Review: One Lucky Night by Various Authors

One Lucky Night by Various Authors

Title: One Lucky Night
Authors: Aria Kane, Grace Teague, Ana Blaze, Constance Phillips, Melinda Dozier
Genre(s): Adult Romance Short Story Collection
How To Purchase: Kindle (Forthcoming) | Paperback – Amazon (Forthcoming)

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of One Lucky Night in exchange for an honest review.

One night can change everything…

The crew at Boston’s Brazen Head Pub hasn’t been very lucky in love. Can a mysterious visitor inspire them to look past old hurts and misconceptions and give romance a chance? One Lucky Night is a collection of five sexy interwoven novelettes by Aria Kane, Grace Teague, Ana Blaze, Constance Phillips, and Melinda Dozier.

One Lucky Night is a compilation of five contemporary romance short stories / novellas, all by different authors. Every story, at least in part, takes place in a pub where the main characters either work or are regulars. And every story has the same mysterious stranger that appears briefly to talk to at least one of the characters.

I was swayed to read these stories by the mysterious stranger bit, but I was disappointed in its execution. He interacts with the main character, always talking about the fledgling romance but never enough to affect the outcome of the story. Every couple seems destined to be together, by their own histories and their own attraction to one another, so the stranger is simply a bystander, offering some advice or encouraging the conflicted person to move forward, take a chance, give in to love. He doesn’t play a large role, and we only learn a few tidbits about his life.

Other than that, the stories were typical contemporary romance. Hot guy, hot girl, kept apart by their own stubborn refusal to give into love until … tonight. Tonight, they all work through their baggage, and tonight, they all get lucky.

I don’t normally post favorite lines (although maybe I should–there are a few that have struck me in previous novels I’ve reviewed that I could have shared), but here is one that I liked. The female main character of one story was describing another male character, not her love interest, but another gal’s love interest. She said that he had “a jaw sturdy enough to ride side saddle on.” It’s an entertaining metaphor, but part of my infatuation with the line is that I can’t decide if it’s dirty or not. What do you guys think?

If you’re a fan of contemporary romance, you’ll probably like this compilation. I personally am not a romance fan–I had visions of intrigue when contemplating the role of the mysterious stranger–so you can’t really take my lack of enthusiasm as meaning anything. One Lucky Night is cute, has plenty of sex when the main characters finally give into their passion, and is a good read if you want to discover a new favorite romance writer.

Have you added my forthcoming release, Guarding Angel, to your Goodreads to-be-read list? You can also find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

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Review: The Last Circle by Gretchen Blickensderfer

the last circle

Title: The Last Circle
Author: Gretchen Blickensderfer
Genre(s): Near-Future Dystopia
How To Purchase: Kindle | Barnes and Noble | iTunes | Booksamillion.com (Paperback)

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of The Last Circle in exchange for an honest review.

“If you will not be saved, there will be consequences.” Based upon platforms and quotes from Conservative political and church leaders, The Last Circle chronicles the rise to power of a United States Evangelical theocracy and the small group of Pagan and LGBT friends who must escape the country to survive. A terrifying chase through the southern states tests the limits of their friendship and someone from among them is secretly tipping off their pursuers.

The quote that encapsulates the book’s premise opens chapter fifteen:

“When the Christian majority takes over this country, there will be no satanic churches, no more free distribution of pornography, no more talk of rights for homosexuals. After the Christian majority takes control, pluralism will be seen as immoral and evil and the state will not permit anybody the right to practice evil.” — Gary Potter, writer, Catholics for Political Action

The Last Circle creates this vision in vivid detail. Social and economic conditions have become difficult, and people are looking for guiding light. A man named Stephen Palmer is all too happy to step into the shoes of President and transform the country into a place he had only dreamed about.

That place is a place of concentration camps named “Salvation Centers.” It’s a place where homosexuals and Pagans must flee to the Mexican and Canadian border for amnesty. It’s a place where neighbors turn on one another, and where hatred and fear and starvation are the currencies. It’s Auschwitz; it’s the Crusades; it’s every terrible condition under every despotic regime man has ever created.

On the book’s website, the author describes how she researched the beliefs of extreme right-wing evangelical Christians to create this book. But I would need to do no research to know that what she presents is fact; I am quite familiar with this rhetoric. This was the atmosphere I grew up in, a small town in the Midwest where the condemnations and judgments were espoused regularly in sermons, in casual conversation, in after-school Bible studies. None of the extreme belief encapsulated in the book surprises me. It all hits home a little too hard.

Still, all of this begs the question: Why? Why does The Last Circle assert such extremes? In this day and age, we as reasonable people living in a technologically advanced society would never allow that. Or would we? That’s a question you will have to answer for yourself after you read it. My answer is that it’s the only solution. If you promise your followers to root out evil, you’d better be willing to take each and every measure necessary. Fear-mongering. Lying. Torture. Killing. Otherwise, how else will you get the job done? It’s one of the reasons I tried so hard for years to force myself to believe, only to be unable to accept this philosophy. It’s one of the reasons I walked away.

The Last Circle made me think. A lot. It made me think about the past I came from and what I believe now. It’s a powerful book with a message for all of us, one that we hopefully will never have to face.

But. As books go, I found it a tad frustrating. The writing was visual and distant, reminding me more of a movie than a book. I found the enormous cast of characters (the Pagans and LGBT group escaping the Palmer regime) difficult to keep straight. One of the big reveals–who is this Gwen that is telling the story of the last circle to the media?–was confusing because I thought I’d simply missed her introduction, losing her in the shuffle of so many people.

However, I feel that this book has a big enough idea presented in a realistic, albeit confrontational manner, that I would recommend it as food for thought. If you’re interested in the political and religious hot button issue of church versus state, I would give this a read. If nothing else, it will give you something to chew over long after you’ve finished reading.

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Review: furtl by Strobe Witherspoon

Title: furtl
Author: Strobe Witherspoon
Genre(s):
Adult Humorous Near-future Science Fiction
How To Purchase: Kindle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

2026. furtl, America’s once dominant technology conglomerate is bleeding money. Holospace machines out of China have transformed the way people do business on the Internet and furtl can’t keep up. But there is hope. If furtl can get the US government to outlaw Holospace machines, their search algorithms, social networks, and proximity payment systems will live to see another day. All the government wants in return is unrestricted access to furtl’s user information so it can squash its political opponents. It’s the perfect plan (issues pertaining to privacy, innovation, and democracy notwithstanding).

“By far the best dystopian techo-political satire set in the near future I have ever read.” Ruby Witherspoon, Strobe’s mom

furtl is funny and insightful, a tightly wound tale with more pop references than I probably picked up. Its political commentary was scathing, and its humor made me laugh out loud more than once. This is what 1984 would have been if written in 2013 by a guy with a funnybone.

furtl chronicles the unceremonious unseating of the founder of the book’s namesake company, a timid and weaselly fellow who has been swept away by people more politically attuned and financially motivated than he. After being ousted, he heads off into the Bhutanian wilderness to sulk, only to be reawakened by the intrusion of technology in his isolated haven. He plunges back into the political reality of the 2030’s America, where he works to overthrow the stranglehold his previous company has on the government.

I can hardly do this book justice in this short review, but parodies and parallels abound. One group he runs into, the “Lefteas” plays off both the term “leftie,” a derogatory term for a left-leaning idealist (and this sorry band of miscreants takes those beliefs to hilarious extremes) and the “Tea Party” grassroots movement currently underway. But the satire doesn’t stop with the groups themselves. The entire culture of the country a short couple decades in the future is a logical progression from where we are today. I would go so far as to call this “a scathing but hilarious critique” of current Western society, if I were prone to sound bites in these reviews.

Mr. Witherspoon has done his homework, binding the story together with details and nuances that struck me as apropos, sad, and silly all at once. I found it confusing to get into the book because with first chapter is actually a prologue (since the main character isn’t in it). It took several scenes before I realized Manny was the protagonist. I enjoyed his hard-put-upon demeanor, though it didn’t quite reach the hilarious extremes that, say, Arthur Dent in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy did.

This book appeals to readers of satirical humor, conspiracy theorists who believe the government is tracking our every move (Hint: They are!), and anyone who appreciates a light-hearted look at the consequences of the choices we as a society are making.

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Review: A Warrior’s Path by Davis Ashura

Title: A Warrior’s Path
Author: Davis Ashura
Genre(s): Adult Fantasy
How To Purchase: Releasing 12/25/13

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Note: I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Two millennia ago, a demon thundered into the skies of Arisa, casting down the First World. She was Suwraith, the Bringer of Sorrows. And on the same night as Her arrival, there rose about the world’s great cities the Oases, a mysterious means by which Humanity lies protected and huddled against the might of the Sorrow Bringer. It is a temporary respite. Throughout the rest of Arisa, Suwraith’s Chimeras boil across the Wildness, the wide swaths of land beyond the boundaries of the few, far-flung cities, killing any unfortunates in their path and ruling all in Her name. But always She seeks more: Humanity’s utter extinction.

Into this world is born Rukh Shektan, a peerless young warrior from a Caste of warriors. He is well-versed in the keen language of swords and the sacred law of the seven Castes: for each Caste is a role and a Talent given, and none may seek that to which they were not born. It is the iron-clad decree by which all cities maintain their fragile existence and to defy this law means exile and death. And Rukh has ever been faithful to the teachings of his elders.

But all his knowledge and devotion may not save him because soon he must join the Trials, the holy burden by which by which the cities of Humanity maintain their slender connection with one another, and the only means by which a warrior can prove his worth. There in the Wildness, Rukh will struggle to survive as he engages in the never-ending war with the Chimeras, but he will also discover a challenge to all he has held to be true and risk losing all he holds dear. And it will come in the guise of one of Humanity’s greatest enemies – perhaps its greatest allies.

Worse, he will learn of Suwraith’s plans. The Sorrow Bringer has dread intentions for his home. The city of Ashoka is to be razed and her people slaughtered.

A Warrior’s Path contains an interesting perspective on a different social structure than is present in other fantasy I’ve read. Although I had trouble getting into the book, the hierarchy and interplay of beliefs gave me something to think about.

This book’s society is a strict caste-based culture, where every rank can only inter-marry within itself and all its members are prescribed certain careers and magical abilities. The story follows several people who discover that they have abilities–and desires–outside their own caste, as they fight a goddess bent on destroying humanity. The moral implications are intriguing: In a time and place when humanity should band together against its impending doom, people are squabbling over the color of skin and talents they believe shouldn’t overlap between castes.

The different characters’ perspectives on the caste system were varied. Some were traditional and believed that anyone operating outside of the rules was “tainted.” Some are in between, not sure which way their loyalties lay. And some were open to accept people as people, despite their background or magical abilities. The morality was a bit heavy-handed, but the caste system unique enough that it kept me interested.

One of the best parts were the villains on the side of the mad goddess. However, a lot was left unresolved and open for a follow-up book, which left me disappointed that we didn’t learn more about the plans and happenings of that sect.

I struggled to get into the book because of the excessive world-building and back story. Especially at the beginning, I felt I was reading an essay the author had written on how the society functions and who the characters are. Rather than revealing how the caste system worked bit by bit, it was dumped at the beginning and I found myself skimming, unable to follow everything and everyone. There were a lot of characters, and even at the end, I was only clear on a few of the main ones.

If you’re interested in exploring implications of different societal structures, you’ll be interested in A Warrior’s Path. Note that the story doesn’t wrap up at the end but is part of an on-going series.

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Review: Parasite by Mira Grant

Title: Parasite (Parasitology #1)
Author: Mira Grant
Genre(s): Adult Science Fiction
How To Purchase:
Kindle | Kobo

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite – a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system – even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives…and will do anything to get them.

Because I’m old and cynical, I rarely get excited about things. New release movies? No, I’m sure they’re going to suck. Christmas Day? Naw, the music and sparkly snow leading up to it makes the holiday awesome. Parasite‘s release? HELL, YES. I KEPT IMPATIENTLY STARING AT THE RELEASE DATE ON GOODREADS OVER THE PAST THREE MONTHS BECAUSE I COULDN’T WAIT.

Parasite chronicles the story of Sally “Sal” Mitchell, a young woman who nearly died in a car accident six years ago. She wakes up with no memory of her preceding life and discovers that she was, at one point, clinically brain dead. She, like the rest of the population, has a medical tapeworm living inside her, which regulates her medical conditions–no more asthma, no more diabetes, no more anything. And thus her recovery is attributed to the tapeworm and heralded as the next step in medical evolution.

Sal has been subjected to scrutiny by the SymboGen corporation, which engineered these medical marvels. She’s working a menial job and trying to make sense of living life as a twenty-something under constant surveillance by her legal conservator parents and a sleek, clean pharmaceutical company.

Until the world starts falling apart. People begin zombie-fying. And then dropping dead. And then things get worse.

The problem with this review, however, is that I am unable to meaningfully talk about the book without a spoiler. I’ve read a few of the other reviews just to get an idea of whether what I’m about to say is a spoiler or not, and apparently it is. The problem I have is that, like, ten damn pages into the book, I was like, “Ah, ok.” And then the book kept going on like we weren’t supposed to know. So I was all, “Uh, am I supposed to know this? OK, I’m not. Wait, am I? Yeah, I am–Nope. No. Wait.” According to the other reviews, the reveal happens 50% of the way into the book. So you’ve been warned.

***SPOILER ALERT***

Others have found the book dull in the beginning 40%, but because it was completely and transparently obvious that Sal was a tapeworm, I found it fascinating. It shows her trying to fit into a world that doesn’t make sense. She has to cope with disturbingly undisturbing dreams of being somewhere warm and dark with “drums” keeping her safe. She had to learn that you can’t walk around naked or pee in the middle of a lab if they ask for a sample. She has to deal with a father and a mother who treat her as though she’s an imposter in their daughter’s body while trying to be kind to her at the same time.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book was how the overgrown tapeworm in the room was presented. For the first 75% of the book, I was frustrated at Ms. Grant for stringing us along when it was completely and transparently obvious. For the last 25% of the novel, I was frustrated at Sal for not admitting to herself that she was a tapeworm. By the end, I was shouting out loud and making half-crazed tweets about how Sal needed to figure things out, so help me, God, all to keep myself from having a heart attack.

***END SPOILER ALERT***

Parasite is relentless. The weirdness factor is high, the menace of the SymboGen corporation is palpable, and Sal’s struggle is real. I highly recommend this book for anyone who likes near-future medical science fiction, and I’m dying to read the next book.

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Review: Discoredia by J. C. Michael

Discoredia by J.C. MichaelTitle: Discoredia
Author: J. C. Michael
Genre(s): Adult Horror
How To Purchase: Kindle | Kobo.com

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

As the year draws to a close a mysterious stranger makes a proposition to club owner, Warren Charlton. It’s a deal involving a brand new drug called Pandemonium. The good news: the drug is free. The bad news: it comes at a heavy price, promising much but delivering far more. Euphoria and ecstasy. Death and depravity. All come together, at Discoredia.

Discoredia is the story of a rave gone awry, and I can’t decide what I think about it. While it’s well-imagined, it’s not well-executed. It’s visceral, but ugly. Pulse-pounding, but haphazard. I can’t decide if this book is what the author intended or if it’s something that got away from him.

First, I was distracted and dismayed at how grammatically error-ridden this book was: Misplaced commas, missing apostrophes, and incorrect homonyms (“heal” for “heel” is an easy one, guys). It distracted from the work, and sometimes I slogged when I should have glided. The blame for this I place squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Michael’s small press publisher, Books of the Dead Press. If this passed over the desk of a professional copy editor, which I doubt, I’d fire that person immediately.

*Steps on soap box*

I’m disappointed on behalf of authors everywhere, and on behalf of Mr. Michael, specifically. With traditional publishing more cut-throat than ever and self-publishing becoming a viable option, small presses need to work harder than ever to prove their worth. The non-existent editing in this manuscript tells me that this publisher isn’t serious about contending in the marketplace.

*Steps off soap box*

Besides that, I’m not the book’s intended audience. While I vehemently support freedom of choice in all hot-button political issues, I’m not interested in imbibing, swallowing, injecting, or snorting drugs. I will occasionally have one glass of wine too many, and the next day is enough to remind me why I do that once per year. This book was written to capture the adrenaline-laced, hallucinatory high that common rave drugs induce. I’m only mildly interested, mostly from an academic perspective. I don’t understand drug use, and consequently, drug users.

Ultimately, I didn’t like the haphazard storytelling. Too many things were left swinging in the wind: Unresolved back story, a plot that dragged for too long and ended too soon once things started getting interesting, dubious villain motivation, and a cacophony of characters that I couldn’t make sense of. Part of me wonders if those elements were purposeful, but part of me suspects it simply needed a heavy developmental edit along with its need for copy edits.

Despite the drawbacks, I never regretted reading this book. If, unlike me, you can remove the stick from your rectal orifice long enough to dive into the badass shit going down, you’ll enjoy this book. The writer has voice and potential.

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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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