Tag Archive | paranormal

Review: The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

Series: Lady Helen #2

the-dark-days-pact-alison-goodmanJune 1812.

Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club.

Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers.

However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip.

At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her.

The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be.


 

4.5 Drink Me Potions


Mysterious, alluring, and filled with Gothic adventure in Alison Goodman’s latest Regency era novel, The Dark Days Pact was one of those books that actually lived up to the hype I built for it. Which is no small feat ’cause I’ve been waiting a year for this sequel to come out.

Oh, what an adventure

This beautiful sequel picked up quite soon where we left our protagonists previously in The Dark Days Club. Lady Helen’s got to train hard to become the Reclaimer she’s meant to be, a super-honed weapon against the Deceivers (aka monsters/demons of this world) that walk among them. The book may have felt a little slow in the beginning because it mainly focuses on her training (and lack of progress), but I swear, this only helped set the mood more for me.

The action really does pick up soon after when bureaucrat Mr. Pike sets upon our lovely band of heroes working with Lady Helen and gives her (and Mr. Hammond) a secret mission to embark on: to locate and negotiate for a mysterious journal that seems to have all the juiciest secrets about everyone, Deceiver and Reclaimer included.

Along for the ride is Lady Helen’s strange powers. She’s supposed to be an extra special Reclaimer, what with being a direct inheritor even though these powers don’t transmit genetically, but everyone’s always telling her that she’s nowhere near ready that she’s really starting to believe it too (I will get back on this point later). But you’d be glad to know that what transpires throughout the story isn’t some cliched moment where our girl suddenly comes into her own and becomes the strongest, fastest and least expendable person ever (okay, she’s still pretty important either way). As she fights to get her hands on this journal first before the Deceivers and others with less-than-noble motives, she starts to realize her powers are definitely MORE than what others have ever seen. And oh boy does that leave you with a surge of excitement in your mouth! It sure dose for me.

I personally didn’t think this book was very slow. It transitioned well between plot points with the overarching storyline centred around finding this journal. Oh, and of course, worrying about Lord Carlston’s descent into madness.

All the cool people, both historical or fictional, featured here

I loved Lady Helen. I probably mentioned that in my first review of The Dark Days Club. In 1812, a woman’s role was stuck to the household and doing mundane things such as walking around the park while daintily holding onto a friend’s hands. They were seen as weak and in need of protecting.

Helen beats all these stereotypes, while still working within the mold of 19th century Regency time in London. She had to dress like a man sometimes to go investigating (’cause of course poor little women couldn’t go off ANYWHERE on their own, even during broad daylight) and go around chasing bad guys (another taboo!) in public. Alison Goodman made her into someone to admire by her sacrificial actions. Lady Helen wasn’t some woman’s rights figure (a century too early) and she wasn’t hell bent on being different from other ladies. She still loved long hair and the occasional simplistic duties of a woman, so it wasn’t easy for her to give up some of these things. I loved Lady Helen because she knew she had a new duty to serve now and it was worth the sacrifice.

Alongside her is the amazing Lord Carlston. Okay, maybe not everyone loves him as much as I do, but I ship these two so hard. So beware that my excitement level for this book probably also comes from his presence here.

Lord William Carlston. Ah. Such a noble sounding name. Anyway, he wasn’t the stoic hero that was portrayed in book 1. At the climax events of the last novel, some bad things went down and he had absorbed too much Deceiver energy without letting it out. Such energy can lead to madness for Reclaimers if there’s enough collected within them. Throughout, he’s another major plot arc as the whole household has been left worrying about the state of his mind. There’s always this little piece of excitement about whether he’s truly sane at the moment or he’s just more lucid than at other times when the madness shows.

But as sweet as ever, you shippers of Lord Carlston will be glad to know that there are BEAUTIFUL moments with him and Lady Helen. Like, heartbreakingly touching because we know that he’s “technically still married” (recall that his wife disappeared many years ago and people called MURDER but without a body, there has to be some time in between to wait out before officially calling her dead). Even with potential madness looming on him (or maybe because of it), we see him let out his emotions a bit more and Lady Helen’s attraction to him makes it all the sweeter. I just can’t. I need the two of them together. Like now.

The rest of Carlston and Helen’s aides and friends are familiar people you may recall. Both their Terrenes (aka strong sidekicks in my mind) feature largely here, but the brother/sister pair of Mr. Hammond and Lady Margaret were my favourite. Particularly Mr. Hammond who was developed greatly in this story, probably because of the secretive mission he embarked on with Lady Helen, I love that Goodman gives time for secondary characters as well so that the world feels more real and fleshed out instead of solely focusing on Helen and Lord Carlston. The almost 500 page length is used up very well in my opinion on plot pacing and character development for everyone. Even the newest characters, like little Sprat who works for the bawdy house, comes to your affection eventually.

I will also advise that you read the Author’s Note at the end explaining her inclusions of very real characters living in 1812 in London or Brighton (which this novel features greatly in). From a famous dipper who, as the name would describe, dipped people into the sea waters around Brighton for health purposes, to a famous couple who met a grisly end, I truly admire Goodman’s research into these people and places to create a fantasy world that really “could have been”. Like, if I lived in 1812, I could totally imagine going to Brighton and finding myself a spectacular lady who was like no other in her day.

That non-existent love triangle though

Speaking of characters, I left one person out. The Duke of Selburn. I don’t consider the Duke of Selburn (whose first name is Gerard…like, I could’ve gone through this whole series without having to find out his name was Gerard) any contender for Lady Helen’s heart. It may just be a HUGE bias, but let me explain that.

Here’s a man who’s very highly ranked (both Lady Helen’s family and Lord Carlston were earls) and likes to get his way. Okay, so the Duke isn’t a jerk who’s power hungry or abuses that power for his own selfish purposes. He’s not THAT bad. But in a world such as the Dark Days Club, he wouldn’t fit if he can’t take orders and abide by them for the safety of all involved. The Reclaimers have the say (except bureaucrats like Pike I suppose) as they’re the ones with the powers that can fulfill their plans so rank in society doesn’t REALLY matter. You can be a butcher’s son for all they care! So how would he ever be a good match for Lady Helen?

Then there’s that SUFFOCATING way that he likes to do EVERYTHING for Helen. He just wants to “protect” her from things, whether he understands who she really is or not, and ends up screwing plans up so badly because of it. He keeps spying on her because he hates Carlston and just wants to get her “away from that monster who allegedly killed his wife”. I honestly don’t like him, no matter how “noble” his motives are. I don’t understand why he keeps pursuing her even after she rejects him time and time again (bless you, Helen). Maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s his way of making sure no one else falls to their doom with Carlston (backstory here from book 1), but either way, please step aside Selburn or else I’m gonna throw a brick at you in the next book.

Honestly, no love triangle here. Not really. I don’t believe Helen’s heart was ever tempted by him. Maybe a little flattered by his attentions, but her heart’s for Carlston. As it should be.

So no middle book syndrome?

Whew, that was a long rant/review. It’s not very often I rate a sequel higher than the first one, but they’re both so good. With the background setting already laid out so nicely from book 1 (hopefully you remember some of it before embarking on book 2), it gives this book time to explore the plot as it ramps up for the conclusion. Plenty of intrigue still happens here with a touch more romance than before. Honestly, it seems Alison Goodman can do no wrong in this series. So more Lady Helen, please!

Overall Recommendation:
The Dark Days Pact lives up to all expectations with an action-filled plot at the centre and well-developed characters leading the way. With beautiful descriptions of the historical setting in 1812 and good pacing throughout the book, this would surely keep you flipping through the pages as fast as you can. You won’t feel the length of this book as you live through the craziness that is Lady Helen’s life as she fights for her incoming powers and follows through with her sacrificial duties for God and country. Oh, and pinches of romance throughout will have you grasping for the next book ASAP.

Review: Illusion Town by Jayne Castle

Series: Ghost Hunters #13

illusion-town-jayne-castleA new adventure begins on Harmony… 
 
With its opulent casinos and hotels, the desert city of Illusion Town is totally unique—and will take you on a thrill ride you’ll never forget.

Hannah West isn’t the first woman to wake up in Illusion Town married to a man she barely knows, but she has no memory of the ceremony at all. For that matter, neither does Elias Coppersmith, her new husband. All either can remember is that they were on the run…

With Hannah’s dubious background and shaky para-psych profile, she could have done much worse. The cooly competent mining heir arouses her curiosity—as well as other parts of her mind and body. And even her dust bunny likes him.

But a honeymoon spent retracing their footsteps leads Hannah and Elias into the twisting underground catacombs, where secrets from both their pasts will come to light—and where the energy of their clashing auras will grow hot enough to burn…


4 Drink Me Potions


This was my first book by “Jayne Castle”, although I happened to have crossed her other contemporary AND historical books as well, under her names Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick respectively.

Illusion Town was a little disorienting at first as I quickly had a feeling that this wasn’t a simple standalone book that I had picked up from the library. There seemed to be alluded references to this whole land of Harmony that I did not know about as a completely new reader. And now looking at how vast this whole series is (with the intricate weavings even across Castle’s other genres), I’m quite impressed with the overall world building that’s been crafted here.

First of all (from what I gathered as an amateur reader in this world), this futuristic set of series written under Jayne Castle is on some alien planet colonists from Earth settled ages ago, but through some mishap, were disconnected from Earth quite permanently and the people here had to make do and thrive somehow.

Paranormal activity is like the new norm here, with people genetically passing on these talents and traits like it’s nothing. The kind of tech here also matches the futuristic theme, but also walks hand-in-hand with the paranormal abilities that people have, such as listening to energy with amber crystals.

Then there’s the land itself and how it’s laid out. 8 Zones split up around some epicentre where some unnatural activity caused some of it to be uninhabitable. It was well-written (albeit still a little confusing for a first reader like me), but I got enough of the idea to still be quite engaged with how this society organized itself.

And of course, there’s the creatures. In particular, the dust bunny.

When I first read about Virgil, the resident dust bunny in this story, I was quite astounded to be honest. Who is this thing and why does it have FOUR eyes? Fluffy yet quite ferocious. I loved it! Castle is very imaginative as she laid out even remote childhood fantasies of dust bunnies (such as I had when I was a kid) into a futuristic story where it becomes as simple as asking “why NOT have it featuring dust bunnies as characters?”. I was overall quite impressed with the setting I had randomly landed myself in.

Then there’s the ROMANCE. It wasn’t the centre of the story, though the intriguing plot line where Hannah and Elias found themselves married to each other was fun enough to draw me in. No, their relationship and budding love for each other was icing on top of the excitement (and dangers!) that were brewing all throughout the book.

From exploring the dangerous Rainforest and Underground areas where I gathered were leftover ruins from when Aliens inhabited this planet (surprise! even more intriguing things just THROWN in here) to finding a long-lost treasure and being chased by a gang of pirates on motorbikes. It was like a rollercoaster of heartfelt emotions and running around adrenaline.

For a novel I randomly decided to read on a lazy Saturday, I think it’s opened me up to a whole new world of possibilities.

Overall Recommendation:
Illusion Town was brilliantly crafted in its imaginative setting on some futuristic planet where people had paranormal abilities and real live dust bunnies as companions. Although this is technically part of a long lineup of books in a series, it still stood out well enough as a standalone (as I had read it ’cause I sure as heck didn’t read any of the previous ones yet). There was enough sweet romance but the action in the plot had me excitedly flipping through the pages. It seems this book has almost everything. This is the kind of world that is unique and should be visited at least once. Be sure to read the previous books first (maybe).

Review: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

Series: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire #1

bright-smoke-cold-fire-rosamund-hodgeWhen the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.

The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . .


2.5 Drink Me Potions


Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

**Bright Smoke, Cold Fire comes out September 27, 2016**

Rating: 2.5 stars

Being familiar with Rosamund Hodge’s kinda work and unique plot twists to works that we’re used to, I came in with 2 expectations.

1) This novel would be all dark and twisted up as is her usual style and 2) the themed storyline would be Romeo & Juliet. Well, one of those expectations was met.

Was this really a Romeo & Juliet based story?

For a story that sounded like it was based on a star crossed romance that was absolutely forbidden between 2 clan members in a dying wasteland, oddly enough, Romeo and Juliet weren’t the main characters. Oh no. Their clan relatives were. Paris and Runajo.

Paris was definitely my fav of the 2. He’s the character with the loyal heart and a sense of honour in a city where it seems that kinda trait is running out. He didn’t expect much in life, yet when he landed the responsibility to protect the Juliet, he goes all in. Even after it goes awry and it’s now Romeo he needs to protect, he still doesn’t let him down no matter that they’re rival clans that don’t particularly like or understand each other.

Runajo on the other hand was hard for me to empathize with. A more complex character, her moral compass is a little skewed if you ask me. She’ll do whatever it is that seems right in her eyes but may be seen as wrong in the eyes of her clan or society. Basically, she’s pretty self-centred and being in her head sometimes sucks ’cause she has some really dark thoughts bouncing around in there. On the up side, she’s definitely bold and unafraid of outside opinions.

Now the characterization wasn’t all bad. That’s not why my rating isn’t as high as it could be. It’s the plot.

Why was everything so confusing?

Well, to hand it to Hodge, it was really complex. The world building I mean. There are the undead called revenants popping up, killing the live people, all caused by illegal necromancy occurring in the city by an unknown entity. This is amidst the chaotic information dump that is the ritual of making someone known as the Juliet in the Catresou clan (not including the whole why and religion of this clan for doing so). Not to mention, there’s some other factor known as the Sisterhood with a High Priestess who practices blood sacrifices to appease the gods and keep the city running albeit for only a short while longer.

That’s a whole lot of information that unfortunately doesn’t get dumped onto us in a way that made the reading easy. Jumping back and forth between what the boys are doing and what the girls are doing made it harder to keep track of what was going on in each other’s lives if you don’t read continuously in one sitting.

Oh, and how could I forget about the romance?? Well, that’s ’cause there really wasn’t much of any. Considering Romeo and Juliet weren’t physically together for like, almost the whole book, and Runajo was in the Sisterhood for goodness sakes, that just leaves Paris for romantic entertainment and I think I liked him as he was without being attached to some girl. So if you come romping over here for a nice (albeit dark) romance, you might wanna rethink that plan.

Overall I did enjoy the complexity and creativity put into it. Hodge easily makes a world that’s darkly intriguing, but the pacing was a little slow going. Fortunately, this gives us plenty of time to get to know our 2 – I mean, 4 – protagonists. The growth they each undergo through the events that eventually tie both their storylines together was nice to see, in particular for Runajo who was the hardest character for me to love. There’s plenty of questions left and with a cliffhanger ending like that, I wanna see what happens next to these characters.

Overall Recommendation:
Bright Smoke, Cold Fire was just as dark and complex as I had originally anticipated, especially if you’ve read some of Hodge’s other works. Although this dying world and the intricacies of each clan that’s survived so far was unique, the background history and terminology can get kind of confusing and altogether be too much at times. With a slower pacing than I’m used to in a high fantasy and a whole lot less romance than I would have thought for a Romeo & Juliet story, this novel was more of a mediocre start.