Spotlight and Giveaway! Haunted Chemistry by Lindsey Loucks

Guest Blog: Thrills & Chills While Doing Laundry (Wait. What?)

By Lindsey R. Loucks

Instead of taking one of the buses speeding through campus during my college career, I always walked, my gaze aimed at the ground for anything shiny and round. If I found treasure in the form of a quarter, it was well worth the few bumps on the head or rude comments I got from not looking where I was going. Like most college students, I was poor.

But I became a pretty successful quarter tracker, and when I’d find one, I’d add it to my carefully stacked pile with the hope I’d have enough to do laundry soon. With all that walking around campus, there were days when I came home smelling a tad ripe.

The washers and dryers were located on the basement floor of my apartment building, and let’s just say that going down there, alone, was the equivalent of walking into a dragon dungeon with my arms loaded with raw meat. That’s what it felt like anyway.

Storage cupboards took up the far wall that led from the stairs to the laundry area, each one about three feet long and three feet wide. Sometimes one of them would be open a crack. The single overhead light only cast a faint orange glow, deepening the shadows inside that open cupboard to an inky black.

Whenever I’d see one of those open cupboards, I’d stop in my tracks while my imagination tumbled over everything that could be lurking inside. Usually the things I imagined involved segmented legs, machetes, Brazilian poison dart frogs, porcelain dolls, or a combination of all of the above, just waiting to spring out.

My pulse racing, I’d give my laundry bag a squeeze and check to make sure I still had my quarters. Then, with my breath held, I’d race past the open cupboard, dump all my clothes into the washer, throw in some soap, push my quarters into the slots, start the machine, and sprint back out before I’d used up all the stored air in my lungs.

It was such a rush! It made laundry day pretty much the best day ever! Of course, I’ve always lived for that pump of adrenaline that fear gives me. I watch scary movies alone in the dark by myself on purpose. I guess I’m weird like that.

On one of my trips to the laundry room, my boyfriend’s brother went with me (I can’t remember why exactly, but I may have told him about the spooky basement). When he saw the wall of cupboards, his exact words were, “A serial killer stores his victims in these, huh?”

And that’s when I stopped doing laundry in that apartment building. Nah, just kidding. I still did. Remember that adrenaline rush thing I was talking about? Yep.

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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!

Review: ZOM-B: City by Darren Shan

 

Title: ZOM-B: City

Author: Darren Shan

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

After escaping a secret military complex amid the zombie apocalypse, B roams the streets of a very changed London, dirty and dangerous and eerily quiet, except for the shuffling of the undead. Once again, B must find a way to survive against brain-eating zombies –and now also against those who have seized control of the city. With danger lurking around every corner and no one to trust, B must decide whether to join the creepy Mr. Dowling in exchange for his protection. When everyone around you is dead, where do you turn for help?


Review:

Darren Shan’s ZOM-B books are like crack.  You can’t read just one, and because each one ends on a cliffhanger, you squirm with anticipation until the next one hits store shelves.  While I normally abhor cliffhangers, the release schedule is accelerated, so you get a new installment every 3 months.  The story is also so straightforward that there’s not much to forget from one book to the next.  B, an revived zombie who managed to keep her intelligence, is fighting to keep her undead life.  The world is a dangerous place since the zombie apocalypse, even for a zombie.  Danger lurks behind every corner, and only quick thinking and luck keep B from a final, horrible death.

Told in tense, in your face prose, ZOM-B: City follows B from her escape from the underground research bunker to her journey through a devastated London.  Along the way, she encounters a handful of surviving humans.  None of these guys are right in the head, but after witnessing the end of the world, I guess everyone is entitled to their idiosyncrasies.  Some of the living want nothing more than to end her unnatural life, while others, though wary, mean her no harm.  As she wanders from one encounter to the next, she pieces together the reality of the new world after the zombie attacks.  Billions have been wiped out, the government is ineffective, and martial law is in effect.  The remaining humans have huddled together in walled compounds, and the search is on for survivors.  B thinks that she can help save humanity – since she hasn’t become a mindless monster, perhaps a cure can be manufactured from her blood.

Shan pushes the envelope with this series.  It’s truly horrific; he doesn’t shy away from gore and violence, and he paints an interesting picture of how the survivors would behave.  They have all been twisted by their experiences, B included.  They have all seen things that aren’t meant to be seen, and there is no going back to a time before the bloodshed and death of the zombie uprising.  Mr Dowling is particularly disgusting.  This sicko clown accessorizes with human remains.  I really want to know his story, and what’s the deal with the mutants?   How did the whole zombie nightmare happen in the first place?  These short novels are impossible to put down, and I look forward to hunkering down with each new installment.  While occasionally disgusting, ZOM-B isn’t so scary that I’m afraid to read it after dark, and plot advances so quickly that it’s hard not to gobble up each new installment in one sitting.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

 

Title:  Something Strange and Deadly

Author:  Susan Dennard

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

There’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia. . . .

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about.

Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper:

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor . . . from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including the maddeningly stubborn yet handsome Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.


Review:

I was disappointed with Something Strange and Deadly.  Honestly, I don’t know if anything could have lived up to the hype surrounding this title, and since I was waiting with such a sense of anticipation, it fell short for me.  The beginning was intriguing – Eleanor is searching for a sign from her brother that he’ll be returning home soon, and poof!  A stinky, reanimated corpse gives her a note from Elijah.  That’s so much better than using a carrier pigeon!  Just wrestle up a corpse when you need to pass a note to somebody!  It will terrify the recipient, but  who’s going to try to incept your missive? 

After it is apparent that Elijah has decided, yet again, to delay his homecoming, Eleanor’s mother decides to use the opportunity to hold a séance, instead of the already planned and paid for  welcoming party.  She has to marry Eleanor off, if they hope to retain their current lifestyle, since Elijah isn’t doing his job and providing for them.  With Elijah a constant no-show, Eleanor’s mother is getting desperate.  With her husband dead and her son failing to care for the family, desperate measures are called for.

I loved the séance.  It’s creepy, and her mother’s foolishness calls forth a very dangerous spirit.  Whoa!  Who would have thought that a parlor game would have such frightening results?  The evil spirit dogs Eleanor’s footsteps for the entire book, so, yeah, thanks, mom, for messing around with stuff you are obviously not capable of handling.

I am trying to put my finger on why this story didn’t work for me, and I think it was because there is so much going on.  And because Eleanor is constantly leaping into danger.  There are zombies lurching around the graveyard?  Let’s go check them out!  There are headless corpses wandering the streets?  Let’s go out without a chaperon and see what we can find out.  While all of the sneaking around showed that Eleanor was headstrong and wasn’t going to take a backseat to anyone, it also proved that she lacked the one thing necessary for living a long and zombie-death free life.  Yup, that common sense stuff.  Eleanor needed to display a little more of it.  A lot more, actually.

Another thing that drove me batty was how the characters snarled, shrieked, growled, and screamed at each other.  All of those noises!  Nobody just talked or held a quiet conversation.  Nope!  That’s just a pet peeve of mine, though, and your mileage may vary.

There is a dreaded love triangle, between handsome, wealthy Clarence and Daniel, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who is on the run from the law.  He’s a gifted inventor, though, and his devices help battle the zombies.  I never liked Daniel, which was another impediment to my enjoyment of the book.  I didn’t like the way either potential love interest treated Eleanor, but Daniel’s demeanor was particularly grating.  Nicknaming her Empress, he was constantly dismissive of her,  at least until the very end of the book when she saved his bacon.    I don’t know that  I would have thrown myself into the midst of a zombie horde to save anybody in this book, other than Jie. 

While Something Strange and Deadly failed to impress me, it will appeal to action lovers.  If the book hadn’t been so hyped for me, I think I would have enjoyed it more. 

Grade:  C/C-

Review copy obtained from my local library

Interview with A. E. Rought, Author of Broken

Strange Chemistry author A. E. Rought dropped by the virtual offices to chat about her new book, Broken.  Please give her a warm welcome!

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

[A. E. Rought] Yep, and alliterative to boot! “Compulsive, creative, caring.” The compulsive and creative go hand in hand. And I’m always cooking for, listening to, taking care of people—it’s the mother in me, I guess.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Broken?

[A. E. Rought] For me, it’s reimagining the whole of the Frankenstein story, and choosing a different character to tell it. Victor Frankenstein’s story has been told, and brilliantly. So I thought about his “monster” and all the fun I could have breaking hearts if he fell in love. To make it stand apart, I told it from the point of view of the girl he falls in love with.

I took the tropes of Frankenstein, added some theology, and then told the story of Emma, the girl who falls in love with a boy who’s not wholly himself anymore, and what happens when they find the truth of what his father did to make him that way.

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

[A. E. Rought] A long chat on the phone with my beta reader. I knew I wanted to play with a classic revisit, and fairytales are so popular right now I turned to Gothic fiction. Both my beta and I adore Van Helsing (Yes, I know, not the best in its genre, but still fun) and that movie’s version of Frankenstein’s monster, so we decide to make Alex a “monster” that was a product of his ‘creator’s’ actions, and a victim of them, too. It all snowballed from there. It may be Emma’s story, but Alex came first.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Emma?

[A. E. Rought] Stubborn, funny, broken.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Daniel had a theme song, what would it be?

[A. E. Rought] Oh, wow. What a tough question! I’ve gone round and round with this one since I read it. I think I have to go with So Much, by The Spill Canvas. (It fits Alex really well, too…)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing Alex won’t leave the house without.

[A. E. Rought] His cell phone. There are other things he can never leave behind, but that might give too much way…

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things will you never find in Alex’s bedroom?

[A. E. Rought] A mess because he’s one of those tidy types. A picture of his father—their relationship defies being captured in a photograph. A picture of his mother, because his father wouldn’t allow it.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Emma’s greatest regret?

[A. E. Rought] Leaving that balcony to go find help. Her entire future changed in that moment.

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

[A. E. Rought] My parents. Mom is always busy with a handcraft of some sort, and my dad was constantly building something. He would even make tools to get the job done. They taught me to embrace my creative side, and the many ways it can filter into my life.

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

[A. E. Rought] Caffeine, music and the atmosphere. My ultimate place of writing Zen will have a mug of tea, the current project’s playlist, and no outside distractions, like TV, family noise, etc. At the height of drafting, I will often grab up my mug, curl my laptop to my chest and slink off to the Writing Cave, otherwise known as my bedroom.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[A. E. Rought] I think my ultimate sock knock-offer book will always be Across the Universe, by Beth Revis. Other books have come close, but nothing has quite matched the Holy crap! response I had when I finished reading it. The tension, the layers, the concept… That book makes me want to be a better author every time I read it!

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

[A. E. Rought] I would have to say The Hobbit. I had always been a reader, but after that book, reading became something more than just an escape.

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

[A. E. Rought] I can be caught baking, sewing, weaving baskets, beading jewelry… Thanks to my mom, I’m a big handicraft person. I also like to occasionally drop my butt to the sofa, curl under a blanket and watch a movie. My latest favorite is The Avengers.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[A. E. Rought] I’m all over the place online!

Website:

http://aerought.com/

Blog:

http://aerought.blogspot.com/

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/aeroughtauthor

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/aerought

Pinterest:

http://pinterest.com/aerought/

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!!

[A. E. Rought] Thanks for having me!!

You can pre-order Broken from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the links below:

 

About the book:

Imagine a modern spin on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where a young couple’s undying love and the grief of a father pushed beyond sanity could spell the destruction of them all.
A string of suspicious deaths near a small Michigan town ends with a fall that claims the life of Emma Gentry’s boyfriend, Daniel. Emma is broken, a hollow shell mechanically moving through her days. She and Daniel had been made for each other, complete only when they were together. Now she restlessly wanders the town in the late Fall gloom, haunting the cemetary and its white-marbled tombs, feeling Daniel everywhere, his spectre in the moonlight and the fog.

When she encounters newcomer Alex Franks, only son of a renowned widowed surgeon, she’s intrigued despite herself. He’s an enigma, melting into shadows, preferring to keep to himself. But he is as drawn to her as she is to him. He is strangely…familiar. From the way he knows how to open her locker when it sticks, to the nickname she shared only with Daniel, even his hazel eyes with brown flecks are just like Daniel’s. The closer they become, though, the more something inside her screams there’s something very wrong with Alex Franks.

And when Emma stumbles across a grotesque and terrifying menagerie of mangled but living animals within the walls of the Franks’ estate, creatures she surely knows must have died from their injuries, she knows.