Book Review: Winter’s Passage by Julie Kagawa

8070049Title: Winter’s Passage (Iron Fey #1.5)
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genre: Young Adult, Faeries, Fantasy
Publisher: HarlequinTEEN
Rating: 3 stars
Review copy downloaded for free from the Harlequin website.

Meghan Chase used to be an ordinary girl…until she discovered that she is really a faery princess. After escaping from the clutches of the deadly Iron fey, Meghan must follow through on her promise to return to the equally dangerous Winter Court with her forbidden love, Prince Ash. But first, Meghan has one request: that they visit Puck–Meghan’s best friend and servant of her father, King Oberon–who was gravely injured defending Meghan from the Iron Fey.

Yet Meghan and Ash’s detour does not go unnoticed. They have caught the attention of an ancient, powerful hunter–a foe that even Ash may not be able to defeat….

An eBook exclusive story from Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series.

Read my review of The Iron King, the previous book in the series.

Winter’s Passage picks up exactly where The Iron King left off, with the handsome and darkly charming Prince Ash escorting the Half-Summer Princess Meghan Chase through the realm of the Nevernever and into the lair of Queen Mab, the Unseelie Court. However, before they begin their journey back to the freakingly cold winter-world, Meghan forces Prince Ash to do one last thing, namely pay a visit to her best friend, Puck (aka Robin Goodfellow) who got seriously injured during their previous fight with the Iron Fey. Although a detour wasn’t exactly what the chilly prince had planned, he does give his consent. That was before he knew the thing that was chasing them though, The Hunter, a century-old creature so powerful even Ash might be unable to defeat it. And amidst of all this running away from scary creatures, sword-wielding heroes and practically immortal foes, Meghan and Ash still have to admit they have feelings for each other.

I did enjoy reading Winter’s Passage, although I thought it was a bit short (probably got something to do with the fact it’s an ebook novella :P) and I probably finished reading it in fifteen or so minutes. It was fun to travel back to the briefly familiar territory covered in The Iron King, to catch up with Meghan and Ash, and to take another look on dear old Puck. The adventure with The Hunter chasing Ash and Meghan was entertaining as well, although I must admit I’ve grown a bit tired with the loop those two seem to be stuck in. Either it’s chasing something or someone – from a missing brother to a scepter to each other – or being chased by something rather dangerous. With The Iron Fey novels, I constantly have the feeling that I’m running along with the characters, and there’s never time to sit back and relax, or to talk about funny things like feelings, emotions and heartbreak. It’s a bit exhausting to read really.

I liked it that Winter’s Passage does stop on emotions for once, and gives us a greater insight in what the characters are thinking. Ash because an even more complex and multifaceted characters as he is faced with the conflicting desires of love and loyalty. We also see a greater glimpse of Meghan’s feelings, and learn that this might not simply be a teenage crush on a handsome faery prince. I’ve always liked the dynamics of Meghan/Ash (although I have to admit I’m not entirely opposed against Puck as well) and I’m glad the veil got lifted, albeit only a little bit, and I got a better understanding of both of these characters.

Don’t read Winter’s Passage unless you read The Iron King, or if you feel like taking a glimpse of Julie Kagawa’s writing style first before focusing on the trilogy itself. Personally, I don’t think it’s Julie’s best writing – she has a lot more skill producing a novel than a novella, in my opinion – but it’s a nice bridge between The Iron King and The Iron Daughter, it’s a very fast read, and you’ll see some more of the characters you’ve grown to love. Plus, you know, there’s Ash, and he’s always a bonus.

Book Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

6644117Title: The Iron King (The Iron Fey #1)
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genre: Fantasy, Faeries, Young Adult, Supernatural
Buy this novel: Book Depository.
Rating: 5 stars

Meghan Chase has a secret destiny—one she could never have imagined…
Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan’s life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school…or at home.
When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she’s known is about to change.
But she could never have guessed the truth—that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she’ll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face…and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

The Iron King focuses on the persona of Meghan Chase, a sixteen-year-old girl whose father dissapeared years ago, and who now lives in the country with her Mom, stepfather and little brother Ethan. With her ragged clothes and her parent’s pigfarm business, Meghan is the laughing stock of the entire school. Fortunately, she has one friend who supports her through all of this: Robbie Goodfell. On her sixteenth birthday however, weird things are starting to happen. For instance, Robbie is behaving strangely, her younger brother Ethan seems possessed by some alien creature, and she sees images of a tall and handsome boy on a horse. It is only when Robbie explains to her, that Meghan realises what has truly happened. Her younger brother was kidnapped by the faeries, and they put a changeling in her home instead. And her best friend since forever, Robbie Goodfell, is in fact no one other than Robin Goodfellow aka Puck, the famous and mischevious fairy from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Determined to find Ethan and return him home safely, Meghan and Puck travel to the Never Never. But like travelling to the wildfey area isn’t hard enough, they are being chased by the tall and handsome stranger, who turns out to be none other than the Winter Prince, Ash. He and Puck have an old feud going on, and unfortunately for her, Meghan is stuck in the middle of all of it.

Like that isn’t bad enough, something else is threatening the Never Never as well. Something dark, powerful and destructive. Something that took her brother. And it will take all of their combined forces to find out what, and to defeat it.

I have to admit that I’m not usually one to jump on the big-hype-bandwagon. I’m not the kind of person who likes something simply because everyone and their pet chihuahua likes it. If anything, the more hype there is about something, the more reluctant I am to join in and add my own fangirlness as well. I felt the same way with the Harry Potter books, until I read them and fell in love. I also felt the exact same way about the whole Twilight issue, until I read the novels and made my own opinion – I’m still not very fond of them, but I can see their appeal – and I had the exact same problem with The Iron Fey Series. I was curious to read the series because everyone talked about it, the covers looked gorgeous, and faeries were a new and foreign supernatural species to me. I wasn’t all that much into faeries when I was younger, and even in my teenage years I couldn’t possibly imagine anyone could write a novel aimed at a young adult audience themed around fairyworld. Apparently it can be done, and it can be done in such a fashion that I’m totally swept off my feet and impressed beyond belief.

To my utmost shame, I must admit that I’ve never read Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream before. I did watch a TV movie based on it once, but that’s a far distant memory as well. Had I perhaps read faerielore before indulging into this novel, I would have realised that there’s a great difference between Tinkerbell, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother and the actual fairyworld of the Never Never and The Seelie and Unseelie Courts. In all honesty, I was even more intrigued by the lore behind the story, and the use of ancient tales about the Summer and Winter Courts, Queen Titania and Queen Mab, and King Oberon, than I was with the actual storyline and characters. I felt like this whole new world had opened to me, and it was all the more real because it hadn’t entirely sprung from the imagination of the author herself, but was based on several legends regarding supernatural beings, and a centuries-old but still very famous poem by none other than the great Shakespeare himself. If that isn’t impressive, then I don’t know what it is anymore.

I loved all of the characters. But literally, all of them. I loved Meghan’s personality, strong and determined albeit a bit naive and often finding herself in need of assistance. She is, after all, only sixteen years old, and not a trained swordfighter or accomplished trickster, so naturally she often needs others to help her acheive her goals. Of course I fell in love with the Winter Prince, Ash, as well. Handsome and stunning, cold and distant yet passionate and caring. How one person can hold so many emotions, is still a big question mark for me, but I loved him for every single emotion he had. As far as Prince Charmings go, he really is an exceptional one. I liked Puck as a character as well, although I have to admit that having him transferred from this sort of mythical hero to a teenage boy in love with our heroine, was a bit much to take in at first. On the other hand, it was quite the original thought, and I thoroughly enjoyed his jokes, pranks and protectiveness over Meghan.

On the downside: I knew from the start that there was going to be a love triangle, but I felt dissapointed when it didn’t really evolve in this book. We see glimpses of Puck expressiing his love for Meghan, or showing it in extremely obvious ways, but we never get an idea of how she feels about him. Are they just friends, or is there something more? Also, I thought that the love affair between Meghan and Ash developed a bit too fasty for my liking, and I wouldn’t have shed a tear had they waiting with their mutual lovey-dovey confessions until book two in the series. It even seemed a bit out of character to me. I can perfectly understand why Meghan would take a fancy to Ash – I would have done exactly the same, without a shadow of a doubt – but I couldn’t quite grasp the fact that he is interested in her too, right from the start. I mean, he IS the Winter Prince, cold and distant by nature, and she IS the Summer Princess, half-human on top of that, and best friends with his nemesis. It doesn’t exactly make her the most desirable person in the world, now does it? I can’t imagine him giving in to his feelings for her just like that, and I was a bit dissapointed that he did.

Do you want to know who my favorite character is? Grimalkin, of course. Funny, witty, sarcastic, cynical, answering all questions with “I’m a cat” and striking deals whenever he sees an advantage, what’s not to like? I also couldn’t help but feel like behind that non-caring attitude, there was a very caring, friendly and charming…cat.

From the moment Puck and Meghan step into the Never Never, I was hooked. The first hundred pages may not have totally convinced me, but the story afterwards did. I loved the way Julie Kagawa described both kingdoms, how she potrayed Lord Oberon and Queen Titania, how she made the throne room come to life on those very pages of this book. I was amazed, enthralled, paralyzed and of course, forced to continue reading. Then, as Meghan’s adventures begin, and she’s being chased by all sorts of magical creatures as she tries to find her brother, I was thoroughly amused. It felt sort of like those classic quest storylines, but with new and original ideas woven into it.

Something that annoyed me though, was the similarity between both courts. I was given to understand that The Summer Court, albeit michevious and not-all-that-good-hearted towards humans, was the ‘good’ court, whereas The Winter Court is seen as malevolent and wicked. I didn’t get that impression while reading this novel, especially because the personalities of Queen Titania and Queen Mob are very much alike. Both are cruel, hot-headed and egocentric. I would have liked to see a clearer distinction between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ court.

In short, The Iron King is everything I couldn’t have dreamed it would be: fast-paced, original, imaginative, creative, with interesting and lovable characters, a plotline that keeps you glued to your seat, and most impressive world-building. Julie Kagawa is a true artist at crafting and creating scenery for her characters to play in, from enchanted forests to gigantic throne rooms to cozy cottages and icey fields. I can’t wait to read The Iron Daughter – literallly, I have it here with me right now, and I feel like dropping everything, including work for university, to start reading! – and find out what happens to Meghan next. If you haven’t read The Iron King yet, then it’s about time. You’re missing out on the faerie book of the century.

Book Review: Catching an Evil Tail by Mary Abshire

10546083Title: Catching an Evil Tail (The Soul Catcher #2)
Author: Mary Abshire
Genre: Adult, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Vampires, Werewolves, Demons
Rating: 4 stars
Review copy provided by Bewitching Book Tours.
Goodreads | Author Website

Half-demon Jessie Garrett wants to live a normal life among her friends and keep her soul catching ability a secret, but supernatural creatures keep popping up in her world. Adding to her struggles, her vampire lover remains out of the country, and when he offers no valuable explanation as to why he hasn’t returned, she wonders if she should move on without him.
As if Jessie doesn’t have enough worries on her mind, the demon yearning to seduce her shows up at her home. She longs to liberate herself from the debt she owes him, and when he asks for her help, she jumps at the chance to make a new deal with him—one that will guarantee her freedom. The only catch? She has to send the soul of a werewolf to hell.
Love, trust, and loyalty are on the line. Torn between her feelings for her vampire boyfriend, a hot Alpha wolf, and a demon vowing to protect her, Jessie must figure out her heart’s true desires.

Previously to reading Catching an Evil Tail, I already read and reviewed the first novel in The Soul Catcher Series, Claiming the Evil Dead. I have to admit that I liked Catching an Evil Tail better than the previous book. Probably because I’m more a fan of Jeremy/Jessie than of Drake/Jessie. Or maybe because I knew the characters better, understood their thoughts and actions (whereas in Claiming the Evil Dead, I often felt puzzled and confused) or maybe because the storyline seemed more appealing to me. I guess it’s a mix of all of these components.

After the events in Claiming the Evil Dead, Jessie’s vampire-boyfriend Drake goes to Europe to take care of some urgent business. Although he promised Jessie he’d only be gone for two weeks top, six weeks eventually pass with barely a sign of life (notice the irony? an undead vampire giving a sign of life…alright well, I thought it was funny!) from Drake, and Jessie is seriously worried about their relationship. Like that isn’t enough trouble, her roommate Dani keeps blurting out things about Jessie’s private life, like her ability to sense ghosts. And on top of that, the demon Jeremy, is back in town. Although he helped Jessie defeat the evil vampire Alexander about a month prior, Jessie still isn’t sure whether or not he is a trustworthy ally. But this time, Jeremy asks Jessie’s help to claim the soul of a malicious werewolf who challenged the Alpha werewolf of a nearby tribe. Reluctant to agree at first, Jessie gives in eventually, and travels half-way across the country with none other than Jeremy. And obsessed as the demon is with the girl who he thinks is his soulmate, he will stop at nothing to seduce Jessie and get her in his bed. But he’s not the only one who is interested, as the Alpha werewolf seems to have an eye on Jessie as well.

I liked the storyline of this novel, the fact that it’s now Jeremy tugging Jessie along rather than good ol’ Drake, and I loved the addition of werewolves, witches and another warlock. Go diversity. I also loved most of the men playing a part in this book, especially Jeremy (talk about determination) and Alan (great leader figure), and the brief appearances from Drake were a nice touch as well. The combination between romance, action and suspense is spot-on as well, and I cannot recall feeling bored while reading for one single moment. Catching an Evil Tail is a well-written, relaxing and entertaining book, and I’m very glad to have read it.

Now, let’s continue to the things I didn’t like all that much. Jessie, our protagonist, isn’t exactly the most likeable character on the entire planet. She claims it takes a lot to earn her trust (for instance, she still doesn’t trust Drake completely, she doesn’t trust Jeremy at all, etc.) but then again, she has no trouble doing things that aren’t exactly trustworthy, like cheating on her so-called boyfriend. The one moment, she whines about being totally and completely in love with Drake, but then she lets herself get kissed by Jeremy roughly five minutes later. Then she bitches about how he continues to try and seduce her – while in fact, she is constantly leading him on, and playing the tease. Another major problem of the main character, is that she comes across as being rather egocentric, selfish and stuck up. In Jessie’s world, there’s hardly room for anyone but Jessie. And in this novel, it became all the more clear that for a half-demon with considerable powers, and a grown-up woman, Jessie is actually quite childish, immature and irresponsible. In this novel, it’s clearly the guys saving the day, because they do make up for a lot of Jessie’s flaws, up to the point that I’m wondering what any of them actually sees in her. But oh well, fantasy heroines have a tendency of not being all-that-likeable.

Now I think about it, this may have something to do with the fact that this novel is written in first person. It takes a lot of skill to pull this off, and although I think Mary Abshire did a marvellous job portraying the feelings of the other characters, even though writing in first person’s perspective, Jessie’s feelings may seem oversized, or over the top, simply because of the fact that it’s her talking. I don’t know if I’m explaining this well, or if I’m even getting my point across at all, but when writing in first person, the character talking will often seem more self-absorbed and emotional simply because we constantly see what’s going on in their mind. It’s a psychological thing, I guess.

If you like erotic paranormal romance, then Catching an Evil Tail is definitely one of the best books in the genre. If you like strong female characters, then Jessie will not dissapoint. If you like action, suspense and romance nicely tied together, then Mary Abshire’s series is exactly what you’re looking for. If you like a cast of interesting, diverse characters, then you will be in for a treat. You might agree with me that Jessie isn’t exactly the person you’d want to be friends with, but her adventures are exciting and thrilling enough to get past that. Mary Abshire’s writing is very promising, and I have high hopes – since I did like this book more than the previous one – that the next book, Fighting Evil, will be even more delightful to read.

Book Review: The Poison of A Smile by Steven Jensen

9473237Title: The Poison of a Smile
Author: Steven Jensen
Genre: Supernatural, Gothic Horror, Romance
Publication Date: October 2nd 2010
Review copy provided by Night Publishing. Visit their website.
Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads | Author’s Website

She will take her pleasure in your destruction ….

When Gabriel Holland and David Leigh are lured to the haunted town of Carliton in search of their beloved Helena, they find only mystery and malice. And Christian Salazar, connoisseur of torments, master of Alatiel, the creature that Helena has become, awaits their company…

The Poison of A Smile is a haunting, terrifying and breathtaking trip into the mausoleum of things rotten, undead and vicious; a journey through the asylum of the deranged and mentally disturbed; a one-way ticket to hell. The writing style is pretty disturbing on its own, like you just lost track of reality, like things are slowly falling out of your grip, and your mind is getting detached from your body – or is it the other way around? When I first started reading this novella, I vaguely wondered if I hadn’t somehow dozed asleep and stumbled into my worst nightmare, or if I had unconsciously taking some kind of narcotic that made my thoughts uncomprehensible, strange and deranged, and, since I hadn’t been feeling very well that day, I remember constantly checking my temperature to see if this wasn’t the result of some high fever. It wasn’t any of those three options, I can say. The Poison of A Smile is mesmerising, thrilling, but also gruesome, detached, insane, and uncomprehensible. Truly a masterpiece.

Alatiel, a woman of great beauty but with hideous secrets, becomes the new muse of a group of self-acclaimed artists, who struggle to make a living in the city of Paris in the 19th century. The sister of one of these artists, Helena, soon becomes the new subject of interest for Alatiel. In a desperate search to get their beloved back, Gabriel Holland and David Leigh make a trip to the haunted mansion of all haunted mansions, to the palace of sins and destruction, to a mausoleum of unspeakable crimes and to the home of creatures so vicious and rotten they cannot be anything other than Satan’s spawn. And in that place of sheer darkness, in that house of torture, blood and murder; they must face the master of all evils, the instructor of pain himself: Christian Salazar.

Its sheer beauty lies in the fact that it’s so abstract, macabre, terrifying and at the same time, utterly fascinating. From page one, i had the feeling that The Poison Of A Smile was devouring my own soul to feed its own unholy pages, because each sentence transported me further and further away from my safe and well-known home, to unfamiliar, dreadful and nightmarish surroundings. The descriptions are beautiful, haunting and written in that gorgeous, crafty style that was so popular at the turn of the 19th century. This novel vaguely reminded me of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Woman In Black and Dracula, as the settings are very much the same, and I got the same dreadful feeling with those novels as well. Looking back upon this, I sometimes wonder if nowadays hack and slash horror hasn’t forgotten about the most important aspect, namely the horror that is within oneself. The horror that is one’s soul, when it’s as deranged and bestial by nature like the soul of this story’s antagonist, Christian Salazar.

Although some of the scenes in this novel are particularely gruesome, this isn’t just your average horror story. The scenes may cause you to feel like vomiting, but that isn’t the real horror Steven Jensen is trying to describe. By creating this feeling of otherworldliness, disentachment, confusion, his novel is constantly feeding of your own basic worries, indulging in human’s own wicked nature, and gettings its very own inspiration from the things that haunt the corners of our own minds. I was suffering from the ‘haunted mansion’ disease that is common in older fictional works like Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre from the very start of this novel, as the eerie atmosphere and creepy characters introduced themselves to me. This feeling of uncomfortableness, sometimes even downright fear, continued throughout the entire novel. The words escape me to explain to you how surprised and impressed I was by this masterfully-crafted tale of horrors, this unmistakable piece of art.

What can I compare it with? I have never read any scary novel before that managed to frighten me as much as The Poison of A Smile did, and never before have I been so close to the distortions and monstrosities that hide in human nature. It was an experience both terrifying and enjoyable, as it was truly an entertaining read, even if it was fear rather than good tension that glued me to my chair. If I had to compare this novel with another fictional work, I would choose The Picture of Dorian Gray, for that is the only novel that comes close in comparison, and has the same haunted and disturbing atmosphere.

There is no characterization, or character development. The characters are loose words on paper, as estranged from the reader as they are from themselves and the world they are living in. They have no actual personalities, and the only emotions often portrayed are nothing more than bestial. The need for vengeance, bloodlust, sexual lust…But that is all. Humans are reduced to animals, the good only slightly better than the wicked because they do often fall to prey of the same bestial desires. The story is difficult to follow at times, a plot practically non-existing, and the entire tale seems to be made out of seperate, equally macabre scenes, that work together and form one long, breathtaking, mesmerising and ghastly story of terror.

If you ask me if there’s anything about this novella that I didn’t like, then the answer is yes. In my opinion, it shouldn’t have ended. At about 80 pages long, I wish the author had just continued till the end (write maybe a 20 or 50 pages more or so) and then put a hold to it. I don’t know what it’s with people and sequels or even trilogies nowadays, but they seem to have forgotten that the best novels ever written are all stand-alone novels. As a stand-alone novel, The Poison of A Smile is as good as horror can possibly get; but I fear that it might not retain this statute in the sequels. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to write an equally haunting story without diving more into characterization and plot building – and by doing so, sacrificing the deranged, insane and going-out-of-your-mind feeling that I got when reading this novel.

I’m completely overwhelmed by The Poison of A Smile, and even now I’m still haunted by the writing style, the detached narrator’s voice, the characters’ primate natures, and the eerie, shivers-running-down-your-back atmosphere. In all fairness, I believe I have discovered a masterpiece of gothic horror literature; a work of art that very well might succeed to redefining the horror genre all together. After reading The Poison of A Smile, you’ll never think about gothic stories in the same way again.

Book Review: The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

7497552Title: The Vespertine
Author: Saundra Mitchell
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Publication Date: March 7th
Review copy provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Rating: 4,5 stars
Goodreads | The Vespertine Website

It’s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.

When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia’s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she’s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.

The first thing that appealed to me about The Vespertine is, although I’m ashamed to admit it, the gorgeous cover. Sure I’m the first person to jump on the boat claiming that a bad cover doesn’t necessarily make a bad book, and I’m pretty sure the first editions of Shakespeare or Homer weren’t all that lovely either, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t often get persuaded by the cover of a novel. When it’s really, really pretty, it often charms me enough to read it, without even glimpsing at the summary or browsing the web searching for reviews of the novel. I’ve let myself get tricked with Lost Voices, I felt the same strange urge with The Vespertine, and I did it all over again with Starcrossed, Hereafter and Die For Me. For Lost Voices, the gorgeous cover art hid something that was partly dissapointing, and partly fun and enjoyable. For The Vespertine, the nice cover doesn’t try to make up for lack of story and potential, because this novel has plenty of both. At first I was sighing, thinking I had let myself get caught in the web of pretty and shiny things again, but it didn’t take me long to realise that The Vespertine is anything but an empty shell. It’s an extraordinary mix of historical fiction and paranormal romance, an interesting story focused on friendship, love, betrayal and superstition in Victorian America.

The story sets off in Baltimore in the 19th century, as we meet up with a young woman called Amelia. Banished from her country home to find a suitable fiancé in the big city, Amelia is forced to spend her summer holiday with one of her distant cousins, Zora; much to her own delight, because Zora and Amelia soon grow to be close friends. During the first couple of days of her stay, Zora introduces her cousin to the boy she has been in love with for a couple of years now – Thomas. Although at first something of a one-sided crush, the relationship between Zora and Thomas soon grows into something more. The first person who knows about this is Amelia herself, who saw the two of them dancing in a vision. Shortly after, Amelia is introduced to Nathaniel, a young artist who barely gets by and gets paid to be the Fourteenth at upper class dinners. Immediately smitten by the “starving artist” who is free to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, and who has a charm and wit about him that is both intoxicating and intimidating, Amelia finds herself falling in love with this mysterious stranger. As her visions grow darker by the day, and her supernatural gifts seem to expand with every week that passed, Amelia is forced to acknowledge the dark side of her gifts, especially when they threaten the lifes of the people she loves. And on top of that, Nathaniel seems to have some dark secrets of his own…

I have to admit that before I actually starting reading The Vespertine, I had no idea this novel was a mix of historical and paranormal fiction; I had guessed the historical part from the cover art, but failed to acknowledge the paranormal part because I was stupid enough not to look at the summary. Oh well, it was a nice surprise. I love paranormal romances and I love historical fiction, and when combined, they sure make a great mix. This is one of the first novels I read in that particular mix-match genre though, and I’m happily surprised. The Vespertine isn’t just any novel though. With a writing style fit for the era, haunting and mesmerising, spellbinding you to every sentence, Saundra Mitchell utterly and completely compelled me to keep reading. When the Victorian streets came to life, and I could vaguely hear the sounds of carriages and horses in the back of my mind, and I heard the soft whisper of those large Victorian dresses; I knew this book was a winner. The descpriptions that Saundra Mitchell uses are very detailed, imaginative and lyric. Her writing style reminded me a lot of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Needless to say, I was hooked.

Amelia is an interesting character with an outstanding and enjoyable personality. A lot of times in these historical novels, I find myself thinking that the thought process of the main character – usually a woman – is too evolved or too rebellious for that time. Sure, a little rebellion is always great, but you have to keep in mind that women in the 17th century wouldn’t want the kind of progress and equality women are striving for today. But not Amelia. No, she really is a child of her era, and although perhaps a bit of a free spirit, just like her love interest Nathaniel, they aren’t exactly extremely progressive. Their love and relationship isn’t appropriate for society, but then again, they simply don’t care for society. They don’t go about and try to change the way society feels about upper and lower class couples, they just go and do their own thing. They made me think about the first time I was in love, about how carefree one is at those moments, and about how less one cares about other human beings, about the rules of how things should go, about the world itself. Amelia and Nathaniel, in their mutual love, innocence and childlike happiness, reminded me of first love, of true love, and it was an amazing feeling, I can assure you.

As I started off by saying, Amelia has a very interesting personality. She isn’t feisty or headstrong, like about 90 percent of the fictional heroines out there, but she isn’t weak and braindead either. She seemed to me like quite a balanced person, with a mix of all sorts of qualities, but with a good balance about them. I liked Zora’s personality as well, a bit brighter and cheerier than Amelia’s, but at the same time capable of worrying and brooding, although I had wished to see more behind the hidden veils that is Zora. I had the feeling we only got to meet her on the surface, and didn’t get to see all of the real her, with her own fears, anxieties and worries. On the other hand, this is understandable, as she only is a supporting character, but I thought her interesting enough to appear in the spotlight more often.

I liked both of the suitors for our two protagonists as well. Thomas is the calm, conservative, reserved gentleman, who is all too eager to play by society’s rules, and who carefully courts the woman he loves. Nathaniel is quite the opposite: endaring, charming, mischevious, carefree, rebellious. Although it would be clear for me who I’d choose from the start, and I completely understand why Amelia is totally enamoured by Nathaniel, I loved how nice Thomas and Zora fit together as well. The dynamics between all the characters, and especially these four, are very intriguing. Another thing about this novel which I really enjoyed, is that we get to meet Zora’s Mom only from the interactions between Zora and Amelia about the woman in question, and yet we manage to form quite an opinion about her. I thought this was an impressive sample of excellent writing skills, just when I thought Saundra Mitchell couldn’t possibly impress me even more.

The storyline itself was innovating, refreshing and very well thought-through. I liked the small plot twists that turned up here and there throughout hte novel, and how Amelia’s gift of seeing the future growed gradually darker. On the downside, I thought that it took quite a while before the action actually started (more than halfway through the novel) and The Vespertine would have scored higher on my ratings had the actual story progressing started a little earlier. In the prologue, we got a view of the Baltimore in 1889, and we see Amelia locked up in her own house. Then we take a trip back in time, and it was like all that tension and excitement that had been building in the prologue, got thrown out of the window page by page, because it took a good while for the suspense to return. However, when it returned, it did so in style. The last chapters of the book are truly brilliant, they’re showcases of excellent writing, plot development and character progression. Those last chapters made me fall in love with this book all over again.

You know that I’m a complete idiot when I tell you that I didn’t stop to think about the meaning of the title, The Vespertine, once throughout this novel, and didn’t even think about it once I finished it. It only occured to me just now, when I started writing this review, what exactly it means, and why it’s the title of this novel. Damn, I’m really quite the idiot. Anyway, don’t let my foolishness fool you (get it? I made a word joke). The Vespertine truly is one of the most impressive works of fiction I have read this entire year: with an interesting mix of historical fiction and paranormal romance, heartwarming characters, a most impressive writing style, and more suspense towards the ending than your average crime novel. Amelia and Nathaniel are my favorite fictional couple of the year, and that’s saying something. I think the best way to end this review would be: what the heck are you waiting for? Go buy your own copy of The Vespertine, and start reading!

Book Review: Polyxena: A Story of Troy by Herb Allenger

7897157Title: Polyxena: A Story of Troy
Author: Herb Allenger
Genre: Historical Fiction
Review copy provided by Cindy Dashnaw at BohlsenPR.
Rating: 4,5 stars

After Troy falls, Neoptolemus claims Polyxena as his prize, but she rejects his advances. In a fit of rage, Neoptolemus contrives a story that dooms the ill-fated Polyxena. She knows what she must do to survive, but she cannot change her destiny. Polyxena, the daughter of King Priam of Troy, knows her misfortune has been to have Neoptolemus fall in love with her. As she prepares to die at the commemoration rites for Neoptolemus’s father, Polyxena reflects over her past year, relating her thoughts to Aphrodite, the Goddess she believes is responsible for orchestrating the events that have beset her. As she tries to make sense of it all, Polyxena converses with all the well-known personages associated with the Trojan myth-Achilles, Agamemnon, Cassandra, Helen, and many others-while seeking solace in the hope that her existence has not been futile. In this moving story of forbidden love, a young woman who is an integral part of the romantic legacy surrounding Troy comes to a surprising and satisfying conclusion about the life she has lived.

As she is waiting to be sacrificied to the Gods, Polyxena reminisces about her life, about the people she loved and the people she hated. About the events that led her here, like a lamb to its slaughter, courtesy of Neoptolemus. That’s how this gripping, nearly paralyzing piece of historical fiction starts off. Polyxena tells us that she is  one of the daughters of King Priam of Troy, and not just anyone of his daughters – she’s probably the most intelligent, stubborn and brave one. Rather than spending time with the other women at court, doing whatever it is women did in those days, she prefers to go horseback riding, and having actual intelligent conversations with people. Although she is already past the age that girls should get married, she still hasn’t found a suitor, nor is she desperate to find one. Independent enough to live on her own, and not at all concerned with love, marriage and children – especially not with the war still going on, and her beloved brothers dying one by one – Polyxena seems the excellent choice to go visit the Amazon queen, Penthesileia, and persuade the latter to help the Trojans win this war.

When Polyxena travels to the Amazon grounds, she is in for the surprise of a life time. Not only does she meet and befriends the great heroic queen, Penthesileia, but she also feels attracted to her general, Antiope, a young and beautiful woman. In the first relationship of her life, Polyxena feels a strong connection towards Antiope, but is forced to depart her behind after an attack gone completely wrong. That’s when she meets Achilles – the Achilles – the strong and brave warrior who is the sole reason the war that ruined her country has continued for this long, the man blessed with power that can only come from the Gods, and the murderer of her beloved brother Hector. Face to face with the man who practically ruined her life, Polyxena is surprised by the way she feels about him. And as their attraction towards each other blossoms into something new, she knows very well that she’s betraying everyone and everything, and that this relationship might end disastrous. For the both of them.

Once I started reading Polyxena: A Story of Troy, I had a hard time putting it down. The characters were sublime, powerful, crafted with the utmost precision and as real as if they were standing right next to you. The story itself was imaginative, confronting, gripping and very emotionally touching. I was practically sucked into the book, breathing the words and living the sentences. It’s been a while since I had such a good time reading a book, and I have to thank H. Allenger for making me enjoy his novel so much that I hardly know how to express what I feel into words.

I’ll start by talking about the characters. Polyxena, well, she could have been my best friend. I loved her. She was rebellious, but not openly; brave, but not too sure of her own courage; headstrong but not stubborn; and she possessed that nice balance of qualities that turns ordinary people into heroes. She was friendly and kind, but impatient with people that treated her unkindly. If she had been a man, I’m sure she’d make a nice general for Troy, a skillful warrior even. I loved her relationship with Antiope, that started out as friendship at first, but then turned into so much more. H. Allenger focused more on the love-aspect, and the emotional aspects of their relationship than on the physical parts of it, which I thought was a very good choice, as it made me understand them, and their attraction towards each other more than I would have understood it had the focus been on the physical relationship. I knew that their relationship was destined to end some time, but the ending was bittersweet and left me vaguely sad for both of them. It was nice to see that Polyxena was capable of putting her own initial thoughts and the ancient traditions of her own country behind her – like that women should only love men, and that no woman could love another woman in that way – and that she was strong and independent enough to get beyond that, and acknowledge her true feelings for Antiope. The way H. Allenger described this progression was wonderful, realistic and very touching.

I liked how the author portrayed Achilles as well. At first, we see Polyxena’s view of the strong warrior brute who murdered her own beloved brother, but that are her opinions of the man before she even meets him. Then, we gradually see a change in her feelings towards Achilles as he manages to enlight a fire inside of her, she didn’t even know that was there. We see how she likes him more and more, and he likes her as well, as he offers to bring her back to the gates of Troy. I thought their relationship developed a bit fast, but I guess that’s normal when your days together are very limited, or when it’s love at first strike. I was enthralled by Polyxena’s inner battle, and her contradictory feelings as she saw Achilles as post a murderer, and as a possible lover. This was very well and very thoroughly described in the novel, and left me amazed.

The story focuses a lot on mythology and the battle of Troy and the cast that played a role in it. Thankfully, I already knew a lot of Paris, Helen, Priam, Cassandra, Achilles and Agamemnon – because I think this novel would have been confusing at first, if I hadn’t. It’s obvious that the author knows a lot about his characters, their personalities, their weakness and their background, and someone who has only vaguely heard of the war of Troy might be oblivious to certain details this novel touches, or certain events that take place but aren’t described in detail. I thought that sometimes the author tried to include too much too soon, but as I said, I already knew a great deal about Troy, so it was no issue for me. On the contrary, I learned even more about Troy through this novel, and that means that the author more than succeeded at getting his message and story across.

I was warned from the start that Polyxena faced a death sentence, that she was to be sacrified to the gods, but by the time we got to the ending, I felt like crying. I had grown to know this character like she was my best friend, I knew all of her heartaches, pains and suffering, and I wished she got a better fate than the one that was waiting for her. Her message, even at the end, was powerful. She was happy with the life she left, and held no regrets. For me, she was a true heroine.

I would advise this novel to everyone. Even if historical fiction isn’t your favorite genre, Polyxena: A Story of Troy, will touch you in so many different ways, it will draw you in, amaze you and surprise you, and it won’t let you go. Just go read it, and you’ll know what I mean.

Book Review: Full Moon Rising by Keri Arthur

172764Title: Full Moon Rising (Riley Jenson Guardian Series #1)
Author: Kerri Arthur
Genre: Paranormal, Vampires, Werewolves, Adult
Rating: 3 stars

In this exciting debut, author Keri Arthur explodes onto the supernatural scene with a sexy, sensuous tale of intrigue and suspense set in a world where legends walk and the shady paths of the underworld are far more sinister than anyone envisioned.

A rare hybrid of vampire and werewolf, Riley Jenson and her twin brother, Rhoan, work for Melbourne’s Directorate of Other Races, an organization created to police the supernatural races–and protect humans from their depredations. While Rhoan is an exalted guardian, a.k.a. assassin, Riley is merely an office worker–until her brother goes missing on one of his missions. The timing couldn’t be worse. More werewolf than vampire, Riley is vulnerable to the moon heat, the weeklong period before the full moon, when her need to mate becomes all-consuming.…

Luckily Riley has two willing partners to satisfy her every need. But she will have to control her urges if she’s going to find her brother….Easier said than done as the city pulses with frenzied desire, and Riley is confronted with a very powerful–and delectably naked–vamp who raises her temperature like never before.

In matters carnal, Riley has met her match. But in matters criminal, she must follow her instincts not only to find her brother but to stop an unholy harvest. For someone is doing some shifty cloning in an attempt to produce the ultimate warrior–by tapping into the genome of nonhumans like Rhoan. Now Riley knows just how dangerous the world is for her kind–and just how much it needs her.

Riley Jenson and her twin brother Rhoan are what people would call hybrids. They are half-vampire, half-werewolf, an unexpected result from one night when their mother (who happened to be a werewolf) was raped by a newborn vampire. Although cast out from their pack because of their differences, Riley and Rhoan manage well in the outside world. They share an apartment together, and both work for an organisation that specialises in Other Races. However, Rhoan is a guardian within the organisation, where Riley chose not to be. She isn’t a killer, or so she claims. But when she finds a naked – yes, a covered in mud, but otherwise naked – vampire at her front door, and her brother goes missing, Riley believes it’s time to take action. Teaming up with the previously-naked-but-now-clothed vampire named Quinn, she is determined to find her missing brother. But someone is after Riley as well, and an attempt on her life, makes her suspect she’s in even more danger than she at first had anticipated.

Had the story stopped there and gone on with the detective/solving mysteries/locate the missing brother vibe, I would have definately rated it a 4. Full Moon Rising is fast-paced, action-packed and leaves you on the edge of your seat a lot of times. Although I had some trouble throughout the middle part of the story to keep on reading – the action slowed down a bit there, to be replaced by talking, and other stuff I will get to soon enough – but I have to admit that this story has some nice twists and turns, some original plotlines and a nice cast of characters. But, then there’s the other half of this book.

Actually, the title says it all. Full Moon Rising. Which means that most of the events, no matter how unlikely because there is so many stuff happening, all happens in the course of one week, namely the week before the full moon. Now, try to keep up with me while I explain this to you the best I can. In Keri Arthur’s series, the week before the full moon, werewolves don’t get extremely bloodthirsty, or feel like killing every animal or human that stands in the way; nor do they suffer from some unexplained illness or have access to superior strength. Oh, no. The week before the full moon werewolves get horny. Yes, you read that right. Horny. Every single moment of every single day they feel like having crazy, kinky sex. Doesn’t matter with who. Since our main character is a werewolf, you can already guess what’s going on. Half of this book is filled with countless descriptions of our heroine having intercourse with one or another partner – did I also mention that they don’t take monogamy that seriously in the werewolf community? No, it is actually mentioned that one of the werewolves had up to seven partners. Guess they never heard of aids or other sexually transmittable diseases in werewolf-land. Our heroine Riley keeps it rather simple, as she keeps to two or three mates. Cheers, people, because you know, reading about a main character basically having sex with everyone she meets during this novel, is highly entertaining. Not.

Now, I’m not old-fashioned and I read a lot of adult romances, but this one is just over the top. Had the novel focused more on the possible relationship Riley/Quinn, it would have rated higher on my score list. I’m also thinking one werewolf mate would have been quite enough, why would you need several? Moon heat, as it is called on numerous occassions throughout the novel, just sucks, people. I mean, you can barely go to work, or hang out with friends, or even watch TV for an entire week every month simply because you’re in moon-heat-phase. Damn, I wouldn’t want to be a werewolf. Rather give me a walking corpse that hasn’t showered in over a century then.

I did like the story. I thought it was original, the writing wasn’t spectacular, but it was decent, and when you skipped through all the uncomfortable passages – but I have to tell you, there are a lot of uncomfortable passages, and sometimes I was actually saying “what the hell…” while I was reading – this is actually a pretty interesting novel, if not a very interesting one. But for some reason the author went totally over the top with the sex scenes, the multiple partners, and the casual way people talk about all that stuff. Plus, do you have to keep dressing our heroine like a hooker? I mean, come on. I don’t like reading a novel when the main character has to degrade herself to dress like a hooker in order to slip into factories or gain information – especially not when said heroine doesn’t mind at all. A little self-respect, Riley. Please.

Another thing I noticed about this novel, is that there are hardly any humans in it. No human character is ever mentioned, and everyone is either a vampire, werewolf or something inbetween. Humans are mentioned occasionally, but that’s it. This wasn’t exactly bad, as I did enjoy the entire supernatural-races-club-thing that was going on.

Nevertheless, I will probably read the next part in the series, Kissing Sin. Why? For starters, as I already mentioned, the story does have some original points of view, and I would like to know what happens next. And secondly, maybe I’m just another silly little human being with a dirty mind.

Book Review: Kiss of Darkness by Loribelle Hunt

9931657Title: Kiss of Darkness
Author: Hunt, Loribelle
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Carina Press
Rating: 3,5 stars

Winter, a hybrid, has spent her life at war. A group of humans who are part demon, the hybrids, along with the lupines and nightwalkers, have dedicated their lives to defeating demons and protecting humanity. Yet, despite their united cause, the three groups share an uneasy alliance.When hybrid military compounds come under attack from demon insurgents, Winter has no choice but to turn to the lupines and nightwalkers for assistance. It’s a partnership based on necessity and she has no intention of letting down her guard with either group.
Marcus, the nightwalker Lord, has other plans. The immediate attraction between him and Winter promises a passion he can’t ignore. To claim her as his own, he’ll not only have to fight the demons who seem hell-bent on destroying her, but her own misconceptions about him and the nightwalker race. It’s a battle he refuses to lose.

I must admit that I have mixed feelings about this novel. On the one side, I loved the main character, Winter Bennett, and her two best friends, Gia and Dupree, and their interactions. I also really liked the storyline: especially the merging of human and demon souls, and the great war against demons. The world-building was wonderful, with safety houses and compounds, and this entire we’re-at-war vibe, that was carefully crafted throughout the novel. Plus, I liked the division between hybrids (as Winter and her friends are), Nightwalkers (a fancy name for Vampires) and Lupines (werewolves). Now, on to the things I didn’t like that much.

The point of view constantly switched between about six characters, which made this book very hard to read. Sometimes I had to reread entire parts to actually know who was talking. I’m a great supporter of switching the points of view to keep things interesting, but it was a bit too much here, and it would have been better had the author only focused on maybe three or so characters. The story was very fast-paced at times, but the middle part of the novel was a too slow for my liking. Sometimes I really had the feeling I had to urge myself to continue reading. But once you get past those fifty-or-so occasionally slow pages, there is enough action and nearly-dying going on to keep you occupied till the end of the novel.

What really, really bothered me about this novel, and is the reason it only got a rating of 3,5 rather than 4 is the way all males – but with that I mean, all males – in this novel respond to falling in love. They feel an uncontrollable possessiveness towards the object of their affections. And not just the Nightwalkers, or the Lupines, mind you, for whom this despicable character trait might be part of their nature, but even Dupree, dear old hybrid Dupree, doesn’t escape from the need to control every move his love interest makes. Not only did I feel like going all Buffy The Vampire Slayer on all Nightwalkers in this novel every five minutes, but it also made me so annoyed I had trouble finishing the book. I mean sure, you can add one character whose immensely posessive, but do you have to make all of them like that? Plus, I’m not saying a little bit posessive, no. I mean totally over-the-top, extremely awkward clingyness. If another man just as much as touched their love interest, those Nightwalkers went berserk. I wasn’t too fond of these traits at all, and they annoyed me, as they were a major part of the story.

However, I must admit that the rest of the story amazed me. I loved the little plot twists and turns, the overall background story, the description of the war against the demons, and the way the tension was built up slowly. I liked this novel, but I would have liked it a lot more if it wasn’t for all the male characters to be overly posessive. If there’s ever a sequel out, I would like to read it though, just to know what happens to the characters.

Visit the author’s website.

Book Review: Demon’s Fall by Karalynn Lee

Title: Demon’s Fa9318237ll
Author: Karalynn Lee
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Carina Press
Rating: 4 stars

She was an angel at the gates of Hell.

When Kenan, an incubus, finds a caged angel for sale in the Hellsgate marketplace, he sees her as a challenge. Certain that his skills in seduction will work as well on a heavenly creature as they do on mortal women, he buys Jahel, intent on having her soul as a novelty in his collection.

Knowing he must gain Jahel’s trust if she is to come to his bed willingly, Kenan treats her more as his guest than as his slave. When she reveals what brought her to the mouth of Hell in the first place—retrieving the soul of a young girl she was guarding—he even offers to help her complete her mission.

Though he has promised Jahel freedom, Kenan soon realizes she has captured his heart instead. And as their passion for one another grows, they find themselves caught in a struggle between Heaven and Hell, one that will lead them to the very edge of the apocalypse…

Trying to get back the lost soul of a girl she was supposed to protect, the angel Jahel gets captured in Hellsgate, a town right before Hell proper; caged and eventually sold to an incubus demon named Kenan. Although he initially only has intentions to capture Jahel’s soul, he comes to like the angel and eventually aids her on her mission to reclaim the lost soul of her protegée. As his feelings for Jahel are growing beyond simple attraction, he learns that Jahel is not the only angel who got lost in Hellsgate as of late…and the other one has plans to commence a war between Heaven and Hell.

I’m usually not a very big fan of novellas, as I tend to believe it is hard to do some decent world-building, create believable character-development and make the reader feel a bond with your characters in such a short amount of time. However, Karalynn Lee manages these three jobs quite well, much to my amazement. The world-building in this novella is impressive. In just under 80 pages, she creates a world existing of three planes: the mortal plane, Heaven and Hell, an obscure ‘third path’ for people who choose neither Heaven nor Hell, and some towns with mixed inhabitants, both mortal and angelic in Heavensgate (although angels only fly over it, and hardly stop to walk through it) and human and demons in Hellsgate. I really liked the world she created: nothing too complicated, but a decent and solid base to fall back upon.

The currency in this well-designed world is souls: Angels want to save them, whereas Demons trade them for other goods. Kenan, one of two main characters, is used to collecting souls from his victims, who give him their full name and soul willingly once he seduces them – which is quite easy, considering he’s an incubus. Initially the only reason why he buys the Angel Jahel, is so he can secude her and then claim her soul. I loved how the dynamics between Kenan and Jahel slowly changed once he had taken her back to his home, and goes to great lengths to earn her trust and respect. The attraction between the two of them is clear from the start, but their affections towards each other develop slowly throughout the story – which was great, because I hate it when a romance blossoms too fast and then you lose every interest in the characters or their further relationship. This is definately not the case here.

The story is very action-driven, from reclaiming a Princess’ soul from a Hellhound, secuding a wicked queen and trying to prevent a war between Heaven and Hell, a lot of things are happening and sometimes it’s just too much. Had all of this taken place in a 400 page novel, it would have been fun and entertaining, but to push all of that in a 70 page novella is a bit too ambitious. It left a lot of questions unanswered (for instance: Why use souls as a currency? Why would an angel want to start a war between Heaven and Hell? What actually happens when you lose your soul?), and little room for details. All in all, this left me a bit dissapointed. There were things I wanted to know more about, and things I think could have easily been left out, for example the whole Snow White sidestory. To be honest, I was a bit confused about all that: when you have a novel with a great storyline and interesting characters, then why suddenly fall back upon a well-known fairytale? It just seemed out of place.

All in all, Karalynn Lee was perhaps a bit too ambitious considering all the things she wanted to include in the novel, but on the other hand she did do a great job writing her novella. I loved the characters and their relationship, the fast-paced action and upcoming Apocalyps/War Between Heaven and Hell backstory. The ending really left me impressed, although I won’t get into more detail about that. 😉 I would love to read more from her, and can’t wait until she writes another book. Perhaps a novel this time?

You can visit the author’s website here.