A Strange Scottish Shore (Emmaline Truelove #2) by Juliana Gray

This review is going to contain spoilers for the first book in the series, A Most Extraordinary Pursuit, previously reviewed here. If you haven’t read it and intend to, unspoiled, then stop reading right now because this review will VERY quickly reveal the big secret of that book (and the series). Really, if you’re at all interested in reading it you probably already know the twist, but just in case…

All good? Ready to jump in? Are you sure? Okay, here we go.

A Strange Scottish Shore front cover (Berkley/Penguin Group)

THE PLOT: Emmaline Truelove and her employer, Max, the new Duke of Olympia, are traveling to Scotland as the Duke courts a young lady. Of course, they are also investigating the strange chest that was found containing a “selkie suit,” which feeds into her family’s legend. Because more than just a Duke and his former secretary, Max and Emmaline comprise the Haywood Institute for the Study of Time.

After the adventure on the island of Skyros, it’s apparent that Max has some sort of ability to cause time travel, but it’s unclear (at least to the younger Max) how these powers work. He doesn’t understand them and has very little control. But when Emmaline’s kind-of love-interest Lord Silverton disappears, she realizes she’ll take any risk to get him back—even having Max send her whenever Silverton is.

MY TWO CENTS: These books really don’t give you a lot to describe if you want to avoid spoilers! But here’s the big one: This is a time-travel book. Everything that goes on in this book (and the first one) is based on Max’s time-travel powers.

Now people might be asking how this series compares to Outlander, and here’s what I can tell you: I really don’t know. I’ve never read nor watched Outlander. I know that it involves time travel, which is why I bring it up. I know it’s a very popular romance. I wouldn’t say this series is primarily about romance, so that’s one difference. There are also different eras represented, and from what I can tell, the Outlander characters only travel between the 1940s and 1700s? I know I’m not being a whole lot of help here. If you’re all out of Outlander and want something similar, I’m not sure if this will meet your craving.

I love the framing device in the form of a book written by an older Max who presumably has control of his powers and understands what has gone on in the stories being unveiled in the novel. The story is told in a way that doesn’t quite give away what was going on, but gives you enough of a hint so say, “So WHEN was this selkie lady from, really? And WHEN did she end up?”

Also, although I say this is not primarily a romance (at least not in the way the romance genre is typically formulated), the relationship between Emmaline and Silverton moves forward despite some hemming and hawing in the beginning and her continued reservations that SOMETHING will go wrong and separate them.

Emmaline still talks to ghosts, specifically the ghosts of Queen Victoria and Emmaline’s own stepfather. I’m assuming at some point we’ll learn why Queen Victoria has an interest in Emmaline, but not yet. I suspect it has something to do with biological father.

As far as the pacing goes, I felt that the beginning chapters were slow; it took me a little while to get into it. But once the story was in full swing, it was very difficult to put down. You can’t imagine how this is really going to resolve in any way that is good for the characters. And does it, really? I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book.

COVER NOTES: Love that the cover matches the style of the first book and the e-prequel. I also love that it doesn’t reveal the majority of the book’s setting.

BOTTOM LINE: I’m loving this series and can’t wait to see what happens next. Although this entry seemed a little slow right out of the gate, it really moved the series along.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  No announcement that I know of, but hopefully the next entry in the series will be available in Fall 2018 (although sooner would be good!)

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

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Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

How many Labyrinth fans are out there? Come on, you know you love it. David Bowie singing and dancing with Muppets? A teenage future Oscar-winning actress? What’s not to love???

How many Labyrinth fans also love Phantom of the Opera? or L.J. Smith’s “Forbidden Game” trilogy? If you just bounced up and down in your chair, then put Wintersong on your “to read” list because you’re going to want to check it out.

Wintersong front cover (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press)

Wintersong front cover (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Griffin)

THE PLOT: In early 1800s Germany, plain Elisabeth (Liesl) Vogler is the oldest of three children. Her sister, Käthe, is gorgeous and has become betrothed to Liesl’s childhood friend and crush. Liesl’s little brother Josef has been groomed by their father as a musical genius, even though it’s Liesl who composes the music he plays so beautifully. Liesl is stuck helping run the family inn while her siblings go on to everything Liesl wants for herself. She used to believe in magic, and often composed music in the Goblin Grove near their home, but now she believes she’s outgrown these tales. Her father has convinced her that a girl simply cannot be talented.

When Käthe is taken by Der Erlkönig, the Goblin King, Liesl fights her way to the Underground to get her sister back. But is it Käthe the Goblin King even wants? What bargain will Liesl strike to save Käthe? Liesl will learn some difficult truths about herself, familial love, and romantic love while she fights for her life. And what will the Goblin King sacrifice to get what he wants most?

MY TWO CENTS: This is a difficult book to review, because I could just say “I loved it!” and leave it at that, but it deserves a bit more scrutiny. First, the author cleverly plays off readers’ possible exposure to the setting of Labyrinth while also painting a vivid picture of the Underground. It’s very lushly written; very descriptive, which I enjoy, but maybe not everyone would.

Also, it’s a very “adult” written book. I don’t mean to say it’s sexually descriptive; it’s not. What I mean is that nothing is black and white. It’s not a fairy tale with a cut-and-dried “they loved each other and all lived happily ever after” ending. Real life and real love is full of difficult choices. You seldom get something valuable without giving up something else. Some younger readers, with their limited life experience, may not “get” everything this book is saying, all the layers and nuances—and, therefore, may not love it. A naive reader might ask, “But if two people really love each other, shouldn’t they be able to work it out?” while more jaded readers will appreciate the difficulties the characters face.

While I’ve mentioned Labyrinth a few times (and anyone would make that connection with the Goblin King), does the book really rely on the movie? No, but there are enough allusions that if you wanted to mentally go there, you could. For example, the Goblin King is described as having different colored eyes, a la David Bowie. He’s described as both a young man and an older yet ageless counterpart. Liesl’s goblin attendants would certainly make fantastic Muppets. Reading about the Underground and the Goblin City might bring certain images to mind.

Anyone who’s read the “Forbidden Game” books will also see a resemblance to Julian (not that there aren’t plenty of Jareth/Julian crossover stories to begin with). Just setting it in the German forest and using the term Der Erlkönig will resonate with anyone familiar with Volume 1, The Hunter. As will some of the Goblin King’s actions. How much does he love? How can he show it?

Finally, there are similarities to The Phantom of the Opera. The Goblin King is drawn to Liesl because of her music, and he’s a powerful yet unloved, unlovable figure living underground. He knows the only way he could make her stay with him is to take someone she loves and make a trade. But Liesl’s choices mid-book will surprise even him. Then there’s that gradual change from monster to someone who learns to love.

Will this book have a sequel? I don’t know. I would certainly welcome a sequel, and I think there’s more story to tell here. It could also stand alone as written.

COVER NOTES: What a beautiful cover! No girl in a floofy dress; just an image that brings to mind Labyrinth (snowglobe), Phantom (rose), and Beauty and the Beast (rose again). The color scheme is fairly stark and wintry.

BOTTOM LINE: I crazy-loved this book. I will buy it in hardcover to keep on my shelf and re-read at the earliest possible opportunity. Whatever this author writes next, I’ll be there to gobble it up.

TEACUP RATING: Five plus out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available February 7, 2016, in hardcover and eformats.

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

The Doctors Are In by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?

No, that’s not a typo in the title bar. One of the authors has added a question mark, legally, to his last name. Also, I love this cover. (If you want to get technical, one is missing, but I love it anyway.)

TRUE FACT: The ONLY Doctor of the modern era I have looked forward to “meeting” is Peter Capaldi. My reaction to the reboot in 2005 was: “A Doctor in a black leather jacket? NEVER. GOING. TO. WORK.” And then I loved Eccleston’s Dotor, so much that when he regenerated, I said, “New guy? I’ll hate him.” LOVE David Tennant. May be my favorite Doctor. Loved him so much that when HE regenerated, I said, “Who could ever follow him?” Enter Matt Smith, whose introduction was all but perfect. How is it that for over 50 years and 13 incarnations, each subsequent actor is able to both take on the mantle of this character AND make it his own?

The Doctors Are In Front Cover (ECW)

The Doctors Are In Front Cover (ECW Press)

THE COVERAGE: The book begins with an introduction to the show, the authors, and the format of the book. Each of the 13 Doctors gets a chapter, and each is divided into the following sections:

  • That Doctor’s first and last stories
  • The Changing Face of Doctor Who (about the switch to the new Doctor)
  • Who Is [the actor playing the Doctor in this incarnation]
  • Top Companion
  • Classic Foe
  • Who Is the Doctor? (specifics about how this Doctor is played, his characteristics, and motivations)
  • Three Great Moments
  • Two Embarrassing Moments
  • A critique of each Doctor, specially named to suit each Doctor, by one of the authors
  • Second Opinion: the other author’s take
  • Index files: the five stories the authors believe are “most essential” to that Doctor

Sometimes the authors agree with each other. Sometimes they disagree. Sometimes they call each other crazy, and then vehemently defend their position on why they are right and the other is wrong.

MY TWO CENTS: This is a pretty decent roundup of all the Doctors. If you’re unfamiliar with the earlier Doctors, you can get a snapshot of their eras. I especially enjoyed the background on each actor, and the general climate of the BBC during each tenure, and how that affected production.

Readers may take exception to the “bashing” of favorite Doctors or episodes. For example, one author despises David Tennant but adores Matt Smith. The other loves Tennant, but points out Matt Smiths’ bad moments. It’s definitely an eye-opener to different points of view.

I was just relieved that both authors felt the episode “Midnight” was worthy of mention. I probably would have stopped reading if they hadn’t.

NOTE: The authors state upfront that the book will only cover the TV series, and not other media like books, comics, or the Big Finish audio dramas. For example, although the Eighth Doctor has had a very healthy tenure in other media, the only appearances covered in this book are the TV movie and the Night of the Doctor.

BOTTOM LINE: I’m interested in checking out the authors’ other Doctor Who books, such as Who’s 50? If you’re open to hearing criticism about your favorite Doctors and episodes, and even mentally debating with the authors, give this a read.

TEACUP RATING: I give the book 3½ out of 5 teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The Doctors Are In will be on sale in paperback and ebook formats on September 1, 2015.

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

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

I’ve seen this new Star Wars book advertised a couple different ways. First, I saw it called the first book in the new approved timeline, so it’s considered canon and not part of the Expanded Universe now packaged as “Legends.” Second, I think it was originally meant to be the third book in the “Empire and Rebellion” trilogy, which would make sense since all that was missing was the Luke book. But again, if this is now approved canon and the other two books are not, then it’s NOT part of that series. (But I still think it fits perfectly well with it.)

Heir to the Jedi Front Cover (Lucas Books/Random House)

Heir to the Jedi Front Cover (LucasBooks/Random House)

THE PLOT: After the destruction of the (first) Death Star, Luke is sent on a mission to extract a cryptographer from Imperial control. He’s got the use of a ship belonging to a new Rebel sympathizer named Nakari Kelen, but first they need some upgrades. Money is scarce, so they do a job for Nakari’s father, who owns Kelen Biolabs. The cryptographer, Drusil, who speaks mostly in math, is desperate to be reunited safely with her family. In between dodging Imperials and bounty hunters, Luke makes some time for romance with Nakari and dabbling with control of the Force.

MY TWO CENTS: Like the official books in the “Empire and Rebellion” series, other standard Star Wars characters are scarce. You’ve got Luke and R2D2, and a couple of cameos by Leia and Admiral Ackbar. Han is completely absent, although mentioned. The book is told entirely in first person from Luke’s point of view, which both works and doesn’t work. What works? It helps us get into Luke’s mind as he begins to try to figure out what a Jedi can and can’t do. It also helps in those awkward moments where Luke acts like a naive farm boy. When doesn’t it work? Well, for one thing, Luke overall comes across as more sophisticated and verbose in his thoughts than you’d expect him to at this point. He hasn’t been off Tatooine that long. He seems remarkably well-spoken in is own thoughts; less so when talking to Nakari.

Another thing that seemed off: the romance with Nakari. I don’t know if there was just waaaay too much “ick” factor or if Disney just doesn’t want to go there, but…shouldn’t Luke be pretty infatuated with Leia at this point, between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back? There is a scene where he explains his feelings to Nakari, stating that although he’s interested in the Princess, she’s just out of his league. I’m not sure I buy that, since they’re at least best friends by Empire. It seems odd, off, but convenient.

What I loved most about this book was the part with the Skullborers. These are the type of aliens you don’t run into too often in the Star Wars universe…kind of like Alien aliens, absolutely terrifying. Despite knowing that Luke is going to live through it, there’s a lot of tension. Kudos to the author for that! Unfortunately, the Skullborers come fairly early on in the book, so the following games of hide-and-seek with the Empire seem less fun and a little dragged out.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting read; worth it for the Skullborers scenes alone, but not my favorite Star Wars novel. I didn’t get invested in Nakari as much as I wanted to. It stayed pretty safe in not giving any additional info about Leia, Han, or even Ackbar in the new approved timeline.

TEACUP RATING: About three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Will be released March 3, 2015, in hardcover and ebook formats.

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

 

 

Doctor Who: Silhouette by Justin Richards

I was so excited to read one of the new Twelfth Doctor books! I chose one by Justin Richards because I had read a few of his Eighth Doctor books, such as The Burning, and really enjoyed it. Plus, this one features the Paternoster Gang, and Strax is always great fun.

Doctor Who: Silhouette Front Cover (Random House Publishing)

Doctor Who: Silhouette Front Cover (Broadway Books/Random House)

THE PLOT: A creepy carnival in Victorian England is the setting. A man is strangely murdered after beginning a letter to Vastra. A friend of Strax is also murdered, drained to a husk. At first, the two don’t seem connected, but of course they are. The Doctor and Clara show up to help unravel the mystery. The Doctor is enthralled by a strange shadow puppet show performed by a lady called Silhouette. A weird man hanging around the carnival also seems somewhat anachronistic, knowing things he shouldn’t for this time period. As they investigate, Clara, Jenny, and Vastra each meet people who seem especially sympathetic to them personally, but are these people really friends or foes?

MY TWO CENTS: This was the first Twelfth Doctor book I read, and I felt that the author captured him very well. Newer fans could pick up this book and clearly know they weren’t reading about Nine, Ten, or Eleven. This book also seems to distribute well among Clara, Jenny, and Strax, so it’s not all “The Clara Show” as I felt the show sometimes became at the end of Twelve’s inaugural season. I did feel that Vastra didn’t have as much of a presence, but she was strong in the finale.

I loved the idea of the paper origami birds that come to life. This is the kind of effect that works well in the a book, as the effect on film probably wouldn’t be as cool as what the imagination can conjure. The villain was the perfect kind of foe for the Doctor; totally selfish and destructive, and using innocent people to do the dirty work.

Note that this is a pretty short book, clocking in at 258 pages. I read an ebook ARC and it definitely moved along swiftly.

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re missing Twelve and companions, and the Christmas special and next season seem too far away, check out this book. You’ll be entertained, although only for a short while. (But probably still for longer than the run time of an episode!)

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book is available now in trade paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Darkness by Erin Eveland

I’ve been asked if I ever give a book a bad review. The easy answer is: I try to pick books to read that I think I will enjoy. Life is short, my free time is precious, and I have many books on my “to read” list, so I deliberately avoid choosing authors, settings, or genres that I dislike.

Every once in a while, though, I’ll choose a book that sounds good but just doesn’t work for me. Such was the case with Darkness by Erin Eveland. I chose it because the summary reminded me a bit of L.J. Smith’s “Forbidden Game” series, which I LOVED back in the day. But really, I think the only similarity is that they both contain Shadow Men.

Darkness Front Cover

Darkness Front Cover (Selladore Press)

THE PLOT: Catherine is abandoned at birth by her alcoholic mother and raised by her grandmother. The little girl has special powers, seeing and manipulating shadow entities. When her grandmother dies, Catherine’s mother returns in all her trashy glory to run through Catherine’s meager inheritance and use her for welfare money. Fast forward to teen Catherine, who is in love with a local boy and desperately wanting to get out of her dead-end town. But her love interest is being controlled by Artros, a magical being with an interest in Catherine and her secret powers.

MY TWO CENTS:  I feel that the prose is just overblown and pretentious. For example, “perchance” is not a word anyone normally uses to describe actions taking place in the 21st century. This is forced and unnatural, and it pulls me out of the reading experience. I might understand using archaic language for the character of Artros to emphasize how ancient he is, but even that technique should be used in small doses. The writing just feels inauthentic.

I know ARC reviewers are usually not supposed to mention grammatical errors, but this title didn’t contain a note about being an advance proof, and the overwhelming errors in this book made it a struggle to read. There are the comma errors that often make it difficult to follow the dialogue. There are other types of grammar errors everywhere.  Then there are the sentence structures that just add unintended humor. One example:

Contemplating, the car idled awhile before he turned the ignition switch off.

Yikes. At best, that’s one introspective car!

BOTTOM LINE: I’ve been an editor for 20 years, and in my professional opinion, the book suffers in many ways from lack of editing. It needs to be streamlined and cleaned  up. I only made it halfway through the book before I called it quits. I suggest the author demand a better edit from Selladore Pressfor her next book or, if this is a self-publishing imprint, that she hire a good freelance editor before self-publishing again.

TEACUP RATING: I can only give this book one out of five teacups. There might be a good story in here, but it was just too much work to find and follow it. Other reviewers indicated that they enjoyed the book, but with my apologies to the author, I cannot recommend it.

ON SALE DATE: Darkness is available now in paperback and e-formats.

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

 

Dark Sacrifice Launch Day Blitz

Dark-Sacrifice-Launch-Day-Blitz

I’m so excited to be part of the launch day blitz for Dark Sacrifice! I’ve really been enjoying these books, and I think many other readers will, too.

 

Dark Sacrifice (Dark Paradise #2)

By: Angie Sandro

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group

 

Sandro_Dark Sacrifice_E-book

A GIFT AND A CURSE

Mala LaCroix sees dead people -really. After using her psychic gifts to catch a killer, she’s locked in a psych ward and must strike a deal with the devil to secure her release. Apprenticed to a dark arts practitioner, Mala vows to free herself and save her loved ones from danger. But she doesn’t know who to turn to when her crush on Landry Prince turns into something more serious.

 FATE WORSE THAN DEATH

Landry has sacrificed everything to protect Mala. A near-death experience changes him forever, and now he, too, possesses supernatural powers he doesn’t understand. Mala and Landry must band together to defeat the dark forces-both human and otherworldly-who would use their abilities for evil. Even as they fall for each other, they must prepare to battle for their very souls . . .

 

PURCHASE AT…

B&N: http://bit.ly/1u7MhF5

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1ohv1aX

iTunes: http://bit.ly/1sdcQJw

GooglePlay: http://bit.ly/Xq6YRS

 

EXCERPT

On Saturdays, the local farmers set up a market in Paradise Park. I plan to do my veggie shopping there since I didn’t get my garden planted this year. The streets bordering the park are packed. I’m lucky to find a spot in the parking lot of First National Bank kitty-corner from the Memorial Rose Garden. Colorful tents are lined up in orderly rows in the square. Each section is separated, with the organic foods in one row and regular folk who want to sell extra produce in the other. Local shops also set up booths selling everything from pastries, coffee and tea, handmade clothing and soaps, fresh eggs, organic meat, and toys and games. A freaktastic clown stands on the street corner with a tank of helium and a gaggle of kids around him. I’m tempted to buy Landry a balloon to cheer him up.

The passenger door slams shut as soon as I shut off the engine. Landry wastes no time coming around to open my door and lift me to the ground before I can squawk in protest. He strides off while I grab my cloth shopping bag, leaving me to stare after his retreating back in shock. When he’s halfway across the street, he pauses and turns around.

“This is your idea. Hurry,” he yells.

“I’m coming.” I shut the door and run to catch up. When I reach him, he moves around me until I’m on his blind side. He starts forward again, but slows his steps so they match mine. If I didn’t know him so well, I’d think he didn’t have a care in the world, but I do. He walks like he did in jail—shoulders back and tight, chest slightly raised. He scans the area, alert for a threat.

I take his hand, squeezing when he tries to pull away.

We blend into the crowd, strolling up and down the rows. It’s a mix of people of all ages. A few people say “hi.” Most don’t. A large percentage of them stare. I feel like I’m at the mercy of paparazzi.

“Smile and wave,” I mutter from the corner of my mouth, jabbing Landry in the side with my elbow.

“Huh?”

“You’re acting like you’ve done something wrong, but you haven’t. Don’t let these fools see you sweat. Weakness breeds violence. Like a silverback gorilla in the jungle, you need to beat your chest and fling your poop at someone.”

His snort-laugh doubles him over, and I pat him on the back. “That’s perfect,” I say. “No worries.”

He turns and lifts me into a breath-stealing hug. “Thanks,” he whispers in my ear and presses a brotherly kiss to my forehead. Wish he’d move his lips a little lower. Would a few inches kill him?

My voice comes a little thick and raspy too, and I cough to clear my throat. “No problem.”

How long has he been standing here holding me? We have an even larger audience than before. Now we really are the object of paparazzi-like behavior as people snap pictures of our embrace with their phones. I wrap my arms around his neck and press my cheek against his. “Cheese,” I say, grinning for the cameras.

A couple of high school kids start to laugh.

One yells, “Give her another kiss, Landry.”

“Yeah, Landry. Give me a kiss.” I bat my eyelashes, whispering in his ear, “I swear if you drop me on my ass in public—”

I don’t have to finish the threat.

His mouth steals across mine.

I lean into him, head tilting. My arms tighten around his neck. His lips are soft and juicy, like peaches. Yum. My thoughts scatter and swirl, leaving only the sensation of his mouth on mine.

He breaks free first and lowers me to my feet. He avoids my gaze. “Did it work?” he asks, running his fingers through his black hair so it falls forward to shield his eye again. He shifts from his forward foot to his back which somehow puts distance between us without him having to move.

I laugh, playing off the hurt. “Yeah, we gave our fans a titillating bit of new gossip to take the place of the old. Rumors about our relationship will be flying through town before lunch.” I glance around to be sure. The crowd drifts away, realizing there’s nothing more to see. Even better, nobody hurls insults or throws dead animals at our heads. “Let’s go.”

 

Angie Sandro_author photo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angie Sandro was born at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Within six weeks, she began the first of eleven relocations throughout the United States, Spain, and Guam before the age of eighteen. Friends were left behind. The only constants in her life were her family and the books she shipped wherever she went. Traveling the world inspired her imagination and allowed her to create her own imaginary friends. Visits to her father’s family in Louisiana inspired this story. Angie now lives in Northern California with her husband, two children, and an overweight Labrador.

Angie’s social media

@AngieSandro

http://anjeasandro.blogspot.com/

http://facebook.com/pages/Angie-Sandro/

 

  THE DARK PARADISE SERIES

dark series

Dark Paradise (Book 1): read my review here

Dark Sacrifice (Book 2): read my review here

Dark Redemption (Book 3): Available September 9, 2014

 

 

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