Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Review: The Time of the Stripes by Amanda Bridgeman


They survived the alien visitation. But can they survive each other?


No-one had heard of Victoryville before. But when an alien spaceship appears, hovering over the town, the whole world suddenly knows its name.

After twenty-four hours and a failed military assault, the ship disappears without a trace. When the outside world restores communication to the town, thousands are reported missing.

Those who remain in Victoryville are irreparably changed. However, only some have been left with strange red marks upon their skin.

Quarantined from the outside world and segregated within, alliances are made and relationships are shattered, as everyone fights for the truth - and for their own survival.

From the best-selling author of the Aurora series, The Time of the Stripes is a sci-fi thriller where The Leftovers meets The Lord of The Flies.


***

The Time of the Stripes is the new alien invasion novel from Aurora Series author Amanda Bridgeman. I know Bridgeman for intense character and action driven science fiction set locally and by locally I mean on earth and other locations within our solar system.

The Aurora Series is grand in scope of setting and character through a long plot arc targeted to reach nine novels and The Time of the Stripes takes the same high level of action and depth of the human spirit and jams them into nine days in a single small town.

The setup is what I’ve come to expect from any tale in which a cross-section of society is presented as a familiar yet potentially explosive mix of people forced together in terrifying conditions. We all know them. They're our friends, family and neighbours. My bar for a well put together cast in the face of disaster sits high and Bridgeman nails it. I loved that each of the main characters remained true to who they were throughout the story. Also, Bridgeman has no qualms about displaying the dark and the cold complexities of her villains and I wasn’t disappointed with the mix of queasiness and apprehension with which she rewards her readers when her antagonists are about.

While The Time of the Stripes is set in a fictitious community and documents events we haven’t seen the likes of in real life, Bridgeman takes the intimacy of a small town invasion and uses it to highlight many of the social issues for which we feel very strongly. In spite of being able to know what is right and good, it’s all too easy to see how a small town physically cut off from the outside world and facing the extreme unknown can descend in to discrimination and violence. This microcosm of the bigger world in general is all the more scary when put in terms of regular people we can all relate to.

As I’ve come to love from her books, Bridgeman builds tension through the action of her characters and points all the pieces of her plot toward a finely explosive finish. I also love that each scene is the next piece of the story and we don’t find ourselves bogged down in retelling of parts of the story from different points of view. Every piece has a purpose in driving the story as a whole.

This is the kind of smart scary story that gives me a book hangover. I recommend you pick up a copy and get ready for the ride.



Sunday, 30 July 2017

Review: Bloodstorm by Donna Maree Hanson


The planet of Margra is drawing closer to the brink as Shatterwing's debris field grows increasingly unstable.

Salinda and Garan fight Gercomo in dragon form, with unexpected consequences and end up making matters worse. Laidan’s life is saved but at great cost.

Sartell has become dangerous with conspiracies and betrayal everywhere. Brill and Danton gamble with their lives to find the location of the stolen dragon wine while Mandin gambles with her life to save her daughter.

Nils searches for the writings of his grandsire, Trell of Barr, which may contain the much needed information on how to avert moonfall.

Gercomo’s influence and power within the dragon herd peaks just as he is able to reach out to old human allies and the battle begins…


***

If you want to know what it feels like when a story is poised on the edge of something dark, dangerous and brilliant then take this series on. And by poised I in no way mean paused. The middle two books in this series have had me on my tip-toes teetering toward the edge and leaning into a delicious slow-burn build-up.

My journey from Deathwings to Bloodstorm has also seen me do a complete flip-flop on a character. (This is the brilliance I mentioned.) When Hanson can introduce a character as the epitome of mistrust, mistress of debauchery and in all honesty a shameless representation of someone owning the gates to the darkest hole of humanity and then turn that character sufficiently to become someone whose hand I want to hold as I tell her how I believe in her and that she can make everything right... yep, brilliant. Henceforth, consider me at the head of #TeamToola. Until the next instalment, perhaps.

With the fourth volume of Dragonwine, Donna Maree Hanson, successfully continues her build to the finish while masterfully keeping her grip on all the character and plot lines, relaxing and pulling as needed without losing a single one. Moonfall remains present though solely in the urgency emphasized by Hanson's characters and continued focus on the final outcome of the story.

Bloodstorm also makes me want to do something I haven't before wanted or needed to do midway through a series. While there has been enough back story to help me remember important points from the previous books without flooding me in detail, I want to go back to book one and start over to experience those bits and pieces again.

If you haven't taken a swing at this amazing dark fantasy series yet, you can download yourself a copy of book one Shatterwing complete with the gorgeous new cover here from Instafreebie.


Friday, 30 June 2017

Review: Of Angel's Blood by Martyn Currill



Sharriana Grey lies dead, and The Order is now prospering under the rule of Deimos Black. But even as he struggles to rebuild in the wake of his insurrection, a dark, malevolent power begins to rise against him, a being so powerful even he may not be able to match it...

Read, in his own words, of the threat to all he held dear - and the lengths he must go to defend it.

***

This July brings all the things you might expect to follow the longest (or shortest) day of the year, including swords, blood and vampires.

Deimos Black takes the time to share another chapter in his life with us. This one even darker than the last. Personally, I'm always a little let down when a book two comes off as a rehash of its predecessor, rebounding from the same adversaries with the same tricks as before. (This book doesn't, making that clear right now.)

Of Angel's Blood doesn't try to make Deimos "human" again and pit him against the same struggles. The changes he experienced in A Life in Blood become his new normal and the darkness he faces becomes subsequently tougher. Currill dares to do the right thing and explore what happens when Deimos must face the absolute evil of his new vampire family. When it counts, he doesn't shy away. Instead, he includes us and draws us down with him in the open, blunt and sometimes shamefully painful way he does in book 1. He brings us along in a desperate and consuming challenge to who he is and I could not look away.

Deimos remains an articulate and consistent narrator who continues to bring his observations and feelings to life.

I also loved his dialogue and the way he brings his friendships to life. Second only to Deimos himself, the real people he surrounds himself with give this story heart and make all the action meaningful.

And speaking of action, while there is less than in A Life in Blood, there is plenty where it's most important and where I found myself hanging on most tightly to my plot-feels. (It's a thing.)

Of Angel's Blood has the courage to ask what happens when we step completely away from who we are and what happens to our very selves when we get to the other side. When the path is dark and desperate, will the soul remain intact? 

Turn on some lights and get yourself a copy. Deimos Black continues to mark all the X's in blood.

Oh, and here's my blurb =)


Deimos Black, former vampire hunter and human, has already shared both the best and worst days of his "life" with us. Through his insurrection and assassination of Sharriana Grey, former leader of the Order, he's brought a tentative peace to the world's vampires.

With this peace, however, comes what may be his undoing. A dark, malevolent power rises against him. Vampires killed or driven mad by indescribable means pile up and Deimos himself becomes the focus of the being who seeks to consume all he holds dear.

Read, in his own words, the lengths he must go to defend everything and most importantly, himself.

Review: Deathwings by Donna Maree Hanson



Life on the ravaged world of Margra is more difficult than ever… Salinda and Garan blasted the evil Gercomo into the sky. Except … he didn’t die, he transformed into a dragon. Final moonfall looms ever closer and the world is on the brink of destruction. 
Gercomo’s vile influence spreads among his dragon herd and he is reaching for power in both the human and dragon worlds. 

Salinda has the means to stop him and save the world. 

And Gercomo wants her dead. 

***


It's hard to believe it's been more than two and a half years since I first reviewed Shatterwing and Skywatcher, the first two novels in the Dragon Wine series by Donna Maree Hanson. The pair of dark and fantastic tales drove the plot of the first right into the second and have been dressed up into a single volume (in addition to stand alone titles) with gorgeous new covers that brilliantly reflect their grim and gritty nature. While the ending contained a satisfying amount of flame and fighting, enough remained to leave me wondering where the tale might go so I was excited when I heard she had four more novels planned.

I recently read Deathwings, book three, and am very pleased it holds up well both in its continuity of the plot of the first two and in the way in which it remains true to the original world building and treasures the nature of the characters we continue to follow.

Deathwings picks up in the rubble and carnage following the ending of Skywatcher. Hanson winds the characters up with a heavy mix of personal failures and desperate goals then sends them off on their interconnected trials. Even though it has been so long since I read Shatterwing and Skywatcher, I reconnected quickly with the characters and fell into the story and setting.

My favourite character thus far is Nils, a time-traveller of sorts who woke after a thousand year sleep to find himself the only living person in his vast underground city. He is always portrayed as isolated and alone, pale, invisible and even hiding in the shadows. Even his name, Nils, (I associate it with nil, or nothing) enhances the idea of him being on the outside. Ironically and in spite of Nils and his lost society existing on the outskirts of the surface dwelling Margran society, he may be keeper of the only clues that may save the surface dwellers from their falling moon.

It's also hard to describe these books without using words like grim and dark over and over. Deathwings is written with an incredible economy of words in that people, places and even thoughts have been described in a way that maximizes the impact of Hanson's words. She shares the ugly and the beautiful with a deft hand for quickly creating memorable imagery.

Having read much of Hanson's work, Deathwings is the most powerfully written tale I've experienced from her yet. Her words build tension and power the action. Not once did I find a distracting choice of word or 'dropped in' patch of back story to bump me from my engagement.

As a middle book in a series of six, Deathwings secures its place as the plot anchor both wrapping up the first half and setting up the volumes yet to come. It's such a great feeling to be in the middle of a series you love and know you still have three full stories to read for the first time. I look forward to more adventure and recommend you fill out your fantasy collection with this quintet.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Review: Darklands by M.L. Spencer


Compelled to obey the dark god he pledged his soul to, Darien finds himself tasked with delivering the people of the Black Lands from under the curse of darkness which shrouds the skies. With the enemy mage Azár, Darien sets out across a barren darkscape to assume his place as the leader of a people who despise him.


As he journeys deeper into the shadowed waste, Darien is confronted with difficult truths that force him to question every loyalty he has ever held. For there, in the brutal proving grounds of the north, Darien will be inexorably forged into the most dangerous adversary the Rhen has ever faced.


***

My fabulous brother in law and fellow Virgo knows just how pull my strings. He gives me, oh say, book three in a series, then watches in full-on amusement as I drop everything, helpless against the impulse to run to the book store for books one and two.

Being "she who must have the entire set" can seem like a nonsense compulsion, but getting more books isn't really a bad thing at all, right?

So when M.L. Spencer offered ARCs of Darklands, I readied myself to burn through the first two.

When she said I wouldn't have to read the first two in order to have a good grasp of the goings on in book three, I decided the only way to know for sure was to hold back my inner collector and start reading.

First, I was super happy to see Darklands was edited by the fantastic Morgan Smith, writer of solid, honest heroines and immersively tactile fantasy worlds.

Though loaded with repercussions, heartache and grief from the previous two books in the series, Darklands opens with its own ominously laden action. The line between life and the afterlife quickly blurs and left me with the feeling of straddling both sides of the conflict filled streams winding through the book.

I also loved the balance of voice between the various characters. To me, none stood out over the others and each clearly availed me of the differences in the way they see each other. Each change in point of view made a point of pushing the plot further or pivoting it around in a new direction while maintaining a great feel of being its own small story.

I also felt a good sense of The Rhen and The Black Lands though I suspect much of the setting for book three is in areas not yet explored in books one and two. Though there are a good part of the lands I didn't get to by jumping in to book three, they have the solid feel of the place where your best friend, mage mentor, etc. grew up and gave them life through their first-hand telling.

Darklands is a complete, dark, anything goes fantasy that brings together one of the ultimate challenges in fiction, the balance between life and death, and with it what happens when the very balance of light and dark is thrown awry. Find room for Darklands on your bookshelf and in your escape time. At night. Outside.

So, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to Virgo my way through Darkstorm and Darkmage.

I received an advanced review copy from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Review: Severance by Haven Cage


In Severance, a dark, adult urban fantasy novel from the Faltering Souls series, Nevaeh has to face the overpowering gravity of her choice to save those she loves while striving for strength to fight her greatest threat—herself.

Nevaeh Richards makes her declaration. Living a life in which she has few possessions, she sacrifices the only thing of worth she has to offer—what the Dark One wants the most—all for the slim chance of redeeming the souls of George, the man who raised her, and Gavyn, the Light Celata who holds a piece of her heart.

Her gifts are unfurling now, but so is a fierce, unpredictable beast inside her. While she struggles to keep herself—and the beast—in check, she has to play the part of a Dark Celata and fulfill every wickedly tempting task the evil beings command of her. Each mission she goes on, each time she uses her gifts, the line she toes between the woman she used to be and the monster she reluctantly yearns to become grows thinner.

As Nevaeh deals with her own turmoil, Archard watches the world he's accepted as his own begin to suffer for the mistakes he’s made. The sacred laws which segregate the realms and hinder demons from freely moving among humans are less and less effective with each passing day. He’s failed to keep Nevaeh out of Evil’s clutches, and so the shadows of Hell are creeping through. In an attempt to right his wrongs—and heal the hole in his heart—Archard chases his elusive woman, but every lead that should bring him closer to Nevaeh only ends with more questions about who she is, where she comes from, and how to save her—if he can save her at all.

Will Nevaeh survive the soul-severing decision she’s made?

*****

Severance picks up several months after the heart-lurching ending of Falter, Book 1, and while building on the previous story it moves things along with good action, stronger characters and easy to visualize settings. Also, this is sort of a combination review of both books one and two since I found I can't really talk about one without touching on the other. (I tried!)

Cage's characters and settings quickly won me over and remained consistently strong throughout both books. My faves in Falter were Gavyn, George and Naveah. Why? Well, they're honest, loyal and above all else, good. Cage let them show who they are enough for me to be certain of my opinion. She built on this foundation by proving it in their interactions with each other.

Cage shows us her settings the same way she does here characters. Gavyn's restaurant, the streets and even Hell are solid and most importantly, memorable. Her character interactions with those places bring them to life to the point where the next time the action took us to a place we had been to before, the mood lingered, flavoring the current scene. As a visual reader, these books kept me in my element. Putting them down felt like I was really leaving places I knew.

I always feel that unless the action moves the plot and takes full advantage of the characters and the scene, it's lost an opportunity to be as driving and strong as it can be. The action (both small and omg wth nooooo) uses everything at it's disposal.

Both Falter and Severance are easy to get lost in. Cage's writing was strong in Falter and even better in Severance. I haven't read much new adult, but I found these books solid and dark, dark, dark.

I recommend Falter and Severance for all lovers of dark new adult fantasy. I loved both and will dive in to book 3 as soon as I can!

Comment below to tell me what intrigues you about Falter and Severance (or angels and demons or prophecies or even purple) and on April 15 I'll pick one winner to receive a $10 Amazon, iTunes, Kobo or Nook gift card so you can treasure a copies for yourself!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Review: A Spell in the Country by Morgan Smith


What if you weren't what heroes are made of? What if your life was an open book? What if you were just an ordinary soldier, with ordinary skills and ordinary goals? What if you weren't "The Chosen One" but still had to try to save the world? "A Spell in the Country" is the story of that soldier - a young woman driven not by prophesy, but by circumstances and coincidence, and by the strengths and weaknesses that anyone might possess. Lured into treason and only narrowly escaping the gallows, Keridwen was desperate to build some kind of life for herself. But between demons bent on death and mayhem, treachery at the very heart of the kingdom, and a prince who had every right to nurse a grudge against her, what were the odds that she could stay out of trouble for long?


*****


I had such a good time reading A Spell in the Country. I'm currently reading Casting in Stone, also by Morgan Smith, and I adore her heroines. In spite of their circumstances, engagement in vivid and gory battles, and struggles, they display a sturdy, forthright and almost (shall I say) cheery disposition against all they face.

In A Spell in the Country, Keridwen quickly finds herself bounced from facing the noose to a solitary trip to obscurity posted at Penvarron, a sad and so out of the way post even the even the Camrhyssi wouldn't be likely to trod within spy-glass distance if they chose to invade.

Keridwen finds her niche at Penvarron, leading her soldiers with the same pragmatic and insightful tone in which she tells her story, describes the dead and lends her snide opinions (quite rightfully) of those she must tolerate. She can also be counted on to speak up no matter how unwelcome the truth may be.

Smith's delightfully clean and engaging prose lures us through twists, deceptions, revenge, dice games and pints. For Keridwen, trouble lurks under every stone and through every poorly lit corridor. A Spell in the Country has magic by the bushel and although the story is told by Keridwen, Smith's secondary characters are as well developed through Keridwen's eyes as I've seen lead characters in other books.

I recommend adding this one to your shelf!