Review: The Haunting Season by Michelle Muto

Title: The Haunting Season
Author: Michelle Muto
Genre(s): Young Adult Paranormal
How To Purchase: Kindle | Paperback (Amazon)

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Be careful what you let in…

Siler House has stood silent beneath Savannah’s moss-draped oaks for decades. Notoriously haunted, it has remained empty until college-bound Jess Perry and three of her peers gather to take part in a month-long study on the paranormal. Jess, who talks to ghosts, quickly bonds with her fellow test subjects. One is a girl possessed. Another just wants to forget. The third is a guy who really knows how to turn up the August heat, not to mention Jess’s heart rate…when he’s not resurrecting the dead.

The study soon turns into something far more sinister when they discover that Siler House and the dark forces within are determined to keep them forever. In order to escape, Jess and the others will have to open themselves up to the true horror of Siler House and channel the very evil that has welcomed them all.

Creepy old mansion I found on PinterestThe Haunting Season is a spooky, fast-paced read. I love getting that “can’t put down, must finish as soon as possible” feeling about a book, and this one grabbed my throat and forced me onto my couch when I should have been doing stuff.

Its four main characters arrive at a haunted house that’s, even at first glance, hiding something. I love old mansions, and this one has sinister personality. I don’t care what was lurking, I’d start combing through the endless rooms of the Siler House as soon as I arrived, which our main character Jess does. Awesome.

Jess soon realizes that her invitation to participate in a science experiment about her paranormal abilities is more than it seems. As she opens doors, she uncovers the secret of the evil child Riley and his dead nieces. This is how I imagined Riley, especially near the end:

Seriously, don’t click on this if you get creeped out easily.

Each chapter is paced well and left me flipping to the next to find out what would happen next. As each secret is revealed, the book leaves you doubting the motives–and sometimes sanity–of Jess’s companions and hosts.

The grammar was clean and the language crisp; however, I felt at times that the writing voice was less mature than it should have been. Jess is eighteen, but the book sounds years younger. Additionally, Ms. Muto included a romantic sub-plot that I felt was unnecessary and jarring against its youthful voice. I would have loved to see it replaced with something more in the vein of the horror and supernatural, perhaps some further back story about our band of heroes.

The Haunting Season kept me on the edge of my seat. If you’re looking for some fun Halloween fare, I’d recommend it.

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Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel ShriverTitle: We Need To Talk About Kevin
Author: Lionel Shriver
Genre(s): Adult Contemporary
How To Purchase: Kindle | Kobo.com

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry.

Eva never really wanted to be a mother – and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.

OK, OK, this is the second popular book I’ve reviewed that isn’t speculative fiction, but its bizarre premise made me have to read it. I’m so glad I did.

This is the story of the aftermath of a school shooting as told by the shooter’s mother. If that doesn’t make you want to read the book, nothing I’m going to say will change your mind. But I’m still going to tell you this is a must-read. It will make you think, it will make you question your assumptions, and it will make you cry. Before reading one word, the story promises to be difficult because it’s about one of the least remembered victims of a horrific tragedy.

We Need To Talk About Kevin takes us through Eva Khatchadourian’s journey to make sense of what happened. She starts before Kevin is born, agonizing over her and her husband’s decision to have children. She describes Kevin’s childhood years in detail and through the lens of the horrific thing he did. She ascribes a certain adult intelligence to him even as a toddler, calling into question her reliability as a narrator while simultaneously forcing us to see that evil glint in his eye.

Ms. Shriver does an amazing job shining a light into the nooks and crannies of Eva’s life, both past and present. This morally ambiguous picture forces the reader to confront whether Eva is the victim of her son or Kevin is the victim of his mother. Eva describes their lives and her own worries and fears, but leaves much unsaid, much for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about. I both loved and hated Eva throughout the book, sometimes at the same time.

And I’m not kidding when I say I bawled at the ending.

Although this is not my usual fare, this book so moved me that it goes into my “top books of all time” category. It’s touching and difficult, ugly and beautiful. It makes me question motherhood–what I assumed and things I never thought about. It’s something I recommend everyone should read.

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Review: Ever and Evade by Jessa Russo

Ever by Jessa RussoEvade by Jessa Russo

Title: Ever (Book 1), Evade (Book 2) in the EVER Trilogy
Author: Jessa Russo
Genre(s): Young Adult Paranormal Romance
How To Purchase Ever: Paperback (Amazon) | Kindle | Kobo.com
How to Purchase Evade: Kindle | Kobo
Author Website: Jessa Russo

My rating for Ever: 3.5 out of 5 stars
My rating for Evade: 3 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of Evade in exchange for an honest review; however, I purchased my own copy of Ever.

Ever, Book One

Seventeen-year-old Ever’s love life has been on hold for the past two years. She’s secretly in love with her best friend Frankie, and he’s completely oblivious.

Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s dead, and waking up to his ghost every day has made moving on nearly impossible.

Frustrated and desperate for something real, Ever finds herself falling for her hot new neighbor Toby. His relaxed confidence is irresistible, and not just Ever knows it. But falling for Toby comes with a price that throws Ever’s life into a whirlwind of chaos and drama. More than hearts are on the line, and more than Ever will suffer.

Some girls lose their hearts to love.

Some girls lose their minds.

Ever Van Ruysdael could lose her soul.

Evade, Book Two

**Note: Book blurb contains spoilers for Book One**

In this thrilling sequel, Ever Van Ruysdael’s race to beat the odds—and the clock—begins with the introduction of an integral part of her past. As secrets are revealed, and truths uncovered, she learns her imminent death is the least of her problems: Ariadne did more than just put an expiration date on her life; she marked Ever’s soul by upping its value for greedy collectors looking to buy their freedom.

Condemned by the countdown on her life, and hunted by hired Seekers, Ever’s journey leads her to question everything she’s known and everyone she’s trusted, while growing closer to the one person from her past she was determined to avoid—and the one guy she never could—Toby James.

With her ex-boyfriend by her side, and the countdown clock rapidly ticking away, Ever tries thwarting fate’s plans. But as her nineteenth birthday approaches, and desperate Seekers follow her every move, she may be too late.

A marked soul is hard to come by … and even harder to escape.

**End Book One spoilers**

The EVER trilogy so far has a solid premise and interesting characters, but the plot pacing never allows it to rise from “I liked it” territory to “I loved it.” Ever, Book One, was faster paced with more plot twists, but Evade, Book Two, lagged a bit and disappointed me.

Ever, Book One

The premise of the books is fantastic: Ever, real name Eleanor, becomes ensnared in a supernatural world that, so far in both books, seems unique and interesting. Her boyfriend Frankie died in a car accident, and he’s haunting her house. Not in a “I don’t know I’m dead” way, but in “I’m moping and creepy because I don’t like being dead” way. I don’t know about you guys, but I love it.

Another boy, Toby, moves into the neighborhood, and Ever must work through letting go of Frankie. And, of course, Toby isn’t just any boy: He’s got his sights on Frankie. What does it mean? What’s he going to do? Why is he here? Love it, love it, love it.

As the story progresses, the plot picks up speed. We find out that Toby is, of course, not just the pretty face he seems. Ever’s family has a past. Toby has a past. His dad Ted has a past.

Toward the end, the book goes off the rails. The ending is a cliffhanger, but not in a good way. (Disclaimer: I loathe cliffhangers, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.) I feel as though a good portion of the beginning of Evade, Book Two, should have been the denouement of this book, which would have resolved the disquiet I felt about Book One.

The only part I struggled with was the relationship that Ever had with Toby versus the one she had with Frankie. Toby’s relationship sparked, but Frankie’s seemed non-existent. I understand that Frankie was her first love and best friend since birth, and the nature of that is different than a lusty teenaged love affair; however, I felt as though I was being told that he was her best friend. I didn’t feel the comfortable love that was between them. Quite frankly, Frankie was flat.

Evade, Book Two

Here’s the non-spoiler part: While Ever was more urban fantasy than paranormal romance, Evade was more paranormal romance than urban fantasy. I liked both Ever and Evade for their plots, but I wished for more, sooner, in Evade. It doesn’t pick up speed until about three-quarters of the way into the book, and by that point, I was wondering if anything unexpected was going to happen. It does: The stakes raised and I got excited, but the book was over all too soon.

**Note: Contains spoilers for Book One**

Evade picks up where Ever left off: Ever now has less than a year left to live. Trying to make the best of it, she heads to a vacation in Mexico and is plunged into more chaos. She discovers that Ariadne’s mark attracted all manner of unsavory dead folk, and she must run for her life.

I struggled with this premise because it didn’t make sense. If I were Ever, I’d be demanding answers–real ones–especially when her bitch-face nemesis and ex-boyfriend show up again to make her life difficult. Sometimes Ever seems to be going along for a ride, allowing all these things to happen to her. As I mentioned before, it’s only in the last quarter of the book that she starts taking charge.

Something about the world-building was missing from both Ever and Evade: We never get a glimpse into the Soul Collector life. I’m reminded of that part in Men In Black where J first goes down the elevator and sees all the aliens wandering amongst the humans. Neither Ever nor Evade has a “reveal” moment where we see what it is that Toby, Ted, and Ariadne do. It’s a fabulous premise. It’s lacking in delivery.

**End Book One spoilers**

What I liked most about both books was the bonus material. After Ever‘s ending, it contained the opening chapters from Toby’s perspective, and Evade‘s epilogue was also written from Toby’s point of view. For whatever reason, those parts scintillated. Also, I was nearly in tears (in the waiting room of a doctor’s office–nope, not embarrassed, I own my emotions) reading Ms. Russo’s afterward. It gave me insight into some things about the plot that I loved / hated. But I’m a sap and a writer, so I identified with her struggles.

If you enjoy Young Adult, romance, and characters with real struggles, I recommend this book. I’m looking forward to Book Three and hope that Ms. Russo rediscovers her enjoyment of writing this series.

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Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Title: Fifty Shades of Grey
Author: E.L. James
Genre(s): Adult Erotic Romance
How To Purchase: Paperback (Amazon) | Kindle (Amazon) | Kobo.com

My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

This book is intended for mature audiences.

Guys, I’m not going to lie. I hated Fifty Shades of Grey. Hated it so much that I’m reviewing it even though it’s not speculative fiction. It took me over six months to slog through this error-ridden, barely believable farce of a novel, and the only reason I finished was because I don’t like giving up on things. Even the novel’s cover makes the blood in the base of my spine simmer.

I started the book during the swirl of hype, and I’m glad, in a way, that I read it. I’m glad, in the same way that I’m glad that I saw the first half hour of the remake of Evil Dead, which is to say that I’m content it’s over, I never have to experience it again, and I don’t have to finish the rest of it.

Where do I begin?

The writer in me is annoyed at the grammatical errors (which I’m sure were fixed in recent editions by someone the author threw money at with her now untold piles of cash), repetitive use of words, and poorly constructed plot, which ended in a wholly unnecessary and mundane cliffhanger. Am I jealous of E.L. James’ success? If you mean, “Do you have a wee bit of trouble understanding why pop culture embraced this book instead of more substantial work, such as your own?” the answer is yes. Do I want to be jealous? No. But I’m not going to sit here and rip this book to shreds while pretending I’m not irked at its popularity.

The intelligent person in me is scratching her head at the annoying use of not one, but two imaginary voices in the main character’s head, her “oh, wow, I’ve never seen a penis or a whip before!” naivete, and her obsession with a guy she only just met. I’m not a teenager any more, but even when I was, I had heard of BDSM. Good Lord, Anastasia, do you not go on the interwebs beyond checking your email for Mr. Grey’s love notes?

Finally, the feminist in me is appalled at the popularity of this novel. Is this what women really want? A good-looking billionaire who can buy them crap, take them on helicopter rides, order them around, and lift them out of their ho-hum lives? The premise itself sickens me. I’m completely over romances where an obvious, built-in disparity of status exists: where the woman is at a disadvantage because of her social situation and the man is at an advantage because, well, women authors are still writing that we all need to be “saved.” At least Elizabeth and Jane in Pride and Prejudice had no other choice in life but to marry into money.

The one thing I applaud is that this novel’s success has brought erotica into the limelight. I’m bored with Western culture’s Victorian-era morals regarding sex, especially the disparity between women who have sex and men who have sex. The erotic scenes were well-written, which begs the question: Why were the rest of the novel’s plot and actions scenes so thin?

I wish Ms. James success in her future writing endeavors and hope that she uses her time to craft something that is worthy of her fame. I see potential. I just don’t see why everyone else loves this novel so freakin’ much.

Tell me what you thought of Fifty Shades of Grey. Am I being too harsh?

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Update 10/19: If you’d love to hate FSOG some more, here are links to a couple more in-depth analyses:

Give me more! I love them.

 

Review: Running Home by Julie Hutchings

Running Home by Julie HutchingsTitle: Running Home
Author: Julie Hutchings
Genre(s): New Adult Paranormal Romance with glimmers of Horror
How To Purchase: Kindle (Amazon) | Kobo.com
Author Website: deadlyeverafter

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Death hovers around Ellie Morgan like the friend nobody wants. She doesn’t belong in snowswept Ossipee, New Hampshire; she doesn’t belong in the frigging gift shop she works at, she doesn’t belong with people that death will always take from her, and she definitely does not belong at this black tie party with Kat. But that is where she is, and where he is. Nicholas French, the man who mystifies her with a feeling of home she’s been missing, and impossible knowledge of her troubled soul.

Nicholas followed an abomination that is one of his own, but soon finds fate has driven him to New Hampshire as more than a bystander. He reveals himself to Ellie as being of the Shinigami, a heroic vampire order that “save” their victims from more tragic ends. He knows why Ellie is human repellent, and why physical agony grips them when apart. The Shinigami are cornered into isolated human lives, plucked out when they have no one left to be created for their higher purpose. Ellie is destined to be a legendary Shinigami, and Nicholas her creator.

Nicholas and Ellie’s fates intertwine closer when his latest victim in waiting turns out to be the only person who tethers her to this world, Kat. Fate will not be ignored, and in the only real choice Ellie has made in her life, she must determine a horrifying path; let the vampire who would make her a hero wither to shreds or sacrifice the life of her closest companion.

As a paranormal romance, this book has a sexy love interest and a believable struggle. As a horror, it disappointingly picks up steam only at the end.

This is a story about Ellie, a woman who has lost nearly all of the important people in her life, save one. As she drifts, she’s drawn into a dark world of vampires–not the sparkly, gentle kind, but the ones who operate under fate’s command. The further in Ellie slips, the more macabre her story becomes. I loved the twists and turns, and as soon as I thought I’d figured out where the plot was going, it jolted me another way. The ending itself left me breathless. Simultaneously, I wanted to throw my Kobo at the wall and drive to Ms. Hutching’s house and sit on her until she finishes the sequel.

Part of the reason I gave this book three stars was my own preference for horror and the paranormal over romance and tingly love. The beginning drags, and the plot takes too long to get to the juicy parts. Running Home‘s strength lies in the chilly nighttime, but it spends too much time in the lazy afternoon. When the darkness hits, it’s too late and too short, and I found myself craving more.

As for the nuts and bolts of the writing, I’m disappointed in the publisher, Books of the Dead Press. Though Ms. Hutchings is a strong writer, the book could have used a more thorough developmental and copy-editing pass. Her descriptions were unique and interesting, but some of the sentence constructions and a few grammatical errors pulled me out of the writing. I’m critical of all published work, but especially small presses because of their responsibility to their writers. If self-publishers are hiring professional editors, small publishers must compete. Otherwise, why would us authors go with a small press?

I recommend Running Home, especially for those looking for solid paranormal romance fare. I can’t wait to see more from Ms. Hutchings and hope that its follow-ups descend deeper into the midnight that lurks at the end of this one.

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Update 10/14/13 afternoon: This week only, Running Home is $0.99 on amazon. Better snap up your copy.

 

Review: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series by Douglas Adams

Title: The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series
Author: Douglas Adams
Genre(s): Adult Science Fiction Humor
How To Purchase: Kindle (Amazon)

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

At last in paperback in one complete volume, here are the five classic novels from Douglas Adams’s beloved Hitchiker series.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Facing annihilation at the hands of warmongers is a curious time to crave tea. It could only happen to the cosmically displaced Arthur Dent and his comrades as they hurtle across the galaxy in a desperate search for a place to eat.

Life, the Universe and Everything
The unhappy inhabitants of planet Krikkit are sick of looking at the night sky– so they plan to destroy it. The universe, that is. Now only five individuals can avert Armageddon: mild-mannered Arthur Dent and his stalwart crew.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Back on Earth, Arthur Dent is ready to believe that the past eight years were all just a figment of his stressed-out imagination. But a gift-wrapped fishbowl with a cryptic inscription conspires to thrust him back to reality. So to speak.

Mostly Harmless
Just when Arthur Dent makes the terrible mistake of starting to enjoy life, all hell breaks loose. Can he save the Earth from total obliteration? Can he save the Guide from a hostile alien takeover? Can he save his daughter from herself?

If I were stranded on a deserted island, and I had the choice of only one book, the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be it. Never mind that it consists of five books. It comes in one binding, and therefore it’s a book! (Also, I don’t know what sort of sadistic cretin would require me to be stranded on a desert island with only one book, but these things rarely make sense.)

My introduction to HHGTTG was at a library book sale in my hometown in junior high or high school. Something about that goofy-looking green smiley face with its tongue sticking out called to me. It actually didn’t seem like my kind of book–I liked more serious fare–but hey, it was cheap. I’m so glad I picked it up (and I’m still a little peeved that my library got rid of it).

My favorite, by far, is the second book, Restaurant at the End of the Universe. The absurdity of a cow bred to beg the diners to choose which part of its body to eat for dinner is both macabre and hilarious. Lest you be offended, as our hero Arthur Dent was, don’t have the salad: The cow knows a number of lettuce heads that would be upset with your choice. It’s asking you to eat it! Eat the cow!

Though the plot meanders and sometimes outright makes no sense, Douglas Adams wove a brilliantly created world throughout his ridiculousness. His writing is snappy, his character dialog is quick-witted, and his ideas are fabulous. After all, I’m still trying to learn to fly by throwing myself at the ground and missing.

C’mon, you guys–what’s your favorite part of HHGTTG? Is it Marvin? I love a depressed robot. Is it the sentient pot of petunias? That kills me. Is it how Zaphod Beeblebrox is so hip, he has trouble seeing over his pelvis? I laughed hysterically when I read that part.

Douglas Adams was a genius. May he rest in peace.

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Review: How To Discipline Your Vampire by Mina Vaughn

How To Discipline Your Vampire by Mina VaughnTitle: How To Discipline Your Vampire
Author: Mina Vaughn
Genre(s): Adult Paranormal Erotic Romance
How To Purchase: Kindle | Kobo.com
Author Website: Kink With a Wink

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this exciting paranormal erotic romance, a dominant schoolteacher with a serious role-play fetish finds the perfect submissive in an infamous vampire lover.

Cerise Norrell, Type A substitute teacher by day, is ready to quit being a domme. Despite her best intentions, none of her partners can keep up with her scene fetish and attention to detail—let alone her demand that they have a costume and set waiting every afternoon by the time she’s home from school.

Over a dozen potential subs have left her in the past year, but just when Cerise thinks it’s impossible—that she’ll have to go back to vanilla relationships, or be alone forever—she meets William, who wants to make all her fantasies come true. He turns her home into a geisha’s dream apartment, a concert hall with a grand piano (which he uses to play an original composition while wearing a tuxedo), and even rents an abandoned loft for a zombie apocalypse scene—complete with canned goods.

But there’s something strange about William. Well, a lot of strange things. He must be absurdly rich, since he can afford to provide extravagant costumes and props on a daily basis without having to leave work early. He must be insane, since he puts up with Cerise’s over-the-top demands. And most importantly, he doesn’t redden when he’s spanked, and his skin is as cool as satin sheets. When Cerise discovers she’s become dome to the infamous “Chilly Willy,” as he’s known throughout the BDSM urban lore, she begins to find out there’s a whole lot more to her handsome submissive than a creative mind and a hard body.

And when it’s William, ironically, who starts pressing Cerise to give him the kind of commitment she’s never given anyone, it’ll take everything she has to work through her issues, confront her past, and learn to be vulnerable.

How To Discipline Your Vampire was a fun, breezy read that had me captured until the end. It chronicles how substitute teacher and dominatrix Cerise meets vampire William, who’s looking for more than just a dom. Both characters have pasts to deal with, and meeting one another makes cathartic sparks fly.

Cerise’s obsession with having everything in order made for an interesting, flawed protagonist. She was frustrating and over-the-top demanding in an unapologetic way, and I loved her for it. William’s deferential but defiant manner created an interesting dynamic. I was fascinated at the things Cerise let him get away with. I thought the book did an excellent job of showcasing a realistic dom/sub relationship, showing how it’s not just the dom in charge of the relationship.

Before reading the book, I read another review that stated the reviewer grew bored with the scenes. Not so for me: I was disappointed that there weren’t more. Maybe it’s my own slightly kinky side, but I wanted to see more role play between the two. I cheered with Cerise when William rose to the challenge of creating fully realized scenes; I shared her pain when she remembered some of the half-assed attempts of her past subs.

How To Discipline Your Vampire didn’t invent anything new about vampires, and I’m ok with that. Vampires have been around long before the emo sparkly ones, and they’ll be around once the emo sparkly ones are forgotten. Mina did a great job using the mythos to augment her storytelling.

This book was well thought-out and polished, with just the right amount of sex. It balanced an interesting plot, believable character development, and a detailed setting. If you like urban fantasy and erotic romance, you’ll like this.

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