The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1) by Namina Forna #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself. 

This stunning cover immediately caught my attention on NetGalley, but the description really sealed the deal of me requesting it.

Deka comes from a world where a woman’s worth depends on her purity and how well she serves the men in her life.  The most she can hope for is to be a dutiful wife and mother, but never have a voice for herself.  Compare that to the Deka at the end of the book – strong, empowered, and spirited – and you have yourself one magnificent character arc.  How thrilling to watch her realize her worth and know that she mattered.

Deka’s relationships with her blood sisters, her found family, is one of the biggest strengths of this novel.  I especially enjoyed the incredibly strong bond of friendship and loyalty between her and Britta.  Many of their training and fighting scenes reminded me of the female warriors in Wonder Woman.

World-building is complex and detailed, but interwoven into the story – no info dumps here.  Just enough was held back to keep me turning the pages to figure out what was going on with the plot twists.  Pacing was a tad slow for me in the beginning, but the ending comes rather quickly – enough to make me sure there would be a sequel since I had so few pages left, but then think it was a standalone because story lines were neat and tidy when all was said and done.

With unique world-building, a female-heavy cast of characters, and compelling plot, I’ll be continuing with this series.  A remarkable debut novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

These Violent Delights (These Violent Delights #1) by Chloe Gong #bookreview #fantasy #YA

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

I was never much of a Shakespeare fan, but a retelling of Romeo and Juliet with rival gangs? How can you pass that up?

Roma and Juliette are heirs to rival gangs (White Flowers and Scarlets respectively) caught up in a blood feud in Shanghai. Although on opposite sides, both gangs have common enemies: a monster killing their people and foreign groups (British, Americans, French, and Russians) attempting to take over their land and cities. There’s too much bad blood between the current heads of the families to work together, but Roma and Juliette are intelligent enough to understand cooperation is required to eliminate these common threats. Each (especially Roma) is also trying to prove to their fathers and gang members they’re worthy heirs.

Although they had a brief relationship four years prior, I honestly wasn’t feeling the connection between these two. I liked Roma and admired the fact he wanted to take the White Flowers in a different direction in the future, and his relationship with his sister is adorable. Juliette is a different case entirely for me. Most of the time she comes across as a petulant child too hot-headed to ever be in a position of authority, and her cousins sense it. She tends to shoot first and think later. My favorite characters are easily Roma’s cousin Benedikt and Marshall (he has some killer lines). They support Roma no matter what and stand by him.

This is an action-packed, bloody, gory tale, which I didn’t mind, but other readers may appreciate trigger warnings. Although I enjoyed many aspects of the plot, some didn’t work as well for me, but that’s just personal preference. On the other hand, the diverse cast thrilled me, and I was actually shipping two male characters over Roma and Juliette and hope to see more of them in the sequel.

At over 400 pages, These Violent Delights is a chunk of a read, but an impressive debut (the author is still in college!) with important and timely overall themes.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone by Darlene Foster #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog #MG #mystery

Amanda is delighted to show Leah aaround Alberta during her visit from England. They take in the Calgary Stampede, go on a cattle drive, visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, spend time with the dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and explore the crazy Hoodoos.When Amanda finds a stone with a unique mark on it, she doesn’t think it’s important until everyone seems to want it – including a very ornery cowboy. Is this stone worth ruining Leah’s holiday and placing them both in danger? Spend time with Amanda as she explores her own country while attempting to decipher the mysterious writing on the stone and keep it from those determined to take it from her. 

This is my first time ‘meeting’ Amanda and while there are several books in the series, I chose this one because I traveled to Calgary earlier this year and visited some of the places mentioned in the description.

What a delightful story!  Amanda is excited to spend time with her friend, Leah, and show her around during her holiday with Amanda’s family.  I really enjoyed ‘re-visiting’ some of these places with them, while also learning new facts.  Being a dinosaur nerd (I love that great aunt Mary is a paleontologist), I wish we’d been able to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum and see the World’s Biggest Dinosaur – maybe on our next visit.

Amanda is intelligent, feisty, and adventure-loving, and her inquisitive nature soon draws the girls into a mystery which results in some perilous situations.  They run into some pretty unsavory characters while trying to learn more about the markings on the stone.

The author does a wonderful job of blending educational facts with a mystery and adventure that will thrill young (and older!) readers.  These are quick reads I’d highly recommend, and I look forward to traveling with Amanda to more destinations.

Magic Dark and Strange by Kelly Powell #bookreview #YA #fantasy

The Bone Witch meets Sherlock Holmes in this thrilling historical fantasy about a girl with the ability to raise the dead who must delve into her city’s dangerous magical underworld to stop a series of murders.

Catherine Daly has an unusual talent. By day she works for a printer. But by night, she awakens the dead for a few precious moments with loved ones seeking a final goodbye. But this magic comes with a price: for every hour that a ghost is brought back, Catherine loses an hour from her own life.

When Catherine is given the unusual task of collecting a timepiece from an old grave, she is sure that the mysterious item must contain some kind of enchantment. So she enlists Guy Nolan, the watchmaker’s son, to help her dig it up. But instead of a timepiece, they find a surprise: the body of a teenage boy. And as they watch, he comes back to life—not as the pale imitation that Catherine can conjure, but as a living, breathing boy. A boy with no memory of his past.

This magic is more powerful than any Catherine has ever encountered, and revealing it brings dangerous enemies. Catherine and Guy must race to unravel the connection between the missing timepiece and the undead boy. For this mysterious magic could mean the difference between life and death—for all of them.

This cover immediately caught my attention, but it was the comp titles and a main character with the ability to raise the dead that made me request this book from NetGalley.

I especially enjoyed the time period and setting of this novel – it has the feel of a Victorian mystery.  The opening scene in the cemetery when Catherine awakens a dead women is absolutely gripping and had me excited to dive into the story.  Then I was disappointed that she never uses her magic again throughout the book.  The magic system isn’t explained, which left me with a lot of questions.  Although it’s mentioned several times in the description, it actually plays a small part in the overall story.

The characters are very charming, and the hints of romance between Catherine and Guy are sweet and accurate for the time period.  I liked how they became friends, bonded over the mystery, and helped Owen find his way.

At slightly over 200 pages, Magic Dark and Strange is a quick read and while I enjoyed this quiet mystery, I feel like a longer book could have offered more twists, higher stakes, and a deeper exploration of the magical system.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Ravens (The Ravens #1) by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Kappa Rho Nu isn’t your average sorority. Their parties are notorious. Their fundraisers are known for being Westerly College’s most elaborate affairs. But beneath the veil of Greek life and prestige, the sisters of Kappu Rho Nu share a secret: they’re a coven of witches. For Vivi Deveraux, being one of Kappa Rho Nu’s Ravens means getting a chance to redefine herself. For Scarlett Winters, a bonafide Raven and daughter of a legacy Raven, pledge this year means living up to her mother’s impossible expectations of becoming Kappa Rho Nu’s next president. Scarlett knows she’d be the perfect candidate — that is, if she didn’t have one human-sized skeleton in her closet…. When Vivi and Scarlett are paired as big and little for initiation, they find themselves sinking into the sinister world of blood oaths and betrayals. 

Although I’ve always liked college settings in books, it’s been a while since I’ve read one.  With The Ravens involving witches and having such an awesome cover, I couldn’t pass it up.

The whole time I was reading, I kept seeing the witches in American Horror Story Coven – loved that season.  Like Coven, sisterhood is an important theme in this story.  Kappas always put their sisters first and never go against them.  They believe they’re stronger together than individually, something that’s proven true several times over by the end of the novel.  The different types of witches and their magic are explained well, and I enjoyed seeing their varieties of powers.

While I really didn’t care for Scarlett in the beginning, she changed my mind by the end.  Initially she comes off as judgemental, elitist, and kind of a mean girl, especially when it comes to Vivi, but undergoes several changes and easily has the best character arc.  She drives the story.  With Vivi’s flighty mother who packs up and moves them at the drop of a hat, she’s missed stability in her life and has never lived anywhere long enough to make friends.  Being settled at college for four years and joining the Kappas fills those voids.  I would have liked more explanation about how she’s suddenly able to use her power after a lifetime of not knowing she was a witch.

Some of the relationships didn’t feel natural to me.  Scarlett’s relationship with another character that develops near the end feels forced and out of place – it didn’t seem to fit.  And then there’s Vivi, who has a sudden case of insta-love with the first guy who’s nice to her.  The strong friendships between the girls are much more genuine.

While a couple of twists are easy to see coming, there’s still plenty of action, tension, and mystery to engage readers.  The title indicates this is a series, but with no cliffhangers, it felt like a natural ending to me.  If there’s more to come, I’ll definitely pick up the next book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Ink by Jonathan Maberry #bookreview #horror #paranormal

From New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry comes a standalone supernatural thriller Ink, about a memory thief who feeds on the most precious of dreams.

Tattoo-artist Patty Cakes has her dead daughter’s face tattooed on the back of her hand. Day by day it begins to fade, taking with it all of Patty’s memories of her daughter. All she’s left with is the certain knowledge she has forgotten her lost child. The awareness of that loss is tearing her apart.

Monk Addison is a private investigator whose skin is covered with the tattooed faces of murder victims. He is a predator who hunts for killers, and the ghosts of all of those dead people haunt his life. Some of those faces have begun to fade, too, destroying the very souls of the dead.

All through the town of Pine Deep people are having their most precious memories stolen. The monster seems to target the lonely, the disenfranchised, the people who need memories to anchor them to this world.

Something is out there. Something cruel and evil is feeding on the memories, erasing them from the hearts and minds of people like Patty and Monk and others.

Ink is the story of a few lonely, damaged people hunting for a memory thief. When all you have are memories, there is no greater horror than forgetting.

Take a moment to appreciate this exquisite cover – the designer did a magnificent job.  It’s been a while since I’ve read a Jonathan Maberry book, and after Ink, I’m kicking myself and wondering why.

From what I’ve seen in other reviews, the town of Pine Deep is featured in other Maberry novels, as are Monk and Patty.  I haven’t read those, but never felt as if I was missing anything.  Newcomers won’t be confused.

Antagonist Owen Minor is compared to a “psychic vampire” – he feeds on the tattoos and memories of others.  With such a large cast of eclectic characters, he’s got a veritable buffet to choose from in “The Spookiest Town in America”.  Two of his victims are Monk and Patty, who are easily my favorites.  Their stories are tragic and profoundly moving, and the loss of their memories and tattoos is deeply personal and gut-wrenching.  I ached for both of them.  Minor is abdominable, revolting, and intensely disturbed, and I felt slimy after every scene he was in.  I’ll never look at flies in the same way again and will be quicker to swat them in the future.

And that action-packed ending!  Holy crap, I don’t think I blinked once while reading it.  While it was mostly satisfying, I did feel as if some of the characters’ stories fell to the wayside and were left unresolved.  As a warning to readers who are faint of heart, Ink contains some graphic, gory scenes so be prepared.

This novel is bizarre, freaky, horrific, and often times gut-wrenching, but it makes me want to read the Pine Deep series.  I’d also love to see Patty and Monk in future books, so I’m hoping the author has a plan.  Highly recommend for horror fans!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Teen Killer Club by Lily Sparks #bookreview #YA #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Framed for the murder of her best friend, a young girl joins a super-secret society of teenage assassins to avoid a lifetime behind bars–and discovers her own true self–in this mesmerizing debut novel.

Seventeen-year-old Signal Deere has raised eyebrows for years as an unhappy Goth misfit from the trailer park. When she’s convicted of her best friend Rose’s brutal murder, she’s designated a Class A–the most dangerous and manipulative criminal profile. To avoid prison, Signal signs on for a secret program for 18-and-under Class As and is whisked off to an abandoned sleep-away camp, where she and seven bunkmates will train as assassins. Yet even in the Teen Killers Club, Signal doesn’t fit in. She’s squeamish around blood. She’s kind and empathetic. And her optimistic attitude is threatening to turn a group of ragtag maniacs into a team of close-knit friends. Maybe that’s because Signal’s not really a killer. She was framed for Rose’s murder and only joined the program to escape, track down Rose’s real killer, and clear her name. But Signal never planned on the sinister technologies that keep the campers confined. She never planned on the mysterious man in the woods determined to pick them off one by one. And she certainly never planned on falling in love. Signal’s strategy is coming apart at the seams as the true killer prepares to strike again in Teen Killers Club.

I’m not sure what this says about me, but a camp that trains teens to be assassins had me requesting this before even reading the whole description.

The action begins almost immediately as Signal and another teen are introduced to the other campers.  For convicted murderers who have the most dangerous and manipulative criminal profiles, most of them seem so…nice.  Having been framed for a murder and lacking even a hint of a killer instinct, Signal is absolutely a fish out of water and is pretty helpless with the assigned tasks.  Speaking of tasks, the first one is how to dispose of a body without it being detected – and that’s when I was all in.  Bizarre?  Absolutely.  But a practical skill for assassins.

I’d expected the teens to be sent out on missions pretty early in the story, but they don’t happen until the last part of the book.  The rest of the time is spent on training, trying to recover Signal’s sketchy memories of the murder she was accused of, strange happenings around camp, and a prominent love triangle.  I’m generally not a fan of this trope and honestly didn’t see the need for it, but that’s just me and a personal preference.  Other reviewers seemed to enjoy it.

With an action-packed, brisk ending, don’t look away or you’ll miss some things.  I suspended my disbelief with the big reveal as some of it seemed to come out of left field, but I was also frustrated because many questions are left unanswered, particularly one central character’s backstory.  It’s set up perfectly for a sequel, but nothing in the title indicates one is in the works.

Dark, cultish, action-packed, and morally gray, Teen Killers Club is an engrossing read – just maybe not the best selection for more squeamish readers.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Key to Fear (The Key #1) by Kristin Cast #bookreview #YA #dystopian

To Health.
To Life.
To the Future.

We are The Key.
‘No touching today for a healthy tomorrow.’

Elodie obeys The Key. Elodie obeys the rules. Elodie trusts in the system. At least, Elodie used to…

Aidan is a rebel. Aidan doesn’t do what he’s told. Aidan just wants to be free. Aidan is on his last chance…

After a pandemic wiped out most of the human race, The Key took power. The Key dictates the rules. They govern in order to keep people safe. But as Elodie and Aidan begin to discover there is another side to The Key, they realise not everything is as it seems.

Rather than playing protector, The Key are playing God.

Reading a book about a pandemic wiping out most of the human race may not be everyone’s cup of tea right now, but the blurb hooked me right away.

What would the world look like if touching was forbidden?  The world-building is impressive, and it’s obvious the author put a lot of time into creating it.  Everything from personal pods to procreation techniques is covered.  Citizens don’t date – they’re matched by The Key based on compatible genetics and given jobs determined by assessment tests.  Everything is sterile and impersonal – free choice is practically nonexistent.  What I missed was more information on how the pandemic came about and when and how The Key came into power.  A little more backstory would have filled in some blanks.

I liked that conformist Elodie and rebellious Aiden are polar opposities – the rule follower and the rule challenger.  Early on, it’s clear that Elodie doesn’t exactly obey all the rules, and I liked that about her.  It didn’t come as such a shock when she began questioning things.  The insta-love between them really wasn’t necessary for the plot – I think the story would have worked fine without it, but that’s just my opinion.

Pacing was an issue for me as not a lot happens in the first half of the story.  Around the 80% mark, things take off to the point that the ending feels rushed, but it’s a good place for the next book to begin.

If you’re in the mood for a dystopian set post-pandemic, The Key to Fear is a timely read with well-developed characters.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Grinders by C.S. Boyack #bookreview #cyberpunk #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

Jimi Cabot made one mistake as a starving college student. When she went to work for the San Francisco Police Department, it nearly cost her the job. The union stepped in and they had to reinstate her. They did so by assigning her to the duty nobody wants, Grinder Squad.

Grinders are people who use back room surgeries to enhance their bodies with computer chips, and various kinds of hardware. Jimi is sure that if she can just bust one grind shop, it will be her ticket back.

Paired with veteran cop, she soon learns that Grinder Squad is a cash-cow for the department. They are nothing more than glorified patrol cops, and generally get the worst assignments.

Matchless is the most wanted grinder of all time. He disappeared years ago, leaving only the evidence of those he enhanced during his career. With these pieces, Jimi picks up the cold trail to try working her way back to more respectable duty.

Grinders is a cyberpunk story set in a world where global warming has eroded coastlines, and society has solved many of our current problems by replacing them with new ones. There are cyber shut-ins, cyber-currency skimming schemes, and more in this futuristic tale.

This book also takes the opportunity to poke a stick at current issues that seem to have lasted into the future. Entitled people, helicopter moms, overzealous homeowner associations, and lack of decent jobs are all present. Never preachy, these issues make up the day to day work of a patrol officer.

I’ve mentioned this in reviews of Boyack’s books before, but his imagination is astounding.  Grinders is full of wildly creative world-building and yet, some of the creations aren’t so far-fetched and are entirely plausible in the not-too-distant future (although I could live just fine without the holobarkers – I’m not a fan of commercials/advertisements).

The rotating POVs helped me see this story from all angles, and despite Nootropic’s illegal activities, I felt for the guy.  His heart’s in the right place, but it took me a while to figure out the deal with his rats.  I enjoyed the cast of diverse characters, but my favorite had to be Lou, Jimi’s gruff veteran partner.  I loved their working relationship and how they learned certain ‘lessons’ from each other.  Shout out to AI cat Cole who gave me several laughs.

Grinders is vividly colorful and full of futuristic elements and technology sure to thrill sci-fi/cyberpunk fans.

In Search of McDoogal by Mae Clair #bookreview #shortread #humor

In search of something ugly…

All Brady Conrad wants to do is earn a few merit points with his artist girlfriend, so he volunteers to cover her gallery when she leaves town. What should be an easy day of sales goes belly up when he mistakenly sells a cherished painting.

With the clock ticking toward Vanessa’s return, Brady has less than a day to track McDoogal down. He coerces his friend Declan to tag along for moral support. How difficult can it be for an investigator and the director of a renowned institute to find a single painting in a town the size of a postage stamp?

Neither Brady nor Declan counted on a suspicious sheriff, rival baseball teams with a longstanding grudge, or a clueless kid trying to win his girlfriend with all the wrong gifts.

McDoogal is smack in the middle. But Brady’s biggest dilemma isn’t the disastrous hunt. It’s confessing to Vanessa her painting is the ugliest thing he’s ever seen. 

I’ve read several Mae Clair books now, but this short read is a departure from her supernatural suspense reads.  And boy, was it fun.

Poor Brady.  He’s trying to win the girl, but accidentally sells her beloved painting.  After a stroke of good luck tracking it down, he thinks retrieving it won’t be quite as difficult as he’d thought – guess again.  He and his friend hit one obstacle after another, and from the varying opinions on exactly what kind of animal is featured on this canvas (rat, hamster, cat, etc.), I had fun imagining what this “cherished painting” looked like.  Brady’s and Declan’s entertaining banter had me chuckling, as well as a certain Freddie Mercury-worshipping character.  As a cat lover, I especially enjoyed learning about the real McDoogal in the author’s note at the end.

If you’re looking for a humorous, light-hearted, quick read, In Search of McDoogal checks all those boxes.