ARC: Uriel’s Fall (Ubiquity #1) – Loralie Hall

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eARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for review

Summary:

What’s a corporate demon to do when the voice in her head is devouring her sanity from the inside out, and the hosts of heaven and hell would rather see her destroyed than surrender a power they shouldn’t possess?

Ronnie has the job any entry-level angel or demon would sell their soul for—she’s a retrieval analyst for the largest search engine in the world. Ubiquity is a joint initiative between heaven and hell. Because what better way to track all of humanity’s secrets, both good and bad, than direct access to their web browsing habits.

She might appreciate the position a little more if a) she could remember anything about her life before she started working at Ubiquity, b) the damn voice in her head would just shut up already, and c) her boss wasn’t a complete dickhead.

As she searches for the solutions to the first two issues, and hopes the third will work itself out in performance reviews, she uncovers more petty backstabbing than an episode of Real Housewives, and a conspiracy as old as Lucifer’s descent from heaven. On top of all that, if she forgets the cover sheet on her TPS report one more time, she’s absolutely going on final written warning.

Now Ronnie’s struggling to keep her sanity and job, and stop the voice in her head from stealing her life. She almost misses the boredom of data analysis at Ubiquity. Almost.

Review:

I’m not sure how I managed to read two books back-to-back about female protagonists having unwanted hitch-hikers in their pysche, but somehow I have.

What I am sure of: this is how you do that concept right.

Without spoiling the story, I will just say that the explanation for how it all works is both simple, and makes sense. It’s a definite case of less is more, but remains satisfying to read. I’d almost suggest that Madison read this book, to get an idea of a better way of pursuing the concept.

This book is also superior in another, critical way: I like both our protagonist and her hitch-hiker. They have their own voices, their own personalities and they’re both likable. Critically, too, I think, is that Hall worked the hitch-hiker’s story has a purpose, it’s ties into the greater story of the world. It feels more thought out and it feels complete. And most important, it’s interesting!

As for the world, it’s a story of angels and demons. The mythology is, for the most part fairly traditional, but that’s okay. It’s gave Hall the platform she needed to tell the story she wanted to tell, which was ultimately Uriel’s story and Uriel’s story was interesting. Plus there were some nice bits of chemistry going on and a nice little steamy sex scene to boot.

Overall, this was a really clever, really fun urban paranormal fantasy. If you like the concept or the genre, you should enjoy yourself here.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

ARC Review: Arcana – Jessica Leake

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Summary:

Amid the sumptuous backdrop of the London season in 1905, headstrong Katherine Sinclair must join the ranks of debutantes vying for suitors. Unfortunately for Katherine, she cannot imagine anything more loathsome—or dangerous. To help ease her entrance into society, Katherine’s family has elicited the assistance of the Earl of Thornewood, a friend and London’s most eligible bachelor, to be her constant companion at the endless fetes and balls. But upon her arrival in London, Katherine realizes there will be more to this season than just white gowns and husband hunting.

Through her late mother’s enchanted diary, Katherine receives warning to keep hidden her otherworldly ability to perform arcana, a magic fueled by the power of the sun. Any misstep could mean ruin—and not just for her family name. The Order of the Eternal Sun is everywhere—hunting for those like her, able to feed on arcana with only a touch of the hand.

But society intrigue can be just as perilous as the Order. The machinations of the fashionable elite are a constant threat, and those who covet Katherine’s arcana, seeking the power of her birthright, could be hiding behind the façade of every suitor—even the darkly handsome Earl of Thornewood.

With so much danger and suspicion, can she give her heart to the one who captivates her, or is he just another after her power?

Review:

Arcana is a romantic historical fantasy, emphasis on the romance. I’m going to put it out here right now: if you don’t enjoy historical romance, then this isn’t going to be your cuppa. The fantasy aspects are woven in, but they’re honestly pretty light. It wouldn’t be so hard to remove them and with a bit of tweaking, have ourselves a very traditional historical romance.  Furthermore, the magic here is, as you might expect, a bit underdeveloped and what is there is wholly ordinary. Mostly it helps to provide some background flavor and tension. Even towards the very end when the action is most heated, you’ve seen before. This isn’t the book to look to for anything new on the historical fantasy front. I did like that her magic was powered by the sun though, I’ve been known to go basking on occasion to perk up. Artificial light just isn’t the same!

Anyway, as romance, it’s pretty good. The characters are solid, the Society intrigue on point and you have your two handsome roguish suitors. I will say that if you have experience with the genre, you’re likely to figure out which of the suitors is the good guy and which is the bad, and that’s even before the story drives the point home. I do wish there were a little more subtlety on the part of the “bad” one but your mileage may vary. I found it a light and breezy read.

Overall, I’d have to say that if you like historical romances, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you’re more of a pure fantasy kind of person who’d never indulge in that kind of thing, this isn’t going to be for you. The fantasy aspect, while not tacked on, isn’t much more developed than that and it just doesn’t satisfy on that front. I expected something more of a work touted as “genre-bending.”

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now

Palate Cleanser: If I Were You

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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.

Review: Unearthly – Cynthia Hand

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Summary:

In the beginning, there’s a boy standing in the trees . . . .
Clara Gardner has recently learned that she’s part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn’t easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place and out of place at the same time. Because there’s another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara’s less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she’d have to make between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart.

Review:

There is pleasure to be had in a simple read, the joy of losing yourself in a book on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

This was one of the the last books I picked up during my end-of-year binge. When I picked this back up again, I’d completely forgotten what it was about, so I was pleased when I found myself reading an enjoyable story about a girl discovering her Angel powers while navigating the treacherous waters of high school and relationships. It’s one of those books where there really isn’t a lot here, but what is here is enjoyable enough fluff that you don’t mind.

If you get the sense that I’m struggling to find something to say, it’s because there really just isn’t much to say. The story is light, the characters are more or less likable and it’s a fun read. You probably won’t remember it in a day or two, but it’s a great book if all you’re looking for is something fun.

Verdict: A very strong Borrow it. It’s unremarkable, but it does what it does well and if this is a genre you enjoy, you should have a good time with it.

 

Winner’s Curse – Marie Rutkoski

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An ARC was received from Net Galley in exchange for fair review.

Summary:

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Review:

Every now and then a book catches you completely off guard. Unlike a book like say The Waking Engine which I knew was going to be something special off the bat, this was a slow burn. The first couple of chapters are really nothing that spectacular. If anything, if you’re cynical like me it sets you up to expect an insta-love star-crossed-lovers kind of plot. Thankfully, and surprisingly, it never goes there. Instead, Rutkoski gives us a thoughtfully crafted novel, a tale of head fighting the heart and a surprisingly deft handling of slavery.

A lot of this book’s success comes down to its characters. Kestrel is smart, but not too clever. She uses her brain to get her out a lot of tricky situations. She doesn’t come off as action star or a super hero. She’s put off making decisions until her hand is forced and she must. She doesn’t fall in love quickly and the love doesn’t change her either, which is always nice to see. Her decision at the end of the book is one that speaks of great maturity. Arin, the slave, is also an interesting character too. Even as he falls for her, he doggedly pursues his goals and doesn’t really let her distract him from what he’s setting out to to which I really admire. This isn’t some tale where the characters swoon and run off into the sunset, which I really like.

As I said, another really successful element of this book is the way it handles slavery. Although it admittedly does feel a bit whitewashed (violence is rarely inferred and when it does happen it is off screen) there’s a real sense of oppression in this world and it really does look at what it’s like when you’re enslaved not far away from your home, but in a place that quite literally could have been your own home. And as a result, as the story plays out you don’t want Kestrel hurt, but at the same point in time, you completely feel for Arin and his people too and you have complete sympathy for his actions. You feel for both sides. It really is impressive.

I will say though, that this book does feel more like a romance than it does a fantasy. The world is not our own, but this is no epic either. For the action of the second half, it’s actually a fairly quiet book, using its time to be introspective and get into the characters heads. This is not at all a criticism, just more of a heads up for those looking for something more traditional feeling.

If you’re looking for something a bit different that is very intelligent and contains pretty much none of the standard YA tropes that you’d expect to find in a title like this, I highly recommend checking it out.

Verdict: Buy it.

Available: March 4, 2014

Good Reads #41: Tiger’s Quest

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I always find trilogies to be risky things: I tend to love the first books, and then the second book can be a major let down (c.f Catching Fire, which I loathed) while the third can sometimes be redemptive.

I didn’t hate this book, but I do think this book lost some of the magic that I thought Tiger’s Curse had.

On the one hand, the book starts with Kelsey adjusting to college life and dating guys. I kind of like it because it at least it shows her trying and not just going straight for the pure true love root. On the other hand, the dates go on too long and I think there is at least one too many. We didn’t need that awful date. It just felt like padding.

My other gripe with this book is that this part of the quest takes her characters to freaking Shangri-La. Shangri-La. Where can she possibly take the characters that won’t feel like a let down after?

I’m also iffy on the development with the relationship between Ren and Kelsey. I’m sure it’s plot related, but seems cliche.

It wasn’t a bad book, but it’s just after how promising the first was, this just felt like a let down.

Verdict: Borrow it.

Good Reads #38: Tiger’s Curse

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My big gripe with Vampire Academy was that it felt like it didn’t really do anything unique or special. It was a high school drama with vampires. It was handled competently, but brought nothing new to the table.

I picked up Tiger’s Curse at the same time; the cover caught me eye and something about it made me not want to put it down, even as I wondered if I should get that third book knowing that I was to be getting in several books within another week or so from the library.

Turns out my gut was on to something, because this was a great book. It’s a simple set up: a 17 year, fresh-out-of-high-school girl takes a job at a circus and befriends the show’s tiger setting off a chain of events that wind up her going to India, coming face to face with a Goddess after making a temple run that Indiana Jones would be proud of. There’s also a nice romance that isn’t wince inducing.

All in all this is what I’m looking for when it comes to a fun read – enjoyable but different and a young adult novel that could be easily pushed in adult genre if the heroine had been a few years older.

If you’re looking for something different, check it out.

Verdict: Borrow it (if in paperback, buy it)