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Posted by Amanda

It’s that time again! Cover Snark time! This is where we gaze upon book covers that don’t seem quite right. Let’s have at it, shall we?

Fall Into Darkness by Valerie Twombly. The hero has angel wings, but where the wings meet his back, it's flesh colored and very much looks like the start of another arm.

From Karen: Well, I’m not sure this will seem icky to everybody or just me, but here’s another possible entry for Cover Snark. Anyway, what bothers me is the positioning of his wing. I know that it’s gotta be connected somewhere but where the cover illustrator put it is kind of creepy to me. Maybe if it wasn’t partially skin before becoming feathered, but it just looks like a bad deformity. Actually, it looks like a skinny arm coming off his shoulder. So, ewww.

The other issue, of course, is whether the positioning would actually allow him to fly. Doesn’t seem so to me. Maybe someone with aerodynamics experience will know that.

Amanda: His face says it all.

Sarah: I feel sad for his chiropractor.

Redheadedgirl: That’s not…why.


Elyse: That looks like something you should have biopsied.

Sarah: A little late now.

Elyse: Can you imagine that doctor’s day? “Good morning Mr. Smith. I see you’re here about–HOLY MOTHER OF GOD!”

Redheadedgirl: I mean….okay…. I guess in terms of wing position on birds, and chordates that actually fly…. maybe? but you’re not taking into account the surrounding muscular development that would be required for those things to work

Also since humanoids don’t have keelbones and the chest shape that birds have evolved and…. am I overthinking this?

Elyse: Yes.

Redheadedgirl: I just feel like those wing supporting a body weight from the shoulders isn’t going to work.

Sarah: I’ve seen a ton of intricate drawings of how wings would fit and work on humans, and how existing muscles would have adapted or grown. This wasn’t one of the designs.

Redheadedgirl: Also how did he get that tank top on?

Doe she have a valet to sew him into his muscle tanks every morning?

Elyse: How does he go to the bathroom? Where do the wings go?

Redheadedgirl: Wheelchair accessible stall, I guess.

Sarah: Imagine what his car must look like. Forget moving the seat back. He has to be in the trunk.

Maybe he can steer with his wings?

Redheadedgirl: Sarah, he doesn’t need a car. He can fly.

Sarah: Even he has to obey no fly zones, righ?

Right? Like, if he lives in a metro area with a bunch of airports, he’d have to drive or take the train.

Redheadedgirl: I don’t think the FAA had regs on angels.

Sarah: Imagine that guy on a bus. That’s a whole other realm of manspreading right there.

I bet they do. I mean, Sandra Hill has Vampire Viking Angel Navy SEALs. you’d think if there were angel SEALs the FAA would have to be at least aware.

Concealed by M.M. Koenig. The bottom half of the cover is a woman's face, but displayed horizontally. The top half is a shirtless, heavily tattooed man, who kind of looks like the lead singer of Maroon Five.

Amanda: The face placement is jarring.

Sarah: I’m curious what ink she’s concealing.

Interlude by Kay Halliday. The cover is supposed to be the concert scene, but the audience is faceless and blurry, except for one woman. She's missing her lower half as she looks up at what I assume is the hero. He's wearing a white t-shirt and has a noticeable tribal tattoo. There is no stage. He's just sort of hovering.

Elyse: She has no legs

Art dept: I feel like we forgot something here… Nah. I bet it’s fine

Carrie: I loathe both of them on sight.

Amanda: Never trust a dude with a tribal tattoo.

Sarah: I keep thinking the curl next to the title is toilet paper. She has to run and get more because he used the last of the roll and rock stars don’t replace the paper roll, no, ma’am.

Only a Viscount Will Do by Tamara Gill. The man is embracing the woman, but is bending her back over his arm at a startling angle. She's about to flash everyone a bit of nipple. His pants are also flesh-toned, so a quick look makes it seem like he's totally pantless.

Elyse: Is he trying to steal her heart by biting through her ribcage to get at it?

Amanda: I feel like with the way her dress is sitting, we should have seen some nip by now.

Sarah: Amanda, the thumbnail image! It’s the best part of this cover.

Amanda: Feast yer eyes!

A smaller version of Only a Viscount Will Do cover and yep, the hero totally looks like he's missing his pants.

Amanda: It’s like one of those Magic Eye posters.

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Posted by Amanda

Today, we have an exclusive cover reveal of Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). Trust us, you’re going to want to see this cover.

This book is “equal parts love story, historical fiction, and love letter to Cuba.” Though we do have some bad news: it doesn’t come out until February 2018. WOE!

Better get your library holds and preorders in now!

Here’s the official book description:

A young woman travels to Havana to honor her late grandmother’s wishes–and discovers her family’s greatest secret, hidden since the Cuban revolution. A mesmerizing novel about two generations of Cuban-American women.

In 2017, freelance writer Marisol Ferrera travels to Cuba to honor her late grandmother’s wishes to return her ashes to her homeland. There Marisol recovers an unexpected piece of her family’s history–a box buried in the backyard of her family’s former mansion in Havana. Hidden for decades, it unearths her grandmother’s greatest secret.

In 1958, Elisa Perez, the daughter of one of the wealthiest sugar barons in Cuba, meets a young lawyer at a party in Havana. Their attraction is instant, their chemistry undeniable, but they’re caught on opposite sides of a growing political movement. Unable to deny their love, they begin a clandestine affair while all around them Cuba’s fractures cut deeper and deeper, violence spilling throughout the country.

Now, as Marisol grapples with her own Cuban identity, she must navigate a perilous political climate and a growing attraction to a man with secrets of his own. And as more family history comes to light, the past threatens to collide with the present, and Marisol will discover the true meaning of courage.

Now are you ready for the cover?

Are you sure?

Really, really sure?

Cover Reveal

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton cover. A woman in a gorgeous peach-colored dress, sitting on a turquoise couch. She's wearing dark lipstick and there's a beach landscape of Cuba.

What do you think? Gorgeous, right?

You might recognize Chanel Cleeton’s name from her Capitol Confessions series, or the Wild Aces romances. This book is a little different, and a little personal, too: according to her bio, she “grew up on stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution.”

Are you excited for Next Year in Havana? Bummed about the wait time? Let us know your thoughts on the cover in the comments!

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Comics don’t rip off pop culture anywhere near enough any more. Krypto and Ace the Bat-Hound happened because of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD happened because of James Bond and the Man from UNCLE. Comics used to omnivorously devour whatever was popular and make it part of the mix. Usually two years too late, but they were in there trying. Kung fu popular? Have some kung fu heroes! Blaxploitation? Gotcha covered. But at some point, greedily chasing trends started to be frowned on. And the Big Two comics got to be a lot more about maintaining the old stuff than chasing the new. I think that was a point when comics lost a lot of vitality. If Pokemon had happened in 1965, there’d be a Spider-Man villain today named Monsteroso, who hunted & trapped monsters he used to do crimes. -- Kurt Busiek

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Bayou Shadow Hunter by Debbie Herbert

Jun. 25th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Bayou Shadow Hunter

by Debbie Herbert
March 1, 2016 · Harlequin Nocturne

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Ms G. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:


Bent on revenge, Native American Shadow Hunter Tombi Silver could turn to only one woman, the “witch” Annie Matthews, for help. Her ability to hear auras had allowed her to discover Tombi’s friend mystically trapped by forces that could destroy them all. The accompanying message of a traitor in their midst meant Tombi could trust no one. Dare he bring Annie along on his quest to fight shadow spirits? Putting his faith in someone outside his tribe, especially one who pulled at his tightly controlled desires, could prove just as dangerous as his mission…

Here is Ms. G's review:

I haven’t read a paranormal romance in a long-ass time. I binged and then got sick of vampires and werewolves. However, whilst scrolling through the open options on the RITA spreadsheet, I came across a book called Bayou Shadow Hunter. Damn if that shit didn’t sound either fucking awesome or batshit crazy. Since it is a paranormal without bizarre creatures, I decided to give it a shot, and I ended up enjoying myself quite a bit.

Annie Mathews is a Hoodoo witch with magical auditory powers that not only allow her to hear like a roided-up bat, but also listen to other people’s auras in the form of music. Annie fucking hates her gift because all the constant auditory input makes it nigh impossible for her to person IRL. All she wants is for her Grandma Tia, the Hoodoo Queen of Alabama, to help her get rid of it. Annie has been coming to stay with Tia in Bayou La Syrnia every summer since she was a kid, but Tia can’t/won’t help Annie ditch her gift.

One night, while trying to fall asleep Annie notices a glowing green orb floating outside her window, and she decides to Nancy Drew it. Turns out the orb is a will-o’-the-wisp and it leads her into the Bayou. Wisps are trapped spirits of the dead, and this particular one is named Bo. He can only talk to Annie because of her gift. He wants Annie to tell his BFF, Tombi Silver, that there is a traitor in Tombi’s inner circle and Tombi shouldn’t trust anyone.

Of course as soon as Bo finishes delivering his cryptic message, who should step out of the woods but Tombi! Tombi is a carpenter by day and the leader of a group of Choctaw warriors who run around the Bayou freeing trapped spirits and fighting evil by night. He has pretty full plate.

The second these two clap eyes on each other, they catch a raging case of insta-lust. They are also kind of suspicious of each other because, you know, the whole total strangers in the dark thing. After they spend a few minutes feeling each other out (verbally) Annie delivers the message from Bo. She also explains her gift to Tombi.

Though Tombi is intrigued by Annie’s gift, he’s also suspicious as fuck. See, besides releasing the souls trapped inside wisps, he and his warriors are also looking for a way to stop the evil spirit, Nalusa, that their ancestors trapped in the Bayou. Hurricane Katrina not only took Tombi’s parents and his home, but it also fucked shit up so bad that Nalusa started gaining power and running amok. Tombi and his warriors are desperate to keep Nalusa confined to the Bayou because not only can this son-of-a-bitch shapeshift into a creepy-ass snake, and other horrible things, but he can also infect the minds of the living and bend them to his will and drive them to kill themselves. So when Annie tells Tombi that one of his most trusted friends is a traitor, he half thinks that she is under the control of Nalusa and spends a most of the rest of the book trying to decide whether he can actually trust her.

Annie is kind of fascinated by Tombi because not only is he hot AF, but she cannot hear his aura. Yep. It’s reverse Twilight. Turns out that being a shadow hunter means that you have a very particular set of skills, such as night vision and the ability to control how much energy you release into the world.

Despite being wary of Annie and her message, Tombi still feels the need to look into this whole traitor kerfuffle. He wants Annie to come and creep on the auras of his friends. At first Annie is all “Hell no. I want none of your evil snake monsters.” However, Tombi tells her he can teach her to control her energy field which might help her learn to turn off her gift. The prospect of being rid of her super hearing is too good, so Annie agrees.

This book has A LOT of plot, so for the sake of brevity I’m just going to say that Tombi’s plan doesn’t work out so well, straight up because of his trust issues and rather magnificent dumbfuckery, and all the shit hits all the fans.

Show Spoiler
Annie totes identifies the traitor (his other bestie) but Tombi doesn’t want to believe it and disregards her. Basically, Tombi is a fuckwad who should have listened to the outside consultant that he brought in because doing so would have solved almost all of the problems that arise in the rest of the story, but hey, that would have been a much shorter and less angsty book.

They spend the rest of the book hunting wisps, trying to figure out how to fight Nalusa and, attempting to suss out the traitor. Of course, all this intrigue and danger is just bursting with sexual tension and they end up boning like bunnies. And in the grand tradition of the majority of romance novels that I’ve read, Annie falls hard and knows it while Tombi has trust issues and manfeels he doesn’t quite know what to do with. Besides, he has a sacred duty to fight evil and love makes you weak so…. Anyways, it all works out OK. Evil is smushed back into a tree, Annie owns her power, Tombi figures out his manfeels, and love and weddings and shit.

I really enjoyed Bayou Shadow Hunter. There were a lot of things that I liked; however, there were also a lot of things that kind of annoyed me and took me out of the story. Granted I am a nitpicky motherfucker, so the things that bothered me might not phase other readers at all. I am willing to admit I tend to overthink. Especially about books that are set during my lifetime. I ended up having a lot of feels, so I figured the best way to break this down was to make a list (I am a BIG fan of lists) of what worked for me and what didn’t.

Things That Totally Worked for Me

– The plot is crazy interesting and compelling. There is a lot of it, but it is paced pretty well. Not too bogged down in detail or slower moments, and not too rushed or so action packed that there was no room for character development. Now it wasn’t quite I-can’t-put-this-book-down-or-I-might-actually-go-crazy good, but it was damn!-I-am-so-curious-to-see-what-happens-next good.

– I loved the setting. Debbie Herbert does a good job at giving the reader a really concrete sense of place. Her descriptions of all of the natural elements of the Bayou are lush and detailed without going complete Anne of Green Gables with the adjectives. As someone who has spent the grand total of a whole week in NOLA, I found the constant mention of mosquitos and being bitten by mosquitos to be very authentic. Though, no one ever mentions bug spray which I found disquieting.

– The main character’s total acceptance of each other’s cultures. Now, I don’t know much of anything about Hoodoo or Choctaw religious practices, but in the book there is a decent amount of overlap between the two. However, neither Annie nor Tombi ever prioritized their rituals or practices above the other’s. In fact, they were usually willing to try both or blend the two together figuring the more firepower they had in the fight against evil the better. In this era of what seems like constant religious conflict and judging, it was really nice to have two supportive people who were like “Yeah, your thing is totally cool. You do you.”

– Annie’s super hearing is really interesting. I’ve never come across paranormal auditory powers before, so for me this was a cool and unique gift. I could also see how it could be a total pain in the ass and why she was so desperate to get rid of it. As a reader I found the constant whining she had at the beginning of the book to be a little grating, but if I’m being honest with myself, if I were in her shoes I would probably be waaaay more of a sad sack.

Things That Kinda Worked for Me, but I Wish Were Better

– The world building in the supernatural realm is pretty good and vivid. There are some basic rules and people follow them. I am persnickety however, and just wanted a little more explanation. For an example of extreme persnicketiness, the shadow hunters free wisps by hitting them in the center with stones. Does it have to be stones or could any projectile work? I am sure that most people won’t care, but rocks were specifically mentioned enough that it got me wondering. Also, Grandma Tia is kind of an all knowing badass. She can suck demon-snake poison out of people and come out the other side alive. She also seems to know a whole lot about Tombi’s secret fight against Nalusa and about how and he and Annie they are destined for one another. How does she know this? Do the spirits tell her? Does she have visions? Grandma’s intuition? This inquiring mind needs to know! I mean all the stuff with Grandma Tia was cool and very convenient plotwise, but it all kind of felt Hoodoo hand-waved, which stuck out because Herbert took time to explain the mechanics of a lot of the Hoodoo rituals.

– I want more backstory on Annie. We learn that Annie is known as “Crazy Annie” in her home town up in Georgia. How did the whole town find out about her gift? Did she ever tell other people? We are left to assume that as a kid hearing shit all the time meant she acted weird, but I am hella nosey and wanted more info. Plus, we are told that Annie’s mom is awful and does not do well with Annie and her magic powers, but it is just talked about and never shown. The rejection from her town and her mom is a huge part of Annie’s character make-up and explains why she is such a shrinking violet at the beginning of the book, and I would have liked a little more explanation into her past.

Also, Tombi’s cultural heritage is a huge part of who he is. Annie is Cajun, Native-American and Caucasian, but her heritage(s) (beyond Hoodoo which in my understanding is more religion than heritage but I could be mistaken) is barely mentioned. I cannot tell if this an intentional choice to show that her past doesn’t mean anything to her, or if it was just lost in all of the paranormal stuff and plot, or whatever, but it kind of bothered me.

– I am very meh on both of the main characters. Their flaws and motivations make sense given their what we know of their backstories. Tombi is fighting an evil demon that controls people, so his trust issues, while rather prolonged, are not unfounded. Annie has had very little support and can’t do much of anything because she is constantly trying to filter out noise, so her desire for quick fixes for her gift and tendency to just bounce when the going gets tough, while a bit grating, make sense. Usually (I’m looking at you Tombi) neither one was Too Stupid To Live, which is nice. They were both just kind of broody and angsty a lot, which used to thrill me when I was a teen, but I now I like it when my heroes have their emotional shit together a little bit better. I was totally fine hanging out with both of these people for a whole book, but I just didn’t love either of them.

Things That Annoyed The Ever Lovin’ Dickens Out of Me

– PROTECTION!!!!!!! This is one of my biggest pet peeves: if you are going to set your novel in modernish times (I have no idea what year this is supposed to be taking place. Cell phones are used a lot, but no one even mentions the internet so . . .?) then your grown-ass characters should not be having unprotected sex! Protection and/or birth control is never even mentioned. No condoms. No “I’m on the pill.” No “Don’t worry baby I will pull out.” which is bullshit, but still would at least show they are aware of basic biology. NOTHING!! They just keep going at it like irresponsible twits.

I find this kind of hard to believe since when they started going to pound town Tombi was actively avoiding emotional entanglements. You know what’s emotionally entangling Tombi? A baby. And syphilis. Also, you know that Annie, working with the Hoodoo Queen of Alabama since she was knee high, has seen women showing up to Grandma Tia’s for various reproductive reasons. Girlfriend should know better. Especially because they both have been sexually active before. Unless one of a shadow hunter’s particular skills is immunity to STIs, protection should have part of the sexy times. There is no reason modern characters to be sexually irresponsible. It actually pops me out of the narrative and makes the sex scenes way less sexy because you know what is not hot? Genital warts.

– The secondary characters are barely flushed out. Tombi’s twin Tallulah gets an okay amount of page time and motivation for her actions (she is also the heroine of the sequel) but all the other warriors are barely mentioned. Like we get their names and some jobs and maybe an adjective but other than being potential traitors, they are pretty much just filler.

Show Spoiler
Even when we do find out who the traitor is, it has no emotional impact at whatsoever because we have no idea who this person is or why they go dark. It’s just like, “Surprise bitches! I’m a jackass! And now I’m going to fuck all of y’all over and be an evil rapey dick.”

– Probably not a big deal for most readers, but after I put the book down and thought about it for a minute this drove me crazy. The shadow hunters spend a week camping in the woods every month. The week after the full moon is the time when the supernatural is extra frisky, so that’s when they hunt. However, these guys have jobs. One dude in the inner circle is the local sheriff. Tombi’s sister works at a museum. How do they disappear into the woods for a week once a month and still hold down their jobs? Especially the sheriff. Tombi is self-employed, so he can peace out for twelve weeks out of the year I guess. It’s never made clear how many shadow hunters there are, only that not everyone in the tribe can be one. Overall, it’s not a huge thing, but I am detail oriented and I want to know how they manage to incorporate shadow hunting into their daily lives. Do they rotate shifts? Is there a schedule!?! An age limit? What are the mechanics of fighting evil in today’s fast paced world?

I think I would give this book a B-. Even though there were quite a few things that got my dander up I was very engaged and interested in what was happening throughout the story. Also, I was being a bit more critical than usual since I’m reviewing this book. If I was reading this book just for funsies I probably wouldn’t have been as critical. So if you just want a fun fast read, if you are into paranormals that are not vampires and werewolves, and enjoy books with a firm sense of place I think this could be an enjoyable book.

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"You don't wear your strongest influences like a shirt, something you take on and off as you like. You wear those influences like your skin. For me, Ray Bradbury is that way. From the time I was twelve to the time I was twenty-two, I read every Bradbury novel and hundreds of Bradbury short stories, many of them two and three times. Teachers came and went; friends ran hot and cold; Bradbury, though, was always there, like Arthur Conan Doyle, like my bedroom, like my parents. When I ruminate about October, or ghosts, or masks, or faithful dogs, or children and their childish frightening games, every thought I have is colored by what I learned about these things from reading Ray Bradbury. One of Bradbury's most famous collections is The Illustrated Man, which features a man tattooed with a countless number of Ray's stories, a man who walks through life carrying all those stories on his back. I relate."
-- Joe Hill

Story under the cut... )
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Posted by Amanda


Prudence by Gail Carriger is $2.99! This is part of 3 pages of Kindle Daily Deals, which also includes books like Bossypants and Misty Copeland’s memoir. This book is the first book in her Custard Protocol series and Carrie gave it a B-:

The best and worst thing I could say about this series is that it’s very much like Carriger’s other series. It’s the worst thing in that there’s not a lot new in here except that it seems to be a series that gets us out of alternate universe England and into the rest of Empire. It’s the best thing because honestly Carriger’s world and style are just pure yummy candy. If you give me a five pound bag of M&M’s, it’s not like I’m going to get to the bottom and say, “Gosh darn it, this is still M&M’s!”


When Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama (Rue to her friends) is given an unexpected dirigible, she does what any sensible female would under similar circumstances — names it the Spotted Custard and floats to India in pursuit of the perfect cup of tea. But India has more than just tea on offer. Rue stumbles upon a plot involving local dissidents, a kidnapped brigadier’s wife, and some awfully familiar Scottish werewolves. Faced with a dire crisis and an embarrassing lack of bloomers, what else is a young lady of good breeding to do but turn metanatural and find out everyone’s secrets, even thousand-year-old fuzzy ones?

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The Duke and the Domina

The Duke and the Domina by Jenn LeBlanc is 99c at Amazon! It’s possible this deal is on its way out, so snag it while you can. It’s also filled with lots of catnip: time travel, a Dominatrix heroine, a marriage of convenience, and for those playing Ripped Bodice Bingo, it has a broke hero! This is the third book in the Lords of Time series, and I think it can be read as a standalone, but someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

He’s poor. She’s rich.
He’s a sub. She’s a switch.
It’s not love.
It’s a marriage of Kink-venience. 

Grayson Danforth, Duke of Warrick, was banished from England by his father when his propensity for pain was discovered. The only reason he returned was because his father and two older brothers were killed, requiring him to take up the title. His honor has him bound to the contracts meant for his brother—including a marriage—but first he has to meet his bride.

Lulu—a professional dominatrix—was in a scene with a client when she tripped and fell, waking up in a strange house in a strange world with no idea what to think. She’s either part of an elaborate scene for another client or it’s all just a dream. But the man she woke up to…he makes her want to live in the dream forever. When she’s given the choice to run and hide or complete the contract for marriage to Warrick, she chooses the latter. She can’t help the way she’s drawn to this beautiful, powerful, man and the secrets she can see he’s hiding beneath his cross façade.

Warrick knows Lulu’s secret—even if she doesn’t believe it—and he knows that marrying her will be the best way to keep her safe. But Lulu stirs something deep inside that he’s worked for years to hide. When Lulu realizes his masochistic tendencies it’s up to her to force him to let down his domineering guard and submit. He needs to learn that what he wants, what he yearns for is not only beautiful but something she can give him but getting him to submit is a task that won’t come easily to either of them.

As they begin their dance of husband and wife can two people who’ve never known trust or love learn to submit to each other? 

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Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is $1.99! This book has been recommended by a couple readers in the comments around the site. It’s about a couple who breaks up before the planet is destroyed. The entire book is told, epistolary-style, through texts, emails, and other documents. Some people found the epistolary format rather annoying, while others highly recommend it on audiobook. Have you read it?

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

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Shadow Magic

Shadow Magic by Patricia C. Wrede is $1.99! This is a fantasy novel first published in the early 80s and is the first book in the Lyra series. Some found the first installment a littler boring, but say that the series gets better with each book. For those who have read it, what do you think?

Alethia listens as her father Braca questions heir Har and friend Maurin, back from Lyra borders where other caravans have disappeared. Her mother Isme has a bad feeling. The night of her twentieth birthday party, Alethia is kidnapped by enemy Lithmern, led by a man with no face, and a body of black smoke.

But the woods are protected by Wyrd, small furry archers, and Ward-Keeper mage Jordet, of the tall silver-haired Shee. Soon the Noble House of Brenn must decide whether to ally with mythical races, including the sea-dwelling Neira. While the other eight Noble Houses squabble, the evil Shadow Men rise, and seek the five lost treasures of Alkyra that used to unite the four races.

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Bayou Shadow Hunter by Debbie Herbert

Jun. 25th, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Bayou Shadow Hunter

by Debbie Herbert
March 1, 2016 · Harlequin Nocturne

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Dominika. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:


Bent on revenge, Native American Shadow Hunter Tombi Silver could turn to only one woman, the “witch” Annie Matthews, for help. Her ability to hear auras had allowed her to discover Tombi’s friend mystically trapped by forces that could destroy them all. The accompanying message of a traitor in their midst meant Tombi could trust no one. Dare he bring Annie along on his quest to fight shadow spirits? Putting his faith in someone outside his tribe, especially one who pulled at his tightly controlled desires, could prove just as dangerous as his mission…

Here is Dominika's review:

I was really hoping to like this book. I wanted to write a review that was filled with lots of squee and happy rainbow unicorn gifs because that would have been fun to write. In retrospect, I was being overly optimistic since I am not typically a paranormal romance reader and rarely feel such adoration for the subgenre. This book did not leave me with warm and fuzzy feelings after the HEA. I found the entire journey to the HEA underwhelming. This lackluster reading experience is partly due to my extreme pickiness as a reader. There are specific tropes and character dynamics that I find satisfying in my romance novels, and this book featured none of those. In fact, it was full of a lot of my personal turn-offs.

Our heroine is Annie, a young woman with the special ability to hear other people’s auras. I think she has some kind of super hearing in general since it’s mentioned at some point that she can hear the ocean’s tides from far away. She is visiting her Grandma Tia in the South Alabama town of Bayou LaSiryna. Annie is desperate to be rid of her extrasensory ability, and she hopes her grandmother’s hoodoo powers might help her with that. I sympathize with Annie’s frustration. It’s annoying enough to get a random song stuck in your head; I can’t imagine how I’d deal with the din of every single person’s unique musical aura along with the magnified sound of every cricket and gust of wind. The hero is Tombi, a local Choctaw Indian and a supernaturally gifted hunter of evil spirits. He enlists Annie’s help to fight the local shadow spirits of the bayou in exchange for helping her learn how to control her magically magnified hearing. It’s an ok enough premise and I went into the book ready to suspend a certain amount of disbelief. The execution of this premise, however, did not work for me.

I knew I was in trouble on page one of chapter one after reading this sentence: “The forest beckoned with its thick canopy of trees draped in long tendrils of Spanish moss that fluttered in the sea breeze with a silver shimmer like a living veil of secrecy.” When I eventually get to the sex scenes, genitals are referred to as “his manhood,” stirring “loins,” and her “womanly core.” Perhaps these phrases make you want to pick up this book. Maybe that is a writing style that works for you as a reader. If you enjoy phrases like “weeping whistles of warring hope and despair,” this might be the paranormal romance for you. This writing style fell flat with me. I tend to prefer brisk action and sharp, witty dialogue. I’m not as big a fan of borderline florid descriptions of nature.

I won’t bother going into too much detail about the plot surrounding the supernatural big bad because I found that predictable and tame. The key to defeating the main villain (a shape shifting, misery loving snake beast named Nalusa) involves some kind of magical flute and Annie’s newfound hoodoo powers and the power of love or something and I just couldn’t bring myself to care because what the hell was I thinking when I picked a paranormal romance to review. When reading about the shadow hunters chasing down wicked wisps in the bayou, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the descriptions of people creeping through the woods at night with slingshots. I imagined the hunters throwing rocks at swamp gas and communicating with hand signals in the dark and felt more amused than enchanted by some of the supernatural elements.

Another thing that did not work for me was the reliance on inner monologue as exposition (more telling than showing). I got through the book with a combination of reading and listening to a chunk of it on audio book. The inner monologue felt particularly awkward when listening to the supernatural action scenes. When our main couple first runs into Nalusa, I was listening to Tombi’s inner monologue about Annie’s trustworthiness/Nalusa’s rise to power after Hurricane Katrina and thinking “just attack the stupid snake beast already.”

I never really enjoyed this book because I kept finding things to be persnickety about. Heroine overreacts to the hero telling her to sit down and claims that she doesn’t get ordered around like a dog. Native American music and history is referred to as “primitive” or a “simpler, more natural past existence.” Hero is terse, stoic, temperamental, and emotionally unavailable. Heroine is sweet and nurturing and has to convince the closed off hero that he wants more with her than just sex. Her ex-boyfriend was selfish and terrible in bed and sex with the hero is the best the heroine has ever had. The hero “probes” the “opening of [the heroine’s] womanhood” and I wonder if anyone has ever considered “probe” to be a sexy word. It’s just a long list of moments or tropes that do not appeal to me and add up to a mediocre reading experience.

In conclusion, this was not a book written for me. The things I was picky about might be the very reasons that someone else picks up this book and enjoys it. I considered backing out of the RITA review challenge altogether, but I figured that someone else might read my litany of turn offs and think, “That’s my catnip,” thereby making this review somewhat useful. As for a letter grade, how do you assign a letter grade to something so subjective as reading for pleasure? For the purposes of this review I’m going to go with a C grade since it wasn’t the worst written book I’ve ever read. It also wasn’t an amazing reading experience for me by any means. Bayou Shadow Hunter left me feeling “meh” and I probably won’t be reading tons of paranormal romance in the future.

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Posted by Carrie S


The Refrigerator Monologues

by Catherynne Valente
June 6, 2017 · Saga Press

Here are the main things you need to know about The Refrigerator Monologues: it is intense, painful, and triumphant. It is NOT a romance. Readers would benefit from some familiarity with common comic book tropes while reading. Also, it’s feminist as fuck.

The book derives its inspiration from the Women in Refrigerators website created by Gail Simone in 1999. Simone launched a conversation that is still going strong about the frequency with which female characters are killed, injured, raped, or otherwise brutalized in comics for no purpose other than to fuel a man’s story. The trope name comes from the unfortunate girlfriend of Kyle Raynor (the Green Lantern) who comes home one night to find his girlfriend murdered and her body stuffed in his refrigerator. This leads Kyle to finally fully assume his role as Green Lantern as he seek vengeance and then goes on fight other battles, now secure in his superhero role.

The monologues are kicked off by Paige Embry, who introduces the reader to Deadtown (the afterlife for comics characters) and some of the women who live there. Paige is clearly inspired by the character of Gwen Stacey (Peter Parker, AKA Spiderman’s, first girlfriend). Paige is, for lack of a better term, the president of the Hell Hath Club. This club consists of women who have died (sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily) as a result of their association with male superheroes:

There’s a lot of us. We’re mostly very beautiful and very well read and very angry. We have seen some shit. Our numbers change-a few more this week, a few less next, depending on if anyone gets called up to the big game. You can’t keep your lunch date if some topside science jockey figures out how to make a zombie-you. We’re totally understanding about that kind of thing. She’ll be back. They always come back. Zombies never last, power sputters out, and clones don’t have the self-preservation God gave a toddler in a stove shop.

In subsequent chapters, different members of the Hell Hath Club tell their stories. Comic book fans will recognize characters inspired by, among others, Harley Quinn (Batman), Mera (Aquaman), Jean Grey/Phoenix/Dark Phoenix (X-Men), and Karen Page (Daredevil). The key word here is “inspired.” Each character has their own story distinct from any inspiration. This allows the author to explore themes that might not otherwise make sense. For example, to my knowledge Harley Quinn has never been killed off, but through the character loosely based on her the author can explore themes of emotional and physical abuse, manipulation, denial, and obsession.

In theory, anyone should be able to enjoy this book regardless of their knowledge about comics. However, it’s best enjoyed if you have some familiarity with the tropes being deconstructed, which is a very pompous way of saying FUCK YOU, JOKER, YOU ABUSIVE ASSHAT. We comics readers have a vast reservoir of rage just waiting to be tapped, and this book taps it while still being thoughtful and human.

This is a hard book to read. Stories include loss, betrayal, and exploitation. But it’s also a book about sisterhood, agency, and owning your own story. Sometimes I wanted to cry while reading the book. Sometimes I wanted to scream. At the end, I wanted a framed print of the final illustration by Annie Wu, a “Hell Hath” T-Shirt (would that either of those things were available) and a chance to smash the patriarchy (call your elected officials, y’all). It’s a troubling and triumphant book and anyone who celebrates feminism in comics and good old female rage will love it.

The Hood #2

Jun. 24th, 2017 08:09 pm
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[personal profile] mastermahan posting in [community profile] scans_daily

Last time, petty crook Parker Robbins kicked the crap out of a Hydra recruiter, shot a demony-looking character in the midst of a break-in, and discovered the boots he stole from its corpse allowed him the power of flight.

Trigger warnings for racism, sexist language, gore, and a reference to rape.Read more... )

Affective Needs by Rebecca Taylor

Jun. 24th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Affective Needs

by Rebecca Taylor
July 11, 2016 · Ophelia House
Science Fiction/FantasyLiterary FictionComic

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Faellie. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the YA Romance category.

The summary:

Ninety-two days. That’s all that’s left. Just ninety-two days and Ruth Robinson, calculus genius, will stand with her arms raised in a triumphant V as the valedictorian of Roosevelt High. With her early admit to Princeton’s Neuroscience program burning a hole in her pocket, Ruth can hardly wait to show her fellow teenage troglodytes that while she didn’t have followers, friends, or “times” in basements, she was the one ending up on top.

All she needs to do is white knuckle her way through this waiting place last semester and then, finally, she’ll be on her way. Except, the first day back from winter break, Porter Creed shows up. Porter is a special education transfer—Affective Needs. And just like all the other desk flippers and chair throwers in the affective needs classroom, Porter has some major emotional problems. But when Porter strolls onto Ruth’s home turf, Advanced Calculus, and disrupts her axis by being both gorgeous and the only person better at math than her—Ruth begins to realize that maybe life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

Here is Faellie's review:

I was late to the RITA reviewing party but there was a gap for a reviewer of either YA or Inspirational: I’m not inspirational but I was young once so YA it is. Checking out the title of Affective Needs was itself an education: apparently it’s a term for having emotional and social difficulties. Which I would have thought summed up pretty much everyone in high school, but there you go.

Right. Here we are in Trenton, New Jersey, with our heroine Ruth in first person narrative counting down the days until she escapes her final year at Roosevelt High. She has a high opinion of her intelligence and over the top snark for everything and everyone else, including her fellow social outcast and best gay black friend, Eli. Our hero is Porter Creed, the aforesaid Affective Needs guy who is newly arrived in school and (of course) turns out to be even better at math than prospective Valedictorian Ruth. Early on Porter calls Ruth out on her attitude:

“You were right; you do have a bad temper.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“Yes, but I’m labeled and filed. You’re allowed to just prowl around in the general population.”

“I’ve never tried to bash someone’s brains inside out.”

He turned his head and his eyes met mine. “Maybe not physically.”

The plotting of the novel worked well and the setting of an American high school seemed authentic. I liked the writing, in particular the dialogue. The character of Ruth took a while to gel for me, perhaps because she embodies a significant number of different ideas and perhaps because she starts out as not particularly likable, but she grows over the course of the book, and my sometimes intense irritation with her resolved into something closer to sympathy and liking.

Porter as hero was seen through Ruth’s narrative which limited his character development somewhat but there was enough there for him to hold up his side of the story. Secondary characters were well developed: I missed seeing more of best friend Eli as the book progressed but this was consistent with the plotting. There is a suitably HFN ending.

I think this would be a good book for its YA audience. I think it has fully earned its RITA nomination, and, acknowledging that an elderly English curmudgeon is probably not its target audience, I’m happy to give it a solid B+ grade.

Affective Needs by Rebecca Taylor

Jun. 24th, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Affective Needs

by Rebecca Taylor
July 11, 2016 · Ophelia House
RomanceYoung Adult

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Coco. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the YA Romance category.

The summary:

Ninety-two days. That’s all that’s left. Just ninety-two days and Ruth Robinson, calculus genius, will stand with her arms raised in a triumphant V as the valedictorian of Roosevelt High. With her early admit to Princeton’s Neuroscience program burning a hole in her pocket, Ruth can hardly wait to show her fellow teenage troglodytes that while she didn’t have followers, friends, or “times” in basements, she was the one ending up on top.

All she needs to do is white knuckle her way through this waiting place last semester and then, finally, she’ll be on her way. Except, the first day back from winter break, Porter Creed shows up. Porter is a special education transfer—Affective Needs. And just like all the other desk flippers and chair throwers in the affective needs classroom, Porter has some major emotional problems. But when Porter strolls onto Ruth’s home turf, Advanced Calculus, and disrupts her axis by being both gorgeous and the only person better at math than her—Ruth begins to realize that maybe life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

Here is Coco's review:

Affective Needs is a YA romance with classic teen characters, like an angsty, academically-focused young woman ready to leave the confines of high school and a broody, mysterious bad boy who just started at the school.

Rebecca Taylor’s story trod well-worn paths, but injects some fresh insights with an eye toward the realities behind high school experiences.

On day one hundred and forty-four, Bella Blake emerged from winter break with freshly dyed atomic-pink hair. Everyone in our first period homeroom was stunned, but impressed, and proceeded to make asinine comments like “You’re so brave” and “I wish I had your nerve.” So Bella preened and swelled and basically acted like she was so Rebel Without a Cause. This was exactly why I hated high school.

A gif from the cartoon Daria where two teens stand before lockers. Daria says that she hates this place.

The central premise, and titular inspiration, for this story is the classification of affective needs. Taylor, who is trained and works as a school counselor and psychologist herself, explains that an affective needs classroom is populated by students with emotional, particularly anger, issues—or, in her character’s (Ruth’s) words:

 Affective needs was filled with all the kids who had their anger issues dialed up to volcanic. Every chair thrower and desk kicker spent most of their days in that classroom. One big concentrated box of rage—all of whom were on my mother’s caseload and had probably been on some psych’s caseload since kindergarten.

By having Ruth’s mother working as a counselor at her high school, Taylor accomplishes two tasks: she is able to incorporate more emotional intelligence into her characters in a plausible manner, and she also builds additional tension and conflict by having mom and daughter intertwined at school/work, as well as at home.

Our young male and female protagonists do not have a classic meet-cute; the girl doesn’t trip and fall (“adorably” or otherwise) in front of the guy and they don’t lock eyes outside a concert or begin with an argument. Instead, Ruth and Porter first make eye contact when Ruth witnesses the end of an outburst from Porter that resulted in his being held down and restrained by school personnel. There’s an element of voyeurism, as she knows she shouldn’t be watching, but ultimately she is struck by the emotional pain she sees in this young man’s eyes. Her interest is this unknown new student is amplified when he joins her advanced math class, an act that seems (to her) to be at odds with his near-constant adult supervision while at school, his time in the affective needs classroom, and his overall rebellious demeanor.

Occasionally, a high school character opened his or her mouth, but a mature adult (dare I say it—a school counselor) seemed to speak. For instance, Ruth’s friend, Eli, reflected about the young adult developmental stage:

“I’m serious. Hear me out. In high school, we are not even fully formed people. Including you,” he added. “We are a collection of behaviors and opinions that are not much more than reactions to the labels and circumstances that we’ve been handed throughout our lives.

But other moments and expressions of pent-up emotion felt true to adolescence, like this scene in which Ruth is overwhelmed by her proximity to her new crush:

My mind raced obsessively. Was Porter, right now, sitting behind me and watching my every move? Did he know what was happening? Could he somehow feel this, sense it? Was my body radiating some kind of electric current that shot out in every direction, announcing my seemingly rampant attraction to Porter? Was it obvious, not just to him, but to everyone in the room?

Or this moment when Ruth’s sense of herself and the world start spiraling out of control:

I closed my eyes to that dumb broken star. The whole world was a confused and broken place. A place filled to overflowing with lost and broken people. My body, flat, stuck, still in the middle of my bed, at the edge of my room, in the corner of my house, at the end of my street, on the edge of my town, on the fringe of a landmass, a single point on the Earth— a small blue dot at an unknown location in the never-ending expanse of a universe that didn’t seem to know anything about the dark bottomless hole in the center of my soul.

Thoughts like this felt true to a teen’s turbulent emotions and conflicting feelings of self-importance and insignificance hope and despair. (Naturally, because she’s young, she has yet to learn how to self-soothe after a setback with things like bubble baths, good friends, and Pop Tarts.)

Bette Midler from The First Wives Club where she says, Bye bye love. Hello pop tarts.

Taylor has spoken about her professional and vocational interests in school psychology and writing YA fiction, which I found interesting (because I love learning about authors’ backgrounds and inspirations, etc.) and I think could also help potential readers better understand her type of storytelling and writing style.

In an old post on her own blog, she wrote that, first, she just loves the heady rush of emotions typical to teenagers, but:

Secondarily, that whole phase of human development is just ripe for explosive story telling… The whole push-pull of becoming an adult and leaving childhood. The confusion. The mistakes. The joy of new freedoms. The fear of new freedoms. Really, there are just soooo many emotionally heady avenues to explore… I actually like that the YA character can be pretty centered on their own experiences and that doesn’t make them completely self-centered because it’s still developmentally expected (to a point, of course) for the 13 to 18 year-old.

She followed up on this idea in a later post about unlikable characters:

I feel that part of that passion stems from the fact that I fully acknowledge they are in the middle of a sometimes volcanic developmental period that frequently manifests into some not very ‘likable’ character traits. To deny this and not represent this struggle as reflected in some teen characters in literature is to pretend that they are only physically younger adults (albeit much, much cooler and better dressed adults) but still in possession of all the wisdom gained of a life already lived.

Overall, I found Affective Needs fairly engaging during the first two-thirds of the story, but I felt that parts of the climax and resolution were less satisfactory. I did not completely buy into the relationship, which meant I was never fully submerged in the story, like a favorite romance can do for me. There were also some intense moments dealing with Porter and his home life, and I did not think the characters fully grappled with these issues in a meaningful way (and when they did, it was off the page). YA romance is not always my cup of tea as I prefer more mature characters and situations (and sex, I can’t forget the sex! wink!), but I appreciated what Taylor was trying to do here, even if I found the results a little uneven.

You can find this book at the usual places, but if you want to sample some first, in a truly awesome move, Rebecca Taylor has been posting this story serially on her blog—one chapter a week—since the book was released! While I’m interested in trying another book by her at some point, Affective Needs didn’t automatically move Taylor to the top of my always-buy, one-click, or TBR piles (but, hey, those piles are huuuuuuge and crowded).

That being said, I have no regrets and I’m glad I read another random RITA nominee that I would not normally have chosen. Okay, bye now! See you in the halls of the Bitchery next year 😉

The teens from The Breakfast Club running through the school hallway



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