The Kingdom – Amanda Stevens

Deep in the shadowy foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies a dying town….

My name is Amelia Gray. They call me The Graveyard Queen. I’ve been commissioned to restore an old cemetery in Asher Falls, South Carolina, but I’m coming to think I have another purpose here.

Why is there a cemetery at the bottom of Bell Lake? Why am I drawn time and again to a hidden grave I’ve discovered in the woods? Something is eating away at the soul of this town—this withering kingdom—and it will only be restored if I can uncover the truth.

I read and reviewed the first book in this series (The Restorer) a year ago, and finally the second book is out! I was so excited when I saw that The Kingdom was coming, and I waited very patiently. It was totally worth the wait.

This book is quite different from the first – not only is Amelia moving onto a new graveyard, but she is moving away from her love interest in the first novel, and away from everything that is familiar and safe.

Asher Falls is in a world of its own. A creepy world that seems to have its own rules and far too many secrets for Amelia’s liking. Very quickly it becomes obvious that everyone is protecting their own interests, and no-one is telling her the full truth of the situation.

Like the first, this book was deliciously dark and beautifully written. I quickly overcame the brief confusion I had at finding that Amelia and Devlin were not an item any longer, and poured myself into the mysteries within these pages. The book this time seems less about the graveyard, and more to do with the skeletons in the towns closet, and what they mean for Amelia. We finally learn more about her parentage and origins, and how she came to have the ability to see, and communicate, with the dead.

Amelia has spent a lot of her life playing by her fathers rules, which have until now kept her safe, but this town, and the people in it (living and dead), have their own agenda’s. Amelia has never been more at risk, and there were plenty of times I was on the edge of my seat, eager to find out how everything would come together at the end.

That said, it’s not a perfect book by any means. Amelia is in danger a lot and she makes some awfully risky decisions. I could understand some of them, but others felt like they were a little bit on the not-so-smart side for a character I felt was pretty savvy in the first book.

However, I still really enjoyed it and went straight from this book to the third in the series, which will be released later this year. I’ll be reviewing that closer to it’s release – but I can tell you that I really enjoyed that one too!

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Blackbirds – Chuck Wendig

This is the first novel I’ve read by the author who is probably most famous for his foul-mouthed but fabulous writing advice (I’m currently reading 500 Ways To Be A Better Writer, full of great tips!), Chuck Wendig’s latest book, Blackbirds, is quite frankly, stunning.

Let’s start with the cover. Because OMFG from the moment I saw it I loved it and knew I HAD to read the book. It’s gorgeous.

You can try and tell me that you’re not curious, but I won’t believe you for a second.

Miriam Black knows when you will die. She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides. 

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. 

No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

This is a book right up my alley. Right from the beginning I was caught up in Miriam’s web. She is not a typical character by any means, and her gift, or curse depending on how you want to look at it, means that she sees life in a totally different way from those around her. At times I might not have agreed with her choices, but she was true to herself the whole way through. And when she meets Louis, she is confronted by the kind of life she might  have had, under other circumstances. He is sweet and caring in a world that has treated her badly, and she is the only one who might be able to save him.

This is not a book for everyone: there is a lot of profanity in it, but then, I think it was fitting to the kind of story, and the range of characters included. There is a lot of violence, this is a brutal and intense novel which does not hold back. If you are squeamish, you might want to sit this one out. But if those things don’t bother you so much, then I think you should definitely pick this up. It’s one hell of a ride. Not only is it dark and brutal, but it’s also funny, and sweet in parts. It runs the gamut of human emotion, and Miriam will draw you in almost despite yourself.

There are questions still unanswered about why Miriam can see how people will die, and plenty of room for exploration in her world. Luckily I only have to wait until later in the year for the second installment in this series. Chuck Wendig has secured a place on my ‘must-buy’ authors list.

Dead Harvest

Meet Sam Thornton. He collects souls. 

Sam’s job is to collect the souls of the damned, and ensure they are dispatched to the appropriate destination. But when he’s sent to collect the soul of a young woman he believes to be innocent of the horrific crime that’s doomed her to Hell, he says something no Collector has ever said before. 

“No.”

I love a good ‘damned souls’ novel, so I couldn’t help but be intrigued by this one where Sam is a soul collector. One thing that I really enjoyed was that he has no set body – he nabs those of the recently departed (for the most part) and inhabits them in order to do his job, making him slightly abnormal on the undead scene, who typically jump into the skin of the still living.

It was really interesting to follow a character whose form changed several times throughout the novel, but I really appreciated the way Holm wrote this, so that without being over the top obvious, the reader, and other characters in the novel, could tell who was possessed at any given time.

Sam is a great character, far more moralistic than you would think a denizen of hell should be, and over the course of the novel we find out what it was he did to become a Collector, and how the decisions of his past are impacting on his current job. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, he never sways in his conviction that the girl is innocent, even though he has angels and demons alike coming after him, and everyone else is sure she is guilty.

This is an action packed book with a story line that powers along. The secondary characters are well written and unique and I really had no idea how this one was going to pan out. Well written, and well paced, this was a book it was easy to lose myself in. Dead Harvest is being released this week, and a second in the series (The Wrong Goodbye) is scheduled for later in the year – I will be picking it up!

Pure – Julianna Baggott

We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . . 

Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run. 

Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . . 

There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it’s his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her. 

When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again.

This is a dark, bleak, beautifully written book that was, at times, uncomfortable to read. It’s set in the future, where only those in the Dome remain pure, and those outside have been fused with whatever they were close to when the Detonation occurred. Most of the country is doing it’s best to survive, clutching at hope wherever they can find it.

There is quite a wide cast of characters, with several semi-romantic pairings – this was actually nice, considering SO many YA novels have a strong romantic thread in them. I think my favourite characters were Pressia, Bradwell, and El-Capitan, they were the ones that stood out for me most – or perhaps it was just that I felt greater compassion for them as they were the wretches. Pressia and Bradwell have this sweet, subtle swell of emotion between them and I couldn’t help but hope they would both make it out of the book alive. Partridge and Lyda, the two main Pure’s in the book were less engaging for me, though I can’t really place my finger on why.

Although the book had a slow build up, I am pleased I stuck with it. I found myself quite caught up in this new vision of the world, it was creepy on so many levels, but I couldn’t help but see a kind of beauty in the mutation of the wretches. There is a scene with a group of mothers, their babies and children now literally a part of their bodies. I could see myself as one of them, so often are my young ones in my arms.

If I had one criticism of the book it would be that there were a lot of coincidences and people/items/information showing up at JUST the right time. I think this was mainly down to the fact that the two main characters didn’t really have any idea about what was happening behind the scenes. I am hoping that happens less in the next book, but regardless, will certainly be giving it a read to see what happens next.

Anyways… it’s a good book, if you like dark and uncomfortable reads. I think some readers will love it, and others may find that it’s not their cup of tea.

Horizon – Aftertime #3

Cass Dollar is a survivor. She’s overcome the meltdown of civilization, humans turned mindless cannibals, and the many evils of man.

But from beneath the devastated California landscape emerges a tendril of hope. A mysterious traveler arrives at New Eden with knowledge of a passageway North—a final escape from the increasingly cunning Beaters. Clutching this dream, Cass and many others decamp and follow him into the unknown.

Journeying down valleys and over barren hills, Cass remains torn between two men. One—her beloved Smoke—is not so innocent as he once was. The other keeps a primal hold on her that feels like Fate itself. And beneath it all, Cass must confront the worst of what’s inside her—dark memories from when she was a Beater herself. But she, and all of the other survivors, will fight to the death for the promise of a new horizon….

This is the third installment in the Aftertime series, of which I read and reviewed the second novel, Rebirth, last year. I saw that it had come up on NetGalley and immediately requested a copy. The second book was really well written for the most part, even though I had some issues with it. In any event, I was eager to see what happened next.

Horizon is set several months after the end of Rebirth. I found this quite jarring, as I wanted to know what happened between the end of the second and beginning of the third books. I got over that soon enough though and found myself being caught up in the story.

I really enjoyed this novel. It blew my mind, punched me in the gut and ruined my ability to read other books for days. Nothing I’ve started since has stacking up with this one. It’s very well written, a fine balance between forwarding the story and also filling in some of the blanks that had been left in the previous two novels (well, I assume they were blanks from the information in the book as I haven’t read the first one yet!).

There is a whole range of new characters in New Eden, but once again this story is about Cass, who has fallen off the wagon and seems caught up in another round of quiet self-destruction. That is until the Beaters learn to swim and threaten to devour their little settlement, forcing everyone to abandon their once safe haven and try to find a new home.

The Beaters were pretty absent in Rebirth – it was less about them, and more about the Rebuilders – so in some senses this was my first real exposure to them. OMG. So good. I love zombies and these ones do not disappoint. I could feel the overall tension building throughout the novel and by the time I’d got less than halfway I had entered the ‘can’t-put-it-down’ zone.

Sophie Littlefield has done an amazing job on this novel. I love all the little plot points that were woven in, the way the characters are all so real and vital, so present in their lives. I loved it when Cass realized she needed to get sober, get herself straight, not for someone else, but for herself, and I LOVED the way the romance line resolved itself. I loved the way relationships changed, evolved, shattered, renewed.

This book had me in tears at the end. Even with three kids running around the house, interrupting me every other page. It’s a dark novel in places, an ‘on-the-edge-of-your-seat’ read at others, but the underlying strength of the characters, their ability to cling to hope in spite of such horrific circumstances is beautiful.

And that is what I was left with. A sense of hope.

So good.

I definitely recommend this book. I’m going to have to go back and read the first one now.

Play Dead – Anne Frasier

No one understands the dark side of Savannah better than homicide detective Elise Sandburg.

As an infant, she was thought to be the daughter of a famous root doctor-and was abandoned in an ancient Low Country cemetery. Growing up, she was haunted by her possible connection to the local Gullah culture-with its spells and voodoo. 

Now, however, there’s a twisted killer on the loose, and the city is gripped by terror. Someone is using a substance that leaves its victims in a state that mimics death. As their bodies slip into an irreversible paralysis, their minds remain fully, shockingly awake. Before you wake up dead.

Step by step, Elise’s relentless chase for the killer draws her straight back into the world she most fears. And now, to stop a murderer, she must confront the truth about her own past in ways she never could have imagined…

I’m pretty sure that I picked this up from the Kindle Free Bestseller list awhile back, as I really liked the premise. I love these kind of books and the combination of crime and the occult always appeals. I very quickly got hooked and this one did not disappoint.

I really liked Elise as a character – she’s flawed, strong, has an interesting past and a mystery to her origins which comes directly into play with the main plot line. She has a teenager daughter who is reluctant to have anything to do with her, and a partner who is the odd one out on the force, and has a mysterious history of his own. The story is told from several points of view, one of which is that of the killer – Frasier manages not to give it away who that is though, and when it was finally revealed I was most surprised!

The atmosphere is fantastic, and the level of occult nicely played. It’s a creepy, fast paced read and certainly worth picking up. I gave it four stars and will be checking out other titles from the author because this was right up my alley.

Black Light

The debut novel from the writers of the multi-million-dollar-grossingSaw movie franchise.

Private investigator Buck Carlsbad’s psychic abilities place him in high demand among those looking for quick solutions to supernatural problems. But for Buck, each case is only a link in the chain of a lifelong obsession: to locate the long departed spirits of his mother and father, killed in an unsolved murder when he was only a child.

Then Buck gets a call from a reclusive billionaire with a very strange request, and finds himself on a bullet-fast train headed straight to hell.

BLACK LIGHT is the explosive debut that combines a noir sensibility with supernatural suspense and high concept action, as Buck leads the reader through an underworld of exotic darkness and adventure.

**I wrote a full review, but somehow it’s not saved as a draft and I have to start over, so here is the shorter version.

This novel follows Buck, a man who drags the vengeful dead out of the living world and into himself, in order to remove them from the land of the living permanently. His whole focus in life is to answer the question of what happened to his parents – unfortunately for him, the only place he can find those answers is the last place he wants to be.

I really liked the take on the paranormal shown in this novel. It was something new for me – the main character physically taking the spirits into himself before being able to dispose of them – and I liked the dark and gritty setting. Buck is a bit of a tortured soul, getting old before his time, burning years of his life in the pursuit of answers. These questions that haunt him prevent him from living life, to the extent that he might as well be one of the dead already – his way of handling situations doesn’t lend itself to reaching old age 😉

There were quite a few secondary characters, some of which I really liked (his sidekicks lend some comic relief to the story and the few women he comes into contact with are all very different). For the most part though, they played their cards very close to the chest and it wasn’t until near the end that I felt like I was getting a grip on who was controlling the situation and what the outcome might be. I was genuinely surprised at several points with the twists written in and the ending didn’t disappoint.

The writing is highly visual, incredibly detailed at times, and it’s here that you can tell this was produced by people who write movies. While sometimes I had to read something over, in order to make sure I had it all straight in my head, I could see how this would translate to film – and it’s a movie I would want to see.

If you’re the kind of person who likes this level of detail, who likes a dark and gritty tale with a paranormal bent, then you should probably check this out.