Rules of Engagement by Lily White

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Unfortunately this wasn’t as dark as I thought it would be. It involved stalking, but half of the time that part of the story was shoved in the background. Both of the main characters had tragic things in their pasts, but neither of those things were as screwed up as I thought they’d be based on each of their unusual responses to their pasts.

Mia got a pink slip. She had no resources to fall back on aside from going to her parents whom made her miserable. A website dark realities popped up on her computer. It offered to make all kinds of dark fantasies become true. Since she was in desperate need of cash, she signed up to be stalked. The stalking did get creepy at times, as expected. It irritated me that Mia seemed so shocked at what was happening to her. Obviously she didn’t take the warnings on the website seriously or until that point in her life she had been seriously disillusioned as to what stalking really was like.

Donovan was the love interest. He was a reclusive rich guy who was mute by choice. I never liked him. He was meant to be an asshole in the beginning, but I never warmed to him like I was clearly supposed to. Although he improved by the end, the pushy asshole side of him remained too strong for my liking. Honestly I spent half of the book wondering why she didn’t tell him to get lost.

The suspense part of the story was okay. The mystery was who was behind the stalking. It appeared to be one character for most of the book. At the same time, it seemed way too obvious. I never figured out precisely who it was, but this book only had 5 characters. One was Mia and the other her friend. Clearly it wasn’t either of them, leaving only 3 possibilities. The end was okay, but I didn’t love it.

Thanks to Netgalley for giving me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My rating ★★★

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Into the Light by Aleatha Romig

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Shelly:

I don’t typically seek out contemporary mysteries or thrillers, but have been wanting to try this for awhile now. It’s a psychological thriller, light on mystery, involving a woman who wakes up without memories and discovers she has a husband and is part of a fringe religious group (cult). There are multiple POVs, including Sara (the woman with amnesia), Stella, the investigator, searching for her missing friend, and then a few POVs from Jacob, Sara’s husband.

We see a lot of the religious cult and how they operate. It’s like a strange fundamentalist sect where the women “serve” their husbands and get “correction” for “questioning” them (spanked with a belt or slapped). They have to listen to the leaders’ sermons every day and it’s obviously a bizarre insulated world they live in.

Stella finds a lead that begins to take her closer to the sect. She begins to unfold a bigger conspiracy than anyone imagined. I won’t go into it more because spoilers. It was very uncomfortable at times to see what Sara goes through. There is some Stockholm Syndrome going on.

I did not see the ending coming, but I had pretty much figured out a couple of the other mysteries. This isn’t a complex story, but it’s very engaging and easy to read and kept me entertained the whole time. I got through the whole book in about a day!

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Sam: 

Much like Shelly, I’m not always drawn to books (or games) set in a contemporary setting. That’s partly why even urban fantasies don’t always work for me. However, I have found it much easier to listen to audiobooks that are set in familiar backdrop. I don’t have to work to understand fantastical worlds or complex political system or completely foreign jargon. Those concepts are much simpler for me to grasp with the written word. I listen to audiobooks so I can zone out a bit doing tedious, monotonous work stuff without always having to actively listen, because I can’t focus completely  on the audio. If I did I’d be out of a job because nothing would get done. So, I compromise every now and then and peruse Kindle Unlimited  looking for dark, twisty psychological thrillers. Those are usually easy to listen to without having to focus too much of my attention on, and, if I’m lucky, sometimes they are really pretty good. Win win in my book. That’s how Into the Light appeared on my radar. Of course I immediately consulted GRs, saw that it had a 4+ star avg rating, and that was all the confirmation I needed to start.

Shelly did a pretty good job of summing up the plot. Sara wakes up after a car wreck with absolutely no memories of her husband, Jacob, or their life together  as members of this religious cult. A big part of the story follows from Sara’s POV and Jacob’s POV as they learn to live life together again. Sara has no memories of the rules of this life and so must be retaught and reconditioned. It’s just as infuriating as you’d expect it to be, with men being the controlling force and the women literally forced into greeting their husbands on their knees at the door. The whole situation left me feeling very uncomfortable and conflicted at times. About Jacob, about Sara, about all of it. I still kinda feel that way.

Another big part of the story is told from Stella’s POV. Stella is an investigative reporter searching for her missing best friend. During the course of her search, she begins to uncover a disturbing trend involving missing women. As each new clue is unearthed it all seems to point her to The Light, this religious cult that Sara is a part of. Despite being warned away from continuing, Stella won’t stop until she has all the answers…

Lately it seems that there aren’t many books that manage to surprise me. This one was an exception. While some of the revelations weren’t complete shockers, I think it was done interestingly enough and left the reader guessing just enough to pull it off. I immediately downloaded and listened to Book 2, Away from the Dark, and I’m now patiently(ish) waiting for Book 3. If you’re like me and like the psychologically oppressed women/cult/sect trope (it just works for me for some reason) AND have KU AND like listening to audiobooks, I recommend giving this a go. It gets a solid 4 stars from me. stop (6)

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Feature Characters Who Are Criminal Heroes

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s top ten is about books that feature characters who are criminal heroes. I have a penchant for bad boys in books. They tend to be more unpredictable and entertaining. Many of them live a life of crime. I’m okay with that. I love the dichotomy of the good and bad internal struggle. To be honest some of them don’t have much of a struggle; they’re just bad, but dark and dangerous is fun too. So here is my list of my top ten books with criminal heroes. To be clear the term hero is used extremely loosely.

The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer

Genre: Urban Fantasy

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Daniel Faust is one of my favorite criminal heroes ever! He definitely does things that are bad but still retains a moral code which keeps him from going to the dark side. Just so you know these books get better as they go along.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne

Genre: Historical Romance

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I enjoyed the hell outta this one! Dorian Blackwell is a rich and cunning thief. He is not a nice man, but if you dig deep enough he has layers. This is historical romance with a darker twist.

The Sordid Promise by Courtney Lane

Genre: Dark Romance

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This is my favorite book on this list. It’s really dark and demented, so it’s not for everyone. Eric is an asshole with a capital A, but there’s something alluring about him. If you’re looking for something on the dark side that’s original, read this.

The Heartstone Thief by Pippa DaCosta

Genre: Fantasy

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Curtis Vance made his living as a thief. In typical Pippa DaCosta fashion, he had highly questionable morals. A unique plot and good world building made this an entertaining read.

Sex, Lies, and Nikolai by R.J. Lewis

Genre: Romance

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Nikolai’s life revolved around shady criminal dealings. Compared to many of the others on this list he’s a good guy. This book sucked me in from the start. I’ve never read any other books by R.J. Lewis, but I need to rectify that soon.

Fear Me by B.B. Reid

Genre: Dark Romance

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Once again this a not a book everyone will like. It is dark. The characters are in high school, but this is not young adult. Keiran Masters is an asshole with loose morals and a dark and shady past. His redeemability is questionable at best. I promise you Keiran is memorable!

Blood Bound by Rachel Vincent

Genre: Urban Fantasy

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This was an urban fantasy with a mafiaesque theme. All of the characters lead disreputable lives. Cam was a character that I learned to love over the course of the book. Cam leaned more towards the good than bad side.

Menace by J.M. Darhower

Genre: Dark Romance

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Lorenzo Gambini is not a good guy, but I couldn’t help but love him. This is one you won’t want to put down!

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt

Genre: Historical Romance

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The Duke of Montgomery’s unscrupulous escapades began in other books in the series. By the time his book came around I was surprised to discovered how much I liked him despite the despicable things he’s done.

King by T.M. Frazier

Genre: Dark Romance

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People seem to either love or hate this book. I liked it although I’ve liked the subsequent books in this series less and less with each one. King was intriguing. He walked a fine line between good guy who does bad things and all around bad guy.

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Godsgrave (The Nevernight Chronicle #2) by Jay Kristoff

Book two in The Nevernight Chronicles continues to follow Mia Corvere, darkin assassin, hell bent on revenging her family’s death by order of corrupt tyrannical politicians. While much of Nevernight took place at the Red Church, where Mia competed to become one of the Dark Mother’s blades, this one has a completely new setting and plot. Say bye-bye to the church for a while and hello to this:

Without giving too much away, let’s just say Mia finds herself amongst the gladiatii, slaves who fight in arenas as entertainment for blood thirsty audiences.

Mia’s fellow gladiatii are a wonderful rag-tag crew. We have the brother and sister duo, who fight as a team by chariot. Bladesinger, the bad-ass seven foot tall female who knows how to use her sword. Sidonius is the buddy comedy relief (if there is such a thing in a Jay Kristoff book). Maggot is the young slave who serves as doctor for the group (you don’t want to know why she’s called that). Executus is the ex-gladiatii who leads and trains them (grumpy dude, this guy). Furian is the champion and Mia might have more in common with him than either of them wants. And Dona Leona is their master, the daughter of the leader of the most famous collegium in the Republic, the Lions of Leonides.

This book is a roller coaster, but I expected no less. Kristoff does not do “beach read” books. He doesn’t do romantic or light and fluffy. No one is safe. Just like the Lotus Wars trilogy and Nevernight, the world-building is complex. Whereas Lotus Wars had a sort of reimagined Japanese steampunk vibe, this has an Italian/Roman vibe.

So many things happen that I can’t wait to see what those of you who loved Nevernight think. There are (obviously) a few scenes that stand out, and without spoiling, I’ll just say:

That scene with the retchwyrm.
That scene with Ishkah, the silkling.
That ending.

Holy cow, ‘byss and blood. This changes everything.

Godsgrave is released on September 5, 2017.

A special thanks to St. Martin’s press who mailed me this ARC. I adore it, I loved the book, and am a huge fan of Kristoff’s writing (and twisted sense of humor) and of St. Martin’s for publishing awesome books!

I loved it so much I still have a first-edition signed copy pre-ordered from Amazon.

My review of Godsgrave at Goodreads. FIVE STARS!

My review of Nevernight at Goodreads. FIVE STARS!

7ya8izz

 

Edit to add: Here is my beautiful first-edition signed copy I bought.

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Nightfall (Jack Nightingale #1) by Stephen Leather ★★☆☆☆

(I’m apologizing in advance for the giphy review. I had to find entertainment somewhere.)

Okay, I’ll admit it. Not only am I a sucker for a pretty cover, but I also like pretty book titles.  I keep all my pretty shinies tucked away in a safe spot, where no harm may befall them and where I can privately gaze at them, whispering sweet nothings and stroking their smooth, blemish free exteriors. My pretty, pretty shinies….

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Ahem.

Back to the subject at hand. Book titles, yes. In this case, it was the title character’s name that did it for me.  Jack Nightingale just has a sound to it, ya know? Jack Nightingale, Private Investigator. Now there’s the man I’d want working my case. If I opened the yellow pages or google or whatever app people use to choose service professionals and had to pick someone, anyone, who could help me and there was a listing for Jack Nightingale, he’d be my choice, no question.  There’s just something about the name that whispers “greatness.” And, in the beginning, I was not disappointed. The opening was fantastic. I just knew I was going to love it.

But then something happened.

The magic of those beginning chapters was lost.

It became repetitive and uninspired.

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Thanks to my handy dandy kindle app I was able to do a word count. “Cigarette” was mentioned 122 times in the book. “Smoke” was mentioned another 88 times. Now he only mentioned his favorite brand, “Marlboro”, a mere 21 times the slacker. Let’s see, he also said “Pentangles” 54 times and “Satan/Satanist” another 42 times. Gah! Anyway, the shit just bugged me.

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Any of the interesting bits there were were lost in the cloud of smoke that perpetually surrounded Jack. What made him so fucking special? Why in the world would a demon go through so much trouble, kill all of those people, just to get to Jack specifically? And the more I read about Jack, the more I began to dislike him. He’s extremely self-centered, he’s crass, and he’s sexist, and normally, those things aren’t always deal breakers for me. Sometimes it’s okay to have a main character that possesses an/some undesirable traits. It adds flavor and diversity. I’m totally cool with that. But take this as an example. He has an assistant, Jenny, (that apparently has a thing for him though I can’t imagine why) and instead of actually taking the time to read her CV/resume and appreciate her for her accomplishments, he hired her because she has great legs and a nice phone voice. By the end of the book he still hasn’t taken any time to get to know her better, and she still has a thing for him. WHY???

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This is from the very last pages of the book:

“You’ve got to be joking.” (Jenny)

“Jenny, just do as you’re told…”

and then the next page,

“I’ll try,” said Jenny.

“Good girl,” he said.

Like she’s a fucking dog. And this is after he’s had an entire book for some character growth.

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It’s not only how he treats other people, he also makes a ton of conjectures based on very little information, one such conjecture being what constitutes a “Satanist.” Has he never watched Supernatural? A Crossroad Demon can be summoned by digging a hole in the dead center of a set of crossroads, burying a box containing a picture of the mortal wishing to make the deal, some graveyard dirt, and a bone from a black cat (yeah, I googled that shit.) You don’t have to be a Satanist. Seriously, like literally anyone can do it. Trust me on this. But apparently, according to Jack, owning or having anything to do with the occult means you worship The Devil. Bollocks!

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Oh, Crowley. Of course we’ll snuggle.

So at the end, the author tries to give a half-assed explanation for all of it, but I’m not buying it. Nope. Not buying a  word. I think all the shit that went down was solely for dramatic effect and the end was a feeble attempt to tie it all together.

I’m giving it two stars, and that’s only because I liked the beginning so much. There was so much promise in that opening. *sighs*

Sam Says (1)

The Mirror’s Truth (Manifest Delusions #2) by Michael R. Fletcher

Welcome back to the sick and twisted world full of insane people, debauchery, violence, and delusions. We have our favorite trio back from the Afterdeath: a nice place to take a vacation if you like the color gray, tasteless food, and monotony. No? Doesn’t sound like much fun? Well, you’re lucky then, because Morgen, the boy-god has Ascended, and can bring you back to the “real world.” It’s not much more fun, but at least there is real booze and the food tastes…marginally better?

Morgen finds our trio separately and makes separate deals with them. Our “hero,” Bedeckt (huge guy with battle axe who refuses to acknowledge his insanity and may be a bit of a berserker) just wants to make things right.

Stehlen, the psychotic Kleptic, just wants revenge on Bedeckt, because she loves him and he rejected her. She also might be in love with Wichtig, although she has no idea why. She also gets to keep her lover, the great swordswoman Lebendig. Nobody is allowed to take ANYTHING from her!

Wichtig, the Greatest Swordsman in the World, is just thrilled because he’ll get to have sex again, drink good ale, and resume his quest to best all swordsmen everywhere! For all time! Because he is the best. And cutest. And the best. Of all time. And really attractive and charming and the wenches be all up in his shizz. (I love Wichtig, lol.)

So, there is tons of brutal violence:

We see a LOT of the insides of people. There is also lots of betrayal:

Because that’s the way this world rolls.

Our trio spends most of the book trying to find each other, to pay each other back for all the wrongs and imagined wrongs. The boy-god Morgen is trying to expand his kingdom, but finds out it’s a messy, dirty business (and he can’t stand messes). He might be a bit OCD about cleanliness.

There is also a crazy dragon, a chick who is so deluded she has convinced herself she speaks to the earth and can move dirt and rocks, and some other crazy guy who is convinced everyone has a demon inside of them he has to exorcise.

I LOVE this series so much! I can’t put my finger on what it is. In a way, it’s meandering and we spend a LOT of time in the various characters’ minds (and that can be a crazy place to be), but the writing is so darn good, and the humor is so dark and twisted, it just warms my shriveled up heart.

I think my favorite character is Wichtig. Somehow he is just likeable, even though he’s such a POS! One of my favorite scenes is where he tries to train his new apprentice.

“The facts don’t matter. Facts are a hindrance. Unless they support whatever it is you’re saying, in which case they are the most important thing in the world and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot.”

“Your opponent doesn’t matter. The crowd matters. Convince the crowd. Never fight without a crowd if you can avoid it. If there’s no crowd, then you have to convince your opponent. If that fails, you might have to actually rely on skill with a sword. That should always be a last resort. Now, talk to the crowd. Look at the pretty girls or boys or whatever your preference is. Ignore your opponent. Nothing pisses Swordsmen off more than being ignored.”

“You don’t care what they think about you, you care what they think about the fight. What they think about your opponent.” Wichtig closed his eyes. “I’m tired. Keep practicing in your mind. Imagine the crowd. Imagine what you’ll say and what your opponent will say. Wake me if the dragon comes to eat us.”

Man, he gets put through the wringer in this one! It’s horrible, but yet I couldn’t stop reading! Poor Wichtig! LOL

Don’t expect these characters to have nice and tidy HEAs. lol

This is an anti-happy-ever-after world and “dark” fantasy at its best! Hands down. I will read anything by this author! I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

My review at Goodreads. My review for the first book, Beyond Redemption, is also at Goodreads.

7ya8izz

 

The Book of Etta (The Road to Nowhere #2) by Meg Elison

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We reviewed the first book in this series, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, and liked it so much, we decided to continue. In this book, which was released in February of this year, our main character is…surprise surprise… Etta. It’s about a hundred years later and Etta was born and raised in the same village the Unnamed Midwife eventually lived in until her death. Etta was supposed to be a midwife, but chose to be a raider. When Etta goes out and raids, she becomes Eddy. She binds herself like the Unnamed did, and becomes a male. As the book goes on, we find out that it isn’t just for protection, but because Etta has known she was Eddy since about puberty but didn’t consciously realize it for many reasons.

Instead of simply reviewing the book, we thought it might be fun to do an interview-style blog post about it.

 

WHAT ARE YOUR OVERALL THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BOOK IN ONE OR TWO PARAGRAPHS?

Shelly: I actually liked this one more than the first book! I couldn’t put it down and basically devoured it in one day. It’s not an easy book to read because of how harsh the world is, but the author somehow makes it fascinating. I definitely wouldn’t want to live in this version of reality, but I love reading about it.

Sam: This took a weird turn at about 75% and I’m not quite sure it works for me. With that being said, I still think the author does a fantastic job creating this dirty and violent, yet somehow supremely interesting, post apocalyptic world. The characters are fascinating as in the way each group has grown their own ideologies in regards to  the nature of people and their place in this world.

 

HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT THE WAY THE AUTHOR DEALT WITH THE GENDER AND SEXUALITY THEMES?

Shelly: I thought the author handles the themes quite well. In both books, there are characters who refuse to be defined or put in boxes. There are characters that seem bisexual or gay or transgender, but they still don’t perfectly fit those labels. They just are who they are. It seemed very organic and wasn’t forced at all.

Sam: I think she has an interesting outlook. Women are scarce and highly sought after. Some, like Etta and the Unnamed, begin the the process of becoming more like men for safety reasons. For the Unnamed it was always a safety net. She would look at herself as a man and not know who she was.  But Etta…Etta realizes Eddy is who she has always been on the inside. The same is true for some of the men as well. There are those whose greatest wish is to be female specifically  because they are so “treasured” and sought after. I thought it was interesting that what scared these women into hiding spurred this longing in others. It raised some interesting questions in my mind. Would these people still feel this way if the virus/plague/whatever hadn’t wiped out the female population? Is this how our species evolves into something other than just male and female? Honestly, I really think Eddy said it best when he said that no one is safe until we are all the same.

 

WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT ETTA/EDDY?

Shelly: I thought Etta was freaking AWESOME. She is now one of my favorite characters of all time. There’s a lot of girl power going on, but because the character cannot be defined by gender, I’m not sure how to describe it. But she kicked ass, was fascinating, and just a powerhouse in my view.

Sam: Etta/Eddy was so scared and hurt and angry at the world that at times I almost felt that s/he would be an unreliable narrator. But that fear and anger never stopped her from always trying to do what she knew in her heart was right. She wanted to be her own person with her own place in this world. She fought for that for herself and she fought for that for everyone else, even when they didn’t want her to. That’s pretty incredible in my book.

 

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE BOOK (WITHOUT BEING TOO SPOILERY)?

Shelly: I liked all the scenes with The Lion, and then the Mormons. There are several WTF scenes where you just laugh or sit there with your mouth open.

Sam: I honestly loved the character development. Meg Elison does a wonderful job with that.

 

ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT THE THIRD BOOK, AND WHY OR WHY NOT?

Shelly: I am very excited about the third book. Flora is sort of an ambiguous character here and I look forward to getting to know her better. I think she has enough meat to carry a book on her own.

Sam: Yes and no. This book took a weird turn for me towards the end. I’m not going to spoil it for anyone, but I’m still trying to understand why the author went that route. I kinda want to read the next one specifically because I want it to be an “all is not what it seems” revelation.

 

ANY LAST THOUGHTS?

Shelly: I highly recommend this series to those who like dark, gritty post-apocalyptic books. It’s pretty grim and there is some violence and triggers (like rape, child abuse), but the author doesn’t spend pages and pages going into explicit detail.

Sam: What Shelly said! I loved being in this world, as awful as it is, and have especially loved the people we’ve met along the way.