Have you ever read a book that's so good that you can literally feel the book slump you're going to get after finishing it settling in for the long haul? That was me, with THE TURNING. Everyone who follows me knows that I love vampire books that are dark and twisted, with moral ambiguity, weird sex, and tons of gore. I'm not sure why it's so hard for people to write good, dark vampire fiction, but it is, and they're the exception to the rule.
THE TURNING is everything I love in a vampire novel and checks all the boxes. The heroine, Carrie, is a doctor, and is killed on the job by an evil vampire who shows up in the ER. He leaves her for dead - only he accidentally ends up transforming her. And being the naive goody-goody she is, she spends a few days in denial before going to an online forum for help that nearly gets her killed.
Instead of dying a second time, she ends up meeting another vampire who actually wants to help her. This vampire is Nathan, who is part of the Voluntary Vampire Extermination Movement, a group of vampire police who make sure that their population stays small and that rule-breakers are punished (kind of like a less lame version of TWILIGHT's Volturi). Unfortunately, the vampire who turned Carrie - Cyrus - is at the top of their list, and Nathan has a personal bone to pick with them, as they share an original sire, who is also very evil.
Unfortunately, when you are turned, you have something called a "blood tie" with your sire that creates a very close emotional and physical bond, and despite knowing objectively that Cyrus is evil, Carrie can't really resist him as much as she'd like, and ends up making a very foolish deal that puts her right in his poisonous clutches. Emotionally devastated by her betrayal of Nathan and caught between two fractious and very different sides, it seems like there's no easy resolution in sight.
And there isn't, because nothing about this book is easy.
Reading the reviews for this book on Amazon is bound to turn people away, because they appear to have been written by people who can't stomach dark fiction. That's fine, but it's also not who this book is for, and therefore doesn't really give a good representation of this book's overall quality or what it's even about. Carrie is a fantastic protagonist and very flawed and real, and she also delivers some great one-liners that actually had me giggling. THE TURNING is aware that it's a book in a genre that's fatigued by tropes, and makes a few tongue-in-fang remarks about vampires.
Normally I'm not into love triangles, but this one was SO GOOD, and it was never fully clear which of the two Carrie might end up with. Cyrus is such a fantastic villain (despite his name), and definitely one of the most memorable. There are some truly cinematic displays of horror in this book. Nathan was also the perfect tormented good guy, and he's never so good that you find yourself rolling your eyes; his flaws made him more human (so to speak), and in a way, more endearing.
I'm honestly surprised this series hasn't been made into a TV show? It's better than True Blood, in my opinion, and is so action-packed and heavy on the drama that it would be perfect for HBO. I'm making it my mission to ensure that this book winds up in the hands of all my fellow vampire-lovers, and it probably wouldn't hurt to mention that this book is only $1.99 on Kindle right now.
P.S. This book is written by Jenny Trout, and not the similarly named Jennifer Armentrout with an "e." When searching this book, just remember - it's Armintrout, and the "i" stands for iconic.
There are two types of people in this world: those who like vampires, and those who like werewolves. I've always been a vampire gal, but there's something intriguing about shape-shifters and that blurring of the line between humanity and beast. That's why I was excited to find THE DEVOURERS in the Kindle store, a book about rakshasa, or man-eaters/shape-shifters, in India. The cover was gorgeous, the summary was intriguing, and it promised to be dark and fantastical - plus, it's non-Western fantasy, and I want to try and support that, because there is not enough of that.
THE DEVOURERS was everything I thought it would be and more. Don't be fooled by the three star rating. Three stars means I liked it but probably wouldn't reread it because it has some flaws. Even so, it's worth the first read. It has Interview with a Vampire vibes from the Gothic beginning, when a college professor named Alok is approached by an attractive young stranger claiming to be "half-werewolf." He tells Alok a story that ensnares him like the first hit of an addictive drug, and Alok is desperate to meet again.
There are several characters in this book. Alok and the stranger are the foundation for the story, and the bookends that hold all the stories-within-stories together. Within the stranger's tale are many other characters, including a Muslim woman named Cyrah, a Norse shape-shifter who calls himself Fenrir, a French shape-shifter named Gevaudan, and the son of a forest demigoddess named Izrail. Even though the book is relatively short, it has an epic feel, and each story builds into the other. Sexuality and gender expression are also very fluid, which makes sense because of how these werewolves digest their victims (including their souls), and also because it seems like time would erode a lot of the hang-ups that anyone would have about sexuality and gender, anyway. I liked that a lot.
If this book has a flaw, it is that it is hard to read. The POV switches can be confusing, and even though the writing is gorgeous and it mostly works, it can be confusing at times. I think people who have trouble paying attention might have trouble following who's talking. The pacing is also uneven. Most of the story was amazing - that beginning, tho - but the middle is a major slog.
Anyone who's looking for something dark and different and who enjoys paranormal fantasy would enjoy THE DEVOURERS. It's got Indian and Muslim characters, LGBT+ characters, and a really strong and fascinating female character who has some of the best lines in this book. The story-telling and writing are reminiscent of Tanith Lee, who is one of my all time favorites. I'd love to see this author write a follow-up about vampires, or some other well-known monster with a twist.
A few years ago, Halle put most of her books on sale and I went on a buying spree. Karina Halle has a big cult following and I wanted to experience the edgy blend of horror and romance that she's become known for with books like Experiment in Terror and The Artists. What I'm quickly finding is that she's very hit or miss. Some of her books are very well done, and others are... not.
I was side-eying this book from the get-go with its slightly judgey sounding disclaimer in the blurb:
"A note about this book: Donners of the Dead is set in 1851 – couples were often thrust into marriage together with short courtships, racism was widespread and not overly frowned upon, and women had little to no rights. What wouldn't fly in today's day and age was unfortunately the norm back then - it is worth keeping that in mind when reading this book."
Like, I get the need for disclaimers if you're going to emulate a bodice-ripper from the days of yore. Whenever you're writing about a different era in which bad things happened to women and minorities, it can be uncomfortable - at best.
That said, there were nuances, even back then, and the words you used with certain people varied. It is pretty gross to see the love interest in this book casually deride the heroine for being half-Native, calling her pine nut, and, I think, "Injun." The others in their treasure-hunting party were certainly happy to fling the word "Injun" around like racist confetti. Which, on the one hand, okay, they are working class and ignorant, so it fits. But it felt gratuitous and, well, forced.
The plot of this book is pretty creative. Eve is hired on as a tracker to look for treasure when she and her party encounter a bunch of zombies influenced by the Wendigo myth. The execution was lacking. There's a lot of gore, but the horror lacks subtlety. Eve is a helpless heroine, shrieking, flinching, and constantly looking to Jake in a way that's reminiscent of Kagome's catch-phrase, "Go get 'em, Inuyasha!" Like, girl, take some responsibility and at least put some value on your damn life?
I did not like Jake at all, and the historical context seemed limited to homespun, casual racism in dialogue, and an overuse of the words "I reckon." I was hoping for Dawn of the Dead meets Rosemary Rogers, and instead I got... not that. If you're looking for a Western romp, just read Rosemary Rogers instead. Jake McGraw can only dream of being Steve Morgan when he grows up.
THE SILVER KISS was TWILIGHT for the 90s set. Simon the vampire is ancient, gloomy, and obsessive. Zoe is precocious, alienated, and old-fashioned in a way that doesn't really feel realistic for a teenage girl. There are differences, of course. TWILIGHT is more of a traditional love story with vampirism thrown in for lols, whereas THE SILVER KISS stays truer to its horror roots and has a grittiness to it that the Mormon housewife-penned TWILIGHT lacks (drugs, suicide, rape, death, etc.). Even so, the similarities are hard to ignore and it is difficult to say with certainty that there was no way Meyer didn't read or hear about this book and feel inspired by it.
THE SILVER KISS is a surprisingly powerful story in how it handles its difficult themes. Death is terrifying and inescapable, and many, many books have been inspired by the cruel and beautiful concept of mortality. Without it, we would stagnate, or fester. Knowing life will end is what, for many of us, keeps everything flowing into motion. Simon, on the other hand, just exists. The years bleed into one another until they have almost no meaning. His only purpose in life is to destroy the evil vampire who turned him, and Zoe is just a footnote, a curiosity - a girl who is touched by death as much as he is, but also just as removed.
Simon was a pretty great character. Because he is more predatory, it's ironically less creepy than if he were portrayed as an ordinary romantic love interest who just happens to be a vampire (the way Edward was in TWILIGHT). His life as a homeless drifter feels much less romantic than someone who is rich and blessed with a family to socialize with whenever they need to go on the run or hunt. His desperation for contact makes his fascination with Zoe seem slightly more realistic (although there was a moment in this book that rivaled Edward's watching Bella sleep; Simon pees on Zoe's house to mark his territory). Zoe took a while longer for me to warm up to her, but her grief over her mother's terminal cancer explains a lot of her odd behaviors and her apparent coldness. It also explains why vampirism holds an appeal for her; she knows better than most that life is finite.
I'm a romantic at heart and a sucker for happy endings (although I am one of those people who believes that not all romance novelsneed to have happy endings, which is apparently very ~controversial~ in the romance community), but sometimes happy endings just aren't very realistic and are damaging to the integrity of the story. TWILIGHT ends with Bella becoming a vampire; it's about cheating death, a love that literally transcends time. On the other hand, you have books like TUCK EVERLASTING, where the romance can't feasibly work and the book ends accordingly.
Perhaps as a nod to its similarities to TWILIGHT, the rerelease has a red, black, and white cover with Gothic font that looks like it could belong in the series. That's the edition I read, although I like this one a lot better. My edition also came with two short stories. One was a prologue to THE SILVER KISS and was called The Summer of Love. The other was an epilogue and was called The Christmas Cat. I did not really care for either story. Summer of Love was good, but the climax of the story is a cat death, and I've already read two other books this week where the cat dies, so that just felt needlessly depressing. Christmas Cat was super cheesy, and felt like an excuse to bring Simon back. I was also disappointed that the cat wasn't her mother, who said that she would like to be brought back as a cat. That felt like a lost opportunity to explore - sacrificed for teen love, because of course.
THE SILVER KISS is one of the earlier teen vampire romances so I think it's a good book to read if you're interested in going back to basics or want to read something more hard-core than TWILIGHT. It hasn't aged that badly and features many themes that are still relevant today. Check it out.
Cut to a woman sitting alone in a darkened room with a glass of wine. There is a book on the table before her. The book is on fire. She is laughing. She is crying. Despair is everywhere.
What even is this book? Oh my God, it sounded amazing. A hero with supernatural powers? An angel-vampire hero? Um, yes. Yes, yes, and yes. It sounded as fanfictiony as all get-out. Let me plop a quarter in my "mentioned Quizilla in a review again" jar and tell you about this fic I used to read called "Would an Angel, a Demon, or a Vampire Fall for You?" by user: icemakesyoumelt. This book was about a human girl ("you") who was courted, harem anime style, by three guys who all wanted her because, well, because! Anyway, then Satan came to destroy the earth and spoil the fun (except JK, because Satan was hot too, and was even a chaotic evil love interest for those of you into that sort of thing), and you got to fill out survey questions throughout the fic to find out who you would end up with at the end of each chapter.
But no, ASCENSION was all kinds of bad. The heroine was so backwards, she made Bella Swan look like a women's studies professor at a liberal arts college. The whole beginning of the book consists of her 1) being a jealous bitch to her sister for having a husband and being pregnant, to the point where she's fighting back angry tears and acting curt instead of congratulatory because 2) despite having a good job and a decent life and being attractive and privileged AF life is meaningless if you're alone and your womb is empty boo-hoo-hoo, and 3) the last guy she was with, she apparently went Rogue on, X-Men style, on account of the superpowers she also isn't interested in/grateful for.
I'm sorry, but WHAT on a bun is that? Are you kidding me? I'm supposed to root for this bitch?
I was initially excited because a therapist heroine who is tall (6'0"!) was exciting for me, a tall women with a psychology background, but the emotional whingeing and the whole Black Dagger Brotherhood vibe this book was projecting really didn't work for me, multiverse theory or no.
Wowowow, that was really good! This is the Harlequin manga that I like. TWILIGHT VOWS isn't just a Harlequin romance, it's a Harlequin romance about vampires. It's also the first of these books that I've actually read in novel format. Maggie Shayne writes these deliciously trashy vampire novels that kind of remind me of L.J. Smith's Night World series, only for adults. When I saw this on Netgalley, I made a choked-up squee sound because when I was in my early twenties, I thought Maggie Shayne was the shit. In manga form? Oh man, I couldn't wait.
Rachel was almost murdered by her greedy, evil relatives when she was a child. She was saved by a mysterious man who brought her back to the kindly Irish people who raised her. Now a grown anthropology student, Rachel has returned to Ireland to study the myth of the O'Rourke vampires who, according to local legend, lived at the Dante Castle at the edge of the village.
Reading this manga made me remember how much I loved the books when I first read them. Donovan, the hero, isn't a bad guy. He's one of those old-fashioned, brooding vampires who has courtly manners but feels lonely, and yes, he has a bit of the ol' guardian angel syndrome that's common in paranormal romance. He also says some truly romantic things to the heroine, especially towards the end.
The romance has a lot of angst, but it's balanced out by some odd humor. There are some especially funny moments in here with the hero's bat demons. They are pretty cute, even though they're kind of evil. Overall, though, I would say the tone is gloomy and wistful. I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would, because I have always preferred my vampires to be either morose or homicidal (or both). But no, this is a great adaptation of a romance series I really enjoyed.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Several of my friends recommended this book to me and it's free in the Kindle store, so downloading this book and checking it out seemed like a pretty low risk to take, especially with such ringing endorsements in its favor. BEYOND THE VEIL is about a woman named "Muse," who works with metals. She's also half human and half demon, with command over fire and the ability to "read" blades if her blood is spilled and has a long history of abuse where her powers were exploited like a cheap parlor trick.
I thought the world-building in this book was really great. DaCosta creates this fairly complex hierarchy of power among demon kind, with princes being at the top and mongrels like Muse being at the bottom. The descriptions of how she channeled her powers were also interesting, and I liked how her confidence grew as the book went on and she learned that all the bad things she'd been told about herself were basically big fat lies.
Once Muse learns the truth about herself, she realizes that there's good reasons for other demons to want to kill her - including the demon who took her from her cruel and abusive master, and has been her lover for several years. There's a bit of a love triangle between Akil and Stefan, but I thought it was done well, and served to underscore Muse's confusion as she tries to figure out which of them is telling the truth.
If you're a fan of Ilona Andrew's books, I feel like you'll probably like DaCosta. Their writing styles seem similar, and they both seem fond of complex and interesting worlds featuring kick-butt protagonists. I'd give this a higher rating, but I couldn't quite get into it the way I wanted to. There weren't any real flaws, or anything, but it did feel like sometimes the pacing would be off, and I actually set this book aside for a little while until I could get back into it again. I do like this author a lot so far, though - at least based on what I've seen - and I'd check out her other works.
I gave FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT a mostly positive review in spite of myself because I did like the mystery elements and I thought the antihero love interest, Reyes, was intriguing. My hope was that the author would realize that the childish sense of humor of the main character was dragging down the tone of the book and it would disappear in later books. After reading SECOND GRAVE ON THE LEFT, I'm no longer inclined to give the author the benefit of the doubt. If anything, Charley became even more childish in this book, and the mystery element of the first book - the thing I liked the most - was entirely overshadowed by the creepy "fated-to-be-mated" insta-love between Charley and Reyes. Like I care.
I'm also not super happy with Reyes's character arc. I don't understand why he likes Charley so much. It's kind of weird that he abandoned all of his plans just because she glows brightly. Is he a moth? Also, I'm all for obsessive love interests, but something about Reyes starts to seem a bit... well, smarmy. I don't like his "I know so much more than you but can't tell you anything for your own good" spiel, even though in Charley's case, that's probably true.
The publisher gave me all the books in this series for free in exchange for my honest opinion, but after this book, I'm thinking I might call it quits at book two. I'll check out the summaries and the spoiler reviews of the other books in the series to see if continuing might be worth it, but to be honest after this book I'm kind of sick of Charley and her "OMG! So random!" sense of humor. Naw.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
I might be rating this higher because I'm sick with the flu and my brain isn't working at peak capacity, but even so, I didn't fall in love with this book the way all my friends did. I'd heard mostly good things about the Charley Davidson series, but I always hesitate when I see a romance that's tagged as "humor" because it's been my experience that what most people find funny, I find lame. Case in point, WALLBANGER, which was just sad.
In terms of tone, FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT is kind of like the Stephanie Plum series or Meg Cabot's Mediator series. Charley Davidson is the human embodiment of the grim reaper. As a result, she can see dead people - lots of dead people. To them, she appears to glow like a Stephenie Meyer vampire in full sunlight, and that's because her body is the portal to the afterworld. They have to fly through her to move on.
Still with me? Okay. So her father and uncle are both cops and in her free time (read: when she's not playing the role of de facto River Styx), she works as a PI. Do her supernatural powers help her in her work? Maybe. Do people mistrust her for knowing more than she should? But of course.
Her latest case involves a whole bunch of missing kids, a crime syndicate, and human trafficking. People who were close to solving the case on their own merit, without supernatural help, are turning up dead in droves. Naturally, they're quick to offer their help to Charley, because conveniently enough, their lack of closure over the case is what's in part keeping them from moving on. Pretty soon, people are trying to off Charley too, but she has something that the other people working on the case don't: a supernatural guardian angel who likes to mind-f*ck her in the shower when he's not saving her ass. She calls the sexual smoky presence the Big Bad, but doesn't really seem worried about this otherworldly force in her life, which is funny because I kept thinking of that quote from Harry Potter: "Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain."
ANYWAY, I made it to the end of this book and it did entertain me, in between bouts of coughing, vomiting, and sneezing (woohoo). But I didn't really care for it as much as I have other paranormal romances. I think the humor actually worked against this book, to be honest. When you have a book about rape, child abuse, trafficking, and murder, trying to make it snarky and sarcastic and "cute" kind of seems grossly tone-deaf and insensitive. There's gallows humor and then there's "dude, have some proper gravitas, please" and I feel like this book falls into the latter category.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Remember when the Anita Blake series was good, back when she wasn't the Special Snowflake Queen of Sex'n'Superpowers™? (Seriously, have you read the new books? How is her vagina not permanently on fire from all that friction? Also, girl has more special moves than freaking Ditto.) Remember how the series was edgy and erotic and did not condescend to its female audience? Remember how Anita used to kick ass? Remember when there were just TWO love interests and not an entire Siouxie and the Banshees concert-worth of Gothic rejects in frilly shirts suffering from existential crises? Ilona Andrews remembers. Enter Kate Daniels.
Ilona Andrews has a huuuuuuge cult following. I got indoctrinated almost two years ago with the Hidden Legacy series (BURN FOR ME was the book that got me back into urban fantasy). After speeding through the rest of the series like a cocaine addict burning through their stash, crying ecstatically over the series' rumored (and now confirmed continuation), and frantically working my way through the rest of the Esteemed Ilona Andrews Hoard
™, I finally found my way to reading the much-hyped and very intimidating Kate Daniels series. This series has freaking fans with a capital F.
It's a little scary, because I was looking at the publication date and this book came out when I was still in high school. Despite being over ten years old, though, the book still feels fresh. Part of that is because it hasn't become dated like a lot of other older PNRs. This is because in Kate Daniel's world, magic and technology are in conflict (they short each other out), and currently magic is at its zenith, so technology has yielded to swords, horses, leylines, and magical abilities. Holy father, Batman.
Kate has decided to seek revenge for the murder of her Guardian, using her own magical powers and her trusty sword as tools. But revenge isn't simple. The murderer has covered their tracks well, and worse yet - they also appear to be responsible for the serial killings of several shape-shifters, humans, and vampires in the area. What seemed like a simple goal befitting the most basic of heroes' journey plots suddenly becomes a supernatural Gordian knot riddled with sexy shape-shifters and necromancers (oh my). Andrews doesn't hold back on the gore, either. This book packs a mean body count, and you, the reader, are sitting right in the Splash Zone. (And that ain't water.)
So, my Completely Unbiased and Possibly Unwelcome Opinion
™ on this book is... that it was good but not great. People were telling me that this series is much better than Hidden Legacy (OMFG)
, and maybe that's true for the later books in the series, but honestly, BURN FOR ME has a much stronger hook. And as fun as Kate Daniels is, she doesn't have the emotional depth and aching humanity that made Nevada such a treat (and made her gradual transformation over the course of the three books that much more addictive and investing, as a result). She tosses off some good one-liners, but I don't really understand what makes her tick. She's a stiletto heel in human form: pretty, sharp, but not very empathetic or intriguing. Also, Curran is no Rogan (don't @ me). There, I said it.
Still, I'm curious to see where the books go from here.
If there's one thing I love, it's Harlequin romance novels. Most of them are contemporary in nature so when I saw that Gena Showalter's Lords of the Underworld series had not only been adapted to manga but were also on sale, I bought books I and II. Apparently the actual novels are very erotic so it was hilarious to see how tame they were in these comic books, which did not contain that much more mature content than your typical shoujo manga for older girls (think Ceres: Celestial Legend or Black Bird). Even though the heroine was a Sue of the highest caliber, and the world-building was questionable at best, I devoured the first book. It was bad, but in a really fun way. Like Charmed.
I did not like the second book quite as much. The first book had a lot more action in it. This book was angstier, focusing more on the relationship between the hero and the heroine. Since they have a major case of insta-love, this was not that interesting to me. Especially since they're pledging to die for one another by the end of the book. I've already read the original Romeo and Juliet. Subsequent retellings of it pale by comparison.
That said, the art style is pretty okay and I liked the story enough that I'm kind of curious to see what the original novel (which I haven't read) is like with all the sex scenes and violence left in. The mangaka left an amusing after note, cautioning about the "passionate love scenes," and adding, "I almost want to tell girls younger than junior high kids to wait until they're adults to read this." Lol, why don't you leave that up to the parents, though? Seriously, what is the age demographic these Harlequin manga are targeting? Because in the U.S. at least, I don't think anyone quite knows and I always see these in the clearance sections of my local comic book stores (lucky for me, haha).
I've read a Harlequin adaptation by Earithen before and I didn't like it. The book in question was called THE BLACKMAIL MARRIAGE. It was a case of bad story, bad art, bad execution. When I saw LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLD on Amazon for 99-cents, my reaction was one of skepticism. I'd heard of Gena Showalter's series, but had written it off as being too cheesy. Plus, the adaptation was being done by Earithen.
...But on the other hand, it was only 99-cents.
So, after reading this book, it looks like I may have been wrong about both Earithen and Gena Showalter. The art in this is leagues better than the art in THE BLACKMAIL MARRIAGE and I enjoyed the cracktastic trashiness of the story so much that I'm seriously considering hunting down and reading the actual Lords of the Underworld novels now.
Ashlyn is a psychic at a paranormal institute in Budapest for work. She decides to miss her flight, however, when she hears two people talking about a tower where angels live. She goes to the tower to plead to the angels to take away her power and instead meets a large, sexy man with a sword who threatens her.
This girl, Ashlyn, not having a self-preservation bone in her body, hunts him down and clings to him, demanding that he take her with him. Because he's hot and he literally quiets the voices. Surprising himself, he does, and she sees that he has a whole bunch of other large, hot men who also reside with him. All of these men are thousands of years old, and figures from Greek mythology. Originally they were guardians of the gods, but after committing an act of treachery, they were punished by being forced to house demons of various types within their bodies (wrath, lust, violence, etc.).
They are being hunted by people called, appropriately enough, Hunters and are not convinced that Ashlyn isn't bait. So she's imprisoned in this castle with demon-possessed hunks, and the hero, Maddox, can't decide whether he wants to destroy her or have his way with her or both, because his demon is the demon of wanton violence, and once started, he won't stop until satisfied.
Writing all this out like this makes me realize how cheesy this story sounds. I'm already side-eying the mythology a bit. It's a little of Pandora's box, a little of the Four Horsemen, and a little of the Seven Deadly Sins, with a slapdash of Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark. Both of these authors seem to treat their paranormal romances like a communal stew where you can just dump whatever into the pot and hope it tastes good. It honestly kind of reminds me of a Quizilla story I read back in the day called "Would an Angel, a Demon, or a Vampire Fall for You?" I believe the author of it named herself "icemakesyoumelt." It was a really bad story in which "you" were the name character and it was written in second person. I guess it just goes to show that no matter what age you are, or which medium you choose to consume your stories, we always fall for the same old trash.
One of my favorite comedies is called Dogma(1999). It's a sorely unappreciated movie, and practically nobody I've talked to has heard of it - something that shocks me, given that its cast list is basically the "best of" list of the 90s from a wide variety of genres: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Janeane Garofalo, Alan Rickman, Jay and Silent Bob, Salma Hayek, Chris Rock, and Alanis Morissette, who, incidentally, plays God Herself. I bet you are thinking to yourself that you know why this movie isn't very popular, and if you read the synopsis and saw this quote from the summary, "An abortion clinic worker with a special heritage is enlisted to prevent two angels from reentering Heaven and thus undoing the fabric of the universe," you're probably getting an even better idea. It's a movie that takes the piss not just out of Christians, but out of the bible and theology themselves, pointing out the hypocrisy, cruelty, and callousness that are sometimes done in the name of religion and even God.
Why am I bringing this up? Because it's a damn good movie and you should watch it, and also because it shares many themes with this book. I mean, apart from the obvious angels connection and the whole "bringing about the apocalypse" thing. You see, ANGELFALL is about the apocalypse. Angels have invaded Earth, and rather than being divine, fluffy-winged creatures of mercy, they are wreaking havoc and wrath upon humanity, destroying cities, killing humans, killing each other, and using our world as a turf war for internal politics that have nothing to do with faith or piety and everything to do with power.
Penryn, the heroine, is one of the humans. While out with her mother, who is probably schizophrenic, and her younger disabled sister who uses a wheelchair, they witness an angel getting his wings cut off. Moved by mercy to intervene, Penryn attacks the other angels, and as a result her sister is taken. Her mother flees, and Penryn is left alone with the angel... Raffe. Left with no other choice, they bond together. Raffe, to get his wings back. Penryn, to get her sister back. They have a common enemy: the other angels. But they are also wary and suspicious of one another, as well.
Their partnership is weird and awkward as they navigate the Bay Area (holla!). It reminds me a bit of The Walking Dead in terms of how gritty and realistic it feels. Penryn is a survivalist, and does what needs to be done to stay alive. Unlike 99% of so-called strong heroines, though, she isn't arrogant. She's confident, but she also has moments of fear or insecurity that make her relatable. I liked that the author actually had a reason for her physical prowess, rather than her just taking instantly to ass-kicking and wielding a sword, and I liked the slow developing sexual tension between her and Raffe.
But what makes this even better is that this is a book - written for girls - that does not hold back on unpleasantness. This book is dark. It has themes that are mature and complex and controversial. It is edgy. I couldn't put it down. I was originally going to use this book for my Halloween-themed romance challenge for the post-apocalyptic challenge and ended up going with UNDER THE NEVER SKY, and man. Apples and oranges. Apples and oranges. That book was stupid. This book is original and amazing and well-written and you just need to read it and see for yourself. I can almost forgive the author for destroying the city of San Francisco if this is what comes out of the rubble.
This is the one romance book that many men have deigned to pick up, even if just to look at the cover and sneer, and is frequently used as the scapegoat example to bemoan the romance genre as a whole as being a tasteless wonderland for idiots without brain cells, i.e. women. Because, as you might have noticed, anything that is marketed exclusively to women is frequently condemned by the "general populace" (i.e. men) as being without taste, merit, or worth. E.g. romance.
My feelings about TWILIGHT could be mapped out as a series of complex dips and rises. I've always been really into vampires and remember seeing this book on Amazon back in 2006 - you know, back in the days when it only sold books and CDs - while looking for books about vampires to ask my mom to buy for me. Intrigued by the promise of dark romance, I clicked to read the Kindle sample and was a little surprised when the opening paragraph featured not vampires but some privileged bitch in an eyelet lace blouse whining about how she was exiling herself to one of the most beautiful places in the world as punishment.
I remember thinking, "Wow, this is dumb. Nobody is going to read this."
And that is why I am not a marketing executive.
When the book became ridiculously popular, I was curious. Because I was a teenager, and if there's a demographic that's demonized more than women it's probably teenagers (e.g. teenagers are sheep, etc.). My mom bought me the book from Costco, of all places, and with no small amount of skepticism, I settled in to read. I actually stayed up until 3AM that night to finish it, and ended up getting only a couple of hours of sleep for the classes I was taking the next day. It was good. There wasn't a lot of action, but in a way that was kind of comforting. Bella was one of the first heroines that I really identified with - she was quiet and studious and socially awkward. She enjoyed reading and not just in that token way that makes her not like other girls; she wrote an essay on the misogyny in Shakespeare (a topic that I, myself, explored in one of my college essays). I also liked the fact that she seemed both jaded and naive; something that I, as a "world-weary" eighteen-year-old strongly related to. I burned through the second and third books (also purchased at Costco, thanks, Mom), and then noped out of the fourth book when I found out that there were things like baby soulmates, sex scenes involving pillow-eating, and weird science that involved giving vampires venom in place of bodily fluids and, for some reason, a different number of chromosomes that just so happened to equal that of the pineapple. (Let's all just take a moment to sit back and imagine a pineapple with fangs.)
My point here is that TWILIGHT was easy to read and featured a generic heroine who had a quiet personality that didn't make me feel like I wasn't enough. After all, she was ordinary and got a GQ vampire boyfriend. Maybe that meant that being ordinary was okay. Many YA novels stress the quirkiness or the glory of their heroines, but I liked the idea of a "plain Jane." It was also my gateway novel to classic literature. I made my mom buy me copies of all the books Bella read or mentioned, which was how I ended up reading a slew of classics like JANE EYRE, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY that year. For fun. I know, right?
Then the movies came out and Kristen Stewart became the much-mocked star with her dead eyes and Robert Pattinson the questionable hero with his scoffing interviews and scruffy appearance. I wasn't happy with the casting choices and did not see the movie, but other people did. Many other people did. Suddenly the movie - and the merchandise - were everywhere and so were the fans. My god, honestly if anything put me off this book it was probably the fans. Especially the ones who tore forums apart with their vicious arguments over the battle that will go down in history long after everything else has crumbled to dust: Edward vs. Jacob? I found myself growing embittered against the book that I had previously enjoyed, and suddenly I could see all the problems with it that I had previously ignored. The relationship is toxic. Bella lacks agency. Grand sweeping gestures of "love" are expressed in the form of mortal peril. TWILIGHT also ushered in a whole new era of copycats, as everyone tried to write TWILIGHT with angels (FALLEN, HUSH HUSH), TWILIGHT with werewolves (SHIVER), and TWILIGHT with faeries (WICKED LOVELY or THE IRON KING).
I decided to read this ten years later for a Halloween-themed romance challenge, and also to see how my perspective on the book changed with time. It is hilarious to me that Bella, with her limited experiences at the ripe old age of seventeen, sounds at many times like a weary Mormon housewife, speaking about her father the way one might express frustration about a husband (creepy), and about her mother as a child. She claims ignorance to social practices, and yet gives herself the advice that a Mom might, and lectures her friends about being rude or irresponsible. Also, who says "Holy Crow!" unironically who isn't either eighty years old or Mormon? Exactly.
Edward is also significantly less attractive to me this time around. I think maybe it's because he smacks of the patriarchal, with his constant talking down to her as one might a child, and his sly winks about her being so young while seeming old, if you know what I mean, hurr hurr. That's a little creepy. All the claims about their relationship being unequal are valid; he is so much older than her that he has so much knowledge and experience and resources that she can never really aspire to be on equal footing. The relationship is skewed in his favor and he is, by his own admission, a master manipulator. It's also very creepy that he watches her sleep and knew without asking where she kept her house key. I'm still not over that. Even as a teen, I was kind of like, "Um, hey wait."
I also never noticed that... um, Edward's taste in fashion is kind of bad? In fact, he dresses kind of like a sleazy 70s actor. I have receipts. Go through some of my status updates for the book and see what pics I paired with them. All that he's missing is a Ron Jeremy mustache. I guess this could also potentially tie into the whole "30-year-old mom" vibe if Bella is actually modeled of Stephenie Meyer and she's using Edward as a template for all of the heartthrob leading actors in movies that she watched growing up, which probably were from the 70s or 80s and probably featured questionable fashion choices like ivory turtlenecks and beige colored leather jackets.
I do think that TWILIGHT changed the young adult and romance genres for the better, in that it showed people that things ladies like can not only enter mainstream pop culture, but also become raging successes that empower women not just to seek out and enjoy their own entertainment, but also to go out and create their own. I could say a lot of things here about some of those paranormal YA copycats and how I feel about P2P fanfiction that is repackaged as original fiction but this review is already getting pretty long, so let's save that for another day. Part of the reason it's so hated is because dudes had to confront the fact that a movie for women had entered their "safe space." There was no room in this world for them; the narrative was not about them. There aren't any guns or lasers in TWILIGHT and the "action" doesn't happen until the last 100 pages (unless you count vampire baseball or near-car accidents). It's an entirely character-driven romance between a female teenager and a vampire, and about how their relationship develops over 4.75 books (I'm counting that BREE book as .5 and MIDNIGHT SUN as .25, since it was never released). People love to demonize romance, and I still get comments from individuals telling me how stupid they think the books I read are, but honestly, TWILIGHT, like all romances, was just about escapism and having fun.
This is going to be one of those reviews where I share an unpopular opinion that is probably going to make people mad at me, but here we go. Spoiler: I didn't like the book. Isn't that crazy? You'd think I would, because it was supposed to be so dark and so sexy, and dark and sexy are, like, my bread and butter. Plus, it's based on an arranged marriage between two people who hate each other, which is basically my most favorite thing. So really, the fact that the author managed to take three of my favorite things and make me hate the book is, well... almost a talent. No, seriously. That's like making me hate bubble tea or avocados or romance novels. Good for you. Gold star.
Here's the thing, this is a book written for people who like fanfiction-style writing. The heroine, Molly, is a Mary Sue of the highest caliber. She has super special eyes, is a half-demon, and the most important thing about her is that she's a gold star virgin who has managed to capture the eye of the demon prince, Tensley (which kind of sounds like the name of one of those electronica/indie artists the teens are listening to. Halsey and Tensley, coming to an Outside Lands festival near you). The writing reminded me, actually, of this other really bad demon fic I read back in the early 2000s when Quizilla was the Wattpad of the day (I'm old, yo). Did I read it? Hell yes. But even fourteen year old me acknowledged that it was trash.
As for Tensley, the most important thing about him is that he's an incubus who is oozing sex appeal from every orifice. The ladies, they can't stay away. He has a side OW, so you can get a sneak preview of how hot he is without sullying the purity of the heroine. Plus, it serves as a juxtaposition to how mean slutty ladies have sex versus gold star virgins (answer: demurely but hornily). He's also a self-absorbed jerk, but in the fanfiction world, that means "confidence" (but only if you're male; if you're female, it means you're a mean slutty lady, AKA an "OW"). I rolled my eyes at his dirty talk, and of course the heroine is great at sex and the hero is blown away by the magic sanctity of her vag.
I skimmed pretty heavily, so I honestly don't really have the faintest idea what this book is about beyond the whole prophesized to become a demon wife thing, and the fact that there was an oral sex scene at 69% of the Kindle edition (if that was intentional, that actually makes me like you a little more, R. Scarlett - it shows you have a sense of humor, which I always appreciate). I don't think there was much more beyond that, TBH, apart from the many references to designer shoes and the fact that demons are born with half a heart and will be destroyed if they grow a whole one by falling in love, which I think is supposed to add a whole new level of angst to the story, but actually made me think of another forbidden love story between demons that I like much better, i.e. Little Nicky.
I guess this was a "thing" on Wattpad, and I honestly can't see why. I'm not saying that to be mean. I've read a lot of fated-to-be-mated books, and this one ticks all the usual boxes. It's unfortunate, because I was actually really hoping to like this one. Oh, well. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It isn't often that a book successfully puts you off from the author's note in the beginning of the book, but TOUCH A DARK WOLF manages this with terrifying finesse when the author announces with a satisfaction you can literally feel emanating from the page: "the Chosen were the descendants of King Solomon and his seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines from many nationalities that scattered to the ends of the earth upon his death."
You see, apparently in the original, the heroine was a Mary Sue of the Bella Swan variety who had this magical blood that everyone wanted - especially supernatural baddies with teeth. Originally, they were called "Elan," but now they are called the "Chosen," and turning this blood-lustiness into a religious food fight between heaven and hell "adds fullness to the story and comes so much closer to the tale I wanted to tell."
Which I literally have no idea how to respond to...except by writing this review.
Erin Morgan is a nurse at a clinic called Sno-Med. Sno-Med gives free blood testings to people and seems like a great place...in the same way that the Bates Motel seems like a "family friendly" venue if you catch my drift. Erin realizes something off when a raging stereotype of a Middle Eastern despot comes in for a blood transfusion for his "cancer" and she finds four dead bodies in a room with full transfusion bags hanging over their exsanguinated corpses. Her boss, a raging stereotype of a designer-clad sleaze-bag named Cinatas, tries to attack her with a morphine needle but she escapes.
While on the run, she spends a lot of time in her car. And at one point, she opens her eyes to find a naked man on her car who, if the cover is any indication, apparently looks like Chris Sarandon. Chris Sarandon is an angelic type of being called a Blood Hunter who has been bitten by a demon ("Tsara") and therefore damned (i.e. turned into a vampiric werewolf). And since Erin is one of the Chosen, that means he craves her blood the way Edward craved a late-night Bella snack. But of course, that would be giving in to the forces of actual hell, which - I KID YOU NOT - is ruled by a creature named Heldon. THE RULER OF HELL IS NAMED HELDON.
Erin and her angel-werewolf-vampire decide to confront Cinatas and Sno-Med with the help of a Suspicious Police Officer, a good doctor (i.e. not an agent of Satan), and a druid. You see, Sno-Med is hosting an expo with free blood tests which is really an excuse to test people for that Blood of Solomon BS to turn them into demon chow. Oh, and the best part is, while Googling this, there's a BIG REVEAL that Cinatas is "Satanic" spelled backwards and "Sno-Med" is "Demons" spelled backwards, like it's SOME GIANT TWIST that they were evil all along. I couldn't help thinking of that "Nilbog! That's goblin spelled backwards!" line from Troll 2. And then I realized that this book is basically the romance novel equivalent of Troll 2, by which I mean it's so awful that it would be unwatchable if it weren't trying so earnestly hard, with such bad timing, that it's almost comedic.
I thought PRINCE OF NIGHT was bad, with its vampires-are-actually-aliens-who-can-only-impregnate-virgins-and-all-males-of-the-species-are-violent-rapebabies plotline (no, I am 100% serious, seriously check out my review for that sh*t and rake in the lulz), but I think this was way worse. The hero has the emotional maturity of a frat boy and one of his reasons for why they should be intimate is literally "we're already intimate in my head, so why not for real tho" which is the logic you might expect for a 12-year-old boy. She also leaves him alone on a couch for five seconds and he immediately finds the porn channel, and the fake porn dialogue is more convincing than the actual porn dialogue in this book. (The sex scenes are terrible by the way, and if I could go another twenty years without encountering "the very wet heart of her desire" again, I would be very pleased.) There's also this totally cringe-worthy scene where the heroine basically goes along with pretending that the hero is mentally retarded to avoid that aforementioned police officer's suspicions. Add to that the fact that the hero is an angel-vampire-werewolf who hunts vampires and demons and werewolves who are apparently the denizens of some guy or girl named Heldon who is ruler of Hell, and the villain literally being named "Satanic" spelled backwards, and you have yourself one hell of a mess. This was awful, and also hilarious, but I can't in any honesty rate this any higher than a 1*. Sorry.
P.S. If you find yourself feeling morbidly curious, it's currently free in the Kindle store.
Isn't the hero supposed to be blonde? I'm sorry, but one of my pet-peeves is when the cover model bears zero resemblance to the hero and heroine as they're described in the novel. I know it's cool and smoky, and the dude is hot and all, but come on. At least try.
Moving on from Cover Aesthetics 101, KISS OF STEEL is one of those books that aspires to be a little of everything. It's a steampunk novel set in Victorian-era England, only this is a world with vampires and werewolves (oh my), with vampires, naturally, seizing power and forcing many poor humans to resort to using blood as currency. Vampirism exists on a spectrum, first as a plague, then as vampires, and then, in late stages, as violent blood-mad zombies that must be put down as if they were rabid animals.
The heroine, Honoria, was once a part of the glittering upper-class, but when her father was killed, she was forced to take to the streets in order to protect her younger siblings. Now, having reached the bottoms of her shallow pockets, she's forced to turn to one of the local crime lords for help, a vampire named Blade.
I thought the world-building in this book was pretty well-done. McMaster created a pretty terrifying one, filled with squalor and desperation and darkness. You could almost picture the fog-misted blood dispensaries and hear the creep of feet on cobblestones. For the most part, I also liked the romance, although the sexual tension was actually sexier than the actual sex scenes. I'm not really a fan of the phrase "lush pearl," and thought there were actually too many sex scenes towards the end, which seemed to serve an excuse to explain the rushed love between the hero and heroine.
Vickers was a great villain and I'm sad that he wasn't utilized more in the book. This is virtually the only thing that bothers me about some "dark" romances and that's when the books forget to be dark after squeezing in an under-developed love story that makes the story unnaturally fluffy. The beginning of KISS OF STEEL was so promising and even though it wasn't a bad book, I still felt cheated because I thought I was going to get something amazing and ended up with something that was just okay.
KISS OF STEEL passed the time, but it won't be topping any of my favorites lists. That said, if you're tired of cutesy, angsty vampires, this series will probably appeal to you. These guys (and girls) bite.
Fantasy stories often have magic potions that are made up of the body parts of living creatures, even in Harry Potter, where bits of unicorn can be put into potions or wands - but where do those parts come from? NOT EVEN BONES explores that grim and unsavory concept in the form of Nita and her family, dealers in the magical black market, selling magical body parts to collectors, perverts, and criminals. Nita enjoys her work, with a blood-thirsty joy that's reminiscent of Kerri Maniscalo's heroine, Audrey Rose, in STALKING JACK THE RIPPER. NOT EVEN BONES is a much better book, however, with tight plotting, morally grey characters, and a grim world and setting that at times seems almost too dark to be YA.
The summary for this book is vague and a little misleading. It isn't really like Dexter, except for the whole cutting up dead bodies thing, and I haven't read anything by Schwab to completion, but - unpopular opinion time - what I did read by her seemed pretty bland and fanfictiony, in that way that all Tumblr-popular writers seem to have. NOT EVEN BONES is set in our world, which came as a surprise to me at first because the summary made me think this was going to be high fantasy. There are magical creatures and everyone knows they exist, and governments are in disagreement about how many rights they should have and what should be done about them.
The heroine is Latina and the "hero"is Burmese/Thai. Most of this book is set in South America, which will be a pleasant surprise to those of you who often find yourselves complaining about the Western bias in fantasy settings. The characters actually swear instead of saying those made-up swear words that sound so stupid in everything that isn't Firefly, including dropping a few F-bombs. The story, as I said, is DARK. Graphic torture scenes, and discussions of incredibly unsavory topics like organ and body-part harvesting, eugenics, and abuse in virtually all forms. I'm pretty hard to shock, but this book made even me think, "I'm going to need a thousand hugs when this is over."
I'm honestly shocked this book didn't make more of a splash when it came out, since it's virtually everything readers have been asking for every time they criticize YA fantasy for being what it is.
Warning: ends on a mean mother of a cliffhanger.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Some of my friends really loved this one and a couple of them seemed to hate it. In typical contrarian fashion, I fell smack-dab in the middle. Amy Harmon was a name that was mentioned to me many times, both for her YA fantasy novel and her new adult romances. THE LAW OF MOSES starts off with several chapters of info dumping as we get to know the hero and heroine, Georgia and Moses. Georgia lives on a farm, and is the daughter of people who use horses for physical and emotional therapy for troubled teens and kids. Moses was the son of a crack addict and was found abandoned in a laundromat. Georgia is attracted to Moses and goes manic pixie dream girl on his ass, and he manic pixie dream boys her right on back with his supernatural painting that turns out to be tied into an ability to communicate psychically with the dead.
While reading this book, I kept thinking about how it was reminding me of something that I'd read a while ago, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it until a few hours ago, when I was reading horror lists on Goodreads and happened across Dean Koontz's ODD THOMAS, and thought to myself, "Yes, that's what this is reminding me of! A manic but star-crossed love story with a boy who can speak to the dead? Oh, yeah, bring on the pain." And there is pain; the author straight-up warns you from the beginning of the book that this story isn't going to be all sunshine and roses. She wasn't wrong.
I liked the author's writing style but there were still a number of embarrassing typos that revealed this author's self-published origins ("knickers" instead of "nickers" to refer to a sound a horse makes), and thought that she kind of had a wallowing sense of poetry that hearkens back to my Sarah Dessen days, when I thought that being self-absorbed and full of angst made you cool and interesting. I think I would have loved this book a lot more when I was fourteen, chowing down on angst the way I did Taco Bell or Starbucks frappuccinos. I did think that the pacing was off (the beginning was tedious and sometimes there were chunks of the story I had to skim because it was just one of the characters pontificating on their woes). I also didn't really feel much of a connection between Moses and Georgia. Georgia was irritating and Moses was kind of a jerk. I didn't understand the obsession, there.
THE LAW OF MOSES is definitely creative, and in a genre where many of the titles feel like derivatives of the last big hit, I appreciated that. I also appreciated the writing and the author's ability to emotionally manipulate her readers with devastating events. It might have hit harder if I'd liked the characters more and if they'd been better fleshed out, but I still think that Harmon is an author to watch and I look forward to reading the other books of hers that I have waiting on my Kindle.
This author's Lux series is basically what launched her from quiet indie author cult status to mainstream publication fame. A lot of my friends enjoy both her young adult paranormal romances and her contemporary new adult romances, so I was curious to pick something of hers up and see if I liked it. After picking up THE DARKEST STAR as an ARC, I'm no longer quite as curious. If this book is representative of her other works, we have some problems.
THE DARKEST STAR is basically like if you took the plot of TWILIGHT and injected it with more violence and sex, and tried to instill a bit of superficial commentary about illegal immigration and ICE through the use of aliens, a la District 9. Evie is an Ordinary High School Girl™ who lives in a world where aliens, called "Luxen," have made contact. They are called Luxen because they have magic light powers and usually that just makes them Groin-Meltingly Hot™ but sometimes if they are evil, they zap humans' eyeballs out.
Evie meets the Luxen while out with her Token Lesbian Friend™ and they go to the forbidden alien night club to meet her best friend's girlfriend, who is also a Luxen. It's super obvious that this is what she is, so I had a HI-larious moment later when Evie finds this out and is shocked. Anyway, that's when she meets the Pecs-and-Abs™ love interest, Luc, who is basically Edward Cullen with even more personal space issues. Also, he can read minds and finds Evie so fascinating. His personality can be summed up in one word: abs. In two words? Low-riding jeans. "Wait, Nenia," you're saying, "that's not a personality." Correct, friend. Because he doesn't have one - unless you consider being a possessive, lamely sarcastic alphahole a personality, in which case, that is his.
At Evie's school, the Luxen sit at their own Groin-Meltingly Hot™ cafeteria table, but unfortunately an evil Luxen is going around zapping humans' eyeballs out. This causes the kids to wantonly discriminate against the Luxen students against their school and say that they should basically be deported. One of Evie's ex-friends is the ringleader for this movement and Evie thinks she is so lame, but doesn't really do anything to stop her except saying, "Hey, not cool." Evie's ex-best-friend responds the way all bigots do - by flipping the verbal middle finger and then spending all night posting on message boards about how much they admire President Trump. In a word: Evie does jack shit. Unless you count agonizing over whether to bang or not to bang Pecs-and-Abs™, in which case she does that thing. Many, many times! But he's an evil alien, oh noes! But oh, she's not a bigot.
The story continues with a vain attempt at a mystery subplot, with Evie discovering that she's not an Ordinary High School Girl™ after all (what a shock! a young adult paranormal romance where the heroine *isn't* ordinary?), Luc trying to figure out who the evil Luxen who's zapping out humans' eyeballs is while also Hiding Potentially Existential Crisis-Causing Information from the Heroine for the Heroine's Own Good™ while also mooning over his Pure and Long Lost First Love™, much to Evie's admiration and jealousy (guys who moon over dead girls are so romantic - oh wait).
There are a lot of similarities to TWILIGHT, between the mind-reading and the evil human-hunting Luxen who wants to kill the heroine, the popular Luxen table at the school, and the way that Evie gets involved with Luc's whole "immortal" family (except they're not exactly his family, just friends and associates - so actually maybe they are his family after all, but in the Italian mob sense). Evie was especially unlikable as a heroine because she had no personality. I heard the heroine in the original Lux series was a book blogger, but this heroine has no interests and nothing about her was interesting. I also thought the twist about her was super lame and a cheap excuse to legitimize Insta Love™.
I feel like this book tried to do many things, and it did almost all of them badly.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Look at that cover - oh my God, the pose, the costumes, the cheese. This is what I live for, as a reviewer of vintage romance novels. Bad romance covers are a key part of the Old Skool Experience™. That said, once I got over the low resolution Photoshop job and what is either a B-movie vampire wearing a Target Halloween costume or an innovative male stripper wearing a pair of armpit tassels, I noticed the small blurb at the top that said, "A breathtaking vampire romance in the tradition of LINDA LAEL MILLER." Once I stopped giggling over the (I'm assuming) unintentional pun of "breathtaking" to refer to a vampire romance, I was like, "Wait, why does Linda Lael Miller sound so familiar?"
...Oh wait, I remember. She's that lady who wrote FOREVER AND THE NIGHT: the romance novel that has the dubious honor of being one of the worst vampire novels I ever read, due to "Anglo-Saxon" sex words, eyelid-licking, and Nazi costumes.
And this book is written "in the tradition" of... that.
To PRINCE OF THE NIGHT's credit, it isn't quite that cringe-worthy, but it's still pretty bad. What makes this sad, is that the book actually has a really great start. Cordelia is an upstanding young English miss. She's escorting her pregnant cousin, Mary, and her maid Ellen, to this reclusive Italian estate called the Three Fountains - allegedly a long-forgotten home owned by her father. When she gets there, she's shocked to find out that the estate - which is really more of a sprawling mansion - already has an owner, the Count of Albion.
Right away, things are super suspicious. There are several murders, which may or may not have to do with the Second Italian War of Independence; the Count has a number of young boys as servants, avoids being in their company, won't eat the food, and makes a creepy comment about Cordelia being a virgin; and, oh yes, the two Austrian soldiers who escorted Mary and Cordelia to the castle from the inn seem super suspicious of everyone - especially Cordelia - and nobody takes her suspicious seriously, except for the Count's sinister and elderly maid.
As I said, the beginning is great, and has that claustrophobic, gothic vibe I've grown to love, and pays a brilliant homage to the original Dracula novel written by Bram Stoker. All that changes when Cordelia finally acknowledges her attraction to Dakon (Count Albion), which in my opinion happens much too quickly, and things start getting weird as Jasmine Cresswell starts playing around with the vampire mythology in order to make it her own.
First of all, the vampires in this world come from outer-space. That's right. They are aliens.
Second of all, they can only impregnate virgins.
"It's true, then? The count must drink human blood in order to live?" "Only at ... certain times," Anna said. "For years he has tried to make do with the blood of young boys, but there is no substitute for the blood of a female virgin where my master is concerned." "The blood of men and women is the same - " "No, signorina, it cannot be, and the blood of virgins seems more potent than any other. His people have discovered that they can only produce offspring if their female partners are virgin" (250).
Third of all, all vampire offspring created with humans are male because the coupling is so violent.
"It seems so strange. In your own world, girls must presumably have been born in equal numbers with boys, so what is it about joining with human females that causes only boys to be born?" For a moment, Dakon didn't respond. "Our scientists have concluded that the violence inherent in the act of mating with a human determines that the offspring of the union will always be male," he said. His voice was harsh, and he obviously disliked reminding her of the brutal reality of his nature (302).
Vampires apparently go through this mating frenzy where they lose control to the point of rape. They can also kill by tearing the throat of the person they're mating with. So how do you get a girl?
"Perhaps they have not examined the situation from the correct point of view," Cordelia said. "But it seems to me that if you insure that the mating between a Vam-pyr and a human female is not violent, then the child resulting from that union will be a girl" (302).
So, need a boy child? Use your human wife ill. Need a girl child? Love her tender.
You know what makes this even more disturbing, though? When Dakon and Cordelia (inevitably) have a child - and of course it's a girl - and show her to her vampire grandfather, he's shocked.
ZArymp (lol) shook his head in bewilderment. "Vampire babies are always boys. For four thousand years, no Vam-pyr has ever fathered a female child" (377).
What the flipping-frick. That's got terrifying implications. For FOUR THOUSAND YEARS, vampires have been gleefully and violently ill-using humans, and nobody took a moment to stop and think, "Hmm, maybe we should be subverting the violence that's inherent in the system?" Nobody?
The sex scenes are all pretty terrible, too. Vampires were, historically, an interesting and "safe" allegory of earthly sexuality without totally offending Victorian sensibilities. Cresswell really takes the phallic imagery of a vampire's fangs and runs with it.
His sacs burst instantly, sending mating fluid streaming into the tiny openings he had made in Cordelia's throat. His whole body pulsed with the power of her blood, and her body thrummed with the erotic impact of his mating fluid (370).
Do not be fooled by the quotes people are using in their reviews for this book. Those quotes will make you think that you are going to get a dark and twisted and impactful story about magic and revenge. I think this book wanted to be about those things, but what THE WICKED DEEP actually ended up being was on par with what you'd get if you'd asked Stephenie Meyer to rewrite The Craft.
The Swan sisters (see, TWILIGHT) were three beautiful, scandalous girls who ended up being murdered as Witches in Sparrow, Oregon because the townspeople got tired of their BS. Now, Sparrow has become a West Coast Salem, MA, with tourists flocking to the small island every summer for a chance to see the mysterious drownings that occur once every year. Because, as local legend has it, the Swan sisters never truly died, and are taking their revenge by possessing the bodies of young girls and seducing young men into the sea to die.
Penny Talbot is our insipid main character and yes, before you ask, she's one of those plain, clumsy girls who doesn't know she's beautiful. She's also a judgmental little you-know-what who's jaded beyond her years and has something to say about pretty much everyone. Her love interest is a drifter-like dude named Bo who won't disclose why he's come to Sparrow, or where he came from before, and his current life goals include having a part-time job in a tourist trap and sleeping on the beach.
Obviously, it's meant to be!
Sinister, Scooby Doo-like sh*t starts to happen, and the touristy shenanigans reach a fever pitch as teenagers do what teenagers have done since the dawn of time according to Hollywood and YA authors: use any event of the slightest bit of significance as an excuse to have wild parties and drink a metric farkton of alcohol. When/if the Swan sisters come back, these teens will be ripe for slaughter.
Annnnnd... I guess that leaves only trusty old Penny to save them.
Sorry teens, it was nice knowing you.
I received an ARC of this book and initially had no intention of finishing it because I looked at the reviews and compared them to the blurb and realized that rather than being the Gothic mind-flip I was expecting, it was going to be closer to something that Sarah Addison Allen would write, only with the insta-love-laden melodrama of ASHES ON THE WAVES. But this kept showing up in my feed, over and over, and everyone was like, OMG, it's so good, and I thought, "Well, they were wrong about CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, but they were right about THE BELLES, so maybe..."
Nope. There really isn't much to make this book stand out, apart from the decent writing. For 70% of the book, the story is as slow as sap sliding down a tree trunk on a cold day. In the last 30% there's finally some action, but by this point, the "sympathetic" main character has revealed herself to be an utter twit (only replace that "I" with an "A" to get the gist of my true sentiments), so I no longer cared what happened to her or if she even got a happy ending, because she had officially made my sh*t list.
Oh, and that ending - that ending was TERRIBLE and brushed aside a pretty serious issue that I felt should have been handled much better than it was. I can't say anything else about that because it's a huge spoiler, but I'll say that it involves consent and sex and yeah, what the actual hell, book.
Not sure why everyone is giving this positive buzz. I thought it was incredibly lame. I'd rather watch The Craft.
P.S. I predicted the "twist" by the end of the first chapter.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy
Writing this review makes me sad because I really wanted to love this book for several reasons. One, because I'm friends with the author on Goodreads, have chatted with her, and really like her as a person; she seems really kind, laid-back, and funny. Two, because I am in love with that cover. It seems to be paying homage to the bodice-rippers of the 1980s and 90s, which I am all for, as you probably know, being the self-professed Bodice Ripper Kahleesi. And three, the idea of a paranormal romance involving the four Horsemen of the apocalypse was a really unique idea and I wanted to support it, was hoping for something like J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood meets R. Lee Smith's Last Hour of Gann.
Instead I got, TWILIGHT meets the apocalypse.
The beginning and ending are unarguably the best parts of this book. Sara Burns, the heroine, is a firefighter who has literally drawn the short stick to stay behind and protect her town at all costs. When she sees Pestilence riding his horse, she shoots him and then lights his body on fire. To her horror, he comes for her, half-rotting and dead, and makes her his prisoner, vowing to her that as soon as he's fully healed, he intends to make her suffer. His treatment of her is so cruel, and the story plays out across all these abandoned households and ghost-towns filled with the dead. It's creepy AF.
The problem occurs with what I think of as insta-love, even though it doesn't happen instantly - Sara's attraction to Pestilence happens much too fast. I saw it coming because the descriptions of his angelic beauty were far too numerous to ignore the warning signs looming on the horizons. I certainly wasn't happy about it, though, especially since she forgives his abusive treatment of her - shooting her in the back with arrows, dragging her bound down a tarmac road while he's on horseback, etc. - remarkably quickly. One of the thing I love about R. Lee Smith's work, who also specializes in immortal love stories, is that 1) she isn't afraid to make her heroes repulsive or at least inhuman and 2) the connections that are forged between her characters unravel gradually, amidst much emotional strife. I kept thinking how much better this story might have played out in the hands of an author like that.
I did like how the apocalyptic setting brought out the worst in people, although there were several scenes that were almost identical in how they played out. These scenes gave me a taste of the grim setting I was expecting. I also liked the old couple they might at one point, and was quite moved by their story. That was one of the saddest parts of the book. As I said, the ending was also great and brought up some very interesting moral dilemmas; it also felt like a very different book from the first. It was like the author had 2 disparate ideas: one about a messed-up romance between a monster and an ordinary human girl (R. Lee Smith) and the other about a tender romance between a misunderstood and tragic figure who must be redeemed by an ordinary human girl (Stephenie Meyer). They really didn't mesh for me.
Also, Pestilence says some pretty creepy things to Sara about her not being a virgin. I quoted the thing he said in one of my status updates, but that made me really not like him, and that's supposedly after he's started to fall for her. What the hell, Pestilence? Sure, he redeemed himself in the end, but there's a pattern of creep behavior here that was never sufficiently addressed or talked through.
Overall, I found myself sadly disappointed by this book because so many people were giving it high ratings and I really wanted to enjoy it too. I can't help but feel that they read a different book than I did, as seems to be the case for a lot of these YA/NA new releases lately. I do have other books by this author on my Kindle, so I'm hoping that they might be better for me than this one. I also saw that the second book in this series is about War, so maybe a character who deals in battles will be more appealing to me than one who deals in fevers and plagues.
Thank you, Heather, for buddy-reading this with me!
I didn't post any status updates for this - stealth review!!!
When you're as busy as I am, you want to have a book on you at all times. At any given moment, I have one to two books in my purse, even if I'm just going to the hair salon. You never know when you might be kept waiting! WONDROUS STRANGE was my most recent book purse and I finished it in just two days.
I was a bit hesitant about starting this book. It came out in 2009, at the start of the post-TWILIGHT YA paranormal craze, except it's about faeries instead of vampires. These trends are cyclical and right now, faeries are popular again because you-know-who wrote you-know-what, and I honestly don't get it, because I'd take vampires over faeries any day -
But then, I figured it out.
Faeries are basically the Kardashians of the paranormal universe. They're beautiful and they have nice clothes and they command attention - but what do they do? Yes, we know that they're magical - but what do they do - apart from being larger-than-life and slightly supernatural and getting into petty squabbles for no apparent reason? We don't know. The glamor lies in the glamor (or the glamour, if you're a faerie), and from there, it just becomes a cyclical argument consisting of self-hype and pixie dust. Vampires are like the counter-culture version of vampires (so, like, I dunno what that would be in terms of pop-culture... punk rock? Grunge?); there's the whole blood thing, for start, and then there's the fact that they're dead and tied to the occult. Faeries are like the squeaky-clean version of vampires: immortal and powerful without that whole "gross and dead and bloody" thing.
Anyway, getting back to the book, the main character is a girl named Kelley who is involved with the Avalon theater company in New York. Due to a fluke, she was promoted from understudy to Queen Titania (this is called foreshadowing) in the play, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Then one day, she meets a weirdo in a park and ends up rescuing a kelpie from a pool in Central Park, and that ends up pulling her into the supernatural world of the faerie.
The Samhain gate to Faerie lies in Central Park, and the time when it opens is drawing close. The faeries are pulling their usual games of intrigue, but this time it's more malicious than usual: one of them is planning on starting up the tradition of The Wild Hunt - a ruthless band of faerie hunters who kill and raze until enough blood is spilled to satisfy them. And this time, they'll want difficult prey.
Obviously, since this is a YA paranormal book, the heroine is not all that she seems, has a secret past, blah blah blah, etc. Likewise, the hero is not all that he seems, is instantly attracted to the heroine, must betray his nature to be with her, blah blah blah, etc. By the end of the book, they are already saying "I love you" (actually, it's I love thee, which makes it extra pretentious). Because of course.
I'm not sure if I would have liked this as much if I was reading it at home, surrounded by my (infinite) array of options, but as a captive audience trapped in the middle of a very slow bus with nothing better to do, it was okay. The writing is actually very gorgeous, and I loved the way the author incorporated faerie mythology into the storyline, and interwove theater into it. Especially since I recently read another YA book about theater called ECHO AFTER ECHO, which left me wanting more.
The beginning of this book is much better than the end, however. In the beginning, I was getting total Labyrinth vibes, and this is important, because Labyrinth is the yardstick by which I judge all books about faeries and goblins. The lame insta-love and lame love interest cost this book an entire star, though. I hated Sonny. For a semi-immortal, he was incredibly immature and lame. There are boys at middle school dances with more maturity than Sonny.
All complaints aside, I liked it enough to buy the sequel (this book and the sequel are $1.99 ea. on Kindle right now), so I suppose I can't really complain. It kind of reminded me of Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series, except with a less swoon-worthy hero and fewer intrigue/action scenes.
There's an old joke about TWILIGHT that you've probably heard: that it's the story of a teenage girl's struggle between necrophilia and bestiality, hurr hurr hurr. Well, here in TWILIGHT: Team Jacob Edition - *cough* - I mean, SHIVER, Maggie Stiefvater takes that a step further by writing about a girl named Grace who has romantic feelings for the wolf in her backyard. And when I say "wolf," that's not short for werewolf - before she even finds out that he can turn human (and oh, what rapturous joy that brings), she's fantasizing about the feeling of his fur under her fingers and dreaming about his eyes. She also won't ever shut up about wolves, and chats to her two friends about wolves constantly, and then is puzzled and irritated when they want to talk about other things that aren't wolves.
I might be the only person on the continental U.S. who hated THE RAVEN BOYS, but people kept telling me to give this author another chance, and I thought, "Well, okay, I did like TWILIGHT, and Jacob was cool, so maybe this will be okay." Superficially, it's a lot like TWILIGHT - it features a heroine who is wise beyond her years with absent-minded parents who she takes care of more than they take care of her; it features a supernatural love interest who likes the way the heroine smells and must fight against his nature in order to be with her, even if it results in his own death; it features an evil werewolf who is jealous of what the heroine represents and who decides to hunt, stalk, and attempt to kill her -
You can see where I'm going with this.
But comparing SHIVER to TWILIGHT is like comparing NIKE to ADIDAS or COKE to PEPSI or CHOCOLATE to VANILLA - there is only one clear winner. And spoiler, SHIVER is not that winner. First, the werewolf love interest is so lame. At least Edward had some of that Old World patriarchal charm, even if he could come across as controlling and creepy; it was obvious why he was so attractive - he was good looking and sophisticated and mature. Sam, on the other hand, is a droopy emo boy who composes poetry while they make love, and it is bad poetry, like the kind you see on Tumblr that doesn't make any sense but for some reason has thousands of reblogs. But the main reason this book gets one star is because of the heroine: Grace.
When she's not meditating on her favorite subject - wolf-lust - she's being a raging "See You Next Tuesday" to everyone in her life. The way she talks to her parents is absolutely disgusting; she is constantly snarking at them and disrespecting them and taking over their house and their things (do you pay for those things, girlfriend? is that why you feel free to take over your dad's study and then tell him he isn't getting it back?), but when they try to implement some actual parental control, she gets all bristly, like "how they try to do their job and be parents?" It's a real catch-22. But the disrespect doesn't stop there - when she brings Sam home to meet the folks, she gets angry that her mom is nice to her boyfriend, and slut-shames her own mom. OH MY GOD, CAN YOU NOT?!
I honestly don't understand why she has friends. When she's not talking about wolves, she's brushing off her friends or being rude. Everything that comes out of her mouth - that isn't some insipid drivel about how much she looooves Sam, that is - is either mean, rude, sarcastic, or brusque. She spends a great deal of time in this book looking at people coldly or speaking coldly, especially to her parents. She's even mean to Sam, telling him to shut up several times. OMG, can she die already, please? I think the only YA character I've hated more (that I wasn't actually supposed to hate) was CATH from FANGIRL. (Yet another book that is bewilderingly popular.)
The premise behind the werewolf transformations is also incredibly lame, so bear with me because ***SPOILERS*** werewolves transform based on temperature (so the temperature is always listed right below each chapter, so you know how cold it is, hence the title, SHIVER, because it's cold, get it?? so meta, wow), and when it's cold outside they turn into wolves, and when it's hot they turn into people - only after a certain number of years, they lose the ability to turn into people and just stay wolves. While reading this, I'm asking myself, "Why are they living somewhere so cold if this happens? Why not move to California where it basically never snows unless you live in the mountains?" But the author had an answer ready for this: moving to temperate places just makes you even more sensitive to small temperature changes, and you'll transform anyway. But ***SPOILERS*** Grace was bitten by wolves as a kid and didn't turn into a werewolf, because her neglectful parents "accidentally" (I think they were actually trying to murder this demon spawn) left her in the back of a car on a 100+-degree day while she was taking a nap, and she almost died, and apparently the heat + her fever cooked the werewolfiness right out of her. I AM NOT JOKING!!! So Grace & co. get the brilliant idea of infecting Sam and this other werewolf with meningitis, so they'll get high fevers that'll cook the werewolfiness out of them, too. I am shook with stupidity. How would this work, but moving somewhere temperate doesn't, Captain Cop-Out?
I can't with this series. I'll be the first to admit that TWILIGHT is not a great book, but it was fun and addictive and didn't have self-absorbed characters wallowing around in the pretentious prose of the narrative like it was some kind of smug, self-congratulatory swimming pool.
People love to ask that question: what would you do if you had a billion dollars? The first thing I'd do is start a scholarship in my name and then probably donate money to the local schools. The second thing I'd do is spend way too much money on ebooks that I'm not going to read. I AM SO BAD AT READING THE BOOKS I ALREADY OWN - and yet, like a magpie, I'm constantly on the lookout for more lovely, shiny books to feather my nest.
UNDER A RAGING MOON is one of those books. I snagged it from the freebie section of the Kindle store, along with a selection of other works by this author. I'd liked most of what I'd read by V.J. Chambers, with one exception - although, with this particular book, there's a catch... it's a serial. Meaning only the first book is free. Subsequent installments in the series must be paid for. I have always sneered slightly at serials - it seems like the book equivalent of a "freemium" app.
I know what you're thinking. "Nenia, you got a book for free and you're going to complain about it?"
Piper is a private detective (who is also a werewolf) currently investigating this man (who is also a werewolf) whose girlfriend died. She had a necklace, which was a family heirloom with magical Werewolfy Powers™ and the parents of the dead girlfriend want it back. Also, it's worth mentioning that werewolf man's name is Kale, like the vegetable. KALE.
Her plan to get into his house to steal the necklace is to sabotage her own car, flaunt her assets (and breastets - old joke, I know), and then finagle an invitation to spend the night in his guestroom by playing the helpless girl. Only Kale - *snort* - seems determined to resist her.
Weirdly, she's also attracted to the repairman of the tow truck, who is NOT immune to her charms, and they almost end up doing it in the front seat of his car. There's this weirdly uncomfortable, predatory vibe at first that gave me horrific flashbacks to the ONE and only Alexa Riley book I read, which involved alternative forms of payment in exchange for services rendered, and suddenly I was like, "OH GOD, THIS IS GONNA TURN INTO SOME SORT OF WEIRD BREEDING EROTICA." Because I have been down that road, and it's a dark and scary road.
But no, this was not breeding erotica.
Honestly, for what it was, there were some pretty hot scenes in here. I also liked that it appears to be set in the same universe as her other werewolf series, Cole & Dana, because I really liked THE KILLING MOON - although the shortness of the book kind of just made me wish that I was reading that book instead. But hey, it's free, and it's inoffensive. How often can you say that of a book found in the freebie section? Word of warning, though: it ends on a major cliffhanger.
I have a love-hate relationship with reading challenges. On the one hand, sometimes I find new gems I never would have thought to pick up otherwise (for example, this year's challenge led me to discover a new favorite author, V.J. Chambers). On the other hand, sometimes they have me scrambling around in the Daily Deals/Free sections of the Kindle Store in a panic, desperately seeking free or cheap books to complete a category I do not like.
MUST LOVE GHOSTS sort of falls into the later category. I went through this very brief period in college where I was reading romances that fell more on the supernatural side of the paranormal romance fence, i.e. psychics, realistic ghost novels, etc. I liked them because they felt more plausible than werewolves, because it's easier to believe in inexplicable occurrences in an old house than it is a hulking GQ model who turns into a furry once a month. (And no, I have nothing against furries or GQ models.) Then I got sick of them and haven't picked up another since...UNTIL NOW.
I picked up MUST LOVE GHOSTS two Halloweens ago because I thought the jack-o-lantern satchel on the cover was cute. The premise was also intriguing. Abby is a girl who lives in a small Virginia town called Banshee Creek that is rife with history. It's a destination location for those interested in the occult and paranormal and many who live there have built their lives around capitalizing on that. Not Abby, though, who's a singer in a folk/country band (although not by choice). This whole time she's been trying to get over the grief of losing her fiance in Afghanistan.
Mike was a friend to both Abby and Cole, the fiance. He's also been in love with her since the day he met her and has tried to hide his feelings out of respect to both his friends. Now that Cole has been dead for two years, though, it's getting harder - especially because he has to deliver an important momento to Abby that he's been holding onto her for years, from Cole. What makes hiding his feelings even more difficult is the possibility that they might not be unrequited.
This was a pretty good story, honestly. It doesn't have a very significant paranormal element. Most of the story focuses on Mike and Abby and their growing attraction to one another, set against the backdrop of this small town vibe. The writing was solid and I don't think I spotted any typos. Both characters felt real in a way that romance characters sometimes don't, by which I mean they are annoying human beings. Mike, especially, got on my nerves with his Debbie Downer routine, and the fact that he was constantly playing Officer Safety, and telling everyone, "that's not safe!" I'm the same way, but he even got on my nerves - and that says something.
MUST LOVE GHOSTS is a fun, light read though. It kind of reminds me of those "cozy mysteries." There isn't a lot of tension and it's mostly written for light entertainment and feeling good. I think this would be a good rainy-day read in a warm, cafe setting. Possibly with a cinnamon flavored pastry.