Mini Review: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Midwinterblood
Marcus Sedgwick

Roaring Brook Press
I received an advanced copy of this book in return for an honest review.
Released February 5, 2013
272 pages
Literary Fiction / Short Stories / Supernatural

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Seven stories of passion and love separated by centuries but mysteriously intertwined—this is a tale of horror and beauty, tenderness and sacrifice.

An archaeologist who unearths a mysterious artifact, an airman who finds himself far from home, a painter, a ghost, a vampire, and a Viking: the seven stories in this compelling novel all take place on the remote Scandinavian island of Blessed where a curiously powerful plant that resembles a dragon grows. What binds these stories together? What secrets lurk beneath the surface of this idyllic countryside? And what might be powerful enough to break the cycle of midwinterblood? From award-winning author Marcus Sedgwick comes a book about passion and preservation and ultimately an exploration of the bounds of love.

This was a really interesting book that was nothing like I expected. It’s a series of seven short stories all intersecting by way of a mysterious island full of mystery and hidden history. It’s like Lost except without a weird science cult or smoke monster or bear cages or… okay, it’s nothing like Lost. It’s a story told over centuries beginning with the a short told in the near future of a journalist who goes to Blessed Island in search of a story about immortality only for his trip to go terribly wrong.

Nothing worked how I expected it to. The two main characters reappeared in story after story with different familiar relationships and dynamics that are unexpected yet oddly similar. Even as background characters in the story of an archeological dig, the two main characters have a heavy presence in each story. The short stories progressively go back through World War II, Viking days and even further back in time, introducing new types of characters and oddly supernatural elements.

This reads like literary fiction with the occasional paranormal twist. It flows like it’s meant to be read out loud with phrases often coming off as lyrical and flowing. It reminded me of short stories like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery that you know is horribly twisted, but can seem fairly innocuous on the surface all while being written in a manner that leaves you slightly unsettled in its beauty. Overall Midwinterblood is beautifully written and an incredibly quick read that’s worth a visit even for those who may not enjoy short stories or literary fiction otherwise.

 

I received an advanced copy of this book from Macmillan in return for an honest review. Thanks Macmillan!

Review: The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Heiber

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Percy Parker
Leanna Renee Heiber

Leisure Books
322 pages
Romance / Fantasy

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What fortune awaited sweet, timid Percy Parker at Athens Academy? Considering how few of Queen Victoria’s Londoners knew of it, the great Romanesque fortress was dreadfully imposing, and little could Percy guess what lay inside. She had never met the powerful and mysterious Professor Alexi Rychman, knew nothing of the growing shadow, the Ripper and other supernatural terrors against which his coterie stood guard. She knew simply that she was different, haunted, with her snow-white hair, pearlescent skin and uncanny gifts. But this arched stone doorway offered a portal to a new life, an education far from the convent—and an invitation to an intimate yet dangerous dance at the threshold of life and death…

This will probably be pretty short. The Strangely Beautiful Tale… left me underwhelmed and a bit annoyed, so I don’t really want to spend much more of my time on it. I read it only because it was the monthly choice for my bookclub. Had it stayed the tale of a group of humans possessed by the souls of the ancient Greek muses that went around Victorian London exorcising rouge ghosts, it probably would have been a pretty good story. But no, on top a potentially interesting supernatural story, another plodding and sickly sweet romance story involving an albino girl with horrible self-esteem, talking in flowery language and pining for pages upon pages about a professor twice her age.

After the prelude, where six kids get possessed by ancient souls and hear a prophecy from an ancient Greek goddess, the story shifts 18 years later, so that the main supernatural six of the Guard are no longer kids, but embittered and lonely 30-somethings who have lost faith in the prophecy of their goddess. This was a surprise, but I probably should have known this was a romance and not YA by the cover. Despite that, I hoped for more ghosts and less purple prose. Whenever the Guard was on mission, things got interesting. As long as the main bad guy remained shadowy, things were interesting. The increasingly spectacular supernatural events were interesting, though wedged between the tedium of an immature teenager’s epic love for a creepy, somewhat mean professor.

Then you throw in a femme fatale meant to cause conflict amongst the Guard while she attempts to hunt down Percy. Her character oozed evil and yet everyone fell at her feet, driving a wedge between the members of the Guard. Point of view had a habit of shifting between characters with a moment’s notice and not in a very fluid way. It didn’t help that none of the characters really had a distinct voice.

If you don’t mind whiney protagonists with no self-esteem, pining after men twice their age because of a love that spans eons, then you might find this book more enjoyable than I did. It just felt repetitive and predictable with unlikeable characters. It felt like there was potential in some of the characters and the idea of the Guard, but the execution felt like a second thought to the cloying romance that just left me annoyed.

And that’s all the time I’m going to spend on this one.

Review: Dearly, Beloved by Lia Habel

Dearly, Beloved (Gone with the Respiration #2)
Lia Habel

Del Ray
Released September 25, 2012
496 pages
YA / Romance / Zombies

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Can the living coexist with the living dead? 

That’s the question that has New Victorian society fiercely divided ever since the mysterious plague known as “The Laz” hit the city of New London and turned thousands into walking corpses. But while some of these zombies are mindless monsters, hungry for human flesh, others can still think, speak, reason, and control their ravenous new appetites.

Just ask Nora Dearly, the young lady of means who was nearly kidnapped by a band of sinister zombies but valiantly rescued by a dashing young man . . . of the dead variety.

Nora and her savior, the young zombie soldier Bram Griswold, fell hopelessly in love. But others feel only fear and loathing for the reanimated dead. Now, as tensions grow between pro- and anti-zombie factions, battle lines are being drawn in the streets. And though Bram is no longer in the New Victorian army, he and his ex-commando zombie comrades are determined to help keep the peace. That means taking a dangerous stand between The Changed, a radical group of sentient zombies fighting for survival, and The Murder, a masked squad of urban guerrillas hellbent on destroying the living dead. But zombies aren’t the only ones in danger: Their living allies are also in The Murder’s crosshairs, and for one vengeful zealot, Nora Dearly is the number one target.

As paranoia, prejudice, and terrorist attacks threaten to plunge the city into full-scale war, Nora’s scientist father and his team continue their desperate race to unlock the secrets of “The Laz” and find a cure. But their efforts may be doomed when a mysterious zombie appears bearing an entirely new strain of the virus—and the nation of New Victoria braces for a new wave of the apocalypse.

Lia Habel’s spellbinding, suspenseful sequel to Dearly, Departed takes her imaginative mash-up of period romance, futuristic thriller, and zombie drama to a whole new level of innovative and irresistible storytelling.

I have to be up front: I have no objectivity when it comes to Lia Habel and her series about cognizant zombies and the teenage girls who love them. I mean, no objectivity whatsoever. To be completely honest, I’m tempted to just write ZOMBIE BRAM! over and over again until my fingers get tired. Because this book is just as awesome as Dearly, Departed and left me with the same sense of giddiness mixed with confused disgust. Bram is a zombie, a legitimately dead person, and I want to make out with him. It’s so wrong. It’s all Lia Habel’s brilliant, twisted fault.

Spoilers for Dearly, Departed follow

Dearly, Beloved picks up soon after the concluding events of the first book with our plucky teenage protagonist Nora finding herself stuck in a house full of former zombie soldiers and two scientists, one of whom has a detachable head.

I mean, really, after that description how could you not want to read this book?

The story twists together multiple plotlines that unfortunately leave Bram and Nora apart for much of the book, which was probably my only real disappointment other than the book not being completely about Bram all moments on all pages. Nora’s best friend Pamela, who proved herself to be pretty handy with a  parasol when in the middle of a zombie attack, is trying to hold her family together now that her little brother is a zombie, all while hiding the horrible PTSD she’s suffering from her previous adventure. The uber douche rich boy Michael still thinks Nora belongs to him and joins a creepy cult full of bored little rich boys, who attack zombies for the fun of it. Laura, a zombie girl keen on planting flowers within her own body, is finding her carefully put together life falling apart as a militant group of zombies take over her older sister’s crew.

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Review: City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

City of Lost Souls (Mortal Instruments #5)
Cassandra Clare

Margaret K. McElderry (2012)
534 pages
YA / Paranormal Romance / Supernatural

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The demon Lilith has been destroyed and Jace freed from captivity. But when the Shadowhunters arrive, they find only blood and broken glass. Not only is the boy Clary loves missing, so is the boy she hates: her brother Sebastian, who is determined to bring the Shadowhunters to their knees.

The Clave's magic cannot locate either boy, but Jace can't stay away from Clary. When they meet again Clary discovers the horror Lilith's magic has wrought - Jace and Sebastian are now bound to each other, and Jace has become a servant of evil. The Clave is determined to destroy Sebastian, but there is no way to harm one boy without destroying the other.

Only a few people believe that Jace can still be saved. Together, Alec, Magnus, Simon, and Isabelle bargain with the sinister Seelie Queen, contemplate deals with demons, and turn at last to the merciless, weapon-making Iron Sisters, who might be able to forge a weapon that can sever the bond between Sebastian and Jace. If the Iron Sisters can't help, their only hope is to challenge Heaven and Hell - a risk that could claim their lives.

And they must do it without Clary. For Clary is playing a dangerous game utterly alone. The price of losing not just her own life, but Jace's soul. She's willing to do anything for Jace, but can she still trust him? Or is he truly lost? What price is too high to pay, even for love?

Love. Blood. Betrayal. Revenge. Darkness threatens to claim the Shadowhunters in the harrowing fifth book of the Mortal Instruments series.

I can’t even begin to review this book without stating up front for the umpteenth time that I HATE this cover. I get that the romance between Clary and Jace is supposed to be the big draw of the series, but did they really have to make this look like a bad romance novel? If this were the first in a series, I wouldn’t have picked it up, but because it’s the continuation of a series that I’m invested in, I overlooked the cheesy cover and dived in.

This book is much better than City of Fallen Angels probably because Jace spends the most of it not himself, and therefore, not an asshat. It also appealed to me more than the previous volume because a large portion of it focused on all the other characters besides Clary and Jace, who I find nearly insufferable in large quantities (I know, why do I read this series again?). Simon remained awesome and my favorite while Magnus developed into something other than the flamboyant warlock who helps whenever he’s asked though acts grumpy about it all the while. His story line, while mostly implied and still in the background, fascinates me.

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Review: Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

Starcrossed
Josephine Angelini

HarperTeen (2011)
487 pages
YA / Supernatural / Mythology

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Helen Hamilton has spent her entire sixteen years trying to hide how different she is—now it's getting harder. She's having nightmares of a desperate desert journey, visions of three women weeping tears of blood. And why is she possessed by the sudden, unstoppable urge to kill the handsome new boy in school, Lucas Delos?

A love written in the stars . . .

A feud started in ancient Greece . . .

A curse not even the gods can break.

Somewhere late in the game I realized exactly why I was enjoying Starcrossed as much as I was – it’s The Vampire Diaries with demigods. There’s even an oblivious guy named Matt that is the last to figure out he’s surrounded by all these people with crazy superpowers. It’s just so much fluffy nonsense that was a nice palate cleanser after my last couple of reads. I guess I can officially call off my temporary YA detox if this paranormal romance full of clichés and characters making bad choices managed to still entertain me.

The character of Helen is a cliché on the surface. She’s the incredibly beautiful girl who hates attention and thinks everyone hates her. I didn’t like her so much as I enjoyed the trials she was put through and found it interesting to see how she reacted to all these sudden weird developments. Even as her character is further developed, it’s less about becoming three dimensional and more about strange inconsistencies within her own personality. By the end of Starcrossed, Helen is not the same girl she was at the beginning. Or the middle. Or even a hundred pages before the end. There’s a weird and sudden change to her character that doesn’t make a lot of sense with the amount of information given to the reader.

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Waiting on Wednesday: Taste by Kate Evangelista


Waiting on Wednesday was started by Breaking the Spine and serves to showcase those books we’re not so patiently waiting to arrive!

Somewhere between returning to gainful employment and getting another job entirely, my blog-related inbox has exploded. Comments have gone unanswered, review requests have gone unlooked at and the number of publisher-related newsletters can no longer be contained by my filing system. But that ends today! Today I shall answer all the unanswered comments and attempt to get responses out to all the review requests. I have a goal. I shall achieve it!

What does this have to do with Waiting on Wednesday? Well, Kate Evangelista was one of the author requests collecting dust in my inbox. One of the good ones where she knew the blog's name (and my name) and  the book she was peddling actually had something to do with the books I cover on the site. Because of that I'm happy to announce that she's releasing a book trailer and excerpt on Monday, April 16, through various blogs. Hopefully I wasn't too late in getting WFTM on that list, but either way, that's why Taste is the book I'm waiting on this week.

Taste
Kate Evangelista

Crescent Moon Press
Releases in May 2012
Page count unknown

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At Barinkoff Academy, there's only one rule: no students on campus after curfew. Phoenix McKay soon finds out why when she is left behind at sunset. A group calling themselves night students threaten to taste her flesh until she is saved by a mysterious, alluring boy. With his pale skin, dark eyes, and mesmerizing voice, Demitri is both irresistible and impenetrable. He warns her to stay away from his dangerous world of flesh eaters. Unfortunately, the gorgeous and playful Luka has other plans. 

When Phoenix is caught between her physical and her emotional attraction, she becomes the keeper of a deadly secret that will rock the foundations of an ancient civilization living beneath Barinkoff Academy. Phoenix doesn’t realize until it is too late that the closer she gets to both Demitri and Luka the more she is plunging them all into a centuries old feud.

First how gorgeous is that cover? It's really, really pretty. I'm a little bored with the whole girls-in-pretty-dresses thing, but sometimes those covers still work for me. This is one of those cases. Then of course there's the people wanting to eat her. I'm always up for people attempting to run away from things that try to eat them. It seems like it might be a bit heavy on the romance, but the potential for people-eating (whether it happens or not) would counterbalance the romancy bits. Plus I like stories about a school that's secretly evil. That's sort of how I felt about my high school...

 

What are you waiting for this week? Anything involving people getting eaten? I think I'm going through The Walking Dead withdraw or something.

Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Dearly, Departed
Lia Habel

Del Ray (2011)
470 pages
YA / Paranormal Romance / ZOMBIES!

Purchase it from Amazon

I thought giving it some time would help me get past it. I thought reading another book not involving zombies would help me to forget. I thought watching The Walking Dead would be like negative reinforcement.

I was wrong.

I still would make out with Bram the zombie soldier, I feel dirty and it’s all Lia Habel’s fault!

I don’t know how I managed to stay away from this book for as long as I did. Victorian sensibilities in the future with airships and reanimated dead people who, for the most part, are capable of thinking and talking? This book was written for me. Ms. Habel didn’t realize it, but she wrote this book for me and it took me six months to get my hands on it.

Dearly, Departed is about zombies. In a Victorian future. It’s also about Nora, a girl from a rich family, who is coming out of her one year of mourning after her father died from a terrible disease. One night after returning home from her boarding school for the holidays, she is bombarded by a small army of zombies. Most other women with Victorian sensibilities would have probably fainted on site and gotten eaten. Instead Nora fights back with her father’s shot gun, climbing up on the roof of the house and defending herself as best she can. That’s when another small group of zombies swoop in and kidnap her. She rightfully faints at this moment and doesn’t wake up until she’s in a military base somewhere far from home that happens to be full of zombies.

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