Tag Archives: four star review

Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking

Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking

 Between the Blade and the Heart
by Amanda Hocking

Valkyries have one great responsibility: to return immortals to the afterlife by slaying them. As a Valkyrie, Malin has always known that the balance of the world rests on her ability to carry out orders. But when Malin discovers that her mother spared the life of an immortal who was destined to die, her world is thrown into chaos.

Malin not only wrestles with the knowledge that her mother might not be who she thought—she’s also thrust into the path of a gorgeous blue eyed guy named Asher who needs her help slaying the rogue immortal who destroyed his family. The balance of the world is at stake. And, as Asher competes with Malin’s ex for her love and loyalty, so is her heart.

Valkyrie #1

Rated: ★★★
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication: January 2, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, YA
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

amazon | b&n | book depo

Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking

The synopsis had me hesitant on picking up Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking, worried that it would be just another love triangle ya cookie cutter novel. But! It was so much better than that! The world created by Hocking was interesting and unique, though I’m not entirely sure how accurate some of the mythological aspects were. Even still, it was a good story and I really loved the characters and world!

I was immediately skeptical of the book as soon as I opened up when I saw that Odin and the valkyries in this world were listed as Vanir, when they are actually part of the Aesir (well Valkyries were 50/50 but we’re not here to get that deep into it). I don’t understand why the change, since it seems so superficial, which then gets me wondering if it just wasn’t researched well enough? Or maybe the author thought Vanir, Aesir, all the same, eh? Which, it isn’t considering there was a war between the two. I am someone that has studied world mythologies, so it definitely got me started on the wrong foot. That said, I doubt other readers will notice the difference or care. But, I will say it did leave me wary for the rest of the beings mentioned and just how on point Hocking may have been with describing them/their purpose/origin.

Now that my one pet peeve is out of the way, the world was so interesting! I loved how there were mortals, immortals, hybrids, etc. just all mixed in together in this modern world. There was such a great combination of yeah, this world has all this magic and swords and fates in it, but there’s also bars and magical equivalent of hookah and school and vehicles. That your friendly, and handsome, mechanic could be mortal, but also have horns, was just such a super cool concept to me (please, can we see him again in the sequel??)

The story quest itself, and the theme of Free Will vs Fate was interesting, and I might have to re-read it to think it through a bit more because honestly, what really sold me on this book was the one thing I was worried would ruin it. The romance! What the synopsis failed to mention was that Malin’s ex was a lady and I died! I am SO IN LOVE with Quinn, I could not put the book down once I saw her. I just want all the things for her and just want Malin to talk with Quinn and sort herself out so they can be together. Like yeah, Asher’s great and all, but QUINN! My wlw heart was just so excited! It was also especially great to see that even with mentions of angels and demons, sexuality wasn’t taboo and to be LGBTIQA+ wasn’t a shock to the characters or presented as such to the reader.

I am so grateful to end my year on such a high note with Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking. A YA book with a unique world build, fantastic characters (with great use of romance), and just fun, this is something I definitely can recommend to readers who enjoy kick-ass female protagonists who can kick butt and fall in love and not have it be detrimental to either.

Frostblood by Elly Blake

Frostblood by Elly Blake

 

Frostblood
by Elly Blake

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has concealed her powers of heat and flame from the cruel Frostblood ruling class her entire life. But when her mother is killed trying to protect her, and rebel Frostbloods demand her help to overthrow their bloodthirsty king, she agrees to come out of hiding, desperate to have her revenge.
Despite her unpredictable abilities, Ruby trains with the rebels and the infuriating–yet irresistible–Arcus, who seems to think of her as nothing more than a weapon. But before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to compete in the king’s tournaments that pit Fireblood prisoners against Frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her–and from the icy young man she has come to love.
Frostblood Saga #1

Rated: ★★★
Publisher:  Little, Brown Books
Publication: January 10, 2017
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Borrowed from the Queens Public Library

amazon | b&n | book depo

Frostblood by Elly Blake

I remember there being hype over Frostblood by Elly Blake, and the summary peaked my interest, so I picked up the ebook from my library and thought I’d give it a go. It surpassed my expectations and I’m actually really interested in continuing the series!

Blake’s world is really interesting, The concept is deceptively simple. A world divided seemingly between those with Frostblood powers and those with Fireblood powers, where the Firebloods have been hunted almost to extinction by the Frostbloods in power. It’s only logical that fire and frost be enemies, it needs to explaining, but Blake actually gives it to us! There’s a solid mythology behind the world, reasons given for why the Frostbloods and Firebloods are at odds, and I’d love to get deeper into hopefully with the second book in the series. There are gods and beings and they directly influence what is happening and it’s just so great to see a YA story where the author knows what the basis of their world is.

Though it clocks in at 376 pages, it felt surprisingly short for me, which is a good mark of how well the pacing worked for Blake. The book was broken up into various little mini arcs, each with their own tension that subtly built up to the finale. We go from death of Ruby’s mother, to training with the monks, to meeting the King so quickly and fluidly, there simply isn’t time to get bored and lose interest. The downside to this, however, is that we don’t get the time to build the romance between Arcus and Ruby.

Speaking of which, Ruby’s character growth was fantastic and I cannot wait to see her face the consequences of her actions in the sequel. But, what I really want to see is what happens with Arcus. As I said, there wasn’t enough time to build a proper romance, but it was one that I wanted nonetheless. I was excited at the prospect and giddy when eventually a kiss was shared (giddier still when a secret revelation was made at the end, though I had hoped/guessed at it long before). Will Arcus actually be ‘the one’ for Ruby? Or was he simply the one that was there? I’m hoping if he’s ‘the one,’ that we can actually see his character grow, or even just have him better developed. And, well, if he isn’t, then we do get a love interest that can match Ruby.

Frostblood by Elly Blake was a solid start to a new YA fantasy series that combines solid world-building with great pacing and main character growth to create a lovely story I thoroughly enjoyed.

Ensnared by Rita Stradling

Ensnared by Rita Stradling

 Ensnared
by Rita Stradling

Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake.

Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.

To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see.

Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.

Rated: ★★★
Publisher: Kindle Press
Publication: May 23, 2017
Genre: New Adult, Sci-fi, Romance
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

amazon | b&n | book depo

Ensnared by Rita Stradling

Even though I’ve been burned in the past by fairytale retellings, I had to give Ensnared by Rita Stradling a chance. I mean, look at that cover! Though now there are two covers, the delightful one I used for this post, but also a sleek blue one, both are fitting and intriguing. Beauty and the Beast with a twist and in the future. That’s what it was marketed as, and that’s what I got. Straight, simple, to the point.

Set in a future full of advanced AI, Alainn is forced to go undercover as a robot ordered by reclusive millionaire Lorccan to keep her father from prison. Though she doesn’t want to, and it definitely wasn’t her plan, she goes along with it. Things proceed exactly as you think it would considering it’s a retelling. What makes it really stand out is the use of AI. It’s truly unsettling and definitely makes you think twice about giving Siri or Alexa access to everything.

This was well-paced, the romance was soft and easy (there is sex so keep that in mind if you’re picking this up). Characters were developed just enough to make you want to continue the story, and the world building enough to sustain the plot. I’m sure if the book were longer, or made into a series, there would be some serious snags, but as is, Ensnared by Rita Stradling is a truly enjoyable sci-fi rendition of Beauty and the Beast that I thoroughly adored.

Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt

Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt

 Greener Pastures
by Michael Wehunt

In his striking debut collection, Greener Pastures, Michael Wehunt shows why he is a powerful new voice in horror and literary weird fiction.

From the round-robin, found-footage nightmare of “October Film Haunt: Under the House” (selected for The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror) to the jazz-soaked “The Devil Under the Maison Blue” (selected for both The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror and Year’s Best Weird Fiction), these beautifully crafted, emotionally resonant stories speak of the unknown encroaching upon the familiar, the inscrutable power of grief and desire, and the thinness between all our layers. Where nature rubs against small towns, in mountains and woods and bedrooms, here is strangeness seen through a poet’s eye.

They say there are always greener pastures. These stories consider the cost of that promise.

Rated: ★★★★
Publisher: Apex Book Company
Publication: March 4, 2017
Genre: Horror, New Weird, Southern Gothic
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

amazon | b&n | book depo

Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt

This book hit all of my buttons, in the best way possible! Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt is a wonderful collection of short stories that creep their way out of the horror genre and into Southern Gothic and New Weird. Every single story creates and maintains its own sense of unease, while also building upon and blending into the overarching feeling that ties everything together, the visceral and oppressing wilderness.

The very first paragraph from the very first story sets the mood for the remainder of the book. The constant feel of ache and weariness contrasted against the savagery of the environment. From a technical standpoint, it’s amazing how Wehunt manages to construct sentences that are both simple, yet impactful. To go from a character holding a jug of milk, to feeling devoured by the unending vastness of night, Wehunt juxtaposes common day occurrences with a dread and terror that fit seamlessly in. You’re left with a feeling that at any moment, you could find yourself in that very position, that very place. Whether intended or not, Greener Pastures oozes Southern Gothic charm. From unstable characters, the undertone of rebellion and overbearing small-town religion, to the sublime, yet grotesque depictions of nature.

Though themes do seem to be threaded through each story, they are each standalones and different, all in varying degrees of weird. From love lost and its consequences, to a quartet of child stories that are interesting to make sense of as a collection of its own, to life in places better left untouched, each story confronts the inevitable differently, makes use of the environment in its own way. Beside Me Singing in the Wilderness, one of my favorites, has a mountain demanding its return. Greener Pastures, another favorite, a darkness that consumes and demands more.

Whenever it comes to a book of collections, readers are naturally wary; I sure am most of the time. Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt, however, is what short story collections should be. Every story accomplishes its goal of disturbing the reader, inducing horror and unease. Out of the eleven, there are only one or two that I personally didn’t enjoy as much as the others, and yet, they were still good. Definitely pick this up!

Quotes & Excerpts

I’ve come home to this nameless mountain pouring blood from its bowel.
Beside Me Singing in the Wilderness

Eyes black as their feathers, as holes. I stand on the porch. A gallon milk jug sweats against my hand. The crows or ravens are quiet and there are only the bugs dying out in the fall. My arm begins to ache and the night opens its jaws, slow and cool.
Inconsolable

Silver and Salt by Elanor Dymott

Silver and Salt by Elanor Dymott

 Silver and Salt
by Elanor Dymott

On the death of the celebrated photographer Max Hollingbourne, his daughter, Ruthie, returns to his villa in Greece after fifteen years in exile. The youngest and estranged member of a once close-knit London family, Ruthie is haunted by a dark secret from her childhood, one that fractured her family and drove her mother to madness.

Still, following her father’s death, she and her older sister, Vinny, manage to build a fragile happiness at the villa where they had spent their summers as girls. But the arrival of an English family at a neighboring cottage, and the presence of one young girl in particular, trigger a chain of events that will plunge both women back into their harrowing pasts with shocking and fatal consequences.

Rated: ★★★
Publisher: WW Norton & Company
Publication: April 4, 2017
Genre: Suspense
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

amazon | b&n | book depo

Silver and Salt by Elanor Dymott

While I love fantasy the most as a genre, I have a real strong affinity for all things family drama. Dark family secrets that tear families apart and leave either the reader or a new generation to uncover the twisted past that scarred every generation proceeding. Gothic Americana, a genre I truly hold dear to my heart, yet struggle to find good, recent representation from. Silver and Salt by Elanor Dymott, though not American, does succeed at capturing the very feeling I search for.

For those that aren’t fans of a slow moving suspense, Silver and Salt might not be the story for you. This is a very gradual build, but in my opinion, so worth it. It’s this creeping pace that builds the tension, keeping the reader wondering what that horrific end event is. Even after you learn what it is, you’re still vested in learning how. How it happened, even as you already know why.

This is definitely a character driven story. Everything revolves around the Hollingbourne family — the relationship between patriarch Max and wife Sophie, their relationship with daughters Vinny and Ruthie, and the relationship between the sisters themselves. Though the physical settings play a part, influencing and heightening the tension between the family, it seems almost inconsequential to the story because of how intricately detailed and well developed the characters. Max, charismatic photographer better suited for transient life than as a family man. Sophie, a starlet who abandoned everything to start a family that could never happen, Vinny, the elder daughter who just wants to get away to a normal life, and Ruthie, the younger daughter who is a combination of all of her parents’ flaws.

Told through a series of cuts between time, the narrative slowly uncovers the tragedy of what should have been a golden family. Silver and Salt by Elanor Dymott is such a heartbreaking tale of love gone wrong, of love not being nearly enough. Definitely recommended for fans of dysfunctional family dramas and family secrets that end in tragedy.

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

Silence Fallen
by Patricia Briggs

Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes—only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe…

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise…

Mercy Thompson series, book 10

Rated: ★★★
Publisher: Ace
Publication: March 7, 2017
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Fae, Paranormal, Supernatural
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

amazon | b&n | book depo 

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

After being mildly disappointed with the previous book, I was hesitant on what I would get with Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs, her tenth in the Mercy Thompson series. The beginning did not alleviate my concerns in the slightest. However, I have to admit, by the end, I was entertained. It was an enjoyable experience and did hearken back to the earlier books in the series.

Now, I mentioned I was worried this would be a disappointment in the beginning. Why? That’s easy, because Briggs re-used an opening sequence. The second Mercy had to run to the store to grab something, and started mentioning the car, I knew it. I knew we were going somewhere we’d gone before. Book 7 – Frost Burned, opened with Mercy in a staged car accident. The only difference between the two books is that in Frost Burned, the pack was targeted and in Silence Fallen, Mercy was the target. Reusing that set-up just had me worried that perhaps Briggs had run out of new ideas. Didn’t know where to take the story now that things seemed to calm down in the previous book.

Worries were allayed due to superficial reasons however. Stefan, my darling baby boy vampire finally makes a reappearance and I could not care less if this entire book went sideways, he was back. Thankfully, it didn’t go sideways. It was really interesting to see Briggs try to shake things up from how she normally does this series. Playing with split point-of-views, we get to see the dynamic between Adam and Mercy play out. Diplomacy over action. I’m not sure I’d like to see more of this simply because I’ve grown to used to this being Mercy’s story, but it worked.

Things get muddled with the plot simply as a result of the split POVs. Adam and Bonarata was solid and something I truly enjoyed and appreciated. ESPECIALLY AT THE END WHEN MATT SMITH. Matt Smith made me go back to reread things. But yes, the Bonarata plot was good. It was intricate, but not overly complicated. It made sense, especially given his age and position. Mercy’s plot, however, seemed convoluted. I don’t know if it’s because Briggs is planning on making what she learns part of the next troublesome arc or not, but there were too many elements involved. Vampire witches, ghosts, golems, and Coyote all mixed together in a tiny space fighting for control of the narrative. It felt sloppy and the only thing that kept things afloat was Adam.

Compared to the previous book, Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs is a step up. It’s definitely moving in a better direction and leaves me excited to see where the series goes from here. The cast is definitely bloated and could use with some trimming, which is being hinted at, but we didn’t gain any new characters here. With two possible directions, that I could gather, for where the next big bad will come from, I’m optimistic Briggs still has control over the series.

Beckoning Darkness by JD Stonebridge

Beckoning Darkness by JD Stonebridge

 Beckoning Darkness
by JD Stonebridge

After centuries have passed, the End of Times draws near, and Heaven is preparing for God’s return.

After centuries of imprisonment in Heaven, Ariel is given a chance to redeem herself in the eyes of the archangels. Years after her last descent, Ariel must return to the mortal land to fulfill her mission for the coming of God. But the memories of her past sins catch up to her, and Ariel must decide where her faith truly lies.

The city of Chicago was the chosen residence of the eccentric demon, Caelum. His taste of entertainment sets him apart from the rest of his kind, driving him to walk amongst the mortal men. But when he is presented with an opportunity to have a hand in Hell’s grand plan, temptation beckoned him to take the risks. Walking through shadows and nightmares he crosses paths with an angel from Heaven, and the memories of his forgotten humanity begin to resurface.

Both Heaven and Hell have plans for the End of Days with the angel, Ariel, and the demon, Caelum, at the center. When faith is threatened, two natural enemies become unlikely allies in a war for all humanity.

The Damned and the Pure book 1

Rated: ★★★
Publication: November 27, 2014
Genre: Supernatural, Angels
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

amazon

Beckoning Darkness by JD Stonebridge

I need to start off this review but profusely apologizing to the author, for I forgot about this lovely book until I started clearing out my emails. It’s a shame really, because I adored Beckoning Darkness by JD Stonebridge. It is exactly my type of tea! The pacing was fast, the action never dulled, and the characters had such a spark!

I’ve always found it to be a fine line when reading supernatural stories about angels. At best, they tend to create an almost infallible protagonist that suddenly falls for the bad boy and a love triangle ensues. At worst, it is covered in heavily overt Christianity (not that there’s anything wrong with those that want that; I, however, prefer most religious messages out of my literature.) Beckoning Darkness, however, was one of the shining examples of angel fiction done right. There is angel mythology there. There is Heaven versus Hell. But, never once did I feel as though a message of righteousness was coming for me. Nor did I feel like the characters were ever simply one-dimensional tropes, even when they are so extremely in their role.

Angel Ariel knows her place and knows where demon Caelum’s place is. They are not friends, they are born to opposite ends of a spectrum. She is the ultimate angel, faithful and a believer, even when things don’t feel right. Caelum is the lovable charmer, whom I am completely smitten over. Their places, their roles, clearly defined. And yet, we see the relationship progress, with neither changing their stance for the most part. That is, until the very end, and even then… well, there’s a sequel for a reason! The dynamic between Caelum and Ariel was the best part of the story. These characters just jump right off the page and interact so easily with one another, it’s bewitching to read.

Stonebridge excellently balances out exposition, background information, forward moving plot, and character development in such a short amount of time! It never feels like an overwhelming information dump, nor do you ever truly lose the thread. The story feels as natural as the characters, moving fluidly towards the conclusion that is foreshadowed (and I’m LOVING it). The ending, the questions it brings up, I’m just so excited to dive into the sequel now to see how my theories play out.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, supernatural suspense that features some great, snappy characters and banter, I wholeheartedly suggest picking up Beckoning Darkness by JD Stonebridge. Don’t be a fool like I was and put it off.

Quotes & Excerpts

 

“Admittedly, I don’t trust my own kind either. Rather, I don’t trust anyone but myself. But I trust that if given the right push and pull, anyone can be relied upon to do what you want.”
– Chapter 14: The Sinner’s Task

“A demon who does not like to inflict pain. Tell me, what makes you so different from your friend in there and the rest?” Ariel challenged him.
“I consider myself better looking than any of them are,” Caelum said with a grin.
– Chapter 14: The Sinner’s Task

Gilded Cage by Vic James

Gilded Cage by Vic James

 Gilded Cage
by Vic James

Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

Rated: ★★★
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication: February 14, 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Dystopia
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

amazon | b&n | book depo 

Gilded Cage by Vic James

All I can say is I need the second book ASAP! Gilded Cage by Vic James is an impressive first look into a new, grim world that feels oddly familiar and appropriate given the current state of affairs in the world. Society is broken up into the haves and the have-nots, as those with special powers they were born with (and are acquired through inherited birth by a few it seems) are in control of Great Britain, while the plebs without power all must endure a ten year period of slavery.

Characters are intriguing, especially those that are Equal. There is so much intrigue and family politics that we just don’t know and it drives me crazy! Silyen, the youngest of the Parva-Jardine family is the one with the most Skill, yet, the aristocracy isn’t Skill/merit based. It’s still handed down to the first born. Which puts emotionally unstable Gavar as next in line to rule one of Britain’s founding Equal fathers. James does something incredibly interesting when it comes to Gavar. She sets up an initial prejudice for readers, automatically framing him as an antagonist. Yet, for the rest of the novel, we see more than just the monster James paints in the prologue. We see there is a struggle there; he is volatile, yes, but he is loving too. He is extreme, and yet it is the reserved Silyen who gives off an air of detachment to everyone and everything, that proves to be the extremist. He is the one with the long game, though no one knows what it is, including readers.

There is a sense of heavy worldbuilding here as Vic James mentions how different parts of the world are split up between Equals and commoners. America split in two, an obvious nod to the Civil War, but also the current heavy rift in society and culture. Britain itself remains aristocratic and parliamentary, but it has become more of a joke, as those with the most power tend to be the most in charge; physical displays of Skill taking command. We also get a heavy sense of history behind everything, giving the world a gravity that draws you in.

I could talk about Gilded Cage by Vic James for hours. There are so many layers masterfully intertwined in a book that still remains firmly YA. Strong characters and solid worldbuilding make the political themes of the book flourish, giving readers a desire to make changes in their own world after seeing the inconsistencies and cruelties that are allowed to exist to the benefit of the empowered few.