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

Interview with Nadia Lee, Author of The Last Slayer

Nadia Lee is the author of the up-coming release, The Last Slayer, which will be available on December 26. She stopped by the virtual offices to chat up her new book, and so we could get to know her better.

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Nadia Lee] Adventurous bilingual writer who loves to eat, read, travel and enjoy life.

[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about your book, The Last Slayer?

[Nadia Lee] It’s a full-length urban fantasy with romance elements, and a smart-mouthed heroine who has a horrible twenty-seventh birthday because she killed a very very bad dragon. Never mind that the dragon was trying to eat her. The demigods who decide to be mad about the incident don’t care about such inconvenient details.

Here’s the official blurb:

Ashera del Cid is a talented demon hunter, but when she kills a demigod’s pet dragon, the hunter becomes the hunted. Her only potential ally is Ramiel, a sexy-as-hell demon. Now the two must work together to battle dragons and demigods…and the chemistry crackling between them. Ramiel has his own reasons for offering Ashera his protection. He knows her true identity and the real reason the demigods want her dead. What he can’t predict is how she’ll react when she discovers he knew who she was all along…

Ashera is shocked to discover that she is the only daughter of the last slayer. To claim her destiny, she and Ramiel must join forces to face down danger and outwit their enemies. Only then will she be able to truly accept her legacy…

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Nadia Lee] When I was a kid, I read a lot of Asian comic book series (not manga), and one of them had the following lines that really stuck with me.

"I never wanted you to know what blood smells like."

"Every time I see you, you’re bleeding."

The entire story was initially envisioned from antagonist Nathanael’s point of view because the first quote was something that he might have said to the love of his life. However, when I sat down to write the story, I decided to tell it from Ashera’s point of view, since Nathanael could never have a happy ending. (He’s more of a tragic hero figure than a romantic lead.)

[Manga Maniac Café] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?

[Nadia Lee] Deepening the relationship Ashera (the heroine) has with her family and everyone else was very difficult. When I initially drafted the story, it was full of action. The setup of the story doesn’t lend itself to introspection or slow-pacing; most people don’t think much about the state of their familial relationships and so on when they’re running for their lives. So I had to weave everything in along with action to ensure that things didn’t feel slow, and that the story maintained its sense of urgency while still doing justice to the characters themselves.

[Manga Maniac Café] Which of your characters are you most like?

[Nadia Lee] This is sooo tough! I think every character has a little bit of myself. But I also think that my characters are way cooler than I am. I’m never going to be as glamorous as Valerie (Ashera’s sister), or as athletic and martial-artsy as Ashera.

[Manga Maniac Café] Which of the books that you’ve written so far is your favorite?

The one that I’m working on usually is, which right at the moment happens to be the sequel to The Last Slayer. :)

[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?

Definitely fairy tales. I grew up reading eastern and western fairy tales. :)

[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Nadia Lee] Coffee (or green tea), some carbs and a little bit of peace and quiet.

[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Nadia Lee] To be honest, I have no idea. I’ve always read a lot, and no one book had that much influence on me. But I’ll say that one book that I read in two languages is Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. I adored that book, way back when, and I still love it. :)

[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Nadia Lee] I used to love looking at travel blogs and sites, looking for new places to visit. Since I have a newborn baby now, I’ve stopped torturing myself by going to such sites. When I have free time I read or play with my baby or watch TV. I’m totally addicted to Dexter and Game of Thrones.

[Manga Maniac Café] Thanks!


You can learn more about Nadia by visiting her at the following websites:

Official Website: http://www.nadialee.net/
Official Newsletter: http://www.nadialee.net/newsletter/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nadialeewrites/
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/nadialee/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/nadialee/
Google Plus: http://plus.google.com/100627744943313803860/

You can purchase The Last Slayer by clicking the handy Amazon widget below: