Book Review: Fate War Alliance, by E.M. Havens

book coverFate War: Alliance is the first book in the Fate War series.

Genre: Steampunk Romance

Overall **** 4 out of 5 Stars.  I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

An arranged marriage between Prince Cole and Princess Samantha provides the alliance needed to defeat the Fate Army.

Prince Cole is your basic playboy-not-interested-in-being-King.  Princess Samantha is anything but basic.  When Cole’s brother is killed, Cole is forced to step into his place as next-in-line to the throne, but he doesn’t exactly go willingly.  Sam wants to escape palace life, but before she can, her parents send her to a “finishing” school and wipe out her uniqueness and free will.

After being forced to wed and then consummate the marriage in front of a room full of strangers, Cole and Samantha get off to a bit of a rocky start.  He wants to get to know her, but all she wants to do is please him, and the two wants don’t exactly compute.  Eventually, Cole is able to coax out pieces of the true Samantha: she’s a fast reader who retains everything she’s read, she loves horses, dessert is her favorite part of a meal.  But Samantha is constantly at war with herself, having been “taught” in the finishing school what a true lady is and Cole’s behavior won’t let her follow her what she’s “learned.”

When it is finally revealed that Samantha’s mother repressed her daughter’s genius in order to hide her paternity, Sam finally accepts herself for who she is and allows her true self to come to the surface.  Cole gifts her a tinker shop and she shows aptitude for battle.  When the Fate army begins closing in, she proves herself capable of of much more than building trinkets by leading the Alliance army to victory against the Fate.

This was my first foray into the steampunk genre and I quite liked it!  Because the world is based on something I was already familiar with, Victorian England (with some medieval elements), the world-building didn’t throw me.  It intrigued me.  Havens does an excellent job of dropping in phrases and technologies unique to her world while giving the reader the context clues needed to figure out what those references mean.

The heat between Cole and Samantha was ABSOLUTELY FANFREAKINGTASTIC.  Havens teases the characters and the readers and when things finally happen, it is well-worth the wait.  It’s sweet, it’s sensual, it’s loving.  And then, to top it off, the reader can tell the characters genuinely like and care for each other, beyond lust and love.

Character Development: **** 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Samantha is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever read.  Her constant internal battle is not only well-written and believable, it is also so unique.  She merges the two stereotypical female characters we’ve come to expect in Princess stories: the weak, damsel-in-distress, needing her Prince to be her Savior, with the strong, bad-assed, take-no-crap-from-anyone warrior, and she does it in a way that is not stereotypical at all.  I don’t think I’m explaining this correctly, but read it, and I think you’ll get what I’m saying.  I loved Samantha, because to tell the truth, I’m a little sick of female characters who are strong only because it is un-PC to write a female character who isn’t strong.  Samantha is weak AND strong.  Insecure AND confidant.  Subversive AND dominant.  But she’s not all obnoxious about it.

The other characters were also really well-written.  Cole started out a little cliche, but he grew on me, especially in his good intentions towards Samantha.  Zeb was amazingly well-done, and he was only featured in a few scenes, so I imagine he’ll have a larger role in the next installment.  Then there’s Jasper.  Oh Jasper. For a character who appeared only once and who didn’t technically say anything, he was incredibly interesting.  There’s mystery surrounding him – we don’t know if he’s good or evil, we don’t know why he joined the Fate army, we don’t know if he’s somehow controlling Samantha in her dark periods.  So many questions, but good ones!  I didn’t feel unsatisfied not knowing the answers to them, it just made me ready to read the next book.

Plot: **** 4 out of 5 stars.  A lot happens in this book.  We meet Cole and Samantha, they begin their married life, and Cole begins Samantha’s “re-education.”  Then there is the discovery of Samantha’s true self.  They fall in love.  Samantha finally enables herself to trust Cole and become intimate with him.  The Fate army draws near.  Samantha proves she’s more than just a pretty face by leading their army.  The progression of the plot is steady, the tension between Cole and Samantha perfect.  There were a few scenes of conflict between Sam and Cole that felt a little forced/contrived to me, which caused me to remove one star, but for the most part, it was beautifully plotted.

Writing Style/ Voice of the Author: **** 4 out of 5 stars.  Havens keeps it simple, which I really like.  The story was easy to read, the dialogue flowed well and felt natural.  The book is a breeze.  There were a few awkward scene jumps, but for the most part, I liked the pacing.  The author’s voice never intruded.  I said it in my review of Gone Girl, and I’ll say it again: nothing ruins the flow of a book like the author’s voice intruding.  Havens showed her story beautifully .

Favorite Lines:

“Although he had managed to cooperate as little as possible over the years with his father, King Arnold, his duties as Prince could no longer be ignored.  Duty.  He just couldn’t understand how societies so technologically advanced, and continuing to advance, could hold on to such archaic and simply barbaric traditions.”

“Sprocket Defend!”

“Sam found it wasn’t just warmth that soaked into her body from his touch, strength seeped in, too.”

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HeadshotAbout the Author:

Who is E.M. Havens? I’m a lot of things. The word that seems to define me most at the moment is mom. It can be all consuming. Not only am I a mom of three (one of them is a teenager…pity me), but I also home-school (pity me more). I share this awesome responsibility with the love of my life, best friend, and soul-mate husband.

Add to that, the twenty-five chickens, twelve turkeys, ten guineas, nine pigs, three barn cats, two Great Pyrenees guardian dogs, a Chihuahua, a house cat, and a goose, it makes for one crazy, full, and certainly entertaining life.

Somewhere in there I find the time to write.  I started out young writing poems, then moved on to songs. I actually have a Bachelor in Music with a secondary in Science because I can’t stand English. Yes, the writer hates English.  I like to read the story for the experience of reading the story, not to nitpick each letter and comma. But I digress.

I eventually found blogging and really enjoyed sharing my life that way. When an unfortunate turn of events separated me from my music equipment, I decided to use my overactive imagination, my love of reading, and my new found hobby, prose writing, to release some of my creative energy.  I wrote my first novel and loved the experience. Fate War: Alliance is actually the second novel I wrote and the first to be published.  Now I’m working on my third and several sequels to Fate War!

So that’s pretty much me, sitting in the Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma, reading, writing, collecting eggs from the coop, and being a schoolmarm. It’s a pretty great life.

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Book Review: Wicked Hunger, by DelSheree Gladden

wicked_hunger_previewWicked Hunger is the first book in the SomeOne Wicked This Way Comes series.

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

Overall **** 4 out of 5 Stars.  I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Brother and sister Zander and Van have a secret.  A BIG secret.  They protect their secret and each other at all costs, until the new girl in town, Ivy, threatens to expose them both.

When I was reading Wicked Hunger, I had an eerily similar feeling as I did reading The Hunger Games.  The two stories aren’t alike, plot or character-wise, but they both have a darkness that one doesn’t usually associate with YA.  As I was reading Wicked Hunger, I kept thinking, I shouldn’t be enjoying this, I shouldn’t be enjoying this.  Exactly the same reaction I had to The Hunger Games.  With HG, I shouldn’t have enjoyed it because it was about children killing children.  With WH, I shouldn’t have enjoyed it because it was about Zander and Van struggling with their hunger to cause others intense physical (and sometimes, emotional) pain.

Sometimes it’s the books we shouldn’t enjoy that we enjoy the most.

Zander and Van can’t explain WHY they have this hunger for pain, only that it has been passed down through their family.  They think they are alone in the world and can’t explain their struggles with anyone, for their own safety as well as the safety of everyone around them.  They both do their best to control the hunger, Zander by channeling it into football, and Van by gathering a group of close friends around her and teaching dance classes; but controlling the hunger is the hardest thing Zander has ever done when he meets Ivy.  She fuels his hunger unlike any other person he’s ever met.  Plus, he is immediately attracted to her, so that really doesn’t help!  Van feels her hunger for Ivy, too, but luckily, her judgement isn’t clouded by teenage-boy-hormones.

When Van discovers what Ivy has planned to “out” their secret, she races to save Zander, Ivy, and herself.

Character Development: **** 3.5 out of 5 stars.  Zander and Van are well-thought out and portrayed.  I like that they have distinct personalities, but you also REALLY believe them as brother and sister.  Ivy is complicated – the reader can never figure out what’s going on with her, but Gladden does a great job showing how untrustworthy she is.  But my favorite character is probably Oscar.  He is Zander and Van’s older brother who has literally been driven insane by his hunger.  Although he only featured in 2 scenes, I could tell Gladden had his character down pat.  His moments of crazy were beautifully interspersed with moments of lucidity and I’m really hoping for more of him as the series progresses.

I had to take stars off for some of the minor characters, though.  Van’s group of friends is made out to be very important to her controlling her hunger, but the only one who gets any major “screen” time is Ketchup (fun name!).  And even Ketchup’s character is very minimally drawn.  We don’t get to see what it is about him that Van loves so much.  I really wish there had been more scenes showing us their history together, because it is clearly important to Van.  Then there’s Noah, a new kid in Van’s life, who seems to only be introduced as a distraction immediately forgotten.  Van and Zander’s grandmother is their care-giver, but only appears in a few short scenes.  We are told how strict she is, but it’s never shown.  A definite missed opportunity that I’m hoping will be corrected in book 2.

Plot: **** 4 out of 5 stars.  There actually is not a lot of action to this book.  What drives the story is Zander and Van’s inner turmoil as they deal with the hunger.  That being said, it is obvious that Gladden has put a lot of thought into her world.  There are many of questions left unanswered at the end of the book, plenty to fill books 2 and 3!

Writing Style/ Voice of the Author: **** 4 out of 5 stars.  Gladden does something unique, and it really works well for this story.  She combines present tense and past tense.  It gives the story an immediacy that intensifies the emotions of the characters.  She also does a fantastic job of moving seamlessly between Van and Zander’s points of view.  I never once got confused as to which character’s head I was in.  I took one star off because I found it difficult to jump into the story.  Gladden held back at the beginning a lot of the backstory, but then teased the reader with it continuously.  I don’t mind teasers when they are subtle, but these were not subtle!  I understand the purpose – build up the mystery and the tension and then reveal bombshells throughout the book – it’s just not my favorite way to do it.  I know some readers who would absolutely disagree with me, though!

Favorite Lines:

“Bruises can tell stories better than most people.”

“The pain burns up my arms and into my chest, but I can’t escape the animalistic thrill of destruction.”

“Instead, the colors look to be slowly blending together, a potter’s clay not yet molded into what it is meant to become.”

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Sheree SmallAbout the Author:

DelSheree Gladden lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children. The Southwest is a big influence in her writing because of its culture, beauty, and mythology. Local folk lore is strongly rooted in her writing, particularly ideas of prophecy, destiny, and talents born from natural abilities. When she is not writing, DelSheree is usually teaching yoga, coaching gymnastics, reading, painting, sewing, or working as a Dental Hygienist. Her works include Escaping Fate, Twin Souls Saga, and The Destroyer Trilogy. DelSheree’s newest series, The SomeOne Wicked This Way Come series, follows Vanessa and Zander Roth, siblings with an uncontrollable hunger for pain and suffering that will either gain them limitless power or lead them to their deaths.

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Book Review: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

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**** Overall 4 out of 5 stars

It takes some masterful writing to keep a reader engaged in a story with two incredibly, INCREDIBLY, unlikeable main characters.  I took the star off because the characters were INCREDIBLY unlikeable.  But I read their entire damn story.

On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick comes home to find his wife, Amy, has disappeared.  All the evidence suggests he killed her.  And he doesn’t do himself many favors – he’s strangely calm and unnerved by the disappearance.  Entries from Amy’s diary tell a tale of two people falling in love, and then her husband becoming less and less worthy of that love.

Or course, it would be too easy if Nick had killed her.  It would be too easy for her to be dead at all.  So she’s not.  And that’s where things go all bat-shit crazy and the reader gets sucked in to this dysfunctional relationship between 2 people who NEVER should have gotten married.

I was very weary throughout the first half of the book.  I knew Nick hadn’t done anything to his wife, but only because, like I said above – it would have been too easy.  Yet, he was so unlikeable.  I practically hated him.  And Amy.  The pictures of Amy that Nick painted and that Amy’s diary painted were of 2 different people.  And I didn’t like either of them.  So I found it hard to stick with the book even though I wanted to see what the twist ending was I’d been hearing so much about.

About three-fourths of the way through the book, I couldn’t put it down.  I spent 3 hours hunkered down on my couch (on a Friday night, no less) finishing it.  I wanted to see what the crazy psycho characters were going to do to each other, how it would play out.  By that time I had no clue how the author was going to end it, but I don’t think I’d call the ending a twist.  I think it was very appropriate for how f***ed up the characters were, though.

Character Development – ***** 5 out of 5 stars.  I did not like the characters, but Flynn did an amazing job of drawing their characters and delving into their psyche.  The characters felt very real.

Plot – *** 3 out of 5 stars.  The story begins with an unoriginal idea, a missing wife and her husband is the main subject, but Flynn subtly adds in twists, turns, intrigue.  The characters become the plot.  And, see above for how the characters were drawn.

Writing Style/ Voice of the Author – ***** 5 out of 5 stars.  I’d give it 6.  You know how I know a book is really good?  I forget I’m reading a book.  The author just tells the story.  Keeps it simple.  That’s what this was.  I never felt intruded on by the author’s voice.  There were no flashy words or prose to distract from what was happening.

One final note.  This book was good, but from all the hype surrounding it, I expected to be sucked in immediately and to not want to put it down until I was finished.  I expected a massive twist ending.  Neither of those things were true.  The hype actually let me down.  When I started reading the book, I was a passenger on a 12-hour car ride.  Ever few chapters or so I had to put the book down and stare out the window (that’s how much I disliked the characters).  I didn’t want to keep reading, keep reading, keep reading.  And I had what seemed like all the time in the world to do so.  I was disappointed because everyone I’d talked to about the book had said how amazing it was.  I wish I had read it without hearing all of the hype, because I may have liked it even more.