Review: The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Brenna YovanoffThe Replacement

Written: Brenna Yovanoff [Website]

Published: Razorbill, Hardcover

When: September 21, 2010

ISBN: 9781595143372

Obtained via: Publisher

Cover blurb:

Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, Mackie comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement—left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is slowly dying in the human world.

Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with an oddly intriguing girl named Tate. But when Tate’s baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

* * *

The Replacement is a book of the Others, the Fae Ones, the Creatures who live under the hill. It’s also the story of a teenage boy who feels a lot different than the rest of his friends: a little odd, a little sickly, a little strange. You may be thinking, “But doesn’t this describe every teenage boy who ever lived?” And it does.

But Mackie is different.

Mackie is a Replacement, a creature left in an empty crib the night the REAL Malcolm Doyle was taken away. Sickly from the constant touch of iron, a substance that – to Mackie – is deathly poisonous, he never should have survived to grow up in the first place. However- in a twist that resonates with me most strongly – the unconditional love of his older sister, Emma, has given Mackie the strength to reach near-adulthood. But Emma makes a deal with the creatures of the slag heap to get Mackie an otherworldly medicine for his illness, and this draws them both into a centuries-old web of lies and illusion that has haunted the town and caused the sacrifice of dozens of babies.

This book is a macabre hyperbole of teenage existence: the angst, the unhappiness with one’s parents and with where one comes from, the desire to fit in that pairs with the secret feeling that one really just doesn’t and maybe never could. That need that one feels, as you’re coming to adulthood, to prove oneself. To be a good person. To save the world. And to make out with that really cute girl/guy from English class…

Mackie struggles with all of these things throughout the book. He also deals with the ghastly but somehow piteous creatures who live beneath the slag heap, and he finds himself caught in the middle of a rivalry between two Fae sisters (though they’re never called that in the book).

Through it all, though, is that theme of love and the way it can transform us if we let it. Emma has loved Mackie enough that he still lives, years after he should have become too ill to survive. The creatures of the House of Mayhem, under the slag heap, become beautiful when they go out on stage to play music for the town and receive their adoration. Mackie’s friends love him enough to risk their lives and the safety of their town to go underground and try to rescue a missing child.

The Replacement is an excellent coming-of-age, finding-yourself tale for the YA crowd, with just the right amount of teenage angst – making it compelling to adults rather than annoying. The publisher has billed it as “Edward Scissorhands meets Catcher In the Rye” and they’re not wrong. I also love the haunting (US) cover art.  The Replacement’s release date is September 21st, so you have just enough time to jot it on your shopping list and go out to pick it up!

Buy The Replacement: Amazon | B&N | Indie Bound

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Review: Discord’s Apple by Carrie Vaughn

by Carrie VaughnDiscord’s Apple

Written: Carrie Vaughn [Website]

Published: Tor Books, Hardcover

When: July 2010

ISBN: 0765325543

Obtained via: GoodReads’ First Reads Giveaway

Cover blurb: When Evie Walker goes home to spend time with her dying father, she discovers that his creaky old house in Hope’s Fort, Colorado is not the only legacy she stands to inherit. Hidden behind the old basement door is a secret and magical storeroom where wondrous treasures from myth and legend are kept safe unit they are needed again. The magic of the storeroom prevents access to any who are not intended to use the items.

Evie must guard the storeroom against ancient and malicious forces, protecting the past and the future even as the present unravels around them. Old heroes and notorious villains alike will rise to fight on her side or to undermine her most desperate gambits. At stake is the fate of the world, and the prevention of nothing less than the apocalypse.

* * *

Discord’s Apple is the story of Evie Walker coming home to visit her dying father, alternating with the story of Sinon, the Greek soldier Odysseus left behind to convince the city of Troy to bring inside the famous wooden horse.

Vaughn’s writing is always vivid. There’s a sort of intangible quality to her characters that make them stand up from the page and give you a peck on the cheek. Kitty Norville and Evie Walker both have that aspect, the one that makes you feel like you’re only getting the smallest glimpse into a life that continues over, above, and past the written page. These are the best sorts of characters.

Sinon is a classic tragic hero, whose story has an honesty that I think is missing from many modern reboots. Much of Greek mythology was not pleasant or pretty to look at; I’m glad to see Vaughn being true to the old tales. In fact, all the mythology and old stories used here feel real and true, even when Vaughn has skewed them just a little bit to suit her own purposes. I don’t think there was ever a myth about Hera wanting to bring about the apocalypse- but in the context of this book, it’s not unbelievable.

I really enjoyed the premise of the story: a dystopian world where gas and groceries are rationed and there are security checkpoints in every town and city. The old gods are dead, and the whole world borders on general war. The only disappointment is that we don’t get to see too terribly much of it, as Evie spends most of her time in her father’s mysterious house in Colorado.

We also don’t get to pry into as many of the house’s secrets as I’d like. There are many fabled objects referenced during the course of the story: a glass slipper, a golden apple, a shiny yellow fleece, a sword that slips smoothly into stone – and many more. It would’ve been nice to hear more about these items, and the history of the archive that housed them over the centuries. Honestly, a lot of this book reads like an elbow-nudge to mythology & fairy tale scholars. Being one myself, I think I got most of the references, but I wonder if a layman could have kept up with the many layers of mythological allusions. However, with the addition of the golden apple (whose history is explained during the course of the story), one only needs to know the background of the glass slipper and the sword in the stone. These should be a given for all children of Western culture (or anyone who has ever seen a Disney movie), so the other references don’t detract from the story if you don’t recognize them.

In the end, Discord’s Apple gives us a tale worthy of the gods and monsters of legend. The characters are some that you can love and hate and, more importantly, come to understand. We get just a tiny, tantalizing peek into a not-so-distant future that is frankly frightening to see. If only the story had been given the length and breadth to really do it justice.

Actually, I’m very torn on my opinion of the length and depth of this book. On one hand, I want to know more: MORE about Evie’s world, MORE about the objects hidden away inside her father’s basement, MORE about the previous caretakers of those precious objects squirreled away. I believe this could easily have been an epic-length novel, and I hope – given the moderate length of Vaughn’s other novels and her formidable list of short stories – that the author is not afraid of trying to manage such a beast. I firmly believe she has the talent and abilities necessary for a much longer book.

On the other hand, Evie’s story comes to a natural (if depressing) conclusion. If the cat and mouse game with Hera and her cronies had gone on any longer, I might easily have grown bored. So, again, I just can’t come to a decision as to whether these 299 pages are just right or not enough. I suppose you’ll need to read it for yourself to decide.

Buy Discord’s Apple: Amazon | B&N | Indie Bound

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Review: Stripped by Marcia Colette

I was excited to win a copy of Stripped by Marcia Colette from the Deadline Dames. The author’s post there seemed fresh, open, and friendly. I liked her immediately and immensely. So when I won the giveaway, it made my day.

Here’s the official back cover copy:

Someone wants their perfect weapon back, only she’s not coming quietly.

Alexa Wells wants her life back. She’s just not sure what that life was. The memories inside her head—a stripper’s—aren’t hers, and before she humiliates herself onstage one more time, she sets out to collect the scattered pieces of her mind. The trail leads to Boston, charges of identity theft and murder, and the real bombshell: a forgotten werewolf lover who insists she’s a werewolf hybrid.

Matt York doesn’t care that she looks at him like he’s been smoking crack between court cases. Now that he has her back he’s not about to let her go it alone, even if she can easily kick ass and take names all by herself. Amnesia only scratches the surface of her problems, and like it or not, she’s stuck with him.

She’s also stuck with Robert Gamboldt, a venture capitalist who’s not above murdering his way to the top. He’s not about to lose his prize possession without playing dirty. It’s a simple enough offer. Be his personal assassin, or go to jail.

With options like that, it’s enough to make a hybrid go full-blood.

Warning: Delicious sexual tension with a werewolf who’ll wait as long as it takes for his hybrid werewolf mate to come around.

I jumped into Stripped immediately, and it was a bit like leaping into the deep end of the pool. Alexa has woken up on the stage of a seedy south-west strip club with no memory of who she is or how she got there. The rest of the book is spent gathering bits and pieces of her past life, meeting the people she’d known and loved before, all while dodging mysteriously-powered bad guys and the cops.

The characters are vivid, fully realized people – with the exception of the ultimate baddie (Gamboldt), whose motivations fell a little flat to me. I suppose money and power are a good enough reason to become involved in mind control, exploitation and murder. We didn’t, however, get to learn much of what started our baddie on his path to mayhem and homicide.This made him a bit one-dimensional, but there’s so much else going on in the story that you don’t notice too much.

Our main characters and even the supporting cast, on the other hand, are bright and lovable. My personal favorites were Charles and Flora, the elderly couple who helped Alexa run her bed & breakfast. The romance between Alexa and her werewolf beau, Matt, was hot and believable – sure to please any fan of paranormal romance.

I do have a couple of beefs with this book, however.

Firstly – one of the times that Alexa gets re-kidnapped, it’s because a servant of Gamboldt surprises her in a dark room. This shouldn’t have been a big deal for a werewolf hybrid with enhanced sight and hearing. Except that she focuses on sounds from upstairs and outside instead of watching out for the baddie in the room with her. This doesn’t ring true for a woman who has previously hunted with (and killed) werewolves. This two-page scene ends with her suddenly unconscious, and then immediately jumps to her dancing back on stage at the strip joint. I’m sure that the author meant for the transition to be jarring, but instead of leaving me surprised at the turn of events, it left me skeptical. Alexa didn’t even fight back – and that seems completely out of character for her.

My second beef has to do with the wrap-up at the end. The final fight scene, though chaotic, was satisfying. But with the last two chapters (or technically – the last chapter & epilogue), we’re suddenly skipped forward in time by first two weeks and then several months. The last chapter is 5 pages, and the epilogue is less than 2. This makes for a lot of condensing. We’re told (not shown) that Alexa now has her memories back, and that Matt would “give up the entire world” for her. In the epilogue, we’re skipped “several months” forward and told about Alexa and Matt’s future plans (which I won’t spoil by listing here for you). It’s good to have the wrap up,  and according to the author’s website Stripped is actually a prequel, so I can see why Colette would want to condense the “boring stuff” that happens between novels. But I think it could have been handled better. I felt like I was being related a second-hand account of those events, instead of being engaged with the characters’ ultimate decisions.

Personally, I’d classify Stripped as leaning more toward paranormal romance instead of urban fantasy. This book definitely has a strong (and steamy) romantic element, and the HEA (Happily Ever After) of the ending is my personal criterion for the difference between the two. Alexa also depends on Matt’s help and rescue much more than your typical UF heroine would — in my opinion, of course.

Even with my complaints, though, I really enjoyed the story and characters. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to read this book. I would much rather read a book like this one with an awesome hook but a little rough on mechanics, than one with perfect mechanics and a bland story. The plot was unique, despite the fact that werewolves have gotten a bit tired lately. That is no fault of this author, though, and she does well to include Alexa’s back story of how she became a half-breed werewolf hybrid.  With the exception of the one scene I mentioned above, I believed in Alexa’s decisions and motivations. I’d definitely read more about her exploits, and I recommend this for anyone who enjoys werewolves, kick-ass heroines, or paranormal romance.

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Review: The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker

This review may contain spoilers for book 1.

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber follows after the debut The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker.

In Strangely Beautiful, Persephone Parker arrives at Athens Academy amid strange goings-on in London. Ghostly activity has reached a desperate fervor and gruesome murders are occurring in the streets of the city. Percy loses her heart to mathematics professor Alexi Rychman – and nearly her life when the rest of London’s Guard persuade Alexi that Percy is not their seventh, the reincarnation of their Goddess.

This second tale of the guard begins with a bittersweet opening. The Gorgon has been defeated, and Alexi and Percy have been wed. But Doors to the Underworld, the land of the dead, have been popping up all over Athens and the separation between the two has become thinner and thinner. A war is coming, and Percy may have to  enter the Underworld to face the Guard’s nemesis…

In Strangely Beautiful the Guard were like stained-glass paintings: beautiful and almost unreal. But each character has a flaw, like a small bubble in that glass, and in Darkly Luminous we see each one float to the surface.

Percy is, as usual, insecure about her unusual looks. Alexi is outrageously jealous and over-protective of Percy’s affections. Headmistress Rebecca Thompson is blinded by her infatuation with Alexi. Michael is depressed by his unrequited love for Rebecca. Elijah is torn between his rank & class and his desire to be with Josephine. Josephine is broken up by Elijah’s refusal to marry her. And Jane is in love with a ghost.

It’s a wonder that these people have been able to protect anybody at all, with all the secret-keeping and intrigue. But they do, and all comes out okay in the end – mostly.

Our heroes are well-rendered and flawed. Victorian London is always the perfect place for ghosts. The prose is, as expected from this author, finely crafted – as beautiful and delicate as silver mesh. The references to Shakespeare made me smile. And the ending kept me up quite late trying to finish.

This book moved much faster than the last one, though the first volume is required in order to understand much of the story. The Strangely Beautiful books are much different in style than what I normally read and were a refreshing change.

If you’re looking for a ghostly paranormal romance with a twist of old Greek mythology, Persephone Parker‘s story is for you.
Find the author at her website or on Twitter.

And buy the book from Amazon, B&N or Indiebound.

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Review: Brains, A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker

Having a fascination with unique, humorous zombies (Shaun of the Dead), I was pleased when I recently had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker.

Brains is an autobiographical accounting of the “undeath” of Professor Jack Barnes, who is bitten by a zombie during the outbreak of an unusual man-made virus. When Jack comes back to himself after his death, he realizes that he still possesses one of the talents he had when he was alive: Zombie Jack can write.

So he sets out on a journey to recruit others like himself and track down their creator, Howard Stein, inventor of the zombie virus. Once there, his plans are to use his written words to persuade the humans to give zombies equal rights. “The pursuit of life, liberty, and brains,” Jack writes.

On his journey, he meets Joan, a nurse with a deft hand for repairing zombie afflictions; Guts, a boy who can run like the wind (an unusual feat in a crowd of undead shufflers); Ros, a former soldier who has the unique ability (for a zombie) of speech; and Annie, a teenage girl with a pair of pistols and the aim of Annie Oakley.

At 192 pages, this book shouldn’t have taken me the several days that it did to finish; but somewhere in those several days I came to realize that Jack’s story isn’t just a zombie story. The zombies’ limitations speak not only to the plight of the undead, but also to the elderly, the infirm, and the mentally or physically impaired. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Perhaps I am. My maternal grandmother died very quickly of ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease) when I was 16, and the mental image I have of her possessing a perfectly sound mind while her body deteriorated around her has haunted me ever since.

“The pursuit of life, liberty, and brains,” Jack writes. It sounds humorous – and it is. But written between the lines are the further pursuits of open communication with other sentient beings, the ability to be cared for, of having ones needs met when one isn’t able to do for oneself. Of not being hated, feared, or mocked for what one looks like, or for being impaired physically or mentally.

I had no idea when I picked it up that I would read this short, humorous, light-hearted story so seriously. But I have, and I think that the plight of Professor Jack Barnes, zombie author, will be staying with me for a very long time.

[xrr rating=4/5]

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker – Book Trailer & Excerpt

I’ve been meaning to get this up for awhile. I’m really looking forward to this sequel to The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. For your enjoyment while we both wait – here’s the book trailer and an excerpt to Darkly Luminous.

The Official Trailer

A Brief Excerpt

Excerpt from The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker courtesy (and copyright) of Leanna Renee Hieber. Read more excerpts here.

Miss Persephone Parker lay deep in the honeyed thick of dreams, shifting between terrible vision and wonderful memory. The terrible vision began beautiful but ended in horror, she recalled.

She was young and powerful, standing in an endless field of perfumed flowers. The sky was what she imagined of Heaven. Eternal and wondrous, a beautiful raven-haired man held her tightly in his arms, and his great wings encircled their clinch, grazing her satin skin that ached for his touch. Phoenix was more than man or angel; he was a God, a being of sense and light, reason and truth. He was the perfect complement to her life-force of beauty, kindness, sensibility and love. Their mutual fellowship of light was blinding. Never had two beings been so suited. They loved one another not because it was destined but merely because it was right and mutually joyous. Their respective divine forces fit together as a puzzle, interlocked and stronger for it.

But jealousy set the God aflame—literally. Darkness set Phoenix on fire, and her lover died before her heavenly eyes. Screams shook the Earth. Tears enough to drown the world flooded the ground. His great form crumbled to dust, and the vendetta was born.

She turned back to the cave from whence came murder. Red eyes burned from the shadows. Vengeance flared in her heretofore peaceful breast, fueling a hallowed blue fire forged from the remnants of her one true love—and somehow the girl that was now Miss Parker knew that what she viewed here was a score she would unfortunately have to settle herself.

The scene shifted from nightmare to memory.
Here she recognized herself, her queer white skin, and remembered that friends called her Percy. A distinguished professor held her in his arms. Her body was corseted, swathed in satin, wreathed in heather. He wore a fine frock coat and waltzed with her by moonlight. His black hair lustrous in shafts of silver light, his dark eyes bright and compelling, this was her one true love. Acutely aware of the press of his hand and the curve of his lips, here was her destiny, the man who understood her, who unlocked her eerie visions and made everything strange about her beautiful.

The handsome, stoic face of Professor Alexi Rychman suddenly shifted, and in its place flashed red, angry eyes—fiery, terrible eyes—and she heard the all too familiar hissing of snakes. She bolted upright, launching herself toward consciousness before those eyes could seek her out.

Percy awoke in a large room she did not know.

Buy the Book

Pre-order Darkly Luminous at B&N or Amazon.

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker – Book Trailer & Excerpt

I’ve been meaning to get this up for awhile. I’m really looking forward to this sequel to The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. For your enjoyment while we both wait – here’s the book trailer and an excerpt to Darkly Luminous.

The Official Trailer

A Brief Excerpt

Excerpt from The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker courtesy (and copyright) of Leanna Renee Hieber. Read more excerpts here.

Miss Persephone Parker lay deep in the honeyed thick of dreams, shifting between terrible vision and wonderful memory. The terrible vision began beautiful but ended in horror, she recalled.

She was young and powerful, standing in an endless field of perfumed flowers. The sky was what she imagined of Heaven. Eternal and wondrous, a beautiful raven-haired man held her tightly in his arms, and his great wings encircled their clinch, grazing her satin skin that ached for his touch. Phoenix was more than man or angel; he was a God, a being of sense and light, reason and truth. He was the perfect complement to her life-force of beauty, kindness, sensibility and love. Their mutual fellowship of light was blinding. Never had two beings been so suited. They loved one another not because it was destined but merely because it was right and mutually joyous. Their respective divine forces fit together as a puzzle, interlocked and stronger for it.

But jealousy set the God aflame—literally. Darkness set Phoenix on fire, and her lover died before her heavenly eyes. Screams shook the Earth. Tears enough to drown the world flooded the ground. His great form crumbled to dust, and the vendetta was born.

She turned back to the cave from whence came murder. Red eyes burned from the shadows. Vengeance flared in her heretofore peaceful breast, fueling a hallowed blue fire forged from the remnants of her one true love—and somehow the girl that was now Miss Parker knew that what she viewed here was a score she would unfortunately have to settle herself.

The scene shifted from nightmare to memory.
Here she recognized herself, her queer white skin, and remembered that friends called her Percy. A distinguished professor held her in his arms. Her body was corseted, swathed in satin, wreathed in heather. He wore a fine frock coat and waltzed with her by moonlight. His black hair lustrous in shafts of silver light, his dark eyes bright and compelling, this was her one true love. Acutely aware of the press of his hand and the curve of his lips, here was her destiny, the man who understood her, who unlocked her eerie visions and made everything strange about her beautiful.

The handsome, stoic face of Professor Alexi Rychman suddenly shifted, and in its place flashed red, angry eyes—fiery, terrible eyes—and she heard the all too familiar hissing of snakes. She bolted upright, launching herself toward consciousness before those eyes could seek her out.

Percy awoke in a large room she did not know.

Buy the Book

Pre-order Darkly Luminous at B&N or Amazon.

Blogger Freebies and the FTC

I’ve been meaning to weigh in briefly about this article on the announced FTC plans to regulate blogger freebies. Of course, having a life and a couple of jobs tends to get in the way of those things. In case you were waiting with baited breath, however, here’s my take on this.

I’m a bit wary but otherwise indifferent to the whole thing. US laws should apply to all US citizens: salesmen, businesses, and yes – bloggers, too. I don’t really think we need to specifically include a group of people in the laws. They are US laws, yes? And we are US citizens, yes? Then certainly the laws of the country in which we reside apply to us – right?

As for myself, I try my best to remember to include a mention if the book I’m writing about was given to me as a review copy. I’m considering implementing some sort of graphic or icon system in order to be absolutely clear, so that may show up in the future. To my mind, it’s just good manners to tell people if you got something for free.

I’ve never let the lack of a price tag dissuade me from my opinions, however. I will strive to find something nice to say because that is the polite thing to do and the way that I was raised. One can manage to voice their disappointments in a product (or even a person) without tearing them into pieces. Although I must admit that it helps that I’ve rarely run across a book I didn’t like. I have run across an even half dozen in my lifetime that I could not finish, and only two of those do I blame solely on the book itself and am not planning to attempt reading again. (No, I will not name them here. Email me.)

I ultimately do not think the FTC will be interested in a tiny little blog like mine, which gets a few hundred hits a month. Not when the monetary value of the items I receive are far less than $50 – even in the case of hardcovers and promotional swag. (The literary value, on the other hand, is sometimes priceless. But I don’t envision the FTC discerning that fact.) Though I admit to some trepidation over the extension of supposed FTC powers into the Wild West ambiance of the internet. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out, I guess.

If you’d like a far more distinguished opinion than mine, you can read one here.