Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue SeaTitle: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Author: April Genevieve Tucholke
Genre(s): YA Paranormal Romantic Fantasy
How to Purchase: Amazon | Kobo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was not a bad book, but it didn’t live up to its hype. Some of the writing was atmospheric, but not enough to move me. The characters were memorable, but I neither loved nor hated them.

The story gets underway when our main character Violet meets River, a boy her age who wants to room in the guest house in her old, rundown mansion. River is mysterious and attractive, and she goes about falling in love with him as quickly as any teenaged girl can fall in love with a mysterious and attractive teenaged boy.

Soon it’s revealed that River has a mysterious power that he uses to manipulate those around him. Is her attraction to him real? Is he manipulating her own emotions for his gain? Does she actually care if it’s not genuine? Those are the questions that made me keep reading, that make me want to read the second book, though the questions aren’t posed in a particularly compelling manner.

The weather–sunbeams, thunderstorms, salty ocean air–is over-used to create atmosphere. Although the usage wasn’t terrible, I feel like it could have been more deftly woven to the story. Each mention seemed a jarring contrast to whatever was going on, an add-on that seemed like Ms. Tucholke chose “because it needs to be there,” rather than to enhance a scene.

The climax was a bit anti-climactic, even though it was well-written. Series(es) have a tendency to do that, I think; I felt the same disappointment at reading The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater. It’s as though the author says, “I have some choice morsels that I will save for the next book,” without thinking that perhaps I will not read the next book because this one doesn’t live up to its potential. Without giving anything away, a near deus ex machina forms the climax, which I think leads to the feeling of being cheated. The climax is not brought about my our main characters, but something that was lurking outside The Machine, something discovered too late in the story to be emotionally satisfying. Nothing is resolved between Violet and River, and we must read into the second book to find out what comes about.

In the description, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is described as “blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror.” Yes, maybe, OK, I see it if I squint. If you’re looking forward to reading this, I say go ahead and pick it up. I will likely buy the sequel, too… But I’m prepared to be disappointed a second time.

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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: 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: 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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