Audiobook Review: Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Tantalize Audiobook With Headphones and Wine Glass

About the Book

Audiobook cover for Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich SmithTitle: Tantalize
Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Read By:
Kim Mai Guest
Synopsis:

Are you predator or prey?

CLASSIFIED ADS: RESTAURANTS
SANGUINI’S: A VERY RARE RESTAURANT IS HIRING A CHEF DE CUISINE. DINNERS ONLY.
APPLY IN PERSON BETWEEN 2:00 AND 4:00 PM.

Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her parents are dead, and her hybrid-werewolf first love is threatening to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. Then, as she and her uncle are about to unveil their hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef. Can Quincie transform their new hire into a culinary Dark Lord before opening night? Can he wow the crowd in his fake fangs, cheap cape, and red contact lenses or is there more to this earnest face than meets the eye? As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms, and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything? Tantalize marks Cynthia Leitich Smith’s delicious debut as a preeminent author of dark fantasy.

Review

1-star rating

Well, that was a mess.

I picked out this audiobook completely on a whim. I’m constantly in search of new books to listen to, as I have upwards of 10 commuting hours a week that need to be filled with audiobooks so I don’t go mad from boredom and/or road rage. Although I knew almost nothing about Tantalize, I liked its cover and title and decided to give it a whirl.

Not my greatest decision. I’m pretty sure Tantalize GAVE me road rage instead of preventing it.

I usually enjoy YA vampire stories (I will love the Twilight series until the day I die, terrible movies be damned), but the ridiculousness and stupidity of Tantalize grated on my nerves. If I had to describe my feelings towards this book in one word, I think “scathing” would be the most accurate choice.

Tantalize’s main character is Quincie Morris, an orphaned teenager being raised by her uncle in Texas. Quincie has inherited her parents’ Italian restaurant, and although it’s her pride and joy, it’s not flourishing as it should. So, how do Quincie and her Uncle Davidson decide to turn things around? By transforming their family restaurant into a theatrical, exclusive, vampire-themed restaurant, of course! You see, vampires and werewolves are real in the world of Tantalize, and even though most people are afraid of them, they apparently also want the thrill of dining in a restaurant that glorifies vampires and has staff pretend to be vampires.

Unfortunately for Quincie and her Uncle Davidson, someone brutally murders their chef shortly before their restaurant’s grand reopening. They scramble to find a replacement and end up with 20-something Henry, who Quincie is tasked with prepping for his spectacular debut as executive chef/master of ceremonies/lord of the night. This involves doing everything from finding Henry the perfect vampire duds to helping him create a darkly exotic new menu.

This brings me to my first problem with Tantalize: Quincie and her uncle’s efforts to convert their restaurant into a vampire fantasyland don’t make any sense. It’s not so much the theme itself that seems bizarre – I’ll be the first to admit I love attending Renaissance Faires, murder mystery dinners, and any event that involves costumes and playacting – but the way the Morrises go about their plans for the restaurant seem random at times and over-the-top at others. For example, why is the chef sashaying around the restaurant every night reciting monologues in full vampire attire? Shouldn’t he be spending his time, oh, I don’t know…cooking? And why does it take days upon days for Quincie and Henry to select just the right clothing for Henry’s costumes, and to select the “perfect” name for Henry’s vampire alter ego? And speaking of which, what makes anyone think that perfect name is BRADLEY, of all the options they could possibly have chosen from?!

There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense in this book, to be honest, like the many seemingly pointless scenes that don’t do anything to move the story along. I also found myself questioning nearly all of Quincie’s reactions and decisions:

– Why, when your family friend has been murdered, do you immediately and automatically suspect your CLOSEST FRIEND, who’s always had your back, of being the murdered? Instead of, hmm…just about any other, far more likely culprit?

– Why, when you’re a 17-year-old girl, do you think it’s normal to be spending all of your time one-on-one with an older guy you barely know, even if he is your uncle’s new employee? Why do you not care that it’s super weird and inappropriate for him to come on to you, and especially for your own uncle to insinuate that there’s something between the two of you to the point of nearly encouraging it?

– Why don’t you think it’s weird that two grown men, including your legal guardian, are suddenly plying you with alcohol at every opportunity, even in the morning? Especially when your uncle apparently never let you underage-drink before the creepy new chef started? Hmm, maybe that’s a sign that something weird is gong on!!!!

In short, Quincie, you’re as dumb as a rock and I have no idea how you’ve survived for 17 years.

Kim Mai Guest, the narrator for this audiobook, didn’t help matters. Her “Quincie” voice was way too cutesy, almost babyish, and was the aural equivalent of a cheese grater to the face. While Guest’s voices for Henry and Uncle Davidson weren’t bad, her portrayal of Quincie’s male friends was awful. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out which cartoon or movie character the guys sounded like, and I finally realized it was Babe the Pig.

I do suspect I might’ve been able to tolerate Tantalize a little better if I’d read it in print as opposed to listening to the audiobook. Sure, Quincie would’ve still been infuriating, and the story would’ve still been ridiculous, but maybe it would’ve seemed a teensy bit less ridiculous if I’d been able to reread certain parts and try to make more sense of them. Then again, maybe not. At the very least, I wouldn’t have had to put up with the narrator’s piping, saccharine take on Quincie’s voice for hours on end. I’m pretty sure that voice is what pushed me over the edge and drove me to be completely and utterly annoyed by every aspect of the book by its conclusion.

Blog Tour, Review and Giveaway: The Uncrossing by Melissa Eastlake

The Uncrossing by Melissa Eastlake Blog Tour Banner

About the Book

Book cover for The Uncrossing by Melissa EastlakeLuke can uncross almost any curse—they unravel themselves for him like no one else. So working for the Kovrovs, one of the families controlling all the magic in New York, is exciting and dangerous, especially when he encounters the first curse he can’t break. And it involves Jeremy, the beloved, sheltered prince of the Kovrov family—the one boy he absolutely shouldn’t be falling for.

Jeremy’s been in love with cocky, talented Luke since they were kids. But from their first kiss, something’s missing. Jeremy’s family keeps generations of deadly secrets, forcing him to choose between love and loyalty. As Luke fights to break the curse, a magical, citywide war starts crackling, and it’s tied to Jeremy.

This might be the one curse Luke can’t uncross. If true love’s kiss fails, what’s left for him and Jeremy?

Add to Goodreads Button

Amazon | Amazon Australia | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | B&N | iBooks

Review

Four-star rating

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Chapter by Chapter and Entangled Teen for the review copy!

It’s been 24 hours since I finished reading The Uncrossing, and I’m still starry-eyed over the wondrousness of this story. Usually it’s romance that makes or breaks a book for me, but in the case of Eastlake’s debut it was the world building and the tangled web of magic, secrets, curses, and complex family relationships that really swept me away.

The Uncrossing is set in an alternate-universe New York City where magic is an accepted part of everyday life. Protection spells, hex bags, magical herb farming, and the like are commonplace, and the most powerful families have carved out territories for themselves in a sort of sorcerous turf war. These families operate like magical mafias, exercising tremendous authority in their neighborhoods and vying with their rivals for control. The leaders specialize in different brands of magic and are celebrities in their own right, with the Zhangs running Manhattan, the Malcolms controlling New Jersey, and the Kovrovs holding court in Brooklyn and the boroughs.

“It was hard to name what the Kovrovs did – protection, cooperation, extortion – connecting magical suppliers and consumers across New York.”

Luke Melnyk, one of the book’s two protagonists, knows what it means to be under the thumb of such magical mafiosos. His family has been indebted to the Kovrovs for decades, and Luke himself is recruited at 17 to serve as the Kovrovs’ curse breaker. He goes into the job under strict instructions from his family to keep his head down and his mouth shut, but this directive becomes harder and harder to follow as he realizes there’s something not right with Jeremy, the Kovrovs’ cursed young protégé.

I want SO BADLY to gush about the brilliantly inventive curse at the center of Luke and Jeremy’s relationship, but I’d have to tiptoe around a minefield of spoilers in order to do so. Suffice it to say that the curse is a doozy, with fascinating repercussions both at a practical level and a relationship level. Complicating matters is a snarled mess of secrets, bindings, feuds, and blood magic, which Luke and Jeremy must attempt to unravel.

While I can’t talk about the plot itself, I can and will spend some time singing the praises of Melissa Eastlake’s character building. I was endlessly mesmerized by the Kovrovs, who are the definition of “morally gray.” While Jeremy loves them and sees them as protectors, Luke views them as self-serving monsters. It’s fascinating to see how adroitly Eastlake presents evidence in support of both of these views.

“Alexei’s bindings wove a web, and he, in the center, felt every twinge the way a spider feels her web catching flies. That was a bad metaphor, because it made it sound like an evil, stalking thing, and it wasn’t – it only meant that he knew what was happening, when his people were in trouble or pain. It took a lot out of him, too. His mind stretched in a hundred directions all the time, and the people he’d bound to him haunted his dreams. Alexei always said the Kovrovs worked hard for their people, and so they asked for very reasonable things in return: loyalty, compensation, occasional favors. He said the people they helped – he called it helping – were grateful.”

This is especially true when it comes to Jeremy’s interactions with Alexei and Sergei, the heads of the Kovrov family. Eastlake does a marvelous job of showing tenderness and affection side by side with gruffness and callousness, shouting matches and hurtful comments next to fond gestures and brotherly protectiveness. The relationship among the three main Kovrov men is a work of art, the family dynamic fantastically complicated and muddied by obligation and guilt and love.

“When you’re the Kovrovs’ people, they make it feel like a family. Except, you miss a payment? You make a mistake? You’ll find out real quick who their family is.”

There are so many other great elements of this book as well, too many to name; they include the painfully insightful explorations of identity, personal limitations, and what it means to call someone family. There are moments of wonderful humor, too, as shown in the quotes below:

“‘Hostage-taking is a valuable tool and a fine tradition.’ Alexei sat on the couch and turned on the TV. ‘I personally have been taken hostage three times. The night I spent as Linh Zhang’s prisoner remains one of my fondest memories.’”

“‘We have had adventures today. Apparently I am so evil that performing a routine cleansing on my place caused our witch doctor to swoon.’ He sounded terribly pleased with himself.”

If I had to list one complaint about The Uncrossing, it’s that I spent a decent chunk of the beginning of the book ranging from mildly to severely confused. I was completely lost at first and wasn’t able to figure out what the “rules” of the world were, nor could I immediately get a good handle on who/what the Kovrovs were and how I was supposed to view them. Everything eventually came together, but it took me a while to get a good “grip” on everything.

I also struggled with understanding the basic meaning of some of the sentences. For some reason the way certain passages were worded really confused me. I’m usually a fast reader, but I had to take my time with this novel to make sure I wasn’t misconstruing anything important. For example, Luke’s two best friends are both named Wesley, so he differentiates between them by jokingly referring to them as Straight Wesley and Short Wesley. Because this wasn’t explained until midway through the book, though, I initially assumed they were brothers with the last name Wesley, and “Short” and “Straight” were their (admittedly strange) first names. I realize that probably makes me sound incredibly stupid, but something about the way this book was presented left me really confused at times.

The ending threw me for a bit of a loop as well, and I can’t say that I fully understand what happened, why it happened, and what the significance was. (Anyone else who reads this book, please hit me up and let’s chat about it, okay? I want to hear your thoughts.) All the same, this book had me under its spell from beginning to end, and I will be eagerly awaiting more novels from Melissa Eastlake in the future.

About the Author

Author photo for Melissa Eastlake

Melissa Eastlake’s debut novel, The Uncrossing, is coming in 2017 from Entangled Teen. She lives in Athens, Georgia with her partner and their dog.

Website | Twitter

Giveaway

Enter to win a prize pack plus a $20 Barnes & Noble gift card*! (*Note: While this prize is for U.S. winners only, a $30 Amazon gift card will be substituted for an international winner.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Halloween Thrills and Chills, Part II

OCTOBER IS FINALLY HERE!!!!

Yes, I realize that seems like a belated statement since it’s already October 9th, but work has been so busy that today’s the first chance I’ve had to acknowledge and celebrate the arrival of my favorite month. I can finally break out my pumpkin roll and pumpkin whoopie pie recipes, try (and fail) to carve overly ambitious designs for Jack-o-Lanterns, and start queuing up eerie, atmospheric playlists on my iPhone (here’s looking at you, MS MR). Best of all, I can reintroduce one of my favorite themes I’ve featured on my blog so far: Halloween Thrills and Chills.

Halloween Thrills and Chills

In the coming weeks, I’ll be dishing up a series of Halloween-themed posts featuring everything from curses and changelings to haunted hotels and secret societies. There’ll be something for everyone, whether you prefer reading about creepy little towns, goblins and ghouls, or murder and mayhem. On Oct. 17 I’ll also be taking part in Fortnight of Fright for the third year in a row, hosted by The Book Addict’s Guide, Books Take You Places, and Tripping Over Books.

Check in tomorrow for the first Halloween Thrills and Chills post, a review and giveaway for The Uncrossing by Melissa Eastlake. Until then, stay spooky, friends!

Click here to view all posts associated with Halloween Thrills and Chills.

Review: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

Mask of Shadows Book Cover Mask of Shadows
Linsey Miller

I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the review copy!

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’ve procrastinated writing this review. My feelings towards Mask of Shadows are so “meh” that it’s been hard to bring myself to care enough to write down my reaction.

Mask of Shadows’ synopsis makes it sound WAY more exciting than it really is. Thieves! Assassins! Fights to the death! While the book does deliver all of those elements, they fall so far short of their potential that I was severely annoyed. I’ve read enough books that do have amazing thieves, assassins, and fights to the death that I get frustrated when other books promise me the same thing but don’t live up to my expectations.

Below are a few of the problems I had with this book.

1) Sal has no personality: Sal basically has two – and only two – defining qualities: they’re genderfluid, and they’re driven by a thirst for vengeance. That’s it. That’s really all I’ve got to say about them.

2) The book is confusing: Keeping up with all of the characters, nations, and historical events in Mask of Shadows is a struggle. In order to understand where Sal’s desire for revenge comes from, Miller has to unpack the history of a war and the different countries and cultures involved in it. At the beginning of the book Sal info-dumps a ton of details about old battles, magic systems, political views, allegiances, and rivalries. My understanding of who everyone was and what they believed and what they were responsible for was murky at best. It was hard to take it all in, and I kept forgetting key points and players. For a while I tried flipping back and forth through the pages to try to remind myself, but eventually I gave up caring.

3) The competition’s inane: The entire premise of this novel is that a bunch of cutthroat adversaries are competing in a deadly contest to join the queen’s elite group of assassins. I expected something like a tournament, or a battle royale, or at the very least a free-for-all like in The Hunger Games. Nope. Instead, there are optional training sessions wherein the members of the Queen’s Left Hand teach the auditioners skills like poisoning and archery and etiquette. (That’s right. Assassins-in-training are taking freakin’ ettiquette.) And basically the auditioners are just supposed to go along with this and also randomly take opportunities to try to kill each other along the way. Um…okay. Seems kind of lame to me.

Also, why would the Queen’s Left Hand take the time to teach an entire group of auditioners the skills they want the new Opal to have; why not just select someone who’s already got most of those skills? Likewise, why waste resources on arranging a special tutor so that Sal, a single auditioner, can learn to read? Sal could very likely die during the competition – it would make far more sense to wait and see if they survive and win before investing the time to train them.

Something else I didn’t understand about the asinine competition was how far some competitors made it, seemingly without cultivating the desired skills. I’m thinking of Sal in particular. They might’ve been a thief, but they weren’t particularly gifted at sword fighting, feats of strength, or any of the other skills that the Queen’s Left Hand were teaching and evaluating. So how did Sal make it as far as they did? It made no sense.

4) I just wasn’t feeling any of it: Unfortunately, I wasn’t convinced by anything Mask of Shadows tried to tell me. I was supposed to think Sal was cunning and dangerous; I didn’t buy it. I was supposed to find the romance heartfelt and life-changing. Um, not so much. I was supposed to admire the queen and be a little in awe of her. Nope, sorry.

All in all, I’m intensely glad to be done with Mask of Shadows. I’m ready to go out and find a different book with a thief/assassin/competition, one that actually does those subjects justice.

Book Blitz and Giveaway: Charm by J.A. Armitage


About the Book

Charm (A Cinderella reverse fairytale)
J.A. Armitage
(Reverse Fairytales, #1)
Publication date: September 26th 2017
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Young Adult

You all know the story of Cinderella…
The kingdom needs an heir and Princess Charmaine is quite aware that the job rests solely upon her shoulders. The problem is, she has no intention of ever getting married, let alone pushing a child out of her ladyparts. When her elder sister dies, Charmaine has to take her place at the ball designed to find her a husband. The problem is, she doesn’t want to choose between a hundred eligible bachelors. She just wants to live her life in peace and find love in her own time.
Cynder knows about the impending war between the people of magic and those of his masters, but working as an underpaid servant in the palace kitchens leaves him with little power to do anything about it. On one hand, he’s a staunch supporter of equal rights for his own kind, but he can’t deny the attraction he feels for the daughter of the king and queen he works for.
When the two meet, sparks fly and not just the magical kind…
Charm is the first in the Reverse Fairytale series by USA Today bestselling author J.A.Armitage. Take everything you think you know about fairytales and turn it on its head.

Goodreads / Amazon

Picture and quote from Charm by J.A. Armitage

Author Bio

Born in a small town, J.Armitage longed for adventure and travel. Age 20 she moved to Dublin, then to San Diego, then Sydney and back to California where she did a brief stint working at Universal Studios being a minder to Sponge Bob.

Once back in Britain she got married, had babies and decided to write about the adventure she was now missing out on. She works full time, is a mum to three kids and has had a surrogate baby.

She has skydived twice (and survived), climbed Kilimanjaro and hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. She has also worked as a professional clown and banana picker amongst other jobs.

Somehow she finds time to write. If you’d like to get her books for free, sign up to her mailing list here.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway