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Damned If I Do: This Vampire is Fighting for LIFE, not Death

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Damned if I Do (The Harker Trilogy #1)

The Harker Trilogy #1
250 Pages
Paranormal/Fantasy/Romance
Publication Date: September 14th, 2015
Get a copy here!

They killed my sister and infected me.

Now I have to pick up the pieces before I die.

I’ve spent the last five months trying to find the bastard who did this. Yet, even with the help of a hot amnesiac vampire named Jude, I’ve had zero luck.

Until now. And it could change everything. Even though I grew up in a family that hunted the supernatural, there were still things I didn’t believe in.

Now I have to hurry for the slim chance that I could save us all. Because when you fight against immortal vampires, you’re the one who’s running out of time.

3.75Penguins
Quick Reasons: forbidden love; vampire lore with an interesting and unique twist; a vampire and a witch walk into a bar…and blow the roof off; well-developed, snarky characters; the relationships built upon and portrayed throughout are gold; loads of action and fight scenes; this will leave readers hungry for more

Huge thanks to Erin Hayes and Giselle @ Xpresso Book Tours for granting me access to this title free in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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I need to start this review off with an apology, dear penguins. I am a terrible, terrible book reviewer. See, I read this book on the plane ride home from my vacation. On the 15th. You know, several weeks ago? And then I got off the plane…and promptly forgot that I had a review to write at all. I guess I should have written myself a note on the cocktail napkin that came with my drink, or on my hand, or on my forehead… Something?! Regardless, I’m typing it up now–do you forgive me, penguins, for being such a basket case? I hope you do.

This book was equal parts “magical, snarky, stubborn witches”…and “blood-thirsty vampire.” There was an incredibly unique and inventive take on magic meets monster to this story that I became immediately engrossed by–no, really! I think it took all of one chapter for me to realize this was EXACTLY the type of book I love to fall into. I ADORE the world Erin Hayes built around her readers in this book–it was dark, full of action, and compelling. I was entertained from the very beginning–and hungry for more at the end. Seriously, I’m super glad I have the second novel in this series to dive into soon–I am dying to know what happens next!

The characters are well-rounded, snarky in all the right places, and realistic in their relationships/reactions. This read is FULL of drama, emotions, and broken personalities…and I adored every single minute of it. The love story is, while touching upon the cliched “forbidden” of mortal and the undead, both endearing and surprisingly steamy. I LOVE that this book is written in two perspectives, as well–it helped to fully immerse me in the story AND in the characters. There’s also an intriguing…twist, near the end, that caught me off guard. I’m not sure how that will come into play in the second novel, but it’s bound to be interesting!

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I had a TON of fun diving into this world of chaos, vampires, and magic–and I can’t wait to pick up the second book! I am sorry, though, that I forgot until tonight that I’d even finished this read; how dare I call myself a book reviewer?! Feel free to revoke my privileges, if you must…though I do hope you don’t. I recommend this read to lovers of vampires, forbidden romances (think akin to Twilight, sort of…), and a fight to the death (or, rather, a fight to NOT die). This is entertaining from start to finish; if you’re seeking a fun, quick read, perhaps you should consider this one!

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The Grove: Can We Just Talk About that Ending for a Second?!

The Grove

Book #1
340 Pages

Paranormal/Fantasy
ZB Publications
Publication Date: July 12th, 2016
Get a copy here!

 

Sitka’s Quay appears to be like every other coastal tourist town on Highway 101, but lurking below its southern grove of ancient spruce are three sleeping primordial gods. For an eon, their bloodthirsty dreams have radiated into the ground and restore anyone who walks within the Grove. The Keeper, Dayla Fischer, must remain in control of her magical abilities or fall into sickening madness, but lives a relatively quiet life with her husband, Oliver.

That is, until the delusional, but charming Jonah Leifson comes to town with a plan to awaken the Three. Soon, children begin disappearing. With powerful suggestion spells and mind reading abilities, Jonah wins over other sorcerers, meth users, the police, and eventually even her husband. Though no one believes her and she doubts her own sanity, she must stop Jonah, before he wakes the Three and brings about the end of the world.

3.5Penguins
Quick Reasons: marked as ‘horror’ but I wasn’t really horrified at any point; interesting look into manipulation and emotional abuse; great world-building; the implementation of magic in this world was creative and well-done; I don’t generally like witches/sorcerers in books…but this one was imaginative and, while not horrifying, at least somewhat creepy; just a little bit of a dragging plot

HUGE thank you to Elizabeth Guizzetti and ZB Publications for sending me a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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This was, overall, an interesting–if slightly dragging–read. I felt, at moments, that the writing was so inundated with descriptors and abstract language, it became a bit difficult to track the actual action. Several times I found myself simply skimming paragraphs I didn’t feel were important to the plot, and having to go back to read them over again when I realized I’d missed an important detail in the blather. This, fortunately, didn’t happen often, and while the plot dragged in a few crucial instances, I was intrigued and enthralled regardless.

 

I don’t, however, know if I necessarily felt scared by this read. I’m not one for books about witches or sorcerers–I blame this entirely on my love for the world of Harry Potter, honestly. Nothing else ever QUITE matches up, I guess. I mean, how could anything be expected to?! BUT–I went into this book hoping to be scared out of my skull. The blurb sounded promising. I got a sort of Sinner feel almost immediately, despite the difference in worlds and premise. But…instead, I was sort of let down. There were a few cringe-worthy, creeptastic moments…but overall, the plot felt a bit 1-dimensional and unchallenged.

I really enjoyed how Elizabeth Guizzetti experimented with manipulation and emotional “abuse” in this novel (abuse in quotations because it’s not QUITE the right word for what happens throughout this read). Jonah is a very driven, obsessive character on a dark mission. I got a few “Voldemort and the Horcruxes” feel throughout, especially given the fact Jonah essentially split himself (and another character, later on) into two separate entities. The rest of the characters also go through their own transformations, psychotic breaks, and intriguing struggles. The fact that Jonah uses manipulation to break and mold the ENTIRE town (save, of course, our “heroine”) made this an even better descent into pure chaos and insanity. No character was overlooked or cast aside–every single person who came into contact with Jonah and his plight, was touched and changed irreversibly. This was both well-done and supremely creepy.

 

And that ending! The ending is probably the most horrifying part of the entire read–and I mean the ACTUAL ending, not the few pages prior to it. There’s a huge plot twist within the very last few sentences that entirely changed my ideas on the Gods portrayed in this read…and took me by complete surprise. Of course, this also means the ending is basically a huge cliffhanger…but honestly, I don’t feel as if I was let down by this in any way. After all, the big “story” for this first novel was completed and put to bed… The cliffhanger is, effectively, just leading readers into the next big story line.

 

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While I was slightly disappointed overall by the lack of horror in this read (at least, for me personally–it might be scary to others, even if it wasn’t for me!), I had a great time learning about this world and the way magic works within it. The plot does drag in a few moments, and some of the prose gets a bit tedious with descriptors and abstract language… but overall, this was an entertaining and creepy look into magic and manipulation. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for book two in the future–I can’t wait to see what the big cliffhanger at the end means for our characters! I recommend this to lovers of obsessive characters, magical realism, and creepy villains!

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Book Tour (Review): Tail & Trouble

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Tail and Trouble
By Victor Catano 
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing

When Gabriel’s witch girlfriend doesn’t return from her latest trip, he gets on the road and heads out to find her. Sheila’s coven is secretive and distrustful of Gabriel, so the only help he has is Sheila’s familiar, a bulldog named Orson, who is psychically linked to both of them.
In Florida, they walk right into an elaborate plan to steal Orson. A mysterious wizard
named Yareth is behind the plot, and he may also know where Sheila is.
Gabriel and Orson will have to fight for their lives as they navigate around all the magical roadblocks to force Yareth’s hand. They won’t give up until Sheila is safe.

About the Author Victor Catano - HS
Victor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim. When not writing, he
works in live theater as a stage manager, light designer, and technical director, working
mainly with dance companies. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and
complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles.

You can find him:
On Twitter
On Facebook
On Weebly
On Goodreads
On Red Adept


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3.5Penguins
Quick Reasons: the dog is my favorite character in this book—his snark is beyond adorable, and just what I imagine a dog might think; pretty awesome story telling; the voices of our characters are strong and unique; I really enjoyed the relationship between Orson and Gabriel; the prose is well-detailed; the plot is action-packed; I love that Gabriel is the odd-one-out in this story

Huge thanks to Victor Catano and Red Adept Publishing for granting me access to this title free in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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Let’s start with the characters. Each voice is unique and well-crafted. It’s not hard to keep characters straight, regardless who’s speaking, because the detail and care Victor Catano put into his characters and personalities shines through. Each person literally leapt off the page for me, though I have to admit, I’m VERY partial to our leading dog, Orson. His personality was above and beyond what I expected going into this book. His snark alone kept me chuckling, the wit and sass falling as naturally from his tongue as drool.

I also really appreciated that our leading man, Gabriel, is sort of the “odd man out” in regards to the magic of this world. As a non-magical, just your average human, I felt Gabriel was put into a role I wasn’t expecting. That of the outsider. The interloper, if you will. While Gabriel holds his own against the evil and wrong-doers of the book, he is not made out to be anything but average. I really enjoyed this; it’s not often we see men cast in such roles.

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The prose is well-detailed. I could imagine what was happening without much effort. I feel, however, that certain parts of the plot were rushed through or contrived to keep the story going. Action scenes seemed to work out “just right,” some plot points were almost too easily resolved…things like that. While it didn’t effect my read of the book, it did make it a bit difficult for me to shed my disbelief and fully invest myself in the read.

That being said, I had a TON of fun reading this. The prose is witty, humorous, and filled with snark. The characters leap off the page—Orson in particular. (I’m sorry, I can’t help it—I love me some non-human characters, and Orson is just too adorable not to love!) I definitely recommend to lovers of fantasy, entertaining characters, and unique story-telling. The voice for this read? Top-notch. I can’t wait to see what Victor Catano will bring us next!

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A Review of Night World (No 1), by L.J. Smith

Night World, No. 1 (Night World, #1-3)

Goodreads Rating: 4.03 Stars
729 Pages
Simon Pulse Publishing
Get a copy here!

Overall Rating: 3.5Penguins


Mini Review: Secret Vampire

In Secret Vampire, Poppy thought the summer would last forever. Then she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now Poppy’s only hope for survival is James, her friend and secret love. A vampire in the Night World, James can make Poppy immortal. But first they both must risk everything to go against the laws of Night World.

Rating: 3/5 Penguins
Quick Reasons: snarky, intriguing characters; broody, mysterious vampires; a lot of huffing and puffing but not much blowing-my-socks-off; very quick, off-the-cuff ending; things wrapped up WAY fast; semi-awkward, robotic writing

Reading this was a bit like forcing yourself to watch a movie you’re not really interested in, but not NOT interested in at the same time. Does that make sense? Regardless, it’s how I feel.

The romance between James and Poppy was sweet…if not a bit on the “obsessive first-love” side of the line. I mean honestly, Poppy even says herself near the end—she’s only ever wanted James. Which…eh. That’s just not the way things work in real life.

She had never been so close to anybody. It was as if they were one being, together, not predator and prey, but partners in a dance. 

The characters are sort of flat and one-dimensional. There’s not much “growth” happening, save in Phillip’s case. Which was disappointing for me, seeing as Poppy and James are the main two of this story. The action, while pretty fast-paced, felt a bit like throwing puzzle pieces into place near the end of completion: a lot of it was stiff and awkward, and it all seemed to wrap up MUCH too nicely at the end to get bonus points for taking me on a wild journey.

Also, nothing new added to vampire lore. I remember reading these books when I was younger and enjoying them…what happened? Regardless, it was entertaining, and there were some good snark moments.


Mini Review: Daughters of Darkness

Fugitives from Night World, three vampire sisters leave their isolated home to live among humans in Daughters of Darkness. Their brother, Ash, is sent to bring the girls back, but he falls in love with their beautiful friend.

Rating: 3.75/5 Penguins
Quick Reasons: much more interesting, well-rounded characters; the action scenes didn’t feel as rushed or off-the-cuff; the romance was just the sort I LOVE (hate to grudging respect to friendship to maybe possibly might be love); an introduction to this world’s werewoves

This story was MUCH more entertaining than the first one. The characters are snarky, quirky, and well-rounded; I fell in love with them all pretty much immediately, even the “villain.” There’s a TON of growth happening in this read, particularly for our main pair, Ash and Mary-Lynnette.

“Do I look like the kind of person who wastes time turning goats into pin cushions?”

The snark, in particular, was fierce for this story. And I ADORED every moment of it! There were a few times I was tempted to LOL…though I managed to hold back. The husband looks at me funny when I give in, after all. But really, the writing was much better–less awkward, more smooth and seamless. The humor was well-done and quick to lighten the mood. The romance was also much more believable–it wasn’t love at first sight. It wasn’t even LIKE at first sight. I rather adore those relationships that start at “loathe and hate” and work their way to “respect and maybe, might be, SOMEDAY, love”–they’re my favorite.

I liked this one much better than the first story. Still nothing “new” on vampire lore, but the enjoyment was real!


Mini Review: Spellbinder

Two witch cousins fight over their high school crush. It’s a battle between black magic and white magic in Spellbinder.

Rating: 3.25/5 Penguins
Quick Reasons: witches and magic!; the battle of “good” vs. “evil” brought to terrifying life; paranormal occurrences, bad-girl characters, good morals (this tackles the idea of “prejudice”)

Okay. So the middle story in this collection was my favorite of the three. This one wasn’t bad, per se–the characters are well-rendered and realistic, though Blaise had a HUGE flair for the dramatics.

The characters fell a bit flat overall, though, much like those in the first story. Instead of leaping off the page, they just sort of seemed to float there–disconnected spirits, almost. Blaise, of course, had enough personality that she was easy to imagine in my head. The rest of them, though… Well, they just seemed a bit one-dimensional again.

The worms were beautifully drawn, with their nervous systems and reproductive organs shaded in different colors of highlighter, but the artist had also given them big goofy smiling faces. Grotesque but lovable in a cross-eyed way.

I did enjoy the switch from vampires to witches; there was some new lore mixed in with the old that made this story fascinating. There was a ton of magic and the paranormal, which kept my interest as well. The action was a bit flat, though, throughout–there was no real sense of “buildup” for me. Things just sort of chugged along, without pulling in my feelings.


Overall, these were all interesting and entertaining reads, though not my favorite; the characters fell a bit too flat for my liking, and the action scenes were a bit too fast or hazed over to catch my attention. I’d recommend these to younger readers, definitely–or people seeking snarky, tongue-in-cheek paranormal fiction.

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A Review of Grimm House, by Karen McQuestion

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When Hadley’s parents leave on a cruise and then are reported lost at sea, her perfect world is turned upside down.

In a flash she is whisked away to a new life of drudgery at Grimm House where she waits on not one but two persnickety old aunts. As she grudgingly fulfills their commands of cooking, cleaning, and even after-dinner-dancing, she comes to suspect the aunts are really witches who are scheming to take the thing she loves best.

With only her wits and the help of some unlikely new friends, Hadley makes a plan to escape Grimm House and find her way home before it’s too late.

For ages 7 – 11, or those who are young at heart.

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4.5 Stars
Quick Reasons: a read akin to that of Coraline, by Neil Gaiman; wicked witches, magical chandeliers, and talking cockroaches; a fun, whimsical, and horrifying read; the main character finds strength in self; some awesome morals

Huge thanks to Karen McQuestion for exchanging a free copy of this book in return for an honest review! This in no way altered my opinions or review of this read.

“No, no, no. The kids still live. The ashes are what’s left after the witches suck the talent out of them. The ashes are a longing for what might have been. The ashes are the void you feel when you don’t have your passion anymore.”

This is such an entertaining, horrifying read—I’m not sure how Karen McQuestion managed to pull off that mix, but she did, and she did so wonderfully. This has something like Coraline to it—the villains are exaggerated and terrifying, the main character timid at first but quickly finding hidden strengths in herself. Also, there are talking cockroaches, which brought both a sense of disturbed fascination and abject hilarity to the situation—even when the situation wasn’t funny at all.

I warn potential readers–especially those who are sensitive or who are easily triggered–right off the bat: there are some difficult to swallow scenes in this read. There is abuse, both physical and emotional. The Aunts are more than terrifying—they’re manipulative, and cruel, and mean-spirited. So if things like this bother you, perhaps this read isn’t the right fit for you as a reader. I’d suggest thinking about it before cracking the spine.

Nick had pretended to agree with her, but secretly he was sickened by the idea. In his notebook, he wondered: “Will I be the same person if I can’t put my thoughts down in words? Will my life be the same without my poetry?”

Apart from that, the characters are well-written, spine-tingling, and endearing all at once. The story of a girl coming into her own and finding strengths in herself she didn’t realize she possessed is, while not a new idea, done in an interesting way. Her character arc from first to last page is both endearing and filled with whimsy.

And while creepy, this read sucks you in, latches on, and refuses to let go until the climax has passed, the drama has settled, and our main character finds herself back where she belongs. The morals spaced throughout—from standing up for yourself, to loving the you that you are—are sure to touch and shape any who pick this read up.

And Hadley danced, perfectly in sync with the music, swaying from side to side as if her life depended on it. Above her the light felt her energy and came to life, flickering and buzzing, a chandelier dragon ready to devour her. But not today. Today she would be the one slaying the dragon.

I had SO MUCH fun stepping into this world, and really enjoyed the sense of otherness I got from the settings, characters, and plot. Plus (and I know I’ve said this before, but I’m repeating myself)–there are talking cockroaches! I’d definitely recommend to lovers of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, or those who love whimsical worlds and horrifying villains. If you read one midgrade novel this year, make it this one—you won’t regret it!