DNF Masters of Bone and Blood – Craig Saunders

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Summary:

Holland’s a man who’s good with death. Good at death.

When his daughter goes missing, he finds himself pitted in a deadly game against the Gods themselves. Powerful enemies surround him—a changeling, a mage, and a god who wants to destroy the world.

With silver bullets in his gun and death on his mind, Holland aims to set things right…or die trying.

For the captors of Holland’s daughter, death is not only on it’s way, it’s in their very possession as Holland’s daughter isn’t just a girl…in fact, she’s barely mortal at all…

She’s Ankou, Death’s daughter, and she’s not an easy mark.

The battleground has been set, the world’s at stake, and all Hell is about the break loose.

Masters of Blood and Bone is an epic clash between good and evil, life versus death, Gods against mortals, a timeless story of power and corruption and one man’s pursuit to protect what he loves at any cost.

Made it: 24%

Why it didn’t work for me:

This book is graphic. Graphic language and graphic violence (both horrific and sexual). I can handle the language, I can even handle some violence, but the when violence turned sexual with the graphic language all at once, it was just too much and I couldn’t press on. That said, the book is well written and the plot was holding my interest. I think the appropriate grimdark audience would probably find a lot to like in it (and the e-book is only going to set you back $3.99) but I just couldn’t  stomach it. If it doesn’t bother you, then go for it. You might enjoy it.

ARC Review: Superheroes Anonymous – Lexie Dunne

22138441ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Everybody in Chicago has a “superhero sighting” story. So when a villain attacks editorial assistant Gail Godwin and she’s rescued by superhero Blaze, it’s a great story, and nothing more. Until it happens again. And again. Now the media has dubbed her Hostage Girl, nobody remembers her real name, and people are convinced that Blaze is just her boyfriend, Jeremy, in disguise.

Gail’s not so sure. All she knows is that when both Jeremy and Blaze leave town in the same week, she’s probably doomed. Who will save her now?

Yet, miraculously, the villains lose interest. Gail is able to return to her life … until she wakes up strapped to a metal table by a mad scientist who hasn’t read the news. After escaping–now more than human herself–she’s drawn into a secret underground world of superheroes. She’ll have to come to terms with her powers (and weaknesses) to make it in the new society, and it’s not easy. After all, there’s a new villain on the rise, and she has her sights set on the one and only Hostage Girl.

Review:

First and foremost, can I say this is a fantastic premise? So often in comic-book series, women are reduced to the helpless damsel-in-distress trope. Modern comics are starting to buck this trend to an extent, but the tropes are very much still alive and the general public is still more apt to know about Mary Jane Watson always getting rescued by Spider-Man than know that the extended Bat-family has both a Batgirl and Batwoman or that Thor is now a woman in Marvel’s recent reboot. So yeah, this notion that someone can go from being the villain-bait to the villain-fighter is something I can get behind. Without spoiling it, her origin story is appropriately absurd and fits right in with the likes of Spiderman and the other heroes who need a little outside help to get their powers. The explanation behind the explanation even made me laugh, it was that great.

The bulk of the book is spent with her adjusting to her new life, making new friends and trying to wrap her head around her new powers and a villain named Chelsea, whose new to the gig and still working on the villain name and outfit. While nothing in this story is overly unexpected, it’s well done and you quickly grow to enjoy the group of people that surround Gail: her mentor Vicki, her trainer Angélica and Blaze.  Dunne does take the time to explain how Blaze and Jeremy are connected and it’s well done. It’s a very human feeling story for a group of superheroes and it’s something I always appreciate in my superhero tales because quite frankly, they are still people and perfection is boring to read about.

So yeah, it’s a fun, enjoyable read, and then you hit that ending.

If you can call it an ending.

This is one of those books, where it doesn’t really end so much as just break off and throw a “to be continued” onto the last page. “But wait,” you say, “superhero comics end on cliffhangers all the time!” This is true. What’s also true is that media only allows for 22-24 pages of story per issue. This is a book. This can be as long as it needs to be, especially because this is a genre that allows for longer books. I really do wish they’d done it, because it’s just so hard to shake that feeling that the work is undone, especially when  the cliffhanger feels a bit out of left field. It’s ultimately just frustrating.

Had this book told a complete story, I’d probably be recommending fully: it’s a book that hits sweet-spot of the genre that fans of the genre will enjoy. As it is, I’m going to have to stick with my gut and knock this down a notch. I’ve yet to find a book that was otherwise so fantastic that would let me overlook a non-ending like this, and sadly, this one won’t be the first to do so.

Verdict: A strong Borrow It.

Available: Now

ARC Review: The Last Changeling – Chelsea Pitcher

cover48549-mediumeARC provided through NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Elora, the young princess of the Dark Faeries, plans to overthrow her tyrannical mother, the Dark Queen, and bring equality to faeriekind. All she has to do is convince her mother’s loathed enemy, the Bright Queen, to join her cause. But the Bright Queen demands an offering first: a human boy who is a “young leader of men.”

A Dark Princess In Disguise . . .

To steal a mortal, Elora must become a mortal—at least, by all appearances. And infiltrating a high school is surprisingly easy. When Elora meets Taylor, the seventeen-year-old who’s plotting to overthrow a ruthless bully, she thinks she’s found her offering . . . until she starts to fall in love.

Review:

I don’t know how else to break this to you, so I shall be blunt.

The Last Changeling is not a faerie tale.

Oh, certainly Elora is a faerie (though, I would note that she is not a changeling – a glamor is not the same thing. For changelings and faery see Cargill’s Dreams and Shadows) and she does tell a tale of the faery in this story, but only in the last 20% of the book does anything related to the faery become relevant at all. As the book starts with Elora already out in the mortal world, we never spend time with the fae proper. Heck, when the fae do come to play in the last bit of the book, it’s in the mortal realm. Someone looking for a YA story about the Dark Court is going to be disappointed, because everything we learn about the courts are told in long exposition sequences, in the form of a story that Elora is telling Taylor. It’s the very definition of tell, not show and the book would have benefited tremendously from starting the book in the faery realm and then moving it to the mortal. By doing so, Elora’s fight would have picked up a much greater sense of urgency and you’d been more vested in the fight. By having it all explained as a story, the reader remains detached. All told, with not a lot of editing, you could excise the the faery elements and be left with a contemporary story.

So how does the contemporary story hold up?

Not that well.

Everyone at this school comes off as one dimensional. The bully is Evil. The outcast girl is a vegan goth. There’s heavy handedness surrounding discrimination towards the LGBT community – the bully gets his parents and the parents of the rich kids to call and convince the principal that the prom should be for “traditional” couples only because Taylor joined the Gay-Straight alliance. This is after the bully more or less forced Taylor to resign by having him and the other kids insinuate that he was touching them – and the obviously homophobic coach buying into it. It already feels dated and lacks any subtlety, especially for a book coming out in a time when gay marriage bans are falling left and right. Things are far from perfect for LGBT kids in high school, it’d been nice if a more delicate hand had been taken and some nuance let into the story.

As for Taylor and Elora? Eh. They’re there. There are hints of an interesting backstory with Taylor – but they’re never fully developed. Elora’s backstory, as I mentioned, is all told in flashback, and she never comes off as strange enough to believe that she never lived amongst humans. She just comes off as a little strange, but not alien, which is what she should have.

All told, while the book is technically proficient, there’s just not much there to recommend it. It’s clear that this book wanted to be a YA romance with some fantastic elements. But with the fantasy elements lacking and the romance not feeling that romantic, the whole book just feels disappointing. I’m sure there’s some good faery-centric stories for the YA crowd, but unfortunately, this isn’t it.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: November 8th

ARC Review – The Curse Merchant – J.P. Sloan

22621765eARC received in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Dorian Lake spent years cornering the Baltimore hex-crafting market, using his skills at the hermetic arts to exact karmic justice for those whom the system has failed. He keeps his magic clean and free of soul-corrupting Netherwork, thus avoiding both the karmic blow-back of his practice and the notice of the Presidium, a powerful cabal of practitioners that polices the esoteric arts in America. However, when an unscrupulous Netherworker interferes with both his business and his personal life, Dorian’s disarming charisma and hermetic savvy may not be enough to keep his soul out of jeopardy.

His rival, a soul monger named Neil Osterhaus, wouldn’t be such a problem were it not for Carmen, Dorian’s captivating ex-lover. After two years’ absence Carmen arrives at Dorian’s doorstep with a problem: she sold her soul to Osterhaus, and has only two weeks to buy it back. Hoping to win back Carmen’s affections, Dorian must find a replacement soul without tainting his own. As Dorian descends into the shadows of Baltimore’s underworld, he must decide how low he is willing to stoop in order to save Carmen from eternal damnation… with the Presidium watching, waiting for him to cross the line.

Review:

Character counts.

If it sounds like I’ve been harping on this concept for my past few reviews, it’s because yet again, I have another book that proves just how important character development really is. When I started this book, it didn’t quite grab me, the story wasn’t quite there. I kept reading though, and then all of the sudden I was hooked. And I had Dorian to thank for it. Dorian is the heart and soul and glue that holds this book together. He’s a good guy, trying to keep his head above water. As it becomes harder and harder for him to do so, he does things he never thought he’d do before and sacrifices so much for something that he didn’t have to allow himself to get so vested in. You want to see him succeed, not because you care about who he’s acting on behalf of, but because you genuinely like him. He has his back up against a metaphorical wall by the end of the book and you finish it hoping that he can find a way out. Dorian’s voice here is key: he carries the air of a world-weary PI, without quite falling into the tropes. He can be confident and even a bit cocky, but Sloan manages to avoid making him too arrogant or smug or otherwise unlikable. It also helps that Dorian is surrounded by a cast of likable friends and enemies. The one shortfall I would say is his ex Carmen who toes the line of just being a flat out bitch and a twist regarding her story was predictable and kind of disappointing.

On the magic front, I do wish we saw a bit more. We do get some basics laid out for us, but given how important it winds up being to resolving the central resolution of the plot, it felt like a lot of done was off-page and that’s always a bit annoying to me since it does feel like a cheat and because I think he’s got something interesting going on there. I’d also like to see more of the Presidium. Thanks to his narration, we get the vibe that they’re supposed to be kind of a Big Bad – remind me of the Authority on True Blood: a group that not only rules the vampires, but gaining their attention is all but a death sentence – but they didn’t do enough to make me believe that. A bit too much tell over show.

Over all, I thought this felt like a solid introduction to a good Urban Fantasy series. There’s definitely plenty of room for a sequel based on how the story ended, and from what I can glean from his Twitter feed he is writing. That said, this was originally published in 2012, and re-released by Curiosity Quills in September 2014. The only other title I could find was a prequel short story published in 2013 by Smashwords and set to be re-released by Curiosity Quills “soon.” Goodreads doesn’t have the book listed under any kind of series (though the website does call it the “Dark Choir” series), and I find nothing that indicates the release of a sequel any time in the near future. If you’re the kind that likes to wait to have series be finished (or at least realistic expectations for when the next book will come out) you may want to keep waiting because it may be a long one. Shame too, because I’m definitely vested in Dorian’s future.

Edited to Add: Good news! The publisher has confirmed there is a sequel coming – tentative release date of Spring/Summer 2015. That’s not a bad wait after all! Read away, folks.

Verdict: Buy it

Available Now

ARC Review – The Clockwork Dagger (Clockwork Dagger Duology #1) – Beth Cato

20359709eARC provided by the publisher in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Full of magic, mystery, and romance, an enchanting steampunk fantasy debut in the bestselling vein of Trudi Canavan and Gail Carriger

“The Clockwork Dagger was just what I needed: A steampunk adventure with an uncommon heroine, a fascinating magic system, and a young gremlin! I’m hooked and can’t wait for more Octavia and Leaf!”
—New York Times bestselling author Kevin Hearne

Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.

Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself.

Review:

First off, I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to discover this a duology. Not a triology, not an open-ended series, just a duology. It’s just a nice thing to see in a day and age when trilogies and open-ended series are the norm. Obviously though, that in of itself, is not enough to warrant a recommendation.

There are some good things going on here – the concept of the Lady and the Medician is rather good one. The Lady in particular seems to be a multi-facted Goddess figure, who both heals, but also later proves to be as much an judge, jury and executioner figure as many more traditional god archetypes of Western religions. She heals, but demands blood. Her Tree is sacred and can bring life, but is also almost sentient and can fight not unlike Groot. It’s one of the more interesting mythologies I’ve read this year.

Leaf, a gremlin, is a fun little character. Octavia gets attached to her quickly, and I can see why audiences would too. My only problem with the character, is that it was a bit of a Chekov’s gun. When he departs early on in the book, it’s obvious that he’s going to come back. It’s a matter of when, not if, so when you’re eventually proven right, it doesn’t feel like any great surprise. He was created for that moment when he was needed. Heck, if you want to be harsh, you could even say he’s a bit of a Deus Ex Machina character as he reappears just in the nick of time to get our heroine out of a tight spot.

Unfortunately, that is not the only obvious bit of foreshadowing – if you’re paying attention to what goes on and what Octavia has been saying about herself and her past, it doesn’t take a lot to figure out who her betrayer is. Octavia denies it so long though, it winds up making you feel like how can she not see this? It feels kind of heavy handed.  And this is part of what my biggest issue with the book is:

Octavia is a trope, a Powerful Innocent.

On the one hand, she knows that she can do things as a medician that others cannot. So much so that her internal dialogue pretty much states that this is the reason for her setting out into the broader world in the first place. And yet, when she is told that she is the most powerful medician out there, she is shocked to learn this. It’s like really? You can do things that no one else knows you can do – and you’re that surprised? She comes across as incredibly naive in general, and there’s a lot Oh Lady going on. It can get grating and it kept me a bit detached from the character.

There are some decent secondary characters, but honestly, one of them seems almost completely wasted. There was a lot of potential there and little was done with it, like she was a secondary target, when realistically she should have been on equal footing with our heroine. Is she doesn’t cross paths with Octavia in the final book, it’ll be a ridiculous waste.

I’m torn about this book. As I said, the Lady is a fun magic system, and if you don’t think too hard about it, the problems with the heavy-handed foreshadowing shouldn’t bother you. But like I said, Octavia isn’t the strongest character around and I think there’s a lot of wasted potential with Viola, who I actually like more and would like to follow her instead. I was going to recommend this for the steampunk fans, but really…those elements are fairly light and it may not feel steam punk enough for some. Still, it is a fun read and this definitely isn’t a so-bad-it’s-good fun read. And that is enough for me to say at least go check it out at the library and see if it grabs you.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: September 16

ARC Review- Vault of Dreamers – Caragh M. O’Brien

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eARC provided by publisher through NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

From the author of the Birthmarked trilogy comes a fast-paced, psychologically thrilling novel about what happens when your dreams are not your own.

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students’ lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students’ schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What’s worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.

Review:

Plus side – this book drew me in enough to get me really going again after a slight bit of burn out.

Down side – um. The rest? Honestly, the book as whole was just kind of okay.

I will give O’Brien credit. While I’m kind of tired of using some kind of reality show aspect in books – no one is going to top The Hunger Games in terms of its scathing satire or commentary – but it’s used decently enough here. It gives a rather loner Rosie a reason to interact with her classmates and a way to keep her classmates clued in on the action, even though she spends large chunks of the book alone or near alone. The problem is, the rest of the book just has this sense of “needs more development time” to it.

For example, one of the prime rules of the school is that students are allowed to be awake from 6 am to 6 pm. At 6 pm they take a sleeping pill and begin the day anew. And these kids – all teenagers mind never fight this rule? Like, ever? Ever?I don’t care that it’s a rule. These are teenagers! I honestly can’t believe that more of them aren’t faking taking their pill so they sneak out and go somewhere. I know that on the face of it, it’s something you can just accept, but human nature! And this book is barely set 50 years ahead. Forgive me for not buying into the idea that teenage rebellion has been wiped out.

On a broader scale, a lot of the problems I have with the book come from the great mystery that Rosie is trying to solve. Without describing what the big secret is (and this is one of those books where you’ll figure out what’s going on before the character does), I can just say that the why be hind it leaves you feeling a bit “oh” and a bit “huh?” when we finally get back to tying all the events together.

The biggest issue though, is that ending. It’s horribly rushed, a bit confusing and unfortunately, it ends on a cliffhanger. I kind of wish that O’Brien would have had the courage to make it stand-alone. The bad guy definitely got the upper hand here, and seeing a YA title end without the MC winning would have felt very fresh, as it isn’t something one normally sees in adult, let alone YA. As it stands, I’m not sure whether she intends to make this a duology or a trilogy or where she could be going with it next and I don’t think I’m particularly interested in finding out either.

Ultimately, there was potential, but it didn’t quite hit for me. Curious, I went and checked out Good Reads to find out what others were saying, and this book is definitely divisive, with just as many people hating it as loving it. I’m sort of in the middle. It was certainly a fast read for me, but it left me feeling kind of cold. It’ll be interesting to see how reviews for the book shake out overtime. I think O’Brien took a bit of a risk here, and it just didn’t quite pay off.

Verdict: Skip it

Available: September 16

Palate Cleanser: If I Were You

cover34865-mediumeARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

One day I was a high school teacher on summer break, leading a relatively uneventful but happy life. Or so I told myself. Later, I’d question that, as I would question pretty much everything I knew about me, my relationships, and my desires. It all began when my neighbor thrust a key to a storage unit at me. She’d bought it to make extra money after watching some storage auction show. Now she was on her way to the airport to elope with a man she barely knew, and she needed me to clear out the unit before the lease expired.

Soon, I was standing inside a small room that held the intimate details of another woman’s life, feeling uncomfortable, as if I was invading her privacy. Why had she let these items so neatly packed, possessions that she clearly cared about deeply, be lost at an auction? Driven to find out by some unnamed force, I began to dig, to discover this woman’s life, and yes, read her journals—-dark, erotic journals that I had no business reading. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I read on obsessively, living out fantasies through her words that I’d never dare experience on my own, compelled by the three men in her life, none of whom had names. I read onward until the last terrifying dark entry left me certain that something had happened to this woman. I had to find her and be sure she was okay.

Before long, I was taking her job for the summer at the art gallery, living her life, and she was nowhere to be found. I was becoming someone I didn’t know. I was becoming her.

The dark, passion it becomes…

Now, I am working at a prestigious gallery, where I have always dreamed of being, and I’ve been delivered to the doorstep of several men, allof which I envision as one I’ve read about in the journal. But there is one man that will call to me, that will awaken me in ways I never believed possible. That man is the ruggedly sexy artist, Chris Merit, who wants to paint me. He is rich and famous, and dark in ways I shouldn’t find intriguing, but I do. I so do. I don’t understand why his dark side appeals to me, but the attraction between us is rich with velvety promises of satisfaction. Chris is dark, and so are his desires, but I cannot turn away. He is damaged beneath his confident good looks and need for control, and in some way, I feel he needs me. I need him.

All I know for certain is that he knows me like I don’t even know me, and he says I know him. Still, I keep asking myself — do I know him? Did he know her, the journal writer, and where is she? And why doesn’t it seem to matter anymore? There is just him and me, and the burn for more.

Genre: Fifty Shades of Gray Clone

Review:

Sigh.

This is a genre of books I want to like. Kinky sex is fun and women deserve fun sexy things just as men do. But why is this genre filled with so much stupid?!

[For reference, my quickie review of Fifty Shades: Anastasia is an idiot whose “Inner Goddess” proves she has no self esteem, Christian is an abusive, stalker asshole who Anastasia’s mom should have been encouraging her to take out a restraining order against instead of encouraging her to be with him, (and no, his abusive past does not justify nor excuse how he treated Anastasia), E.L. James’ depiction of the BDSM lifestyle is completely wrong and what she shows is dangerous and abusive, and the whole thing is terrible from a techincal perspective.]

Case in point:

Sara – very smart in her field of expertise (art), stupid in so many other ways. She works in a gallery filled with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars worth of art, and she is SHOCKED that there are cameras there. Her first night with Chris on their second round, she tells him that she doesn’t use condoms and to please ditch him and don’t worry – he’s on the pill. What about STD/STI? She manages to get hammered at every single wine tasting in this book. I may chalk this up to the writer though, because the author clearly knows nothing about wine. At one point Chris mentions that his wine expert friend never drinks on the job because she can’t maintain her professionalism. Um. Wine makers taste 20-30 vats in a day and never get drunk because they SPIT and not swallow. Did she not do research? Like, at all? She’s less annoying than Anastasia for sure, but she’s also so beautiful that two hot, filthy rich guys eat out of her palm with no effort while she can’t string a sentence together so not THAT much less annoying.

Chris – Up side: he’s not a stalker. Downside, he’s still kinda creepy. Like how after their second or third meeting in passing, he goes to her job at the gallery (while she’s not there), sneaks into her office and leaves a sketch for her on her chair. Or after she gets drunk the first time, he offers to take her for pizza and instead drives her to his place and says they can walk to the parlor or they can go upstairs, but if he does, he’s going to fuck her as hard as he’s been wanting too. Yeah. Also, I’m not a fan of how the author almost makes him seem ashamed of his D/s desires. The kinky sexy in this book is (like Fifty Shades) rather light, but you’d like they were getting into illegal shit the way he warns her against him. Also: this is a guy who never brings a woman back to his place, but not only does he do that for her, the very next day he’s bringing her to meet his godparents, who say she’s “very good” for him. Riiiight. And the dipshit ditched the condoms when she asked him too. Moron. How does he know she was telling the truth about being STD Free?

The plot is okay, though it ends unresolved and in a literal cliffhanger. At least the book does feel complete, so there is that. The sex is well written, though it’s very vanilla, and that’s a let down given the premise of the book.

I don’t know. Every time I started to like this book, some other stupid would come out of the wood work.

I want to like the genre, but books like these make it impossible to do so.

Verdict: Skip it

Available: Now.