Tagged: book one

Persephone by Kaitlin Bevis

Persephone by Kaitlin Bevis(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

One day Persephone is an ordinary high school senior working at her mom’s flower shop in Athens, Georgia. The next she’s fighting off Boreas, the brutal god of Winter, and learning that she’s a bonafide goddess—a rare daughter of the now-dead Zeus. Her goddess mom whisks her off to the Underworld to hide until Spring.

There she finds herself under the protection of handsome Hades, the god of the dead, and she’s automatically married to him. It’s the only way he can keep her safe. Older, wiser, and far more powerful than she, Hades isn’t interested in becoming her lover, at least not anytime soon. But every time he rescues her from another of Zeus’s schemes, they fall in love a little more. Will Hades ever admit his feelings for her?

Can she escape the grasp of her powerful dad’s minions? The Underworld is a very cool place, but is it worth giving up her life in the realm of the living? Her goddess powers are developing some serious, kick-butt potential. She’s going to fight back.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I’ve always been fascinated with the Persephone myth but never really found a great interpretation of it in YA.  Usually it’s a case of Stockholm Syndrome disguised as a romance.  But that’s definitely not the case with Kaitlin Bevis’ version.

Zeus is dead and all of the other gods are jockeying for his position.  Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter and as such is a great target for Boreas, the god of winter when he decides he wants to seize power.  The only way to do that it so eliminate any potential rivals, mainly Zeus’ children.  One of the things that I really liked about the whole story was the intrigue between the gods and the clear respect Kaitlin Bevis has for the original myths.  Sure, she changes some things around like Hades’ personality but she really does try to portray most of them as their ‘original’ selves, not sanitized for modern sensibilities.  The gods in Greek myths are total jerks.  Most gods and goddesses in Kaitlin Bevis’ work are also jerks; that just makes sense.  And as a relatively new goddess Persephone has a lot to catch up to in the intrigue department as everyone else has had thousands of years experience in fighting and back-stabbing.

Persephone herself really is a great character.  She is understandably shocked when she learns that she and her mother are real life goddesses and she’s really, really shocked when she gets attacked by Boreas and saved by Hades.  Hades, to his credit saved her without any real expectations of gratitude seeing as by saving Persephone and bringing her to the Underworld, she is technically his wife.  He tries to make Persephone’s 6 month stay in the Underworld as pleasant as possible while educating her on her growing powers and the world of intrigue she’s just been awakened to.  But as they spend more time together, Persephone and Hades start to tolerate, then like and then clearly love each other.  Their relationship is pretty stormy in the beginning because Persephone was not too crazy about the whole “I have to spend how long in the Underworld every year?!” thing.  Yet they both decide to act like mature adults and try to make the best of the situation.  Hades gets people to teach Persephone about being a goddess and Persephone decides she’s tired of being a damsel in distress and asks to learn some self-defense.  When they start to fall in love with each other, it’s really to Bevis’ credit that she doesn’t just skate around the enormous age gap between the two.  No, she makes it a major sticking point between them and because of that it’s way less creepy than some Persephone retellings I’ve read.

I know Persephone isn’t a book for everyone because it’s not exactly fast-paced in the beginning.  It starts off a little slow with a seemingly typical YA situation before taking some interesting twists and turns in order to subvert the usual school tropes.  Things get exciting once Persephone is in the Underworld but then the actual action slows down as Persephone learns how to be a goddess.  She goes through a lot of personal growth that’s very interesting and I really enjoyed the interpersonal conflicts between pretty much all of the characters.  For me it was exciting and didn’t drag at all as there was always this undercurrent of tension, this sense of unease as spring drew closer and Boreas grew more and more desperate to kill Persephone.  Some people will probably complain about the ‘slow’ plot but if you like well-written books with good character development this book is definitely for you.

Persephone ends on quite a cliffhanger and I’m very interested to see where the Daughters of Zeus series goes!  The ending was satisfying because it tied up quite a few loose ends but at the same time it leaves you hungry for more.  It’s pretty hard not to fall in love with Bevis’ characters and that’s in part what makes the cliffhanger so interesting.  If the blurb and/or my review has intrigued you in any way or you just plain love Greek mythology, Persephone is a great book to try out.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Qualify by Vera Nazarian

Qualify by Vera Nazarian(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

You have two options. You die, or you Qualify.

The year is 2047. An extinction-level asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, and the descendents of ancient Atlantis have returned from the stars in their silver ships to offer humanity help.

But there’s a catch.

They can only take a tiny percent of the Earth’s population back to the colony planet Atlantis. And in order to be chosen, you must be a teen, you must be bright, talented, and athletic, and you must Qualify.

Sixteen-year-old Gwenevere Lark is determined not only to Qualify but to rescue her entire family.

Because there’s a loophole.

If you are good enough to Qualify, you are eligible to compete in the brutal games of the Atlantis Grail, which grants all winners the laurels, high tech luxuries, and full privileges of Atlantis Citizenship. And if you are in the Top Ten, then all your wildest wishes are granted… Such as curing your mother’s cancer.

There is only one problem.

Gwen Lark is known as a klutz and a nerd. While she’s a hotshot in classics, history, science, and languages, the closest she’s come to sports is a backyard pool and a skateboard.

This time she is in over her head, and in for a fight of her life, against impossible odds and world-class competition—including Logan Sangre, the most amazing guy in her class, the one she’s been crushing on, and who doesn’t seem to know she exists.

Because every other teen on Earth has the same idea.

You Qualify or you die.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Now, from the description of this novel you may be getting the impression that Qualify is one of those awful Divergent-Hunger Games hybrid novels that publishers think all teens want (again).  That’s not really the truth, though.  Qualify takes some of the good aspects of Hunger Games without the whiny factor of Divergent and makes something completely new and interesting.

Gwen Lark is really a klutz and a nerd.  When she takes many of the tests to officially qualify as one of the ten million humans aged 12-19 that the Atlanteans will save, she really does fail quite a few of the physical exams.  Sure, she gets better throughout the training and she really has to work hard at it, but she knows she’ll never be the number one candidate anywhere.  In this way, it’s a lot more realistic than someone who goes from nerd straight to jock who can kick butt.  But Gwen isn’t just a bumbling nerd; she’s got hidden talents that she’s terrified and really embarrassed about.  When these come to light, they change almost everything for her.

One of the things that Vera Nazarian does is write long books that still hold a reader’s interest.  Qualify is over 600 pages but you shouldn’t let that intimidate you because it really does keep your interest the whole way through.  Sure, some things start out a little stereotypical in the beginning but Nazarian’s amazing descriptive style takes over and things smooth out pretty quickly.  She really does focus a lot on inner conflict as well as interpersonal conflicts so if you’re looking for constant action, you’re looking in the wrong place.  This is a really great look not only at the lives of regular teens under extraordinary circumstances but also a look at how the world really would handle a doomsday scenario like the one presented.  At first there would be every effort to destroy or divert the asteroid, there would be collaboration with the mysterious Atltanteans who just showed up, etc.  But after that?  Things go back to an uneasy calm before the storm as people go into denial and then explode in anger at their impending doom.  All the while, millions of teenagers are competing for the coveted 10 million worldwide spots.  It’s horrific and fascinating at the same time.

While the characters and descriptions were great and the world-building was good, one of the things I noticed was a little rough was voice.  The descriptions of Gwen’s surroundings are amazing and the descriptions of Atlantean technology are good as well but Gwen’s voice is a little rough.  Sometimes her dialogue is incredibly mature for her age (16 bordering on 17) and other times she speaks and acts like a stereotypical teenager.  It makes reading Qualify a little jarring at times and I think this could have been improved with a few more cuts to unnecessary passages.  There is very little fluff in Nazarian’s story here but when there is fluff and filler you really do notice it.  If Gwen’s voice had been a little more consistent, this would have been an absolutely amazing novel.  Instead, it stays at ‘good’ or ‘above average’.  However, having read just one of Nazarian’s other works, I think things will improve with the next book as she gets a handle on her new characters and new world because Gwen’s voice was much more consistent near the end.

So overall the writing is good if choppy in sections, Gwen is a well-defined main character with complicated thoughts, emotions and goals and the world-building is a little vague but there are some hints at amazing detail later on for Gwen and the readers to discover.  Things get pretty intense sometimes and even though this book is around 600 pages, you’ll want to read it in one sitting.  I know I did.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Dreams of the Queen by Jacqueline Patricks

Dreams of the Queen by Jacqueline Patricks(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Dr. Cass Baros is haunted by dreams of an alien world…

…and will do anything to find it.

Relentlessly, she works her science team–along with her co-project leader and fiancé, Dr. Julian Saunders–in order to create the first lab-contained wormhole. Their boss, Dr. Janson, has a secret agenda. He adds a military contingent, which expands their six person team to twelve and increases tensions between the members. Egos will clash, agendas will cross, and their worlds will be undone as they travel through the wormhole.

The team, unable to return home and facing numerous dangers–conflicting desires, burning suns, cannibalistic monsters–is plunged into an adventure beyond their control. They struggle to unravel millennia old secrets in an alien world where nothing is what it seems. While Captain Lewis’ leadership strengthens, Cass deals with her destiny as the Brajj queen, and the Brajj, Jeamon, questions his lifelong beliefs and loyalties.

Cass and her team wrestle with her royal status to the Brajj, while being tossed between love and betrayal, genius and madness, and a jealousy frightening enough to cause the destruction of worlds.

*Rated Mature 18+* Science Fiction/Romance/Adventure/Aliens, zombies, romance, some time slipping and a wormhole all wrapped up in a mystery! (Serious sci-fi with a mature romance, violence, language, and some gore–this is not a fluffy bunny)

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Dreams of the Queen is one of those books that you intend to sit down and read a few chapters but then you realize it’s three in the morning and you’ve just finished it.  It really sucks you in and doesn’t let you go.  I have to say that in my nearly three years of reviewing I have never read a book as unique as this one by Jacqueline Patricks.

Sure, on the surface it seems like Patricks has cooked up a pretty conventional “follow the wormhole to an alien world” story but it’s really anything but that.  The alien world is far from what it initially seems and there’s intrigue lurking around every corner.  No one (and I mean no one!) is as they seem in this story and everyone is hiding something: from Cass hiding her dreams from Julian, from Julian hiding the fact that he has a much darker side and all the way up to the Brajj king and his trusted lieutenant Jeamon.  When you compare it to lots of other stories, the characters aren’t the most sympathetic but in Jacqueline Patricks’ dark imagined world they are.  More importantly than being sympathetic, they are all very interesting characters.  You may not like all of them, but you do want to find out what happens so Dreams of the Queen ends up being a psychological thriller as much as it is an action/adventure novel.

As for the world-building, wow.  I really can’t describe things too much without giving away some of the plot twists, but the alien world Cass and the others land on seems to be a pretty stereotypical medieval-esque fantasy world.  When you get down to the guts of it, that’s far from true however.  The alien world hides it secrets well, even from its supposed queen.  One of the more fascinating features of the world was the zombie-ish creatures that attack the living out in the forest while the Brajj contingent brings Cass and the others back to the city.  They act like zombies, they look and smell like zombies, but they’re not the zombies that we really know from conventional stories.  They really do have a much more fascinating background; they’re not just there for the scare factor.

The characters and the world-building had a pretty high wow factor, so how was the plot?  Well, it was spectacular.  There’s really no other way to describe it.  Just when you think you know something is going to happen, it doesn’t.  You may be able to correctly predict a couple of the twists, but you won’t be able to predict the big, horrifying reveal at the end.  And that’s not really me being dramatic—it is horrific.  Jacqueline Patricks isn’t kidding in her blurb when she says it’s for 18+; trust me on this one.  This is a very dark science fiction/psychological thriller that will leave you breathless.  There’s never horror for horror’s sake, but many of the scenes in the book are nevertheless shocking.  It really fits in with the darker tone the story takes as it winds on, drawing you into it until there’s no hope of getting out until you finish it.

Like I said, I can’t really tell you much about Dreams of the Queen without giving away some of the amazing twists and turns that you’ll want to discover for yourself.  All I really can say is that the plot is not all that it seems, the characters are highly unique and believable and the world-building will wow you.  If you get a chance, go pick up this book.  It’s not for everyone, but if the blurb or my review has intrigued you I highly recommend it.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Roma by Steven Saylor

Roma by Steven Saylor(Cover picture courtesy of Liberia Estudio en Escarlata.)

Spanning a thousand years, and following the shifting fortunes of two families though the ages, this is the epic saga of Rome, the city and its people.

Weaving history, legend, and new archaeological discoveries into a spellbinding narrative, critically acclaimed novelist Steven Saylor gives new life to the drama of the city’s first thousand years — from the founding of the city by the ill-fated twins Romulus and Remus, through Rome’s astonishing ascent to become the capitol of the most powerful empire in history. Roma recounts the tragedy of the hero-traitor Coriolanus, the capture of the city by the Gauls, the invasion of Hannibal, the bitter political struggles of the patricians and plebeians, and the ultimate death of Rome’s republic with the triumph, and assassination, of Julius Caesar.

Witnessing this history, and sometimes playing key roles, are the descendents of two of Rome’s first families, the Potitius and Pinarius clans:  One is the confidant of Romulus. One is born a slave and tempts a Vestal virgin to break her vows. One becomes a mass murderer. And one becomes the heir of Julius Caesar. Linking the generations is a mysterious talisman as ancient as the city itself.

Epic in every sense of the word, Roma is a panoramic historical saga and Saylor’s finest achievement to date.

When I first started Roma I’ll admit I did have my doubts because of Steven Saylor’s telling rather than showing style of writing.  However, I got into the swing of things and actually began enjoying his pared-down style that reads almost like a more intimate nonfiction work about the lives of two ancient Roman clans.

One of the most obvious strengths of Steven Saylor’s writing is the historical accuracy of the novel.  He does change some events around and speculate about some things but where there was information available he stuck to the facts.  I like how he doesn’t play the origins of ancient Rome straight (i.e. with gods and such) but rather offers up some explanations for how the heck such fantastical stories about Rome’s founding came about.  It makes sense and it’s quite possible that some of these things actually happened in a similar way and that’s why I really loved how Steven Saylor stayed true to the history.

His characters are amazing.  Every single one has a different perspective and a very unique voice.  They all live in turbulent times in Rome’s history so of course their lives are fascinating but it’s how they deal with the changing times that really stands out.  Some of the earlier Pinarii are quite snobby about their patrician status; later when the family is poor that’s not really the case.  Of course some of the ideas presented by characters will seem utterly absurd to modern readers but they really capture the prevailing attitudes of the time.

I can’t in all honesty call the plot fast-paced but it was very interesting.  I mean, how could Roman history not be interesting?  We get to see the events surrounding the first sack of Rome, the rise of Julius Caesar, the Second Punic War, etc.  All of the major events during the Republic period of ancient Rome are here in the novel or at least are alluded to because the characters are still dealing with the aftereffects of said events.  It’s a fascinating look at Roman history and although there was more telling than showing I still thoroughly enjoyed Roma.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Cover Reveal: Honor Among Orcs by Amalia Dillin

Honor Among Orcs
by Amalia Dillin 

Designed by: Melissa Stevens (Website)

Publication Date: April 1, 2014

Series: Orc Saga, Book One

Genre: Fantasy (18+)

After nearly a decade as the king’s whipping-girl, Princess Arianna has no intention of going quietly into marriage to some treasonous noble, or serving obediently as the king’s spy until her death is more convenient. When she discovers a handsome orc, chained and trapped inside a magic mirror, Arianna cannot help but see a lasting freedom from her father’s abuse.

Left to rot inside a mirror by the king, Bolthorn never imagined his prayers would be answered by a princess. Nor did he ever expect to meet so worthy a woman after knowing her father’s cruelty. He needs her help to escape the mirror before the king marches against the orcs, but all he can offer Arianna is ice and darkness in exchange for her aid.

If Arianna can free the monster behind the glass, perhaps she might free herself, as well. But once they cross the mountain, there will be no return, and the deadly winter is the least of what threatens them on the other side. Romance blossoms in this gripping fantasy adventure.

He knew these woods, sparse as they had become, and when they broke, he knew the tundra of the foothills too. Just before dawn, he found the outcrop beneath which he had made a shelter his first night beyond the mountains, and though he did not dare to light a fire, the sedge made a soft bed.
After a meal of apples and cheese, the last of their food, Arianna curled against his side, sharing the fur, and rested her head on his shoulder. He tested her forehead for fever and breathed his relief when she did not burn against his palm.
She tugged his hand away, a small smile curving her lips. “You worry overmuch. There are still two days of warmth before I must fight your cruel winds. I will be well enough for your mountains by then.”
His fingers lingered against her skin and her smile faded. He traced the clan-markings on her cheek and her lips parted, her heart thrumming in his ears.
“Bolthorn –”
Up the bridge of her nose and over her eyebrow, the umber flaked from her skin, coloring his fingertip. Down along the line of her jaw, to the pulse point beneath. Her breathing hitched. He only wished the marks had reached her collarbone, to give him some excuse to trail his fingers across the smooth skin there.
“You make a beautiful orc.”
“Not a Vala?” she asked, her eyelashes sweeping across her cheek.
“The Vala cannot marry.” The sunlight caught in her hair, flashing reds within the rich brown and he smoothed the soft, wild strands from her face. “They cannot bear children, or know the touch of any kind of man after they have made their vows. They know only the ancestors and the mysteries they reveal.”
“Oh,” she breathed.
Oh. It was the first thing she had ever said to him, trembling against the stone. She trembled now, too. As she should, he thought, knowing herself within the arms of an orc. He closed his eyes and drew his hand back. This was a dangerous game to play with her so near, so vulnerable.
“Sleep well, princess,” he said, his jaw tight against his need. “You’ll want your strength.”
She made a noise in the back of her throat, but when he glanced at her, she had turned away.

About the Author

Amalia Dillin began as a Biology major before taking Latin and falling in love with old heroes and older gods. After that, she couldn’t stop writing about them, with the occasional break for more contemporary subjects. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, and dreams of the day when she will own goats–to pull her chariot through the sky, of course.
Amalia is the author of the Fate of the Gods trilogy from World Weaver Press, and the soon to be released Orc Saga, coming April 1, 2014. You can learn more about her work at www.amaliadillin.com

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Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Crewel by Gennifer Albin(Cover picture courtesy of Xpresso Reads.)

Incapable. Awkward. Artless.
That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: She wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen to work the looms is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to manipulate the very fabric of reality. But if controlling what people eat, where they live, and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and used her hidden talent for a moment. Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her dad’s jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because tonight, they’ll come for her.

This time I can honestly say it was not the cover of this book that caught my attention.  Rather, it was the title.  Crewel.  What’s a crewel?  Is it a dystopian city, a deliberate misspelling of cruel for some sort of theme in the book or something else?  It was my curiosity that made me read the blurb and I soon learned it was a weaving term.  A teenage girl in a dystopian world where time itself is woven?  That’s pretty unique.  So of course I bought the book.

Gennifer Albin’s book is one of the very few dystopian novels I’ve read that has such an amazing, unique premise.  If the rest of the book were trash, you could read it for her world-building alone.  Good thing the rest of the book wasn’t trash, though.  She doesn’t dump too much info on you at once and just when you think you know all about Arras, you learn something completely different that throws the conventions for a loop.  And you know what?  All the shocking behind-the-scenes things that ordinary citizens in Arras don’t know about make sense considering the kind of beautiful yet horrible world they live in.

Adelice was an interesting protagonist.  She was defiant but she also learned when to fight and when to keep her mouth shut as she began her apprenticeship as a Spinster.  Yes, she made some pretty big mistakes because of her naivete but she learned from them and became a better person.  Adelice saw through all of the glitz and glamour and actually tried to find a way to hide her talents so she could escape.  Finally, a smart YA protagonist!  And when she falls for a guy that’s obviously not a good choice for her, she learns to smother her feelings and move on.  What a novel concept!

The plot starts off pretty fast in the beginning but then it slows down a little to allow you to catch your breath in this crazy new world.  As Adelice learns about the world around her, so do we and it’s a more natural pace than a lot of books.  Crewel focuses heavily on character development but it’s never at the expense of the plot.  There’s always this feeling of suspense and dread just lurking in the background, ready to materialize and wreak havoc on Adelice’s plans.  Especially toward the end of the novel when Cormac’s true intentions are made painfully clear as he goes from run-of-the-mill pervert to something a little more dangerous.

This is Gennifer Albin’s debut novel so I think we can expect great things from her in the future.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the Crewel World trilogy!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout(Cover courtesy of Flying With Books…)

Starting over sucks.

When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I’d pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring…. until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up.

And then he opened his mouth.

Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something…unexpected happens.

The hot alien living next door marks me.

You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon’s touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I’m getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades.

If I don’t kill him first, that is.

At first I was unsure how to feel about this book.  On one hand, the banter between Daemon and Katy was hilarious and overall I like the idea of aliens because it’s so different.  On the other hand, why do we have yet another girl moving to a small town who meets a hot guy?  Hasn’t that been done a million times already?  To deal with this cognitive dissonance I took the path of least resistance and accepted the book for what it is: an entertaining read.  Guilty pleasure, really.

I don’t usually like the bad boys, but I liked Daemon in this book.  He knows he’s being a jerk as we find out later but he actually has his sister’s best interests at heart.  He’s not just good-looking; he actually has a brain in his head and really does learn to care about Katy.  (I personally picture him more attractive than the cover model here, but that’s more personal preference.)  Even if he won’t admit it, you know he really does care for her and saves her from everything from a drunk jock that didn’t know what consent was to evil aliens who really wanted to kill her.

Katy herself was an interesting character.  She won me over partly because she’s a book blogger (yay!) but also because she falls in love but remains a strong character.  At times you can tell she’s falling for Daemon and other times she really hates him.  Quite understandable given his actions at times.  Yes, she does do stupid things even when people warn her not to, but haven’t we all done something that stupid because of scorned love?

I could start drawing so many parallels to Twilight, but I won’t.  This is a much better written version and the characters have depth.  It’s not just wish fulfillment on the author’s part, but it’s not exactly deep literature either.  Instead it’s a funny thrill ride with lots of action, banter and plenty of steam.  Jennifer Armentrout’s world-building was good, but I’ll definitely reserve judgment until the next book before I say it’s either ‘great’ or ‘bad’.  There’s a lot of room for expansion so I guess we’ll see soon.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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