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

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.