Review: Haven by Mary Lindsey

Haven Book Cover Haven
Mary Lindsey

We all hold a beast inside. The only difference is what form it takes when freed.

Rain Ryland has never belonged anywhere, He’s used to people judging him for his rough background, his intimidating size, and now, his orphan status. He’s always been on the outside, looking in, and he’s fine with that. Until he moves to New Wurzburg and meets Friederike Burkhart.

Freddie isn’t like normal teen girls, though. And someone wants her dead for it. Freddie warns he’d better stay far away if he wants to stay alive, but Rain’s never been good at running from trouble. For the first time, Rain has something worth fighting for, worth living for. Worth dying for.

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

It’s hard to know just what to say about Haven. It’s not a bad book, per se, but I felt like it never lived up to its potential, and there was nothing to make this paranormal romance stand out from its peers.

The novel begins when Aaron “Rain” Ryland moves in with his estranged aunt after his mother’s unexpected death. Rain, a big-city kid used to living on the streets and in homeless shelters, fending off street gangs, and eating out of dumpsters, is vaguely amused when the denizens of his aunt’s sleepy little town start acting strangely, even hostilely, towards him. He finds it weird, but not particularly troubling. After all, Rain’s faced off with thugs and gang bangers; what harm can a few country bumpkins possibly do?

A lot, as it turns out. Because there’s more to this little town than meets the eye – namely, gruesome murders, hidden agendas, and a magical secret society.

Titillating as that might sound, I had a really hard time staying invested in Haven. It took me multiple tries to read, and at one point I made it as far as 70% of the way through the book before once again abandoning it for several months. To be perfectly honest, I would have left it as a “did not finish” except that I’d requested Haven through Netgalley and didn’t think it was fair to just give up.

One of the reasons I had a hard time with Haven was Freddie, the fierce and rebellious teenage girl at the heart of the town’s various intrigues. Rain is immediately drawn to Freddie’s wildness, and the more she tries to push him away (in classic Edward-and-Bella fashion), the more stubbornly Rain insists on sticking by her. It’s instalove – or at least instalust – at its finest, though I couldn’t understand what Rain finds so compelling about Freddie. (Perhaps the fact that she randomly shows up naked in unexpected places and lets him jump her in a supply closet at school from time to time? Who knows.) She lacks the charisma and depth that I look for in a heroine/love interest, and I just wasn’t feeling the relationship between her and Rain.

Rain himself is interesting enough, thank goodness. His upbringing – living with a drug-addicted mother who blamed him for ruining her life, constantly dodging law enforcement and criminals alike, never knowing where his next meal was going to come from – grants him a unique perspective that’s a refreshing change from other male protagonists I’ve read about.

“On the streets, it seemed like he had nothing to live for. Now, for the first time in his life, he had something to die for.”

As far as the plot and world building, there’s a lot of potential that’s never fully realized. There are some clever rules to the magic in the story, and important roles that the townspeople play in keeping said magic under control, but I feel the author could have gone a lot farther with all of it. Also, a lot of the plot points are predictable, and the “bad guys” feel cartoonish and unoriginal. Despite a promising setting, a decent protagonist, and some fun sexy times, Haven just didn’t do it for me.

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.

Review: Shifter by Alma Alexander

Shifter Book Cover Shifter
Alma Alexander

My name is Saladin van Schalkwyk.

And yes, there is a story behind that name.

I was not an accident; I was a chimera, both in name and deep into my DNA.

I was created.

I did not know for what purpose, and the secrets that surrounded my past were too well guarded for me to break through.

So when my friend Mal offered to take the chance of becoming a Lycan in order to infiltrate their ranks and find out the truth for me, I agreed to help him in any way I could.

We both learned far more than we had bargained for. And one thing was clear.

Everything I thought I knew about myself was wrong.

Review:

*This review contains spoilers for Random and Wolf, the first two books in the Were Chronicles.*

I received a free ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

When I sat down to begin Shifter, the final novel in Alma Alexander’s Were Chronicles trilogy, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’d enjoyed Random and Wolf, the first two books, and expected I would like Shifter very much as well. I expected a funny, devil-may-care protagonist who would make me chuckle, wrap up the trilogy in a neat little bow, and leave me to put the book aside at the end and continue merrily on my way.

Here’s what I did NOT expect: to be presented with a bold, caring, noble protagonist who would win my heart, move me to tears, and leave me, more than a week after finishing Shifter, still reeling and struggling to regain my emotional equilibrium.

Shifter is by far the best novel in the Were Chronicles, though I’ll admit I didn’t come to this conclusion right away. Each book in the trilogy is narrated by a different character and starts with an extensive recap of the events of the previous book(s) from the current narrator’s point of view. This can get repetitive, and even though Shifter is told from the perspective of Saladin “Chalky” van Schalkwyk, my favorite character in the series, I was initially frustrated that I seemed to be re-reading an old story rather than getting a new one. There are new details on Chalky’s childhood – what it was like growing up with his paranoid and mentally unfit mother, how he came to Turn for the first time, what his life was like as a young hacker – but the key points of the plot aren’t “new” until approximately 75% into the book.

Once Shifter catches up to where Wolf ended, though, things get good. Really good. There’s the re-emergence of the hateful Barbican Bain, with whom Chalky interacts personally. There’s a slip-up that has dire consequences for Were-kind in general and Chalky and the Marshes in particular. There’s escalated anti-Were violence and paranoia. And, as Chalky points out, “at the center of it all, there was that primal terror – not of what the Were-kind actually were, but of what they could be.”

Even if the action hadn’t picked up the way it did, Chalky as a narrator still would have been enough to make Shifter my favorite book in the Were Chronicles. I liked Chalky in Random and Wolf, finding his humor and craftiness appealing, but it wasn’t until Shifter that I had the opportunity to peer into his inner workings and realize that there’s so much more to Chalky than simply being Mal’s clever techy friend. Beneath his jaunty demeanor is a profound loneliness and a desire to be part of a family. He’s one of a kind, for better or worse, always on the fringes of society:

“I did think for a moment that it might be better for everyone if I never Turned back into Saladin van Schalkwyk, the human misfit who was so very wary and lonely and alone in that life. Perhaps I could just stay as this bird, from now on, and I might never have to think about any of that other stuff again. Nobody would ever hit me, or look at me as though I was the cause of everything bad that had happened to them. They wouldn’t resent me or think of me as a burden or a nuisance, or even a reminder of things that might have been but never came to pass. I would be free.”

Being the only one of his kind comes with a certain accountability. As the Spiderman movies proclaim, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and Chalky is the most powerful Were alive. He is pivotal to the events of all three books in the Were Chronicles, and though other characters play important roles in the adventure, the series couldn’t possibly take place without Chalky’s skills as a hacker and his ability to shift into whatever form is needed. By virtue of his unique gifts, he becomes the guardian angel that watches over the Marsh family and everyone else who crosses his path, taking care of them because he’s the only one who can do so.

I was intellectually interested in the plights and philosophical questions in Random and Wolf, but it wasn’t until I viewed the story through Chalky’s lonely, yearning, white-knight lens that I was impacted on an emotional level. In the scene where Celia is reunited with her siblings after years of absence, for example, I actually got choked up. I’d read this scene once before in Wolf, and it hadn’t really affected me. When shown through Chalky’s eyes, though, it brought me to tears.

One thing I’ve always found captivating about the Were Chronicles is the way Alexander portrays the logistics and consequences of Turning. This is especially compelling in Shifter, as Chalky isn’t encumbered by the same “rules” as the rest of Were-kind. His abilities are above and beyond those of other Were, but so are the repercussions of using these abilities. Here are a couple of snippets:

“My innards felt churned up, as though all my major organs were still deciding where they properly went after they’d been forced to play do-si-do in various body forms with such intensity over a shatteringly short period of time.”

And:

“There was a trade-off when it came to Were changes. Things had to be kept in balance … Much smaller creatures – like for instance a mouse, the shape I was in now – paid for the loss of mass by an increase in metabolism – we were hyper-charged mice, if you like. Our heart rates were much higher than an ordinary mouse. The wear and tear on our insides was enormous; we literally had to give up physical substance to drop into something that could weigh one hundredth or less of our human form, and that had to go somewhere. We paid for it with an acceleration of energy and metabolism. Our small forms lived faster. If we stayed in a small form for too long we could – probably literally – explode our hearts.”

Much as I loved Shifter, there were some parts that didn’t work for me. The ending is rushed, with several events not fleshed out to my satisfaction. Likewise, an important relationship is established without having sufficient time to develop; the reader is required to simply take the author’s word for it that said relationship makes sense. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing in general, and you’re asked to take it on faith that the friendship between Chalky and Mal is deeply rooted and that the two have had many meaningful bonding moments beyond what’s directly witnessed in the books.

None of these things matter, though, in light of how much of an emotional punch Shifter packs, especially in the last few chapters. Alexander’s writing is gorgeous and insightful, and she uses it to full advantage. I’m always sad when I finish a great story, but as I wrote to Alma Alexander in a Facebook message while in the throes of book withdrawal, “I just finished Shifter and now I have to cancel my plans for the day to eat chocolate and cry!” The best books leave a hole in you when they’re over, and Shifter certainly left a gaping void in me. 

The experience is worth it, though. And look at it this way – once you’re finished you can always go back and re-read the book’s perfect last line over and over again to bring yourself comfort, as I’ve been doing. So what are you waiting for? Go get some chocolate and start reading this book!

Giveaway and Cover Reveal: Heart of the Guardian by Desiree Williams

It’s finally here – the cover reveal for Heart of the Guardian, the final installment of Desiree Williams’ Heart Song trilogy! As beautiful as the covers of Heart Song and Shifter’s Heart were, Heart of the Guardian is hands down my favorite; in fact, it’s probably one of the most stunning covers I’ve seen this year.  In addition to this great reveal, I’ve also got an excerpt for you from Heart of the Guardian, as well as the chance to win an awesome giveaway courtesy of the author herself. Cheers!

About Heart of the Guardian

The time has come. The war ends now…

Syrina’s inner energy has not been the same since the Guardian Alanna saved her that day in the market. A burning need to help others drives her to seek permission to join the caravan headed to the Rebels camp. Lady Alanna and Prince Jerric have given Syrina and her mother so much, and in return, Syrina wants to spread that kindness to the Guardian’s army in any way she can.

It was supposed to be another easy plan. Until an amber-eyed stranger flipped her life around, throwing her into the strange world of Guardians and Warriors. Now, Syrina faces challenges she’s never even dreamed of as the missing piece in the War on the Lands is found.

New enemies and allies surface in this never ending war. Syrina and the Guardians lock onto the measure of goodness they’ve been given while evil threatens to rip it from their hands.

When the battle hits home, nothing will be the same.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…the big reveal!

Book cover for Heart of the Guardian by Desiree Williams

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Excerpt from Heart of the Guardian

“Do you need your energy back?”

Syrina jumped at how close his voice came. Whipping around, she found Emer a few feet from her. She hadn’t expected him to address her again, or to close the distance between them. She swallowed, unable to look away from those amber eyes. “Excuse me?”

He pointed to the barrier still around him. “You energy? Do you want to pull it back?”

“Oh, um, you can hang on to it, if you’d like. The barrier will continue to move with you, and once you’re finished just stretch your arms past the border. The edges will dissolve and the energy dissipate into the air.”

Syrina opted for a friendly tone, but her response made Emer’s frown deepen—if that were possible. He crossed his arms, watching her until she wanted to squirm.

“What did you do to him?” He pointed his chin toward Janson, who was now in a jovial mood, showing off the wares he’d transported from Aldonnia.

She shrugged a shoulder. Syrina had no idea how she’d done it, so it wasn’t like she could explain it. Not that it would be wise to tell this Rebel anyhow. “Not sure I know what you mean.”

Her heart skipped several beats before a small half-grin pulled at Emer’s mouth. She couldn’t stop herself from wondering what he’d look like if he truly smiled.

“You can keep your secrets, Miss Syrina. You’ll find we all have a trove full of them.” He strode past her, saying, “Welcome to the Rebels’ camp.”

Author Bio

Photo of Heart Song author Desiree WilliamsDesiree Williams is a dreamer by day and chocoholic by night. She lives in the beautiful state of Kentucky with her husband and daughter, where she juggles life as a wannabe supermom. Desiree is a lover of food and avoider of dirty dishes. She delights in making people laugh and strives to bring hope and love with her wherever she goes.

You can find out more about Desiree and her books at www.desireewilliamsbooks.blogspot.com.

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Giveaway

This is one giveaway you don’t want to miss – a lucky winner will receive a gorgeous rose gold heart pendant necklace, a $15 Amazon gift card, and Heart Song trilogy bookmarks. For a chance to win, enter the giveaway below. The winner will be announced on Desiree’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter account the morning of August 11.

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Review: Wolf by Alma Alexander

Wolf Book Cover Wolf
Alma Alexander

My name is Mal Marsh.

I was the oldest unTurned Were of my generation, waiting Turn after Turn for my own time... which never came. Until the day, driven by desperation and by the guilt I still carried concerning my sister Celia's tragic death, I decided it was time to stop waiting... and made a dangerous choice in the name of pride and fury.

Instead of remaining the Random Were that I was born... I enlisted the help of a friend, a creature beyond the strictly drawn boundaries of Were-kind, and chose to become a Lycan, a true wolf. I thought it would give me a chance to take my revenge on those I believed to be responsible for what had happened to my sister. Right until the moment I realized that things were much more complicated that I had ever believed possible... and that my choice might have far more repercussions than I had thought.

One thing was clear.

Everything I thought I knew about my family was wrong.

Review:

*Review may contain spoilers for Random, the first book in The Were Chronicles.*

Ten months. Ten. That’s how long I suffered in agony after finishing Random and its doozy of a cliffhanger ending. Ten slow, painful months to try to get over the shock, to daydream about the characters I was missing, and to speculate about what I could expect from the series’ next installment, Wolf.

Now that those ten (TEN!) months are finally over and the sequel has arrived, I can cheerfully report that Wolf is well worth the wait. It’s got everything I loved about Random – beautiful writing, fascinating characters, more information about the intriguing world of Were-kind – as well as an added bonus: it’s narrated by Mal, my favorite character from Random.

When I heard that Jazz Marsh’s moody, enigmatic older brother would be the point-of-view character in Wolf, I was giddy. In Random, Mal started out as a seemingly minor character, your stereotypical sullen, standoffish teenage boy. By the end, however, he surprised everyone – myself included – by Turning into a Werewolf and emerging as a major player in the Marsh family’s story as well as the story of Were-kind in general. My curiosity wasn’t just piqued, it was set aflame, and I couldn’t wait to see what lay in store for Mal in Wolf.

Wolf picks up the thread of Mal’s story and follows him to his new home among his fellow Werewolves, known as the Lycans. Whereas Random showed Were-kind interacting with non-shape-shifting humans in the world at large, Wolf is a microcosm, focusing solely on the inner workings of the Lycan community. The Lycan compound, with its strict hierarchies and jealously guarded secrets, is its own – exclusive – little world. The Werewolves have their own unique culture, prejudices, and standards, and woe to any who don’t abide by their rules.

In order for Mal to infiltrate their ranks and uncover the truth about Stay and its effects on Were like his sister, he must eschew his family, his upbringing, and everything he once knew. Becoming a member of the pack means forfeiting his choices and accepting all of the decisions the Alphas make for him. The pack chooses his college courses, his job, and even his mate. Yep, that’s right– even though he’s just 17, Mal is expected to marry a woman of the pack’s choosing and get to work producing little Lycan babies. Gotta start spreading that new, valuable DNA around, ya know?

I loved watching Mal come into his own over the course of this book, rolling with everything the Lycans throw at him, even the stuff wholly outside of his comfort zone. He grumbles, and struggles, and balks…and then he grits his teeth, puts his head down, and soldiers on, because it’s the only way for him to move forward. It was so rewarding to see this grouchy, self-pitying boy grow and mature and become someone I was so proud of.

Despite my fondness of Mal, or perhaps because of it, I was not a fan of Asia, the girl the Lycans choose to be Mal’s mate. Maybe it’s jealousy on my part, but Asia just seems too perfect: she’s gorgeous, wild, brilliantly intelligent, and always in control. I did initially enjoy the dynamic between her and Mal – their first interactions are fraught with understandable tension, what with both being strangers and being called to give up their dreams at the pack’s command. This tension soon gives way to affection, though, as the two quickly come to accept and even love one another. This transition from strangers to intimates happened too fast for me, and I would have liked the awkwardness and uncertainty to linger for a while longer, for the discovery of love to be gradual and even grudging.

My only other “complaint,” if you can call it that, is similar to one I had when reading Random. The diction and sentence structure, while lovely, don’t always match with the voices you’d expect the characters to have. Dialogue occasionally comes out sounding like philosophers engaging in a grand intellectual debate instead of two people carrying on a regular conversation, and even Mal’s internal monologues tend to read like dissertations at times. As I mentioned in my review of Random, though, Alma Alexander’s writing is so interesting and beautiful that it doesn’t really matter how lofty the tone is. For example, here’s a passage I found particularly insightful:

“My life was layered with these moments; if it could be dug into, like an archaeological site, there would be layers of ashes and waste left over from catastrophic volcanic disasters in between the fertile parts where something good or useful was happening.”

As Mal establishes himself within his new pack, he slowly begins to unravel the Lycans’ closely guarded secrets. The facts he discovers about Turning Houses and the Half-Souled make his skin crawl, and the more he uncovers – the closer he gets to finding out the truth about his sister – the greater the risk to himself and to his fledgling relationship with Asia. I enjoyed watching as the stakes were raised, plot twists popped up, and old friends and family from Random reappeared to lend Mal a helping hand.

If you enjoyed Random, I have no doubt you’ll be exceedingly pleased with Wolf. It’s a worthy progression of the series, and Mal is a protagonist you can root for, sympathize with, and even fall for. I’m so excited to see what’s next for Mal, his friends, and his family in The Were Chronicles’ final chapter and only hope the months fly by until book three is released!

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