Sunday, 15 November 2015

Release Day Blitz - Dark Shadows

My name’s Ella Raimi.

Until last week, my life was pretty normal for a sixteen-year-old. Until I spent that awful night trapped in the janitor's closet in utter darkness. Until the dreams began - suffocating, panic-filled dreams. My best friend Kyla stays with me, but the dreams still continue. And I wake each morning with cuts and burns on my skin. I don’t recall inflicting them.

And then there is the blood on my hands and my sheets when I wake up.

I’m afraid of myself.

I'm afraid I am a killer.

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About Toni Vallan

Toni Vallan is the author of two contemporary titles in the contemporary suspense series DESPERATION, and her ongoing Thriller line. Toni loves the dark side of the soul, and studied to become a neuropsychologist. A career path taken over by her first love - writing. She lives in the land of the Hobbits, and secretly wants a Hobbit house, although her husband and two daughters may not agree.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Queen of the Tearling - Review

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom's haunted past, or that its fate will soon rest in her hands. Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil - and unleashing the Red Queen's vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen's Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as "the Fetch."

I keep waiting. Waiting to pick up a book which is complete and utter rubbish. The kind of book that makes me want to give up reading forever with its sheer awfulness. Since start the blog back in July and beginning to compile my random thoughts in to some kinds of cohesive reviews, I haven't picked up a terrible read yet. I've only dished out one single star review and that was to a re-read (Allegiant if you're interested). I'm long overdue a dud. This book however, is not it. This book is absolute reading perfection. Captivating, exhilarating, with a heroine up there with the best of them, if you only take one thing away from this babble please let it be this: Read this book. Read it now!

After narrowly making it to Tearling with her life, Kelsea immediately shreds the treaty with Mortmesne that crushes her people, ousts her weasely uncle from the throne and survives a knife in the back at her own coronation. What I utterly adored about this book, and what sets it apart from virtually every other book of this genre I've read recently, is the heroine, Kelsea Glynn. Now I'm prone to exaggeration so you may not believe me, but I can honestly say she's my new favourite book character ever. No unique and special snowflake, who's so witty and clever and beautiful that everyone she crosses paths with instantly falls in love with her, Kelsea is one of the most well written protagonists I've read about in ages. Described as "too plain" by the one character and "too wide" by another, she survives scrape after scrape, not by virtue of simply being the main character, but because you believe she's got the guts and determination to make it. We're spared endlessly scenes of her pirouetting through bad guys, slashing down scores of faceless extras to prove what a badass she is. Every action she takes, every decision that reaches, you believe it of her. A testament to nurture over nature and becoming your own person no matter what your past, she's ballsy, she's brave and she's fiercely loyal, the kind of hero that if I ever have a daughter I'd be proud for her to look up to. The scene where she changes her name to honour the foster parents who made her the person she is is especially touching.

There's plenty of support in the awesome character stakes elsewhere in the Tear court thanks to Kelsea's most loyal soldier Lazarus/The Mace is just as brilliant, equal parts guardian/mentor/protector. At first he, like pretty much everyone else, thinks nothing of Kelsea, expecting another feeble-minded princess or more likely still a walking corpse, but her tenacity wins him around, the wonderful development of their relationship one of the strongest threads of the novel. Seriously, this stuff will hit you right in the feelings. Outlaw "The Fetch" is the closest thing this book has to a love interest, but not much comes of it, the focus refreshingly on Kelsea and her attempts to cleanse the rot from her kingdom. There's no obligatory pick between two equally bland love interests here, nor the insta-love "because the book says so" get together between the heroine and the male character that seems to be necessary in most other books and it's just another reason that this book is so refreshing!

Likewise, the book doesn't sugarcoat anything. It doesn't skirt around the issues of war crimes and the suffering they cause, nor does it shy away from the odd swear (even one eyebrow raising use of the one curse word that makes me wince, and I swear like a trooper). The Tearling is all but broken by the war with and domination of Mortmesne, the atrocities committed on the people by the invaders not spared mention, but it's necessary to feel the desperation of many for a leader willing to lead. There are a few intriguing mentions of ancestors fleeing an old world to found a new land free from modern technology, place names like New London and references to the Americas, but to be honest I read through these, happy to focus on what was happening in the kingdom over where it came from.

Red Queen is a brilliant villain, just revealed enough to seem a credible threat to Kelsea and Tearling, but kept in the shadows enough to keep you guessing. The late reveal of a new antagonist did diminish her badassery a bit, but it's a minor quibble, especially as the real threat comes from within the Tear kingdom. Arlen Thorne is a complex guy, a bad guy who commits nauseating acts, but does so under a strangely honourable, if utterly misguided, belief that he is protecting his home. There's very little black and white about this story, and it's all the better for it. I could totally get on board with the "redheads are awesome" sentiment in this book too. Ok, it might be because they are the most desirable as status slaves, but still.

I've re-read The Queen of The Tearling in preparation for starting the sequel; The Invasion of The Tearling (thanks to Lydia over at Something Like Lydia for keeping on at me until I picked it up!) and I'd forgotten how much I loved it. I tried really hard to make this review objective and not descend into the crazy fangirling that has been fighting its way to the surface as I type. I barely made it through without the excessive use of gifs. In the end there were so many I got rid of them all for fear of triggering photosensitive epilepsy. Simply put, this book is incredible. A dark, intriguing tale of power, responsibility and justice with a kickass heroine and a sprinkling of magic. What's not to love?

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Everealm & Wildfire - Review

I had no idea what to expect when I signed up the Wildfire blog tour back in September. I was so busy flapping around trying to meet deadlines at work and on the blog that I  had all but forgotten I'd signed up to it until the media kit arrived in my inbox. What I discovered was my new Favourite Thing Ever!

Book two of the Everealm trilogy, Wildfire has everything I look for in a perfect read; magic, far away kingdoms, old school wardrobes, sex, romance, scheming courts, faeries, knights, strong female characters who don't come across as a cliched mixed of other book heroines ... check, check and check! I read Wildfire for the promo post, and immediately went back and read Everealm. A little - alright totally - backwards I'll admit, but despite seeing a few things coming, it didn't spoil my enjoyment at all. Almost two months later (because I am the worst), I'm finally fulfilling my promise to the lovely author J.D.Wright and reviewing both books properly.

Quick note before I start. I received free copies of both books as part of the tour, however this has in no way influenced my review. That's not how I roll.

This is how I roll. Badly!

Without further ado, on to the reviews!


I've tried to start this review so many times, only to think of something I liked even more and start all over again, so I'll keep it simple. I freaking loved this book! It all kicks off in the land of Everealm, where 23 year old Bree has just been crowned Queen of Junacave after her father's death. Desperately in love with her childhood friend Rowan who is the son of a knight and so not a suitable husband, she struggles to reconcile her head and her heart as she inherits a throne now under threat from her uncle Silas.

First off, the world building is spectacular! I felt like I was walking through castle courts, wearing one of those ludicrously impractical velvet dresses. Throw in a little magic and I'm there! I don't normal like books to be too overly descriptive so that I'm a little more free to let my imagination run wild, but it seems like J.D.Wright has got more than enough imagination for the both of us and it didn't hinder my enjoyment at all. In fact everything was so vividly described and told it made for an easy and far more enjoyable read (I think I like making things difficult for myself!). The subtle female empowerment angle is nicely done too. This is a world where females are undoubtedly seen as weaker. Case in point, when Silas comes to steal the throne from his niece, but the female characters (even Silas' hideous wife, the Lady Macbeth-esque Vallica) hold their own. The partnerships are just that in this book, not the big strong man coming to rescue the damsel in distress, nor the insultingly 2D "strong" female characters that you never believe for a minute.

Then there are the characters. I adore Bree! She's not a perfect character, but she's a very real one. And her relationship with Rowan is beautifully written as two people who make that sometimes painfully awkward transition from friends to lovers. Their first scene together is geuninely adorable. Rowan was a little bit blank slate for me at time, a bit of a cookie-cutter good guy doing his duty at the expense of his happiness. But the scenes between him and Bree are what bring him to life as a character. I'm only a little disappointed there weren't more of them. But I can't complain, because this paved the way for scenes between my ship; Bree's magic-possessing friend Sidonie and the powerful wizard Dagan that Bree is enlisted to help save the throne. I don't use this phrase as often as I'd like to, but be still my beating heart! This pair were my utter faves. More of your fiery lovers who lock eyes and that's it. The book blurb warns about mature content, but I much prefer books to go there rather than fade to black which happens in my usual YA fare. If that's your preference, then this series might not be your cup of tea. Steamy without being excessive, the sex and romance scenes are so organic to the story that they never once feel like they've been crowbarred in for a cheap thrill or so that the book can be marketed a certain way. Swoon!

Another plus point; an awesome bad guy. Antagonist Silas - and his put upon but equally vile wife Vallica - means that Everealm has this covered in spades! Urgh! Honestly, I rarely feel a physical reaction to a book character but this guy made my skin crawl! This was the only thing that made me wish I hadn't read book first, so I kind of knew where they were going to end up.

In case I hadn't made it clear enough, I fell head over heels in love with this book! It has just the right blend of fantasy and believable characters, magic and peril with a bit more bite than your average romance and it's all set in a kingdom I want to live in!


Picking up where book one left off, Wildfire is much more fast paced than Everealm, with a greatly expanded world and even more characters in the mix. I especially loved the addition of the faeries as Bree and Rowan were forced to search further afield for allies. I especially loved the faery Rhea. She's such a cute character - although perhaps kissing everyone she crossed paths with isn't the best way to find the Prince Charming she still believes in!

I can't even with the characters! There are so many fantastic newbies, alongside Bree and Rowan and my beloved Sidonie and Dagan, and you really get a sense of this enormous and incredible world. Now that the characters have been established there's sense of loyalty and friendship that permeates the novel. Bree is growing into her role as Queen, and although I'd like to see her let her hair down a bit, she's comfortable in who she is and her place in her kingdom with Rowan. Sidonie gets fleshed out more in this book too, learning more about who she is and coming to terms with her abilities alongside her wizard lover Dagan. They are still just as great a pairing as they were in book one, with chemistry that could melt the hardest heart! I really liked the fact that the sex/love/romance/whatever you want to call then scenes maintained the edge they had in Everealm. I find sometimes with sequels that authors will either dial up or down a certain aspect of their writing to recapture their earlier success with what proved popular, but J.D.Wright still gets a good balance of hot and heavy without it seeming contrived.

One thing that let this book down ever so slightly, and the reason I give it four stars instead of five, was the big bad in this story. Silas was such a brilliant villain, I felt that he had left impossibly big shoes to fill. There's plenty at stake, even more so this time around as more and more kingdoms, families and characters have a stake in the outcome, but there's no "Silas" to be found this time out.

That ending though! I almost wish I hadn't started this series until book three was out. I won't spoil it but suffice to say, the word "cliffhanger" is fitting!

All I can say is bring on book three!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Waiting on Wednesday

Woohoo! My first ever Waiting on Wednesday! I've been meaning to take part in this feature forever but have been so caught up in books already released since I started blogging that I didn't even want to think ahead to those not out yet for fear of increasing a tbr pile that is already a serious health and safety risk. But I've been chipping away at it slowly but surely, so I now feel confident enough to look ahead to my future reads. Thanks to Jill over at Breaking the Spine for hosting this weekly feature!

It may have been a mistake! I already have so many books I'm dying to get my hands on that I couldn't even pick just one for my first WoW ...

Assassin's Heart
In the kingdom of Lovero, nine rival Families of assassins lawfully kill people for a price. As a highly skilled member of one of these powerful clans, seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana has always trusted in the strength of her Family. Until she awakens to find them murdered and her home in flames. The Da Vias, the Saldanas’ biggest enemy, must be responsible - and Lea should have seen it coming. But her secret relationship with the Da Vias’ son, Val, has clouded her otherwise killer instinct - and given the Da Vias more reason than ever to take her Family down.

The Shadow Queen
Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common - magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen. In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic - and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

Burning Glass
Sonya was born with the rare gift to feel what those around her feel - both physically and emotionally - a gift she’s kept hidden from the empire for seventeen long years. After a reckless mistake wipes out all the other girls with similar abilities, Sonya is hauled off to the palace and forced to serve the emperor as his sovereign Auraseer. Tasked with sensing the intentions of would-be assassins, Sonya is under constant pressure to protect the emperor. One mistake, one small failure, will cost her own life and the lives of the few people left in the world who still trust her.

Reign of Shadows
Seventeen years ago, an eclipse cloaked the kingdom of Relhok in perpetual darkness. In the chaos, an evil chancellor murdered the king and queen and seized their throne. Luna, Relhok’s lost princess, has been hiding in a tower ever since. Luna’s survival depends on the world believing she is dead. But that doesn’t stop Luna from wanting more. When she meets Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the woods outside her tower, Luna is drawn to him despite the risk. When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape together. But this world of darkness is more treacherous than Luna ever realized.

As you can probably guess, I have a type when it comes to books! Are there any other books in this vein due out soon that I simply have to check out? Let me know my fellow YA lovers!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Snow Like Ashes - Review

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since. Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

I was so excited for this book! I placed my pre-order for the utterly gorgeous paperback and patiently waited for it to drop onto my mat. And I have to say, I was kind of disappointed. Perhaps because I was expecting something truly wonderful, when I discovered something that was just good, the expectation versus the reality made me a little hard on the book. I liked it, I did. But I didn't love it like I was expecting to. Snow Like Ashes ticks every box in the YA handbook; feisty heroine, magic, warring kingdoms, the evil king, the hard but caring father figure, swoon-worthy romance, the "twist" reveal, the obligatory love triangle. And perhaps it's because it tries to tick all of them that it doesn't get many quite right. It's abundantly clear though that Sara Raasch is a wonderful writer and storyteller, and this book is a promising start to a series.

First off, the world building is so promising, it was the set up alone that got me wanting this book. The idea of four seasonal kingdoms, each locked in perpetual winter, summer, autumn or spring is a tantalising prospect. Throw in four rhythm kingdoms and I'm falling into your book headfirst. The magic element of the story however is frustratingly done. No rules are established on what exactly the magic does, how and why people use it. I don't expect to read a manual or list of rules, but because the there is frustratingly little to go on, a few plot twists seem to come out of left field and feel a bit like a "because magic" get out. Described as "a big ball of magic" in a chasm beneath the eight kingdoms that can be chanelled by a conduit, there's not a lot to go on. One person uses it to change form, there's a mention of one kingdom using it to increase its people luck and fortune, some people use it to heal, but it's still not entirely clear exactly what everyone is fighting each other for. The introspective, first person pov from Meira means that the scope is a little too narrow to fully explore these realms and magic without scattering huge chunks of exposition through the book.

Clocking in at 416 pages, this isn't a light read and the book would have benefited from a more ruthless edit. Quite a few times I was tempted to skip big chunks of exposition that occur frequently throughout the book. Because there are a lot of shorter chapters, Snow Like Ashes has a decidedly episodic feel as the characters abruptly lunge from one setting and event to another before quickly moving on, big plot points being robbed of the dramatic impact they should have. Speaking of things that don't carry the weight they should, I didn't feel the love triangle between Meira, Mather and Theron, mainly because it was a little bland for me. Mather is the erstwhile king of Winter. Theron is the prince of Cordell. Both have arms that could strangle a cow and abs your could do your laundry on. Both are handsome. Both love Meira (obviously) and both are equally protective of her and tolerant of her need to fight. Their characters are pretty interchangeable. One's paler than the other, but other than that there's precious little to set them apart, so it's kind of hard to get invested in which one she picks. Meira however though, is something Snow Like Ashes gets totally right. She's not a perfect protagonist by any stretch. She does stupid things, she makes stupid decisions and is not above acting like a moody teenager on occasion. But as flawed and imperfect as she is, she makes for a very real character and her heart is always in the right place. The final quarter or so is where the books comes into its own as Meira is stripped of the supporting characters and exposition, and steps up to fight for her people and her beliefs. The revelations are incredibly easy to see coming, but it felt to me like the book found its feet towards the end when it ditched the exposition, set up and flashbacks and just focused on the here and now.

If I had to sum up my feelings on Snow Like Ashes in one word, it would be frustrating. There are so many great ideas, but it feels like none are fully explored, and all these rules, kingdoms, twists and characters end up tripping over each other. Nothing here blew my mind. It's a promising start to the series, with Ice Like Fire already out, but I'm hoping that the next book is a bit more focused.