's experiencing, the time frame within which this novel occurs places her at a quite marriageable age, women of this time often marrying as young as twelve or thirteen years of age. And the future Opera Ghost, at only nineteen himself, is already quite cultured, having traveled extensively and this only adds to Afsar's wonderment of him.

The writing was superb, written a bit like prose, yet fully descriptive and engaging at the same time. I truly immersed myself in this book, forgetting where I was and feeling myself walking through the sumptuous palace, the streets of Sari, or wherever else the author happened to be describing. Though the the juicy bits didn't really start until about 1/4 of the way in, all the foreshadowing began much sooner, and once Eirik arrived with the traveling circus, you just knew things going to get sinister real soon. This book will definitely be classified as one of my favorite reads.

Since I'm going to see the stage production of The Phantom of the Opera in September, it was a perfect time for me to read this, and I'll probably reread The Phantom of the Opera book before then too. This will actually be my third time seeing the stage production, but I will never get tired of such a spectacular show... so beautiful and haunting! LOVE LOVE LOVE!!

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

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

REVIEW: Silver Linings: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: Tale from the Archives by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Eliza Braun and Wellington Books travel to Cairo, Egypt to collect the records of closed cases to be transferred back to the Ministry Archives in London. While there, they stumble upon a most peculiar scene—a group suicide including a very influential man and his colleagues—which of course makes the trip so much more exciting for Agent Braun, who was initially not too thrilled about the trip to Egypt and it's oppressive heat.

This twenty-six page short story didn't add a great deal to the story line of Braun and Books but it was an entertaining diversion nonetheless. Unfortunately, it was riddled with missing punctuation, missing words, and even an instance with an entire set of paragraphs duplicated. Short story or no, I really wish authors and publishers would put a bit of time into proofreading and editing these short stories before releasing them as I had to go back and reread several passages to get past the errors.


REVIEW: Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

This first novel in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series is a fun-filled steampunk adventure. Eliza D. Braun is a field agent for the Ministry in a fantastical world filled with all manner of steam-powered gadgets and devices. Due to her knack for disregarding authority and blowing things up in the field, she's given a transfer to the Ministry Archives, to work alongside the encyclopedic Archivist Wellington Books. Both are disappointed in the reassignment, Braun because she loves the excitement of working in the field, and Books because he doesn't care for the disruption of his nice, orderly existence down in the bowels of the Ministry. Yet despite their initial chagrin, the two complement each other quite well, and when Eliza decides to do a bit of investigating on the side into one of the Ministry's unresolved cases, Wellington decides this is just the kind of diversion he needs.

I really enjoyed my first foray into Book's and Braun's steampunk universe. Eliza can be a bit uncouth and wild, a firecracker, but bookish Wellington is the perfect companion to bring her back down to earth. And likewise, he starts to find her spark just what's been lacking in his life. They have great chemistry together and I think their burgeoning relationship will make for a good series going forward. As usual, the steampunk world with all it's gadgetry and gizmos is fascinating to me and, like the characters themselves, is well done. I am looking forward to reading more books in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

REVIEW: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars
Mia’s ordinary life is disrupted for good in the most horrifying way possible when she is possessed by a hungry and powerful demon—and saved only by the arrival of relatives from Italy, the country her grandfather fled many decades ago. Now her cousins, the charming and gorgeous Emilio and stern, elderly Giuliano, say the only way to keep Mia safe is for her to come back with them to Milan, to live, to learn Italian, to fall in and out of love, and to master the family trade: fighting all demons with the ancient lore of bell, book, and candle. Milan is not what Mia expected, but it will change her forever.

This was a fun book. I enjoyed experiencing the culture of Milan through Mia's eyes, and the descriptions depicted by the author were lush and vivid, totally immersing me in the story. In addition to a great sense of place, the author also did a wonderful job with the characters. All the major players were done so well I could picture them strolling through the streets of Milan by my side.

I read several reviews that complained about the pacing or lack of action in this book, but I didn't see this as a detriment; it only made it stand out more from a lot of the other urban fantasy books out there. Yes, it's true that Mia didn't jump right into demon hunting as soon as she took off to Italy with her relatives, but in my opinion, that only made the story all the more believable. Instead of a kickass female demon hunter with sword, knives, and all manner of supernatural skills, we're presented with a shy, young, and slightly insecure 16-year-old girl who knows next to nothing about demons prior to being possessed by one. And then, rather than becoming an overnight demon hunting superhero, Mia was expected to work for it after moving to Italy: by studying Milanese history, and observing a couple of actual demon possessions and the subsequent exorcisms performed by her family. It was definitely more old school, catholic church type of possession and exorcism—think The Exorcist—as opposed to the glamorized demon hunting you see in most urban fantasy novels today.

I believe the pacing in this book might actually be more suitable for adults however, and so it's classification in the young adult genre may have worked against it slightly in this regard since young adult books tend to have simpler language and faster pacing, which help to keep the younger mind engaged. However, since the language and plot are indeed suitable for teens, perhaps this would've been better categorized as New Adult. *shrug*

On a personal level, the Milanese culture Mia describes, with a family unit very focused on food and breaking bread together, brought back happy memories from my own childhood: Sunday dinners at my Nana and Papa's house, where we would make the pasta and the gravy—for that's what real Italians call their tomato sauce—from scratch, and the entire family, including all the aunts, uncles, and cousins, would sit down together for a hearty dinner and gossip. Granted we only did this once a week, and after my Nana passed and family members moved farther and farther away, the custom went by the wayside, but growing up in that kind of environment definitely instilled that same strong sense of family in me that binds la famiglia Della Torre in this book. It made the whole atmosphere all the more real and engaging to me.

I read this book on my Kindle and though I enjoyed being able to look up the translations from Italian to English as I read along, this isn't really necessary as translations were often given, or else discernible through context of the surrounding text. The one thing that wasn't as great about reading on the Kindle was the family tree graphic at the beginning of the book—it really needed to be just a wee bit higher resolution so that it remains sharp when resized larger. It was still legible when expanded but only barely so.

Of course, the demon that possessed Mia, and continues to hunt her, is still at large, as are a number of other questions about who this demon is and why he is after Mia in particular. This sets things up quite nicely for the sequel, The Halcyon Bird, which was published in November 2014. I look forward to picking up a copy of it soon.

This book was recommended to me by one of my dance troupe sisters, who is also friend of the author, and I'm glad she did as it may not have popped up on my radar otherwise. I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy creepy, atmospheric reads.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

REVIEW: Unseen (Unborn #2) by Amber Lynn Natusch

My Rating: 5 out of 10 stars
After fighting Soul Stealers in Detroit, Khara hoped to return home to find answers in her father's realm. But the land of the dead offers little information, and far too much tragedy. Now cut off from her brothers, and left only with her dark and unreliable companion Oz, Khara must navigate the centuries-old webs of deceit and betrayal, all while eluding the Underworld's most depraved inhabitant. But she soon finds an unexpected ally in her adopted sister Persephone. Together, they endeavor to right a terrible wrong. And as Khara soon discovers, there's more riding on her success than she ever thought possible.

This is the follow-up to Unborn, which I read and reviewed earlier. I didn't really care for this all that much and don't really understand all rave reviews it received on Goodreads! More than half of the story was spent with Khara running around the Underworld, seeking answers to questions from those who would rather hide the truth from her. I believe she sums it up rather nicely in her own words at the beginning of chapter 21:
It seemed as though all I had done upon my return was storm through the maze of halls in the Underworld in search of others. Others with answers that I lacked. The monotony of it was beginning to gnaw at my resolve.
Sing it, sister! I hear you loud and clear!

When Khara first returns to the Underworld, she's trying to discover the reason she was hidden away, but we've already learned in book one that any daughter born to Ares would be put to death. Is that not reason enough for her to be sent from her true parents and hidden away? Why is she not satisfied with this answer?

But then, a tragedy befalls one of her brothers, and suddenly she's got different priorities, and an entirely new set of questions she's seeking answers to. Throughout the story, Khara continues to act recklessly, disregarding any and all warnings placed in front of her. For example, after she knowingly takes all the evil souls from the Fields of Oudeis into her, she then decides to leave the Underworld, taking all these confined souls along with her. And is then surprised when something goes wrong. Ummm ya think???

The way things unfolded in this book reminded me of a sitcom, where all manner of chaos and misunderstanding ensues simply because one person neglects to tell another the full and true story. Haven't we learned by now the trouble that can come by withholding information? Isn't Khara constantly harping on Oz over that very thing? Of course, her hypocritical actions serve to drive the plot forward, but it's weak at best. And it's only about 70% in that some action finally starts to happen.

So were there any redeeming qualities to this book for me? Well, it was more fun once the real action started. I only wish it hadn't taken 200 pages to get there!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, 47North, for providing me an advance copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 19, 2015

REVIEW: Unborn by Amber Lynn Natusch

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars
Khara has spent centuries discovering everything about the Underworld―except her place in it. But when she’s ripped from her home, solving the riddle of her origins becomes more important than ever. With evil stalking her through the dark alleys of Detroit, she finds salvation from an unlikely source: a group of immortal warriors sworn to protect the city. Khara needs their help to unravel the tangled secrets of who and what she is—secrets many seem willing to kill for. But time is running out, and the closer she gets to the truth, the closer necessity binds her to an arrogant fallen angel.

Can their shaky alliance withstand that which threatens her, or will her soul fall victim to the unholy forces that hunt her―those that seek the Unborn?

The premise to this story sounded pretty interesting, but the execution fell a bit short in a few areas, namely character and world building.

Khara was a denizen of the underworld, where she grew up as a ward of Hades, never knowing who her real parents were. One day, quite unexpectedly, she's taken up above ground by a Dark One and mysteriously dumped in the middle of the slums of Detroit, where she's nearly killed by someone who then claims to be her brother... which apparently he was able to figure out just by touching her, a trait that was never really explained or expanded upon. And therein lies the crux, it felt like a lot of key points were left out for the reader to figure out on their own. Not so bad in a mystery, but it made certain parts of the plot a bit muddy.

I would've liked to have gotten to know Khara a bit better too, but she felt a bit flat and one-dimensional. It wasn't just the formal speech, I get that, it made her seem more like a stranger in a strange land and all, but we never really get inside her head and find out what makes her tick. And unfortunately, the brothers came across the same way. We've got the level headed one, the caring one, the smart one, and the one that's always itching for a fight. Beyond that, we know next to nothing about them except that they work for an organization called the PC (Petronus Ceteri) that polices the supernaturals in Detroit to keep the balance.

The author then falls back on Greek mythology to tell the story about the rest of the characters and Khara's background, though none of them really play a key role in this book so far, so I guess the lack of enlightenment here's alright for now. Unlike many other first books in a series, where the author does way too much describing and set up, this one goes in the complete opposite direction and you never really get a feel for the characters or the world around them. Those were my principal problems with this book.

That said, I did like the premise of the story, as I already stated, and the Greek pantheon thrown into the mix. I'm not sure it really jived with the whole fallen angel thing, but I think I'd still be interested in reading the next book to see where it goes, especially since I have it waiting here on my TBR pile anyway. :)

Thanks to the publisher, 47North, and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

REVIEW: Onyx Webb: Episode One: The Story Begins by Andrea Waltz and Richard Fenton

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars
- It’s June, 1980 and piano prodigy, Juniper Cole is on the way to her senior prom.

- It’s January 2010, and Koda Mulvaney has blown through his 20 million dollar trust fund and is told by his father to return home and get to work.

- It’s August, 1904 and little Onyx Webb is on her way to the famous World’s Fair in St. Louis with her father, Catfish.

Two of the three will see a ghost, one will become a ghost and everyone will learn that life is hard to let go of even when you’re dead. And that's just Episode One. A paranormal suspense, supernatural romance, with a dash of historical fiction, Onyx Webb is what author Richard Fenton and Andrea Waltz have called creep-spiration. The stories may haunt you, the darkness may disturb you, but ultimately you’ll be reminded to treasure every moment of your life because… If you think life is precious now? Just wait until you’re dead.

So what do three separate stories with three very different protagonists, all taking place in completely different time periods, have to do with one another? I don't know yet, but I suspect that question will be answered in an upcoming episode.

Onyx Webb: Episode One: The Story Begins is the first episode in a new series, described as "paranormal suspense, supernatural romance, with a dash of historical fiction". Onyx Webb, now a ghost 75 years after her death, is narrating part of the story, and that's most of what we've got so far in the way of paranormal. If you're expecting vampires and werewolves, you won't find them here, and like me, some may find that a welcome change. At the end, you also catch a glimpse of another ghost that may enter into one of the story lines, but we'll have to wait for episode two to find out more about that.

As a whole, this semi-short 130 page story ended with multiple cliffhangers and left me wanting. Only one of the current plots was resolved, the rest left in wait of episode two. I think I would've preferred to read several episodes at once, rather than be left hanging with what felt like an unfinished book. Since this is currently being sold only as an e-book, and only through Amazon at the moment, I think the author's would've been better served publishing it as a "Kindle Serial", so that future episodes would be automatically delivered to the reader after their initial purchase.

The aesthetics of the book are gorgeous, with old photographs, diary excerpts, and inspirational quotes interspersed between the chapters. I liked how the three stories, seemingly unrelated right now, will somehow tie together at some future point in the series. There's a deeper meaning beneath the stories as well: one that says to live in the present, and live each moment to the fullest, for you never know when it will be taken away from you. After I finished the book and had a chance to ponder it a bit, I went back to look at the pictures and reread certain key passages. When I did, I discovered small clues sprinkled throughout that hinted as to how some of these character's lives might interconnect, some even in explicable ways from beyond the grave.

Despite all its good points, the telling of the story didn't endear itself to me quite as much as the stories themselves. Most of the characters felt flat and one-dimensional, and I didn't get a strong sense of place from any of the scenes. The only exception was with the ghost of Onyx Webb. It was only through her narratives that I was able to fully connect and feel what she felt. (heh it's funny that the only character I connected to was the supernatural one.) As to the other stories, I believe it had to do with the author's way of telling us what was going on instead of allowing the reader to experience these things through the protagonist's eyes. And so I never really connected with any of the other characters, and couldn't immerse myself in the story the same way I did with other recent books I've read, those by Anita Diamant and Ann Aguirre for example.

Overall, I did find the stories interesting enough to want to find out what happens in future episodes. Though I do hope the authors are able to bridge that gap and let the stories captivate me and draw me into their world like I wish they would.

I would like to thank the authors, Andrea Waltz and Richard Fenton, for providing me with a copy of their book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

REVIEW: Horde by Ann Aguirre

My Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Wow! What a riveting, fantastic read! In this third and final installment of the Razorland trilogy, the Freaks have begun to amass in a large horde surrounding Salvation. They've already taken out a couple of the surrounding settlements and now have their sights set on wiping out Salvation as well.

Deuce realizes she's more than just a Huntress now thanks to her time in Salvation, but she also knows she must return to her roots and meet the horde head-on if there's to be any hope for survival. So Deuce, Fade, Stalker, and Tegan set out from Salvation against improbably high odds, intending to raise an army that will allow them to defeat these inhuman monsters. Because it's not just about Salvation anymore. Now, Deuce carries the banner for the survival of the human race.

I truly loved this book, and the entire Razorland series. I admit that the second book, Outpost, may have been slightly less awesome than books one and two, but it's a middle child after all. ;) Throughout this book, I laughed, I cried, I even let out a couple of war whoops along the way. I was immersed in the story so deeply that I completely lost track of time as I was reading. Yes I may do so with other books, but I'm just saying, the level of immersion here was so complete as to be absolute. I felt as if I was marching alongside Deuce the entire way.

While a bit sad, I loved the ending. This was no cookie cutter plot, and thus you were never really sure how things would turn out. I couldn't automatically assume a happy ending because, as we've seen in other YA dystopian trilogies, the heroes and heroines are not always among the survivors when the story comes to a close. And though we lost some key people here, the sadness was tempered with great joy as well, and I finished this book with a huge smile on my face, and a swelling of my heart.

If you haven't read this trilogy yet, I strongly suggest you do so.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

REVIEW: Restoration (A Razorland Short Story) by Ann Aguirre

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

This short story recounts the last few scenes of Outpost, but from Fade's point-of-view. We get a bit more insight into what's been going through his head since the summer patrols that caused him to pull away from Deuce at the end of that book. While only about 10 pages in length, it's a nice little interlude between Outpost and the third book Horde, which hadn't yet been published when this short story was released. To that end, it served to remind readers how the second book ended, while giving additional insight to Fade's feelings, in preparation for book three.

Of course, this short story will really only make sense to readers who've read the other two books in this series already, but since I had, I enjoyed it for what it is.

This book can be read online at http://page.macmillan.com/mcpg/razorlandtrilogy.

Monday, January 05, 2015

REVIEW: Foundation (A Razorland Short Story) by Ann Aguirre

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

This was a free short story that takes place before the events of Enclave, the first book in the Razorland trilogy. We learn more about the virus that sent families underground, and get a glimpse into the life of a young 14-year-old boy named Robin, one of the original settlers of the enclaves.

This book won't mean much to you unless you also read the Razorland trilogy, which is indeed a fantastic read. I've actually still got the last book in the trilogy, Horde, left to read but wanted to catch up on a few of these short stories first. :)

REVIEW: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

"How did you get to be the woman you are today?"

When Addie Baum's 22-year-old granddaughter, Ava, asks her grandmother this very question, she is regaled with the wonderful narrative of Addie's life, reliving every vivid moment from the time she was 15, a young Jewish girl growing up in Boston during the early 20th century. Addie Baum, now 85, was a smart and spunky young spitfire, with progressive ideas for the time she was living in. We get to see the world through her eyes, and to experience many world changing events going on around her, from child labor and women's suffrage to fighting with her parents to allow her to remain in school. She's loved, she's lost, but she was always been her own person. She's a strong likeable character with a knack for telling a story, which I suppose is really the author's knack, but the way it was written, you never felt like she was reciting, but definitely reliving.

This was such an interesting and engaging read, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book since it's not a genre I normally read. Historical fiction, yes, although there's usually an element of fantasy or steampunk to my usual historical reads. This book, while still fiction, was simply a well-written piece of fiction told in an autobiographical memoir style.

Since it took place in Boston, and setting was such an important element to this story, I knew I had to read it. I've been in California five years now, but I often long for home and there's lots of things I miss about New England, and Boston in particular. So much of this story elicited strong feelings of place within me. I could truly picture myself walking along the streets of the North End, small little tenements lining each side, or down the cafe-lined streets of Hanover Street. The author certainly has a knack for emoting with a place, and I loved experiencing it through this novel.

I don't know a lot about Jewish families and traditions, having only experienced them from the outside, but so much of the Jewish family dynamics reminded me of my own Italian roots, from which I'm descended on my mother's side. I truly felt like I took a very entertaining, and yes educational, trip through history after reading this book, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

REVIEW: The Commons: Book 1: The Journeyman by Michael Alan Peck

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

After the bus they're traveling on has a head-on collision with another vehicle during a snow storm, Paul Reid and a few other interesting NYC residents will get to experience the afterlife firsthand. The Commons is a place of judgment, filled with the Essence of all the souls that have passed through. Normally, each traveler would have their own unique journey through the Commons, during which their soul is weighed and their fate is decided. One man, however, believes that all the Essence obtained from all these souls is his to command. Will Paul, Annie, and Zach have what it takes to be the master of their own destiny? Or will the reign of Mr. Brill continue to keep all this stored Essence in check. Only one person has the power to challenge the arrogant megalomaniac... but can he survive the journey?

This was an engaging read with an intriguing cast of characters and fine detail to world building. The peculiar landscape devised by the author is at once wildly fantastical yet wholly believable for an afterlife. The author is quite skilled at putting words to paper and the prose, pacing, and even word choice used throughout this novel kept me wanting to read more. The only single problem I had with it, and I assume this was done intentionally to give insight about his character, is how Zach kept referring to his mother as Zach's mother. I could never really get a handle on Zach's character. He was only 5 years old, and didn't talk, yet he was continually referred to as a special boy, leading one to believe he was autistic. Unfortunately, I found most of his scenes to be somewhat boring, at least for me personally. Did I like it enough to want to read the sequel when it's released? Of that, I'm not quite sure. I guess it'd depend on how many other books I've got on my plate at the time.

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