Kiss of the Spindle (Steampunk Proper Romance #2) by Nancy Campbell Allen

Doctor Isla Cooper is cursed – literally. Every night, at the stroke of midnight, she falls in to a death like slumber. A sleep that she cannot be wakened from for six hours. To add further insult to injury, the curse has an expiration date. After one whole year the curse becomes permanent and Isla sleeps forever – and the year is almost up.

Desperate to find the witch who cursed her, Isla blackmails her way on to a private airship headed for the Caribbean; the last place she heard the witch was residing. It is only when the ship is underway does she discover she’s travelling with three illegal shapeshifters and one government official determined to hunt and exterminate every shifter in England. And he is willing to travel to the ends of the Earth to do it.

Isla must now juggle her duties to Queen and country by protecting the shifters and keeping their secret while keeping her own curse hidden. All while trying to come to terms to her developing feelings for the handsome airship captain.

Kiss of the Spindle is a unique twist on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Inspired by the Disney version of the story, it takes the well known movie characters and gives them a slight twist. This is certainly not a bad thing, in fact I believe it makes for a better story.

I found most of the characters to be well thought out and well written, especially the character of Isla. Fans of the original Disney movie will recall that she had almost a minor role in the story. However, in this story, she is not a background character; she even has a hand in saving herself and breaking the curse. And while she did have help in the end, she was still the one to take the first steps towards a cure.

Reading the book, I had a great deal of fun finding the little parallels between this story and the Disney version. The three shapeshifters on the ship take Isla under their proverbial wings, much like the three fairy godmothers do for Aurora. The handsome Prince Phillip with his trusty steed Samson in the story is now handsome Captain Daniel Pickett with his faithful automaton friend also named Samson. Then there is the evil witch Malette, who like Maleficent carries a staff and turns in to a dragon.

Much like the first book in the Steampunk Proper Romance series – Beauty and the Clockwork Beast – the actual steampunk elements takes a back seat to the prose itself. Yes, there are mentions of airships, Tesla lamps, automatons, and the like, but they are not crucial to the story. Remove those elements, replace them with their actual Victorian counterparts, and the story remains strong.

The same can be said for the romance elements as well, they too take a back seat to the main story. Yes, the two main characters do kiss and there is a bit of petting, but it goes no further. Any mention of a more physical relationship is hinted at, but again it is not described in any detail.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading Kiss of the Spindle. The action and likable characters will appeal to most readers. The hints of romance, the slow build of feelings between two characters, will appeal to more. This is a lovely addition to the Proper Romance series and I am looking forward to seeing more.

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal

The mystery starts simply enough: a young woman is found in a ditch just outside of a small Arizona border town. The young woman is presumed to be an illegal alien and likely was met with foul play trying to cross the border. Before any clues can be found as to who brought the girl harm, her body disappears from the morgue.

To the young CDC operative called in to consult the local police, it is a bizarre medical mystery. And it is only the tip of the iceberg when more individuals start showing up in local morgues and disappearing overnight. What was seen as isolated cases of a strange virus is soon deduced to be something that no one was ready to take on.

I admit, dear reader, that I was looking forward to reading this book. With its eye catching cover and overall creepy title, I thought I would be in for an exciting thrill ride from page one.

Sadly, that was not the case.

Have you ever read a book and with every page you are just waiting – waiting – for the plot to get good? For what was teased on the cover to happen? To become so engrossed in the story itself that you forget what time it is or that you have other obligations like work and family?

While there have been several books that I have read that have been just like that, A People’s History… is sadly not one of them. There is no vampire uprising, at times there’s barely even a conflict between the humans and the vampires (who prefer to be called “gloamings”). Yes, there are minor conflicts; especially when one decides to run for public office, but on the whole there wasn’t much.

At times, reading this was almost akin to watching paint dry.

Reading about the author, it is no surprise to find that Mr. Villareal is an attorney. There is quite a bit of “lawyer speak” scattered throughout the book and there is an entire chapter devoted to the subject. What it has to do in relation to the subject of the book as a whole, I have no idea.

Unfortunately, I found A People’s History… to be bland and boring. Aside from a handful of actions scenes, there was very little to sink my teeth in to. Pardon the pun. If this is to be made in to a movie, which I have read that the story has been optioned by 20th Century Fox, then I hope they take the title and basic premise and leave the rest behind.

Don’t waste your time with this one dear readers. There are better books out there.

Hater (Hater #1) by David Moody

The world has gone mad.

A strange and sudden increase in the number of violent assaults on individuals has rocked society. The assaults are brutal and extreme; within mere seconds, normally rational people become frenzied killers. They strike without warning and kill all who cross their path. Christened ‘Haters’ by the media, there are no links between those who attack and those who are attacked.

Danny McCoyne is one such man. An average working class man, he must contend with this new world of terror. Eventually, his only choice is seek shelter, secure his family, and watch as the world outside crumbles. But when any person has the potential to become a Hater; when McCoyne locks the door, is he shutting the danger out or locking it in?

Hater is a unique novel with an interesting premise. That, sadly, is about all I can give it.

I am guessing that we, the readers, are supposed to somehow empathize with the main character Danny McCoyne. As the novel is told from his point of view, this would make sense. We connect with him in some way, and through his eyes we see the story unfold. A good idea, if only Danny weren’t such an immensely unlikable individual.

I do not want to mince words, dear reader, so I will be blunt and say Danny McCoyne is a schlub. In his own words he admits to being “a lazy bastard”, and “I know I should try harder but I just can’t be bothered.” He admits to being bounced from department to department in the three and a half years he has been with his job. He refers to his supervisor as “…sour-faced, slave-driving, unforgiving bitch…”. He either yells at or ignores his children, at times he ignores his wife. In general he is a very self centered man, caring only about himself and how unfolding events affect him.

Looking past the main character, which admittedly is difficult to do, the actual premise is an interesting one. An unknown illness, passed from person to person by unknown means, is turning ordinary people in to rampaging killers. The afflicted person suddenly and without warning becomes ultra violent, attacking whomever is near – be they a stranger or a loved one. Those who are not accosted by the ill individual describe the person’s expression as one of great fear. This is a likely explanation for the suddenness of the attacks; if the person is struck by an overwhelming fear then they are likely to lash out.

Throughout the story small hints as to the illness’ origin are dropped. Some believe it to be a kind of government experiment gone awry and the few clues given seem to point in that direction. We are of course not given the answer just yet as this is only the first part of the story. I am sure the cause behind the epidemic will be revealed in subsequent books.

As I said above, Hater is a book with a unique take on the whole “zombie” epidemic. The execution however is poor. If one can get over how irritating the main character is, they could very well enjoy this book. Pick this one up with that in mind if you feel brave.

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Young, naive, and very sheltered, Lalage Page has grown up in near-isolation in her parents’ flat. She is sheltered from the chaos of the collapsing civilization. People are killing one another over crusts of bread and the police are detaining anyone without an identification card. With things getting more dangerous outside, Lalla’s father decides it is time to use their escape route – a ship he has built for them and the five hundred people it can hold.

Once they get underway, Lalla realizes the utopia her father has created isn’t everything it seems. There is more food than anyone can eat but no way to grow more; there are more clothes than any one can wear but no way to mend them. And no one can tell her – or is willing to tell her – where they are going.

Going by just the premise alone, one would think The Ship would be a fascinating and nail-biting read. Even the little blurbs on the cover made me think this and so I was quite eager to begin reading this book. I was hoping for something dark, something that would keep me up at night reading despite the fact that I had to work the next day. Something that I could really sink my teeth in to.

What I ended up with was just over 300 pages of a whiny, self-absorbed teenager and her ‘poor me!’ attitude.

Lalage Page is the main character of The Ship and everything is told from her perspective. She is sixteen years old and has apparently spent the majority of her life confined to the four walls of her parents’ flat in London. The only times she leaves the safety of the flat is when she goes out with her mother; either to the National Museum or out on some errand for food or something. What interaction she has with the outside world is through her screen, which is likely akin to an iPad or other similar device. The little interaction she has with actual people is with the homeless living in the National Museum, and even then she bemoans this as boring and as taking her mother’s attention away from her.

This isolation causes Lalage to be somewhat stunted emotionally. She is very naive, to the point that she does not understand that food spoils and she attempts to eat a fake apple, believing it to be real. She has trouble relating to the other people on the ship, even ones that are relatively close to her age. When her mother dies, Lalla mourns but really only in a “How could she do this to me?” kind of way. She gives little thought to how the death affects her father or to any one else on the ship.

This does not mean that the others on the ship are without their own problems. Lalla’s father, Michael, seems to develop a kind of Messiah complex over the occupants on the ship. Even before they set sail he sees himself as their savior, the shepherd leading his flock to a new life. Some of the speeches he gives can even be viewed as proselytizing. He urges the people of the ship to give up their old lives and not speak of the time before, he tells them the ship is their new home for now and for always.

And the people of the ship follow him, almost blindly it seems. At his encouragement they seem more than happy to discard the few memories of their loved ones, tossing them over the side of the ship and in to the water. When Lalla questions them, wondering why they could simply throw items once considered precious away, each claims they are happier without them.

As an avid reader, I find that I enjoy a book more when I can relate to the main character in some way. Even if it is something small, even if it is that I simply like how a character acts, I am more likely to enjoy reading about that person. Unfortunately, such was not the case with Lalla. I found her to be irritating and at times downright annoying. I found her to be whiny and self absorbed. If her internal character had started like this and changed over the course of the story, that would be understandable and even enjoyable. Since this was not the case, I could not relate to her in any form.

With such an interesting premise, The Ship had a great deal of promise to be a riveting read. Sadly, such was not the case. Skip this one, dear readers. You’ll thank me for it.

 

El and Onine by K.P. Ambroziak

When a civil war on Venus causes it’s people to seek refuge on Earth, they must quickly acclimate to their new surroundings. When the ruling council decides to adopt the planet as their own, the idea of an interspecies union seems the best way to ensure the survival of both species. This is a problem though as even the smallest touch brings death to one or both individuals.

El and Onine was one of those books I had placed on my To Be Read list back when I started this blog and before I discovered what a wonderful author K.P. Ambroziak was. This was also before I learned what a very nice person she is, as I added this book to my list before we had spoken even one work to each other.

El and Onine is the story of two very different races of people coming to rely on one another. As a civil war erupts on the planet Venus, it’s people – referred to as Kyprians – travel to Earth. Due to their fiery nature, the arrival of the Kyprians is devastating to Earth and its inhabitants; those that survive are soon put to work serving their new masters.

Like with her other books, Ambroziak has built an entire new world for her book El and Onine. We are introduced to it slowly, the history of the place and the people who inhabit it told as flashbacks and memories. This makes it easier to take in the wealth of information given, a welcome change from the “data dump” some authors rely on to fill their readers in.

The only negative thing I have to say about this particular book is how short it is. At just under 200 pages, while it is a quick read it also isn’t enough for us to become totally invested in the characters. The story could have easily gone on for longer to give us more insight and background.

I enjoyed reading El and Onine and will very likely read it again. It is a layered tale that really should be enjoyed over and over. I recommend this one to my readers, as well as anything else by this wondrous author.

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourne

London, 1887. After burying her spinster aunt, orphaned Veronica Speedwell is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as with fending off admirers, Veronica intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans when Veronica thwarts her own attempted abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, who offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker, a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. But before the baron can reveal what he knows of the plot against her, he is found murdered—leaving Veronica and Stoker on the run from an elusive assailant as wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

I discovered the Veronica Speedwell series quite by accident in my local book store. While perusing the new books, I came across A Perilous Undertaking and it sounded quite interesting. Unfortunately, I saw it was number two in a series and since I almost never start a series in the middle, I sought out the first book; which is being reviewed here.

A Curious Beginning introduces us to the character of Veronica Speedwell. Raised by two spinster aunts, she has traveled quite extensively – both as a child by moving from town to town, and as an adult in the pursuit of the passion of butterflies. She is an intelligent and head strong young woman, a trait that she uses many times to her advantage. She is also incredibly astute, noticing things about her and about the people around her that many would overlook. At times she reminded me of a beloved character – Sherlock Holmes; yet she also reminded me of another beloved character – Amelia Peabody.

In many ways, Veronica Speedwell is much like Amelia Peabody. Both women are brilliant in their respective fields and more often than not are looked down upon by their male counterparts simply because of their supposed weaker gender. Yet while there are times they must “play by the rules” of society, they are more than content to do things their own way.

One thing I thoroughly enjoyed – and hope Ms. Raybourn continues to play with in subsequent books – is the relationship between Veronica Speedwell and Stoker Templeton-Vane. There is a chemistry between the two characters that is difficult to deny and yet it seems they each treasure the other’s friendship too much to risk ruination with a more physical relationship. There are times they get on as well as cats and dogs, but in the end each is more than content to come to the aid of the other when needed.

Overall, I enjoyed the first book in the Veronica Speedwell series, A Curious Beginning. Readers who have previously enjoyed the Amelia Peabody series or any other series with a strong female character, should give this one a try.

The Crimson Labyrinth by Yusuke Kishi

After answering an ad in a local newspaper, an unemployed man wakes up to find himself in a strange location. Wondering if he has perhaps somehow ended up on another planet, he tries to begin his search for others like him. He finds only one other person, a young woman who seems just as confused as he.

The only clues the two have are cryptic instructions beamed to a portable gaming device. They speak of a game and that it has already begun. Neither remember agreeing to playing a game but it seems they have no choice; if they are to return home they have to play. But there are other players in this game and some of them are not so nice.

The Crimson Labyrinth is one of those books that had been sitting in my To Be Read list for a while. In the reviews I had read, it was compared to Battle Royale (a book I have read and loved) and Lost (a TV show I couldn’t get in to). And while there are some similarities between the two books, I liken The Crimson Labyrinth more to The Hunger Games than Lost.

As much as I enjoyed reading The Crimson Labyrinth, I must warn my readers that it is not a book for the squeamish. Much like the books I mentioned before, there are certain scenes that are rather gruesome. It is something that, while difficult to read, makes sense; especially towards the end when we learn the truth behind the game that was played.

Also, while The Crimson Labyrinth was quite good, I personally feel it could have been better. Kishi focuses so much on the action that the characters are almost secondary. Without knowing more about them – their backgrounds, their motivations, etc. – even the main character himself feels flat at times. Had Kishi given more to the characters the book could have easily been twice as long but also a much, much better read.

Overall, I enjoyed this particular book and don’t regret purchasing it. It is definitely a horror novel and not for the faint of heart. Readers who enjoyed Battle Royale and other types of books should check this one out too.

Night Watch (Watch #1) and Day Watch (Watch #2) by Sergei Lukyanenko

In modern day Moscow, there live an ancient race of humans who call themselves “Others”. Gifted with supernatural powers, they must swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. The agents of Dark make up the Day Watch and are tasked with keeping an eye on the city during the day. Likewise, the agents of Light make up the Night Watch and keep watch over the night.

For over a thousand years an uneasy truce has stood between the two sides. When an artifact is stolen from the Inquisitors – an impartial group of Others who keep watch over both sides – the consequences are dire.

Day Watch is the semi sequel to the aptly named Night Watch. I say semi sequel because the events in the book occur side by side with one another. The events that happen are told from two different perspectives, from the different members of the watch in their respectively titled books.

Having a storyline handled in such a manner made for an interesting read. Interesting in how the characters acted and reacted as well as the thoughts going through their heads at the time. How each side sees themselves as being “in the right”.

The Day Watch and the Night Watch are two sides of the same coin; they balance each other out on the cosmic scales. Neither watch is either truly good or truly evil – another thing I liked about these books – but are both cast in shades of gray. While the Day Watch embraces this grayness about them, the Night Watch seek to try and lighten the color. Again, showing how they are different.

Originally written in Russian, these books were translated in to English. Translation from one language in to another is never perfect, yet I felt these were well handled. The prose in Night Watch felt a bit clunky at times while Day Watch‘s translation seemed a bit smoother.

Day Watch (and Night Watch) are not for the casual reader. These books are a little heavier to read and process mentally. Not every one will enjoy them but the serious reader should definitely give them a look.

The Dying Game by Åsa Avdic

In the not too distant future, seven people have been selected to participate in a 48 hour competition. Placed together on a tiny isolated island, the winner of this competition will receive a coveted position in the top secret Union of Friendship. Among those being tested are a top ranked CEO, a well known TV personality, and Anna Francis; a workaholic bureaucrat with a young daughter she hardly sees and a haunting secret.

Unbeknownst to the other competitors, Anna is not taking part in the test – she is the test. After staging her own death, she must watch the other competitors and judge their reactions as they learn a murderer walks among them. Who will lead? Who will take control? Who will crack under the pressure?

At first, all goes according to plan until a storm rolls in and the power goes out. Then the real game begins…

I’m not sure what I was expecting, dear reader, when I started The Dying Game. Going by the blurb on the back of the book, I was led to believe this was a kind of locked room mystery. Where the protagonist is led to believe they are the one in control but at the narrative goes on, they learn there is someone else pulling the strings.

And while that last bit is somewhat true, it is how we (and Anna) get to that realization that is somewhat of a let down.

The set up to the actual “game” itself takes far too long, in my opinion. Then once everything begins, it becomes less a study of the other characters and more a study of Anna herself. While she is the only one who “dies”, the other characters also begin to disappear one by one, leading Anne to wonder if perhaps she isn’t going mad.

It is only with the resolution of the story – that it was Anna herself being tested – that we are given some kind of closure. Yet it isn’t terribly satisfactory. It left me questioning who was the real protagonist here and who was the real antagonist? Just as I am sure the characters were questioning the events that transpired.

I can’t really recommend The Dying Game because what I thought I was going to read and what I read in actuality were two different things. With writing that could be a bit blocky and staid at times and a confusing resolution, I have to say – skip this one.

The Mall (Downside #1) by S.L. Grey

Dan is your typical angsty emo kid working in a bookstore inside a dull shopping mall.

Rhoda is your typical junkie, always looking for her next score; her next hit.

When the kid Rhoda is supposed to be looking after runs off while she’s scoring some cocaine, she bullies the hapless Dan in to helping her look for the child. Dan is less than eager to help but as they search more of the closed mall, they both begin receiving strange text messages that draw them in to the lower levels of the building. Where old mannequins are stored in grave like piles and raw sewage drips from the ceiling…and where the only way out is down.

Taking the only elevator, they enter a gruesome underworld where their worst fears are brought to life. Making it to the other side, the two find themselves back in the mall but things are not quite right. And soon they both realize their nightmare has only just begun.

The Mall is very much your typical survival horror type of story; and yet it isn’t. Readers familiar with the Silent Hill video games – specifically the third one – will recognize the descent of the characters from a normal looking mall to a darker, flip-side type of mall. They will recognize the puzzles the characters must solve in order to move on as well as the horrifying obstacles they must face.

Certainly not a book for the squeamish, I found The Mall to be a quick and entertaining read. It’s obvious this is the first of a series as it leaves a good deal of questions unanswered. Horror fans should definitely give this one a read and I’ll be looking for the next book in the series.