Novella Review: The Ravenous Dead by Natasho Hoar

 

 

  Title: The Ravenous Dead

  Author: Natasha Hoar

  Publisher: Carina Press

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

This time the dead are hungry…

Rachel Miller doesn’t just see dead people, she rescues them. As a member of The Order of Rescue Mediums, she spends most of her time helping stubborn spirits move on from the world. But after she learns the details of three brutal murders, she knows the culprit can only be a reaper, an undead monster that relentlessly stalks its victims to feed on their souls.

A reaper once consumed the soul of Rachel’s mentor as she watched frozen in fear. Now, Rachel is in the role of teacher to Kit Elkeles, a rodach just learning to control his wraithlike powers. After Kit and Rachel rescue a half-vampire, they work to protect him while searching for a way to stop the reaper. But when Rachel realizes who the monster is really after—and just what kind of dark magic she’ll need to stop it—will she be able to do what is necessary before it devours one of her friends…or even herself?

27,000 words

Review:

I love this series!  The pacing is fast and furious and guarantees that the pages will turn rapidly.  I started The Ravenous Dead when I had a couple of free moments, but then I had to put it down because I had social obligations to attend to.  All I could think about was getting back home and hunkering down with Rachel, Kit, and new guy Luke.  How could they possibly out muscle a horrifying monster that literately rips the soul out of its victims?  I couldn’t wait to find out!

One of the things I like best about this series is how we are given little snippets of background information about the characters and the weird, alternate Vancouver that they reside in, while chasing around with Rachel as she tries to stay alive long enough to unravel the latest mystery she’s stumbled into.  Paranormal beasties try to blend in with normal humans, and when they don’t, it’s Rachel’s job to find out why, and if necessary, help put an end to any dangerous behavior.  The world building is believable, without being heavy handed.  It’s almost like Rachel deals with all of these nasty creatures so I don’t have to even be aware that they are standing in line next to me at Taco Bell.

The Ravenous Dead pits Rachel against a reaper, an undead being that feasts on souls.  She believes that it’s the same reaper that  she failed to destroy years before, causing the death of her partner.  She is consumed with guilt, and she has a driving need to free the souls trapped inside the reaper.  The only problem?  It is a terrifying monster, fueled with the souls of its victims, and Rachel must overcome her mind-numbing fear of it, which leaves her frozen and incapable of calling on her supernatural powers.

This is a quick, exciting read with relatable characters and a paranormal world I would like to know more about.  The focus is on the intense action and character interaction, with small breadcrumbs scattered throughout the narrative to help make the setting feel real and believable.  Rachel is a strong, smart lead, and she’s given just enough flaws to ensure that she doesn’t have things too easy when she’s going toe to toe with a cantankerous spirit.  I can’t wait for her next adventure!

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by Carina Press

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Review: Desert Blade by Elle Drake

 

 

Title: Desert Blade

Author: Elle Drake

Publisher: Carina Press

ASIN: B0070XZYXI

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In the post-apocalyptic Midwest, now a ravaged dust bowl, former guardsman Derek Covington must find help for a sick boy. With nothing but memories of all he lost, Derek crosses the desert alone in search of the doctor who saved his own life ten years ago. Drifter gangs who loot and pillage don’t dare come near, for Derek has a formidable weapon: a prosthetic arm with a deadly blade.

For a decade, Dr. Lidia Sullivan has fantasized about the handsome guardsman who’d been in her care. And now she can’t deny his dangerous request. But as they make the treacherous journey back to Old St. Louis, they must contend with much more than fierce desert winds and their unthinkable attraction. A fearless gang has spotted Lidia—a rare woman—and will fight Derek to the death to get her. And though he risks his life to save her for the sake of the child who needs her, she fears there’s one thing Derek will never risk: his heart.

27,000 words

Review:

I love post-apocalyptic stories, so when I saw this novella on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.  The setting is a devastated Midwest, which has been turned into a lifeless desert.  Small settlements scrabble to make a living amidst the desolation, preyed upon by vicious drifters who kill anyone unlucky enough to wander across their path. 

The story starts with Lidia, a young doctor, helping to save the life of Derek, a Guardsman who has been wounded in the violent and fiery riots sweeping across Chicago.  In an effort to improve crop yields, scientists instead unleashed a virus that killed most of the plant life, setting off riots as desperate people, starving and panic-stricken, lashed out in bloody uprisings that left death and destruction in their wake.  When the staff from her hospital is evacuated, Lidia and Derek are separated during the ensuing chaos to stop the convoy and secure the valuable supplies being transported with the medical personnel.

Ten years later and now practicing her valuable medical skills in a small oasis amid the dust bowl that surrounds her small but thriving community, Lidia is shocked when Derek re-enters her life. Taking her from her safe haven and promising to protect her on a journey to his settlement, he needs her to help save the life of a friend’s young son. The resulting journey is both dangerous and exciting, as Lidia confronts the sizzling attraction that she still feels for the brooding, lethal man.

I love the premise for this story.  The Midwest has been turned into a desert, murderous bands of roving killers menace anyone stupid enough to travel beyond the guarded walls of the small communities that are slowly rising up out of the ruins of society.  Lidia actually lives a fairly comfortable life; she’s a doctor, and her life-saving skills are highly valued in her community.  She has enough to eat, she is safe within the walls of Leavenworth, and she is content with her life.  Right up until Derek re-enters her life, destroying her contentment and making her re-evaluate her present, and more importantly, her future.  He is like a raging inferno, and she is helpless against the force of her attraction for him.

While I found Derek to be a complete jackass at first, his stubbornness did grow on me.  He is aggressive, decisive, and once he sees Lidia again, he decides that he wants her.  All to himself, even if it means putting her in danger as he escorts her to his outpost near what is left of St Louis.  They have no doctors there, and they need one desperately.  Everyone in this ruined America needs a trained healer, so I was appalled that Derek would put Lidia’s life in danger and attempt to take her through the desert all by himself.  Ugh!  Derek!!  What were you thinking, other than that you wanted a chance to get into her pants?  I really wanted to hate this guy because that behavior was about as selfish as it got, but, gosh darn it, I couldn’t!  He’s so cocky and self-assured, and that held a certain amount of charm for me.  But still!  Dude! You almost got her KILLED!

Desert Blade is a fast paced romp through world on the brink of complete ruin.  It’s a fun popcorn adventure, with lots of action, fighting, and Derek and Lidia running for their lives. The world is interesting, the attraction between the protagonists is red hot, but there is a lack of depth due in part to the short length of this story. If you enjoy sci-fi romance or stories with post-apocalyptic settings, you will like this quick read.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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Novella Review: A Waltz at Midnight by Crista McHugh

 

Title: A Waltz at Midnight

Author: Crista McHugh

Publisher:  Carina Press

ISBN: B006IIX0VO

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

New York, 1866

When her mistress receives an utterly unromantic letter from a potential suitor, servant Susanna Parkwell is asked to craft an appropriate response. Though hesitant to take part in the deception, Susanna agrees, never dreaming the scorned suitor will write back.

Theodore Blakely abhors being pressured by his family to marry, but he’s intrigued by the witty refusal he receives from "Charlotte". After exchanging more letters, Ted believes he’s found a soul mate in his thoughtful and understanding correspondent, and asks permission to formally court her.

Though racked with guilt over her lies, Susanna can’t resist the opportunity to meet Ted in person. So she poses as Charlotte at a holiday ball, where she vows to tell him the truth. But when the clock strikes midnight, will Susanna have the courage to reveal her identity and risk losing the man she loves?

Review:

For a person who never had an appreciation for short stories, I certainly have been reading a lot of them lately!  I actually like the shorter length now, because I can fit them in when I’m not in the mood for a longer book.  Novellas also help me get over reading slumps, because I feel like I accomplished something in a short time period, so now I actually hop on Amazon to seek them out.

A Waltz at Midnight is a sweet romance, and though it wasn’t what I expected, I enjoyed it immensely.  Susanna works for her aunt just following the Civil War.  Having lost both of her parents and the family home during the rebellion, all Susanna has left is her brother and her pride.  A servant at a boarding house for privileged young women, she is caught up in a lie against her will.  To make extra money, she is asked to write a letter to Teddy to discourage him from courting Charlotte, one of the boarders.  As Susanna and Teddy exchange letter after letter, their initial dislike for each other slowly shifts to something else.  Is it love?  How can their love be based on a lie?

I loved this read and gobbled it up in one sitting.  The premise was interesting, with Teddy and Susanna sharing correspondences with other, and not actually meeting until almost the end of the book.  The letters start with Ted being dismissive of Charlotte, prompting a stern retort from Susanna.  As the letters flow back and forth, they both open up to each other, sharing their fears and dreams, and slowly gaining respect for each other.  I didn’t think I would enjoy this format, but their shift in feelings was convincing, and I was dying to see what would happen when they finally did meet in person.  I haven’t read many books set in this time period, either, so the historical details were interesting, too. 

A Waltz at Midnight is a very sweet romance with two likeable protagonists.  As Susanna and Teddy continued to exchange their letters, they each strove to improve themselves, and to become better people.  As their regard for each other grew, so did their desire to become people worthy of love.  Susanna’s anguish over her deception was convincing, and though the resolution was simplistic, I bought into it anyway.  This is another winner for me from Carina Press!

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

In stores February 27

 

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Review: The Stubborn Dead by Natasha Hoar

 

Title: The Stubborn Dead

Author: Natasha Hoar

Publisher: Carina Press

ISBN: B006BVTFT4

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Rachel Miller thought her next job was a run-of-the-mill haunting. As a member of the Order of Rescue Mediums it’s her duty to release trapped spirits from the earthly realm. But when called to client Sylvia Elkeles’s house, she finds a wraith who doesn’t act like he should.

The Order considers the wraith an extreme threat and Rachel may be forced to use a barbaric ritual to free him—a ritual that comes with a heavy personal price. If she fails to humanely release the wraith, she’ll have her supernatural abilities bound.

When Janus Ostara—local supernatural mob boss—shows up demanding her attention, and Sylvia keeps secrets that may place Rachel in mortal danger, she doesn’t need her abilities to know something darkly sinister is at play.

Between uncovering Sylvia’s disturbing motives, and avoiding Janus, Rachel has enough on her hands without dealing with a wraith who may not realize he’s supposed to be dead…,

Review:

I loved this novella from the first sentence to the last!  It starts with a bang, and the excitement never lets up.  Rachel, a Rescue Medium, releases spirits that are trapped, or refuse to leave, the earthly realm.  She’s good at her job, powerful, and confident in her abilities.  When she is set-up and forced to engage a wraith far outside of powers of any spirit she has ever encountered, she faces dismissal from Order that governs the rescue mediums, as well as the threat of having her powers sealed away.  So not a good way to start the day!

I haven’t read many Urban Fantasies, and as I experiment with new titles and authors, I am finding a lot to like out there.  Since so many of the UF titles are series, it’s intimidating to try to jump onboard after there are already several volumes available on bookstore shelves.  Whenever I see a new series, I have been making it a habit to try to read them.  Since The Stubborn Dead is a novella, and I had just finished up some other Carina Press novellas, I was even more tempted to read this.  I squeezed it into the schedule, and was pleasantly surprised with the pacing and the characters.  I also loved Natasha Hoar’s writing style – her prose grabbed me right away, and didn’t let go.  Once I started reading the story, I really, really did not want to stop.

Rachel is a great character.  She is capable, confident, fearless. Even when a nasty spirit is trying to bash her through a wall, her determination to successfully finish a job never wavers.  So when she encounters the wraith that Sylvia Elkele has hired her to get rid of, she is taken aback.  Nothing makes the powerful spirit pause for even a second, and Rachel finds herself retreating, hastily, from her first attempt to subdue it.  Now that she has engaged it, though, she has no choice but to defeat it, and to make things even more interesting, the Order has given her a deadline.  She has 48 hours to handle her spirit problem, or she will be unemployed and powerless.  Yikes! 

I enjoyed the mystery that Rachel found herself embroiled in, and found her both a clever and interesting character.  Impulsive, to be sure, and that made her even more relatable for me.  She doesn’t often stop to think things through, and this impatience gets her into a lot of trouble.  She is also overconfident, a character flaw that almost gets her killed.  I also liked her fearlessness.  She is up against badass spirits, and she doesn’t hesitate to enter into each new fray. 

I loved this novella, and I am looking forward to more from Natasha Hoar.  This was such a fun read that she has been added to my auto-buy list.

Grade: A-

Available January 23

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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Review: Mask of the Gladiator by Georgie Lee

 

Title: Mask of the Gladiator

Author: Georgie Lee

Publisher: Carina Press

ISBN:  B006BC7J2S

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Rome, 41 AD

Livia Duronius is driven to seek out a gladiator after watching him triumph in the Coliseum. His touch arouses a sense of hope she hasn’t felt since Rome fell under the tyrannical rule of Caligula—and her late husband betrayed her. Though in danger of losing more than her heart, she vows to see him again, even after she learns her uncle has arranged her marriage to a senator.

Senator Titus Marius cannot resist indulging in a passionate encounter with the veiled woman who waits for him after the games, though he faces execution if his true identity is discovered. Bound by honor to wed another, and embroiled in a plot to free Rome from madness, he never expects to see the mystery woman again.

When the fates reunite them in the marriage bed, Titus vows to protect Livia at all costs—even from the lecherous eyes of the emperor…

Review:

Since there are so few romances set in Ancient Rome, I grabbed this as soon as I saw it on Netgalley.  It’s another Carina Press novella, with a word count of about 17,000 words, and I was curious to see if I would enjoy this as much as Priestess of the Nile.  After some misgivings at the start, I found that I liked it even better.  The pacing was swift, and the intrigue really reeled me in.  How would Titus and Livia survive with all of the danger swirling about the streets of Rome?

I didn’t care for beginning, and started having doubts after Livia enjoys a forbidden moment with a mysterious gladiator.  What Livia doesn’t know is that her mystery man is Senator Titus Marius, and that he risks death every time he dons his armor and enters the Coliseum for a fight to the death.  In his bid to overthrow the cruel Caligula, he is willing to enter the Games to set his plans in motion.  If he is caught, he will be executed.  He chafes at the promise he has made to marry the niece of one of his co-conspirators, but honor demands that he keep his word.  Imagine his surprise when his bride-to-be turns out to be none other than the woman he shared a passionate encounter with after his latest victory.

I am not sure why the beginning rubbed me the wrong way, but ugh, it did.  I had serious reservations about finishing the novella, but once Livia is given the unpleasant news that she is to wed one of her uncle’s acquaintances, things got rolling.  Livia discovers that her uncle and several of the most powerful men in Rome are plotting to bring about Caligula’s downfall.  Since even she hasn’t been spared from his cruelty, Livia is eager to assist in any way she can.  The emperor has brought nothing but hardship to the people of Rome, ruling through terror and murdering anyone who he doesn’t like.

With the threat of death over their heads, it was easy to buy into Titus and Livia’s instant affinity for each other.  Nothing creates feelings of solidarity faster than the fear of a painful and sudden death.  Though Livia has trust issues due to her previous, and brief, marriage, she allows Titus to convince her that he will protect her with his life.  Even I believed him.  He’s a strong, fearless man who has faced death many times on both the battlefield and in the Games.  If anyone could keep Livia safe from the emperor, it would surely be Titus.  Secure in this belief, Livia is allowed to become fearless herself, and after their plans go awry, Livia needs to be brave and self-reliant.  That is what I liked best about her character; she understands the danger she faces, and yet she rushes into the jaws of an almost certain, bloody end.  If Titus can be fearless, than she can do no less.

I found the setting, those secretive, tense days leading up to Caligula’s assassination, compelling.  I enjoyed the characters, and found this a satisfying, suspenseful read.

Grade: B+

Available January 30

Review copy provided by publisher

Review–Priestess of the Nile by Veronica Scott

 

Title: Priestess of the Nile

Author: Veronica Scott

Publisher: Carina Press

ISBN: B0068742JO

For Mature Readers

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Egypt, 1500 BC

Drawn to his abandoned temple on the banks of the Nile by an enchanting song, Sobek the Crocodile God is even more captivated by the sight of the singer herself. Appearing to her as a man, he learns she is Merys, a descendant of his last priestess. Though filled with lust, Sobek believes Merys deserves to be more than just his mistress. But the rules that govern the Egyptian pantheon forbid anything beyond a physical joining of a Great One and a human.

Merys is attracted to the handsome stranger, who arouses passions in her that no man ever has. But with no dowry and no hope of ever leaving her village, she dares not dream of the future—or love.

Sobek takes every opportunity to visit Merys, taxing his resolve to leave her pure. When he saves her life, their mutual desire must be sated. But can a love between a human and an immortal survive the ultimate test of the gods?,

Review:

I love books set in Ancient Egypt (and Greece and Rome – any ancient setting, for that matter!)  so when I saw Priestess of the Nile on Netgalley, I very eagerly requested it.  I was even overjoyed to see that it was a novella, because I am rather swamped with full-length novels, and I knew I would be able to get to it sooner, as the time commitment wasn’t as overwhelming.  Despite some reservations, I did find this a fast, diverting read. 

Merys is the oldest daughter of the village scribe, but she has been relegated to a servant’s role in her own home.  Ever since her father remarried, life has been difficult for Merys.  Her stepmother has made it very clear that she won’t be receiving even a pittance for a dowry, and without one, the chances of her finding a suitable husband are slim.  Instead, she has sadly resigned herself to waiting on her step-mother and her half-siblings, hand and foot.  Her only joy comes from caring for her youngest sister, and from worshipping the crocodile god, Sobek.  The women in Merys family had long served Sobek, until the god fell out of favor in her village.  She still tends to the abandoned temple as best she can, and she continues to uphold important ceremonies honoring the god.

When Sobek, in human guise, meets and falls in love with the gentle Merys, he realizes that he can never be with her.  It is forbidden for a god to take a human wife, and the goddess Isis is terrifying in her adherence to the rules.  Taking what joy he can find with Merys, careful to keep their relationship a secret, he is powerless to forge a future with her.  When tragedy dogs his footsteps, no one will be safe from his wrath.  Can the savage god find peace for Merys and for himself?

This is a short read, about 21,000 words, and it kept me entertained to the last page.  Both protagonists are likable, and I wanted them to find a HEA.  Since their relationship was forbidden, I wasn’t sure how this could happen, so I found the final resolution satisfying, though just a bit too convenient.  Given the page constraints, though, I was not disappointed with the ending. 

The aspect of the story that I didn’t buy was Merys servant status in her own house.  This reminded me of Cinderella set in an ancient world setting, but I didn’t feel that her circumstances were adequately explored.  Her father is still alive, he is an esteemed person in their village, and with her upper middle-class background, there was no reason for Merys to be resigned to a life of servitude in her father’s house.  If anything, as the eldest child, she should have had a higher standing.  There was no compelling reason given for her to be a virtual slave, other than for plot convenience.  

Other than my one gripe above, I found this a worthwhile way to spend time waiting for the New Year’s festivities to begin.  I haven’t read many Carina titles, but the few that I have were entertaining.  I am looking forward to exploring more Carina titles in 2012.

Grade: B

Available January 23, 2012

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey

 

Title: Yours to Keep

Author: Shannon Stacey

Publisher: Carina Press

ASIN: B004XVSVQW

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Sean Kowalski no sooner leaves the army than he’s recruited by Emma Shaw to be her fake fiancé. Emma needs to produce a husband-to-be for her grandmother’s upcoming visit, and, though Sean doesn’t like the deception, he could use the landscaping job Emma’s offering while he decides what to do with his civilian life. And, despite his attraction to Emma, there’s no chance he’ll fall for a woman with deep roots in a town he’s not planning to call home.

Emma’s not interested in a real relationship either; not with a man whose idea of home is wherever he drops his duffel bag. No matter how amazing his "pretend" kisses are…

Review:

This is the first Carina pubbed book that I have read, and I’ll tell you right off the bat, it won’t be the last.  I don’t know why I waited so long to read one of their titles; Carina is the digital-first imprint that belongs under the Harlequin umbrella, and I have been reading and enjoying Harlequins since the fifth grade.  Maybe I was wary because these titles are digital only and I wasn’t ready to embrace that concept.  Maybe I thought, incorrectly, that because the books are digital only, that the quality would be lacking.  Nope, that’s not the case at all.  In fact, some of the Harlequin series romances that I have read recently had typos, and this one only had one that I noticed. The prose is smooth and polished, and the read is solid overall.  So there you go;  first impressions are often wrong, as I learned after reading Yours to Keep.

This book featured many of my favorite romance tropes; large, interfering families, small towns, big, rambling houses, and a hero and heroine who must pretend that they’re a couple.  The reason for Sean and Emma hooking up in the first place was a little weak, though – her grandmother, who has retired to Florida, worries incessantly about Emma living by herself, and Emma is even worried that Gram will sell the house out from under her, so she makes up a boyfriend.  The problem? When her grandmother comes to visit, Emma must produce said boyfriend.

Sean has just been released from the military, and after 12 years of people telling him what to do, he wants to figure out what he wants to do with his life.  Pretending to be crazy Emma’s fiancée isn’t what he had in mind.  Still, when she offers him a temporary job and a roof over his head, he caves.  He just makes it very, very clear to her that once her grandmother goes back home to Florida, he is outta there, and he’s not even going to look back.

For me, the strength of Yours to Keep is the bantering that takes place between pretty much everyone in the book.  The dialog is snappy, and funny, and it had me laughing out loud a few times.  As Emma and Sean spend more time together, they start to get to know each other better, and their relationship developed naturally and convincingly.  They are both such likable characters, and even as they deny their attraction and growing feelings for each other, it is so evident in every little thing they did.  Neither one of them wanted their relationship to last longer than the month that Emma’s grandmother would be in town, but as the pages kept turning, it became so clear that going their separate ways was going to be an agonizing parting.

If you are looking for a humorous, feel good romance, don’t look any further than Yours to Keep.  The characters are charming, the laughs are frequent, and the romance is blazing hot.  I was sad to see this one end, because I know that it’s going to be hard to top.

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher