ARC Review: Thief (Boston Underworld #5) by A. Zavarelli

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Arrives 2-23-18

I waited so long for Nikolai’s book, and it was definitely worth the wait! This was much darker than I was expecting, which is a good thing although it wasn’t as dark as Ghost. This story tied in with Ghost since Nikolai and Alexei are brothers. Some scenes overlapped although it’s not necessary to read Ghost to understand what is going on.

I wasn’t expecting to like Tanaka at first. Her obsession with ballet didn’t endear me to her. As her story unfolded the reasons for her obsession made me like her very much. She had serious emotional issues. I love the way Tanaka’s issues are depicted. It takes therapy and lots of work for her to improve, but she still has setbacks, major ones. Unlike many romances, love does not magically make her issues go away. It’s very realistic. Although there isn’t a chance in hell I’d ever develop the same issues as her, it was easy to relate to her situation.

Nikolai was an ass sometimes. There were reasons for it. He was in a tenuous situation in the mafiya. Despite his high ranking in the mafiya, he had many things working against him. Not being the top dog meant he still had to do what his boss ordered even when it goes against what he desperately wants to do. His relationships with his father and brother were not on good terms. He never really knew if he could trust them or not. Most of his actions were understandable and forgivable, but there were times where I wished he treated Tanaka better. On top of everything else, he had a personal vendetta against those he believed hurt his mother.

I am not sure if this is the final book in the series or not. I hope it’s not but am afraid it is since all of the main mafia men have had their stories told unless I’m forgetting somebody. This is the best mafia series ever! I’d love to read about other characters from this world even if they are not closely connected to any of the main characters so far.

Thank you so much to the author for giving me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!!!

Rating: 4.5 stars

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“The Hazel Wood” by Melissa Albert

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This book reminds me a bit of Christina Henry’s Alice. (That book was a 2015 Goodreads Choice Nominee for Horror just so that sort of sets the vibe for you). Although this is not set in an alternate reality. It takes place in our world, but has a fantasy element, which makes this a mashup of urban fantasy and magical realism.

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother Ella have been drifters, wanderers, her whole life. She is used to changing schools all the time, staying in motels, and being the visitors who outstay their welcome with her mother’s acquaintances. They seem to have bad luck that always finds them and makes them forever changing cities to try and escape.

Ella finally marries a wealthy man who pays for Alice to go to an expensive high school in New York. There, she meets Finch, who becomes her friend (and she might like him, but won’t allow herself to admit it). Alice is very angry and salty, which can make her an unlikable character, but by the end you will understand why, and it makes total sense.

Alice’s grandmother was a recluse and mysterious author who wrote an obscure book of fairytales that Ella has never let her read. The book is so rare, there are hardly any copies left even for collectors. Her grandmother, Althea, lived in a place called the Hazel Wood, which has fascinated Alice all her life. Her mother has never wanted anything to do with Althea or Hazel Wood and never given Alice any answers to her questions about either.

“A turn of events” (spoilers) forces Alice and Finch to seek out the woods, which turn out to be a place full of dark fairytales come to life.

The cover of the book might lead you to think this is a light Young Adult fantasy, but as I mentioned, it’s more contemporary in the beginning with fantasy elements. The fantasy aspects come into play as Alice discovers more about herself, her grandmother’s book, and the Hazel Wood.

I thought this was a great story! It’s definitely more of a dark Grimm’s fairytale than your typical YA fantasy about people with magical powers meeting boys to fall in love with. Alice is a heroine, but a curmudgeonly one. So get ready for an unconventional fairytale set in modern times and dive in!

The Hazel Wood is released on January 30, 2018. Pre-order at Amazon.

Thank you Netgalley and publisher for providing a digital copy to read and review!

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!

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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)