Novella Review: Mercy by Jan Coffey

Mercy (Entangled Ever After)

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Julia Klein’s life has begun to unravel—her daughter Amy has been suspended from school, Julia is about to lose her job, and her boyfriend Garrett is being transferred thousands of miles away. Overwhelmed, she and Amy leave for a weekend at a rambling old colonial inn. Julia never suspects that Garrett, desperate to find a way to keep Julia in his life, has decided to surprise her by joining them. Nor does she expect her daughter to befriend a mischievous ghost…or that she herself would be possessed by the malevolent spirit of a long-dead mother.

As a dark secret emerges, Julia, Amy, and Garrett find themselves pitted in a fight for survival against a savage presence that intends to resurrect/repeat/relive a horrible crime committed two centuries ago. And this time, Amy and Julia will be the victims.

Review:

Zowie!!  Mercy is a great Halloween read!  I wasn’t expecting much, and in fact only picked this novella up because it’s short and I thought I could polish it off fairly quickly.  I did!  But because I couldn’t put it down once I started it.  It’s creepy and the pacing is unrelenting!  Good thing it’s short, because my heart couldn’t have taken much more!  I am usually not a fan of ghost stories, and even though this is fairly predictable, it’s well written and engaging because the characters are so personable.

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Novella Review: Wish Upon a Star by Michelle McLean

 

Wish Upon a Star (Entangled Ever After)

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Ceri McKinley never stopped wishing that her ex-fiancé Jason Crickett would come back into her life. But when he finally does, he comes with a request that puts them both—and all of humanity—into jeopardy.

Jason only wants two things: to bury his brother properly and to convince Ceri to trust him again after he jilted her. But when Ceri agrees to help him get his brother back, they end up fighting for their lives as the second zombie uprising threatens them all.

Review:

‘Tis the season for zombies, witches, demons, and various other undead creatures, so I am trying to pack my reading schedule with horror stories.  The funny thing is that I usually don’t like them, and I can’t stand to watch horror movies.  As I have pushed outside of my reading comfort zone, though, I have discovered a new appreciation for scarier books, provided that gore isn’t the central theme.  I like seeing how ordinary people react to extraordinary situations, and that is what I enjoy best about dipping into the treasure trove of zombie apocalypse stories.  How are the protagonists going to reconcile themselves to the new normal, which is terrifying and may bring death at any moment?

Wish Upon A Star isn’t long enough to really delve into how Ceri and Jason’s lives and outlooks are going to change after zombies enter the picture.  This is an action read, and the primary focus is on saving Ceri’s daughter from the zombies shambling through the large building that they are all trapped in.  After Ceri’s ex-husband Russell unwittingly unleashes  a zombie apocalypse, Ceri and Jason, the only man she ever really loved,  and the man who left her at the alter, are left to pick up the pieces.  Ceri’s ex-husband was  a mad tinker, and he wanted to create and control the undead – until his creations turn on him.  Yikes! That is always a possibility for evil psychos – don’t these guys watch horror flicks? 

Huddled safely in Russell’s safe room, Ceri sees, to her shock, that her daughter is hiding in an office on the top floor of the building with her mother.  She and Jason are in the basement.  There are a gabillion hungry zombies between her and her family.  What follows is an action packed race to secure her daughter and mother back in the safe room before the military blows up the building.  Setting aside a few improbabilities, like will the room really survive having a huge building crumpled on top of it, this is a fun read.  It has one of my favorite romance tropes, too, and Ceri and Jason rediscover the love that they lost years ago.  Nothing like a zombie horde to put the trust back into a relationship.  After saving each other’s bacon many times on their journey to the top floor, how can they not realize that they are meant for each other, forever this time?

If you are looking for a light seasonal read to get you in the mood for things that go bump in the night, Wish Upon a Star is a good choice.  It’s got a little bit of everything, though the short length eliminates much depth to the story.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

Spotlight and Giveaway! Wish Upon a Star by Michelle McLean

Interview with Michelle McLean

Do you write in different genres?

I do! I love writing in different genres. It lets me explore different aspects of creativity and work out different parts of my brain. I write historical, paranormal/urban fantasy, and contemporary romances, and educational non-fiction. Along with a bit of poetry and a picture book or two :)

If yes which is your favorite genre to write?

I really don’t have a favorite, unless you count romance :) But sub-genre-wise, I love them all. Historicals allow me to delve into the past which I absolutely love (my bachelors degree is in History). Paranormals and urban fantasies allow me to play around with the supernatural and other-worldly things which I also absolutely love. Contemporaries allow me to switch up my every day world a little. And my non-fiction allows me to tap into my analytical side and help people with educational matters, which I also really love. I’ve penned poetry since I was little, and have written several picture books for my kids that I still read to them. I can’t imagine not writing any of these.

How did you come up with the title for your latest book?

Wish Upon a Star was originally a fairy tale retelling that was a mashup of Pinocchio and Rumplestiltskin. Most of the fairy tale elements were taken out in edits, but my main character was based on the blue fairy and spends a lot of time wishing on stars :)

Do you title the book first or wait until after it’s complete?

I almost always title the book afterwards. I like to use a line or some words or a theme that is special to or prevalent in the book to use as a title and often that doesn’t come across until it is finished. The one exception is a novella I’m working on. I heard a line in a song that I just loved and built a book idea around it :)

What books/authors have influenced your life?

Victoria Holt has been my biggest influence. She was my first authorial love :) Once I graduated to novels (at a fairly young age) I read everything I could get my hands on. I was always raiding my mom’s shelves and she had a ton of Victoria Holt’s gothic romances. I fell in love with the genre immediately. And when I decided to write my own first novel that type of story was in my head. A historical romance full of romance, danger, and mystery :) I write other genres as well, but historical romances, especially gothic, will always be my first loves.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

One of the books I’m working on has several shape poems in it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep them in there as it won’t show up correctly on all digital devices, but they are really fun to create. In the book, I have poems shaped like an hour glass, an ankh, a lightning bolt, a broken heart, a pyramid, an eye, a music note, and several others. Here is one, shaped to look like a drop of blood.

He holds

my face so tenderly,

in hands that had killed.

For me. Fingers gently touch

my cheeks. His lips kiss away my

tears, my blood. “Breathe,” he whispers.

His lips brush mine. “Just breathe.” I shudder,

my breath escaping at his command. “If you insist,”

I try to joke. Fail. Shouts fill the night air. “Go!” I cry.

They mustn’t find you with me. Go!” He freezes, his storm

gray eyes on our hands, clasped between our pounding hearts.

The horror on his face mirrors that on my own. One last caress, so

bittersweet. He wavers. “Go,” I breathe. He steps back, back, raised

hand stained black with blood. Mine, his, theirs. His pained howl rips

through me, burning his image on my soul. “For you I’ll live,” I whisper,

unwilling to breathe, unable to stop. They will come for me, their hands

grasping, to return me to my clan. “Go!” I plead. One last look and he

runs, his tortured fury echoing through me, his pain my own. They

come, see me bathed in blood. “Who did this?” they ask. I shrink

from their touch. Gently they lift me, murmuring, “Let us help

you.” I swallow my protests, settle into their strong hands.

They ask, over and over, but I don’t speak. And they

don’t suspect. They take me home. I care not.

I’ll breathe because I promised I would.

But oh how it hurts. He is gone…

And…I…can’t…breathe....

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

The first draft. I’m horrible at first drafts. Editing, I love. I can revise very quickly and enjoy doing it. Pulling a first draft out of me is like yanking my own teeth. I’m not sure why, because I really love to get the stories down on paper. But those blank pages just staring at me are hard to fill sometimes. Give me a completed manuscript to polish up any day :D

When you’re not writing what do you do? Do you have any hobbies or guilty pleasures?

Mostly, I read :D I used to do a lot of cross-stitching and I play the piano. I love movies and spend a lot of late nights with my favorites. But mostly, I read :)

What is next for you? Do you have any scheduled upcoming releases or works in progress?

I have a non-fiction book on how to write poetry that should be releasing at the end of the year. And next year, the last book in the Blood Blade Sisters trilogy will be releasing, along with a new historical romance set in the 1920s that will come out next summer. I’m also working on the book with the shape poems and have a fairy tale retelling series I’ll be shopping around soon :)

 

Wish Upon a Star by Michelle McLean

ISBN: 9781622663323

Book Description:

Ceri McKinley never stopped wishing that her ex-fiancé Jason Crickett would come back into her life. But when he finally does, he comes with a request that puts them both—and all of humanity—into jeopardy.

Jason only wants two things: to bury his brother properly and to convince Ceri to trust him again after he jilted her. But when Ceri agrees to help him get his brother back, they end up fighting for their lives as a zombie uprising threatens them all.

Amazon BN Goodreads

Excerpt:

Jason sank down beside me and pulled me toward him, pressing a kiss against my temple.

“Are you okay?” he asked, brushing soot and a few burned leaves from my face and hair. The smell of burned plastic and singed hair coated everything. But it could have been worse.

I leaned against him for a moment before trying to push to my feet.

Jason stopped me. “Rest for a minute.” He reached into my backpack and pulled out another bottle of water.

I took it gratefully, gulping down half the bottle before handing it to him to finish off. When he was done, he bent down, kissing a drop of water from my lips. His hands cupped my face. “I’m sorry. For everything. All of it. Everything I put you through. These wasted years without you.”

“I’m sorry too.” I pulled away and looked up at him. “If we get through this—”

“When we get through this. Not if.”

I gave him a small smile and nodded, knowing he knew what I wanted to say without having to voice the words. “When we get through this, maybe we can talk. About things.”

He gave me one more lingering kiss. “I’ll hold you to that.”

“But for now,” I said, brushing a lock of hair from his forehead.

“Rain check?”

“Rain check.”

About the Author:

I grew up in California and have lived everywhere from the deserts of Utah to the tropical beaches of Hawaii to the gorgeous forests of the east coast. The oldest of five children, I am generally an organized mess with slight Obsessive Compulsive tendencies. I have a B.S. in History, a M.A. in English, an insatiable love of books, and more weird quirks than you can shake a stick at.

I am the author of Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers, (Career Press Jan 2011), To Trust a Thief (Entangled Scandalous Jan 2013), a historical romance trilogy Blood Blade Sisters (Entangled Scandalous 2013), and a zombie fairy tale retelling Wish Upon a Star (Entangled Ever After Oct 2013). In addition to my novels and non-fiction work, I write picture books and a bit of poetry. If I’m not editing, reading, or chasing my kids around, I can usually be found in a quiet corner working on my next book.

I currently reside in Pennsylvania with my husband and two young children, an insanely hyper dog, and two very spoiled cats.

Website: http://www.michellemcleanbooks.com/

Blog: http://michellemclean.blogspot.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/michellemclean

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/michelle.m.mclean

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4253087.Michelle_McLean

Giveaway:

$20 Gift Card (Winner’s Choice: Amazon/B&N) & a “Wish” Necklace

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Bleach Vol 2 by Tite Kubo

Bleach, Vol. 2

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Immediately after checking into the Kurosaki Clinic with a mysterious scar on his back, the muscle-bound Chad goes AWOL. Accompanying Chad is a talking parakeet imbued with the soul of a young boy named Y?ichi. It doesn’t take newbie Soul Reaper Ichigo Kurosaki long to surmise that a Hollow must be involved. By far the strongest spirit he’s faced to date, Ichigo is about to discover that not every soul is bound for the Soul Society, especially if it’s tainted with innocent blood

Review:

I loved this volume of Bleach!  Picking up right where the first volume left off, Chad  is in oodles of trouble because of a possessed parakeet.  Housing the soul of the a young boy, Chad has promised to keep him safe, unaware that a Hallow is hot on their heels.  It’s a good thing that Chad is a strong, sturdy fellow, because the evil spirit does its level best to thoroughly annihilate him.  Rukia tries to race to the rescue, but without her Soul Reaper powers, she’s even more helpless than Chad and the parakeet!  Ichigo is temporarily out of the picture.  His sister Karin is very ill, and he’s been tasked with seeing her home safely.  Will he get to Rukia and Chad in time to save the day?

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Ever After Release Blitz and Giveaways!

To celebrate the beginning of the scariest month of the year, I wanted to share news about Entangled’s Ever After releases for October. They are all keeping with the creepy Halloween theme, and you can enter a bunch of giveaways! I’m planning on reading all of these – let’s see how many I get through!


Find Your Ever After in Under An Hour
 
Ruby Hill by Sarah Ballance

From her earliest memories, Ashley Pearce has been drawn to Ruby Hill Lunatic Asylum, and she’s not the only one. Decades after the abandoned hospital ended its institutional reign of torture and neglect, something lurks in the shadows. Since she’s a paranormal investigator, it’s Ashley’s job to find out what.

Crime scene expert Corbin Malone doesn’t believe in ghosts. A born skeptic, he has no interest in entertaining the hype surrounding the mysterious deaths at Ruby Hill, but he won’t turn his back while more women die. He agrees to an overnight investigation, never expecting his first encounter would be with the woman he pushed away a year ago. But when he discovers Ashley is a target, he learns his greatest fear isn’t living with his own demons, but losing her for good.


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Review: Bleach Vol 1 by Tite Kubo

 

Title: Bleach Vol 1

Author:  Tite Kubo

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Hot-tempered 15-year-old Ichigo Kurosaki, the hero of the popular fantasy-adventure Bleach, has the unsettling ability to see spirits who are unable to rest in peace. His sixth sense leads him to Rukia, a Soul Reaper who destroys Hollows (soul-devouring monsters) and ensures the deceased find repose with the Soul Society. When she’s injured in battle, Rukia transfers her sword and much of her power to Ichigo, whose spiritual energy makes him a formidable substitute Soul Reaper. But the orange-haired teenager isn’t sure he wants the job: too many risks and moral dilemmas.


Review:

Bleach is one of my favorite series, and I realized with a great deal of dismay that I am far, far behind in my reading of this title.  I don’t think I’ve reviewed many of the volumes, so I opted to take advantage of a comp copy through Vizmanga.com to reacquaint myself with Ichigo, Rukia, and the rest of the gang.  This is a very fun series that features a ton of action, surprisingly touching emotions, and fan favorite protagonists in both Ichigo and Ruikia.  If you enjoyed The Ghost and the Goth or The Curse Workers by Holly Black, I think you should give Bleach a try.  Admittedly, the length of the series is daunting, and it’s still being published, but there are enough volumes released in English that you can read it in manageable chunks by utilizing online sales and trips to the library. 

Ichigo Kurosaki is 15 years old and he can see ghosts.  His sisters can too, though all they can see are faint outlines.  Ichigo can see, touch, talk to, and channel these pesky spirits that he thinks are a pain in the butt.  He just wants to be left alone to mind his own business but NOPE!  That’s not happening.  Ichigo also has a high moral obligation to help anyone in trouble, even those troublesome ghosts.  When an evil spirit threatens to hurt his family, he’s forced to borrow Soul Reaper powers from Rukia, a Soul Reaper who was badly injured saving his bacon.  Too hurt to fight, she offers to lend Ichigo half of her dark powers so he can save his family.  She’s dismayed to discover that he’s so spiritually powerful that he steals all of them, and now she can’t get them back!

I love the relationship between Ichigo and Rukia.  Their back and forth banter is humorous and full of snark.  While Ichigo isn’t exactly disrespectful, he doesn’t understand the need to put himself in danger, fighting the Hollows, regardless of the obligation he acquired when he snatched away all of Rukia’s power.  When the chips are down, though, her forceful prodding  makes him realize how important a Soul Reaper’s duties are.  If he doesn’t take care of the restless spirits, they will eventually turn into Hollows, and once they become these evil monsters, they lose their last shred of humanity.  There is no going back, and the Hollows have an insatiable need to feed on souls.   Rukia put her life at risk to save Ichigo and his family, so he acknowledges that he has a duty to help Rukia until she can figure out a way to get her powers back.

Ichigo is one of my favorite characters because he can’t stand to see an injustice and not want to correct it.  He and One Piece’s Luffy have a lot in common. Both of them will give their heart and soul, not to mention their life, to defend those needing help.  They are white knights in attitude.  Ichigo can’t turn his back on bullying, or just stand by when someone is about to get hurt.  He’s not perfect, and there are many times when he should learn to keep his mouth shut, but he can’t do it.  He is fiercely devoted to his friends and family, and he won’t let anyone hurt them.  Now that he’s a Soul Reaper by default, he can’t ignore when a soul is in danger, either.

The first volume of Bleach is fast-paced, brimming with frantic action, yet it doesn’t let the characters and their interactions take a back seat to all of the fighting.  That is what I enjoy most about Bleach.  The character come to life for me, and I so badly want Ichigo to master his new powers so he doesn’t come to harm.  It’s hard watching such a likeable guy getting the crap beat out of him, even though I have few doubts that he’ll always persevere.  That assurance is the main appeal of manga for me.  I know that even as the protagonists are facing certain doom, they will eventually find a solution to all of their problems.  Reading along as they figure that out is what makes reading them so rewarding.

Grade:  A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Outside by Laura Bickle

 

Title:  The Outside

Author: Laura Bickle

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

After a plague of vampires was unleashed in the world, Katie was kicked out of the safe haven of her Amish community for her refusal to adhere to the new rules of survival. She enters an outside world of unspeakable violence with only her two friends and a horse by her side

And yet through this darkness come the shining ones: luminescent men and women with the power to deflect vampires and survive the night. But can they be trusted, and are they even people at all?      In this sequel to The Hallowed Ones, it’s up to one Amish girl to save her family, her community, and the boy she loves . . . but what will she be asked to sacrifice in return?


Review:

Last year, I read The Hallowed Ones, and it totally creeped me out.  It was scary and suspenseful, and protagonist Katie was brave, level-headed, and firmly grounded by her Amish beliefs.  I eagerly awaited The Outside, the next book in the series, which picks up right where The Hallowed Ones left off.  The end of the world has come, in the form of a terrible sickness that turns its victims into blood sucking monsters.  Katie, her English boyfriend Alex, and Ginger are trying to stay alive after being expelled from Katie’s Amish community.  They have no shelter, dwindling provisions, and the vampires are dogging their every step.  Only sacred ground is keeping them safe at night, as they trek north to find Alex’s family.  Winter is coming (sorry GoTs fans!), and the odds of their continued survival are bleak.

While I didn’t think The Outside was as suspenseful as the previous book,  I still had a hard time putting it down.  This outing is all about the running.  Running from vampires, running from the weather, running from the knowledge that the world has ended and there few survivors of whatever horrible virus has turned humanity into monsters.  Along the way, they meet some of the desperate survivors, and Katie and Alex are at odds about what to do with the weapon they receive to alter themselves to survive the fight with the Darkness.  Alex jumps at the chance to save himself and have a better way to protect Katie, but Katie struggles with her decision about what to do.  She has already gone against her belief system so many times, and she’s afraid that this measure of self-defense will steal away whatever humanity that she has left.  I thought that this method of battling the vampires was genius, in a Ha! Take THIS evil vampires!! kind of way. 

What I enjoyed best about The Outside was Katie’s struggle to accept the bad things that had happened to her.  She made some choices in both books that had very serious repercussions for both herself and for Alex and Ginger, and while she regretted some of the outcomes, she never regretted the initial decision to save Alex.  That one choice was the catalyst for everything else that happened; being shunned, being forced from the protection of her community, seeing the terrible things she saw while she was Outside.  She is angry with the Elders for not believing the Hexenmeister, and for how their treated Ginger.  She’s hurt that her parents did nothing when she was kicked out of the community, yet she can’t stop worrying about them.  Even though her friends and everyone she knows have turned their backs on her, she is still willing to give up her life to save as many of them as she can.  She’s a very admirable character.

One quibble with the book, and it’s the same quibble I have with most post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels, is how quickly they start to feel repetitive.  The steps are always similar to this – travel as far during the day as possible, forage for food and water, seek a safe place to sleep, encounter monsters and life-threatening events along the way.  Stop to rest after finding a safe haven, then gear up and get back on the road, facing even more danger than before.  The pattern and the pacing occasionally frustrate me.  Katie was an interesting enough character that I remained engaged in this story.  With her Plain upbringing, she’s even better prepared for the end of the world than most heroines.  Katie hasn’t been exposed to modern conveniences, so she’s used to a more rugged life-style.  She knows the land, and knows how to forage.  She hasn’t had a cushy life, but instead had chores and obligations to her family and her community.  I thought this gave her a huge advantage that made her survival more believable.

I enjoyed Laura Bickle’s foray into YA, and look forward to her next project.  I like her voice and I really like her characters.

Grade:  B/B+

Review copy purchased from Amazon

Cover Shot! ZOM-B: Baby by Darren Shan

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café.  I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share.  More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents.  There is an allure to a beautiful cover.  Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

Here is one of my guilty pleasures.  The ZOM-B series by Darren Shan is like crack.  It’s fast-paced and fun to read, and just like with potato chips, I couldn’t stop at one. 

In stores September 2013

 

No description yet, but who cares? I know it will be full of zombie mayhem!