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.

 

Whispers and the Roars by K. Webster

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Kady had serious mental issues. Most of the people in her life did not seem like good people. Yeo and Kady loved each other but hadn’t been together since he left for college. Yeo came back and was determined that they’d be together again. They loved each other, but I never got to see why they developed feelings for each other. They never clicked as a couple for me. I didn’t understand why they loved each other so intensely.

Then it got kinda weird. Yeo was trying to be her protector and drive away all the bad people in her life. His role of boyfriend had a strong paternalistic feel to it. Yeo had relationships with all of the weird people in Kady’s life, some of them very close. Then a love triangle was thrown into the story but not the usual kind. It was like there were three people in a relationship, but the three of them were never together at the same time. The whole situation was incredibly bizarre.

About half way through there was a major plot twist. It completely flipped everything upside down. Many of the odd things going on made sense in hindsight. The book took an entirely different direction after that. The romance was no longer an issue. The solution to the reveal was overly romanticized. Love doesn’t make serious problems go away. It just doesn’t. Life is not that simple. The problem was resolved way too quickly as well. It was hard for me to get engaged in the story, but if the ending had been portrayed more realistically, I would have given it a higher rating. I’m sure plenty of dark romance lovers will like this, but it didn’t work for me.

Rating: 2 stars

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Freaky Friday: Freakier than Fiction

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It’s Friday again people! That’s right, it’s time to get our freak on. And in the name of keeping things interesting, I decided to poll some people (aka my teenagers). I asked them what came to mind when they heard the word “freaky.” Now, in hindsight I guess that could have gone horribly wrong (they are teenagers after all), but fortunately my daughter is on a bit of a horror kick. Horror movies, horror books, you get the drift. So for her, what came to mind immediately was the horror genre and a YouTube channel she follows, ObsoleteOddity. If you haven’t checked it out, here’s a chance for you to do just that. This channel showcases stories about real people and the crazy, fucked up stuff they did.

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From men with a predilection for necrophilia to superstitious 18th century hipsters, this channel has it all. So I asked her to list a few of the most interesting and bizarre cases. Here’s what she came up with, and let me tell you, you may want to take a shower after reading because some of this is just nasty.

  1. CARL TANZLER (1877-1952)

Have you ever had visions of young Cuban girls? Have you ever grown obsessed with those visions? Ever imagined keeping that young Cuban girl’s corpse as alive as a corpse can be? Odds are the answer, to the last question at the very least, is a resounding, “Not no, but hell no!” That is, of course, if you are anyone but Carl Tanzler, whose visions of girls supposedly came to him as a young child from one of his German ancestors.

As an adult, Carl Tanzler lived in Florida where he was a doctor who practiced radiology. It was during this time that he found Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos as she was trying to get treatment for tuberculosis. He quickly became obsessed with her, identifying her as the woman of his visions. Before Tanzler could act on any of his feelings, however, she succumbed to her disease. But death was no obstacle for one as devoted as Tanzler, no siree. Two years after the death of young Maria, Tanzler could take the separation no longer and decided to act on his long suppressed urges. Claiming to have heard her voice calling to him from her tomb, he removed her from her grave and did his best to bring her back to “life” by reconstructing her body.  Although necrophiliac acts had yet to be proven at the time, later evidence points to that it was completely possible.

If you want to read more about this perverse case, you can find additional information here.

2. LADY LEWSON (1700-1816)

Jane Vaughn, also known as Jane Lewson, was known for her peculiarities. She found herself widowed at age 26 and was never the same again. During her long life, she managed to acquire some bizarre superstitions, superstitions that would seem odd not only today but also in the 18th century.

For example:

She only used one particular tea-cup.

She did not like the windows being washed. In fact, she forbade it out of fear that the glass would shatter.

Not only did she fear the windows being washed, she feared her body being washed with water as well. Fearing that the water would make her ill, she would only bathe with pig’s fat.

She wore clothes that were out-of-fashion before she was even born. She was a hipster before hipsters were cool.

She was so obsessed with being in good health that if anything in her house was out-of-place, she feared she would be drastically affected physically.

Who knows? Maybe she was on to something. She did manage to live to be 116 after all.

If you want to learn more about Lady Lewson and her peculiarities, make sure to check out this other post.

3. BLANCHE MONNIER (1849-1913)

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Blanche Monnier was like any other young woman in 1870’s France. She was optimistic, vivacious, and ready to fall in love and marry. As it happens, she did meet the man she wanted to spend her life with. He was an attorney, and, although he was much older and not very successful, Blanche loved him. She was eager and ready to begin this new chapter in her life. Blanche’s mother, on the other hand, was not as keen on the idea as Blanche was. It was her staunch opinion that her daughter should not marry someone of such low standards.

So, at age 25, Blanche simply vanished from the public eye. It was rumored that she may have ran off to elope with a lover. In 1901, almost a quarter of a century after her disappearance, Blanche’s true fate was discovered. The young woman had not run away and eloped with her lover, as had been speculated. Although that had been her original plan, her mother found out before it could be executed. Blanche was confined to her room until she changed her mind about marrying the lawyer. As the story goes, Blanche declared she would never change her mind, so was permanently imprisoned there. Regardless as to whether or not that part of this sad tale is true, Blanche was most assuredly locked in her room for 24 years. The care her mother gave her diminished over the years, leaving Blanche barely fed and and wasting away in her own filth.

It is not known who tipped off the police, but someone did and unfortunately it was 24 years to late. By the time she was found,  Blanche was 49 years old, weighed only 55 pounds, and was no longer mentally stable.

To read more about the tragedy of Blanche Monnier check out this site.

4. THE PAPIN SISTERS, Christine (1905-1937) Lea (1911-1982 or 2001)

The story of the Papin sisters is a gruesome one. It was a murderous case that shocked 1930s France. Christine and Lea Papin were two sisters that were aged seven years apart; despite this difference, they were extremely close. They grew up in a household with a reportedly abusive father, Gustav, and a promiscuous mother, Clemence Papin. The Papin sisters had another sister, Emilia, who was supposedly raped by her father. This caused their mother to file for divorce, not out of love for her oldest child, but out of jealousy and rage at her husband’s infidelity. She thought that Emilia had seduced her husband. To prevent this from happening again, Clemence sent Christina and Emilia to live in a convent and Lea to live with a great-uncle.

This era in the Papin sisters’ lives could be described as rather peaceful and uneventful, that is until Emilia joined the convent and became a nun. Christine wished to follow in her older sister’s footsteps, putting a damper in Clemence’s plans. You see, Clamence wanted her daughters to enter to workforce so that they could send her money. This prompted her to reclaim her remaining daughters, Christine and Lea, and bring them back home.

The Papin sisters soon became maids and worked in a series of homes, including the home of the Lancelin family. Reportedly, the Lancelins treated the Papin sisters much better than most maids were treated at that time. Although they worked 12-14 hours a day, six and half days a week, the Papin sisters were allowed warm rooms and plenty of food. Supposedly, they even called Leonie (the Matriarch of the house) “maman” and referred to their own mother as “that woman.”

Despite Leonie’s kindness, she was still their employer and expected the sisters to complete the tasks they were given. One night, the power in the house stopped working. It was something that Leonie had told the Papin sisters to fix, and with the realization that they had not, Leonie flew into a rage. Supposedly, this tirade induced the Papin sisters to murder both Leonie and her daughter, Genevieve. They slashed the two women’s faces and gouged out their eyes by hand. Rene Lancelin, the patriarch of the family, soon came home and found the home shrouded in darkness. He discovered the scene and found that the only light came from candlelight in the maid’s room. He (and some other company) found the two sisters naked together in bed.

The two sisters confessed to the crime and were found guilty. Christine was identified as the main perpetrator of the crime and many had reason to believe she manipulated young Lea. At first she was sentenced to death, but that sentence was commuted to life in a psychiatric ward. Christine begged to be with her sister, but when they allowed both she and Lea to be in close proximity, Christine jumped to her and was found whispering things of sexual nature.

Christine died in 1937 while incarcerated. Lea was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was released early due to good behavior.

If you want to know more about this gruesome pair, check out this article.

 

Sam Says (1)

What did I tell you? Necrophilia, incest, murder? This is just further proof that people can be freakier than fiction.

What would you guys like see featured in our Freaky Friday spot?

(I also want to give props to my daughter for researching and writing up the majority of the information in this post. She didn’t want me to give her any credit so shhhh, this is just between us)

Beast by A. Zavarelli

Once upon a time I believed in fairytales.
But then he took me.
And he taught me that life isn’t a fairytale.

He is scarred. Broken.
A dark and wild thing.
His beauty is violent, and his words are cruel.
His heart is a shadowed landscape where nothing can grow.
He tells me he could never care for me and he proves it every day.
He’s destroyed my life.
Tortured me.

And worse…
He’s trained me to beg for his affection.
This prison is a place where sunlight doesn’t reach.

He taught me that hate is born in darkness.

And then he taught me that sometimes love is too.

This is one of the darkest books I have read in a while. At the time I received the ARC, there was still no description for Beast on GoodReads, just this beautiful cover.

I miiiight have licked my computer screen… but like, just a little bit.

Fortunately, A. Zavarelli was kind enough to include a warning in the epigraph:

This book contains dark subject matter. Wait let me rephrase that.
This book contains DARK subject matter. Please read at your own discretion.

Without that heads up, I probably would not have been prepared to appreciate this book for what it is.

And it is fucking brilliant.
But also, a thousand kinds of fucked up.

This Beauty and the Beast retelling is everything the Disney version would never be, and yet there are amazing moments woven into the story that are these perfect little nods to the Disney version most of us grew up with and loved dearly. This is not a story that you will want to curl up with and snuggle on a rainy day, but it is a version that makes you question how you could possibly love the romance of the fairytale when you see what lurks under the surface.

So how do you take a beloved classic and make it soul crushingly dark?

Take a young boy, strip him of his humanity and raise him to be more animal than man.

“For a rose can wither in darkness, but burn in the light.”

Mix in a young woman, raised by a father with secrets of his own, who doesn’t quite fit the mold they’ve created for her.

“The flame inside of me has burnt out. And the truth is, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to light it again.”

Liberally sprinkle in Stockholm Syndrome…

“My mind is a prisoner now too. And I am merely a puppet.”

Add in subtle references to the original…

“You must promise to stay out of the West Wing.”

And there you have it.

But what really makes this retelling stand out from others I have read, is that the author doesn’t shy away from what it would take to truly break Bella. The events that play out on the page are shocking, and the twists pull you in different directions all the way to the very last page.

“The weight of his malice has finally suffocated me. I can’t breathe at all. I’m deep in the throes of a panic attack.
And this is how I’m going to die.”

“I don’t understand how I can be so broken. How can I be relieved that it is him, even after what he just did to me.”

“I swallow and look up into his eyes when he is finished. Wondering if he is angry. Wondering if I’ve done something wrong.”

“When he even mentions a scenario where we don’t exist together, I can’t cope. The possibility douses me in fresh terror.”

This story will certainly have you questioning whether truly everyone deserves a happily ever after…

Overall rating:

Once upon a time I believed in fairytales STARS

ARC of Beast was provided by A. Zavarelli in exchange for an honest review.

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Suggested Drink while reading Beast:

Tattooed Rose

Martini Glass

1 OZ Tequila Rose

1 OZ Captain Morgan’s Rum

Shake and serve on the rocks