Winner!

So, I know I’m only a week late on this, but I wanted to announce the winner for the Fire Spirits giveaway I had last week. I sincerely apologize it took so long to get this, but sometimes that pesky real life gets in the way. 😉

Congrats to pirateevanrock for being the lucky winner! I’ll be contacting you shortly to make arrangements.

Thanks to all who entered!

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Masque of the Red Death (Masque of the Red Death #1)

Masque of the Red DeathBy Bethany Griffin

Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian/Steampunk
Source: Publisher

Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population. And those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles to pieces around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery make-up . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club. And Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither boy is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find something not just to live for, but to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

Goodreads Summary

It’s possible that I was initially drawn to this by its cover. Maybe. But I loved the synopsis and it’s inspired by the Edgar Allen Poe story so I was sold in triplicate. I’ve had it sitting here for a couple of weeks now, taunting me and to be honest, I’ve been sort of afraid to read it because I’d been anticipating it for so long. I can stick it on my reread shelf now, since I got it done and it was the keeper that I’d hoped.

If Araby Worth had more courage, she might just end her life. Instead, she separates herself as much as she can from the real world in her parents’ luxury apartment or with her friend April and trips to the Debauchery Club behind her porcelain mask to protect her from the deadly plague. When her normal defenses don’t work, Araby looks for escape in drugs, not particularly caring who she scores from or even what they are.

It’s through the club that she meets Will and Elliot. They’re practically polar opposites: Will is dark, tattooed and poor while Elliot is blonde, refined, wealthy and April’s brother. Araby lost someone very close to her and had vowed never to kiss, hold hands – fall in love – with anyone because he wouldn’t have that chance either. Both boys rouse emotions she’s tried to suppress – romantic interest, hope for their crumbling society and renewed fears and worries about her family. There isn’t really the dreaded Love Triangle, although there’s romance. I know that’s sort of contradictory, but within the story and all the turmoil, the push and pull of the guys and Araby, it doesn’t come off as any kind of triangle at all. So…breathe out. Heaven knows I did.

Araby narrates the story, so obviously the city and people get translated through her. In the beginning, she’s doing everything she can to be detached and other than some brief flares of extreme emotion, she does seem pretty disaffected. Griffin writes with a slightly staccato style and it suits Araby perfectly. Later in the story, the writing gets looser as Araby’s emotions start going haywire. I think some people might find Araby dull or a little stupid with some of the decisions she made but I think given her age, the state of society and her desire to make things right, I understood her and even liked her. Even if she made some horrible choices, in a city where breathing bad air could kill you within days, she did make those choices instead of hiding and did things that put herself at risk when she didn’t have to because she thought she was doing the right thing.

Even in its lighter moments, this is still a grim story. The threat of death hangs everywhere, from the despot leader, Prince Prospero and the maniacal revolutionary Malcontent to the Weeping Illness and the Red Death. Every moment, everyone has to ask themselves – should they ever take their mask off and where, who can they touch, what do you do if you cut yourself? People who can’t afford the expensive porcelain masks don’t leave their houses or they risk using a flimsy fabric mask and possible death. Historic incidences of the plague are a sort of macabre interest of mine and Griffin really did her homework for more than just the emotional despair. I was torn between being fascinated and a little grossed out by her detailed descriptions of the latter stages of the disease and its mutated cousin. Grossed out is meant to be complimentary.

I’m not going to give away the ending, only say that Griffin knocked the wind out of me with it. I don’t know if I just was enjoying the story so much that I wasn’t paying attention or she just threw something in there that that hadn’t had any clues dropped about, but it completely wiped out the conceptions I had about nearly all of the characters. It was a devious, cruel, torturous twist that delighted me in a completely warped way since I normally hate those, “you figure it out,” endings with a passion and now I’m so anxious to read the next book, it’s crazy.

My Summary: I’m starting to open books with so-so expectations right now, and even though I had really been waiting for this, I tamped down my hope and just started reading – and was engrossed almost immediately. The dark world controlled by disease, the contrast of the disaffected, passionate and forgotten people and the suspense storyline hooked me. 2013 seems very, very far away for the next book.

My Rating: A

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1)

R.L. LaFevers

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: April 3, 2012
Genre: Young Adult Historical
Source: Publisher

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Goodreads Summary

Ismae was plucked right out of her wedding night (which wasn’t going well, as her hubs was a total dirtbag), and shuffled through R.L. LaFevers version of the Underground Railroad. Ismae is taken to a convent specifically set aside to train young girls to be Handmaidens of Death. Or in layman’s terms: assassins. Ismae spends the next few years training herself in all manner of weapons, poisons and the art of womanly wiles. Ismae is finally deemed worthy to be sent on her first mission, which she successfully completes. However, just after she offed her mark, she runs into Gabriel Duval who is a bit livid that she’s killed his informant. It’s this very first mission where Ismae starts to doubt the Abbey, the Abbess and how to decide who needs to be killed. Ismae is dismayed that she quite possibly killed a man who was trying to redeem himself.

Brittany is in political turmoil, and as the bastard brother of the Duchess, he is embroiled right in the middle of it. Ismae’s next mission requires her to pair up with Duval, where he thinks she is being sent to protect the Duchess and find out who wants her dead. Her real mission is so spy on Duval, as the Abbess and the Abbey’s benefactor Chancellor Crunard are convinced that Duval is a traitor. As Ismae adjusts to court life and intrigue, she soon realizes that there is more to being a Handmaiden of Death than blankly following orders, and that those marked for death can redeem themselves. She also realizes that Duval is simply a man who wants to protect his sister and the future of his country. Ismae and Duval begin to rely on and trust each other, and Ismae is suddenly faced with the prospect of having to choose between the man she loves and the ideals instilled in her by the Abbey, the institution that saved her life. When the political turmoil comes to a head, Ismae and Duval have only each other to turn to in order to save their beloved country from war.

I posted this on a WoW awhile ago, and I was ecstatic when I heard we received a copy from the publisher for review. I LOVED Grave Mercy. I thoroughly enjoyed the history and rich descriptions of the character’s surroundings and way of life. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a historical novel that was non-Regency, and I missed the genre. I jumped right into the world of Grave Mercy easily, and I had no problem with keeping the characters and their names straight. It also helped that there was a map of Britanny, plus a character glossery telling me who everyone was. Gotta love those helpful authors.

Ismae is such a wonderful character. I loved her progression and growth from a young girl beat down by life, to one who knows her strength and isn’t afraid to follow her heart. Duval was fiercely loyal, and the kind of man every woman dreams they could find in real life. I loved watching their relationship unfold. It was slow and meandering as they overcame inital distrust to finally realizing they make the perfect team. They both loved the young Duchess (she was 12, can you believe it?!), and only wanted her happiness and safety. I quickly figured out who the real enemy was, but it didn’t detract from the story at all. In fact, even though I knew the essentials of what would happen, I was still shocked and surprised at how two-faced the traitor really was.

My Summary: Grave Mercy is utterly beautiful and can’t be missed. Powerfully written characters, a fascinating storyline and a sweet and poignant love story all come together to make what I consider a masterpiece. This book is the first in a series, and from what I understand, the other two books are going to be about Ismae’s two friends from the convent, Sybella and Annith with Sybella’s book next. I hope we see more of Ismae and Duval in the following books, but I was satisfied enough with the ending that I’ll be okay if they don’t make an appearance.

My Rating: A+

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Such Wicked Intent

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that I’m eagerly anticipating.

I looooove Frankenstein – books, movies, cartoons, socks – well, you know.  One of my favorite movies was a hideous version that had Jane Seymour in it.  She had her head cut off and Dr. Frankenstein sewed it back on and put a black choker over it to hide the seam.  Gross, right?  It was so schlocky, it was awesome.  I’ve been looking for more books from a male POV and I saw Petra from Safari Poet put together a Goodreads shelf with exactly that and *gasp* there was a YA Frankenstein book!  Well, it was this one which is technically the second in the series so I had to go back and buy the first one so like pretty much always, I’m way behind on reading, but I’m really excited about this one.  I have until August to finish the first one anyway which might be doable.

Such Wicked IntentSuch Wicked Intent: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book 2

By Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 21, 2012
Genre: Young Adult Gothic Thriller

When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again—just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother’s betrothed.

If only these things were not so tempting.

When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor’s twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, the four venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return.

Goodreads Summary

Since Jill was late putting Linky up, everyone who stops by can grab a cookie!

The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden #1)

The Immortal RulesBy Julie Kagawa

Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Netgalley

In a future world, Vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity.

Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them. The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked—and given the ultimate choice. Die… or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend—a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn’t easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what—and who—is worth dying for.

Goodreads Summary

I’m sorry to say, I didn’t hate this but I also didn’t like it as much as I expected to. A good part of the reason was the way the plot was divided – I’m not a fan of books which aren’t sweeping epics being divided into Parts with a capital P and are nearly disconnected from each other. I don’t generally like stories where the characters just wander around on foot for chapter after chapter either, my love of The Wizard of Oz excepted. And, well – it was predictable. From the characters to the plot, I had a vague feeling that I’d read or watched a lot of this before.

Allie is an Unregistered living in the Fringe, shorthand for an unmarked human blood donor to the vampires living in the untamed free-for-all space between the vampire city and the place the rabids claim. Unregistereds are forced to forage and steal to eat, books are prohibited and the punishment for getting caught doing anything the vampires don’t like is hanging which is slightly preferable to getting ripped apart by the rabids.

When her usual places to look for scraps of food to steal or scavenge are empty, Allie ventures into the rabids’ territory, and finds enough to get the other three members of her loose little gang to come with her to grab as much as they can. On the way back, they’re attacked by rabids and Allie is mortally injured. A vampire offers her the chance at immortal life and despite her hatred of vampires, Allie takes it.

Part II fires up with Allie’s maker Kanin immediately telling her she needs to forget everything about her human life. When she balks, he tells her he’ll toss her out – that’s his favorite threat, as it turns out. He offers to train her in all things bloodsucker while he spends a lot of time reading papers which probably means he’s Up To No Good. Kanin has some issues with people and they come back to try and bite (heh) him in the rear as he hustles Allie along into Part III.

This is the longest section and most frustrating part of the story for me. Allie is cast out of the vampire city, can’t stay in the Fringe and obviously can’t sit around with the rabids, so she sets out to see what’s past their territory. So she walks. And walks. Eventually she comes across a small group led by a messiah-type named Jeddediah, in search of Eden. The quiet, steadfast Zeke and little Caleb are the only two who seem to want Allie with them – the rest are either reticent or openly hostile. Fortunately for Allie and her new tendency to go up in smoke in sunlight, they travel at night to avoid the rabids. The group expresses hatred for vampires, so obviously, she hides what she is and just as obviously it eventually comes out with the predictable results because I think I’ve either seen this before or I saw it coming from a mile away. And that in a nutshell was the crux of my problem with the book.

Allie was most definitely a kick-ass girl who could take care of herself. This is a blend of post-apocalyptic, dystopian paranormal something-or-other and in this world, it’s every man for himself, a philosophy Allie embraces. She’s nearly feral in the beginning, all snarly and pitiless. By the time she got to Part II, she was more confident with her new vampire strength and for the most part, I liked that she got less snarly and more snarky. Her internal monologue was pure emo though and it lasted forever. It was one of my least favorite things about Meghan from Kagawa’s Iron Fey series as well – the characters both have a tendency to whine forever in their heads about what they are/have become and how horrible it is, that they’re monsters who don’t deserve to be happy, etc., etc. Allie’s need for blood was inconsistent which made me sigh really loudly.

Her situation with Zeke gave me mixed feelings. On one hand, I know what I was supposed to feel for the possibility of the two of them together. Zeke is a nice guy, selfless, kind, loyal and devoted which also sounds like a cocker spaniel. But no, he likes Allie a lot and supports her when he can. I can see Allie being drawn to his caretaker persona, liking how safe he made her feel. When he finds out what she was hiding, he feels betrayed but learns to separate the propaganda from the person. On the other hand, that’s sort of all there is to him. He’s a cardboard cutout of Prince Charming until he finds out what she is and the clichés kick in.

The action eventually picks up quite a bit and the story sort of got a little twisty (but with a lot more traveling, sigh), but it was a little to late for me by then.  I liked the way it ended, not on a real cliffhanger but more what felt like an entry to a Part IV.

My Summary: This is much darker and more violent than Kagawa’s Iron Fey series but I’m sure it’s going to be successful, mostly because of Allie. She seemed like a great sort of superhero character and if she’s anything like the Iron Fey’s Meghan, she’ll only get better as the series goes on. I would hope that the storyline would too, that it would develop into something unique with unexpected twists and deeper emotional relationships since I know the author is definitely capable of it. For me, this wasn’t a strong opening book to a series and I don’t know if I’ll continue. Check out some other reviews though before deciding on this one.

My Rating: C

Even Villains Fall In Love

Even Villains Fall in LoveBy Liana Brooks

Publisher: Breathless Press
Publication Date: April 4, 2012
Genre: Superhero Fantasy
Source: Purchased

If you believe the rumors you know that Doctor Charm, the wickedly sexy super villain, retired in shame seven years ago after his last fight with the super hero Zephyr Girl. The fact that the charming Evan Smith—father of four and husband of the too-beautiful-to-be-real Tabitha—bears a resemblance to the defeated Doctor is pure coincidence. And, please, ignore the minions.

Everything is perfect in the Smith household, until Tabitha announces her return to work as a super hero. Evan was hoping to keep her distracted until after he rigged the 2012 presidential election, but—genius that he is—Evan has a backup plan. In his basement lab, Evan has a machine whose sole purpose is keeping Tabitha hungry for him.

But children and labs don’t mix. The machine is broken, and Tabitha storms out, claiming she no longer knows him. World domination takes a back seat to meeting his daughters’ demands to get Mommy back right now. This time his genius isn’t going to be enough—he’s going to need both his evil alter-ego, and the blooming super abilities of his children to save his wife. But even his most charming self might not be enough to save their marriage.

Goodreads Summary

There’s pretty much nothing I can add to the synopsis plot-wise that wouldn’t be spoiler-y, so I’m going to leave it alone and dive right into things. I know, me with nothing to add?!

This little tongue-in-cheek (firmly) superhero story was a lot of fun. When I first read the synopsis, I remember thinking, ehh, how is Brooks going to make that funny with kids? As much as I generally like them, having one myself, I kind of think they can be story-killers sometimes. Here, something about 5-year-old quadruplets, a gorgeous semi-retired superhero mom and a she-thinks-he’s-retired super villain dad makes for great hilarity.

Evan, aka Dr. Charm, is such a cute, befuddled, mostly-villainous genius. I loved that the story was told from his POV because he’s got such a funny set of sliding morals. He knows why he should be good but doesn’t really see why he has to be if he can find a way around it. He’s even got his evil laboratory in the basement complete with minions (led by the warty six-knuckled Hert). He adores his perfect wife Tabitha, aka Zephyr Girl, and plans to make sure she stays his. Because of the way the plot was structured, there wasn’t as much Tabitha in the book as Evan, but they had great chemistry and she was delightful as a working mom/superhero that came home to see what hubby made for dinner. I was so anxious to see if Brooks was doing any more books like this that I checked her website and saw that she’s working on Every Hero Needs a Villain, which is Tabitha’s story!

The four Smith daughters are freaking adorable. They’re like smarter, cuter, funny versions of the Power Puff girls (how many of those things were there?). It could be that it’s because when my brothers or I got yelled at, my mom never got our names right (yes, she called me by my brothers’ names), but I thought it was hilarious that Evan thought about which daughter was which by their eye colors and favorite color. With some sewing help from Evan, they put their superhero costumes together and come up with their own names and it’s priceless.

This is a long-ish novella and with novellas there’s usually something you expect to get shaved off. There were some little plot issues with Tabitha’s end of the story but they didn’t bother me as much as I expected because I was having so much fun with Evan. I could have used a little more at the end though. I wanted an extra chapter but I would have settled for another handful of paragraphs even.

My Summary: When done with some wit, I really enjoy books with a superhero theme and Brooks nailed it. There were quite a few times that I thought Dr. Charm would have had a terrific show on Nick at Nite (or his four girls should have their own show). I had so much fun reading this that I didn’t want to come to the last page, which made the abrupt ending a little more painful that it may have been otherwise. The rating got dinged a little for the issues with Tabitha and the ending but I still recommend this.

My Rating: B+