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

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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?

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Review

Four-star rating

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.

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Giveaway

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Review: Informant by Ava Archer Payne

The Informant Book Cover The Informant
Ava Archer Payne

MONEY I’m Kylie Porter, a nineteen-year-old biology major at San Francisco State. I’m a part-time waitress and a straight A student. I’m also an informant the DEA hired to infiltrate the Cuban mob.

DRUGS Specifically, I’m being paid to seduce Ricco Diaz, the sexy son of a sociopathic drug lord.

SEX And Beckett—the smoldering hot undercover DEA agent who lured me into helping him trap Diaz? I never meant to fall in love with him.

BETRAYAL And I definitely didn't mean to hurt him... I just didn't have a choice.

Review:

I received a free copy of this book from Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Kylie Porter is your average 19-year-old, broke and ambitious, attending college by day, waiting tables by night. Average, that is, until she’s approached by Thomas “Beckett” Smith, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent on an undercover assignment at Kylie’s college.

Beckett comes to Kylie with a proposition. In exchange for a full ride to college and $5,000 a month, Kylie must cozy up to her lab partner Ricco, estranged son of a Cuban drug lord. The goal is for Kylie to get close enough with Ricco to learn his secrets and pass them on to the DEA, in hopes that this will be help them catch Ricco’s father, the infamous Miguel Diaz.

Kylie isn’t not crazy about the idea of betraying Rico, but she can’t turn down the money and the chance to give herself and her family a better future. She grudgingly accepts Beckett’s offer, thinking there’s no harm in having a few casual dates with Ricco. After all, he hasn’t seen his father in years. No harm, no foul, right?

She never expected her mission to take her into actual contact with Miguel, newly arrived in the United States and looking for his son. And she certainly didn’t expect to fall for Beckett while she’s supposed to be romancing Ricco.

Informant has the distinction of being one of the first New Adult novels I’ve ever enjoyed. For one thing, the plot is actually engaging. Infiltrating the Cuban mob is a dangerous game, and a single mistake could mean gruesome deaths for Kylie and her loved ones. Can she keep Ricco at arm’s length without him losing interest? Can she withstand Miguel Diaz’s shrewd scrutiny? Can she trust Beckett to keep her safe even though he clearly has his own reasons for wanting Miguel behind bars, reasons that go way beyond his commitment to the DEA?

Another pleasing difference between Informant and most of the other New Adult fiction I’ve read to date is that Kylie is actually likable and smart. It’s sad that this should come as a surprise, but so many NA books seem to have insipid characters lacking in common sense. Kylie’s intelligent and actually USES HER BRAIN! She thinks things through before making decisions, does her research, and has specific tactics for going into dangerous situations. In the beginning of the book, for instance, before she knows that Beckett’s DEA, she agrees to go on a date with him. Because he’s basically a stranger, she makes her sister and brother-in-law wait outside the restaurant in their car. That way, if Beckett turns out to be a whack job, Kylie has an exit plan. Finally, a heroine making smart choices!

What’s more, even when Kylie does happen to have a lapse in judgment, I never have to suppress an urge to smack sense into her – she does it herself!

“I have to get my head together. Think. What I need now is perspective. I’m smart, and it’s about time I started acting like it. I’ve allowed myself to be used, but that’s my fault as much as his.”

Kylie’s funny, too, and she’s got spunk. There’s a boatload of amusing quotes that had me laughing as I read:

“‘She thinks I don’t like her husband.”
‘Why does she think this?’
‘Because he’s a total low-life shit head and I can’t stand him.’”

And:

“So yes, as humiliating as it is, my whole family is now involved. Kylie has a date. Repeat three times in a tone of increasing wonder and disbelief. Apparently the news is so staggering I’m surprised the media hasn’t picked up the story yet.”

And:

“How perfect that I finally go out, only to find myself caught between a DEA agent and the son of a Cuban crime boss. God, my life.”

As much as I liked Kylie, I can’t say much for her taste in men. Other than his hot physique, I have no idea what Kylie saw in Beckett. I didn’t find him appealing in any way and was bored whenever he had page time.

Ricco, however, is another story. He drew me in from the start with his gallantry, sweetness, and good-natured teasing. I never knew what to expect from him, which kept me on my toes, especially after his dad showed up and Kylie found herself getting more involved with Ricco and placed in increasingly dangerous situations.

“‘Sorry. School night.’
It’s clear that he’s never heard this expression. ‘School night?’
‘Yes. That means we have class tomorrow. All the good little boys and girls go home and do their homework.’
A mischievous grin curves his lips. The light of challenge sparks in his eyes. He rests his hands lightly on my hips, leans down, and whispers in my ear, ‘What makes you think I’m good?’
I raise myself up on my tiptoes to whisper back, ‘What makes you think I’m not?’
He smiles at that. ‘I like you, Kylie Porter.’”

The only thing that kept me from being completely delighted by Informant is that it fell prey to a typical weakness of the New Adult novel: trite and unrealistic sex scenes. I am ALL for steamy lovin’ in my books, but graphic sex just doesn’t impress me if it’s cliché and uninspired. If your lovemaking reads like a catalogue of sexual acts (“He did this. Then I did that. Then we did this.”) I’m going to start skipping ahead to the next actual plot point.

I’m hoping that Informant will mark a turning point for my relationship with New Adult fiction. I haven’t been a fan of the genre up until this point, but if there are more books like Informant out there, there may be hope for an Angela/New Adult love affair yet!

Five Reasons to Read Nameless by Lili St. Crow

Nameless Book Cover Nameless
Lili St. Crow

When Camille was six years old, she was discovered alone in the snow by Enrico Vultusino, godfather of the Seven—the powerful Families that rule magic-ridden New Haven. Papa Vultusino adopted the mute, scarred child, naming her after his dead wife and raising her in luxury on Haven Hill alongside his own son, Nico.

Now Cami is turning sixteen. She’s no longer mute, though she keeps her faded scars hidden under her school uniform, and though she opens up only to her two best friends, Ruby and Ellie, and to Nico, who has become more than a brother to her. But even though Cami is a pampered Vultusino heiress, she knows that she is not really Family. Unlike them, she is a mortal with a past that lies buried in trauma. And it’s not until she meets the mysterious Tor, who reveals scars of his own, that Cami begins to uncover the secrets of her birth... to find out where she comes from and why her past is threatening her now.

Review:

(Actual rating: 4.5 stars)

Imagine if, instead of seven dwarves, Snow White were rescued by the fairy tale equivalent of the Mafia. And imagine if said Mafia, known as the Family, were vampires.

Did I get your attention there? Good. Because I really, really want you to read Nameless. And I really want you to love it as much as I did so I have someone else to talk to about how amazing this book is. In case you need more persuasion than just my assertion that Vampire Mob + Snow White = Awesomeness, though, here are five reasons you should read this book:

  1. The unique approach to Snow White: It’s not just the vampire Mafia that sets Nameless apart from traditional Snow White retellings. Camille, the heroine, is no vapid, flawlessly beautiful princess who cheerfully cleans the house and sings to forest animals. Instead, she’s a foundling whose traumatic, abuse-filled childhood has left her with a stuttering tongue, crippling shyness, and scars all over her body. Though lovingly raised by the head of the Family and treated as his own daughter, Cami suffers from self doubt and can’t shake the feeling that she’ll never truly belong. She longs to know who she really is and where she came from, but she doesn’t remember much of her early years beyond a sense of horror and flickering visions of a cold and beautiful queen. When mysterious strangers begin appearing in her life and apple-and-mirror-filled dreams begin haunting her, Cami senses that the answers to her questions could finally be within reach, and she won’t stop until she figures them out.
  1. Drool-inducing romance: Nameless wins the award for some of the most swoon-worthy scenes not involving an actual kiss. I’ve always had a thing for literary bad boys, and Nico Vultusino, Cami’s adopted brother, definitely fits the bill. He’s got a fiery temper, chafes against his role as heir to the Family, and has a propensity for staying out late, starting fights, and generally getting into trouble. And yet, Nico is an absolute sweetheart when it comes to Cami. The two have an adorable relationship, one that started as rivals-turned-playmates when they were children and turned into something more as they grew up. The history between them means they know each other inside and out, and it’s so cute watching Cami pull Nico out of one of his moods and seeing Nico soothe Cami when she has nightmares. Their relationship is not just sweet, though – it’s also hot. There’s one scene in particular that left me in a swoon at one point. You’ll know it once you’re there, but here’s a hint: Book. Candle. Nico. *Cue Angela fainting dead away from an overload of desire*
  1. Characters with backstories: I hate when characters’ lives seem to occur solely within the timeline of the main events of the book. You know what I mean – characters who don’t have a believable past, whose lives begin when the book begins and end when the book ends. This isn’t the case with Nameless. You can tell that the characters have a history. There’s mention of the games Cami and Nico played as kids, the family photos they posed for that now adorn the fridge, the tales they made up together and the futures they imagined. The comfortable camaraderie Cami shares with her friends is evidence of years of friendship. You know that Cami and the others have childhood memories and inside jokes and family stories, even if the specifics aren’t necessarily shared with you. It makes them feel like real people, not just words on a page.
  1. Excellent world building: The number of details St. Crow casually throws out there in Nameless is staggering – it’s clear that she spent a great deal of time imagining every facet of her world. That doesn’t mean she intends to hold your hand and patiently outline the rules of her world, though. Nameless is one of those books where the reader is expected to figure out the setting by his or herself without an explanation from the author. St. Crow leaves you to piece together a picture of New Haven using the various details she’s provided. She tells you the makes and models of the cars, mentions the names of various months and holidays, alludes to religion (when swearing, characters invoke the name of Mithrus Christ rather than Jesus Christ), and references various magical terms such as Twists, jacks, Potential, the Core, etc. It’s a beguiling world, and I drank up all of the descriptions with the enthusiasm of a woman dying of thirst in the desert.
  1. The Family: I love the vampire Godfather vibe that the Family has going. The Vultusinos and the other vampires of New Haven live a life of danger cloaked in luxury. They roll around in limos while sipping fine whiskey mixed with calf blood, attend grand parties, and enjoy enormous power and respect. People who give them trouble mysteriously “disappear,” questionable business is conducted behind closed doors, and much of New Haven’s law enforcement is in the Family’s pocket. Combine all of this with fascinating vampire customs – a complex hierarchy, Borrowing, the Kiss – and you’ve got the makings of a very intriguing book.

There you go, everyone – five reasons why you should read Nameless. Now get out there, track down a copy, and get to reading! And let me know when you’re done so we can gush about it together!