The Scout: Dark Crossings by D.L. Cross #bookreview #scifi #aliens

The aliens have landed. The humans are panicking. The scouts have been sent.

J’s mission is clear — find an alien outpost, observe, report back. Simple enough. It’s what he’s trained to do. But he’s always worked with his team, never as a party of one. Now he’s been sent out alone to blindly navigate a dense, dark forest until he finds his target. The dynamics are foreign to him, the stakes never higher. Resources are scarce. Comms are down.

And he’s found the enemy.

J is shocked when everyone’s true allegiances are revealed. And the consequences of betrayal will be deadly.

I’ve always been a fan of alien stories, and The Gate by this author was a five star read for me.  When I learned of this short story set within that world, I was anxious to get my hands on it while waiting for book two of the Astral Conspiracy series.

First, let me say The Scout stands on its own and prior knowledge of The Gate isn’t required; however, this novella is enough of a taste to whet your appetite and make you curious about the alien invasion taking place in that book.  Although a quick read, the author did a fantastic job at making me care about J.  I felt his loneliness and sense of betrayal from both his own people and the aliens.  By the end, I wanted to continue with his story – but maybe that will be an option in the future.  A reader can hope.  Now, I’ll have to return to impatiently awaiting book two of the Astral Conspiracy.

 

The Tomato Quest (Chasing the Romantics #2) by D.G. Driver #bookreview #fairytale #TuesdayBookBlog

Dash and Lillian are in love, but her wealthy father won’t permit them to be married because Dash is not a suitable match. He is nothing but the son of the family’s gardener. To be rid of the young man, Lillian’s father claims that the only way Dash could ever earn Lillian’s hand in marriage is to find his fortune in the time it takes a basket of fresh tomatoes to rot. Naturally, Sir Barrymore isn’t serious about this challenge, but Dash sees it as his only chance to win the hand of the woman he loves. He leaves immediately on a quest to find a way to complete this impossible task. Meanwhile, Lillian is doing her best to make her parents postpone her engagement to someone else in order to give Dash time to return. It is a whirlwind fairy tale adventure full of danger, cunning, magic, true love, and tomatoes.

Although I’ve never been a huge fairy tale fan, I’ve enjoyed the original stories in this series.  The Tomato Quest can be easily read in an hour or so, and I finished it in an afternoon over Christmas.  It’s a sweet tale containing star-crossed lovers who are determined to be together despite the objections of their parents and the expectations of society.  After being handed a near impossible challenge, Dash doesn’t have a clear-cut plan for success.  He encounters one roadblock after another, yet he shoulders on, and you have to admire his tenacity.  In the beginning, I wasn’t completely convinced Lillian was all in, but she proved me wrong.  Her actions in defying her parents gave me some chuckles.

If you’re a fairy tale fan or a fan of sweet romances, I recommend giving this series a try.  I somehow missed this novella when it was first published, and the author was gracious enough to provide me a copy for review.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Deep by Alma Katsu #bookreview #supernatural

Someone, or something, is haunting the Titanic.

This is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the ship from the moment they set sail: mysterious disappearances, sudden deaths. Now suspended in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone during the four days of the liner’s illustrious maiden voyage, a number of the passengers – including millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, the maid Annie Hebbley and Mark Fletcher – are convinced that something sinister is going on . . . And then, as the world knows, disaster strikes.

Years later and the world is at war. And a survivor of that fateful night, Annie, is working as a nurse on the sixth voyage of the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, now refitted as a hospital ship. Plagued by the demons of her doomed first and near fatal journey across the Atlantic, Annie comes across an unconscious soldier she recognises while doing her rounds. It is the young man Mark. And she is convinced that he did not – could not – have survived the sinking of the Titanic . . .

I’m fascinated by anything Titanic, and I’d read a few titles on this author’s backlist, so it was a no-brainer for me to request this book from NetGalley.

Don’t go into this novel expecting an in-your-face horror story.  The Deep is more of a slow burn tale with a literary feel.  The author does an exceptional job of interweaving real Titanic passengers and historical events with fictional characters to tell her story.  She also uses Violet Jessop, an actual survivor of both the Titanic and the Britannic, in a supporting role as a friend of her main character, Annie.

Annie is a mysterious MC.  At various points in the story I would be annoyed by her actions, then understand them the more I read.  You may also wonder if she’s a reliable narrator, an aspect that just makes a story more enjoyable for me, because I’m constantly questioning everything.  The dual timelines are blended seamlessly and gradually reveal backstories of these characters.

While this novel is certainly atmospheric, I’d personally hoped for more…haunting.  Reviewers are split on this, so it’s really a matter of preference.

If you’re fascinated by all things Titanic, I’d recommend adding The Deep to your reading list.  It’s a slower-paced book, but the characters are well-crafted, and the blend of fiction and nonfiction is done well.

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

Girls With Razor Hearts by Suzanne Young #bookreview #YA #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

It’s time to fight back in this second novel in a thrilling, subversive near future series from New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Young about a girls-only private high school that is far more than it appears to be.

Make me a girl with a razor heart…

It’s been weeks since Mena and the other girls of Innovations Academy escaped their elite boarding school. Although traumatized by the violence and experimentations that occurred there, Mena quickly discovers that the outside world can be just as unwelcoming and cruel. With no one else to turn to, the girls only have each other—and the revenge-fueled desire to shut down the corporation that imprisoned them.

The girls enroll in Stoneridge Prep, a private school with suspect connections to Innovations, to identify the son of an investor and take down the corporation from the inside. But with pressure from Leandra, who revealed herself to be a double-agent, and Winston Weeks, an academy investor gone rogue, Mena wonders if she and her friends are simply trading one form of control for another. Not to mention the woman who is quite literally invading Mena’s thoughts—a woman with extreme ideas that both frighten and intrigue Mena.

And as the girls fight for freedom from their past—and freedom for the girls still at Innovations—they must also face new questions about their existence…and what it means to be girls with razor hearts.

With the first book in the series being a 5 star read for me last year, I was anxious to see where the second book took these girls.

I was glad to see Mena and the girls taking control of their own lives and getting out into the world.  Although they receive assistance from someone, believe me – they’ve got an uphill battle in trying to locate the investor.  Initially, I thought the actions of the men they encounter – especially at the private school – to be over the top and just too much, but the reasons for this soon became clear.  And it’s infuriating.  Female readers will definitely feel a rise in their blood pressure.  Other than Jackson and Quentin, the nice guys in this story are few and far between.

Something I missed, and this is because I’m a sci-fi geek, is more about how the girls were created.  A little more background is revealed, but I’d love to delve more into that aspect.  Pacing was a bit off for me with a big lull in the middle, but the last 20% really picks up.  By the end, Mena and the girls seems to be caught between one extreme and another.

As with the first book, this one also offers some exciting twists and unexpected turns, and I’ll absolutely be reading the next book in the series.

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

 

Wake Robin Ridge #1 by Marcia Meara #bookreview #suspense

“A PHONE RINGING AT 2:00 A.M. never means anything good. Calls at 2:00 A.M. are bad news . . . Someone has died. Someone is hurt. Or someone needs help.”

On a bitter cold January night in 1965, death came calling at an isolated little cabin on Wake-Robin Ridge. Now, nearly 50 years later, librarian Sarah Gray has quit her job and moved into the same cabin, hoping the peace and quiet of her woodland retreat will allow her to concentrate on writing her first novel. Instead she finds herself distracted by her only neighbor, the enigmatic and reclusive MacKenzie Cole, who lives on top of the mountain with his Irish wolfhound as his sole companion.

As their tentative friendship grows, Sarah learns the truth about the heartbreaking secret causing Mac to hide from the world. But before the two can sort out their feelings for each other, they find themselves plunged into a night of terror neither could have anticipated. Now they must unravel the horrifying events of a murder committed decades earlier. In doing so, they discover that the only thing stronger than a hatred that will not die is a heart willing to sacrifice everything for another.

A story of evil trumped by the power of love and redemption, Wake-Robin Ridge will transport you to the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and introduce you to characters you won’t soon forget. 

I enjoyed the slower pace of this novel while getting to know these characters, along with their pets (you can never go wrong adding furry friends to a story).  Being familiar with the Asheville, NC area, I loved the author’s vivid descriptions of the neighboring fictional small town of Wake-Robin Ridge.  The mountains are beautiful, and I could completely understand why Sarah relocates there to begin her writing career.  Ruthie’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring, and I wondered how the two stories would intertwine.  And then the ghost showed up – color me thrilled.  What follows is a harrowing, lovely, bittersweet tale that provides answers to years old questions.

Wake-Robin Ridge contains two touching love stories with a supernatural twist, a lesson on coming to terms with your past, dropping the barriers, and allowing yourself to find happiness.  A true pleasure to read.

***I’ll be traveling today and tomorrow, so I may not get to comments for a couple days.  Have a great weekend!***

 

Ink in the Blood (Ink in the Blood #1) by Kim Smejkal #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

A lush, dark YA fantasy debut that weaves together tattoo magic, faith, and eccentric theater in a world where lies are currency and ink is a weapon, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kendare Blake.

Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.

Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further.

To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself. 

I struggled with this book and even considered DNFing it at one point.  But I’m so glad I didn’t.

With complicated worldbuilding, this isn’t a book you can skim-read.  Trust me – you’ll miss some pretty important plot points and details that come into play later on.  I think part of the reason I struggled was because of Celia.  I just couldn’t bring myself to care about her until around the 40% mark, but that was a personal issue.  The friendship between her and Anya is a thing of beauty and is written so well.  Once they joined the Rabble Mob, I knew I’d finish the book.  The plague doctor is a fascinating character, and his creative dialogue has hidden meanings and is something to ponder.  He’s easily my favorite.

The writing style is unique and paints vivid pictures of the world of the Rabble Mob.  The mob themselves are made up of unusual, delightful, loyal people – once you’re in, you’re family.  I’d also like to mention the outstanding queer representation throughout the novel.

With themes of religion and magic, Ink in the Blood has a dark, heavy atmosphere, and while it may not be everyone’s brand of choice, I’m so glad I stuck with it.  Days after finishing, I’m still thinking about it, and the second book is absolutely on my highly anticipated list.

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

 

End of Day (Hode’s Hill #2) by Mae Clair #bookreview #supernatural #suspense

The past is never truly buried…  

Generations of Jillian Cley’s family have been tasked with a strange duty—tending the burial plot of Gabriel Vane, whose body was the first to be interred in the Hode’s Hill cemetery. Jillian faithfully continues the long-standing tradition—until one October night, Vane’s body is stolen from its resting place. Is it a Halloween prank? Or something more sinister?  

As the descendants of those buried in the church yard begin to experience bizarre “accidents,” Jillian tries to uncover the cause. Deeply empathic, she does not make friends easily, or lightly. But to fend off the terror taking over her town, she must join forces with artist Dante DeLuca, whose sensitivity to the spirit world has been both a blessing and a curse. The two soon realize Jillian’s murky family history is entwined with a tragic legacy tracing back to the founding of Hode’s Hill. To set matters right, an ancient wrong must be avenged…or Jillian, Dante, and everyone in town will forever be at the mercy of a vengeful spirit.

This review was meant to be posted months ago, so I have no idea why it was still in my review draft folder.  Maybe it’s fortuitous, because the first book in this series, Cusp of Night, is free, and this book and the last, Eventide, are $0.99 through February 25th.  Take advantage of this deal now – you won’t regret it!

I loved the first book in this series and was so excited to read End of Day, I made it my choice for book club.

This is the perfect book to curl up with on a cold, dreary night.  Some scenes will send chills up your spine and have you glancing over your shoulder to make sure no one’s there.  With book club members, it spawned spirited conversations ranging from genetics (an odd choice, I know) to our beliefs in ghosts and mediums.  For this horror fan, it was a highly enjoyable meeting.

As with the first book in the series, I especially enjoyed the alternating timelines and how Gabriel’s fate was gradually explained.  I remembered Dante from the previous book and looked forward to learning more about him.  He’s now one of my favorite characters in the series, and his scenes with Elliott in the role of a substitute father figure warmed my heart.  Jillian’s tragic circumstances immediately pulled me in, and I count her therapy dog, Blizzard, as one of the best bookish furry friends I’ve read.

End of Day is a compelling blend of paranormal, thriller, and mystery, and although part of a series, can easily be read as a standalone.  I  highly recommend this well-written, atmospheric read.