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[Review] The Ravenous Dead by Natasha Hoar

The Ravenous Dead
Natasha Hoar

Cover Copy: This time the dead are hungry…

Rachel Miller doesn’t just see dead people, she rescues them. As a member of The Order of Rescue Mediums, she spends most of her time helping stubborn spirits move on from the world. But after she learns the details of three brutal murders, she knows the culprit can only be a reaper, an undead monster that relentlessly stalks its victims to feed on their souls.

A reaper once consumed the soul of Rachel’s mentor as she watched frozen in fear. Now, Rachel is in the role of teacher to Kit Elkeles, a rodach just learning to control his wraithlike powers. After Kit and Rachel rescue a half-vampire, they work to protect him while searching for a way to stop the reaper. But when Rachel realizes who the monster is really after—and just what kind of dark magic she’ll need to stop it—will she be able to do what is necessary before it devours one of her friends…or even herself?

27,000 words

My Thoughts: This is the first book published by Carina Press that I’ve read, so I was surprised by the length of The Ravenous Dead. Not unhappily surprised.

I love the concept of Rachel being a Rescue Medium and having to fight a Reaper-monster. It’s what made me pick up the book. I was pleased to find the worldbuilding is filled with innovative ideas. In the opening scene we meet Rachel mid-sword fight, and the action doesn’t stop there.

I was disappointed when the writing turned out to be very info-dumpy with page after page of telling, even in the dialogue. Take the following paragraph for example:

“When a reaper ingests a soul, it feeds off the energy that makes up its layers– sort of like an onion. We’re not sure why, but when it gets to the ‘bones’ of the soul, the absolute core essence, it’s unable to digest or voluntarily expel what’s left. So the soul remains trapped inside the reaper until it can be forcibly exorcised.”

Don’t tell me the reaper has indigestion, show me. Give me a scene with the reaper swallowing down a soul, with Rachel powerless to stop it, with the soul crying out to Rachel for help. Give me visible stakes. Don’t leave me to infer the stakes from a description of what the monster can do. Instead, we get the above paragraph in an exchange of dialogue. This makes for some dense reading.

When the dialogue is not dumping info, it can be quippy. The characters have chemistry that I would like to see developed a little more. I think Kit needed a goal. He seems to be just there as a complication for Rachel.

Despite the short length of the story, Hoar was able to create a sympathetic, complicated antagonist. One that challenged Rachel and caused deeper complications in the worldbuilding, but still was brought to a satisfying conclusion.

Love the cover of The Ravenous Dead and the cover of the first book in the Lost Souls series, The Stubborn Dead.

Despite the heavy wading through the info dumping, I liked this one enough to buy The Stubborn Dead, and I plan to check out the next in the series. I love the concepts Hoar has created and I want to see what she does with them. Plus, they’re short books (20,000-27,000 words) at a good price ($2-$3).

Rating: C+
Series: Lost Souls #2
Publisher: Carina Press, 2012
Acquired: NetGalley

Get it– Amazon | Chapters/Indigo | Goodreads | Kobo | Sony

At this time, The Ravenous Dead is not available through Canadian booksellers or at the Sony eBook store.

[Review] SILVER-TONGUED DEVIL by Jaye Wells

Cover Copy: Now that the threat of war has passed, Sabina Kane is ready to focus on the future. Her relationship with Adam Lazarus is getting stronger and she’s helping her sister, Maisie, overcome the trauma of her captivity in New Orleans. Even Giguhl is managing to stay out of trouble. Sabina wants to feel hopeful about the future, but part of her doesn’t believe that peace is possible.

Her suspicions are confirmed when a string of sadistic murders threatens to stall treaty negotiations between the mages and the vampires. Sabina pitches in to find the killer, but her investigation soon leads her down dark paths that have her questioning everyone she thought she could trust. And the closer she gets to the killer, the more Sabina begins to suspect this is one foe she may not be able to kill.

My Thoughts: SILVER TONGUED-DEVIL is the fourth book in the Sabina Kane series, in this celebration of Jaye Wells’s exciting debut series.

Sabina Kane, half-mage half-vampire, has returned to New York, home of the mages, with her entourage, including Adam her hot mage boyfriend, Giguhl the demon side-kick and a few others.

The story opens with a wonderful intriguing scene of a crime scene in Central Park. Sabina sticks around as a rubber-necker, but then realizes the killer has to be a vampire. Soon, she and Adam are working together to find the killer.

Unfortunately this plot line ends with the culmination of the first act. I was disappointed when all the leads dried up and Adam and Sabina are called off the case. I also thought it strange they would just go along with it, unconcerned the killer was still out there. I think this decision was supposed to be more intriguing than I found it.

From here, the story kind of falls apart with distractions: the werewolf and vampire lesbians who have to come out to the werewolf Alpha; the appearance of an over-indulgent mage rocker; the dark races roller derby; and a bad reaction on the part of Adam to learning about Sabina’s one-night stand with Slade. I mean, it happened before Sabina and Adam were a couple. What’s his problem?

I have to say I’m disappointed with Sabina as a character. I’d hoped by this book to see her in action as an assissin, but she’s anything but. When I think of assissins, I picture someone sneaky, calculating, observent, and goal-oriented. Sabina is a reluctant assissin at best. She doesn’t want to get involved, she lets other people make all the decisions, and she never seems to be working towards a goal. These traits in her frustrate me. I’m finding the other characters around her to be more colourful and interesting. (I mean, really, roller derby as a subplot when there’s a killer on the loose?)

Minor characters being more interesting than the main character is generally a bad sign for a book and especially for a series, however, there are a few things here that save the series from being tossed at a wall: the writing itself is excellent, the world-building is fresh, and the fight scenes are great.

Sabina needs to be in the driver’s seat.  The decisions need to be her own; she shouldn’t be pushed into doing things, and when she’s pushed she needs to make bad choices that have consequences. For example, when it’s time to drug her sister Maisie because she hasn’t been sleeping, Sabina is told by the mage Rhea that she needs to accompany Maisie into the land of dreams. Sabina refuses because it’s dangerous. Instead, she chooses to bind herself to a god. (Um, like that’s *less* dangerous?) I think this scene would have been a hell of a lot better if Sabina had wanted to go the dream land, but was told not to because it’s dangerous. Then she should have stubbornly did it anyway. Once there, she should have run into trouble, and needed to barter her way out of the dream land by binding herself to the god. Same events, just rearranged for higher stakes and putting Sabina in a place where she has to make some tougher decisions.

Despite all this, I am looking forward to BLUE-BLOODED VAMP, the last in the series, and I have to say, I will miss these characters. Despite the problems, these characters are funny, charming and fun to “hang” with.

Rating: C+
Series: Sabina Kane
Publisher: Orbit Books
Acquired: Purchase

Get it– Amazon | Chapters/Indigo|Goodreads | Kobo | Sony

[Review] THE IMMORTAL RULES by Julie Kagawa

Cover Copy: “In a future world, vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity.”Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of “them.” The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked–and given the ultimate choice. Die…or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend–a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn’t easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what–and who–is worth dying for.

My Thoughts: I’m having the hardest time figuring out how to review THE IMMORTAL RULES.  It’s not a horrible book, but it’s not holding my attention either.

The book is split into parts. The first part is great.  Allison Sekemoto survives in the outer Fringe circle of a city controlled by vampires. Outside the Fringe, zombie-like contagion-infected creatures called Rabids run rampant. Allie lives in an abandoned school with a few friends. Every day is a struggle to find food. They can’t go out at night for fear of the vampires. Beyond the walls are abandoned houses full of food, ripe for scavenging, but that area is populated by Rabids.

This part was great. Chockful of tension and excellent world building. But then Allie gets wounded by a Rabid and the only way to live is to make a deal to turn into a vampire. Part 2 finds Allie waking up, realizing she’s a vampire, and learning how to live as one. This is where the book falls apart. The tension thread is completely lost. It’s like starting over with a brand-new story — a very dull one with lots of info dumps. I realize Allie has lots to learn as a vampire, but there was a lot for us to learn about the world in part one. Part two could have been done with more action and fewer scenes of talking heads.

I love Kagawa’s action scenes. She has a real gift for tension and dramatic action. It’s the in-between stuff she needs to either eliminate or improve upon, because that’s where I was skimming to get to the next scene.

Sadly, this was not a book for me. This realization is very disappointing because there was so much potential to love it.  (I mean, who wouldn’t love a katana carrying vampire?)

I have a feeling I’m in the minority with my opinion. I think there will be plenty who will love this book, even those who’ve grown tired of vampire stories.

Rating: C, DNF
Series: Blood of Eden
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Acquired: NetGalley

Get it– Amazon | Chapters/Indigo| Goodreads | Kobo | Sony

“The 12th Demon: Vampyre Majick” by Bruce Hennigan [Review]

Posted by Harry Markov

Title: “The 12th Demon: Vampyre Majick”
Author: Bruce Hennigan
Series: Steel Chronicles, Book 2
Pages: 320 pages
Publisher: Synergy Books

Summary: After defeating the thirteenth demon, Jonathan Steel and Josh Knight return to Dallas, Texas, to finish up Josh’s family affairs. When they arrive, a mysterious assassin named Raven surfaces from Steel’s murky, dangerous past. At the same time, Rudolph Wulf, the twelfth demon, has arrived from Romania with plans to fulfill a two-thousand-year-old promise to unleash an army of demonic creatures–creatures that will inhabit the bodies of his “vampyre” army. When Wulf kidnaps Josh, Steel must find them in time to save Josh from a violent death and to prevent Wulf from unleashing “vampyre majick” on the world.

Classification & Literary Class: “The 12th Demon: Vampyre Majick” is actually the second book in the Steel Chronicles with its predecessor being “The 13th Demon” and is labeled as urban fantasy for Christians. Usually I don’t go and review novels that are not the starter for a series, but in this case I was drawn in by the title. It is fair to say that the novel can be read as a standalone, since most of the highlights of the first have been included.

I tried to enjoy the novel. It has a hero with anger issues and amnesia, the group of weird misfits and then we have demons. I got my rocks off, so to say, a couple of times, but overall “The 12th Demon: Vampyre Majick” fails to deliver any real thrills. As much as I hate saying it, publishing books to make a living out of it is a business as much as it is an art form to write anything at all, so one must aim to polish his/hers project to perfection. I didn’t find this strive towards perfection, since prose and small details disturbed my focus.

For me there were passages that could have delivered more of an adrenaline rush, if they were to the point as for instance with the initial start. The hook so to say was irrelevant to the story and I could have been satisfied with a scene forward. The writing itself was okay, but dabbled in with some clichés and unnecessary adjectives such as “deadly sharpness” to characterize an assassin’s dagger. Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t like the modernized businessman villain using words such as “infernal” to curse the heroes. And yet last but not least, in the passages that deal with events happening 600 years B.C, I think ought to be authentic and expressions such as “around the clock” or adjectives such as “smug” didn’t exist. I think this is my nit-pickiest review yet, but as insignificant as these elements are, they sucked the joy out of reading it.

Characters & Depth: Character wise I think Hennigan tried a different road for the urban fantasy genre, which is always refreshing. I do like my super powerful babes, but diversity is always welcome in the form of more testosterone induced cast. Jonathan Steel is a rogue demon hunter and a former assassin with amnesia and a loose temper. A great character to explore for a long series and his actions speak are tied to his brash personality and short fuse. So far so good, but I am not exactly satisfied how his temper and amnesia have been handled. For one thing I think anger in that regard has been the most repeated word and does a very vague job, since a person with loose tempers usually have different degrees of anger and that should be shown. Just adding anger everywhere makes it seem that Steel is a Hulk undercover. And well amnesia is a complex illness to begin with and so far in the novel it’s not cleared to what degree the amnesia is to have these vital memories pop up at the most convenient of times. At any rate, the soul searching and interest in one’s own identity are just tapped and unfinished.

I can ramble on and on about every other character too, but as a unified opinion I would have to say that Hennigan has made interesting choices, but hasn’t found the formula for my entertainment to unlock the full potential of his characters. What bothered me most was how easily anyone could switch. You can be corrupted as easily as you can be condemned and all it takes is one act of goodness or a luring lie of evil. A particular example is Nosmo King [No Smoking and I think it’s cool], who from chef to cop to preacher has turned into a drug dealer to supply his wife with crack and after Steel feeds him a meal and shows him the Bible and speaks of goodness, the guy turns into a templar. The real world doesn’t work that way as much as I would like. The evil or the flawed won’t become Samaritans because they had a onetime freebie of kindness and vice versa you can’t corrupt a person with one promise of something alluring and sinful.

Worldbuilding & Believability: Now this is the part I have to complement Hennigan about. I have a knack for polar opposites and the idea that Lucifer did a demented version of Christ’s twelve Apostles had me bouncing up and down. As the novel states after the epilogue, the guy has done his research on vampire societies in America, something I am not knowledgeable about, and on vampire lore himself, so his vampires might be something entirely different from most urban fantasy titles, but different cultures have different vampires. I respect the new look on the topic. From start to finish the darker part of the cast has been handled near perfection with the massive plan to create a demon army, claim territories and back stab each other. Then again I usually go with the enemies of the heroes, so go villains.

Now believability is another issue sadly and I do mean it overall. Comics, movies, TV series and novels of course have handled the story ‘defender of the law is submerged in paranormal world’ and we all know how cops, judges, detectives and so on react to the heroes explanations right. Here Hennigan just leaves these officials keep their mouth shut for pages as Steel and his crew talk about taking down demons without any sharp reaction apart from the usual comments “You are nuts” or “I don’t want any more of this demon crap”. This is convenient, yes, but not realistic.

The Verdict: It was a rocky ride with this one. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. What I do believe is that Hennigan has a good basis for a series. It’s slightly more different than what we see on the market and I support diversity. The truth in my case is that the novel should have gone through more revisions, because it wasn’t the story itself that didn’t work for me, but the representation.

“The Last Plague” by Glen E. Page

Author: Glen E. Page
Title: The Last Plague
Pages: 440
Publisher: Synergy Books

“The Last Plague” by Glen Page is the opening novel in a series, which presents a new scenario on the Biblical apocalypse and offers a great treat to all conspiracy theorists out there. I enjoyed this novel although it took me around 200 pages to get into it, which is saying much since the novel is 440 pages all in all. But let’s start at the beginning.

My opinion on the cast of characters and their connection to each other is that “The Last Plague” resembles a mystical soap opera with a great rooster and a thick web linking everyone to everyone else. In the fashion of conspiracy theories there is nothing normal in how they are connected, usually by death or some mission against another character. Personally I was confused most of the time who was who, did what and wanted to kill who and for what reasons. The main storyline revolves around Dr. Douglas Hunter, who after operating a young girl with a ripped abdomen, one ovary missing and the other hard and black, begins to investigate the mysterious circumstances of her condition and how she was found on old Yankee Road all alone. Needless to say his innocent enough research on the matter attracts the military’s attention. General McFarland works for the Sprudith organization, Children of Satan, interested in the found girl. Each step down the road for Douglas involves more people with their own agendas: friends, family, spies, Biblical prophets, mountain people with special gifts and the Sprudith, deadly adversaries. Against all odds Doug and his team solve most mysteries surrounding the case and the Doctor has to face that his involvement was destined one way or another.

It’s all pretty enigmatic the way I presented the plot, but alas the subplots spin round and round, so this is as clear as it gets for now. My particular problem with the novel concerned the character introduction. I am not used to get hit out of the blue with a new character, when a new chapter begins. It’s not that it’s not possible for such an introduction to work, but considering the lack of explanation of why this man or woman has entered the stage puzzled me. I had some moments to put the book down and register the new presence. Also my main reason not to get in the novel as fast as otherwise and finish it weeks before. Once all have been brought to the game, around page 200 or something the novel is easier to comprehend in that particular aspect.

Something similar is concerned with the flashbacks. I am not sure whether this issue is due to the incompetence of the author himself or the editor. If you are willing to buy this book, then you have to be prepared to read up until a point in the present and then after the next line slip back in time. The first time it happened I thought I skipped a page or something and yet there it was, the flashback didn’t start with a new paragraph. For some reason some flashbacks are divided properly and so are changes into subplots and other characters, but then again the remaining pop up with no identification. As a reader I like to be swept by the story and forget when I started reading, which is damn hard, when I have to stop rewinding and explain what happened a line ago.

Of course these are technical aspects, minor things for tweaking, but as it turns out spoil the story enough. It’s sad when something so small can make reading the first half of the book painful for the brain. But do not think that this is a negative review. I am just ranting about the headaches I had early on. “The Last Plague” is an opening novel in a series, which means it’s bound to be a bit slow with setting the stage, introducing the characters, foreboding the apocalypse and all. You get the best of a soap opera, conspiracy theory, Biblical and Indian folklore, plus CSI. What more can you actually want?

Although Page’s prose is not something extraordinary or remarkable, the dialogues between his characters engross the reader. At least this happened with me. For one thing their topics went to riddles, medical mysteries, world war two and apocalyptic hints, so it’s rare to fall asleep reading this. At one point I thought he was overdoing the whole murky act in the story. When too many events occur and leave only questions, the reader is bound to get lagged or something. Thankfully this hasn’t been the case. Page managed to create a reasonable balance between subplots and tied the knots at all the right places. CSI is the best term to have used here, since it’s methodical crime solving that unlocks the whole story further down the road.

I am not sure whether the genre expects will name this fantasy, but for me it has enough paranormal to call it that. The Sprudiths and the Mountain People are tribes, which have the same gifts to bend space, but stand on polar sides of morality. Another attribute of theirs is that they have wolves and tigers as familiars. Both serve their gods, Lucifer and well God and both are engaged in a battle, the biblical battle between good and evil. It may sound standard, but mixed with all other components, the world building makes an enthralling tale. Biblical characters also appear in the novel as immortals, who have awaited the omens for the apocalypse to take action. What makes them compelling is their engagement with the characters. In most books gods, entities and immortals are devout of any interaction. They exist for their cause and they do not show any emotional connection to the players in the game. In “The Last Plague” it’s worth to mention that such characters from Sprudiths, Mountain People or the immortals are more connected with the world of the living. They love, they have conflicted pasts and had to make tough choices. In the end even villains are stuck in the grey zone.

As a conclusion, “The Last Plague” is an entertaining title, once you overcome the technical obstacles. The Biblical Apocalypse has been done many times before and yet this one presents in a new light, stretched between human drama, medical horror and mystical powers. I wouldn’t mind reading the next installments.

PS: In order to keep the review at a length, which is not boring for people, I myself know that too much rambling can lead to a very bored articled reader, so I omitted most of the details to avoid turning the review into a short story.

[REVIEW] The Turning – Jennifer Armintrout

The Turning

Book 1 of the Blood Ties series

Jennifer Armintrout

Mira Books, 2006

Doctor Carrie Ames, just 8 months out of medical school, is attacked by a vampire in the hospital morgue. She comes out of surgery with insatiable hungers and sensitivity to light. She’s been turned to a vampire, and seeks help. That’s when she meets another vampire (a double agent, if you will), learns of her ties to the monster who created her, and finds out about the organization that wants to kill her.

More behind the cut. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Many Bloody Returns – Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner (eds.)

Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner (eds.)
Many Bloody Returns
Penguin Books (4th September 2007)

The problem I have with anthologies is that the quality of the stories varies greatly, as far as I’ve read. Thus, I am not a big fan. Indeed, the authors in this collection are varied: some of them you know well from various paranormal novels, while others are dipping into the supernatural for the first time (they’re primarily mystery writers, on the cosy side, I think). Instead of judging the collection as a whole, let’s look at the stories individually:

Charlaine Harris, Dracula Night: The problem I’ve found with the Sookie Stackhouse novels is that some great ideas are buried within a fluffy package. The same goes for this story: there’s mention in the narrative of vampires immigrating to places (like the US) where they’re more welcome in society. This is interesting stuff, but the author doesn’t focus enough on it. This is a great opportunity for social commentary and writing something that will really make readers think, but alas, Ms Harris just didn’t shed enough light on it. Then there’s the quote on p4: “It was just like Anne Rice meeting Louis.” Okay, so now characters in novels are real people, and not just figments of the authors’ imaginations? Maybe that theory works for other people, but not for me. And then there was this on p18: “She had a heavy accent, I thought Russian. I was about tired of the new wave of vamps.” I’m not sure if that’s racism or bigotry, but either way I don’t like it. I’ve never really connected with Sookie Stackhouse, and her xenophobia is an example why. Put simply, the story itself isn’t bad, but I can’t stand xenophobia in characters. And Sookie’s meant to be a protag? Not in my eyes: she’s a bitch.

Christopher Golden, The Mournful Cry of Owls: So who were the vampires: the owls?

Bill Crider, I Was a Teenage Vampire: Was good until the author revealed his vampires to be vampire bats.

Kelley Armstrong, Twilight: Cassandra DuCharme isn’t emo, but she is clearly depressed. Interesting that she doesn’t recycle newspapers, but by making her annual kill renews her life for another year. Contradictory or hypocritical?

Jim Butcher, It’s My Birthday, Too: In the words of Lurr, Ruler of the Planet Omicron Persei VIII: “Okay; not great.”

P. N. Elrod, Grave-Robbed: Meh.

Rachel Caine, The First Day of the Rest of Your Life: Pretty good story. And I liked Eve. Except for her fashion and makeup. And she was vain about her boobs. Seriously, girl: get over yourself.

Jeanne C. Stein, The Witch and the Wicked: What if you could do more than just stop aging – what if you could reverse it? Witch, caterer and wannabe-cosmetologist Sophie is eighty years old, but she looks like forty…until she comes across the ashes of a vampire and gets an idea for a night cream. I’m not usually one for cosies, but I liked this one.

Tanya Huff, Blood Wrapped: I really wish Henry wasn’t so emo. Tony, you deserve better than that mopey vampire.

Carolyn Haines, The Wish: Emo.

Tate Hallaway, Fire and Ice and Linguini for Two: Finally, someone who’s less intelligent than I: Garnet. I dress appropriate for the weather – she doesn’t. It’s freaking snowing, and she doesn’t dress for warmth. I may not have ever experienced snow, but I do have basic smarts.

Elaine Viets, Vampire Hours: You can so tell she writes chick-lit for the forty-something generation.

Toni L. P. Kelner, How Stella Got Her Grave Back: Puns are lame in titles – this one no exception.

C+ Of course everyone’s opinion varies, but I’d suggest waiting until a paperback is released before purchasing; I don’t think this is worth a hardcover price. If there was a way to purchase the stories individually, that would be brilliant: so you’d only buy what you want to read. I hope the eBook department at Penguin makes use of that idea. The best stories were written by Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine and Jeanne C. Stein, and I hope you can read them someday.

Have a lovely day! 🙂

Tez Miller