"Relief is a memory you will forget."
'In Restless Dreams (The Phantasmer Cycle Book 1)' by Wren Handman is one of those seemingly innocuous titles that slowly shows itself as much, much more than it appears to be.
The pitch is this.. the main character, Sylvia, is a teenage girl whose mother's attempted suicide lands her in the big city. She and her brother end up there with their estranged dad, the rich prep school she's forced to attend, a complete departure from the life she knew.. and one she's struggling to navigate at best.
To make bad into worse, she's the most recent incarnation of something the neighboring fae world refers to as a Phantasmer, a human who can literally change everything simply by believing. Lucky girl, that places her right in the middle between the two warring Courts. The Seelie and Unseelie both have their own strategies for dealing with her ability, and the young men trying to sway her loyalties have intentions of their own.
"When you get older, plainer, saner, when you remember all the danger we came from." -- "Burning like embers, falling, tender, long before the days of no surrender. Years ago, and well you know..."
At the start of the book, it actually seems to center mostly around Sylvia's day to day situation in New York. Some of her classmates are typically awful, but she meets a couple of people who seem nice. As she trudges through her new situation, it's just kind of your average story.
So, when she first really crosses paths with one of the fae and the dialogue takes a sharp dip into this beautifully crafted sort of homage to all things Wonderland, I found myself straightening up in my chair and reassessing the writer entirely.
Certainly, some of the similarities are overt and deliberate, but I feel like there are glimpses of other worlds here too. Influences, even if subconscious, on the author.
"This new thing is made up of barbed wire and gunny sack, a scarecrow of madness. It twitters, something halfway between a laugh and the scream of ripping metal."
Initially, that snippet seemed most obviously some darker combination of Oz, but for me it felt like something I might see in Kingdom Hearts. In my mind, it was both frightening and ridiculous, but it still made me uneasy and I loved that.
There's this brilliant character whose intentions you're never quite certain of. Everything you're shown says one thing about him, yet my instincts continued down their own road. He's a creature of darkness wrapped in some strange joy, who loves to sort of linger in the gray.. toying with anyone who might be able to glimpse him. Ultimately, good or bad.. he's my favorite.. simply for the way he's able to wander along that line, swerving this way and that without much concern for the consequences. Besides, even wickedly so, he's delightfully playful.
I feel like the author really benefitted from her work in scripts. While oft times, this can throw a writer off, resulting in scenes that only play out well in a visual medium, Handman has a unique mastery of how best to utilize what she knows. She's able to create these moments (and if you read this, you'll see one during the night of the party.. there are soaps and hand creams involved, just remember that much), that are warm and funny, visualized so well that I can still replay the images in my memory.
"I don't know...Did you know your belt is made of sorrow?" I ask. -- He gives me an odd look. "You're still high, aren't you?"
Beneath the most obvious plotlines, the changing of the world and the battle between the two Courts, even the potential romantic angles.. what I really love is the origin story of their world and the history within it. The creation of the cycles these beings have been subjected to is uniquely inventive and held me fascinated. The connections they held to great artists, how they benefitted from the work they were putting out into the world, is incredibly unconventional in the best way.
Wren made me laugh out loud, leaving me to explain my strange outbursts to my family.. and made me cry, which thankfully no one was present for. It can't be proven. Never happened. *cough* Really though, the truth is, I was terribly sad and hopeful for all of the fae. Even those who didn't necessarily deserve it.
[TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on 'The Diseased Ones' blog tour brought to you by Xpresso Book Tours, Acorn Publishing, and Danielle Harrington!
'The Diseased Ones (The Hollis Timewire Series Book 1)' by Danielle Harrington is an urban dystopian story about a society that is basically all about a 'purity' and 'cleansing' of its people. A lot of metaphors can be drawn here, but I really don't feel like it's driven by some need to make a statement about things going on in the real fabric of our lives.
It's basically a painfully eye-opening experience for the main character, Hollis. After years of what she believes is a society free of these genetic anomalies, on Testing Day, she discovers she's carrying the anomaly herself.
Thrust into the middle of the conflict between the government, who seems to only want her and her kind dead, and others like herself that are in hiding.. she doesn't know who to trust. Everyone seems to have their own agenda and no one seems to want to be completely honest about what they know, but as far as she can tell.. they're trying to help her anyway. Even if it's just so they can help themselves.
As the story goes, it may not be spectacular, but it's decent. Aside from the fact, any really pertinent information moment by moment has a convenient way of falling into the lap of both Hollis and the reader, it really doesn't suffer from any major pitfalls.
I felt a bit too much time was devoted strictly to Hollis learning how to manage her powers. I get that it was her story and the author felt her development was important, but it felt unnecessary and was the only part I got a bit restless reading.
Possibly the most interesting aspect of the story though, isn't the abilities any of The Diseased Ones carry, or the bit of intrigue regarding which side is actually the good.. and which is the bad. It's a pair of twins. They appear late in the story and really should have been given more page time.
Their story is actually the most moving, and the knowledge gained about them is impactful. It's a shame we only see them briefly.. but perhaps in the future.. in another part of the series.
All in all, I did read it all in one sitting and it was a bit of a page-turner. So, if you're looking for a quick read with some likeable characters (Jonah, Keith, Tiffany) and a bit of high stakes action, this is probably worth picking up.
The Diseased Ones
"Luther is the most beautiful of my captors. Still I hate him more than the others. I hate him so much that the darkness inside me comes alive."
If you're like me, there's plenty of steamy conflict in the synopsis of Mila Young's 'To Seduce a Fae,' to grab your attention. Ironically, though this is listed as the first title in the 'Winter's Thorn' series, the e-book still arrived with an attached download link for a prequel called, 'To Catch a Fae.' Go figure.
I did, of course, go download it right away. The covers are both gorgeous and the story sounded like it was going to be a pretty fun fantasy novel with a lot of beautiful fae heat to roll around in. Though, even as I was just beginning this book, I was pretty certain I'd never read that first one.
Young is one of those author's who.. and I'm seeing a lot of them lately.. write stories more like they're in a role-playing chatroom than putting down words for a novel. I don't know when that became the thing. I honestly feel like they don't know any better.. like this is just how their brains process storytelling.. but it annoys the hell out of me.
Instead of 'she laughs,' we get 'she's laughing'.. which makes me feel like I'm sitting beside the narrator.. but they think I don't understand what's happening. The rest of that sentence becomes, "She's laughing, then refocuses on me." Not, "She laughs, then refocuses on me." Using two different approaches in the same sentence always sends me into a silent reader rage. I can't even explain it.
I know it sounds like I'm nit-picking, but try saying that to someone in conversation and see how it feels. Now, try spending all day only speaking that way. I rest my case.
Of course, the first gorgeous fae she runs across.. Deimos, has to think up a false name to give her.. I don't know why. Neither name means anything to her at this point, but he stammers and gives the name 'Doohickey.' So, 7% of the way in, I found myself already cringing.. and it doesn't stop. It gets worse and worse.
The main character, Guen, is one of those brilliant author designs. You know the ones.. she's so plain and unattractive that she thinks she'd look terrible in the things her best friend wears and no one would be interested in her, but of course.. everyone is. All the men are mesmerized by how beautiful she is. Whether friends or enemies, would-be killers or saviors, ultimately they still want to try her on for size. It's ridiculous.
She's melodramatic and annoying in all the most basic ways.
"These men were standing really close, saying weird things." I feel stupid in this moment as I hear my words and what I'm freaking out about."
I constantly wanted someone to shut her up or the chance to do it myself. And the author's descriptions are beyond.. belief. Sometimes I don't even know what she's trying to say, let alone why she chooses to say it the way she does.
"Someone grabs my arm, and I swing around with my stomach in my skin pricking with dread."
Pardon? That one left me blinking for a minute. Actually, after staring at the screen, perplexed by the writer's interesting command of language, I just shut the Kindle down and shook my head. I needed a few minutes to get over exactly how bad it was in the moment.
Ultimately, the story is just incredibly average. I did go back. A couple of hours later. But it continued to devolve from a creative standpoint in my opinion. The author loves to info dump periodically, instead of unveiling things with care.. a little word vomit in the car.. another bit of it in the motel.. a bit of it when they pause in running.. a bit more at the inn almost to the castle.. leaving exactly the kind of mess you'd expect.
"His fingers squeeze harder, and I'm suffocating, my lungs strangling themselves for air."
Deimos, as it turns out, has two hot brothers.. Luther and Ahren. They have dangerous enemies in one of the neighboring Courts, a curse to try to cure, violent abuse in a childhood backstory, and they're racking up debts just trying to deal with that, which may be the death of at least one of them. But none of that can save this title, as it's never really drawn out into a proper story. Mostly it's just briefly touched on here and there throughout the MC's whining and complaining and the attempt by the author to handle multiple-POV storytelling, when even one POV is on shaky ground.
Honestly, even the 'steamy scenes' are duds. The girl has a one-button insta-arousal kit and a nearly instant release potential without any serious contact. While there are signs the boys can smolder and Luther especially sounds lovely, it's a whole lot of 'not enough' in a novel full of 'I don't even care anymore.'
I just can't convey how disappointing this book was for me. I could probably pull all of the integral parts of the story from it and fit them onto a few pages, but you know what? It still wouldn't be worth reading.
'House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1),' the first of a brand new adult series by Sarah J. Maas is only a little less than a month away and I can't wait..
Yesterday, I got a glimpse of the entirely new world she's created around main character, Bryce Quinlan through the first five chapters of the novel. I must say, as a freshman Maas reader, I did not know exactly what I was getting into.. but that's good!
I like to go in as blindly as possible when I start a read. Even though I obviously read the synopsis when I first take interest in a book, I like to let as much of that fall away as I can before picking it up. I like to give the author fresh eyes.
In this case, I also didn't have any sort of predetermined idea as to her style or the types of things she might throw at the reader. So, as I immediately grew attached to certain characters in the opening chapters, even though what happened was put out there right in the blurb, I was crushed when that pivotal moment came. And to think, that scene is such a small thing as to begin the journey..
Clearly, this is going to be a rough road to travel and I'm all in. If you can break my heart with a setup you've told me is coming.. I want to see what more you have to offer.
The Crescent City world is huge. All manner of magical and non-magical beings existing in one place.. seven quarters in the city.. an Imperial Council (we all know how well that went for the people of the Star Wars universe).. and what appears to be a couple of very nasty players in the game. Both above and below the divisional class lines.
March 3rd can't get here fast enough!
'To The Flame' is a relatively short novel written by A.E. Ross about a boy named Emerson who's heartbrokenly crushing on the neighbor next door. Having spent hours together talking alone at a party, a night which found them kissing and connecting, they begin avoiding him immediately afterward. No chatting, not even a bit of eye contact, if at all possible.
Still struggling with his feelings of resentment and rejection, Emerson keeps finding himself escaping near death situations, all thanks to a stranger's anonymous warnings coming across of all things.. his radio. Much of Emerson's story is spent trying to figure out who keeps saving his life, while distracted by emotions stirred up by his neighbor.
Morrie, having come into a hereditary moth-person ability at a very unfortunate time, is struggling with their own demons. Memories of the moment they came to understand what wielding such an ability would bring them, paired with their own crush on the boy they found themselves drawn to and all the ways they've seen him die, make it almost impossible for them to interact with him. Yet they continue to try to keep the boy alive, those moments making it even more difficult to ignore the spark between them.
This story is so good. Emerson is tied up inside about the sudden distance that comes between him and the person who lives right on the other side of his wall. Every sound, every glimpse of them.. only fueling that fire and the need to push closer.. to try again and again to connect. Each failure seeming to steer him more steadily onto a reckless path.
"Your electric daisy just hit the floor."
As for Morrie.. Morrie is sort of a quiet force of nature. Visually, they're edgy in all the right ways, with their long silver hair.. shaved at the sides, stormy silver-gray eyes, black eyeliner, leather, combat boots.. you get the picture. They have this bold.. fierceness at times and then withdraw completely, as if they were never there and nothing ever happened. It's no wonder Emerson can't get them out of his mind.
Their connection is so warm and sweet, that you will spend the entire read wishing for them to get together. The idea of them ending up apart will fill you with angst and you'll constantly be searching for some clue as to which way it's going to go.
"..half his body wanted badly to escape out the door behind him and the other half refused to be moved. He wasn't quite sure which one was more traitorous."
Ross is a fantastic storyteller. It's no easy task to manage multiple points of view coherently, especially without losing the distinction between characters or alternately, overdoing the differences so that it's jarring. The narrative however, in 'To The Flame,' flows easily between Emerson and Morrie.
Also, I loved that the relationships in the book all seem really healthy. With the exception of the obvious issue between the two main characters, everyone else is really open and supportive with one another. People are looking out for their friends and loved ones, not just themselves.. and though support sometimes comes in ineffective ways, it's well intentioned and serves to move the story along.
I keep hearing others say that what pleases them most is the inclusivity in the book.. and that really is fantastic to see. I long for the day when we don't even have to call it out because it's become the rule, not the exception.
'Heir of Lies' by Mallory McCartney left me absolutely conflicted, so bear with me as I work through the things I'm feeling. There are about two quotes in the entire novel I find worthwhile to ever repeat.. and I will share one of them with you.
"He was a darkened duet of body and ability, the two forces creating a lethal harmony."
Sadly, the writer mostly falls back on cliche television statements most of us have made jokes with.
"Naturally, you have to understand I can't tell you where that is located, or I will have to kill you."
The story is about a.. well.. it's sort of a soap opera. The main character is a princess named Emory Fae. She's a girl with an extraordinary gift, in a world where some have special abilities and others have none. Like any society, of course, the majority of one group looks down on the other. All told in the longest, most convoluted way you can imagine, and for the first 30% or so of the book.. also the most mind-numbing. If our grandparents were right and rolling our eyes or making faces too many times might freeze them that way, I'd be dealing with the aftermath of that right now.
There is.. and this is going to sound strange.. an overabundance of text within the spines of this book. What I mean by that is.. the author has a tendency to go on and on, throwing a lot of lovely words onto a page.. often without any real sense of direction. Long drawn out sentences, which by the time you're finished reading, fail to make any real sense because many of those words feel like they're simply there to fill the book. Such an effort made to use descriptors, that the statements become absurd. Like, "..revealing Nyx's uncanny ability to have stone cold features." Really? Being able to remain sober faced is an uncanny ability.. in a place where characters can possess others, take another's abilities, or control the elements? But she's straight-faced.. so.. that's uncanny.
Another thing this story suffers from is overkill. Quite like the last twenty minutes of The Departed. I realize the title is 'Heir of Lies,' but nearly everyone in this story is hiding something major, and it's not even interesting most of the time. One group brings about horrible things because they lied, the next group is aghast at such behavior. That group follows the same path and surprise, the next situation is reacted to in the very same way. It's actually so repetitive that it's ridiculous.
I feel like maybe at one point the author was moved by a series like 'Game of Thrones,' where literally no character is ever really safe.. and while that can be really interesting over the course of years, several books, seasons, what have you.. within one title it's such a narrow window of processing time that it feels a bit desperate.
In fact, this might have made an all right tv series. It's got a really good core. Deep down below all the fluff and missteps, the idea of the story is intriguing. Some of the characters are charismatic and interesting. Brokk, Marquis, Roque, Nei, Adair.. all characters with a ton of flair and fascinating backstories. All characters with a ton of potential. And there are glimpses of an author who understands how to develop them, but they're fleeting. Unfortunately, the main character isn't interesting at all. She's mildly annoying at best and often useless.
More than most titles, the few days I spent reading this book, felt like weeks. Not because so much occurred within it, nor because years and years passed by in the timeline. Though, those things are true too. But because with the exception of a handful of scenes centered mostly on the characters I named above, it was just delivered in a way that bored me to death. Things would occur and then someone would conveniently explain why they happened that way. Oh, there was some secret they didn't tell before.. or.. some thing they didn't realize was important until the moment, but that just meant it read like the author also didn't know how to develop the story properly. It became, show the situation, download the excuses to the reader. Over and over.. and over. And then, after spending what felt like weeks reading the story, to find it end in the middle of the resolutions with a cliffhanger.. was just kind of frustrating.
I've said it before, there are times when cliffhangers work, even are necessary.. but they're few and far between.. and this wasn't one of them. There's no way I'd willingly read a second book to find out what happens. I'm just going to pretend things went the way I think they should have.. and move on.
Honestly, if a really good, really experienced editor took this writer aside, it might even be fixable. But as it is, I can't in good conscience recommend it.
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An hour later, I stand in an ornate ballroom at the Ryder mansion.
In a tux.
And my world has stopped spinning. Or perhaps it’s simply whirling too fast. At this point, it’s hard to know.
Myla Lewis is here.
Father steps up beside me. “How was the chat with Silvinio, my son?”
“Not too productive. He volunteered that he’s no longer gambling.” I leave out the tidbits about the Tithe and Aldred, since Father thinks those two can do no wrong.
“Is he gambling the demon fighting circuit again?” asks Father.
Father then launches into a recap on the latest winners and losers on the circuit. At least, I think that’s what he’s talking about. It’s hard to pay attention.
Myla is crossing the room.
And she’s heading in my direction.
At some point, Father stops talking. Myla pauses a few yards away. Her back is toward me, but even so, I’m a hunter. There’s no missing the slightest twitch in her ears. No one else stands near Myla. Only me and my father.
Myla must be listening to us.
My thoughts race. What did Walker say before? Myla might find me intriguing, and Walker didn’t want Myla to turn heartsick. And now, she seems to be paying attention. This is bad. True, I could be imagining her interest. But even if it’s one chance on a thousand that I could hurt her, I simply can’t risk it. Having Myla in my life will cause her nothing but pain, one way or another.
That leaves only one thing to do. Follow Walker’s instructions. His words echo through my mind.
If you ever encounter Miss Lewis, you should play the haughty thrax. Look down on her demonic side. She’ll hate it—and you—forever.
As Father walks off, I keep my gaze locked in Myla’s outline. She still seems alert, but isn’t fidgeting or clenching her fists. A wave of relief moves through me. Maybe I was imagining the connection between us. Every hunter makes mistakes.
Clang. Myla knocks over a can onto the floor.
Now I could leave, but my feet move toward Myla on their own. “Are you alright, Miss?”
She turns to face me and I could cheer for joy. Up close, she’s lovelier than I imagined. Life and light glitters in her brown eyes. My arms ache to envelop her. She smells of cinnamon and sunshine.
“I’m fine,” she says simply. “I dropped an empty can, that’s all.”
We pause. Lines of energy and interest flow between us, connecting our hearts. No, no, no. This isn’t supposed to happen. And it means I should definitely leave.
And I want to.
Yet I can’t.