Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Star’s End

By Cassandra Rose Clarke

Sci-Fi

 

Esme Coromina has always known that one day, she would run the Four Sisters, the small planet system that her father grew into a corporate empire. Raised as the pampered heir to the company, Esme lived the best years of her life at Star’s End, the estate her father built on the terraformed moon where he began his empire. In the tropical sunlight and lush gardens, Esme helped raise her three motherless half-sisters. But as Esme is groomed to take over the family business of manufacturing weapons for the mercenary groups spread across the galaxy, she slowly uncovers the sinister truth at the heart of her father’s company. And when those secrets are finally revealed, Esme is sure that she’s lost her sisters—and a part of her soul—for good.

Now, after a lifetime of following her father’s orders, Esme has a second chance. For the first time, Esme is making her own decisions and the impact of her decisions will reverberate throughout the Four Sisters. As Esme struggles to assemble her estranged sisters for one last good-bye with their dying father, she has to choose whether she wants to follow in her father’s footsteps—or blaze a daring new path.

 

It took me awhile to finish this book. The world building is stunning and it’s well written, with an interesting narration choice. There aren’t chapters, but the book alternates between a third person limited present storyline, following Esme’s current mission to find her sisters and a first person past storyline following Esme throughout her young adult years. The past portion on the book really dragged for me, I was much more interested in what present day Esme was up to than her growing up in Star’s End. Despite the back cover synopsis, the only way Esme helps to raise her sisters is telling the fleet of nannies and tutors to keep an eye on them while she’s off doing her company internship.

I could not find it in me to care about Esme. The Coromina family owns four planets. They literally make trillions of dollars a year manufacturing bioengineered soldiers and weapons to equip those soldiers. The ‘company’ is a government system called coporcracy and Esme’s father is the current ruler/CEO. People who live on the four planets are called citizen-employees. This is capitalism at full throttle. Everyone and everything on the four planets exists solely to fuel the weapons manufacture and to add to the upper echelon’s wealth. There’s a hefty dose of Big Brother as well, of course. Media is strictly monitored, business espionage is the norm, and the CEO often has troublesome people ‘relocated’.

So there’s a lot going on and in the middle of it is Esme and I wouldn’t say I hated her, but I disliked her immensely. She’s a coward and despite what the ending tries to spin, she is just like her father in terms of power ambition. She only on two occasions finds her spine and stands up to her father, but those moments are quickly over and she goes back to doing everything her father asks.

Her father is Exhibit A for sociopath. He doesn’t care about anything but his wealth and status. There are a few moments in there where Esme thinks she sees something else in him, but I chalk that up to an unreliable narrator ploy. The dude is an AssHole.

This book is 432 pages of things happening to Esme. She’s never proactive and most of the book is her waiting to be summoned or waiting for the other shoe to drop. She spends a lot of time slumping against chairs, sitting on beds, headaches from too many thoughts, and sleepless nights. The only reason this story exists is because her father sets her out to collect her estranged sisters. She wasn’t going to do it on her own.

She also spends the entirety of the book afraid. Honestly, her entire narration is dictated by fear. Fear of her father, fear she’s becoming like her father, fear for her sisters, fear of her sisters, fear for her mother, fear she’s going to do/say the wrong thing. The list goes on and it never ends. I can’t tell if Esme is supposed to be a sympathetic character or an unlikeable character. All those fears would make sense if this was a YA, but Esme is in her forties. At this point it’s Learned Helplessness and I have no time or sympathy for it. She has the emotional depth and fortitude of a wet tissue.

The characters of this book never fully come to life Esme, with all her cowering, is the most well rounded of them all. Her sisters are plot devices on Esme’s convoluted journey to redemption, her closest friend, a bioengineered soldier named Will, is another plot device whose only purpose is to help her find her sisters. Her father is the evils of capitalism personified. It gets tedious, especially since Esme does little more than fret about everything.

The ending of the book, I think, is supposed to have an A Tree Grows in Brooklyn vibe; not happy, but hopeful, but it falls a little flat. Esme may not have her father’s cruelty, but she still wants the power being CEO/ruler affords her. She promises to only use her powers for good and she’s going to help people and blah, blah, blah. But the whole thing reads like those ridiculous accounts of ‘good’ slave owners. Yeah, so some of them didn’t flay children, but they still had slaves. Yeah, Esme wants to change the company’s focus, but she’s still keeping a system in place that has proven to be easily corrupted, abused, and refers to its citizens as employees and property.

I can’t say I’d recommend Star’s End. As a dystopic system of government, it’s awesome, but the main character, Esme, has little to enjoy and can make getting through some places a chore. But if you’d like to give it a try, you can find it here:

Amazon

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Learn more about the author Cassandra Rose Clarke

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Wolves and Roses by Christina Bauer

Wolves and Roses by Christina Bauer

Wolves and Roses (Fairy Tales of the Magicorum Book 1)

By Christina Bauer

Seventeen year old Bryar Rose has a problem. She’s descended from one of the three magical races—shifters, fairies, or witches. That makes her one of the Magicorum and Mgicorum always follow a fairy tale life template. In Bryar’s case, that template should be Sleeping Beauty.

“Should” being the key word.

Trouble is, Bryar is nowhere near the sleeping beauty life template. Not even close. She doesn’t like birds or woodland creatures. She can’t sing. And she certainly can’t stand Prince Philpot, the so-called “His Highness of Hedge Funds,” that her aunties want her to marry. Even worse, Bryar’s having recurring dreams of a bad boy hottie and is obsessed with finding papyri from ancient Egypt. What’s up with that?

All Bryar wants is to attend a regular high school with normal humans and forget all about shifters, fairies, witches, and the curse that Colonel Mallory the Magnificent placed on her. And she might be able to do just that—if only she can just keep her head down until her eighteenth birthday when the spell that’s ruined her life goes buh-bye.

But that plan gets turned upside down when Bryar rose meets Knox, the bad boy who’s literally from her dreams. Knox is a powerful werewolf, and his presence in her life changes everything, and not just because he makes her knees turn into Jell-O. If Bryar can’t figure out who—or what—she really is, it might cost both her and Knox their lives…as well as jeopardize the very nature of magic itself.

*~*~*~*

I like modern fairy tale retellings and Wolves and Roses looked promising when I picked it up. Bryar’s defining characteristic is that she’s sarcastic, otherwise, she falls squarely into the YA heroine template of “Beautiful with big blue eyes and long gorgeous locks of brown hair, athletic, and handy with a weapon.”

Three of the five characters in this book have big blue eyes.

She’s also good with computers, but that’s only relevant because of her obsession with the papyri and how she’s slowly breaking an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic code. Which…how she’s breaking a code Egyptian scholars have been trying to crack for a hundred years is never really explained. There’s a quick line about long nights of research over the last five years. But that puts here at twelve years old learning ancient Egyptian well enough to find a touchstone with this Code of Isis that she can now piece it together. Also, the papyri are in pieces, so she has to put them in order as she finds them and then translate them.

The love interest in here, Knox, is supposed to be seventeen as well, but reads more like someone in their early twenties. I would even say that’s initially how his character was written, but at some point someone said, “You can’t have a twenty-five year old getting frisky with a seventeen year old, people will riot.” So a passing line of why Knox doesn’t like going to high school was added in.

Knox is a werewolf and he is massive. He’s about 6’5” as a human, I assume, but when he changes into a wolf? He’s twelve feet long. And as tall as a horse. He is literally the size of a sedan. Where did all that extra mass come from? He has to weigh a literal ton. Just…how? “Magic” can only explain so much. How does he fit through the average doorway without bruising his shoulders or smacking his ears? Look at your doorway right now and ask yourself, “Could a quarter horse walk through there?” Or maybe a Clydesdale. It never specifies what kind of horse he is as big as.

Also, Knox’s wolf decides as soon as they meet Bryar Rose that she is their mate and it is now his job to protect her at all costs because she is his.

Cue side-eye.

But it’s totally fine, because Bryar Rose also comes to think of Knox as hers.

Side-eye, part two.

If you’re looking for a quick read, this book will work. I read it all in an evening. There are a couple of unresolved questions that I assume the next book will begin to answer, but if you’ve read enough YA fantasy you can pretty well guess what will be in the second book. So, Wolves and Roses was a decent read, but follows the template of YA fantasy better than Bryar Rose does the Sleeping Beauty.

Book Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Book Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black Cloak By Robert Beatty

Fantasy, MG

“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity…before all of the children vanish one by one.

*~*~*

For some reason, the first twenty or so pages of this book were a little hard to get in to. But the book finds its stride about thirty pages in and it’s a quick page turner. This is a young middle grade novel, so some of the hints at Serafina’s true nature can feel somewhat heavy handed to adults, which might be why it didn’t grab my attention very well. But I think young readers will be just as intrigued at unraveling the mystery of Serafina as they will the terrifying specter Man in the Black Cloak.

Serafina is a feisty character and the Chief Rat Catcher of the Biltmore Estate, except no one knows she exists. Her pa is the chief handyman of the estate and they live in the basement in secret. Serafina has a complex inner life. She loves her pa but she wants more than anything to know who her mother was. I think what this book does best is illustrate that courage is not the absence of fear, but acknowledging it’s there and going forward anyway. Serafina is a smaller-than-average twelve year old girl facing down a supernatural foe and she is scared. She’s scared she’ll be caught, she’s scared her friend will be caught, she’s scared if the Man in the Black Cloak doesn’t catch her one of the Vanderbilt adults will catch her and put her pa in jail. But she goes on the hunt anyway, because leaving the Man in the Black Cloak to roam and harm others is worse than her other fears.

Towards the back end the book gets a little heavy handed again on morality and what makes one good and what makes one evil. I think that theme should have been introduced sooner since Serafina’s decision is an important turning point for her inner life and thoughts.

There’s also some folklore introduced near the ending, which again, I think should have been brought up sooner since it is a critical piece of information that ties the ending together. It’s not brought up by anyone until close to the 200 page mark. As much as Serafina reads, I think it could have been inserted much sooner when we were learning about some of her favorite books.

Young readers I think will enjoy the ending, the epic battle and how clever Serafina is, as well as the happy ending that leaves room for many more adventures. But as an adult reader I was put off by the winning-the-lottery levels of luck needed to make this ending so happy. I try to avoid spoilers in reviews, so I can’t say much else without giving things away, but the ending did leave me with one question: How? How did these characters just so happen to once again be in the same place at the same time?

Serafina and the Black Cloak is a good story for young readers if they want a Halloween vibe outside of October. For adult readers, I think it would make a good ‘car book’, that book you leave in the backseat to read when you have waiting time like at the doctor’s office or DMV.

 

You can find Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And Robert Beatty’s website: http://robert-beatty.com/

 

 

Book Review: Shadowhouse Fall (Shadowshaper Cypher #2)

Book Review: Shadowhouse Fall (Shadowshaper Cypher #2)

Shadowhouse Fall (The Shadowshaper Cyper, Book #2)

by Daniel José Older

YA, urban fantasy

Sierra and her friends love their new lives and shadowshapers, making art and creating change with the spirits of Brooklyn. Then Sierra receives a strange card depicting a beast call the Hound of Light—an image from the enigmatic, influential Deck of Worlds. The shadowshapers know their next battle has arrived.

Thrust into an ancient struggle with enemies old and new, Sierra and Shadowhouse are determined to win. Revolution is brewing in the real world as well, as the shadowshapers lead the fight against systems that oppress their community. To protect her family and friends in every sphere, Sierra must take down the Hound and master the Deck of Worlds…or risk losing them all.

*~*~*

This is the second book of Older’s YA series, the first is Shadowshaper, so if you haven’t read that one, skip over to a bookstore and pick it up or you’re going to be confused in the next few paragraphs.

Daniel José Older is one of my favorite authors. I thoroughly enjoyed his Bone Street Rumba trilogy, but I love his YA. We’re still following Sierra in this book and she’s tiptoeing into her role and Lucera. The crew is still with her and they’re growing with her as they all figure out their new abilities. The book starts right off though with hinky hijinks unsettling the tentative equilibrium Sierra picked up at the end of Shadowshaper.

On top of one of her classmates telling her the Sorrows haven’t given up on annihilating her and Shadowhouse, personal tragedy also strikes, shady cops seem to pop up at the worst times, and there’s also boy trouble. It’s a lot for one young girl with the ancient powers of ancestors to handle, but she’s got a cadre of ride or die friends helping her out.

The writing throughout the book feels like the breathless, breakneck, tumble Sierra is in as she tries to find answers to what the Deck of Worlds is and what it means for her and those she loves. Sierra is just trying to keep her head above water with everything happening in the spirit world and in the physical world. It’s not until you get to the final twenty or so pages that you feel like you can breathe. Finally, things start falling in to place, characters reveal their true motives and Sierra can go on the offensive.

All of Older’s books are rapid page turners and Shadowhouse Fall is no exception. Answers are always juuuuust out of reach and you’ll find the whole night gone as you tell yourself, “One more chapter, then I’ll go to bed.” But by then you should be at the end and you’ll have all the answers and you won’t be tossing and turning thinking about How’s the Scooby gang gonna get out of this one?

Let’s take a moment to talk about dialogue. If you’re a writer, take notes of Older’s dialogue. These characters come alive on the page because it’s not just the world of NYC that is fully realized it’s in how characters talk to each other, it’s in their nonverbal interactions, it’s in their silences. Take a page, any page from Shadowhouse Fall or any of Older’s book and read the dialogue out loud. Even when talking about spirits and otherworldly creatures it still sounds like a conversation you’d hear in the gas station or at a bus stop. I can’t get enough of Older’s dialogue. That’s the realness at the heart of Older’s work.

The stakes in Shadowhouse Fall in the spirit world are up a notch, because while her family and friends were in danger in Shadowshaper just for associating with her, now they’re targets themselves. In the physical world, Older keeps things true to a group of young POC running the streets of NYC. Illegal arrests and abuse from police and white teachers in primarily black classrooms tiptoeing through lessons on slavery and Civil Rights. And if that makes you uncomfortable then it’s time to have a good long conversation with yourself about why that is.

Anyway, I’m not here to get on a soapbox. Yet.

I really enjoyed this book as I did Shadowshaper. Sierra is a well rounded and conflicted character. It does seem to me though that she keeps making the same mistakes that she made in Shadowshaper of keeping secrets from people closest to her. The threat of a spy in this book makes it understandable, but there are a few chapters I wanted to knock my head against the wall. The goal though is to get Sierra to the point that she realizes she doesn’t have to shoulder this burden alone, that she has people who have her back and will step up next to her no matter what.

Still.

But if an MC doesn’t make you want to bang your head against a wall a couple times, are they really a good MC? People make the same mistakes all the time in real life and they, too, will make you want to jump out a window.

Shadowhouse Fall is an excellent follow up to Shadowshaper. You can read the first book and immediately pick up this one and feel like you’ve just turned to the next chapter. While I highly recommend all of Daniel José Older’s work, Shadowshaper Cypher series is at the top of the list.

 

As always, you can find Shadowshaper, and Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Read more about the author on his website: http://ghoststar.net/

 

 

Book Review: The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky

Book Review: The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky

The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky by Summer Heacock

Kat Carmichael’s priorities for the last two years have been primarily opening and keeping up with her successful bakery Cup My Cakes. Business is good and she’s working with her best friends and there’s a deal coming that could just push Cup My Cakes into the big leagues.

Also, she hasn’t had sex in two years.

Who has the time, right?

But it’s not a quick fix. The last time Kat and her boyfriend attempted sex, they found it to be physically painful. And not the fun kind of pain. With her four year anniversary coming up, Kat sets a deadline. Putting her relationship on hold, she encourages her boyfriend to see other people while she dives into the physical therapy needed to get her lady bits back in action.

With the help of Ben Cleary—one of the shop’s handsome regulars—and now a Friend With Benefits, Kat is all set to reach her goal. But as clear cut FWB relationship starts to get blurry, Kat must figure out what it is she actually wants.

 

*~*~*

I can say with sincerity, I have never laughed this hard while reading a book. Sure, I occasionally chuckle or snort when I read, but The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky had me flat out laughing every four pages.

Kat is a woman with friends and a bustling business that just happens to be having some physical issues with sex. This book isn’t just about romantic relationships, it’s also about relationships between women, and the often neglected platonic relationships between men and women.

To balance out the relationship drama is small business drama. Cup My Cakes has only been open for two years but they’re doing steady business and they’ve thrown their hat in the ring for a big business contract. That’s a lot of stress and it resonates in the relationship dynamic Kat has between all the other characters. There are no static feelings in this book. Even the secondary characters are filled out and nuanced.

Kat is very independent and not one to really ask for help, so I relate. She could be on fire and still wouldn’t ask for a glass of water. She is complex and real character. Her bravado and dry humor are her battle armor, hiding insecurities and fears any person can connect with. She’s worried about letting her friends down, worried about her future, worried about disappointing her boyfriend. And the book opens up right smack in the middle of this crossroads that churns up her insecurities and chips away at her armor. The armor is resilient though, I cried a little toward the end, but three pages later I was laughing through the tears.

From an ace point of view, I didn’t really connect with Kat’s urgent need to have sex to validate her relationships. I spent good portions of the book reading like it was wildlife guide to a new species. This is seriously the closest I will ever be to being inside a non-ace person’s head. It’s kind of thrilling. And weird.

The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky broke a dry reading spell for me. I was burned out on reading about ridiculous love triangles in every YA book I picked up. I couldn’t get into the characters in another series because some of the romance scenes felt so staged I just wanted to throw the book out the window. It’s a downside to not sharing the same sexual wants/needs as the majority of the population. Romance gets tedious.

This book though didn’t feel tedious. I flew through these 356 pages in an afternoon. I was excited to see what Kat was going to do, how she was going to deal with situations, and how this was going to resolve. And a great deal of that comes from the wonderfully unique voice Summer Heacock has. It is an unforgettable style of writing and storytelling. Once you read The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky you’ll be able to spot Summer’s writing from a mile away. She has a distinct voice with a penchant for glittering swearing and it is all things great and good.

And if you want to test out some of the delicious cupcakes they mention in the stories, surprise! There are recipes for five specialty cuppies in the back! I cannot recommend the chocolate-peanut butter enough. So. Good.

All in all, The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky had wonderful characters, lots of nail biting drama, laughter for days, and an ending as relaxing and satisfying as that last deep breath before you drift into sleep.

Even if ‘chick lit’ isn’t what you normally read—I don’t—I still encourage you to make an exception for The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky by Summer Heacock. I promise, it’s one you’ll pick up again and again.

 

The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky by Summer Heacock is out now!

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Review: Catch Me When I Fall + Bonus, Cover Reveal!

Catch Me When I Fall

By Vicki Leigh

20826785

 “Recruited at his death to be a Protector of the Night, seventeen year old Daniel Graham has spent two hundred years fighting Nightmares and guarding humans from the creatures that feed off people’s fears. Each night, he risks his eternal life, but that doesn’t stop a burnt-out Daniel from risking daring maneuvers during each battle. He’s become one of the best and wants nothing more than to stop
“Then he’s given an assignment to watch over sixteen year old Kayla Bartlett, a clinically depressed patient in a psychiatric ward. Nightmares love a human with a tortured past. Yet, when they take an unprecedented interest in her, the job becomes more dangerous than any Daniel’s ever experienced. Soon, Daniel finds himself watching over Kayla during the day, drawn to why she’s different, and what it is about her that attracts the Nightmares. And him.
“A vicious attack on Kayla forces Daniel to break the first Law, revealing his identity, and whisk her away to Rome where others like him can keep her safe. Under their roof, the Protectors discover what Kayla is and why someone who can manipulate Nightmares has her in his sights. But before they can make a move, the Protectors are betrayed and Kayla is kidnapped. Daniel will stop at nothing to save her. Even if it means giving up his immortality.”

Who doesn’t love a jaded, brooding hero? Daniel is on par with Batman for broodiness. But he’s keeping it together. Like most of us who are sick of our jobs, he’s looking for a good time and reason to turn in his two week notice. He has a very distinctive voice, he’s two hundred+ years dead and while his speech is modern there are places where he’ll slip into an older cadence. He’s also British, so you can read the whole book with Cumberbatch’s voice in your head if you’d like.

Then there’s Kayla. I would love to see a book from her perspective. We get a lot from her just from Daniel’s point of view, but it’s easy to see how much more there is beneath the surface. She’s funny, and maybe because she already thinks she’s lost her mind, we don’t have pages and pages of disbelief, denial, and anger to get through. She passes Go, collects her $200 and jumps pretty much right on board the crazy train that becomes her life. It’s awesome. Again, another reason I would love to see a book from her perspective. Even if you think you’ve already gone off the rails, having Daniel and his cohorts appear like they do would take some mental acrobatics.

Now, if you like Silent Hill you’re going to thoroughly enj1oy the Nightmares. While reading I was reminded somewhat of the faceless, homicidal nurses, except they’re darkness incarnate, featureless with claws and teeth. So, you know, nightmarish.

And the travel in this book! The Protectors are stationed out of Rome and I don’t know if the author has traveled to this place or the others, but there’s wonderful detail about the buildings that really gives the setting life without burdening the story with twelve paragraphs describing the pillars and flagstones. There’s a scene in Paris that I absolutely loved. She captures how breathtaking the Eiffel Tower is at night when it’s lit up. And the meal Kayla and Daniel share does Lady and the Tramp so proud. Shy flirting and getting-to-know-you cuteness.

But if cuteness isn’t your thing, fear not, there’s still a homicidal maniac after Kayla and there’s plenty of edge of your seat fights and close calls to keep you flipping pages. There’s also the mystery of what exactly Kayla is.
It’s a lot packed into a svelte 197 pages. I finished in only a couple hours so if you jump into it before bed, don’t worry, you’ll finish with enough time for your Dreamcatcher to get comfortable and fodder for your Dreamweaver.

 

And, coming soon to a bookshelf near you, this lil’ gem:

FMIYD_wrap

http://www.vleighwrites.com/#!novels/cjg9

Oh look, a link where you can order both books. How did that get there?