The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond

The first time I saw this YA book in a catalog, the tagline caught my eye: “What if Hitler had won World War II?” And my response was, “SQUEEEEE!” Not at the thought of Hitler’s victory, of course; but at the idea of a new book that deals with the consequences of imagined alternate history. I put it on my watch-list and requested it as soon as it popped up on Netgalley (Thank you so much, Scholastic!) I did wonder how the Nazis would have won the war in this reality…and that’s when a little bit of  Captain America crossed with X-Men is added to the mix. Wheeee!

The Only Thing to Fear Front Cover (Scholastic)

The Only Thing to Fear Front Cover (Scholastic)

THE PLOT: (Imagine movie voiceover guy here…) In a WORLD where Adolf Hitler won WWII and executed President Roosevelt, and Washington D.C. is now known as Neuberlin…

It’s been 80 years since the Allies lost the war, and the world is divided into territories ruled by Nazis, Japan, Italy, and the Soviet Union. Germany won the war by developing genetically enhanced “super soldiers” before America could develop the atom bomb. These sentinels continue to enforce the rule of the Empire by wielding special powers. American “peasants” are known as Kleinbauern.

Zara St. James is a teenager who lives in the Shenandoah Valley of what used to be the United States, but is now the Eastern American Territories of the Nazi Empire. Zara is the product of a Japanese soldier who used and abandoned his American lover, so she is looked down on as a Untermensch, a sub-human half-breed, or a Mischling of mixed race. Zara’s mother was killed in the last attempt at rebellion. Her uncle Redmond (Red) also used to be a revolutionary, but now lives a docile life trying to fly under the radar of the Nazi government while he brings Zara up.

Zara has lost friends and loved ones who dared to speak out against the regime. Her life of servitude is spent cleaning the nearby Nazi academy and serving the cadets who attend. She tries to keep out of the cadets’ way and avoid drawing attention to herself, but Bastian Eckhart, son of Fort Goering’s commanding officer, seems to have an interest in her. What are his real motivations?

Plus, Zara is hiding a secret: she’s an anomaly—she has special powers like the sentinels, probably passed down through her father. She can control the wind, and eventually finds out she can create lightning as well. Uncle Red begs her to keep her powers hidden because the Nazis kill Kleinbauern anomalies, who might be a threat to them. But a series of events eventually pushes Zara straight to the heart of the American rebellion.

MY TWO CENTS: I have a lot of respect for any author who writes alternate history.  First the author has to KNOW history, and then he or she has to deal with the ripple effect of how changing the events also changes the outcomes. That’s a LOT of detail, from the big things, like how France is now the “French Territorial State,” to all the horrible detail stepped out in the White House scene in the climax. Maybe some readers will be drawn into researching some details of WWII. For example, do kids today even learn who Goering was? If not, maybe they’ll be intrigued enough to find out.

The book gradually builds toward two battles, a prison break and a final, massive mission. The first half of the book lays a lot of groundwork, while the second half pays off with a lot of action. My one semi-gripe could be that Zara becomes so important to the final mission, which seems to happen very quickly. I don’t know, though, if a sequel is guaranteed, and if not, it makes a lot of sense for Zara to fulfill a lot of potential by the end of this book.

Finally, I cannot stress how glad I am that this book his fairly little romance in it. Yes, we get that Bastian and Zara have a spark between them, but there is no full-blown romance and, thank you SO much, no love triangle.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a young adult book for the thinking reader. The spirit of The Hunger Games, but with a basis in actual world history. Young readers who are just looking for entertainment might learn something without even realizing it! A tiny hint of possible romance, but the book doesn’t revolve around it.

TEACUP RATING: A solid five out of five teacups. I’m glad this book lived up to the excitement I felt before reading it, and I sincerely hope there’s a sequel, if not a series.

ON SALE DATE: Available in hardcover and eformats on September 30, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Seeds Volume 3 by M.M. Kin

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Seeds Volume Three (Cover Image: Moranyelie/Osario Morales)

I had previously reviewed Volumes 1 and 2 in this trilogy here, and was eager to find out of the conclusion was satisfying. Spoiler: It was.

THE PLOT: When we left off in Book 2, Hades had done something…iffy…that you just KNEW was not going to go down well. Sure enough, this volume picks up with Persephone’s anger, plus the continued wrath of her mother, Demeter, against Zeus’s human acolytes. Without giving too much away, Demeter finally does reunite with her daughter…and the first thing she does proves she hasn’t learned a damn thing from her daughter’s absence. Thankfully, Persephone has truly grown up during her captivity and is no longer the easily bullied little girl.

Does Persephone forgive Hades? Do they get a happily ever after? Will Demeter ever forgive Zeus OR Hades? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Again, I don’t want to give away the ending. However, I found the ending reminiscent of the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot’s finale, which I very much enjoyed.

MY TWO CENTS: The author took the Hades/Persephone myth and truly fleshed it out into a relatable story. I found it a very richly drawn portrait of an ancient era. I also had an emotional connection with the characters. For example, when Demeter gets Persephone back and tries to mold her back to a child, I was FURIOUS. I felt bad for Seph and triumphant when she fought back. That’s the kind of involvement I want with my books.

BOTTOM LINE: I have enjoyed M.M. Kin’s “Seeds” saga more than the works of any other indie author I’ve sampled. If you are a fan of mythology, I suggest you give this series a try. Do keep in mind that there are some VERY steamy scenes throughout, but overall, this story encompasses more than just a romance between two characters.

TEACUP RATING: Five overflowing cups of dark, seductively scented tea.

Seeds Volumes 1 & 2 by M.M. Kin

Seeds Volume 1 (Cover Image: XX)

Seeds Volume One (Cover Image: Moranyelie/Osario Morales)

I will be honest with you: I was never interested in being a fiction writer myself, and I avoid the whole fanfiction thing like crazy. I also tend to be highly skeptical of self-publishing because there are many, many more people out there who believe they have talent than actually do. However, I have learned my lesson. Independent authors cannot be dismissed, because then true talent like M.M Kin could be overlooked. And that would be a shame.

THE PLOT: Simply put, Seeds is a retelling of the original Hades/Persephone Myth. It’s about the actual ancient Greek gods and goddesses as opposed to modern “reimaginings” of characters who play those roles. Volume 1 starts with the story surrounding Persephone’s birth and explains how her overprotective mother, the goddess Demeter, planned to keep her safe from harm by hiding her away. But even trapped in the body of a prepubescent girl, Persephone soon captures the attention of the gods…including Hades. Hades would happily court Persephone properly, if only her mother wasn’t determined to keep her away from all men. So Hades feels driven to kidnap her and take her to the Underworld.

seeds 02

Seeds Volume Two (Cover Image: Moranyelie/Osario Morales)

Seeds Volume Two explores the evolving relationship between Hades and Persephone, as well as Demeter’s frantic search for her daughter. But even as the couple grows closer together, feisty Persephone simply cannot let someone else decide her fate. And Hades has some control issues. Can he be worthy of Persephone’s love after starting their relationship with a kidnapping?

MY TWO CENTS: If you love mythology, you’ll enjoy this richly crafted retelling of the story. Meticulous research results in a detailed setting that greatly adds to the story but never overwhelms it.

Persephone’s character is especially likeable, as she is determined to be the master of her own fate, despite her attraction to Hades. (Who is all but irresistible, to Persephone AND the reader.)

Please be aware that these novels have some especially steamy love scenes. I don’t think they verge into erotica territory, but may be a bit more graphic than your average romance. (Think slightly more graphic than Elizabeth Hoyt’s sex scenes.)

Also, although the novels are set in ancient times, the language is sometimes very modern. I, personally, do not have a problem with that since no one can duplicate that ancient language accurately. And I’m sorry, but “twas” or “tis” in a historical drives me bonkers. These are actually deal-breakers for me. One single “twas” and I’m outta there. So thank you, M.M. Kin, for not sounding laboriously artificial!

TEACUP RATING: I give each volume a solid 5 teacups, and I can’t wait for the final volume. Plus, I will be more open-minded in the future about self-published books. I’ll be eagerly waiting for this author’s next novel or series.

Splintered by A.G. Howard (Audio Edition)

I’m a sucker for Alice in Wonderland stories, especially those that act as continuations or sequels. I’m especially fascinated by those that focus on the more macabre and surreal elements. The examples that come immediately to mind are the Tim Burton film (natch), American McGee’s game “Alice: Madness Returns,” and the classic Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers video for ” Don’t Come Around Here No More.” Cake, anyone?

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Cover for Splintered (Audio Edition), Amulet Books

I don’t remember now how Splintered came to my attention…did I see an ad for it? Was it recommended on Goodreads or Amazon? Not sure, but it caught my eye. I was in need of a new audiobook (yes, I listen to audiobooks at night after my eyes get tired from reading all day) so I bought it.

THE PLOT: Teenage Alyssa Gardner is a descendent of Alice Liddell, THE Alice. Unfortunately, every female in the line eventually goes mad, including Alyssa’s mother, who has been institutionalized since Alyssa was five. Alyssa’s neighbor and crush, Jeb, has family issues of his own, but he’s always been there for Alyssa…until recently, when he hooked up with his new girlfriend (the school’s version of Paris Hilton).

Like her mother before her, Alyssa has started to hear insects and flowers talk, and her research on the family curse inadvertently breaks a pact her mother had made to keep her safe. Now Alyssa is heading down the rabbit hole with Jeb in tow since he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But they get more than they expected when they meet Morpheus, a mysterious yet familiar character who has an agenda of his own.

MY TWO CENTS: I am not a teenager nor a particularly young adult, so I’m not going to get involved in a “Team Jeb versus Team Morpheus” type debate. I will say this, though: Morpheus is like a mixture of some of my very favorite fictional charactersa generous helping of the Phantom of the Opera (musical version), a sprinkling of Jareth from the movie Labyrinth, a couple spoonfuls of Julian from L.J. Smith’s Forbidden Game trilogy, and a dollop of Captain Jack Sparrow to finish him off. There’s also something of a glam rock star about him.

So, yeah, I LOVE Morpheus. I love him as a character. It might be partially because the audiobook narrator, Rebecca Gibel, does such a good job with his voice. I’m not sure her Cockney accent is spot-on, but it’s close enough to capture the right feel.

I wonder if Gibel’s reading also contributes to my intense dislike of Jeb. Everything he says is so controlling and sometimes demeaning to Alyssa. For example, when he gets the word that she’s trying to score a fake passport, he barges into her house, accuses her of being mean to his girlfriend, and demands to know why she’s “acting out.” He KNOWS that Alyssa spent the day visiting her mother at the asylum, which must be hard for her no matter what happened there. And oh, yeah, Jeb is on his way to prom with the girl he’s moving to London with. Jerk. I don’t like Jeb. I NEVER get to like Jeb, no matter what he does.

Gibel’s reading may make Alyssa seem slightly weaker than how she comes across on the written page. I don’t really fault Gibel for that; she’s trying to give emotion and drama to her reading, so when Alyssa is frightened or uncertain, that’s magnified in the audio.

BOTTOM LINE: I liked the book well enough to also purchase a paper copy so I can really absorb it, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming sequel, Unhinged. For me, though, the big draw is definitely Morpheus. I look forward to finding out what his next plans are for Alyssa, and what charming velvet hat he wears while manipulating her.

TEACUP RATING: I’m going to do something a little different…stars are so overdone! So I’m going to award teacups from now on instead. I’d give the story itself 3 to 3½ teacups, but Morpheus gets a whole teacup just on his own, which brings the total to 4 to 4½ teacups.

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