Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review of Frost Moon by Anthony Francis - What magical tattoo would you chose?

Title: Frost Moon
Author: Anthony Francis
Pages: 284 pages
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Series (Skindancer #1)
Release:  Already out (March 2010)
Publisher: Bell Bridges Books
Purchased by me (was 99 cents at iBooks!)
Author info: www.dakotafrost.com
Spoiler Alert: In the clear.
Good Reads Blurb: In an alternate Atlanta where vampires and werewolves prowl the night, magic is real, and tattoo magic is the strongest magic of them all, a serial ki...more In an alternate Atlanta where vampires and werewolves prowl the night, magic is real, and tattoo magic is the strongest magic of them all, a serial killer is targeting the magically tattooed on the full moon. Dakota Frost, best magical tattooist in the Southeast, learns from the police she may be a target ... just when she receives a lucrative commission to ink a magic tattoo for a werewolf before the next full moon. Caught between the rough and tumble world of the werewolves, the law and order rules of the vampires, and a sexy man-in-black whose motives are in doubt, Dakota must tread carefully to survive - because she doesn't know whether her werewolf client is the tattoo killer ... or the next victim.

What would you do if you saw a six-foot tall woman with a deathhawk walking down the street covered in beautiful tattoos that seemed to move while decked out in leather – run to the other side of the street and hope she doesn’t see you or giggle a little when you notice her climbing on to her fierce vespa and slowly driving away? (For me I’m going with the giggling part – as long as she doesn’t see me) Dakota Frost is an interesting mix for a deathhawk sporting tattoo artist – she tries to be green (hence the vespa which gets 65mpg), she’s vulnerable (still hiding from the emotions of seeing her now vampire ex-girlfriend again), and she’s fiercely loyal to her friends. Oh and did I mention she is a magical tattoo artist – it adds a whole other layer of awesomeness. Dakota lives in Atlanta but an Atlanta with a paranormal twist that contains the Edgeworld which is inhabited by vampires, shifters of all shapes and sizes, and others that deal in magic. Dakota is a member of both worlds, the dark and dangerous Edgeworld and the human world as well. The magic of Dakota’s tattoos can lead to extraordinary feats – by using the energy stored in her body she can power her butterfly tattoo to fly off her hand, get the elaborate dragon tattoo that covers her from foot to shoulder to dance, make flowers blossom on her back and the gems in her tattoos sparkle. As we learn through the book - the tattoos also have more powers than just putting on a good show.

Dakota gets pulled in to consult with the police on a case where someone has been stealing magical tattoos by skinning them off the person when they are still alive. Of course since Dakota is a magical tattooist she is concerned not only for her clients but also herself when it turns out that this is the work of a serial killer. Dakota is also drawn in to help a mysterious and sexy man in black, Phillip, who works for the Department of Extraordinary Investigations – and man does he have all the cool toys (including a stealthy black hawk helicopter). Dakota is a big flirt and is drawn to the secret agent man from the start while conflicted about how much information about other Edgers she should give-up to the Feds. As the search for the killer heats up Dakota finds herself drawn more into the Edgeworld and seeking help from her Edger friends – including her ex-girlfriend Saffron (the scene in which she first lays eyes on her ex again is pretty awesome and that “cage” had me giggling). Unfortunately, Dakota’s friends aren’t able to protect her from all her enemies but Dakota is tough and finds a way to deal with her nightmares while helping find the killer. And let me tell you I totally did not guess who the killer is – I love it when I can’t guess who the bad guy is until the big reveal!

Mr. Francis expertly interweaves the present day Atlanta into his take on the world. He describes many of the neighborhoods, like Little Five Points and Buckhead (and there is quite the twist with that one), along with the streets and stores in the area that I feel like I could go to the neighborhood right now and get a tattoo at the Rogue Unicorn where Dakota works. This is one of the parts of a story I love when an author can expertly describe the location in present day terms – like how St. Louis was described in the Anita Blake series so well that readers actually started to track down the locations (including specific houses) that Laurell K. Hamilton describes in the books (imagine the homeowners surprise when a stranger tells them their house was the scene of a fictional paranormal partner swapping).  Mr. Francis has created a character in Dakota and a paranormal world that I can’t wait to read more about. Thankfully a second book, Blood Rock, is already in the making.

4 stars out of 5 for me, loved the flirty tough girl Dakota and her magical tattoos.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Interview with Sean Cummings - author of the Valerie Stevens series and a Giveaway!

Today I would like to welcome Sean Cummings to Darkly Reading. He is the author of a new urban fantasy series that takes place in Calgary, Canada. There are shadowy forces, a mentor that seems alot like Yoda, and a zombie borg brain hive. His heroine - Valerie - is a great no-nonsense girl that may not be as tough as nails but is tough enough to get the job done. Stay tuned till the end of the interview for your chance to win a copy of Shade Fright and Funeral Pallor - and the giveaway is international.

Q: Thanks for visiting Darkly Reading Sean (love the zombie pic btw)! Could you do a quick introduction to your books for my readers and why you decided to place a hot bed of paranormal activity in Calgary, Canada?

A: Thanks for having me! Calgary is where I grew up so I wanted to write a setting that I was familiar with. What I learned was that because I was familiar with, say for example the giant statues outside of the Calgary Board of Education, I came up with a whack of ideas I could use for the plot. (Hint hint to anyone who hasn't read the book - statues are awesome at kicking demon butt.) It's a great city and a great place to have an urban fantasy series. :)

Q: I loved that the books were located in Canada! Do you base some of your locations on actual places in the Calgary and the area? When you were going through the editing process did you ever get responses back that something in your books was too "Canadian" and might not be understood by non-Canadian readers? I was also wondering what a Mickey pocket is and if Tim Horton's is just like Dunkin' Donuts?

A: Excellent questions. There isn't enough Canadian urban fantasy out there and from the outset, I wanted to write something as seamless as any other quality urban fantasy novel available in bookstores today. My mindset had always been, well damn ... why NOT Canada for a setting? All of the places in both books are actual places and I've peppered book one in particular with Canadianisms, like Tim Hortons. Canadians LOVE Timmies. (Dunkin Doughnuts is pretty good, but Timmies coffee is addictive!)  A Mickey pocket is an inner breast pocket of a jacket or blazer where one can slip a flask of hootch.

Q: Valerie has some interesting friends in the book - D.T.a troll who is her mentor who looks alot like Yoda, Fifty Dollar Bill a ghost and a former Prime Minister, and Caroline - a zombie who retained her soul. How did you come up with this cast of characters? And is D.T. really based on Yoda?

A: D.T. sort of happened by accident and Yoda was a big part of it. I'd intended for her mentor to be a human but it seemed to me the story would be far more interesting if there was a diminutive creature from the preternatural world who spoke in King James English. Plus in having a dwarf troll as a mentor, I get to make all the characters refer to him as "The Yoda Dude". Fifty Dollar Bill is by far my favorite character in both books, though he's much more prominent in book one. William Lyon Mackenzie King during his life was a huge occultist and when I started writing book one in 2007, it seemed to me that I thought it would be cool/ironic that he was interested in hanging out with the living now that he's dead. He's eccentric, wise, a pain in the butt and a really fun character, so I hope readers will get a kick out of him. As for Caroline, well - I love zombies and I hate lawyers. :)

Q: How many books do you hope to do in this series? What do you have planned for future books? Do we get a final showdown with the Conclave? Does Caroline regain a living body? Any hints?

A: The Conclave is going to be featured extensively in book three because someone is going to be kidnapped before someone's big day and someone is going to have to come to the rescue. Someone is going to die - a central character - and Valerie is going to be tempted by the Conclave as well as a dead sexy guy who wears black and doesn't do sunlight.
I have three more books I'm planning so I might well end the series at five - we'll see.

Q: In the first book,Shade Fright, we are first introduced to the love of Valerie's life - Dave the dump truck driver. But rather than being a typical tough guy boyfriend like many an urban fantasy love interest he is freaked out by the supernatural world - why did you decide to give Valerie a boyfriend who is not as embedded in the supernatural world as she is?

A: One word: Fargo.  Anyone who has seen the BRILLIANT movie Fargo will know that Marge Gunderson has a steadfast husband who loves her unconditionally and supports her 100%. He is the inspiration for Dave - as well, (and I might take flack for saying this) but urban fantasy is filled with male love interests who aren't named Dave - they're always STEEL or RICARDO or something like that. I wanted a down to earth love interest for Valerie and no serious complications. It would suck if he died though, eh? Val might go off the deep end. (Not saying I'm killing him off. There are things far worse than death that can happen to Dave.)

Q: In book two, Funeral Pallor, Calgary is having a bit of a zombie problem that Valerie and her friends have to solve - and these zombies aren't your typical shuffling and mumbling type but seem to work together and possibly have a hive mind - did you base your zombies on the Borg from Star Trek?

A: You bet - 110% ripoff from the Borg and I'm not ashamed to admit it! They lack a Queen though and readers will hopefully pick up on the rather large hint I've dropped in FUNERAL PALLOR.

Q: I loved the newest cast of supporting characters in book two - the Newby brothers and Reaper - will we be seeing more of them?

A: The Newby Brothers are really fun characters so they'll be back. They're my homage to heavy metal music (I'm a bald headbanger). Tim Reaper is getting his own novel (which I'm doing revisions on right now) and you can read the first chapter at  http://goodgirls-badjuju.com/?p=701 . I'm planning a series for him because he's just a blast to write. He's a misogynist, he's amoral, he kicks butt and he tries to do the right thing.

Q: The covers for your books are great - do you have any input on their design? What do you think of them?

A: I do, actually. Anna Torborg did my cover art and from the start we wanted cover art that didn't feature scantily clad women in leather pants with tattoos on the small of their backs. That's what most urban fantasy covers look like where there's a female protagonist. Shade Fright was all Anna and for Funeral Pallor, I was really lucky because I wanted to do an homage to the Queen II album cover. :) I love the cover art - it's unique - it's fun (like the characters) and it contrasts all the other urban fantasy novel cover art that's out there.

Q: Do you know when we'll be seeing more of Valerie and Calgary?

A: I've just started writing book three - finished the outline in the last month, actually. I don't have a date for it but I would expect it to be available sometime in 2011.

Thanks for stopping by Darkly Reading Sean!

Places you can find Sean:
facebook: Sean Cummings
Good Reads: Sean Cummings

Now for the giveaway - Sean is giving away a copy of each of his books and the contest is international. To enter leave a question for Sean or answer the following - what public figure would you most like to be haunted by? (Would you go for a government figure like Fifty Dollar Bill or maybe a "100 Dollar Ben" or would you prefer a haunting by Elvis Presley or another celebrity?)
Extra entries:
+1 Tweet the contest (leave link in your comment)
+1 Follow @DarklyReading or @saskatoonauthor
+1 Follow blog

Contest will go till July 24th!

Review of Funeral Pallor by Sean Cummings - beware the zombies!

Title: Funeral Pallor
Author: Sean Cummings
Pages: 320, paperback
Genre: urban fantasy
Standalone/Series: Series (Valerie Stevens, #2)
Release: Already out (July 1st 2010)
Publisher: Snowbooks
Received for review from author
Author info:  http://sean-cummings.ca Twitter: @saskatoonauthor
Spoiler Alert:  Spoilers for book #1
GoodReads Blurb: There's a nest of rotting husks in an old Calgary warehouse and they've got a hankering for human flesh, but that's the least of Valerie Stevens' problems. While necromancers are a dime a dozen, these mindless killing machines all share one thing in common: they're former occupants of every funeral home in the city.

The evidence points to the zombie Caroline, especially now that she's been experiencing short term memory loss and an inability to account for her whereabouts. If Valerie plans to clear her best friend's name, she'll have to move fast: someone has dispatched a zombie assassin and Caroline's only hope may rest with a pair of middle-aged head-bangers with a few secrets of their own.

In this installation of the Valerie Stevens series, we catch up with Valerie many months after the events in Shade Fright. She is still under the tutelage of the ancient mage/Yoda-like mentor D. T. and still trying to learn about her powers including the “clarity” she apparently glows with before her next encounter with the Conclave. Valerie is still dragging her heels with trying to find a solution to Caroline’s undead situation and has had some bumps in her relationship with mustached dump truck driver Dave.  Unfortunately for Valerie, the big baddies of the supernatural community are still interested in her and one evening during the course of her job she gets trapped in a warehouse by a gaggle of flesh-eating zombies. This near-death experience is just the start of wild adventures for Valerie as she tries to get to the bottom of why zombies are loose in Calgary and what her undead friend Caroline might have to do with it.

Funeral Pallor starts out the action pretty quickly with one of the most fearsome (at least for me) supernatural creatures out there – the zombie. And these zombies seem to be working together to get their little piece of flesh like a borg-hive (double shiver) so Valerie needs to get all the help she can get – including the aid of metal loving headbanger brothers, the Newby brothers. The Newby brothers cracked me up with their modified Zombie killing pick-up truck with a snow plow attached and their constant reverence to Valerie as “toots”. Although their headbanging may have dislodged any higher level  reasoning skills they do seem to be good at killing zombies and are important to unraveling the mystery of why all these zombies are roaming the streets of Calgary. We also see a lot of Caroline in the installment and the lengths she’s had to take to preserve her zombie form (self-service embalming anyone) though less of the rest of the cast of friends from Shade Fright including Fifty-Dollar Bill, D.T., and Dave. Caroline has been having black-outs that have Valerie worried that Caroline is giving in to her darker zombie nature and while investigating what is going on they delve into conspiracy theories, shady business organizations, and survive a few assassination attempts.  We also meet a new character – Tim Reaper – along the way who I hope we get to see in future book installments.

Overall it was a well formed mystery –although I had a good idea who the bad guys worked for I had no idea who the bad guys were till the end – one of my favorite things with a mystery is not guessing the outcome from the beginning. The ending of this book is very sweet too – Valerie’s got quite the man in her life.

3.5 out of 5 stars for me, fearsome zombies and head-banging zombie killers make an interesting mix.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review of Shade Fright by Sean Cummings - Something supernatural is happening across the border

Title: Shade Fright
Author: Sean Cummings
Pages: 320 pages, paperback
Genre: urban fantasy
Standalone/Series: Series (Valerie Stevens, #1)
Release: Already out (March 2010)
Publisher: Snowbooks
Received for review from author
Author info:  http://sean-cummings.ca Twitter: @saskatoonauthor
Spoiler Alert: In the clear.
GoodReads blurb: 'I fell into this job quite by accident, when I discovered that I possessed the ability to see the preternatural world. There are a handful of people with similar abilities, and part of my job is to locate them, since Government Services and Infrastructure Canada like to keep track of these things. Don't ask me why'. There's a malevolent force in town, and it's quite literally Valerie Steven's job to determine who's behind it and why they want to destroy the world, starting with Calgary. She'll have help, in the form of her best friend (now more or less a zombie, unfortunately), a powerful dwarf troll, and the ghost of former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (but he goes by 'Bill' these days). But that's not all - Valerie has some tricks up her sleeve and, she hopes, luck on her side. Oh, and her boyfriend, Dave. He drives a dump truck.

Valerie Stevens is an alchemist who works for a shadowy arm of the Canadian government (I know it is kind of hard to believe the Canadian government can have a shadow arm - but you know there has to be a darkside to all the Canadian niceness right?). Most the time Valerie's job involves tracking or capturing supernatural elements in Tupperware and sending them to her boss near the North Pole and to avoid attempts on her life by unhappy elements of the supernatural community. This time Valerie's job is alot tougher than trapping the supernatural element she finds herself up against a terrorist organization with dark magic at it's roots. Thankfully, Valerie has friends in the form of an ancient mage, a former Canadian prime minister now ghost, a zombie that has retained part of her soul, and her dump truck driving boyfriend Dave.

Although this book starts out a bit slow for me with much of the world building by way of Valerie's  inner monologue - once the world and the players are established the book really starts to take off as Valerie rushes to find out who or what is behind the attempts on her life and stop them before they bring about more death. Valerie is a great character and has an interesting group of beings that she calls friends. She is the kind of no-nonsense heroine I can appreciate that doesn't do more than the usual amount of grumbling about the deck she has been dealt in life and she does some serious bad guy supernatural butt-kicking. Her friends also add some interesting spice to the mix with Fifty Dollar Bill being just how I would imagine the eccentric former Prime Minister William Mackenzie would behave with long winded speeches and antiquated views of how a woman should behave (though he does pop in on her in the shower), while her friend Caroline is a unique mix for a zombie - though she is one of the undead she retains her soul and therefore her sharp wit yet she has a zombie's strength and immunity to pain, and flesh eating habits as well (though she stays away from humans). Another great character, though we don't see enough of him, is her boyfriend Dave. Dave is a dump truck driver and is totally freaked out by the supernatural though he is sweet and cooks for Valerie, listens to opera, and sticks by her through all the craziness because he loves her so much.

And let's not forget the location - Calgary, Canada. Though I have read books that have been based in Canada before but they never made good use of the location and local flavor as Mr. Cumming's book did. Several of the locations used in the book actually exist in Calgary and he includes the all important Tim Hortons (if you ever meet a Canadian and are looking for things to discuss just bring up Tim Hortons and they'll be talking about how wonderful it is for a while..and then bring up hockey and they'll talk all night ;) Overall this was a good first entry into a new series that I am looking forward to reading.

3.5 out of 5 stars, some serious butt-kicking of dark forces by a tough Canadian heroine who has the best dump-truck driving boyfriend ever.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Interview with Tricia Rayburn - author of Siren and a Giveaway

Today we have Tricia Rayburn visiting - the author of Siren. It was one of my favorite YA reads so far and Tricia agreed to stop by Darkly Reading and answer some questions. She is also giving away a copy of her book! So please check out the interview and follow the details below to enter the giveaway (US only) and make sure to wish Tricia a happy release day while you're here!

Darkly Reading: Could you give a little introduction about Siren for my readers and talk about why you decided to write this book?

Tricia: Siren tells the story of 17-year-old Vanessa Sands, a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat who's used to hiding behind her fearless older sister, Justine—until Justine jumps off a cliff and that's no longer an option.  While everyone else thinks Justine's death is a tragic accident, Vanessa knows better and returns to the scene of the crime to figure out what happened.  Along the way she finds romance and faces some of her greatest fears...including one that will change her life forever.

I'd been wanting to do something different from my younger books, so when the idea occurred to me, I ran with it.  And the idea came about because of my somewhat recent fear of all creatures of the deep!

Siren takes place in Winter Harbor, Maine - Is there such a place and if not did you base the town on a real place off the coast of Maine?

Winter Harbor is a real town, and I chose it after learning that it earned its name because the harbor never freezes, not even in the middle of winter.  That, as you know, plays a key role in the story!  But you won't find Betty's Chowder House or the Lighthouse Resort there—they were inspired by other New England places I've visited over the years.

Siren touches on alot of great themes for summer vacation - traditional ones like summer vacation boyfriends, townies versus vacationers, summer jobs and some non-traditional themes like murder, paranormal seductresses, and unusual weather patterns- did you have some experience with these as a teenager (either traditional or non-traditional)?

I've lived near water most of my life and spent many childhood summers at the beach, and my family and I also used to rent a cabin once a year in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.  Those experiences combined helped with the setting and tone of the book.  And I live on eastern Long Island now, which definitely sees its share of townies and vacationers.  Thankfully, I don't have any personal experience with murder, paranormal seductresses, or unusual weather patterns...at least not yet!

Vanessa is such a great character, fearful of alot of things though strong and true to her family and friends, whereas Justine is what I think alot of girls want to be - fearless and beautiful. Why did you decide to make these two very different girls into sisters?

I wanted to play with the idea that you may never know someone as well as you think.  Vanessa idolizes Justine for being all the things she wishes she were, but she'll eventually learn that Justine acted the way she did for a very specific reason...and that they were much more alike than Vanessa realized.

I was checking out your blog - Maggie Musings & More and it features alot of oddities from the sea - any favorite or book idea inspiring oddities you would like to share?

The Montauk Monster is a recent favorite.  It washed onshore two summers ago and no one ever decided what it really was; it could've once been a dog or raccoon, but that wasn't definitively confirmed.  This suggests to me that maybe there are OTHER mysterious creatures lurking beneath the surface that we don't know about...which is as intriguing as it is scary!

Vanessa has a very specific favorite breakfast food - do you have a favorite vacation or breakfast food? How much are your characters based on your or people you know? Do you see any celebrities fitting with your characters?

When my family and I vacationed in NH, my brother would make amazing breakfasts (pancakes, eggs, bacon—the works!), and we'd all eat together by the lake.  That's definitely a favorite pasttime!

The only character who's somewhat based on a real person is Vanessa, who has some of the same fears I do.  And I think Dakota Fanning would do a fabulous job playing her!  :)

Although many questions were answered by the end of Siren there were definitely a few about Vanessa's future that aren't tied up - do you have more books planned for Vanessa's story?

There are currently two more books planned.  The sequel will be out next summer, and the third book will be out Summer 2012!

Thanks Tricia for stopping by Darkly Reading!

Thank you for having me!

Where to find Tricia:
Website: www.triciarayburn.com
Blog: www.triciarayburn.blogspot.com
Twitter: @triciarayburn
Facebook: www.facebook.com/triciarayburn

To enter to win a copy of Siren from Tricia Rayburn (US only) please leave a comment with any questions you have for Tricia or any oddities of the sea stories or summer vacation tales you would like to share. You also need to follow Tricia on twitter to be entered  so be sure to leave your twitter name as well in the comments. The contest is open till July 18th.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Favorite Firsts Birthday Bash Winners!

Last weekend was the closing of the Favorite Firsts Blog Bash at Darkly Reading and man was it a busy week! First I want to say thank you to all my guest bloggers and authors who visited Darkly Reading and made my birthday extra special - Carolyn Crane, Tori the Book Faery, Amanda from NRSVamp Chick, Jeri Smith-Ready, and Rebecca from Dirty Sexy Books - they are all great ladies and I hope you will take the time to check them out.

Now onto what you have all been waiting for (drumroll please) the winners. I'm going to start first with the book that Amanda is giving away from NRSVamp Chick (see she's very generous - another reason to visit her blog). And the winner is entry 5 which was Angel. She will get to pick any of the books (under $10) mention in the post for her prize.

For Favorite Firsts we have 2 winners! Winner #1 gets to chose 3 books while winner #2 gets to chose 1 book. So now for winner #1 (entry #58)....it's Tori the Book Faery and her books are: Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler, Red Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells, and Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready. Winner #2 (entry #354) is Sandy Giden who picked Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland. Excellent choices ladies and I can't wait to hear what you think of them!

Some of you might remember that you also got to chose my book birthday
presents from the list below:

I said I was only going to get three books for my birthday but lets face it - my book addiction cannot be denied! So in the end I will probably end up with all of them! I think I might start with Touched by an Alien though - the reviews I've read make it sound fabulous! Thank you all for entering the contest and if any of the prizes go unclaimed for a week I will pick new winners.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Guest Posting Today over at Not-Really-Southern Vamp Chick about Mind Games - are you Team Kebab or Cucumber?

Today I'm over at Amanda's blog with my top 5 reasons you should read and love Mind Games by Carolyn Crane along with an "are you Team Kebab or Team Cucumber" question. Amanda's hosting the Book Bloggers Anonymous book this month Mind Games - as you may have guessed already - and she's having a contest for the ARC of Double Cross - the second book in the Disillusionists Trilogy - so get over there and check it out.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Siren by Tricia Rayburn - Starts with a cliff dive and ends with a cliff hanger of a question!

Title: Siren
Author: Tricia Rayburn
Pages: 352 pages, hardcover
Genre: paranormal, YA
Standalone/Series: Series (Book 1)
Release: July 13th, 2010
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Received ARC at BEA (Signed by author)
Author info: author website
Spoiler Alert: In the clear.
GoodReads Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Vanessa Sands is afraid of everything—the dark, heights, the ocean—but her fearless older sister, Justine, has always been there to coach her through every challenge. That is, until Justine goes cliff-diving one night near the family’s vacation house in Maine, and her lifeless body washes up on shore the next day. Though her parents hope that they’ll be able to find closure back in Boston, Vanessa can’t help feeling that her sister’s death wasn’t an accident. After discovering that Justine was keeping a lot of secrets, Vanessa returns to Winter Harbor, hoping that Justine’s boyfriend might know more. But Caleb has been missing since Justine’s death. Soon, it’s not just Vanessa who’s afraid. All of Winter Harbor is abuzz with anxiety when another body washes ashore, and panic sets in when the small town becomes host to a string of fatal, water-related accidents in which all the victims are found, horrifically, grinning from ear to ear. Vanessa turns to Caleb’s brother, Simon, for help, and begins to find herself drawn to him. As the pair try to understand the sudden rash of creepy drownings, Vanessa uncovers a secret that threatens her new romance—and will change her life forever. A seductive paranormal romance full of unexpected twists, Siren is certain to make a big summer splash.

Summer vacations as a teenager are all about milestones, first kiss, first job, first time sneaking out of the house but in Siren Vanessa goes through a lot more milestones than anyone would want – exposing her family’s secrets, taking on a family of deadly women, and of course some kissing of boys.  Vanessa starts out this book at quite the crossroads – to let go of her fears and jump off the top of a cliff to kick-off her summer vacation with her sister, Justine, in Maine or to continue to let her fears hold her back. Of course Vanessa takes the path any sensible person would and does not jump off the cliff while the bold and fearless Justine jumps off in the middle of a freak thunderstorm. Unfortunately things continue to go downhill for Vanessa and after a big fight with her sister in which Justine walks off into the night to waking up to the news that her sister is dead. Vanessa is devastated, and returns with her family from the coast of Maine back to Boston for the funeral. Justine was always Vanessa’s best friend and Vanessa assumed she new everything about her older sister but as she begins to do a little unintentional snooping in her sister’s room she learns that maybe she didn’t know her sister that well at all. Vanessa’s investigations into her sister's secret life lead her back to Winter Harbor, Maine and her childhood friends the Carmichael boys who are also trying to deal with Justine’s death. Vanessa’s mission to learn more about her sister leads her to make some interesting discoveries about one of the families in Winter Harbor and about herself.

This book was a perfect summer read for me – I love the location of Winter Harbor and the tensions between the town and the vacationers as well as the eerie feeling the book gives you that all is not right in Winter Harbor. There are so many subtle clues about what is going on from the ghostly visits of Justine, to the freaky weather patterns that just hang over Winter Harbor, to the bodies that start washing up on the town’s shore with smiles on their faces (ok maybe that one is not so subtle). Ms. Rayburn crafts an excellent suspense filled mystery that honestly I think might be too scary for me to watch in movie format (I am a huge scary TV wimp) but is built expertly between the pages. Although I had my suspicions on who was the bad guy early on I was never sure what exactly was going to happen or how the story would end (and let me tell you the ending was perfect for me).

I loved the main character Vanessa, I connected with her from the beginning of the book and felt for her as she had to go through her sister’s death and deal with the fact that she didn’t know her sister as well as she thought. Her interactions with her remaining family definitely evolved throughout the book and Vanessa makes some startling discoveries about her origins and what her parents have been hiding from her.

Since I mentioned this was a beach read I would be remiss if I didn’t touch upon the romance in this book. The romance definitely takes a back seat to the mystery and suspense in this book but there are some cute and tender moments that any teenage girl would be happy to experience on their summer vacation.

4.5 out of 5 stars for me, Starting with a cliff-dive and ending with a cliff-hanger of a question – Ms. Rayburn crafts an excellent book.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce - Werewolves are so not sexy here!

Title: Sisters Red
Author: Jackson Pearce
Pages: 326 pages hardcover
Genre: Paranormal, YA
Standalone/Series: Series (book #1)
Release: Already out (June 2010)
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young
Received through Book it Forward ARC tours
Author info:  Author website
Spoiler Alert: In the clear.
GoodReads Blurb: Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris-- the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She's determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.
Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts fiercely alongside her. Now Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves and finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax-- but loving him means betraying her sister and has the potential to destroy all they've worked for.  

Werewolves are so not sexy in this novel based loosely on Little Red Riding Hood. Werewolves are called the Fenris – who in human form are usually alluringly attractive to draw their prey but change into a disgusting wolf like form with clumpy oily fur and otherworldly stench when they attack. The two sisters in this book, Rose and Scarlett, know the Fenris intimately since they were attacked by one as children that left their life broken and Scarlett horribly scarred.  Now fast-forward a few years and the sisters spend their time battling this threat that most humans don’t see as well as growing into young women. For Scarlett, being a woman only means she is better bait to lure the Fenris away to kill them but for Rose she starts to question as she grows older if she just wants to hunt and kill Fenris for the rest of her life. When their neighbor Silas, a boy the sisters grew up with, returns after spending a year away Rosie begins to question even more what she wants out of life when she lays eyes on him.

The story is told in first person alternating between Scarlett and Rose’s point of view. Although effective in getting across a more complete picture of the overall story it is a little jarring to jump back and forth between the two view points since the sisters are so very different. Scarlett’s whole life is the hunt – I think if she could live off the thrill of killing another Fenris she would chose that rather than sleeping, eating, or even talking to other people. And the sisters do not have an easy life, they both dropped out of highschool to devote more time to hunting and their only source of income is from hawking items of their mother, who abandoned them, and grandmother, who died trying to protect them. Not a very easy choice to sell off belongings of people you loved to supply your hunt for the beings that destroyed your life. The hunt takes Scarlett, Rose, and Silas to Atlanta to take down more Fenris who seem to be invading their town. Many things happen while in the city – betrayal, romance, surprising discoveries, and a nail-biting fight in the end.

3.5 out of 5 stars for me, a gritty new world where werewolves aren’t sexy and sisters hold two-halves of one heart.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review of Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien - which side of the wall would you be on?

Title: Birthmarked
Author: Caragh M. O'Brien
Pages: 362, Paperback
Genre: Dystopian, YA
Standalone/Series: Standalone?
Release: Already out (March 2010)
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Received through Book it Forward ARC Tours
Author info:  Author website
Spoiler Alert: Minor plot spoilers
GoodReads Blurb: After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects, and Gaia’s parents are arrested. Badly scarred since childhood, Gaia is a strong, resourceful loner who begins to question her society. As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she herself is arrested and imprisoned. Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, Birthmarked explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where one girl can make all the difference, and a real hero makes her own moral code.

Birthmarked was my first dystopian read and I think I need to start reading more in this genre! The novel immediately sets-up the two discordant societies: the thriving city, the Enclave, inside the wall that survived an apocalypse and the poor shanty town that grew up around it with survivors that have little comfort in their lives. The main character, Gaia, comes home from her first baby delivery (she is a midwife) and advancement to the Enclave to find her parents arrested and a strange officer in her house. This is just the first crack that leads to the shattering of the pedestal that Gaia has put the Enclave on – it’s easy to accept the society you are born into but when you have to start questioning your devotion you life becomes infinitely more complicated. The realization that the Enclave isn’t a model society is a slow one for Gaia, even after they take her parents, and for the first part of the book Gaia continues to assist in births outside the Enclave’s wall then advance babies for adoption inside the Enclave. Those from outside the Enclave cannot enter the wall therefore they can never see their children again once they have been forced to give them up.

Although the first part of the book was a bit slow for me, once Gaia decides that all is not right inside the Enclave walls and goes on a mission to save her parents the novel definitely picks up. Once inside the wall, Gaia begins to track down her parents and unfortunately gets captured and imprisoned. On the inside Gaia begins to learn how the Enclave is founded and why the advancements occur, what the Enclave wants with her parents, and when they occasionally let her out of prison, how the people in the Enclave live. It was easy to see how the Enclave could have been developed from our world and also eerie to think what would happen to our society if there was no more fossil fuels (the apocalypse in Gaia’s world). While in prison Gaia makes some unlikely friends, including the officer that she first met in her home the night her parents were taken, learns the truth about what happened to her parents, and plans her escape.  She also learns the truth of the birthmark on her face and experiences her first kiss and the excitement of budding romance. Though now life for her is dangerous in the Enclave as well as in her town and huge sacrifices are made on the way to freedom for Gaia.

This was a 3.5 out of 5 stars for me, realizing the world around you is not what it seems is a difficult trip that Ms. O’Brien writes surpassingly well.