MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH felt like a massively lavish and gothic prologue to Edgar Allen Poe’s short story b...moreReview courtesy of All Things Urban Fantasy
MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH felt like a massively lavish and gothic prologue to Edgar Allen Poe’s short story by the same name. In Bethany Griffin’s tale the rich are privileged enough to live in secluded areas and wear masks to protect them from the Weeping Sickness while the poor are left to await the corpse collectors to carry away their loved ones. While the masks are meant to be protection, I got a distinctly creepy vibe at the thought of people wandering the streets with half their faces frozen as if the living are wearing reminders of the death they were trying to avoid every day.
Araby, a suitably tragic character for a gothic tale, is one of the fortunate mask wearers who is not only trapped behind her mask, but by her grief over her brother Finn’s death which she blames herself for.Throughout the story Araby denies herself everything that her brother can’t experience anymore including intimacy with emotion numbing drugs that often leave her passed out in clubs.
The love triangle was complex in the sense that I kept changing who I felt Araby should be with every time some new bit of information came up about Elliot or Will. Both guys had their positive and negative qualities. Will is poor and taking care of his siblings while working at the Debauchery Club that Araby meets him at. Elliot is an artist type trying to rebel against Prince Prospero; the tyrannical ruler of their land who does all he can to deny the poor protection from the Weeping Sickness. But both were deceptive or exhibited frightening behaviour towards Araby multiple times in the story. There wasn’t really a romance per se as Araby spent a lot of the book wanting to but denying herself the pleasure of kissing. I don’t necessarily agree with who she appears to choose in the end since one guy’s negative qualities outweighs the other’s significantly from my perspective.
It was fun noting the allusions to the original Masque of the Red Death work while reading Griffin’s retelling which expertly matched Poe’s tale in tone and style. I loved the beautiful gothic descriptions of this world though it did take me awhile to get used to the first person present tense and the story started off slow, but once the action picked up the story didn’t drag as much. MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH weaves a compelling tale in a dark homage to Poe’s classic gothic horror story.
One part gangsta, two parts noir, WICKED ROAD TO HELL certainly delivers the bite and danger promised in the title. Declan O'Hara is neither charming...moreOne part gangsta, two parts noir, WICKED ROAD TO HELL certainly delivers the bite and danger promised in the title. Declan O'Hara is neither charming nor smooth, but rather a sharp brand of alpha that treads the line between aggressively hot and just plain aggressive. It did not take long for him to win me over, however, along with his delicious friends.
To be fair, it was not just Declan that starts out a little rough. The politics in WICKED ROAD TO HELL are murky, and I think some of that mystery can be attributed to ambiguous writing as much as deliberate plot choices. Also, despite the fact that this is book one in the series, I discovered that it does reference events from Stone’s Jaguar Warriors series. Prior knowledge and ambiguous politics aside, however, Stone’s rough and tumble characters were compelling enough to carry me through a few instances of odd writing. Though Ana gets strong armed by both Declan and destiny, she sticks to her guns and doesn’t give up (though she does tread perilously close to “fool hardy” in many places, for the sake of keeping the stakes high for her and Declan). I particularly enjoyed the sweet justice of her turning Declan’s favorite trick back on him at book’s end.
WICKED ROAD TO HELL is definitely a darker brand of Paranormal Romance. As much as the language turned me off in places (outside of Ana and a future heroine, the women in this book get called some pretty derogatory names), these characters ultimately won me back to their side. Stone has found a balance of enticing roughness and romance that already has me on the hook for Cale or Ransome’s Happily Ever After, but unfortunately, that will have to wait until after book two. Two new comers are on deck for KING OF THE DAMNED this November, based on the sneak peak chapter included with WICKED ROAD TO HELL.
Sexual Content: Several sex scenes, references to rape.(less)
A cross between Pinocchio's island of lost boys and Grimm's fairy tales, the teens of Beau Rivage carry the curses and blessing of fairies in their bl...moreA cross between Pinocchio's island of lost boys and Grimm's fairy tales, the teens of Beau Rivage carry the curses and blessing of fairies in their blood. Rather than making KILL ME SOFTLY predictable, familiar fairy tale themes gave this story a sinister darkness that enthralled me. Even better, Cross managed to find a satisfying ending without betraying her morbid source material.
Glamorous and damaged, the fairy tale teenagers of KILL ME SOFTLY love and suffer within the boundaries of their destinies. The offspring of forbidden fairy/human crosses, their lives are raw with magic that humanity was never meant to bear. When Mirabelle runs away to discover her past, it’s apparent that she’s bound to become entangled in this magical world. All of the teens she meets carry the world weary burden of their circumstances, and Cross doesn't pull any punches with exploring the dark extremes that fairy tales imply. The result is a deeply satisfying book that is as disturbing and compelling as any of the Grimm tales from childhood. And just like those stories, I can’t help but question if the result is too dark for the intended audience. With references to underage drinking and sex and heartbreak, Cross’s teens may not be appropriate for all readers.
Despite the temptation for love and friendship to save the day, Cross doesn’t go for any easy solutions. Rather, Mira struggles to game the system within the boundaries of unbreakable rules. Blue never magically transforms into a prince, any more than Felix can be redeemed from the destiny he embraces. And surrounding these doomed brothers is a charming and dark cast: Rafe with his beastliness, Viv with her perfect skin and tormented huntsman, and Jewel with her magical voice. Any of these characters would make for a satisfying sequel, but I can’t help but hope that we’re not done with Mira’s own tale. Though her characters are sometimes uneven outside their magical natures (Mira in particular engages in some flirtation with Felix that didn’t seem to fit her personality), over all this book was interesting, romantic, and an auspicious first novel from Cross.
Sexual Content: Kissing, references to sex and incest.(less)
Neither as hard-boiled as most police procedurals, nor as arcane as pure urban fantasy, EVIL DARK is a blend that does justice to both genres without...moreNeither as hard-boiled as most police procedurals, nor as arcane as pure urban fantasy, EVIL DARK is a blend that does justice to both genres without taking either too seriously. The dry police banter, methodical exploration of crimes, and a story and world that were easy to jump into make this a great introduction to the series as well as a satisfying stand alone.
I enjoyed the casual humor and camaraderie between Markowski and Karl. These two swing from good-natured jockeying to bad puns and dirty asides in a way that is authentically masculine. Their relationship was both entertaining and believable, and I’m looking forward to reading HARD SPELL to see how their partnership began. Gustainis also made sure that not all supernatural crimes were exotic mysteries. On the contrary, the “business as usual” nature of arresting an ogre that smashed up a bar and other little details were excellent counterpoints to the complex conspiracy of the main mystery.
Perhaps the most difficult part of any mystery is balancing an ending between surprise and believability, a feat that Gustainis pulls off with flare. EVIL DARK wraps up with action, a little luck, good police work, and a touch of male fantasy come to life. I finished the book with a smile and a chuckle, looking forward to my next ride along with Markowski and Karl.
Sexual Content: References to sex, rape, child abuse, and a threesome.(less)