Review: ‘RoseBlood’ by A. G. Howard

In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.

This book broke my heart, you guys — and not in an “OMG, so many feels” way. No, it broke my heart in the sense that I wanted it to be so much more than what it was. I’m giving it two stars, which is “it’s okay” in the admittedly terse Goodreads star system. And it was okay. But I wanted it to be glorious.

I was a mad Phantom of the Opera fan in my teens. I haven’t read the original novel, but I have the Susan Kay novel and can sing the musical by heart. The idea of an urban fantasy inspired by the Phantom made me giddy with delight.

The first thing you need to know (and that I wish I’d known) is that, unlike Howard’s Splintered series, RoseBlood isn’t urban fantasy but its kissing cousin, paranormal romance. That means that the romance is the central focus of the plot, rather than a subplot. I’m not generally a huge fan of paranormal romance, for the same reason there aren’t too many pure romance stories that I enjoy. They just aren’t to my taste.

Secondly, RoseBlood uses the insta-love plot device via the mechanism of a soul mate — only in the book it’s referred to by the admittedly pretty phrase “twin flame”. The thing I didn’t find so pretty was that a twin flame was two people who shared a soul. Every time I ready about that, I cringed — not so much because of the cheesiness (although it is a tiny bit cheesy, let’s be honest) but because I couldn’t shake the mental image that the two parts of the soul were going to burst out of the two main characters in a spray of gore like baby monsters from Alien, desperate to be reunited.

(Sorry!)

Also, I found the romance more broadly a little problematic. Thorn, the male in the relationship, has all the knowledge and most of the power, and he regards the whole thing as preordained. At one point he tells Rune that they are destined to be lovers. He watches Rune sleep. Some (especially those who love Edward Cullen) will find this romantic, but I … did not.

Onto the things I did enjoy, the world is gloriously gothic. Rune’s school, RoseBlood, is all creepy props cupboards and chandeliers and secret passages behind one-way mirrors. It doesn’t have internet or cell phone access, increasing that very gothic sense of isolation. I loved the feel of it.

Just don’t ask why it’s called RoseBlood; we never find out, which is a shame.

I also enjoyed Rune’s aesthetic. She’s into handmade clothes and knitting, and has curly brown hair (something we don’t see that much of in spec-fic — I say this as a person with curly brown hair!). She does suffer from being a bit wet in the relationship stakes and doesn’t have the fire I prefer in my heroines, but I suspect that may be because Howard was trying to parallel Erik’s power over Christine in the original story.

Her friends are delightful and I wish they’d been in the book more. As for the Phantom himself, Erik is in the book, although as a largely off-screen menace and (occasionally) tragic figure. Still, in the love/hate balance I came down on the side of hate.

The paranormal element of the book is a little bizarre, but not the weirdest thing I’ve ever read in spec-fic. I won’t go into details, though, because I don’t want to include spoilers.

If you love paranormal romance, heavy gothic atmosphere, lush prose and Twilight, then RoseBlood is for you. If not, I’d suggest checking out the Splintered series instead.

 

 

 

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Review: “Once Dead, Twice Shy” by Kim Harrison

My name is Madison Avery, and I’m here to tell you that there’s more out there than you can see, hear, or touch. Because I’m there. Seeing it. Touching it. Living it.

Madison’s prom was killer—literally. For some reason she’s been targeted by a dark reaper—yeah, that kind of reaper—intent on getting rid of her, body and soul. But before the reaper could finish the job, Madison was able to snag his strange, glowing amulet and get away.

Now she’s stuck on Earth—dead but not gone. Somehow the amulet gives her the illusion of a body, allowing her to toe the line between life and death. She still doesn’t know why the dark reaper is after her, but she’s not about to just sit around and let fate take its course.

With a little ingenuity, some light-bending, and the help of a light reaper (one of the good guys! Maybe…), her cute crush, and oh yeah, her guardian angel, Madison’s ready to take control of her own destiny once and for all, before it takes control of her.

Well, if she believed in that stuff.

I had high hopes for this book. I love Harrison’s The Hollows series (I reviewed the first book here if you want to see what that’s all about), and I was in the mood for some YA, so this seemed the perfect fit. It’s always a risk, going into a book with the bar set so high. And I did like it … but not as much as I wanted to.

The first chapter drops you in the middle of things to the point that I double-checked I hadn’t inadvertently bought the second book the series. It heavily references the events around prom night and Madison’s death (mentioned in the blurb), but in a “you should know this” way rather than a “here’s a drip feeding of backstory” way. I discovered when I looked at Goodreads afterwards that there is a short story in a previously published compilation, Prom Nights From Hell, which covered those events. Something to be aware of. I expect that, if you read the compilation first, the start of this book would be less discombobulating.

I didn’t mind Madison as a main character, though she felt a little underdone. Again, I think it was the lack of backstory. For example, one of the elements of character growth that became apparent by the end is that she realises she needs to forge a new life with her dad and stop rejecting new friends because they can’t compete with her best friend at her old school. But her only interaction with her old best friend was that she texted her selfies a couple of times, so I didn’t realise she was rejecting new friends etc till she decided not to do it anymore.

Still, Madison is a pastel goth who has skulls on her shoes and purple hair, and is an amateur photographer. I dug that, as well as her hard-headed determination to not be a damsel in distress.

Barnabas is the light reaper (think: specialised angel) who was meant to save Madison’s life and is now stuck with teaching her how to use the new powers she should be able to access by virtue of … not being dead, I guess? It’s unclear. He looks — and acts — like a broody seventeen year old boy. Ugh. The love interest, Josh, is actually seventeen, and is much more mature. Get it together, Barnabas.

Plot-wise, once I accepted that Madison had somehow managed to evade final death by swiping the amulet, the book wasn’t too bad. I guessed from the first description of the amulets what one of the plot twists was, which was kind of disappointing. But there was another one that I didn’t see coming, which meant the end of the book was more entertaining than the first half.

Once Dead, Twice Shy is a straightforward read that would suit a younger teen (especially one who has read the story that sets this book up!). I gather it’s the first book in a trilogy, but I’m not sure I’ll be reading any further. 


‘False Awakening’ release date details

Release date and book blitz

False Awakening, the sequel to my adult urban fantasy Lucid Dreaming, is being released on Saturday 26 August. To celebrate, I am throwing it a birthday party — if you’re a blogger or social media book promo host, you can find out the details and sign up here. There will be excerpts and a giveaway; I’d love it if you could take part.

And if you’re neither of those things, keep an eye out … because giveaway! 😉

Preorder details

The False Awakening ebook is already available for pre-order at a range of retailers; links are below. A paperback will be available, although I don’t have any links for that yet.

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Australia
Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Book details (just in case you’d forgotten)

How can you fight your nightmares when they’re real?

Melaina, half-human dream therapist, just wants her life to return to normal. Yes, her Oneiroi father is in prison and, yes, the place she worked burned down, but she has a cute boyfriend and a new house. She beat the bad guy. She’s earned a break. Right?

Unfortunately for Melaina, people are still getting possessed by nightmare spirits; the police are investigating her past; and the bad guy’s brother, the Morpheus himself, is coming to town to demand answers. When a deranged ex-nurse checks himself out of hospital on the same day her cousin runs away from home, Melaina is dragged into a fight not just for her life but for her soul.

 


Review: ‘Out of the Shadows’ by Ashlee Nicole Bye

Nobody ever said death would be easy…

From the streets of Melbourne to the bowels of Westminster, the delicate balance between life and death that is so painstakingly maintained by the reapers of The Order of Dark and Light is being tested by the return of an ancient threat. Tensions are rising within the hidden world of The Shadowlands and if this threat is not contained war will be inevitable. And the destruction of the human world is bound to follow in its wake.

Amidst this tension, eighteen year-old Sachi Manning is struggling to cope with the grief and guilt that has plagued her ever since her best friend was murdered six months earlier—that is, until she spots him seemingly alive and well and being held at scythe point by a hooded figure who looks more like a GQ model than the Grim Reaper.

Sachi shouldn’t be able to see through the glamours that shield Shadowlanders from the human world, so the reaper in question wants some answers. And so begins the craziest couple of weeks of Sachi’s life as she is drawn into a world of mysteries, magic, monsters, and mayhem, encountering dragons, faeries, soul-sucking demons, not-so-grim reapers, and even the Horseman of Death.

With a mix of heart, humour and hair-raising action, Out of the Shadows is the adventure of an afterlifetime, perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare and Kresley Cole.

The first thing I should note is that I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review. Those who’ve read my review policy know that I don’t normally agree to such requests, so when Ashlee approached me I quietly snuck away and read the first couple of chapters of the book on Amazon before committing to anything. Just in case. 😉

I’m glad I took the chance, though, because I loved Out of the Shadows. Sashi’s world is amazingly complex, full of supernatural creatures, competing factions and a complicated process for managing what happens to souls when they die. It’s mostly set in Melbourne, and I loved the Aussie touch (although the reapers, the main supernatural faction to which we’re exposed, can teleport, so there are scenes in New York, London and elsewhere — it’s a bit like Paula Weston’s Rephaim series in that regard).

Sashi, the main character, is Australian-born but with Japanese ancestry. She is tiny and fiery and quick with a joke. Her voice was one of my favourite things about this story — she had me giggling more than once at one observation or another. For example, it’s a bit of an urban fantasy trope that supernatural leading men are all ripped hotties. At one point, Sashi actually calls some of the lads out on it, asking if there’s a pill or something, subtly undercutting the trope while leaving the eye candy safely intact for our reading pleasure.

My other favourite character is the reaper Moss, again just because he is hilarious. He and Sashi quite often have movie quote exchanges, and every T-shirt he owns has a funny line on the front. Given my own T-shirt collection, I approved. (Oh, and Beelzebub, Prince of Hell, is hysterical too, in a “I suspect he’s unstable and might start killing folks at any moment” kind of way.)

I know I’ve talked a lot about the humour, because it was one of my favourite things about the book, but I should also mention that Out of the Shadows has its darker moments. There’s a supernatural conspiracy going on, one with a body count and a reach that I can only guess at from the first book. There are plot twists I didn’t see coming, and one exceptionally sad and shocking moment that was a dagger to the old feels.

I approve.

For those wondering about the quality of the writing itself (always a valid question for small press and self-published works), I can confirm that Ashlee writes beautifully. I did see a handful of places where I’d do something different with commas, but they are the sort of things that only a sharp copyeditor is likely to notice … and I’ve seen books published by traditional presses with similar mistakes.

The only reason this isn’t a five-star read for me is that occasionally I got a little overwhelmed by the number of different factions. I was able to track the characters fairly easily but, because I read this as an ebook, I couldn’t easily flick back to earlier to remind myself of the differences between all the different types of reaper, for example.

Still, the confusion was temporary and didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. I’m very keen to read the next instalment in the series.



Review: ‘Autumn Bones’ by Jacqueline Carey

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Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel.

Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one.

He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything…

Anyone with a very long memory will recall that I was looking forward to Autumn Bones releasing in 2014. More than two years later, I finally read the thing — though I don’t know why I didn’t read it sooner. I’m easily distracted by shiny things, I guess!

Autumn Bones is the second in the Agent of Hel series by brilliant fantasy writer Jacqueline Carey. I read the first, Dark Currents, back in 2012 and loved it (but that was before I was regularly reviewing books so I can’t link you a review, sadly). Of course, before starting Autumn Bones I couldn’t remember much about the series except for the fact it had a main character named Daisy who was half demon.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that you can read Autumn Bones as a standalone book if you get the opportunity; you’ll be able to follow the story just fine. Daisy’s voice is such that she has a way of reminding you about things in a chatty way that makes you feel like she’s catching you up on her story over a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. It’s one of my favourite things about the book, honestly. (Also, she and her friends compare themselves the Buffy and the Scooby Gang, so you know they’re speaking my language!)

The other is the fact Daisy has a tail. Which is apparently very sensitive; she likes it when it’s scratched.

On that note, Autumn Bones is adult urban fantasy, but — despite Carey’s other books being quite, erm, intense — goes pretty light on the sex scenes. They do happen, but they are either glossed over or are described but in a very general way. We’re not talking erotica here. (Honestly, I was a tiny bit disappointed … but that says more about me than it does about the book.)

I’m not a usual fan of the love triangle story device. In this instance the book has something closer to a … love square? But Daisy is an old-fashioned and relatively wholesome girl, despite her ancestry, so it’s mostly that she notices other guys — we’re not talking orgies* or affairs or anything. It’s more that there’s the man she’s had a crush on since she was in school, who likes her but can’t hook up with her for family reasons. There’s the hot biker ghoul that she is attracted to but generally keeps it professional with. And there’s her actual boyfriend, who is fun, albeit related to some rather unsavoury types.

(*Except that one time, in the opening chapter of the book. But she’s there to break the orgy up, not take part. And she’s mortified by the experience; there’s a lot of “ew” from her, which made me giggle.)

You might be wondering about the clash between Daisy being the daughter of a demon and the fact she’s named Daisy and says “ew” at orgies. It’s because her mother didn’t set out to summon a demon; it was an accident, and once she got pregnant she set out to raise her daughter to be a good person. As well as the tail, Daisy wrestles with strong emotions — strong enough that things tend to get creepy around her if she gets mad enough — but she has been taught that to give in to the demon side of herself would fracture the wall between earth and hell, which is a lot of incentive to stay on (or at least adjacent to) the path of righteousness.

As a reader, part of me really wants to see Daisy embrace her inner demon, though. I’m imagining it’d be like Elsa in Frozen, except with fire. I’ll bring the marshmallows!

Ahem. Anyway. The story in Autumn Bones is a little meandering, and is sometimes slow-paced, especially towards the start. There weren’t any earth-shattering plot twists, but I enjoyed the story and was entertained nevertheless. I’ve already ordered the sequel, which I gather is the last book in the series. (Noooo!)

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Four-and-a-half stars


In case you missed it, last Thursday I was over at Aussie Owned and Read, talking about starting a story right.

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Review: ‘Darkness Unbound’ by Keri Arthur

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The fight against darkness rages on for the next generation—in New York Times bestselling author Keri Arthur’s exciting new series set in the world of the Guardians.

Being half werewolf and half Aedh, Risa Jones can enter the twilight realms between life and death and see the reapers, supernatural beings that collect the souls of the dead. But she soon makes a terrifying discovery: Some sinister force is stealing souls, preventing the dead from ever knowing the afterlife.

Reapers escort souls — not snatch them — but Risa is still unnerved when a reaper shadows her in search of someone Risa has never met: her own father, an Aedh priest, who is rumored to be tampering with the gates of hell for a dark purpose. With the help of her “aunt” — half-werewolf, half-vampire Riley Jenson — and an Aedh named Lucian who may have lost his wings but none of his sex appeal, Risa must pursue whatever shadowy practitioner of blood magic is seizing souls, and somehow stop her father . . . before all hell breaks loose.

I had a vague idea that this was the first book in a series set in a world already established by a previous series. But, because it was the first book, I figured I’d be safe not to read the other series first. I was only partially correct in that assumption.

Keri Arthur’s world is … complicated. By way of example, her main character, Risa, is the daughter of a woman who is a cloned werewolf psychic consultant to celebrities; her father is an Aedh (a spirit being roughly akin to an angel). Her housemates and business partners are a horse shapeshifter who is a powerful witch, and a half-werewolf with pyrokinetic powers.

I managed to wrap my head around that part, but then you have all of Risa’s “aunts” and “uncles” (who I thought were really her aunts and uncles until towards the end of the book, when I realised they were her mother’s friends, presumably from the first series). They include half vampires, werewolves, guardians and I don’t even know what else. There were so many names and supernatural backstories that they blurred together. But I found once we got past the cameos and associated info dumps and I decided it didn’t matter, Darkness Unbound was an easier read.

The other thing I had to put to one side was that Risa is a bit of a Mary Sue character: gorgeous, with a selection of awesome superpowers and scad-loads of money. She even describes herself as “obscenely wealthy” at one point, and she had her housemates co-run a successful restaurant. I found her a little hard to relate to, because she never seems to really struggle for anything in her day-to-day life (and her restaurant income doesn’t seem to explain her alleged wealth). Again, this might be a symptom of the second-generation nature of the story — maybe her mother and the aunts and uncles already did the struggling so that Risa could benefit? I don’t know.

All of that being said, I still gave Darkness Unbound three stars, which is “I liked it” on the Goodreads scale (which I use because I’m lazy!). There are redeeming features in the story itself: there are bad guys with dastardly plans that Risa gets drawn into investigating. There’s a fair amount of shirtless eye candy (although a baffling lack of regular humans given the story is set in Melbourne!). Risa does get her ass handed to her on occasion, but she is also competent and quick-thinking when she gets into a jam, and can kick a decent amount of butt in her own right. That’s my favourite kind of heroine, so she gets points for that too.

One thing I should point out that didn’t bother me but that may not be to everyone’s taste is that werewolves in this world have the morals and sexual drive of a cat on heat. It may be related to the moon being full? I wasn’t clear on the details, but the upshot is that Risa is part-werewolf and casual sex is a thing. (I gather she has also used male werewolf sex workers in the past to satisfy her lusts — I personally like that girl power angle!) There’s even an orgy at one point. We’re not talking “Anita Blake later in that series” numbers of sexual encounters, thank goodness — it’s not the point of the story by any means. But the sex scenes in Darkness Unbound are explicit to the point of being erotica.

The last quarter of the book is where things really pick up pace and get more interesting, and that’s what saved Darkness Unbound somewhat for me. But there is less closure than some might like. The plot involving the “gates of hell” mentioned in the blurb is obviously the meta-plot for the series, and — although some questions are answered and there’s a twist that I found motivating (if not that surprising as it was well foreshadowed) — there are a lot of threads left unresolved.

If you’re looking for a complex urban fantasy world with some steamy sex, then I’d recommend this series. Actually, no, I think I’d recommend the other series first. That way this one will be less of a shock to the system.

(Edited to add: Goodreads tells me the first book in the original series has a lot more sex than this one … if that influences your decision-making one way or the other! 😉 )

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Three stars


Book announcement: ‘Lucid Dreaming’ sequel coming in 2017

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I’ve posted so many reviews lately that recent followers of my blog might be forgiven for thinking that’s all I do here. But, despite appearances, I have been slowly beetling away for the better part of the year on the sequel to Lucid Dreaming, my adult urban fantasy. I’m about half a chapter from “the end” — the goal is to have the first draft done before Christmas, if I can overcome the distractions of the silly season.

It’ll be a near thing.

At this stage, the plan is for Lucid Dreaming and its sequel to be a duology — a two-book series. The goal is to release the sequel in the middle of 2017.

So, what can I tell you about this sequel?

The title!

Well, first off, there’s the title:

False Awakening title fireworks

Source: Image Chef

Yes, False Awakening — inspired by that phenomenon that is “a vivid and convincing dream about awakening from sleep, while the dreamer in reality continues to sleep”. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

The blurb!

I can also share an early version of the blurb (although this one is subject to change once my lovely editor finishes her maternity leave!).

“Sometimes I have nightmares where I dream I’ve woken up, and then I start attacking people…”

Melaina, half-human dream therapist, just wants her life to return to normal. Yes, her Oneiroi father is in prison and, yes, the place she worked burned down, but she has a cute boyfriend and a new house. She beat the bad guy. She’s earned a break. Right?

Unfortunately for Melaina, people are still getting possessed by nightmare spirits; the police are investigating her past; and the bad guy’s brother, the Morpheus himself, is coming to town to demand answers. When a deranged ex-nurse checks himself out of hospital on the same day her cousin runs away from home, Melaina is dragged into a fight not just for her life but for her soul.

Also, note — if you’re a Goodreads user, you can add False Awakening to your “to read” shelf. You know, if you want to.

The sale!

To celebrate, the Lucid Dreaming ebook is on sale for $0.99 (US) at the following websites.

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Australia
Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Tell your friends!

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Not the book cover — I don’t have one of those yet. But it is pretty! Source: Shutterstock