Book Review: The Darkest Night

 

cover-TheDarkestNightTitle: The Darkest Night [Lords of the Underworld 1]

Author: Gena Showalter

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description/Synopsis: All her life, Ashlyn Darrow has been tormented by voices from the past. To end the nightmare, she has come to Budapest seeking help from men rumored to have supernatural abilities, not knowing she’ll be swept into the arms of Maddox, their most dangerous member — a man trapped in a hell of his own.

Neither can resist the instant hunger than calms their torments… and ignites an irresistible passion. But every heated touch and burning kiss will edge them closer to destruction — and a soul-shattering test of love…
Though they carry an eternal curse, the Lords of the Underworld are irresistibly seductive — and unimaginably powerful…

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

First of all: The cover. I think it was well done. It’s seductive in a way that isn’t super-flashy, and the color scheme works well. *thumbs up*. It’s one of those few romance covers that wouldn’t embarrass you too much out in public. As for the book itself, I’m not sure where to begin. Gena Showalter is an author who’s popped in and out of my periphery for awhile now, but I hadn’t picked up any of her books until just recently. I went on a bit of a paranormal romance kick last week and shoved a bunch of random titles onto my Kindle, and this was one of them. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed The Darkest Night.

The story revolves around Ashlyn Darrow, a young woman with an extraordinary gift that allows her to hear conversations–ALL conversations– that have ever happened in a specific location. Because of this gift she’s stayed isolated most of her life, working for a scientific group that works to find supernatural creatures, help them flourish, and also at the same time, use their abilities to help the world at large. Unfortunately, Ashlyn doesn’t appreciate her gift as much as you may expect. To her, it’s more of a curse. People, even those at the institute, treat her badly because she’s privy to everything they’ve ever said… and that includes a lot of secrets. Desperate to remove this curse, she seeks out a group of supernatural beings that have been rumored to be Angels near Budapest. She’s heard all sorts of information about how they seem to help the town, supporting it with charity and keeping outside forces from hurting the townspeople. There’s also a few rumors that maybe the men living in the secluded compound are demons, but that can’t be true. Right? She desperately hopes that these supernatural men will know more about her ability, and possibly help her rid herself of this so called “gift”.

From there the story stems into an action-packed, supernatural gore-fest as Ashlyn learns the truth behind the so called “angels” of Budapest, and is taken hostage by the wary group of demon-possessed warriors. She even begins to fall for one of them, despite trying her best not to. The story is dotted with mythology of titans and greek gods, immortal warriors and demons from the deepest, darkest regions of hell. I found the world building compelling without being so over the top that I felt I was watching a history lesson in mythology. There was just enough to build up the world and set the stage without overshadowing the romance of the plot or the struggles of the characters, and I certainly appreciated the way it was done. The writing itself from a technical stand point was clear, engaging, and well written. The only thing that really drew me away from truly adoring it was that the author’s voice tended to be a bit… sugary. I guess is the best way to put it. This was a dark story, but the writing wasn’t always dark. In fact, one character in particular, a child of the gods, was downright vivacious. I think I would have preferred the silliness to be toned down a bit considering the plot of the story, but I’m willing to let it slide, because it didn’t keep the story from being believable.

As for the characters: I loved them. Even the evil demon-possessed warriors at their worst were loveable. Ms. Showalter did an excellent job of balancing the proud, honor-bound personalities of the demon-possessed men with the darker sides of their nature. I had no trouble believing that they were good men, and by the same token, didn’t have a problem believing that they were capable of horrendous things. It’s often so hard to reach that sort of balance in a character and have them remain believable, but the author did it effortlessly.

There were a few things that weird-ed me out about this story, mainly having to do with the outside help of the Greek god’s daughter (I still have no idea what her name was) and her sassy attitude. Her personality seemed so out of place next to all the very serious characters of the book. Another issue for me was the way Ashlyn basically clung to Maddox from the very beginning. On the one hand, I understand that she was desperate for his help and the silence he provided just being around her. (though I should remark that it was never explained why she couldn’t hear anything when she was around the demon-warriors). It seemed like she was a kid clinging to a stuffed rabbit. Despite the obvious danger she was in and the very real situation of being held captive (and even starved in a dungeon for a night), she was almost… loyal… to Maddox. She wanted to be around him all the time. I can see the appeal of the silence, like I said, but I have a hard time believing she’d throw personal safety out the window so eagerly. Another (small) issue I had was that I really wish more time had been spent on the overthrowing of the Greek Gods. It was mentioned and there were certainly some things that cropped up in the story because of it, but there just wasn’t a lot of time spent on the upheaval or the consequences as they trickled down to the warriors. I was expecting more to happen (and that’s one of the big reasons this is only four stars). Maybe the series will get more into that with subsequent books, but I certainly felt the absence in this one.

Those points aside, I really have nothing else to complain about. I really liked this book despite it’s few flaws, and I’m mostly willing to let them go. Overall, I’d certainly recommend the book to anyone who likes Paranormal Romance. (specially if you’re like me and like brooding domineering men in your romance novels). It was different than I’d expected the story to be, but I ended up liking it because of that rather than despite the fact. I’ll certainly be looking into the rest  of the series, and more titles from this author.

Book Review: Alone

cover-AloneTitle: Alone [Serenity 1]

Author: Marissa Farrar

Genre: Paranormal, Romance, Suspense

Rating: 2 Stars

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Description/Synopsis: Caught in a violent and abusive relationship, Serenity thinks there is no escape. Then she meets a stranger, Sebastian, who shows her the possibility of a different future.
Only Sebastian has a dark secret; he is a vampire.

As Serenity’s life takes a terrifying turn, she finds herself drawn into a world she never knew existed; one of murder, love, and immortality. She is forced to confront her own weaknesses to save both her own life and that of the vampire she has come to love. But in the end all that matters is; can she find the strength to be Alone ?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

So let’s start with the cover: It was done quite well. The text isn’t obtrusive, the images are relevant to the story. *thumbs up* The lighting may be a bit off, making it obvious that it was a cut-and-paste job, but even considering that, it was pretty well done. Someone knew what they were doing when they pieced it together.

As for the plot… I have deep seated issues with it. I think a story about a girl who’s abused who gets help from outside forces, even a love interest, isn’t a bad idea. In fact, done well, it would make an excellent story. By the same token, a Vampire falling in love with someone who clearly needs help in their life… not a bad idea–but a vampire trying to rescue a girl from an abusive relationship? That’s where we’re getting a little too far over the border for me. I guess it’s the basic idea behind it that bothers me. Someone who’s in an abusive relationship is going to find it very hard to leave, that’s just how these things work (whether it makes sense to the rest of us or not). I’m not an expert (though I have been in an abusive situation before) but I think for the most part this trickles down to three explanations:

1) Fear. They’re afraid they won’t get away, and what will happen if they fail and are caught.

2) Love. For whatever reason, they really do love the person abusing them, and despite what is happening to them, they don’t want to leave. There is still hope that the person will change and things will go back to how they used to be.

3) Dependency. For some people it’s nearly impossible to leave because they have no way to get away. They may not have a job, or a home to go to if they leave. Bank accounts are tangled, they may have a disability, or there may be children involved… for whatever reason, this can make someone unwilling to leave.

This boils down to a very difficult decision when someone does choose to leave an abusive relationship. It’s a scary prospect. Even if the rest of us say “i’d never stay if someone did that to me” the reality of the situation is that it isn’t so clear cut.

Oddly, in this story, Serenity doesn’t seem to have a good reason to stay. She doesn’t particularly love her husband. She is the independent party of the couple (she has a job, he doesn’t), and her husband already lets her leave the house to go to work/shopping etc.  Getting away wouldn’t be that difficult. I honestly don’t know what the author was thinking when she made Serenity as independent as she did, and that’s part of why I found her situation so unbelievable. It didn’t feel like she was in a difficult position… just that she was too stupid to do anything about it, and that made me angry. If you’re going to write about abuse, at least write it convincingly, to do otherwise is almost an insult; it seems as if you’re throwing in an abusive relationship just for drama purposes, and the misuse of such a touchy subject is bound to make some readers (like me) very angry.

The abuse aside, I had a difficult time believing in the romance between Serenity and Sebastian. I think Serenity was drawn to him mostly because she was desperate (though the author tried to pawn it off as sexual attraction). Sebastian on the other hand spent most of the story narrating how he couldn’t ever have a relationship with Serenity because he was a vampire and he didn’t want her to be one… yet he was super attracted to her. Why? I don’t know. She was helpless and none too bright if you ask me. I really didn’t see anything about her that made her stand out from the crowd to a supernatural being. It gave the story this vibe of “I want you to wonder if they’re going to get together… but you really know it’s never going to happen.” There wasn’t enough between the couple to make me earnestly feel they were headed towards a relationship, and so the few scenes there were between them felt misplaced and fake. In the end, I didn’t want them to get together, and as a consequence, the whole thing seemed forced.

Unfortunately, there were also -other- love interests involved: A police officer that seemed mostly irrelevant to the story who was obviously in puppy-love with serenity (and spoiler: she ends up dating him in the end despite the fact she wasn’t all that attracted to him), and also,  the vampire who made Sebastian into what he is,  and is jealous of Serenity and wants him to herself. Again, she seemed mostly irrelevant to the story other than to provide yet another reason the two couldn’t be together.

In the end I couldn’t like the characters because I didn’t feel a connection to them. I didn’t understand their wishy-washy relationship or the ill-plotted reasons behind why they were together. It just didn’t make sense to me. This book made me angry because it wasn’t convincing. It was a story–a story that seemed to use dramatic quirks (vampires, abuse, the random and irrelevant sire-vampire, and goody-two-shoes cop in puppy love) to try and raise the tension, but instead, it just made it a jumbled mess of tropes. I didn’t enjoy it, and though I did finish the book, I don’t think I’d recommend it. It’s free right now on Amazon, so feel free to go give it a look, but honestly, it just wasn’t a good story.

Book Review: Breathless

cover-breathlessTitle: Breathless [Blue Fire Saga 1]

Author: Scott Prussing

Genre: New Adult, Paranormal, Romance

Rating: 2 Stars

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Description/Synopsis: College freshman Leesa Nyland has been fascinated by vampires since she was three years old. That’s when her mom started acting weird, refusing to go outside during the day and insisting the sunlight hurt her skin because she had been bitten by a one-fanged vampire…

But fascinated doesn’t mean Leesa believes—any more than she believes in blue fire, people who live for centuries, and kisses that can kill. When her beloved older brother suddenly disappears, she is forced to confront all these and more.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I really wanted to like this book. The cover was gorgeous, the writing was clear, and easy to follow… and the author obviously took their time to really explore the lore and world-building behind this series.  It had a down-to-earth but intriguing plot. Unfortunately, the characters had the depth of a half-mopped spill. Their actions in this story were so utterly unbelievable that I was actually angry by the time I finished the book.

It’s not that I didn’t like the characters. I found Leesa’s shyness endearing. Stefan and Rave were a gorgeous mix of masculinity, kindness, and brooding predator. Even Leesa’s almost-non-existent friends had great personalities… but that’s pretty much as far as they went. There was no back-story to any of the characters except to mention Leesa’s part-vampire mother, and we rarely even saw her in the story. Most of the narrative consisted of Leesa going to class, hanging out in her dorm room with friends, or awkwardly wandering around campus.  It was mostly mundane tasks and conversations and very little action, intrigue, or suspense… which… given the plot, should have been present.

The most infuriating part of this story, however, was the wishy-washy nature of all the characters… and complete lack of common sense.  Vampires, Volkaane… all the immortal beings were perfectly fine divulging all of their secrets to the human populace despite the fact they frequently talked about how they wanted to stay under the radar.  It was a good thing though – because Leesa couldn’t keep her mouth shut. She told all of her friends, her family, even the enemy of her “boyfriend” everything there was to know about everyone else’s business. She couldn’t keep a secret to save her life–not that anyone seemed to mind. Also, despite the fact that Rave and Stefan were supposedly mortal enemies (though it was never explained why), Leesa was magically able to tell them to quit fighting… and they listened. Suddenly everyone was behaving as though they had no choice. Hello? These two immortal beings are centuries older than this shy little mouse of a college student, but they were both willing to do whatever she asked.  In fact, by the time I was half-way through the story, the two men were so completely smitten with her they were more than willing to marry her.

W. T. F.

Between her selfishness, stupidity, and inability to keep her mouth shut… I just couldn’t understand the appeal.

Another oddity was that despite the fact that these two immortal species were supposed to be “secret”, the minute Leesa informed everyone (and I do mean everyone) that they existed… no one questioned her. Everyone took it at face value and went “oh.. okay. cool!”  and we’re not just talking about her close friends; I’m talking friends, family, even her teacher. No one questioned it. No one thought she was crazy, no one seemed to be frightened either. How does this happen? I’m still trying to understand.  There was a complete lack of any sort of tension or mystery to this story. Everyone… got along in a sort-of saturday morning cartoon way, and the one or two “fights” that were presented were easily dissolved away once Leesa stepped into the middle of them. She’s like a magic tranquilizer in human form.

The frustrating part of it was that there were so many instances where tension and conflict could have been introduced. I would have killed to have Edwina show up and harass Leesa, or to have seen the Volkaane lead an assault against the Vampire coven. They never did. Rave wouldn’t even fight to keep Leesa. At the final moment when Leesa revealed her plan to sacrifice herself for her brother, he pretty much stepped aside and agreed with her. He didn’t try to stop her or rescue her… there were no daring plans to steal her brother back.  The ending was wrapped up in a shiny little perfect bow, and no one got hurt, or angry, or swore retaliation. Nothing.

I am completely baffled.

The one truly redeeming feature of the story was the lore/world building. It was obvious the author had taken a lot of time to research vampire lore and adapt it to their own unique version. The concept of the Volkaane was interesting and unique (though now that I think about it, the moodus noises never were explained…), and a bit of a neat twist on the usual immortal beings we find in these kinds of stories. The only area that lacked in their development was an explanation of WHY the Volkaane fought the Vampires at all. I knew they hunted the vamps, but never why. The vampires didn’t seem all that evil to me. A total of.. what… 3 people were murdered during the entire book? Considering their food source and the circumstances they were in… I’d consider that pretty damn nice of them.

In the end, I just couldn’t enjoy the story. It wasn’t a bad idea for a novel, and there were certain aspects of it that were done very well, but in the end the execution was more of a “limp rag” than a “taunt bowstring”. It lacked any sense of immediacy, action, tension, or suspense. The pieces fell into place easily and without effort… to the point that the narrative became mundane and unfulfilling. Would I recommend it? No. I don’t think I would. If I had one way to sum up how ill-written this book was, it would be to quote the first line of chapter 33:

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Book Review: The Reason is You

cover-thereasonisyou Title: The Reason is You

Author: Sharla Lovelace

Genre: Paranormal, Contemporary, Romance

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis: Anything but Normal… Dani Shane just wants her daughter to have what she never did–a normal life. But “normal” leaves the equation when sixteen year old Riley is found talking to Dani’s only friend, Alex–who’s been dead for forty years. In the small river town of Bethany, Dani never fit in. Being different pushed her to the fringes of society, and even leaving town for two decades didn’t stop the talk. Now that she’s back, so is Alex. Mischievous and sexy and still hot enough to melt her shoes. Between his popping in at inopportune moments and having to hide her daughter’s new talent, Dani fears that her plans for staying under the radar may be short lived .As Dani scrambles to get solid footing under her family, secrets buried for forty years begin to unearth themselves. She and Alex have always been connected, but he is hiding something. The computer is making her hear things. Weird memories that she doesn’t recognize keep popping up in her mind. Then there’s that little thing she’s not telling her daughter yet. Like that some of the people she sees aren’t breathing…

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I’ve been on a roll lately picking up some really great books. I picked up this one in a Goodreads Giveaway back in April, and just now got around to reading it at the end of May… but already wish I’d picked it up sooner. I really enjoyed this book. The Reason is You is a Contemporary/Paranormal/Romance book about a 40-yr old woman named Dani. She’s reached a point in her life where all her best laid plans to have a professional career and live in a big city have fallen to pieces, and out of options, she moves back home to her father’s house in-the-middle-of-nowhere with her teenage daughter, Riley. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a traumatizing experience for the mother. She has a bit of a reputation in her hometown for being crazy–and going back, she’s terrified that she’ll be reliving the nightmare of her youth, as well as dragging her daughter into this fresh hell.

What Dani hasn’t told her daughter, hasn’t told anyone, is that she can see ghosts–all the time–and back home there’s one in particular she’s both eager, and terrified to see. What ensues is a deliciously funny and romantic story about a girl who fell in love with two people at the same time… unfortunately, one of them is dead. The writing itself is clear, well written, and flows nicely. I never felt like it was a chore to read or that the writing quality had dipped down into pre-teen dribble as sometimes happens in romance novels. In fact, I have to hand it to Ms. Lovelace. Her characters were extremely well written. They each had their own unique personality and goals, and it didn’t feel like they were being railroaded into any situations like so often happens. Riley, the teenage daughter, felt like a real 16 yr old, and the banter between mother and daughter sometimes had me grinning. There was this very real connection between the two that left me no doubt in my mind that Dani and Riley were meant to be mother and daughter. They felt like family.

As for the male love interests, I’m not entirely sure what was up with Jason. I liked him as a character. He was brooding, but excited to be in a relationship with Dani, and he seemed to really love her… but his constant mood switches from robot to man were confusing, not only to me, but to Dani as well. It was never really explained why he seemed so bipolar, maybe that was just his personality, but it was nice to see that as the female lead, Dani didn’t understand it either. She didn’t try to make excuses for his weird behavior, she stopped and went “WTF?” too. On the other side of the male interest duo, Alex made me want to squeal. He was the quintessential teenage dream… an older guy, sexy as hell, who was not only Dani’s best friend, but basically only seemed to care about her. She was the only one who could see him for most of her life, and it gave her a sense of claim over him. The dream sequence over Alex as just… yum. In the end when it came down to a decision between Alex and Jason, I have to admit I was riding Alex’s side of the fence. It was a bitter sweet situation when it came down to Dani having to choose one of the males in her life, and letting the other go.

Overall, I found the romance of the book endearing, funny, and steamy at times. There weren’t a lot of sex scenes in this particular book, but the few that there were, were H-O-T and won’t disappoint. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a good ole romantic ghost story. It’s full of twists and turns, hilarious dialogue, and endearing moments between the many characters. Give it a try.