Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things by Martina McAtee

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Wow. This one is a supernatural marvel. Just about any type of supernatural being you can think of is in this book. It’s incredible how the author keeps it all straight. One of the main characters says that he feels like he’s living in a real life version of Scooby Doo and that describes this magical mystery to a t.

First, there are a ton of characters and in the beginning I couldn’t keep them straight. The book contains more than a few heavy conversations with a lot of back-and-forth between more than two characters. I found myself going back a few paragraphs and reading those sections slowly, because it is vital to get the information, but it almost felt like a tennis match with multiple players. They are witty and had me cracking up constantly, but this book required my undivided attention. Don’t go into this lightly. Prepare yourself for a crazy ride.

So, to start off with an introduction to the main characters, the good guys in the Belladonna pack. The story revolves around Ember, but the others get a good deal of screen time. She is the individual who brings the story together, though. She’s sweet and trusting and has incredible abilities that she cannot control. Mace is the gorgeous dead thing that becomes her anchor. He’s a complex character that kept me on my toes. The relationship between them starts out hilarious, but morphs into something deeper. Next comes reaper Kai, who has a clever comeback for any serious conversation and is crazy about werewolf Rhys. Rhys is dark and broody. His relationship with Kai is strained and complicated. There’s so much more to their story than expected and they are a large part of the book. Reaper Tristin is Kai’s badass sister who never smiles and has an undying sarcasm that was a joy to read. She says the acrimonious thoughts that we all have, but would never have the guts to say out loud. Quinn doesn’t have any supernatural powers, but his intelligence is a huge benefit to the pack. His love for Tristin is another entertaining bit and pulled forth quite a few “Ahh” moments. Werewolf Isa, brother to Rhys, is the leader of the pack, inheriting the position at the tender age of sixteen. She is an important character, but she and her fiance Wren do not get as much attention. Most of the focus is on the three couples. Werewolf Donovan is more of a side note throughout the book, but he plays an important role. Elemental Neoma is adorable, spending her time barefoot and snuggling with a resurrected dog. That might sound yucky, but it’s actualy cute. She spends most of her time in the background and didn’t contribute a whole lot to this book, aside from being loveable. I have a feeling that Donovan and Neoma will have bigger parts in the next book. I definitely hope to see more of them.

That was just the main good guys. There’s a herd of bad ones. There’s nasty witch Allister, Quinn’s father who is shudder worthy. He’s one of those characters you love to hate. His daughter Astrid is a mystery unto herself. I couldn’t decide how I felt about her. Suffice it to say that she is a vital part of the story, even though she didn’t get as much attention. Stella is another heartless witch that you love to hate. The few times she showed up made me want to jump into the book and take her down. Then there’s the Grove. They are a mysterious entity supposedly made up of druids. This group holds everyone in the palm of their hands and rules through sheer terror. They are scary stuff, not to be taken lightly. Overall, the baddies were bad guys on steroids.

The major romance in the story is Kai and Rhys. At times it is bittersweet, at others it is heart-wrenching. Kai is open about his affection, but Rhys holds back for reasons unknown. I was frustrated reading it; I wanted them to finally connect. The lack of communication on one side led to a sense of rejection on the other. It’s a complex and integral theme of the story. Tristin and Quinn are similar in the aspect of Quinn half-jokingly teasing Tristin about marrying her some day, while she holds her emotions at bay, including love. Since both are such important and well-written characters, their love story was intruiging and kept me glued to the pages, hoping for more. Ember and Mace are completely different. He is a soulless individual who starts out as a man without a conscience, but develops into someone I rooted for. She loathes him, but they are held together by their magic. Their story has only just begun and I cannot wait to see more of it in the next book.

The story starts out with a seriously confused and lost Ember. She wasn’t the only confused one; I had no idea what was going on. It took a while for me to get a feel for all the characters and to figure out a bit of what was going on. When I call this a mystery, I mean it’s full of twists and turns and new information that wasn’t just flung at the characters, but at the readers. Each new fact and “Aha” moment left me reeling. I couldn’t put this book down, because I was dying to find out more, hoping to put some more of the puzzle pieces together.

The book is like a jigsaw puzzle with many little pieces that must come together and lures you in. Each of the main characters, and there are a lot, is beautifully crafted. I was drawn to the pack and the camaraderie. Since each one is a story unto themselves, they definitely kept me guessing. The inclusion of all the unique supernatural beings was interesting, as well. I loved reading about the author’s input and definition of each one. There are creatures I haven’t even heard of. The story is beyond most of the other paranormal books I have read, so I was disappointed to find more than a handful of typos. I must state that I read the kindle version, so others may not have the errors. I am a stickler for typos and grammatical errors, to the point that I will stop reading a book if they are constant. In this case, they were enough to distract me a little, but they couldn’t deter me from my desperate need to find out what was actually going down. They were the only drawback to this large, elaborate book. It’s written for young adults, but felt like an adult book in its complexity, both the storyline and the characters. I highly suggest this book for all lovers of the supernatural.

Now the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – This is a YA book, but adults will love it, too. It’s definitely a supernatural story with all that that entails.
  • Level of sexuality – There wasn’t any sex, but there were some very hot moments between two of the couples.
  • Was there graphic language? Once. The rest is PG.
  • Did I cry? It’s very hard to make me cry, but I was seriously choked up and had to wipe a few tears.
  • Is this part of a series? Yep. The Dark Things series.
  • Level of character development – They were incredible and highly relatable. I didn’t find any characters lacking, just a few that didn’t play much into the story yet.
  • How hard did I laugh? Pretty darn hard.

This book was fantastic. It blew me away and it’s one of those reads that will stick with me forever. I’m so glad to be able to give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars. If not for the typos it would have been a solid 5. So, go out and get a copy today.

Available here on Amazon

 

Invasion of the Most Sacred by Robert Lovell Rooks

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I really enjoyed this book. It is based around true events, but is set in 2017. The characters are well done and I didn’t find a single one to be boring. Some are soldiers, with all the loneliness, fear, and disappointment that being away from home can bring. Such as Sgt. John Baker, who is dealing with the reality of his wife’s infidelity. His story highlights the familial hardship of a soldier’s obligation. He finds strength in his team, though, as they provide each other with the camaraderie that prepares and protects them in battle. Their goal as military unit is to destroy terrorism in the Middle East and, consequently, we can expect a large assault.

There are two young Iranian women, Yasmeen and Azita, and I liked them a great deal. They showed a lot of personality and strength for two civilians caught in the middle of the chaos their country has become. Their goal is to escape Iran and throughout their story there is a lot of turmoil and hardship. They are not easily crushed by the strangers that show nothing but dislike or hatred towards them. Their story shows how war has a way of allowing people to forget who they are and instead become a “What are you?” They are forced to do things they would have never imagined, but, eventually, it is shown that they will make a future that is right for them. They are testament that some people make it through bad times no matter what.

The book reveals some soldiers’ inner struggle, in this case Drew, who believes that he isn’t doing his job if he is not in the midst of battle. All the negotiations, all the agreements between nations, all the logistics and much more, are as much a part of war as fighting. So, even though he is assigned as escort for the great and wealthy, it is a difficult position for him to accept. In his eyes, it is a less than fulfilling role. It is hard for him to recognize that his task is still a soldier’s duty and he is just as important as those on the front line. I was drawn to his frustration over an assignment like this, but by the end I found that not all is lost.

Rothschild was a conundrum; a man with a great purpose and the ability to manipulate even the most important of individuals. He is a very strong and intelligent character. While he seems unbending and will do anything to achieve his goal, the end of terrorism once and for all, his humanity does shine through. It was wonderful to see a character that is so strong-willed, yet human. There is more to him than meets the eye.

Overall, this genre is not my usual read. There are some politics, fighting and killing, some pain, both physical and emotional, but there is also strength, joy, and healing. Deciding to give this book a chance, I went into it with some reservation, but it is a very strong story and I am glad that I read it. A lot happens for such a quick read, which I found very impressive. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. As to whether the end is tied up in a nice, little bow, is up to you to decide. People change and they certainly do here. Ultimately, the author has given us a view of how war can cause pain and loss, but also maturity and hope.

  • Genre and reading age – I would call this book action and the age at which most readers would be able to understand and appreciate it is definitely over 18.
  • Level of sexuality – There is some sex, but none of it is graphic. However, I must warn that there is a rape scene. I have read far worse, but in the end rape is rape and it’s painful to read.
  • Was there graphic language? A little. It was more along the lines of offensive name calling.
  • Did I cry? I felt sadness for these engaging, well-crafted characters, but I did not cry.
  • Is this part of a series? It is not.
  • Level of character development – The characters were very well done, especially for a book of its size. It was rather remarkable.
  • Did I laugh? Not with this subject matter.

I gladly give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

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Battle Royale, a Japanese book published in Enlish in 2003, is an amazing powerhouse punch in the gut. It is the wilder, crazier, bloodier version of The Hunger Games. Any reader of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling series should invest in this book that predates her version of population control through the gruesome manilpulation of teenagers.

This book has many similarities; it involves a group of teens chosen to engage in deadly combat until the last one is standing, a highly controlled and engineered environment, an evil government desperate to remain in power, and the test of humanity. In this case, these unknowing students are misled into thinking they are going on a school trip. They are gassed on the bus and wake up in a classroom on a remote island. They come to with no idea of what is happening, each one harnessed by a collar that will detonate upon certain circumstances, such as remaining in a forbidden zone or trying to remove it. The full impact of the collar is purposefully displayed before the innocent eyes of these teens, before they even embark on their journey. The message is clear when their fellow student’s head explodes; do what you are told or you will die, stay out of the forbidden zones or you will die, and kill the others or you will die.

The story follows each of the forty-two students, some pairing off into small groups and some going lone wolf. They are armed with weapons of varying levels of effectiveness, ranging from fork to machine guns. Also, they are given a map with clearly drawn zones. As the “game” progresses, more and more zones are cut off, forcing them into a smaller area, where they are more likely to encounter one another in deadly stand-offs.

Some characters were barely given a chance, therefore, I didn’t become emotionally involved. They literally started dropping like flies. Others made it through harrowing encounters by the skin of their teeth, often enduring deadly wounds that later led to their demise. The book is massive, but I found myself gripping it tightly as I read through it as quickly as I could, desperate to discover the fate of each person. Ultimately, it ended up with an explosive show-down between Kazuo, the epitome of evil, and three friends, Shula, Noriko, and Shogo.

The story didn’t end there, though, as the hero found out the real reason behind this brutal display of power by the military. This event happens over and over as a reminder to the population of the Republic of Greater East Asia, concerning the disasterous rebellion that had happened many years before. Much as the arenas of The Hunger Games kept these kids moving forward towards a bloody end witnessed by the masses, the collars allowed controllers to monitor the students and manipulate them into encounters for maximum impact on the emotional state of the weary citizens. While this public is not forced to watch, they are well aware of what is going down and the parents know that their children are basically guaranteed a horrible death.

The ending is a surprise and leaves you hanging, yet filled with hope. Unfortunately, it has not been followed up with another book, but it has been adapted into a Manga series and several films. The writing is fantastic and fast-paced. While the details of the story are complex, it flows easily and even for English readers, there is little trouble in keeping track of the Japanese-named characters. I held my breath through the entire novel and stayed up late into the night, until I reluctantly fell into bed. Each character has a certain degree of good vs. evil that creates a level of emotive attachment. I was devastated when some met their fate, usually in bloody and excruciating ways, while other characters I was less affected by. The build-up to the huge climax was artfully done and I was not disappointed. This is one of the very rare books that kept me faithfully glued to the pages and rooting for the characters. There wasn’t a moment that didn’t contribute to the plot, which is quite a feat considering the size of the book.

I admit readily that I read The Hunger Games prior to this book and that I loved the series. That being said, I enjoyed Battle Royale far more. While the ending was not completely realized, I was not despondent and a fulfilling conclusion was hinted at. Unlike The Hunger Games, there was no lull or excessive dialogue; it was a perfectly streamlined-story with an almost irreproachable culmination. This book lacked nothing, it even had a touch of teenage love and the testament of true friendship. Full warning, this book is not for the feint of heart or anyone who is not willing to read about teens faced with life and death situations that often have a grisly ending. Due to the overwhelming similarities between this story and The Hunger Games, I am forced to call this a dirtier, more brutal version of the same plot. So, if you enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ series and are a fan of extreme action, you will love this book. I would call it The Hunger Games on steroids, but that is an unfair statement, seeing as this book was written years before.

Now, for my rating:

  • The genre and general reading age – this is action packed with a bit of mystery. The deadly details lead me to say that it’s probably better for older teens and adults.
  • Level of sexuality – there was zero hanky-panky. There was a love interest, but they were too busy running and fighting to even think about it, outside of the fact that it will probably never be realized.
  • Was there graphic language – only if gore and bloody bits count.
  • Did I cry? I got choked up a few times.
  • Is this part of a series? Sadly, no.
  • Level of character development – it was very high, even for the poor teens who were briefly included. I loved and I hated, with little in between.
  • Did I laugh? Of course not.

This book will stay with me forever. The Hunger Games affected me deeply, but the details are already starting to blur. I have vivid images burned into my brain from this book. I eagerly give this ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars and hope that you will love it too. This is one that will stay with me forever.

Available here on Amazon

 

Neanderthal Seeks Human: A Smart Romance by Penny Reid

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The author isn’t kidding when she calls this book a smart romance. It is full of words that are far from everyday and I found myself looking up a few in the dictionary, such as slamp and the numerous variations of that word. That one is only in the Urban Dictionary, in case you try to look it up. This book has a start that had me laughing over the very relatable trial of being faced with empty toilet paper rolls and an ending that had me eager for it to be over. Let me tell you why.

Janie is a condundrum. She’s highly intelligent and a walking encyclopedia. Her inner dialogue is long-winded and literally never stops. At first it’s a crack-up; the way she relates everything to some trivial fact, such as contemplating carpet fibers instead of thinking about her overwhelming lust for Quinn. After a while it gets old and holds up the story. I couldn’t decide if she was borderline autistic or just completely clueless. Quinn calls her naturally aloof and that is fitting. She is unable to connect with a lot of people and doesn’t seem to care. Even when others make open declarations to her, they go over her head. Biggest example is the predicable statement that Quinn is the boss. I saw it, every reader saw it, he even said it boldly to her face. Yet, it didn’t penetrate her mind until much later and then she’s inappropriately livid over the fact. Still, I liked her for the most part.

I didn’t care for Quinn at all. His redeeming quality was the fact that he was not turned off by her constant verbal diarrhea. From the get-go he’s overly protective and obnoxiously jealous. In the real world, these men are the ones who send up a red flag. Every man who stalks or kills his girlfriend starts out as a protective sweetheart. I had to keep setting that thought aside, but it was hard because he was all over her with his jealousy, bringing his temper to the forefront. He turns into a spoiled child when she prefers to spend the evening with her friends and this is not the only occasion where he reverts to toddlerhood. I’m not the only person who doesn’t care for him; his own employees look away in fear of incurring his wrath. He turns an independent, yet oblivious, woman into a giggling puddle of acquiescence. She was no match for his Mona Lisa smile.

Elizabeth is refreshing and entertaining. I did enjoy the scenes with her, but there weren’t that many. The series is supposed to be about the knitting group and its members, but they are a side note until the very end when suddenly they become interesting. To be honest, I’m not sure how many women are in it, because they all blurred together by a lack of detail and interaction.

There were too many things going on and I didn’t feel much satisfaction in how they were handled. Her ex is prominent in the beginning, but he’s not really necessary. The story could have been told without him. It’s apparent that she has trouble connecting to people, especially the opposite sex, and he wasn’t needed to emphasize that point. He faded away and was rarely spoken of again. The situation with her evil younger sister is barely set up in the beginning, but then it becomes the culmination of the book. It was too quick and there was a severe lack of build-up. Plus, once the knitting circle proves to be handy as far as the story goes, including banshee shrieks and groin kicks, the climax is literally swept under the rug. Quinn simply states that he took care of it. As a reader, I would have liked to know a little more backstory and I would have appreciated just a touch of the aftermath. The climax only last a few pages and was less than five minutes long. It was given the same amount of attention at the end as it had been all along.

There are a lot of good aspects to the book, mainly the author’s humor and ability to tie together arbitrary thoughts in a cohesive manner. Random moments are quite entertaining, because they are unexpected and filled with trivia that was fascinating and which I will not be able to recall later. In fact, I’ve already forgotten all her reasoning behind her personal rating system for people’s personalities or the sexual characteristics of mammals. This sounds confusing, but it is all in Janie’s mixed-up inner dialogue. The writing is very well done and the main characters are developed, regardless of the degree to which I liked them.

In my case, it would have been more fun if half of her thoughts had been cut out and the side characters and multiple plots given a bit more attention. It’s a lengthy book by a talented author, but I am torn as to whether I would read her again. What started as a fun, new read turned into a very predictable tale of yet another woman falling into the alpha male trap. I could see it clearly: Me Tarzan, you Jane.

Now, my rating:

  • Genre and general audience: hard-core romance and is geared towards a mature audience. It isn’t filled with situations that are necessarily inappropriate for older teenage girls, but the constant flow of factoids is probably more than a younger audience would be willing to read.
  • Level of sexuality: she thinks about it quite a bit. He’s hot. She’s hot. There’s bound to be sex. When it finally does happen, it is told through her id (Freud’s idea of the human pleasure principle), which she names Ida. It was supposed to be amusing, but it was long and filled with sweaty kisses and thoughts along the line of “Oh, my!” I wasn’t even sure if the deed had been done until the next chapter. The following sex scenes were just moments of intertwined limbs and were artfully skimmed over.
  • Graphic language: not much. He says the f-word a few times and she uses different variations with the word Thor instead of swearing. That was funny.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Is this part of a series? Yes, it’s book one of Knitting in the City.
  • Level of character development: the main characters were pretty solid, while the secondary were a bit empty.
  • Did I laugh? I did, mostly in the beginning.

Overall, by the mighty power of Thor I rate this ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars. This is a good book, but it didn’t keep me engrossed all the way through.

Available here on Amazon

 

Chalice by Callaghan Grant

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I find Callaghan Grant to be a very talented writer. This is the first of her books that I have read and, in spite of some difficulties, I was captivated by the storyline and how she pulled Erinn, Michael, Paeter, and the audience out of the mire. One must be alert in order to catch the name changing and the tricky timelines. Occasionally, I had to turn back a few pages to make sure I, or the author, knew where we were going.

With that said, I hope to present a review that prepares you for a challenging book. Erinn is the heroine, Paeter and Michael are not only very important love interests, but they are Vampyres. This is another exciting aspect of the story. Erinn spends a good deal of time wandering through life confused by her dreams. They do not spark memories for her, however, for the reader they usually end with her wheezing for air as she suffers to escape a deep, dark abyss. There’s reasoning behind the dreams and the unknown, even for her battle to catch her breath, which will affect her life deeply.

Rather early on, she is lured to Spain, believing that it is of her own volition, but soon I found out that there are men who await her. Good ones and not so good ones, even some terrible ones. The presentation of these men, one by one, left me wondering why there are no women in the book other than Erinn. She is quite flirtatious in the way she handles them, as she maneuvers through the maze they create. By the end, I realized why and appreciated the author’s handling of a story dominated by men.

Now, the timelines. There seems to be a lot and it took quite a while for the confusion to be clarified. Erinn has known some of these men all her life, even though she is unaware of this. So, then timeline slips and we get to see how someone was a part of her life even as a small child. It slips again and we are in the rarely seen present. Slip again and it is back to her life in Spain. Here, I was surprised to find that she is forty years old. That is another fascinating characteristic of the story. All too often the heroine is a young woman who couldn’t possibly endure all the changes that Erinn goes through.

There is an abundance of description in this novel and the author handles it well. However, after a length of time I did wish for less. There was an extremely well-written nighttime beach scene where Erinn is enjoying the solitude. Through the author’s words I could literally feel the peacefulness. Then the peace is shattered and the destruction is made even more devasting by the beforehand sense of beauty and peace with the ocean and the sand. By the time I had read several scenic descriptions I was ready for a break. The beach was by far my favorite, but, alas, it was just another description at this point.

Spoiler ahead, so if you wish to remain in ignorance skip this paragraph; don’t even peek. There is always someone at the top of the food chain and in this story it is Stuart. Even our most riveting and intruiging Vampyre is wary of him. Stuart would like to have Erinn, but not in a romantic sense. She is part of a genetic program that the Vampyres have designed in the hope of survival, as their women are unable to carry babies to term. Spoiler over. You now know why all these men flock around her; she is special and vital to for their existence.

This is not a story of shifting and growing, but is the story of Erinn finding herself as she becomes what she is destined to be. She is in love, but with whom? These men who start out stronger and controlling soon discover that she knows how to play their game, even in a state of semi-ignorance. She will choose who she will love and she will fight for it. Vampyres are a sneaky lot, and if this group isn’t careful they will lose their freedom and perhaps even their lives. Prepare yourself for a cliffhanger.

My rating:

  • Genre and reading age: Mystery/Sci-Fi and for mature audiences only.
  • Level of sexuality: I didn’t find it to be overly graphic, but there was a lot alluded to and there is a rape scene, but it is only realized later as rape.
  • Graphic language: Not really.
  • Did I cry? Not a tear.
  • Is this part of a series? Yes. The Vampyre Episodes.
  • Level of character development: I don’t know how the author did it, but I didn’t find the characters lacking at all.
  • Did I laugh? Not once. It’s not that kind of book.

I was torn between 3 or 4 stars, but since this is a story that I am not likely to forget I give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars. It pretty much blew me away, but I had to persevere. This is not a light read.

This is unpublished at the time of posting.