Everneath by Brodi Ashton

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What’s YA without smoke on the cover these days?

First, the horribly truncated summary: Girl takes a sabbatical away from her energy-draining position in the Everneath (Hell) to see the family and friends she left behind. Said family/friends believe she’s on drugs.

If my teenager left for six months and returned skinny and expressionless without explanation, I’d reach the same conclusion. Kudos to the author for believability.

It has been a long time since I finished a book in two days. Even a Young Adult book usually takes somewhere around five due to shit-that-needs-to-be-done-now. These weren’t even two normal days. These days were right before Renfaire, so I did have plenty to do. As punishment for my enthusiastic reading, I arrive at Renfaire for setup after lights out (who turns out the lights at 10 pm?!), forget my sleeping bag, and spent the night shivering with a single blanket on an air mattress.

I suffered for this book. Kinda. Sorta.

At its heart, this book is an adaptation of two stories: Persephone/Hades and Orpheus/Euridice. Both myths are mentioned a few times as stories handed down through the generations and diluted over time. The Everneath isn’t a place for the dead, but a place for the Everliving and their Forfeits. An Everliving brings a human Forfeit to the Everneath, feeds on their energy for a century, and then abandons the Forfeit to the general scrap pile to have any remaining energy drained.

That’s what’s happened to Nikki. When we start the book, she has been a Forfeit to Cole for the past hundred years. Instead of being fully spent by the feeding, she endures it and is able to become an Everliving alongside Cole. She haphazardly decides against this and returns to the surface world to reestablish the memories she lost and to say goodbye before choosing the scrap pile for the rest of eternity.

We proceed through the rest of Nikki’s six months at the same time as we’re seeing what led to her abandoning the surface world in the first place. As well as saying goodbye, Nikki spends her remaining time trying to find a way to escape her impending doom by solving the mystery behind the Everneath.

Oh, and Cole keeps returning to the surface to convince her to take the Everliving route while she tries to reestablish her relationship with Jack, the boyfriend she left behind. What’s YA without a love triangle these days?

As I said, this book sucked me in. The writing was quick and concise, the characters were undeniably human (I wasn’t kidding about the friends believing Nikki was a addict), there were a couple plot twists that surprised me (even if the ending didn’t), and, ultimately, I will be reading the sequel.

Cause what’s YA without a series these days?

4 stars. The ending was a tad predictable, but otherwise it was awesome.

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The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe

First, the horribly truncated summary: Orphan Annie wins a trip to private school during World War I and finds out what she really is.

Yes, I said “what,” not “who.”

Disclaimer: I received this book from Goodreads First Reads!

Our orphan, Eleanore Jones, hears voices and music. She has heard these for as long as she can remember. While in the orphanage, the voice within commands her to jump from the window, which she does. Everyone thinks she’s crazy and they ship her off to the madhouse until she’s deemed better. The voice stops and she learns to ignore the music enough to be sent back, but she’s deemed “tainted” by the orphanage upon her return.

Fast forward to WWI! Zeppelins are dropping bombs onto London. One manages to hit her orphanage and the orphans need to be sent elsewhere. In the midst of this, Eleanore (nickname Lora) is selected as a charity case by the Duke of Idylling to attend his school. Lora doesn’t fit in with the wealthy students of her school, but she does make an impression on two young men: Armand, the duke’s son, and Jesse, the youthful groundskeeper who knows why she hears voices and songs that come from jewels and other metallic objects.

Love triangle? Yes.

However, the triangle doesn’t last long enough for me to really hate it. It’s more about Lora’s journey to find out why she can hear songs that no one else can hear and why she can turn ethereal while standing on ledges. All this happens in the midst of female boarding school revenge stories and air raids. It’s a young adult book, true, but I really enjoyed it.

4 stars.

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

First, the horribly truncated summary: Sleuth Barbie goes to Dublin to solve her sister’s murder and ends up pantiless with a spear.

That’s just how Dublin rolls.

I’m not certain I can summon up the vitriol required for explaining the narrative voice of this book. Never before have I read such shallow first-person text given to me straight. I thought the protagonist was joking, trolling me from some future vantage point five books down the road. She started so reasonably in the prologue. Alas, I was misled, forcing myself through the drivel of a frivolous college-age woman who sounded more like a teenager from the 1990s.

But don’t take my word for it. Feast your eyes upon this sample: “Later that night I stopped in an Internet café and downloaded new tunes for my iPod. iTunes loves my Visa. I should be more frugal, but my weaknesses are books and music and I figure there are worse ones to have. I’d been hankering for the Green Day Greatest Hits CD (the song that goes “sometimes I give myself the creeps, sometimes my mind plays tricks on me” had been majorly on my mind lately) and got it for the bargain price of $9.99, which was less than I would have paid in the store. Now you know how I justify my addictions—if I can pay less for it than I would at Wal-Mart, I get to have it.”

She’s investigating her sister’s murder. She just finished questioning her sister’s classmates. I don’t care about the protagonist’s playlist at this time. I also really hate when authors borrow from songs.

And wouldn’t you be buying it in Euros if you’re in Ireland?

*hits “search” on the kindle, types in “Euros”, gets nothing. Tries again with “Euro,” still gets nothing.* Sleuth Barbie pays for everything with a credit card or other people’s money.

I apologize for that tangent. It still stands that you’re listening to that same voice, without change, for the entire book. She mentions nail polish and lipstick more times than the currency required to buy them. Sleuth Barbie (her name is Mac/Mackayla) cries because she has to cut her blonde hair and dye it in order to keep herself from being a target. She’s not crying due to being a target, but because she really likes her hair.

Oh, and in one scene, she believes a pair of Clark Kent glasses and a dingy shirt are enough to keep people from noticing her. She ends the disguise description with “I might never manage ugly, but at least I bordered on invisible.”

I think I need Shallow Hal to give me a visual on her inner beauty.

Now, I will admit that the world she’s placed into in Ireland is very creative. As she digs into her sister’s death, she finds an Ireland steeped in myth and magic that would have made for awesome fun. Fae creatures are all around her, both good and evil, and the evil ones are connected, somehow, to her sister’s death. You also have two main males with our protagonist, one being a rich man who lives behind a bookstore. (How is he rich? We don’t know. Even Christian Grey had a company and wealthy parents.)

The other is a fae prince who constantly inspires our protagonist to want sex. Not “oh let me go home and take care of this” urge, but the urge to rip off her clothes in the middle of the street and have sex with this fae until she dies from orgasm (hence the no-panties comment at the beginning). I guess these are meant to be intriguing scenes, but I just couldn’t stop laughing.

As for the poor deceased sister, we have to pick up another book to get closure.

I’ll get right on that. Right after I read The Winds of Winter. Or, in Blizzardspeak, “soon.”

2.5 stars.

Quintessence by David Walton

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Coverlust? Coverlust.

First, the horribly truncated summary: An alchemist and a mortician place their trust in a beetle and take a boat full of Protestants to the end of the world.

 For once, I’m not being glib!

This book was provided to me via Netgalley in return for an honest review. I would like to thank Tor/Forge for giving me this opportunity and taking me seriously.

Now, as a fan of fantasy, Tor is a recognizable staple in our household. I hold them in very high acclaim and reverence. With that in mind, I am fully confident that the advance copy I received will be free of formatting errors by the time it goes on sale.

Why mention formatting errors at all? Those errors made the dialogue a chore to get through. Those errors, coupled with a mild start and a sluggish middle, made the book difficult. I was considering putting Quintessence into my unfinished pile and submitting my review thusly.

But, as I am a masochist, I trudged through. The final thirty percent of the book made it worthwhile.

However, that first seventy percent…

We start our story aboard the Western Star, where Lord Chelsey is returning to (Tudor) England with the last thirteen men from his crew. They’ve all been dying off during the return trip and the venture is nearly a failure. The only redemption he has are the barrels full of riches he has brought back. However, the barrels of gold and diamonds have turned into useless pebbles and the miracle water has turned into seawater.

Tough luck.

He’s deemed mad when the boat docks and dies shortly thereafter. The Western Star is condemned and sold off to the only man that knows its value: Christopher Sinclair, the court magician and part-time alchemist.

Before Sinclair can fully investigate the cargo of the ship, he realizes that someone is stealing away the sailor’s bodies. It’s none other than King Edward VI’s personal physician, Stephen Parris. Parris has taken a keen interest in the lack of decomposition and has decided to further his understanding by means of dissection.

Now, cutting up bodies might be all the rage in Venice, but they still frown upon the practice in Renaissance England. Parris has to hide his “ungodly” activities in order to remain respectable at court. His wife, understandably, doesn’t like walking in on rooms filled with human gore, so they’re marriage is held by a very thin thread.

(Funny note: most male characters are referred to by their last names (there are exceptions, especially where you have a father and son on the same boat). All female characters are referred to by their first names. Not sure if intentional style choice based on era or unintentional sexism.)

Well, in order to get funds for a return trip to Chelsey’s island, Sinclair sells Parris out to the sickly king and all the doctor’s money now belongs to the sea voyage. Parris’ wife is a survivalist, so she secures her fate and leaves her husband in the cold. She tries to secure her daughter’s fate as well, but their daughter “decides” (via otherworldly force) to go with her father to the edge of the world.

Oh, and the boat is full of refugee Protestants when they set sail. Why? Tudor England.

I am cutting many of the cool bits out (magic beetle) because explaining everything would exceed my character limit.

Wait a minute! We’re starting in one of my favorite historical periods, our protagonists are a magician/alchemist and a doctor (and the doctor’s daughter), and they’re sailing to the ends of the earth with a boat full of refugees in hopes of finding out the magic behind Chelsey’s voyage? What the hell is my problem? What was so wrong that I nearly put this book down in shame?

Well, I had no emotional connection to any of these characters until the end of the book. Even then, there was really only one character I connected with, and that was the doctor’s daughter, Catherine. The rest, while doing interesting things, were not interesting in and of themselves. Some, like Parris’ wife, came off as extremely annoying.

Also, there was a lot of setup required to pull off the conclusion. I’m used to setup (obviously, as a fantasy reader), but this setup was centered in characters doing scientific experiments during the journey. Instead of action, the characters repeatedly asked questions through interior monologue that, I think, the readers could have asked themselves without author prompting.

Add to that a very stilted dialogue where names were not placed with quotes and you’ve got a very tiring mess during your middle acts. Thankfully, we reestablish a clear antagonist by the end and I was actually pleased with the outcome.

 I just wish I had a better middle to go with it. 3.5 stars.

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

First, the horribly truncated summary: The only other time when putting a tattoo on your face is a good life decision.

I don’t consider the above a spoiler because the title spoiled it for you. Now, in the Commonwealth countries, I’m led to believe that this book is called The Painted Man. Not certain if this change was publisher-based or legal-based, but I wonder which title came first.

I am surprised in the lack of tattoos in Fantasy literature. There should be more, but I’ve either failed to remember them or not come across them yet.

Any memorable fantasy tattoos out there? Post them to comments. (I now have this book and the Kushiel books)

Oh, the book. The world is a place where people fear the setting sun (*cough* Thenightisdarkandfullofterrors *cough*). Demons come out of the earth at night and feast on human flesh. The only thing keeping people safe is wards they’ve rediscovered from a long-dead past. People paint wards on posts and walls to keep their homes safe in the night. However, sometimes the wards become scuffed and marred (or are drawn imperfectly or out of alignment with the other wards) and the demons are able to move past them.

It’s a problem that strangles travel and trade. People live in fear within prisons of their own making. Only the bravest travel at night, using portable wards to keep the demons at bay.

The book has three separate protagonists: Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer, each talented in their own way. Arlen is gifted with drawing wards (if you weren’t spoiled before, you need only see his chapter headers), Leesha with herbalism/biology, and Rojer with music. Can anyone say adventuring party?

Unlike most adventuring parties (you all meet in a tavern), the protagonists don’t meet up until 74% into the book. Why so precise? Kindle. You have a lot of book to go through before you come to the action. It makes for great backstory and the characters seem real, but waiting for them to grow up is tedious. Worth it (really worth it), but tedious. You also get a few surprises in the mix as the characters deal with basic human nature, which is also refreshing.

In fact, the payoff is so awesome that I’m debating giving this book 5-stars. I think I will. I can’t lower the score on this book for slow backstory and give Kushiel’s Dart and A Game of Thrones 5-stars. I’m looking forward to checking out the next two books in this (unfinished) series.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

First, the horribly truncated summary: Modern-day wizard figures out that a scorpion does not belong in the desk drawer at work.

Seriously, do scorpions even belong in Chicago? I’ve heard that they like it out here in the Mojave Desert, but we are a far cry from Chicago. Needless to say, they do not belong in a work office. Scorpion = wasp + spider + crab. Their poison requires immediate medical attention. One does not mistake them for pencils or a hairbrush.

Oh, it wasn’t alive when he put it in there, you say? You can never trust a dead scorpion. Those things will live past doomsday, feasting on the ever-breeding roaches that call the desert home.

I’m getting away from myself. Harry Dresden is our protagonist who works as a wizard in modern-day Chicago. It’s the epitome of paranormal + crime noir, which is a pretty good combination to have (better than teen romance + paranormal, which is now the thing). In true Noir fashion, he gets two cases that have nothing to do with each other on the same day. The first case is a missing person case, the second is a double homicide where the hearts of the victims leapt out of their chest mid-coitus.

According to the CSI shows I’ve seen, death and sex are often less than fifteen minutes apart, so this is probably common for them. Their hearts shooting like a rocket from the chest cavity, not as much.

Which does Dresden investigate first? Missing person case. Why? Paying customer. Can’t say I blame him, since he lives with a cat on the edge of freelance destitution.

This is a fun, albeit predictable, read. I really do like the idea of a modern-day wizard working with the police to solve the weirder crimes of Chicago. It took me a while to get to this review because of the problems I had with it (besides predictability). First, the writing style was utterly unnerving. It’s akin to cracking a joke to the audience right before each commercial break. I’ve read that Butcher gets better with his style as the series goes on, so I might try for future books. Just not right away.

Also, when one duplicates noir in the modern era, one requires a deft hand. The idea that technology goes haywire whenever Dresden is nearby is a clever means of limitation, but it feels like Butcher is clinging to noir stereotypes for his characters. I saw the misogyny label thrown around by some and, while I won’t fully agree, I can see where it comes from.

Lastly, Dresden’s backstory is alluded to, but never finished. Many things are treated that way, like the Wizard’s White Counsel, the Underworld, and several elements that would have given the book much more depth than the joking one-liners. Perhaps it goes away as the writing improves and the characters have more history to build upon, but I won’t continue this series on that hope.

Three stars. Quick, fun, predictable plot with some surprises (fairies like pizza, who knew?).

Firelight by Kristen Callihan

First, the horribly truncated summary: Cupid has a past that’s covered by his Zorro mask and Psyche can immolate herself at will.

Let me start you all with this assurance: I do not read romances often. Their covers are all the same: the overly-elaborate dress of a damsel with most of her face out of frame and/or the torso of a man that I have yet to find. Said woman is usually holding a fan, flowers, or something loosely tied to the title.

Now that I think about it, a romance book with a woman holding a stun-gun on the cover would prod my curiosity.

(Outlander is the exception to this rule. Outlander seems to be the exception to many rules.)

Why do I bring up covers? Isn’t it the content of the book that counts?

I bring up covers because I am certain I bought this book out of cover lust. Because it was part of the Amazon monthly sale, the cover was emailed to me almost daily, along with the news of the kindle daily deals. Women on fire tend to get attention. At the end of January, I relented and bought the book before the sale ended. And it was worth it.

But first, the opening quote: “The knowledge that Archer would soon end the life of another cut at his soul with every step he took. The miscreant in question was a liar and a thief at best. That the whole of the man’s meager fortune now rested at the bottom of the Atlantic did little to rouse Archer’s sympathy. On the contrary, it only ignited his fury. A red haze clouded Archer’s vision when he thought about what had been lost. Salvation had almost been his. Now it was gone because Hector Ellis’s pirates had raided Archer’s ship, stealing that which might cure him and hiding it away in the bloody doomed clipper ship.”

Opening your romance book with the anticipation of murder is good.

A little context with our nightmusic: the initial murder is foiled by Hector Ellis’ daughter, Miranda, our “Psyche”. Archer, who covers most of his face with a mask, returns as an English lord three years later and offers Ellis a deal: Ease his continuing destitution in return for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Father agrees and sends Miranda off.

I should mention here that Miranda is one of the causes of her father’s problems. She set his warehouse on fire. Not “oops dropped the lantern” fire. She can pull fire out of her body. How? Don’t know. Why? Why not? She does feel guilt over the accident, but living with her father was punishment enough and she is done paying for her mistake.

When we get the tour of the house, I begin to remove the fishhook from my cheek. He’s rich, she’s overwhelmed, he doesn’t like her touching his right side, servants know more than she does, we’ve seen it before. I had serious “Beauty and the Beast” vibes.

Cut to another house with an old man and his newspaper. The old man looks up, sees a masked figure, calls out Archer’s name, and has his throat slit.

The rest of the book, which slowly folds in a few paranormal elements, is deciphering the murders (yes, plural) while Archer and Miranda figure out how close to get before pain is involved.

If more romance books were like this, I’d read the category more often. The reason I included the quote was a note to the author’s style. I’m not certain if it’s because of the books I recently read (The first Dresden Files book had prose problems and the books before that were either indie or YA) or if this author is that good, but her writing style amazed me. I didn’t put this book down for the better part of five hours, I was that hooked. I had to owe someone a cookie because of this book.

I also have to say that I fully believed I solved the whole story at about 60% of the way in. I was wrong.

This issue I have is this: the book is, at its heart, a romance. I do not know if I can recommend this to any of my guy friends and live it down. Hence why I asked on facebook about guys that liked The Princess Bride, which is also a cleverly-guised romance with a masked hero. This book has fencing and murder, but is it enough?

So, my final thoughts: Download the sample chapter and see for yourself. Personally, a Goodreads 4.5/5. I do not give my 5’s lightly.

(Side question: Have you ever coverlusted? What book was it? Did it end up being good? Put your answer in the comments below.)