Review: Towering by Alex Flinn

Towering Book Cover Towering
Alex Flinn

At first, I merely saw his face, his hands on the window ledge. Then, his whole body as he swung himself through the window. Only I could not see what he swung on.

Until, one day, I told my dream self to look down. And it was then that I saw. He had climbed on a rope. I knew without asking that the rope had been one of my own tying.

                                * * *

Rachel is trapped in a tower, held hostage by a woman she’s always called Mama. Her golden hair is growing rapidly, and to pass the time, she watches the snow fall and sings songs from her childhood, hoping someone, anyone, will hear her.

Wyatt needs time to reflect or, better yet, forget about what happened to his best friend, Tyler. That’s why he’s been shipped off to the Adirondacks in the dead of winter to live with the oldest lady in town. Either that, or no one he knows ever wants to see him again.

Dani disappeared seventeen years ago without a trace, but she left behind a journal that’s never been read, not even by her overbearing mother…until now.

Review:

I don’t think Alex Flinn’s novels and I are meant to be together. Towering is the second book I’ve read from her Modern Fairy Tale Retellings collection, and I didn’t care for it any more than I cared for Cloaked. I wasn’t impressed by the movie version of her book Beastly, either, but I’m not sure I can hold that against her since movie adaptations tend not to live up to their book inspirations, anyway.

Towering is a retelling of Rapunzel, a fairy tale I’m particularly fond of. In Flinn’s version of the story, a young man named Wyatt Hill travels to the small town of Slakkill, New York, to stay for a few months with the family of one of his mother’s childhood friends. The point of Wyatt’s visit is to give him time and space to recover from a personal tragedy, but instead of simply finding solace in the trip, Wyatt finds a mystery.

Like Wyatt, the citizens of Slakkill are no strangers to tragedy. There’s a history of young people disappearing from the town, though whether the missing teens are runaways, drug addicts, or kidnapping victims remains a matter of debate in Slakkill. Wyatt begins investigating the disappearances, spurred by curiosity as well as strange dreams, visions, and voices that no one but he can hear. His search leads him to a ramshackle tower in the middle of the woods, where he discovers a beautiful, lonely girl named Rachel.

I always appreciate new interpretations of old fairy tales, so I’m glad I had the chance to see Flinn’s version of Rapunzel. However, when a fairy tale is full of insipid characters and magic that’s a little too convenient to be believable, I just don’t care for it. Everyone in the story, from Wyatt and Rachel to the people of Slakkill to the cheesily evil villains, is Boring with a capital B. Wyatt, especially, bothered me. He’s too bland and vanilla, with nothing that makes him stand out. He’s a nice guy – there’s no doubt about that – but there’s nothing more that I can say about him.

Rachel, at least, has a reason for her dullness. She’s been shut up in a tower for more than half of her life, with classical novels as her only reference to what the outside world is like. She’s never seen a dog, used a flushing toilet, or held a conversation with anyone besides her “Mama.” She doesn’t even know what year it is. It’s no wonder, then, that she’s childish and inexperienced. She’s never been exposed to outsiders, and it’s not like she’s had much of an opportunity to develop a unique personality, relationships, or really any real memories.

That being said, Rachel does display admirable courage and grace when she is finally exposed to the outside world. It would be terrifying to face an unfamiliar world after years of confinement and seclusion, but Rachel handles herself with aplomb. Though she does need help from Wyatt, she conquers her fear and uncertainty to become a hero in her own right. Rachel’s ability to achieve so much through her own strength and spirit is the one thing I truly loved about this book, even if the overall plot and characters didn’t do it for me.

Review: Ember by Bettie Sharpe

Ember Book Cover Ember
Bettie Sharpe

Everyone loves Prince Charming. They have to - he's cursed. Every man must respect him. Every woman must desire him. One look, and all is lost.

Ember would rather carve out a piece of her soul than be enslaved by passions not her own. She turns to the dark arts to save her heart and becomes the one woman in the kingdom able to resist the Prince's Charm.

Poor girl. If Ember had spent less time studying magic and more time studying human nature, she might have guessed that a man who gets everything and everyone he wants will come to want the one woman he cannot have.

Review:

This is one of those rare times you’ll see me posting a review of an adult novel, and one of the even rarer times when that adult novel is erotica. It’s not a genre that I’m usually into – the sex has a tendency to overtake actual characterization and plotting – but in this case I was willing to make an exception. Why? Because Ember is a retelling of Cinderella.

Dos Equis Gif: "I don't always read erotica, but when I do, it's fairy tale erotica."

If frequent, graphic sex scenes make you uncomfortable, then Ember won’t be your cup of tea, fairy tale retelling not withstanding. If you’re ok with mature hanky panky, though, it’s definitely worth a read.

Ember differs from other Cinderella stories in that the Cinderella character – Ember, obviously – is a witch, and her stepsisters are prostitutes. Most importantly to the plot, her prince is cursed as a result of a name day “gift” from a fairy:

“May he be charming. May every eye find perfection in his face and form. May every man respect him and every woman desire him. May all who meet him love him and long to please him.”

This curse might sound more like a blessing, but think about the implications. People have no choice but to adore Prince Adrien. His presence is compelling, and the mere image of his face stamped on a coin is enough to send women into a frenzy of lust. He can have anything – and anyone – he wants, and none can deny him.

“With magic and wisdom to aid him, he could have been the greatest king in the history of our little kingdom. Instead, he was a selfish, dangerous man with a voice none could refuse.”

Ember’s mother always warned her to stay far away from the cursed prince, but one day she catches a glimpse of him during a procession and becomes infatuated. The pull of his curse is unusually strong for Ember, affecting her even more than it affects Adrien’s other subjects, and her obsession becomes so severe that she resorts to dark magic – namely, sacrificing one of her fingers – to weaken the prince’s hold over her.

Though the spell can’t completely counteract the prince’s curse, it does ease it enough to allow Ember to go about her life with a modicum of peace….at least until the prince tracks her down, determined to find the one woman who resisted his charms rather than succumbing to them.

I love that Bettie Sharpe takes the quintessential components of Cinderella and turns them on their head. Ember is no innocent young maiden with a sweet voice and humble spirit; she’s a witch, a fact she likes to flaunt. Many in her village fear her, and for good reason. She can control fire, kills neighbor’s pets for revenge, and performs bloody spells and sacrifices. She isn’t shy about getting down and dirty with the local men in a stable or a random doorway, and there are some very sexy scenes that are going to leave you fanning yourself and dabbing sweat from your cleavage.

I also like that Ember’s relationship with her stepmother and stepsisters defies convention. Instead of becoming enemies, the four women establish a rapport…and a business. Ember does serve them and become the cinder-covered girl of fairy tale legend, but it’s her choice to do so as it allows her to better fly below Adrien’s radar.

Something else I appreciate about Ember is that I don’t necessarily have to like all of the characters to be invested in their story. Ember is so blunt and no-nonsense that it’s tough to get close to her, and there are times she can be spiteful and almost cold. Likewise, Prince Adrien is a self-seeking man-whore; much of his time in the story is spent lounging around naked and erect. Still, they’re both so interesting and multi-faceted – and the sex scenes are so hot – that I couldn’t put the book down until I got to the end. Which, by the way, makes sense for the book and is the perfect compromise between a fairy tale ending and one that’s realistic.

If Ember sounds like something you might be interested in, I encourage you to take a trip to Bettie Sharpe’s website, where she’s posted the story for free. (Note: You may need to scroll down to reach the content – on my computer, I see several rows of weird “Warning” text at the top of the page before the actual story begins.) If you do read this book, let me know what you think in the comments section. I’m curious to see whether it will appeal to other fairy tale fans, especially ones like me who don’t normally read erotica.

 

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!

Blog Tour, Review and Giveaway: Henge by Realm Lovejoy

Blog Tour Banner for Henge by Realm Lovejoy

About Henge

Book cover for Henge by Realm Lovejoy

Modern-day Camelot. Where knights no longer carry swords. Magic is dangerous. And those who seek control are not to be trusted.

Sixteen-year-old Morgan le Fay is a fire user. An ordinary girl with an extraordinary skill, she has the ability to create and command fire at will. Her dream is to become the Maven—the right hand of the future King Arthur. In the chance of a lifetime, Morgan is selected to join Arthur’s Round, an elite group of young magic users from which the new Maven will be chosen.

Along with the other fire, water, and wind users in Arthur’s Round, Morgan is rigorously trained and tested. The handsome Merlin, a brilliant water user, takes a particular interest in her. Is his friendship to be trusted, or is Merlin simply trying to win the position of Maven for himself? Among the many rivals Morgan faces is the current Maven, Mordred, who seems determined to see her fail.

But Morgan has a secret—years ago, her mother was executed for using fire magic, and Morgan’s desire for justice makes her more than ready to take on the challenge before her. Can she prevail in Camelot’s tests of survival and magic? Only time—and Morgan’s powerful fire—will tell.

Review

Four-star rating
A free copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been drawn to stories of King Arthur and his court. The spark was ignited by the Disney movie The Sword and the Stone and was further fueled by Gerald Morris’ The Squire’s Tales series, T. A. Barron’s The Lost Years of Merlin series, and other great retellings. Ever since then, trigger words such as “Merlin,” “Camelot, “Excalibur,” and “Round Table” have been known to set my heart racing with excitement. It comes as no surprise, then, that I ended up loving Henge as much as I did.

Unlike many other stories of Camelot, Henge is set in the 21st century. A bustling modern-day city surrounds the castle, knights serve as gun-toting body guards to the royal family, and magic use is regarded as dangerous, something to be strictly regulated and monitored. Young men and women gifted with magical abilities are required to obtain a license, and the best and brightest are allowed to enroll in the Round, an elite boarding school for those interested in serving Prince Arthur when he comes of age and inherits the kingdom.

Morgan le Fay, the book’s protagonist, is one of the magic users accepted into the Round. While there, she and her peers will hone their skills in magic, history, etiquette, and more. At the end of their time in the Round, they will be evaluated and assigned roles in Arthur’s court. The top candidate will be given the position of Maven, the king’s principal advisor and protector.

Though all of the students aspire to be Maven, Morgan is especially motivated to win the role. The influence that comes with the job would give her the opportunity to counteract the strict and discriminatory laws imposed on the magical community, laws that were responsible for the death of Morgan’s mother. Someone, though, seems determined to keep Morgan from winning Maven. Mysterious attacks and sabotage attempts put Morgan’s Round standing – and her life – in jeopardy. This, combined with Morgan’s suspicion that her fellow students are keeping dangerous secrets, keeps Morgan on her toes and leads her to wonder who – if anyone – she can trust in Camelot.

As much as I liked the plot of Henge, including the mystery, I’m not sure I was sold on Lovejoy’s adaptation of a medieval world to the 21st century. The quintessential parts of Arthurian legend that I love – armor-clad knights, sword fights and jousts, chivalry and courtly romance – are abandoned, no more than relics of the past. It was hard for me to get used to the idea that my beloved knights were armed with guns, not swords, and that the Pendragons’ castle was equipped with a helipad – say what?

Still, the cast of characters more than made up for all of this. Every time a familiar character was introduced in the book, I felt a little thrill go through me. There was crafty, handsome Lancelot, now in the role of Camelot’s chief of security; beautiful, sweet Guinevere; polite, immensely powerful Merlin; and a host of other familiar faces, including Vivian, Gawain, Percival, Tristan, Isolde…the list goes on and on.

Because there’s a wealth of Arthurian literature out there, and no one standard version of the myth, there are a number of characters whose roles and relationships change drastically depending on what version of the story they’re in. That being said, I couldn’t wait to see which direction Lovejoy would take with Henge. Would Lancelot and Guinevere show any signs of developing a love affair passionate enough to destroy a kingdom? Would Vivian go on to become the Lady of the Lake? Would Morgan be destined to become a villainess, as some stories portray her?

Waiting for answers to these questions was half the fun of Henge. Morgan, in particular, fascinated me. Her intentions for wanting to be Maven are good – she wants to make a difference and change the laws to prevent injustices like the one perpetrated against her dead mother. As the book progresses, though, there are hints that Morgan has a fierce temper, and flashbacks to her painful, isolated childhood suggest that she could potentially go down a darker path than the one she’s currently on. I love that Lovejoy kept me guessing, and I can’t wait to see where the rest of this series takes Morgan and the other citizens of Camelot by the time this saga is over!

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About Realm Lovejoy

Realm Lovejoy Author PhotoRealm Lovejoy is an American writer and an artist. She grew up in both Washington State and the Japanese Alps of Nagano, Japan. Currently, she lives in Seattle and works as an artist in the video game industry. CLAN is her first book. You can find out more about her and her book at realmlovejoy.com.

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Giveaway

  • 1 signed copy of Henge + swag (US only)
  • 1 Amazon Giftcard ($20) (INTL)
  • 2 paperbacks of Henge (US only)
  • 4 ebook copies of of Henge (INTL)

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Review: The Rogue Fairy by T. H. Waters

The Rogue Fairy Book Cover The Rogue Fairy
T. H. Waters

This is the tale of a 23-year-old fairy who’s gone Rogue. After graduating from Prince Town University with honors, she sacks her tame life in Fern Grottoe to live among the glumegs, or humans as they like to call themselves. Ari abhors the color pink, enjoys her liquor, breathes fire on occasion (even when she doesn’t intend to!), and isn’t afraid to take chances.

Her world is a bag full of unexpected tricks where fairy jewelry, kaleidoscopes, tribal ponies and one ordinary piece of cake aren’t what they first appear to be. Join her on her cobble-stoned journey of magic as she chases her dream of one day owning the neglected Mermaid Lagoon Lodge; enlists the wisdom of the castle-dwelling Dame Willowglow; fends off an evil, riddle-loving pirate bent on destroying her; and enchants the handsome, young glumeg, Sebastian, who just might be the destiny that she never knew existed… until now.

Review:

Whether or not I’ll recommend The Rogue Fairy to you depends on your priorities as a reader. If you value a tight, logical plot above all things, then this probably isn’t the book for you. If you’re looking for a fun, amusing read where anything can – and will – happen, then this might be a book you’ll enjoy.

The Rogue Fairy is the story of Ari, a 23-year-old fairy who lives among humans and manages a modest bakery. Although she has great friends and a decent job, Ari feels a vague dissatisfaction. She wants something more out of life and dreams of the day she’ll have a bakery of her own, be known for her superb creations, and no longer have to deal with her rude neighbors or critical, cold-hearted aunt. While on her quest to make these dreams a reality, Ari meets a mysterious man she suspects she may have loved in another life, uncovers suspicious goings-on at her aunt’s home, and discovers that she just might be the victim of a fairy curse.

The Rogue Fairy reminds me of when I was little and my parents told me not to eat chocolate cake before bed because it’d give me crazy dreams. I ate the cake anyway, though. Sure enough, my dreams were super wild, with rainbow kittens and mile-high daffodils and flying puppies. The Rogue Fairy is a little bit like that, colorful and crazy and fun.

T. H. Waters has one heck of an imagination. The stuff she comes up with is so creative and bizarre and wonderful that you can’t help but be entertained. There are lockets that emit sounds and songs when opened, air fish that swim overhead, giant tattooed rabbit trumpeters, bumblebees who deliver fairy messages and greeting cards, mercenary pirates who ride on dragons, kaleidoscopes that serves as GPS’s…the list goes on and on.

Characters – even human ones – have names like Southside Blackie, Petal Cornglimmer, and Jellybean Snickerdoodle. There are funny fairy stereotypes, like glitter, tiaras, “wing bling,” and lots and lots of pink. In Waters’ world, fairies must attend fairy conventions and take classes to earn enough credits to maintain their active fairy status. The classes are on subjects such as Making Magic Happen in Your Winter Garden, and there are fairy books entitled, Tinker Bell’s Fitness Bible and Who’s the Puck and Who’s the Prince? A Practical Guide to Finding and Keeping Your Man.

In addition to being amusing and funny, Waters also has some great descriptive talent. Her detailed account of the merchandise at Clover’s Fairy Emporium and Dry Goods is so intricate that you feel like you’re actually there. There’s also some great description related to Ari’s childhood memories of cooking with her mother.

As much as I liked the imaginative nature of Waters’ book, though, I couldn’t help but feel that a lot of the events and details were randomly thrown into the plot without adequate explanation or purpose. Ari’s cat, which seems like your average feline for 80% of the book, is at one point casually revealed to have five tails…that he sometimes hides…and sometimes doesn’t. A random fortuneteller unaccountably pops up out of nowhere for one paragraph to tell Ari’s fortune and then disappears for the rest of the novel. And oh, by the way, Ari inexplicably breathes fire. And oh, yeah – there’s a secret tunnel whose existence Ari conveniently remembers precisely when she needs it.

This randomness contributes to the story feeling disjointed and confusing at times. I didn’t feel that everything necessarily tied together well. I wasn’t sure what the motivations of the two “villainous” characters were, and some of the other characters didn’t appear to have much point to the story, like Bruno and Bentley. They’re just sort of there, with no real explanation. They seem to be tied to Ari’s friend Clover, and I think they turn into dogs on occasion – though I have no idea how or why, or why this is important to the story – but I’m not really sure what their purpose is.

I had a lot of unanswered questions throughout the book. Why was Ari’s connection with Sebastian, the literal guy of her dreams, never fully explored or explained? What the heck are the Pleasure Hunters, and why’d they take Ari’s mother years before? How does the mercenary pirate tie in to the Queen of Spades’ curse? What exactly IS the curse, anyway? The only explanation I can think of is that we’ll get more answers in book two of this series.

The final thing I need to mention is the bizarre way of talking that Ari and her best friend Diva Jackson have. As much as I liked Diva as a character, her way of speaking made me wince. The text is peppered with phrases like, “Who dat?” “My gawd!” and “What’s up with choo, anyway Hon?” And then there’s this excerpt:

“‘Honey, I think the chances of us running into one of them is slim. Uh huh, slim jim.’ Diva Jackson liked to snap her wrist in order to emphasize her words, especially whenever she said the word Honey, as though using her wrist/hand combo to say Go on, Girl!

I’m aware my negative reaction is probably personal preference, but I wish Diva’s speech could have been toned down just a little.

To wrap up, The Rogue Fairy has a lot to recommend it but needs to be read by the right people to be fully appreciated. Is it fun? Absolutely! Entertaining? You bet! Logical and orderly? Not so much. If you’re able to sit back and enjoy the ride without thinking too much about the plot, I think you’ll like this novel. If you have a hard time taking randomness in stride, it might not be for you.

A free copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.