Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of 2014

2014 was a rough year for me. In more ways than one. I spent 11 months of the year either in severe back pain, or recovering from back surgery (in fact I'm still recovering). I didn't get as much reading done as I'd like, and I'm sure I've left a lot of good books sit on the shelf for longer than they deserve.

I think this year's Best of list is going to be shorter than normal, but there were a few amazingly stand-out books for me. Because the books list is going to be a bit shorter I think I'll include some of the excellent movies that have stuck with me, too.


Here are the book stats: (Through The Caller)
83 Read Books
39 Re-Read Books
44 New-to-Me Books

Of those 46 New-to-Me Books, there were:
11 Five-Star Reads
6 Four-Star Reads
12 Three-Star Reads
4 Two-Star Reads
11 One-Star Reads (8 of which were DNFs)

This was an incredibly slow reading year for me. I'm used to reading twice this number. And though the majority of the four and five star reads came from favorite authors there were a few surprises, too. A couple of new authors even jumped onto my auto-buy/favorite list...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review: Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

Title: Providence of Fire
Author: Brian Staveley
Series: Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne, Book 2
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: 13 January 2015

The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over.

Having learned the identity of her father's assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy. Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire's most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable.

Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.

I finished this book several hours ago. I feel sure that if I were to wait another year I still wouldn't have the words necessary to begin to do it justice. I struggled with the review for The Emperor's Blades, partly because fantasy is my home in genre reading, but mostly because I had no idea how my mere words could stand up to the beauty and majesty that was created by Brian Staveley. I face a similar, or worse, problem now. In The Emperor's Blades I fell in love with the Malkeenians and their world. I walked with them every step of their struggle, journey, surprise, and betrayal. In Providence of Fire I was taken several (hundred) steps further.

We see so much more of the wide world in this book, so much more of the tapestry is filled in. The travels of our main characters take us to the far reaches of the kingdom, and beyond. Every step taught us something new about the world, and about the people in it. I always had such a beautiful sense of place while reading. I could see the steppes, feel the heat from the Everburning Well, taste the glacial water, the smell of smoke wafted to my nose as I read. Every single word, description and scene pulled me further in and immersed me.

As I traveled with the characters I've grown to love so much, I was present as they faced impossible odds, terrifying obstacles, and painful decisions, along with the occasional glorious victory. I can't say much about the actual journey that is taken, the twists and turns, the compelling cases presented. Suffice it to say that I was on the edge of my seat, never sure what to believe, never sure who - if anyone - I could trust. I began repeating a litany to myself of 'Trust No One'. I'm not sure, even now, if I've been fooled once, twice, or many, many times. I have theories on top of theories, speculations that I can barely piece together, and hopes - oh so many hopes - for the third book, for everyone in these pages that has come to mean so much to me.

And there are so many characters I'm invested in. Valyn, Kaden, and Adare continue to be the primary POV characters; the ones that we're following on this mission to save the empire, their family, and their people. As I rushed through the pages of this book I was surprised - though I'm not sure why - at how much I was invested in all three of them. Though I fretted every time I left one, I was immediately anxious to see what was going on with the next. I struggled next to these three as they made decisions that weren't simply between 'right' and 'wrong' but between 'wrong' and 'less-wrong'. Sometimes there was no good answer. There's a quote in the book that I think encapsulates everything all three struggle with:

It had been a long time since he'd felt as though he had a true choice...each decision looked like the wrong one now, but at the time they hadn't seemed like decisions at all. Instead of contemplating a series of forking paths, [he] felt as though he'd been racing a treacherous track, just a half step ahead of his foes, no time to look either back or forward.

It's not just the Malkeenians, but people on all sides of the conflict that have difficult choices to make. Even when I railed against some of the decisions made, I understood why they were being made. It seems a long time since I've been able to say that there are at least a dozen additional characters that I'm truly invested in. Pyrre, Rampuri Tan, Ran il Tornja, Triste, Gwenna, Talal, Laith, Annick and a few new ones that I won't name and risk spoiling anyone's surprise. Each of them has found a place in - if not my heart, then my mind. I can't stop thinking about all of them.

Brian Staveley weaves beauty with his words, ensnaring the senses and filling the surrounding air with the world he's created. I'm in awe of his ability and I look forward to everything to come in his career. Most especially, right now, the third book in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne series.

Grade: A+

Now. I think I'm off to re-read The Emperor's Blades and then Providence of Fire, again.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Title: Golden Son
Author: Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising Trilogy, Book 2
Genre: Dystopia / Science-Fiction
Release Date: 6 January 2014

With shades of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and Game of Thrones, debut author Pierce Brown’s genre-defying epic Red Rising hit the ground running and wasted no time becoming a sensation. Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom.

As a Red, Darrow grew up working the mines deep beneath the surface of Mars, enduring backbreaking labor while dreaming of the better future he was building for his descendants. But the Society he faithfully served was built on lies. Darrow’s kind have been betrayed and denied by their elitist masters, the Golds—and their only path to liberation is revolution. And so Darrow sacrifices himself in the name of the greater good for which Eo, his true love and inspiration, laid down her own life. He becomes a Gold, infiltrating their privileged realm so that he can destroy it from within.

A lamb among wolves in a cruel world, Darrow finds friendship, respect, and even love—but also the wrath of powerful rivals. To wage and win the war that will change humankind’s destiny, Darrow must confront the treachery arrayed against him, overcome his all-too-human desire for retribution—and strive not for violent revolt but a hopeful rebirth. Though the road ahead is fraught with danger and deceit, Darrow must choose to follow Eo’s principles of love and justice to free his people.

He must live for more.

I rarely email publishers directly for review books, but I had no problem begging for this one. I was ecstatic when I came home from vacation to find it in my mailbox! Ever since first finishing Red Rising about a year ago, I was dying for this book - anxious to see what happened with Darrow next, with Mustang and Sevro and all the rest. I tried to caution myself, don't get your hopes too high, there's no way he can live up to the first book, but it didn't really work. I went into Golden Son fully expecting it to blow me away and be one of my favorite books of both 2014 (when I read it) and 2015 (when it's released).

For seven hundred years, my people have been enslaved without voice, without hope. Now I am their sword. And I do not forgive. I do not forget. So let him lead me onto his shuttle. Let him think he owns me. Let him welcome me into his house, so I might burn it down.

'Lo and behold - I was right. Golden Son left me feeling just as battered and emotionally compromised as its predecessor. I'm now even more invested in these characters, something I didn't really think was possible, and loved seeing the world further expanded. I'm not going to say too much specifically about plot and the overall arc of the story, because I don't want to spoil anyone. What I will say is that this book felt different than Red Rising. The former was very contained - within the Institute, for example - and we only got the barest bit of a peek at the wider world(s). I never felt a lack because there wasn't one, we knew everything we needed to then know, but when you get into Golden Son you realize just how small the picture you saw was. There's so much more going on. The politics are VERY prominent in this book, and there's a lot of chess-like moves happening from multiple directions.

Eo would say this is the hell they've built their heaven upon. And she'd be right. Gazing up, I see more than half a kilometer of tenement buildings before the polluted haze makes a ceiling for the human jungle. Clotheslines and electrical lines crisscross overhead like vines. This sight is hopeless. What is there to change here but everything?

The writing is just as evocative and gripping as it was in Red Rising - though again you can feel the difference as Darrow's world expands and the need for him to grow continues. I was utterly enthralled as I was reading, involved in the story and concerned about the characters and still I'd have to stop and admire a bit of beautiful writing - frequently. Pierce Brown's writing is brilliant, simply beautiful, captivating and gripping.

Reading back through my updates while I was reading this, I am reminded exactly how on edge this book kept me. Throughout reading I just wanted a moment to catch my breath. I couldn't stop, I couldn't believe it; I resented work and sleep for interfering with my reading. There was one amazing scene after another - whether that be emotionally, revelatory, or tension-filled suspensefully - I was shocked as hell more than once. Darrow has evolved into his role, thinking many moves beyond almost everyone else, he's quite simply brilliant. I loved seeing that he's still not perfect. He continues to learn, continues to make mistakes, and continues to learn from them (even if he's not able to do anything about it, he knows it's a mistake). Time and time again, I was on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, trying to avoid racing through the text to find out what happens. There are twists and turns aplenty, revelations that blew my mind, and enough building suspense to give me heart failure.

When falls the Iron Rain, be brave. Be brave.

I can't not talk about Sevro, a favorite from Red Rising and he gets plenty of showtime in Golden Son (though it felt like forever for him to actually appear the first time). He's the perfect counterpoint to Darrow. He keeps him on the level and I loved seeing their relationship develop, in some surprising new directions, too.

My OTP (one-true-pairing) is going to break me. I just know it. I resorted to nearly begging that Pierce Brown not do this to me. Already my heart is so enamoured and wrapped up in them that I...well, just read it. I still can't even talk about it. In addition to many of the characters we fell in love with in Red Rising there's quite a few new characters that showed up to pique my interest and steal my heart.

"But they ask me about you. They ask if the boy warlord is really four meters tall. Is he really followed by a wolfpack? Is he a worldbreaker?"

"And what do you say?"

"I said you are five meters tall, you're followed by a midget and a giant, and you eat glass with your eggs."

One last thing to mention - that ending. Holy.Shit. Talk about ending on a cliff-hanger. I thought I was dying for Golden Son? I didn't even begin to know what need was. I need the third book. I can't even...I just don't know....ARGH! What is going to happen???!!

Several weeks after finishing this book, I haven't stopped thinking about it. I'm getting ready to start a re-read of Red Rising and Golden Son and I know it won't be the only time in 2015 that I end up re-reading them.

Long story short: If you haven't read Red Rising, please, go buy it; if you've been waiting for Golden Son, it's a hell of a ride - I feel confident saying that you're going to love it.

Grade: A

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Review: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

Title: Burn for Me
Author: Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy, Book 1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 28 October 2014

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

It's hard for favorite authors, they have so much expectation to live up to. Ever since I picked up Magic Bites several years ago, I've been in love with everything I've ever read by Ilona Andrews. Some a slight bit more than others, but always absolutely enthralled and excited for more. They've built these amazingly imaginative worlds that I just want to go live in. So Burn for Me had a high bar set for it when I first started it. And it, mostly, lived up to the level of expectation I'd put on this new world and characters.

I'm just going to go ahead and get my one quibble out of the way - the world-building wasn't as solid as I was hoping. Oh, all the pieces are there; ready to be molded and explained, ready to be doled out bit by bit to make me see the bigger picture....but here, and now, I was left floundering a bit. I have questions that I felt like should have been answered. And maybe they were - maybe this is all me, and not the book (in which case I'll eat my criticism), but I stumbled a few times trying to figure out the exact rules.

You see, a serum was developed a couple of hundred years ago and it gave people magical abilities. Of course, we humans didn't think about something so trivial as repercussions. Our motto is, after all, More power. Some short (I assume anyway) time later those pesky consequences started to show up and the serum use was curtailed (I think). So now you have magic users trying to hold onto the magic, mating with other magic users, creating dynasties - or Houses - that hold the power of magic within the cities. I got the feeling that magic abilities were supposed to be fairly rare in this society, because it's been so concentrated and bred to exclusion; and yet it seemed like every person we met had some sort of magical ability. It confused me. Are the magic users rare? Or common? If they're rare, then I get the point of technology still being pretty much where we are - complete with smartphones, tablets, automobiles etc., but if they're as common as our meetings seem to suggest then I have to wonder why the heck technology has developed as much as it has. I would have thought there'd be some stronger effect on the development of our world in the last couple centuries with magic having such a stronghold on the citizens. It's one small thing, but it niggled at the back of my mind the entire time I was reading. I think that I'm right in saying magic users are rare - despite what we see - but I'd love to get a better idea of the ratio of magic-users to regular-folk.

Now onto everything I loved!

1. Nevada Baylor: She's so utterly loyal, snarky, sarcastic, grounded, and fun that I loved her immediately. When her back is against a wall, she doesn't go down without a fight. She sticks to her guns, has her morals and ethics, and is just a genuinely good person. I like her so much that her obvious specialness didn't even bother me. It was reasonable that it snuck up on her, and I'm incredibly interested in seeing how this develops in this world.

2. The Baylor Family: Ilona Andrews have always done an amazing job writing realistic relationships - not just romances, but also friends and family. The interactions between Nevada and her mother, grandmother, cousin Bern, and sisters is so utterly realistic. There is obvious love and comfort between them. The good-natured ribbing and joking made me laugh more than once.

3. "Mad" Rogan: I love him. So sue me. I know there's something wrong with me that I am so ridiculously attracted to someone that's so freaking powerful, arrogant, cocky, and borderline sociopathic (c'mon, it's not like you couldn't have seen this coming what with my love for Barrons - who is the uber-alphahole). I don't care. He's sexy, and I want more of him.

4. The Magic System: The magic history is fascinating - I simply want more of it. All the different levels of magic users, the Houses that rule...well, the world, and the different types of magic that's possible. It's so interesting. I can't wait to see everything expanded in the next books.

5. Storyline: I have to admit that I was sold from the first moment that the flames started to fly. Though we knew the antagonist for much of the book, it was clear that there was more to the story - and I was anxious to find out what was going on. I do think that the reveal at the end was slightly anti-climactic, revealed almost in passing. But it does set up the over-arcing plot quite nicely.

6. The Slow-Burn Romance: I'm a huge sucker for this romantic development. There's a bit of a pride-and-prejudice story here, enemies-to-lovers, and a whole hell of a lot of sexual tension. SO MUCH sexual tension. It's killing me actually. I need MORE. Right now there is a huge imbalance of power, but Ilona Andrews has never let me down in that regard so I'm really excited to see this relationship develop even more.

I hope the next book is coming out soon. I always anxiously await the next Ilona Andrews' book...and I can already see that this series is going to be the same. I'm clearly already obsessed. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Grade: A-/B+

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Review: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Title: Finnikin of the Rock
Author: Melina Marchetta
Series: Lumatere Chronicles, Book 1
Genre: (Light) Fantasy
Release Date: 6 April 2010

Finnikin of the Rock and his guardian, Sir Topher, have not been home to their beloved Lumatere for ten years. Not since the dark days when the royal family was murdered and the kingdom put under a terrible curse. But then Finnikin is summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young woman with an incredible claim: the heir to the throne of Lumatere, Prince Balthazar, is alive.

Evanjalin is determined to return home and she is the only one who can lead them to the heir. As they journey together, Finnikin is affected by her arrogance . . . and her hope. He begins to believe he will see his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, again. And that their cursed people will be able to enter Lumatere and be reunited with those trapped inside. He even believes he will find his imprisoned father.

But Evanjalin is not what she seems. And the truth will test not only Finnikin's faith in her . . . but in himself.

This was a hard book for me to rate, and I think my expectations had a lot to do with my disappointments. There were some aspects of it that were wonderful, and others that were much less so. I'll definitely read on in the series - no matter how averse I may be to the main character (in the next book), but this didn't Wow me as much as I was expecting. I'm going to try a bullet-point review because I just don't know how else to do this without going completely spoilery, or getting derailed by tangents.

Things Marchetta does Well:

1. Emotions. Good lord, the emotions that she pulled out of me in this book. Especially in regards to Trevanion and Beatriss' romance. Throughout the book she made me feel the despair, the hope, the worry, the anger, and the love. Every moment of it was real and filled with feeling.

2. Characters. Evanjalin, Finnikin, Trevanion, Sir Topher...all of them are fascinatingly real. They make mistakes, they have fears, and hopes, they try and keep pushing. Even when I wanted to shake some of them (okay, nearly all of them at some point or another), I still felt connected to them on a very visceral level. Except...for a particular character - whom I'm not sure can be redeemed in my eyes. I did ask while reading, in a status update, if Finnikin was really that thick....Answer: Yes. Yes, he is.

3. Interactions. Everything that happens between characters feel so utterly real. And this ties into the last point, but it's amazing to me that looking back I still feel so invested in these characters and their relationships with each other.

Things Marchetta does Okay:

4. So, the fantasy aspect of this is lacking for me. The "magic" is of the plot-device variety. It's there to do what it has to do, but never really feels like a vivid part of the world. Or most of it doesn't. The dream-walking was well integrated and interesting. I enjoyed that. But the curse? Meh. It was just there as a catalyst, quickly and (a bit too) easily removed in the end.

Things Marchetta Fumbles:

5. Plot. The entire plot rests on the premise of secrets and lies. One secret after another. And while it kept me turning pages, I was kind of irritated in the end that there were lies peppered in there as well. I was irritated that the truth just wasn't good enough. If a person can't make the right choice with the truth, then should their choice with a lie be trusted?

In the end, I enjoyed the story, but I have a few problems when looking back. But, first and foremost, I'm a character reader, and Marchetta does excel in all aspects of that. They're not cardboard cutouts, they're real, with all the positives and negatives that we, ourselves, hold within us. And that's something I can relate to and love.

I almost want to do a whole section with spoiler thoughts, but I think I'll refrain for now.

Grade: C+

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review: Whisper of Sin by Nalini Singh

Title: Whisper of Sin
Author: Nalini Singh
Series: Psy/Changeling, Book 0.6
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Release Date: 25 February 2014

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh returns to her phenomenal Psy-Changeling world as a woman in peril finds herself in the arms of a dangerously beautiful shapeshifter…

San Francisco is under threat from a violent gang…a gang that has no idea who they’re challenging. The DarkRiver pack of leopard changelings has already claimed the city as their territory, and they will fight with wild fury to protect its residents. Emmett, a lethally trained leopard soldier, isn’t about to let outsiders muscle in on his home ground—especially when they target a human named Ria.

Emmett has one word for the smart stranger with her curvy body and tough spirit: mine.

Possessive, dominant, unyielding in his demands and desires, Emmett is unlike anyone Ria has ever before met. But while the sexy leopard changeling makes her body ignite, his kisses molten and his touch addicting, she’s no pushover and she has a few demands of her own. This leopard has met his match…

"Please note that Whisper of Sin is a reissue. It was first published in the multi-author anthology, Burning Up. This is the worldwide stand-alone ebook release for those who wanted to buy only this novella from the anthology.

For those of you who have Wild Invitation, this novella wasn't in that collection." - Nalini Singh

I read this originally when it first came out in the Burning Up anthology and, as always, adored any time that we get to spend within the Psy/Changeling world.

This novella takes us back and shows how DarkRiver began to exert it's claim on San Francisco, slowly - and more importantly, subtly - eroding the control of the Psy. When Ria's attacked one night on her way home because her family refused to pay the protection money of a new gang in town, Emmett steps up. After he and Dorian rescue her while on their patrols, it's clear that DarkRiver's right to hold the city is being threatened. If they don't take care of the gang, and soon, they'll lose their right and other predatory changelings can come in, trying to take over.

Ria thinks that's all Emmett wants to be close to her for - to protect her. But he has far more delicious thoughts in mind.

I enjoyed the banter between them, the progression of their relationship, and the fact that Ria stands up to Emmett - not letting him run all over her. Emmett, for his part, is eminently sweet.

I also really love the way Nalini Singh slides in little tidbits on how the relationships work between Humans and Changelings (or Psy and Changelings, Psy/Human, etc) - things like perfume, or how to have private conversations. Small details that make everything seem so much more real.

Nalini Singh is one of the few authors that I have consistently trusted to provide me with a fun, romantic, and sexy novella. This is no exception to that rule.

Grade: B

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Review: The Caller by Juliet Marillier

Title: The Caller
Author: Juliet Marillier
Series: Shadowfell, Book 1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: 9 September 2014

In the final book in this gripping, romantic fantasy trilogy perfect for fans of Robin McKinley, Kristin Cashore, and Shannon Hale, Neryn’s band of rebels reach their climactic confrontation with the king. The stunning conclusion to the story that began with Shadowfell and Raven Flight is full of romance, intrigue, magic, and adventure.

Just one year ago, Neryn had nothing but a canny skill she barely understood and a faint dream that the legendary rebel base of Shadowfell might be real. Now she is the rebels’ secret weapon, and their greatest hope for survival, in the fast-approaching ambush of King Keldec at Summerfort.

The fate of Alban itself is in her hands. But to be ready for the bloody battle that lies ahead, Neryn must first seek out two more fey Guardians to receive their tutelage. Meanwhile, her beloved, Flint, has been pushed to his breaking point as a spy in the king’s court—and is arousing suspicion in all the wrong quarters.

At stake lies freedom for the people of Alban, a life free from hiding for the Good Folk—and a chance for Flint and Neryn to finally be together.

I'm finding this, the final book in the Shadowfell series, a bit hard to review. Ever since first picking up Shadowfell and being introduced to Neryn, and the land of Alban that she inhabited, I was invested in this story. I grew to love the characters, the world, the magic the permeated it. My heart was with them as they were crushed under the tyrannical rule of King Keldec. My hopes lifted with the rebellion. Trust came with difficulty - and in fits and starts. I began to see how it could be done.

Raven's Flight lifted me even higher. With a tighter story, the stakes raised, and my heart already connected to the characters and the world, I bit my nails as I raced through the book. I knew the entire time I was reading it that I wouldn't get the climax and resolution that I so wanted, because there was one more book to come. But I couldn't help but needing to know how Neryn, and everyone else I loved was. Were we any closer to the freedom that Alban so deserved?

When I finished Raven's Flight I had no idea how I was going to manage the wait to The Caller. Somehow, with a few re-reads thrown in, I managed it. And it was definitely worth the wait. The Caller was, nearly, everything I could have asked for in a concluding chapter of this story I'd become so intensely invested in. And if this review were to be about the first 95% of the book I would have easily given it ALL the stars, an A+, everything I could have.

There was tension that kept me on the edge of my seat, enough emotion to have me near tears, characters that I ached for - that I wanted to simply have the peace and happiness they so deserved. Everything I could have possibly asked for upon finishing Raven's Flight was in The Caller. I could find no fault with it what-so-ever. Because of spoilery reasons I'm having a hard time talking about everything I loved. There were shocks, and drama, hard choices, and good instincts. Every decision was hard made and thought over. Neryn and company realized the possible ramifications of their choices and made the conscious choice to deal with those consequences, if need be. I loved them for that. Things aren't always easy, there's not always a right answer; sometimes you just have to do the best you can with what you have.

Then came the climax - as fraught with tension and hope as it should be. Sorrow and joy. Love and hate. It was all there for the taking. My emotions were in a whirlwind of ups and downs. I was both proud of and terrified for Neryn. She had accomplished so much - could she and her rebels do this last, biggest, thing? When it was over I think I breathed for the first time in 20 minutes.

Five percent of the book left to tie everything up - and this is where I'm left slightly disappointed. How can you possibly tie up everything that these characters, this world, have been through in just a single chapter? With a hint, a hint of what could be, what might be. It wasn't enough for me. There's too much left to be decided, too much left to be done. Yes, I can imagine it for myself, but I would have liked more. More time to catch my breath, relax into new reality, and see where things were going to go now. It's really hard to get into this without spoilers....I felt I only got to see part of the resolution, not the entirety. There's a lot of doubt left in my mind about where things are heading, and after how much I came to care for so many of these characters - I want more surety.

So. How to grade a novel that had me breathless throughout, and then left me feeling let down at the very, very last bit of the end. It's such a minor thing, the denouement of the novel, the place where it all comes to conclusion. Usually, I'm one that will say "less is more" here. Don't show and tell me everything - let me imagine it for myself. But here, I think, there was a little too much left to imagination. And, yet, this book - and especially this series is SO worth reading. I'd highly recommend it to anyone that has a love for fantasy and great characters. After all, Juliet Marillier only left me wanting more.

Grade: A

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Review: Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh

Title: Heart of Obsidian
Author: Nalini Singh
Series: Psy/Changeling, Book 12
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Release Date: 4 June 2013

A dangerous, volatile rebel, hands stained bloodred.
A woman whose very existence has been erased.
A love story so dark, it may shatter the world itself.
A deadly price that must be paid.
The day of reckoning is here.

From “the alpha author of paranormal romance” (Booklist) comes the most highly anticipated novel of her career—one that blurs the line between madness and genius, between subjugation and liberation, between the living and the dead.

I didn't have words enough to write a proper review of this the first couple of times I read it. And I'm not sure it's going to be much better this time. The problem that I'm having is that I refuse to spoil who the heroes are. No one knew prior to cracking open the book and diving in - did we have our suspicions? Heck yeah, and I was happy that I was right - but I think the joy of each reader discovering that for themselves is something beautiful.

I'll do my best though. With everything fresh in my mind, I think I can manage something other a bit more specific than my previous thoughts.

For eleven books now we've been watching as the battle for the very lives of the Psy in the PsyNet was fought - in shadows and secret, against humans and changelings and even the Psy themselves - this war was touching everyone, every group, on the planet.

It all comes to a head in Heart of Obsidian.

Nalini Singh skillfully brings us to the main resolution of the overriding story-arc that's driven each story in the books (including this one). There's still story to be told - have no fear - but this is the climax. Everything comes to a head, loyalties are tested, results are gathered, moves are made and nothing will ever be the same.

I've always loved Nalini's ability to build such an intricate and real world that I'm invested in it completely. How they're all tangled up together and actions taken by one can affect so many. There's no isolated group that's not affected, but a whole - depending on the careful and fair balance of the world that is their own as well.

The main characters are amazing - probably my favorites of all time. My heart broke for them many times - as expected - but was also filled to bursting as they came closer together, healing each other and themselves of hurts that were previously thought to go too deep.

We get a lot of little glimpses of other characters that we fell in love with in previous books, but even saying much more than that will be a hint as to whose story this is.

If you love the Psy-Changeling world, you're going to read this and you're going to (likely) be as excited as I was for it...and you're going to love it.

If you haven't read the Psy-Changeling series - why not? Give it a try, it's well worth it.

I guess this isn't much better than my previous review. I may as well end it the same: Nalini Singh's best novel yet. My favorite book in the series. Period. No contestation. I loved every minute. Easily in my Top 10 favorite books of all-time.

Grade: A+

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review: Archangel's Shadows by Nalini Singh

Title: Archangel's Shadows
Author: Nalini Singh
Series: Guild Hunters, Book 7
Genre: Paranormal Romance / Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 28 October 2014
Source: From publisher in exchange for an honest review

Return to New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh’s sensual and painfully beautiful Guild Hunter world in her new novel of sacrifice, loyalty, and the choices of love that can shatter the heart.

In the wake of a brutal war, the archangel Raphael and his hunter consort, Elena, are dealing with the treacherously shifting tides of archangelic politics and the people of a battered but not broken city. The last thing their city needs is more death, especially a death that bears the eerie signature of an insane enemy archangel who cannot— should not—be walking the streets.

This hunt must be undertaken with stealth and without alerting their people. It must be handled by those who can become shadows themselves…

Ash is a gifted tracker and a woman cursed with the ability to sense the secrets of anyone she touches. But there’s one man she knows all too well without a single instant of skin contact: Janvier, the dangerously sexy Cajun vampire who has fascinated and infuriated her for years. Now, as they track down a merciless killer, their cat-and-mouse game of flirtation and provocation has turned into a profound one of the heart. And this time, it is Ash’s secret, dark and terrible, that threatens to destroy them both.

Look at that cover? Isn't it GORGEOUS? I love the art for this series - so much that I've bought a print of one of the covers. Tony Mauro does excellent work, capturing the feel of the books along with the little details - enough to make me believe that I'm looking at the characters I'm reading about. I love that. This one has a ton of little details that come directly from the book and it made me giddy after I was done reading to go look at it and see them there. So much fun.

Ever since Angels' Pawn I've been looking forward to reading more about Ashwini and Janvier - even while I loved every single book in between, I still asked each time I met Nalini Singh when we were going to get more of these fantastic characters.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Giveaway & Excerpt: The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood

Title: The Younger Gods
Author: Michael R. Underwood
Series: Younger Gods, Book 1
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 13 October 2014

Jacob Greene was a sweet boy raised by a loving, tight-knit family...of cultists. He always obeyed, and was so trusted by them that he was the one they sent out on their monthly supply run (food, medicine, pig fetuses, etc.).

Finding himself betrayed by them, he flees the family's sequestered compound and enters the true unknown: college in New York City. It's a very foreign place, the normal world and St. Mark's University. But Jacob's looking for a purpose in life, a way to understand people, and a future that breaks from his less-than-perfect past. However, when his estranged sister arrives in town to kick off the apocalypse, Jacob realizes that if he doesn't gather allies and stop the family's prophecy of destruction from coming true, nobody else will...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Release and Giveaway: He's So Fine by Jill Shalvis

Happy Release Day!!

Scroll down to enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway

Title: He's So Fine
Author: Jill Shalvis
Series: Lucky Harbor, Book 11
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: 30 September 2014

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

Title: Trial by Fire
Author: Josephine Angelini
Series: Worldwalker Trilogy, Book 1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: 2 September 2014
Source: From publisher in exchange for an honest review

Love burns. Worlds collide. Magic reigns.

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying experiences that others in her hometown of Salem take for granted, which is why she is determined to enjoy her first high school party with her best friend and longtime crush, Tristan. But after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class, Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly, Lily is in a different Salem—one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruelest of them all is Lillian . . . Lily's other self in this alternate universe.

What makes Lily weak at home is what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. In this confusing world, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone and a love she never expected.

I requested this book because: WITCHES. SALEM WITCHES. It beckons to me like a siren in the sea. I can't resist. I can't fight. So, I didn't even bother. I'd never read Josephine Angelini before and I had no idea what to expect. I hoped the book would be good, but I wasn't about to let my expectations get too high. I've been burned before.

And then I met Lily. Lily of the horrible allergies, unpopular at school yet comfortable (mostly) in her own skin. She's confident and sure of herself. She knows that she deserves respect - and she demands it. The opinions of those that don't matter to her, quite simply don't really concern her. She gives credit where it's due, and blame as well. Even if that's on herself. She takes responsibility for her actions and isn't afraid to do difficult things to uphold her convictions. What a breath of fresh air. I loved Lily immediately. I related to her. She feels so incredibly real. How many times do you meet a heroine - especially in young adult - where she is wronged by a guy and she just writes his behavior off? Too many to count, I know. So when Lily told Tristan off, ended their friendship, and walked away from him - all within the first ten percent of the book - I nearly cheered. Trust me, he deserved it. Jerk. This is all when she's just a sick girl who thinks that soon she'll be living in a plastic bubble, unable to go to school, to keep her safe from the world that's trying to kill her. Still she knows she deserves better than what that mrphprh is trying to do to her.

Then she gets to the other Salem. The one where witches and magic fuel everything instead of using the natural resources as we do. Science there is far behind our world's because witches can do everything scientists do, and they do it intuitively, without the need for extra equipment. Seeing into an atom, into the quarks? No problem. Get a witch. They control everything, from the creation of food parts, the harvesting of vegetables and the distribution of electricity. Alternatively, there's the fact that instead of billions of residents...there's only thirteen cities in this world. Everything else is the Wild, overrun with magically engineered super-beasts, an experiment gone horribly wrong, that are completely out of control and hunt humans that dare to go out of the walled cities. At the very top of this power structure is the head witch, Lillian - Lily's double, her other self and the one who brought her to this world - killing all scientists, hanging and executing at will. No one understands why she's doing this. It all started about a year ago, but she's not to be deterred. She'll kill every last person that disagrees.

I've got to talk about Lillian for a moment. First, let me give you a bit of her introduction:

Yes, fire has teeth, and it chews at you like a living, breathing animal. It even roars like an animal. When you're in its mouth, you have to fight for air. Fire, like a lion, likes to suffocate its prey. [...]

I remember what I must do, even if it makes me the villain of my own story. Most importantly, I remember that the good of the many really does outweigh the good of the few. Even if one of those few is me. [...]

This girl I'm about to steal has no concept of loss. She doesn't understand the difference between infatuation and love. That's a good thing. I don't want her broken like me. I want her wounded, yes, but stronger for it. There comes a day when every girl loses the stars in her eyes. And then she can see clearly.

This is Lily's day.
**emphasis mine**

Holy. Crap. Making herself the villain of her own story. What reasons could she have for this? Why must she be the villain? Why does she need Lily? All of these questions, and more, were coursing through my mind, begging to be answered. And as I got to know Lillian, and her world, I began to see, to understand, a little bit more. Lillian is one of the best villains I've read in a good long time.

Though there are more than a few other characters in the book that I, at turns, loved, hated, despised, or was rooting for, there's only one other one that I'm going to take the time to talk about now. Because, like Lily, instead of being a one-note character that follows every annoying convention out there, Rowan defied my expectations time and time again. When he's helping Lily get feeling back in her legs and she gets embarrassed, jerking away from him, he flat out tells her that she only has to tell him to stop, and he always will. Then he goes and apologizes to her for being a jerk when they first met (and he thought she was Lillian). He APOLOGIZED. Flat out, no excuses or anything. Just "I'm sorry I was so horrible to you when we first met." I need more heroes like Rowan. A little cynical and guarded with his heart, but compassionate, kind, caring, willing to compromise, apologize, help, listen to reason, cautious, willing to give due where it's deserved, and never strong-arm someone into doing it 'his way.' Plus he totally kicks ass and is smart. Yes, I definitely need more.

You may, or may not, know that characters are what I live for. Give me excellent characters and I'll overlook a lot of flaws in the world or plot. Lucky me, I didn't have to overlook anything here. Second to characters only is the world. Create a fantasy world that I can get lost in, that makes sense and I can understand, and I'm all in. One different decision, piled on another different decision perhaps, and another and another, and then there's this world that's so vastly different from ours and yet contains so many of the same people, and is somewhat eerily similar. Who would you be in this different world? Who should you be if you show up there?

And here we hit on the most amazing, to me, thing about my reading of this book. Not only did Josephine Angelini create relatable, fascinating characters that I want to root for; then put them in a world that is so similar and yet so different than ours, a world that makes sense and follows rules, just different from our rules; but she created a story that made me think. Who would I be if I showed up in this world? Would I hold to my convictions? What are the limits of holding to those convictions? Is there a line in the sand? And - even more important - when you have unimaginable power, how do you decide where that line is? What would you do for those you love? If you could stop a horrible event from happening, should you? Would you? What if the cost is someone's life? Multiple someone's? What if stopping this event meant saving hundreds of thousands? What if you're not even sure this event will occur?

I liked how one way wasn't necessarily better than another. That there are pros and cons to each different path. Though there's a definite 'green' leaning in this book, it doesn't paint our world as intrinsically worse for the industrial revolution and discoveries that we've made. Though Lillian's alternate world hasn't polluted the skies and waters, doesn't make hers necessarily better. There's a lot of dichotomies to examine and explore here. I'm really looking forward to more of that. And I think Lily's going to have to find the path that's a bit better than either of the current alternatives - but that's a story for the sequels, I think.

My mind went down a thousand different paths, to a thousand different ends. At times I would pause and simply think about the ramifications of actions. When a book can do that, can absorb me so utterly and yet captivate my mind so completely with ramifications in my life here, it's sure to end up on my 'Best of...' list.

Every once in a while, if a reader is lucky, a book comes along that so completely blows away their expectations, wholly enthralling, enchanting, and - yes, I'll say it - bewitching, that they finish it and want to dive directly back in, that they're not even sure how to manage the wait until the sequel. Trial by Fire was that book for me.

Grade: A

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Freebie Alert: Dangerous Destiny by Suzanne Brockmann and Melanie Brockmann

Suzanne Brockmann is beloved by so many of my friends, and I've had her Troubleshooters series on my to-read list for a long, long time. When I saw she, and her daughter, had a new series coming out, I requested them immediately! I'm really looking forward to diving into this new world.

Title: Dangerous Destiny
Author: Suzanne Brockmann and Melanie Brockmann
Series: Night Sky, Book 0.5
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Release Date: 26 August 2014

On August 26th, ONLY, Dangerous Destiny - the prequel to Night Sky will be available FREE at the following locations:

Amazon | BN | kobo | Goodreads

See how it all begins...

In this pulse-pounding prequel to the Night Sky series by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Suzanne Brockmann and her daughter Melanie Brockmann, Skylar has her first brush with Destiny. She's about to meet a boy who will change her life—and a girl who wants to end it.

I know her.
Know her from inside the dreams. Inside those terrible, murderous, bloody dreams. I've heard her-screaming, her voice mixing in an awful chorus with all those other girls. Little girls.

Please, God.
That's what one of the little girls keeps saying, in the dream that is not just a dream. Please, God.
But I know better. There's no escaping this fate. This is destiny.
I must kill Skylar.

Skylar Reid is the new girl at school. Her mom just moved them to Florida—aka The Land of the Living Dead where the average age of her new neighbors was seventy-five—to start over. Skylar is not a fan of the change or her total lack of friends. Until she meets Calvin, a funny, sarcastic boy who doesn't let being in a wheelchair stop him from verbally shredding their preppy classmates. Skylar's just about to decide her new school's not a total loss when an odd girl wearing an oversized trench coat in the murderous Southern heat declares, "You're one of us." And then tries to kill her.

Dangerous Destiny is the prequel to Night Sky:

Title: Night Sky
Author: Suzanne Brockmann and Melanie Brockmann
Series: Night Sky, Book 1
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Release Date: 7 October 2014

In Night Sky, sixteen-year-old Skylar Reid is thrown into a strange world when she discovers that she has unique telekinetic and telepathic powers. After Sasha, the child she babysits, is kidnapped and believed to be murdered, Sky and her best friend Calvin are approached by Dana, a mysterious girl who has super-abilities similar to Sky’s. With the help of Dana and her sidekick Milo, the four teens — two from the rich part of town, and two living hand-to-mouth on the streets — embark on a quest to discover who killed Sasha, and to bring the killers to justice.

With Dana as Skylar’s surly and life-toughened mentor, Sky attempts to harness her powers to aid them in their quest. Complicating an already complex relationship with the older girl, Sky starts to fall for the dangerously handsome and enigmatic Milo–and begins to suspect that the attraction is mutual. But then Sky realizes that Sasha might still be alive, and the unlikely foursome’s mission becomes one of search and rescue, pitting the heroic teens against a very deadly enemy.

Night Sky is the first book in a YA trilogy set in the same dark future as Suzanne Brockmann’s Born to Darkness, a New York Times bestselling hardcover, published last year as the first installment in her Fighting Destiny series. Night Sky has the same mix of suspense, romance, humor, and the paranormal, and deals with many of the same themes, including society’s relentless exploitation and devaluation of females, and the empowerment that comes when women and girls recognize their strength and intellect, and stand up, fight back, and save the day.

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Review: Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs

Title: Shifting Shadows
Author: Patricia Briggs
Series: Mercy Thompson World, Anthology
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 2 September 2014

Mercy Thompson’s world just got a whole lot bigger...

A collection of all-new and previously published short stories featuring Mercy Thompson, “one of the best heroines in the urban fantasy genre today” (Fiction Vixen Book Reviews), and the characters she calls friends...

Includes the new stories...
“Roses in Winter”

...and reader favorites
“Fairy Gifts”
“Alpha and Omega”
“Seeing Eye”
“The Star of David”
“In Red, with Pearls”

Most of these stories have been out for a while, but - for some reason - I've had a hard time getting them and reading them. Nearly all of them were new to me when I picked up the book this time. Even if you have read all the previously published short stories, this anthology is definitely worth picking up for the four new novellas. "Roses in Winter" is my favorite of the four, but all of them were fantastic.

These stories are organized in the chronological order in which they occur within the Mercy Thompson world and, though they can nearly all be read whenever, my organization-orientated mind appreciated that. Also, at the beginning of each story Patricia Briggs gives a little blurb on the history of the story, why it was written, and where it occurs in the overall storyline. It's a fun little insight into the mind of the writer. Now, onto the individual stories (as they appear in the book)...

**Note: This review got a LOT longer than I anticipated. TL;DR (too-long; didn't-read) summary is: This is a fantastic collection of stories set in the Mercy Thompson world. Many beloved characters make an appearance, and some even get to take center stage. The new stories are - by far - my favorite, because they don't feel as if they're under length guidelines (like some of the previously published in other anthology stories do). Highly recommended for fans of the Mercy Thompson world. For anyone new to this series, I think you can read them and enjoy them on their own, but most of them will have greater significance within the greater context of the world.**

Silver: Takes place many years before the events in Moon Called - thousands (maybe?)...

This is the story of how Samuel and Arianna first meet. They meet again in Silver Borne, but that's many, many years later. As you can imagine, especially if you've read the novels in this series, this is an incredibly heart-wrenching story. Fans of the series have been asking for this story for years, even knowing how much it was likely to hurt. It opens, right off the bat, with Samuel mourning his wife and children and though there's some small slices of happiness and hope, it ends in almost as sad of a place. Even as much as it broke my heart, I loved seeing this early beginning of Samuel, Bran, and especially Arianna. It fills in some of the history of beloved characters and gives more depth and insight into all three of them.

Fairy Gifts: Takes place before Moon Called.

This is a story that's set in the Mercy Thompson world, but with completely new characters. Here were have Thomas, a young Chinese man living in Butte, Montana with his father before he's made a vampire. For many years he serves his father without choice, until chance leads him to Maggie, a fae trapped in the mines. Their meeting is short, but has long lasting implications. I enjoyed reading from Thomas' point-of-view. He's an interesting, and intelligent, character. Maggie was less developed, as most of her time was off-screen, but she intrigued me as well. The only downside to this novella is its length. Being a rather short story and having completely new characters means there isn't as much time to become attached and invested in the characters. Then there's the rather abrupt ending. More abrupt than I'm used to from even Patricia Briggs. Despite this, I'm hoping we see Maggie and Thomas again sometime.

Gray: Takes place before Moon Called.

Another story that has completely new characters. Elyna is a vampire returning home to Chicago. She purchases her old apartment specifically because of the 'haunted' reputation it has, hoping to reconnect with the one that's still there. This story worked a bit better for me than the previous one with new characters. Despite never having met Elyna before I got a good feel for her character, her history and her pain. She's a strong and honorable vampire, just trying to live her life in as much peace as she can manage.

As Stefan is probably the only honorable vampire we've met in the novels of this series it was nice to get a glimpse of some more vampires - Thomas and Elyna - that are "good" people. I liked them. They do what they have to do and live as they must, but they've got values that they won't compromise on.

Seeing Eye: Takes place one year before Moon Called.

I loved Tom and Moira when we met them in Hunting Ground. The white witch that's more powerful than she seems always intrigued me. I wondered what her history was, and here we get that. This is the story of how Tom and Moira meet. Tom's brother has been taken by what Tom believes is a coven of witches. This leads him to asking Moira for help. Despite knowing this is seriously dangerous to herself, Moira feels an obligation to help - after all the coven is led by someone who was once very, very close to her. I won't say too much more in case you, like me, haven't read this yet. But the story is interesting, dangerous, and fun. Seeing Tom and Moira's connection bud made me smile. Again, it ended a bit abruptly, but I as I knew these characters, and we see them again, it didn't bother me quite as much.

Alpha and Omega: Takes place during Moon Called.

This is the novella that started Anna and Charles story. In Moon Called there are some discoveries that lead to Chicago. Here, we learn that Anna's right in the mix of that story. When she calls the Marrok to report the shady stuff going on, she's instructed to pick up his 'investigator' at the airport. Enter Charles, more alpha than Anna thinks she can deal with. But as his wolf is, in his words, more interested in courting her than showing dominance, they're in for one interesting ride.

I've reviewed this story elsewhere, so I won't go into it all again. I will say that after I got done re-reading this novella, here, I had to struggle to not go immediately into Cry Wolf to get more of Anna and Charles. They are so perfect together, and I love seeing them both grow as their relationship deepens throughout their entire series.

The Star of David: Takes place the Christmas after "most" of the events in Moon Called.

David Christiansen makes a brief, but pivotal, appearance in Moon Called. I didn't get a very good feel for him in that story except to know that his history was tragic and he'd created his own future out of it. Here we get to see him reconnect with a part of his family he thought forever lost to him. David's honorable and carries his guilt with him, always. I liked that he was able to get some forgiveness from those that mean the most to him. I also really loved meeting Devonte. We hear, in the books, about how there are more than just witches, wolves, and vampires in this world....it's interesting to see them make appearance, too. This whole story was incredibly poignant and I loved the sweet, emotional and happy ending.

Roses in Winter: Takes place between Bone Crossed and Silver Borne.

Easily my favorite story in the bunch, "Roses in Winter" is told from Asil's point-of-view and gives us an update on the little girl that Mercy sends to the Marrok in Blood Bound, Kara. I've been wanting an update on Kara ever since she was first mentioned. I hoped, against hope, that she'd not only survive but thrive. Here we get to see the beginning of her struggle to learn a new way.

Asil came to Aspen Creek, and has been waiting thirteen years, for the Marrok to kill him. And despite thinking he doesn't have enough control anymore, we begin to see how wrong he is here. When he takes young Kara under his wing, trying to help her get control of her shifting, he develops a bond he never expected.

I love Asil. I've always thought more of him than he has himself, and I liked seeing this softer side to him - a side that we only occasionally glimpse in the novels. The Moor has got quite a reputation, well deserved and earned, but here we get the side so few people are privy to. Patricia Briggs has been dropping not-so-subtle hints for a while about Asil and another character. I really hope they have a future together, because they're perfect for one another.

It's also always interesting to see beloved characters from a whole new character's point-of-view. Asil has, sometimes laugh-out-loud, funny observances of Bran, Charles and others.

This story is a beautiful mix of humourous, poignant, and exciting. I'm always impressed by how Patricia Briggs manages to make me hurt for characters I've just met. One of the things I've always loved about this series is that the author doesn't shy from showing the darker side of immortality. Sometimes forever is too long, and loss is too much. Though it makes me so incredibly sad, it also makes me appreciate the happiness that does happen exponentially more.

In Red, with Pearls: Takes place between Silver Borne and River Marked.

Werewolf Warren and his boyfriend Kyle have long been favorite characters in Mercy's world. Warren's just gotten his private investigator license and is working - mostly - for Kyle's law firm. While waiting for Kyle to get done with a consult, Warren comes face to face with a missing woman who has been turned into a zombie. One that's apparently after Kyle!

I really enjoyed the twists and turns in this story. There's a good bit of mystery woven throughout, and solid investigative work done by Warren. It shows a different side than we usually get to see through Mercy's eyes. I, also, was pleased to see the depth that was added to Kyle and Warren's relationship.

The story does end a bit quickly, rushing through the resolution of the mystery and denoument, however Warren isn't one to 'play with his prey,' in his words, so it makes sense, too. This is the one short-story I'd previously read (besides "Alpha and Omega" which was sold in e-format individually making it easy and inexpensive to get), and I enjoyed it as much on a re-read as I did the first time.

Redemption: Takes place between Frost Burned and Night Broken.

I was *not* expecting a story from Ben's point-of-view! Ever since he first appeared as the snarky, dangerous, somewhat broken, man, I've loved him - despite Mercy's own misgivings - and wanted to know more. Every time he's appeared since, I grew to love him more.

Here we get to see him becoming the person he is. Ben's had a horrible history, and is ... more than a bit of a misogynst. I know, I know, how can I love a character that's clearly hateful towards women? Well, the truth is that I'm not sure. But it's also that he's never had - prior to being in Adam's pack - any examples of women who weren't the "bitches" he calls them. It makes it hard to hate him. I want him to get healthy and better, and we get to see the small-steps continuation of that here.

When a woman at Ben's work, a woman that he doesn't even like because she's weak and "snivelling," get targeted by the office asshole, Ben isn't sure why he constantly makes moves to intervene. He doesn't do it nicely, in true Ben fashion, but he does it. His confusion, the ensuing discussion with Adam, and his growth here made me nearly cheer. I love this path he's on. It's slow, as most real change and growth is, but it's steady and solid.

There's also some funny moments here when Ben's taken a bet to give up swearing. One character tells him to avoid adjectives while he's attempting this. His speech at the end, and his coworker's thoughts on it, had me grinning like crazy. I can't wait to see more of Ben, and maybe one day for him to get his own HEA.

Hollow: Takes place after Night Broken.

A new Mercy short story! As Patricia Briggs puts it, what would a Mercy world anthology be with a Mercy story? Mercy's always had a knack for getting herself into trouble. Despite taking precautions and being smart about things, her desire to help people that ask it of her always leads to her getting in a bit deeper than she would like to be.

When a woman shows up at Mercy's (demolished) garage asking for help, Mercy knows it's not her mechanicking skills the woman needs. A ghost. Of course. And when the referral came from a trusted friend, Mercy feels the need to go check it out. Taking Zach - and can I say how happy it made me to see him settling in a bit better with the pack?! - she heads a couple of hours out to see what she can do.

This is a short, quick mystery that's pretty easy to see what's going on. But I liked seeing the romance between two new characters, as well as how Mercy deals with this ghost. It's not like normal ghosts, and Mercy's still learning how to control her own gifts. Because Mercy's not afraid to ask for help and rely on friends, we get an update on Gary, as well as Samuel and Arianna.

This story made me more anxious for the next Mercy book just so I can spend more time with her, Adam and everyone else I love so much.

Outtakes: I wasn't expecting to get some deleted/outtake scenes from the Mercy Thompson books, so this was a nice treat when I got to the end of the stories!

From Silver Borne, it takes place near the end of this novel and is from Arianna's point-of-view. Patricia Briggs notes that her husband thought, since she included the beginning of Samuel and Arianna's relationship in "Silver" and that it ends on a rather sad note, she should include something to remind readers that they do get their happily-ever-after. A sweet scene that shows them reconnecting, and gives even more history between them. I loved seeing this, and am really hoping that we'll get more from these two in the future.

From Night Broken, again it takes place near the end when Mercy's recovering and is from Adam's point-of-view. We all know Mercy ends nearly every book recovering from some horrible injury or another, and the same is true in Night Broken. I really loved seeing how Adam thinks of her, and how in love with her he is. They're so perfect together and it's nice - always - to get the calm moments after the storm with the characters I love.

Shifting Shadows is a fabulous collection of short stories and novellas in the Mercy Thompson world. Patricia Briggs writing is so beautiful and pulls me so completely into the world she's sharing that I never want to leave. I know I'll be revisiting this anthology many times in the future, and I can't wait for Dead Heat, the next Alpha and Omega novel with Anna and Charles coming out in Spring 2015!

Grade: A-

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: Mist by Susan Krinard

Title: Mist
Author: Susan Krinard
Series: Midgard, Book 1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 16 July 2013
Source: From publisher in exchange for an honest review

Mist lives a normal life. She has a normal job, a normal boyfriend, and a normal apartment in San Francisco. She never thinks about her past if she can help it.

She survived. That’s the end of it.

But then a snowy winter descends upon San Francisco. In June. And in quick succession, Mist is attacked by a frost giant in a public park and runs into an elf disguised as a homeless person on the streets...and then the man Mist believed was her mortal boyfriend reveals himself to be the trickster god, Loki, alive and well after all these years.

Mist’s normal world is falling apart. But thankfully, Mist isn’t quite so normal herself. She’s a Valkyrie, and she’s going to need all her skill to thwart Loki’s schemes and save modern Earth from the ravages of a battle of the gods.

I wanted to love this book. There isn't enough fantasy, or urban fantasy, that deals with Norse mythology. There's such a wealth of history to draw on with the Norse gods, and since it's my heritage I'm always anxious to see it used more. I had high hopes. Mist both did and didn't live up to those hopes.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: The Beautiful Ashes by Jeaniene Frost

Title: The Beautiful Ashes
Author: Jeaniene Frost
Series: Broken Destiny, Book 1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 26 August 2014

In a world of shadows, anything is possible. Except escaping your fate.

Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been gripped by visions of strange realms just beyond her own. But when her sister goes missing, Ivy discovers the truth is far worse—her hallucinations are real, and her sister is trapped in a parallel realm. And the one person who believes her is the dangerously attractive guy who's bound by an ancient legacy to betray her.

Adrian might have turned his back on those who raised him, but that doesn't mean he can change his fate…no matter how strong a pull he feels toward Ivy. Together they search for the powerful relic that can save her sister, but Adrian knows what Ivy doesn't: that every step brings Ivy closer to the truth about her own destiny, and a war that could doom the world. Sooner or later, it will be Ivy on one side and Adrian on the other. And nothing but ashes in between...

The Beautiful Ashes opens right in the thick of things. Ivy is traveling to find her sister, who has been missing for a couple of weeks. She's determined to find her, and being all alone in the world the cost doesn't matter. To be honest, I found Ivy a little contradictory - and I think I mean that in a good way. She would feel like this eminently strong character one moment, and then like she was going to break the next. It's believable that that's how one would react to what she's dealing with, but at the same time I rolled my eyes a few times. Finding out her hallucinations are real and out to get her ... I'd be more than a little freaked.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: On the Scent by Angela Campbell

Title: On the Scent
Author: Angela Campbell
Series: Psychic Detective, Book 1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: 25 July 2013
Source: Borrowed

Hannah Dawson has a big problem: she’s just become the unexpected owner of a snarky cat, a loveable but not-so-bright dog... and their $10 million fortune!

Which would be awesome if it hadn’t made her the target of every wacko in the metro Atlanta area. Now Hannah and her famous pets need protecting and there’s only one man who can help them...

Enter Zachary Collins: ex-TV star of ‘The Psychic Detective’ and street-wise private investigator – all 6 foot blue-eyed gorgeousness!

Only Zach’s got secrets of his own – not least that he finds his new client irresistibly hot. The more time he spends keeping Hannah out of harm’s way, the more he’s tempted to give in to the attraction... even if it means breaking all his own rules.

On the Scent was a pleasant surprise, a sweet romance between a smart heroine and a capable hero. Things didn't always go exactly as I expected, which was I was very grateful for - especially when the secret trope came up in the story. I was worried it'd be handled one way, but - thankfully - Angela Campbell handled it in a totally believable and perfect way.

Hannah's a completely "average" woman. She's a nurse who likes to help people, and conversely isn't really sure she even likes people anymore. She loves her pets, and trusts her gut even when she's not sure she should. And when extreme circumstances come up, she handles them calmly with brains and guts. She doesn't mind thinking outside the box, but wants all the facts, too. I liked her. Zach did, too, and it's easy to see why.

Zach is a struggling businessman - trying to keep his investigative firm in the black and forget the guilt he feels over some of his past. He's honorable. There's really no other way to put it. He tries to do the right thing, by everyone, no matter what. He takes on more guilt than he actually deserves and really cares about the people he's trying to help.

Put these two together and there was a sweet, comforting romance that budded. It wasn't all lust - though there was plenty of attraction there too - but I felt like Hannah and Zach actually liked each other. They talked and, through their actions, showed the kind of people they were. It's a good basis for a relationship.

There were a lot of good things in this novel, including the realism of how everything was handled. You may think that's a little weird to say when you're dealing with a psychic detective, but everything was handled logically. If someone was doped with ketamine, they acted like it and didn't recover unnaturally quick. Someone gets shot? They can't charge into the fray and save the day, they struggle to remain on their feet. And, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I loved the thoughts of the animals. The sarcasm and dry threats of the cat, along with the happy, not-a-care-in-the-world thoughts of the dog made me smile a more than a few times.

There were a few things that didn't work so well for me, like the secrets and drama surrounding telling them. This didn't used to be one of my hot-button issues, but I think it's become one. I get so tense waiting for the shoe to drop and then the not-talking thing to happen that it can almost ruin the story for me. Luckily, Angela Campbell mostly didn't do that, but because I kept waiting for it to happen it did take some of my enjoyment of the story away. The suspense part of it was also kind of ... tacked on, I guess. I'd say this is a light-suspense romance.

I'm glad I read On the Scent and I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Grade: C+

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Cover Reveal: Rock Addiction by Nalini Singh

If you don't already know, Nalini Singh is one of my all-time favorite authors. Time and time again she delivers the best in paranormal romance - and now she's going to deliver on a rock-star, contemporary romance!!

I'm ecstatic to be able to be a part of the cover reveal here today!

Be sure to check out the GIVEAWAY at the bottom!!!

Title: Rock Addiction
Author: Nalini Singh
Series: Rock Kiss, Book 1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: 9 September 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review: Untimed by Andy Gavin

Title: Untimed
Author: Andy Gavin
Series: , Book 1
Genre: Young Adult Science-Fiction
Release Date: 19 December 2012
Source: From publisher in exchange for an honest review

Charlie’s the kind of boy that no one notices. Hell, even his own mother can’t remember his name. And girls? The invisible man gets more dates.

As if that weren’t enough, when a mysterious clockwork man tries to kill him in modern day Philadelphia, and they tumble through a hole into 1725 London, Charlie realizes even the laws of time don’t take him seriously.

Still, this isn’t all bad. In fact, there’s this girl, another time traveler, who not only remembers his name, but might even like him! Unfortunately, Yvaine carries more than her share of baggage: like a baby boy and at least two ex-boyfriends! One’s famous, the other’s murderous, and Charlie doesn’t know who is the bigger problem.

When one kills the other — and the other is nineteen year-old Ben Franklin — things get really crazy. Can their relationship survive? Can the future? Charlie and Yvaine are time travelers, they can fix this — theoretically — but the rules are complicated and the stakes are history as we know it.

And there's one more wrinkle: he can only travel into the past, and she can only travel into the future!

Look at that cover! How could I resist requesting this to review? Time and time again I've been burned by a pretty cover, but - fortunately - that wasn't the case here. Untimed is both better than expected, and a bit disappointing. I'll try to get into both reasons here.

I read, first and foremost, for characters. Interesting characters will make me beg for more, for the story to never end. And that's where we run into my main issue with Untimed. Every character in this story felt like a ... placeholder, for lack of a better word. There was nothing particularly memorable about any of them. Charlie is a typical fifteen year old boy, one who thinks about sex a lot (in some pretty ridiculous circumstances). The only thing remarkable about him is that he can travel in time. I will definitely give points to Andy Gavin for making Charlie feel like a stereotypical teenager, because he definitely does - complete with the over-inflated sense of superiority and rightness. But though I wanted to smack Charlie sometimes, I mostly just used him to experience the story through.

Yvaine, likewise, is almost as boring. Though she's got a lot more experience than a lot of authors give female characters it still makes her almost a caricature. She's sexually forward (Yay for no slut shaming!), smart-talking, tough, and capable. While I liked her, I got SO irritated with her speech. I'm not a fan of the Scottish dialect being written out, in most cases, and there were 63 uses of 'dinna,' among various others. By 5% into the book I knew this was going to irritate me.

I have some other minor, nit-picky things, that I almost feel bad for bringing up - but they took me out of the story!! You can't learn to fence from a movie, regardless if it was The Princess Bride or not. I admit, I laughed at the ridiculousness there. CPR requires 30 chest compressions per 2 breaths, not 10 and 10 - and this frustrates me beyond belief because I wish everyone knew CPR. Then there's the weird moment when they end up in Shanghai (and remember that traveller changes them to make them fit in) and their hair changes to "Asian"-style (what the hell is that?) but they still have white features. I admit this bugged me more than a little bit, and I'm still not sure what to make of it.

Onto the good! And there is plenty of good. The world is fascinating. Time travel is handled in an interesting and easily understandable way. Actions have consequences, but 'time' makes up for a lot of things too. I will say that some of it seemed mighty convenient, but after his iPhone turned into a paper notebook when he travelled back 200 years, I decided to go with it.

The thing that's got me most interested though is the Tick-Tocks and the Regulator. Supposedly the Regulator was the first of the time-travellers, and he died in the Time-War....anyway, he died, but not before he was able to write a bunch of encrypted pages for future travellers to find.

Time War, anyone? (picture copyright by Aaron Gittoes)

My image of the Tick-Tocks (also from Doctor Who - The Girl in the Fireplace)

So the Tick-Tocks are trying to work against the travellers - for what reason we're not quite sure. Are they trying to mess up the future by adjusting, ever so slightly, things in the past? Or are they trying to set right the changes made by other travellers? These are the questions that are flying through my mind as we travel with Charlie and Yvaine.

I was fascinated not only by the alternate histories and contemporary times that Gavin creates - which are imaginative and detailed - but also by the very real histories that he uses and doesn't flinch from. From teen-pregnancy, drinking, drugs, and slavery, Gavin doesn't flinch from showing the ofttimes harsher and dirtier side of humanity. Some of these topics are barely touched on, but it's clear that the themes are important and consequences of actions and decisions are a main thread in this world.

And then we get to the end, rocketing through time and space, and hit "To be continued..." like a brick wall! I have to say this was the most disappointing thing to me because I had no idea going into this book that it wasn't a stand-alone novel. I've emailed the author to find out any other information I can, because there's nothing on Goodreads, the author's website, or anywhere else I've been able to find.

I've been waiting until I get my review written to decide how I'm going to grade this. The things that Gavin does well, he does really well - and you can definitely see his videogame programmer roots at work in the action and intense world created here - but I really would like some characters that I can grab onto and root for. Right now they're kind of like ciphers. Here's hoping they grow up in the sequel(s).

Grade: C+

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