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Review: The Conquering Dark by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith


The Conquering Dark
Authors:  Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
Series:  Crown & Key 3
Publisher:  Del Rey, July 28, 2015
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 338 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780345540508 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Conquering Dark by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
A thrilling new Victorian-era urban fantasy for fans of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, and the Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Robert Downey, Jr.

The Crown and Key Society face their most terrifying villain yet: Gaios, a deranged demigod with the power to destroy Britain.

To avenge a centuries-old betrayal, Gaios is hell-bent on summoning the elemental forces of the earth to level London and bury Britain. The Crown and Key Society, a secret league consisting of a magician, an alchemist, and a monster-hunter, is the realm’s only hope—and to stop Gaios, they must gather their full strength and come together as a team, or the world will fall apart.

But Simon Archer, the Crown and Key’s leader and the last living magician-scribe, has lost his powers. As Gaios searches for the Stone of Scone, which will give him destructive dominion over the land, monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane, alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther, gadget geek Penny Carter, and Charlotte the werewolf scramble to reconnect Simon to his magic before the world as they know it is left forever in ruins.



Melanie's Thoughts

The Conquering Dark is the exciting end to the Crown & Key series. The instalment starts as dramatically as the prior two books with our heroes saving the royal family and a number of aristocrats from certain death from a group of part man/part machine villains. Gaios is determined to get his hands on the Stone of Scone which he believes will give him free reign to destroy Great Britain. What he doesn't realise that between him and certain victory are a magician without any powers, an alchemist, a monster hunter, a maker of gadgets and weapons, a teenage werewolf and a young woman irrevocably changed by an evil doctor. Failure is not an option or everything they know and love will die under the hands of the would be god Gaios.

This instalment is non-stop action from page 1 through to the end. Our motley band of heroes are at a distinct disadvantage when Simon loses his powers towards the end of book number 2 - The Undying Legion. It almost seems impossible that they could prevail when at such a disadvantage. The 'gang' have to play to their individual strengths until such time as Simon can regain his powers, if he ever does. The writing duo continue to fully develop the individual characters while at the same time build the relationships between the characters, and not just the ones with a romance element. Obviously, there is the culmination of the romance between Simon and Kate but we also see Malcolm start to truly care for both the young werewolf Charlotte and there are hints at romance between him and Penny. Simon and Malcolm's relationship changes and Simon faces some hard facts about his long time friend Nick. The Griffiths all but hammered home the importance of friendship through all the books but more-so in this final instalment. This is very much a tale of good versus evil and the power of friendship.

I enjoyed this final instalment but I did find it a tad stereotypical and a bit cliched in parts. The non-stop action, however, made it a more enjoyable read than if it was more conversation based. The romance between Kate and Simon was subtle but quite bland.  Simon was billed in book 1 to be quite the ladies man and rake but he was nothing but a true gentleman to Kate. This made this romance a bit lackluster unfortunately. I much preferred the 'frisson' between Malcolm and Penny and Malcolm's reluctance to like werewolf Charlotte as these interactions seemed more real and true to the individual characters. As a group they had a good dynamic, which along with the overall plot arch made it an enjoyable read overall. I liked this book, I liked the series and LOVED the cover of The Conquering Dark.

Review: The Undying Legion by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith


The Undying Legion
Authors:  Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
Series:  Crown & Key 2
Publisher:  Del Rey, June 30, 2015
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN9780345540485 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Undying Legion by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
A thrilling new Victorian-era urban fantasy for fans of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, and the Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Robert Downey, Jr.

With a flood of dark magic about to engulf Victorian London, can a handful of heroes vanquish a legion of the undead?

When monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane comes across the gruesome aftermath of a ritual murder in a London church, he enlists the help of magician-scribe Simon Archer and alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther. Studying the macabre scene, they struggle to understand obscure clues in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into the victim’s heart—as well as bizarre mystical allusions to the romantic poetry of William Blake. One thing is clear: Some very potent black magic is at work.

But this human sacrifice is only the first in a series of ritualized slayings. Desperate to save lives while there is still time, Simon, Kate, and Malcolm—along with gadget geek Penny Carter and Charlotte, an adolescent werewolf—track down a necromancer who is reanimating the deceased. As the team battles an unrelenting army of undead, a powerful Egyptian mummy, and monstrous serpentine demons, the necromancer proves an elusive quarry. And when the true purpose of the ritual is revealed, the gifted allies must confront a destructive force that is positively apocalyptic.



Melanie's Thoughts:

The Undying Legion starts not long after the cataclysmic events of book 1. Simon is still living with Kate, Kate is still trying to cure her sister while Malcolm continues to be Malcolm. Everything changes when a young woman is discovered ritually murdered with hieroglyphics carved into her heart. When another dies the same way and the dead start to come to life again there is only one thing for our heroes to do - save the day of course! Boy do our heroes have their work cut out for them as they try to find the necromancer who is reanimating the dead. An ancient evil is loose in London and it won't be long before its undead legion bring about the end of the world.

I really started to enjoy this series with this second instalment. There were three main things that I thought the authors did to really 'add some flesh to the bones' of this series:

1) They start to more fully round out all of the characters and not just the main three - Kate, Simon and Malcolm. We get much more time with Penny who contributes to the 'day saving' with cool weaponry and other gadgets. I feel that she she has turned into a solid secondary character rather than just an extra. There is one quite touching scene between Simon and Penny which I thought was effective in developing both characters. The young lycan Charlotte gets more page time and becomes Malcolm's sidekick (although reluctantly from Malcolm's perspective). Malcolm and Charlotte become quite a good double act. Through both Charlotte and Kate's sister Imogen we get a clearer picture of Kate's true nature as she tries to stabilise Charlotte and cure her sister.

2) The plot keeps the pace from the first few pages all the way to the end. There is a lot happening in this story and the action starts early on. There are fight scenes galore, gory murder scenes, the secret of Simon's key from book 1 is uncovered and something happens to Simon to totally change things for this character. The ending also leaves us with a delightful teaser for book 3.

3) The authors avoid tying up the plot with a nice bow. The Griffith's aren't afraid to have bad things happen to their characters and avoid resolving their issues by the end of the book. There were some scenes with Kate's sister Imogen that had me wishing for something good to happen to this character. Simon is another character who gets both a physical and emotional blow in this instalment.

These three factors make Undying Legion a much more substantial and well-rounded book. There is a lot more happening than just finding the necromancer as the authors start to set up the plot arc with the two super evil demi-gods Ash and Gaios. There were hints of these two villains in the last book but they start to become the focus of the plot and set things in motion that will inevitably be resolved in book 3 - The Conquering Dark which I am really looking forward to reading.

Review: The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks


The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster
Author:  Scott Wilbanks
Publisher:  Sourcebooks Landmark, August 4, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
List Price:  $14.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781492612469 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks
Annabelle Aster doesn't bow to convention-not even that of space and time-which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.

Annie and Elsbeth's search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery-and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen...and yet somehow already did.



Melanie's Thoughts

Annie Aster leads a rather solitary life in modern day San Francisco until the purchase of an antique door opens up a whole new world. Her new back door doesn't open up into her garden but rather, into a Kansas wheat field. Of course, it isn't just any Kansas wheat field. At the other end of the field, 200 years in the past, lives the cantankerous schoolmarm Elsbeth. The pair start to exchange letters and develop a friendship that transcends both time and space. When Annie sends Elsbeth to investigate the murder of a popular magician she doesn't realise the how this will change her life and give her the opportunity to discover who she is and where she comes from.

Annie shares her story with her best friend Christian. He has a profound stutter resulting from a terrible car accident. Both his injuries and his stutter has caused him to retreat from life around him and into his books. Fate enters his life in the form of the hunky gardener who befriends him. Little do this trio of characters realise what awaits them on the other side of the wheat field but it will irrevocably change all their lives forever.

I hate to sound so vague when writing a review but the plot does centre around a murder mystery and how this impacts Annie in her current timeline. The plot of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster reminds me of a loosely knitted scarf. One tug of one thread will find it unravelling on the floor. If I give too much away here in this review then then you would be able to guess the all the 'surprises' as they are so interwoven into the plot. What I can share with you is my view of Wilbanks' writing style, world building and skills at characterization.

I started out really enjoying this book and I liked how the story flipped between modern day and the late 1800's rather seamlessly. Nothing beats a bit of time travel and how convenient for Annie that she doesn't have to put much effort into travelling back 200 years than to waltz out her back door. Whenever I read any books with time travel elements I always think to Star Trek. How many paradoxes did Annie create by writing to Elsbeth? By the end of the book I am sure the space time continuum would have been in tatters. Saying that however, I feel there were one too many coincidences and as the plot developed I was able to guess every one, especially those involving Annie's friend Christian.

Annie was terribly twee with her love of dressing in Victoriana, her perfectly preserved tea set and her quaint old fashioned ways. Wilbanks' pushes my imagination on how much I could believe about how much Annie was impacted by the past or should I say a past she didn't actually experience. Overall, I found the characters were a bit too clichéd.  Annie was beautiful and looked perfect in her late 1800's garb, Elsbeth the schoolmarm was plain and plain talking while Christian repressed his sexuality hence the stutter. I was really hoping that at least one of the characters would do the unexpected or be less stereotypical. I feel that the plot wouldn't have been so easy to guess had the characters not been written in such a traditional way.

Wilbanks does an admirable job of describing the environment in which all his characters live and I could easily picture Annie's lovely house and Elsbeth's wheat field. He also did well in tying all the different aspects of the plot together with a satisfactory conclusion to Annie's tale. While maybe the characterisation could have been improved this book was still overall quite readable and it must be remembered that this is Wilbanks' debut. I am sure that there will be great work to come from this author and I will look forward to reading it.

Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley


The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
Author:  Natasha Pulley
Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA, July 14, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  $26.00 (print)
ISBN:  9781620408339 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher via NetGalley

Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.
Google Play : iTunes : Kobo



Melanie's Thoughts

Thaniel Steepleton's life irrevocably changes when stranger leaves a gold pocket watch on his bed. Up to this point he has had a fairly lonely life as a telegrapher for the Ministry of Defence, lives a small bedsit, and sends half his meager wages to his widowed sister. His biggest challenge was trying to decide when to have his tea break. When the watch saves him from becoming yet another victim of the bombing of Scotland Yard, Thaniel is determined to find out who made it and how he ended up with it. His investigation takes him to none other than the watchmaker of Filigree Street - Keita Mori. Nathaniel's life soon becomes entangled with the unassuming watchmaker. The story moves from present to the past as we learn about Mori's past in Japan and the circumstances of his arrival in England. We also meet Grace who has returned home after studying physics at university. Grace wants to continue her experiments but is being pressured by her parents to get married first. When Thaniel meets Grace at a ball he couldn't possibly anticipate the chain of events that would ensue.

Pulley sets her debut novel in a grey and bleak London during a time when the Fenian's (or Irish Republican Brotherhood) were setting off bombs in key cities, mainly London. It is also a time when both foreigners and women were openly discriminated against. Setting her story during real events helps to create a feeling of legitimacy to the story and to the characters. I found the whole novel very atmospheric and felt that Pulley picked an excellent time period in which to set her story. I was however let down by the lack of characterisation. Neither Thaniel nor Grace stood out and, in fact, I found Grace extremely self-centered. She acts appallingly towards the end of the novel and no one seems to bat an eyelash. This seemed incongruous with the rest of the story and focus on finding the person who bombs Scotland Yard. Of all the characters Mori was the most developed and was by far the most interesting. I think this is down to the chapters dedicated to his history back in Japan.

My final bug bear with this novel and which made the whole novel a bit of a struggle for me is the typeface. I realise that the choice of typeface can be outside of the hands of the author but I struggle to understand why anyone would chose to use a typeface that used random capitalisation. A first I thought it was bad editing as I had an eARC but I flipped to the back and read the author's notes which explained the typeface. Very odd choice.

I had high hopes for the The Watchmaker of Filigree Street as I have read some other excellent debuts in the last few months, but overall I was disappointed. The characters lack the depth they require in order to pull off the convoluted plot. 

Review: The Shadow Revolution by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith


The Shadow Revolution
Author:  Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
Series: Crown & Key 1
Publisher:  Del Rey, June 2, 2015
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN:  978034553950 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Shadow Revolution by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
A thrilling new Victorian-era urban fantasy for fans of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, and the Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Robert Downey, Jr.

They are the realm’s last, best defense against supernatural evil. But they’re going to need a lot more silver.

As fog descends, obscuring the gas lamps of Victorian London, werewolves prowl the shadows of back alleys. But they have infiltrated the inner circles of upper-crust society as well. Only a handful of specially gifted practitioners are equipped to battle the beasts. Among them are the roguish Simon Archer, who conceals his powers as a spell-casting scribe behind the smooth veneer of a dashing playboy; his layabout mentor, Nick Barker, who prefers a good pub to thrilling heroics; and the self-possessed alchemist Kate Anstruther, who is equally at home in a ballroom as she is on a battlefield.

After a lycanthrope targets Kate’s vulnerable younger sister, the three join forces with fierce Scottish monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane—but quickly discover they’re dealing with a threat far greater than anything they ever imagined.



Melanie's Thoughts

The writing couple of Susan and Clay Griffith set their new series in Victorian London but in a version of London where the supernatural and magic reign supreme. The authors quickly introduce the reader to the characters that will monopolise the story over the coming chapters. The opening chapters introduce us to Simon Archer, the rogue and ladies man whose body is covered with magical tattoos, and his friend and mentor, Nick Barker.  The pair walk on the fringes of society, never fully accepted but never far away from it either. Neither have exploited their magical talents and Simon's magical abilities are still largely untested. He has let his studies with Nick slide in favour of a night on the tiles with his friend. Everything is about to change when fate intervenes in the form of a vicious and deadly werewolf that rampages through a ball when they end up being helped by the aristocratic Kate Anstruther. It would seem that Kate has everything going for her - social standing, wealth, a famous family name, and intelligence. She could be one of society's darlings if she wasn't more interested in alchemy and science than her social standing. Finally there is Malcolm MacFarlane the gun toting Scottish hunter who dislikes Simon on sight. Things irrevocably change when Kate's sister is kidnapped and it is linked to a key that Simon wears around his neck. This group of misfits are drawn together to stop a a deadly predator that will take every weapon they have to defeat.

I think The Shadow Revolution suffered a bit from an identity crisis. It read in parts like steampunk but without any of the 'coolness' that comes from this genre. Simon relies on his magic, Malcolm on his weaponry and Kate on her alchemy. Separately they are almost insignificant but together they are a powerhouse. Their strengths did not, however, help them with the challenges they face when up against a legion of werewolves and a much older evil that threatens not just London. I have to completely disagree with the comparison to Kevin Hearne's Iron Druids series, Penny Dreadful or Sherlock Holmes (with Robert Downey Jr? almost an insult to Arthur Conan Doyle). These comparisons subjugate the Griffiths' characters and are not accurate. In my view neither the plotline nor the characters are like any of these other stories.

Overall, I liked this book but I was a bit surprised at its simplicity. I guessed nearly every plot twist or big reveal well before it happened. I didn't think it was as a challenging of a read as Griffiths' other series The Vampire Empire. I never knew what was going to happen next in that series yet in book 1 of The Crown and Key I guessed every one. It is still enjoyable and I do so like the plucky Kate and the acerbic Malcolm. Bring on book 2 - The Undying Legion.

Review: The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath by Ishbelle Bee


The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath
Author:  Ishbelle Bee
Series:  From the Peculiar Adventures of John Lovehart, Esq., Volume 1
Publisher:  Angry Robot Books, June 30, 2015 (North America Print)
       June 2, 2015 (eBook)
       June 4, 2015 (UK Print)
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  $9.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780857664426 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath by Ishbelle Bee
1888. A little girl called Mirror and her extraordinary shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human.

John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree.

Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down…

An extraordinary dark fairytale for adults, for fans of Catherine Valente and Neil Gaiman.

File Under: Fantasy [ Shapes Shifting / Inside the Clock / A Tasty Little Girl / 12 Dancing Princesses ]



Melanie's Review

This book is very difficult to explain but a must read for anyone who likes the unusual. In true gothic/horror style Bee tells the story of Mirror who as a young girl was almost murdered by her grandfather when he leaves her to die in a grandfather clock. She is rescued by the policeman Goliath Honeyflower who becomes her protector, guardian and companion. Mirror is no longer just a normal young girl and Goliath searches for answers as to what she has become. We also learn of the life of young John Loveheart whose family are cruelly murdered and he is taken by the demon Mr. Fingers to live in the underworld along with 13 other young boys. Mr. Fingers wants to eat Mirror and sends John Loveheart to find her. I could tell you more but that would spoil the story.

Bee has written one of the creepiest books I have ever read. Well done! She has also managed to create some fantastically evil characters that were quite frankly a delight to read about. The story is told from a number of different POVs including those of Mirror and John Loveheart which gives us a different perspective of the overall story. Bee also has a fantastic imagination especially when it comes to naming her characters. At the start it seemed like it was going to be a very quick read but due to the plot, the colourful characters and the different environment in which the story is staged I found I had to give myself some more time to read it. I didn't want to miss any of Bee's crazy and compelling story. This is an excellent debut and I look forward to reading more from this author. If you are a fan of the strange and unusual you won't want to miss out.

Review: Binary by Stephanie Saulter


Binary
Author:  Stephanie Saulter
Series:  ®EVOLUTION 2
Publisher:  Jo Fletcher Books, May 5, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
List Price:  $22.99  (print)
ISBN:  9781623654658 (print)
Review Copy:  Reviewer's Own

Review: Binary by Stephanie Saulter
Zavcka Klist has reinvented herself: no longer the ruthless gemtech enforcer determined to keep the gems they created enslaved, she's now all about transparency and sharing the fruits of Bel'Natur's research to help gems and norms alike.

Neither Aryel Morningstar nor Dr. Eli Walker are convinced that Klist or Bel'Natur can have changed so dramatically, but the gems have problems that only a gemtech can solve. In exchange for their help, digital savant Herran agrees to work on Klist's latest project: reviving the science that drove mankind to the brink of extinction.

Then confiscated genestock disappears from a secure government facility, and the more DI Varsi investigates, the closer she comes to the dark heart of Bel'Natur and what Zavcka Klist is really after-not to mention the secrets of Aryel Morningstar's own past...


Melanie's Thoughts

Binary, the second book of the ®EVOLUTION series by Stephanie Saulter, starts several years after book 1 with the norms and the gems living together in more harmony and the gemtechs a mere shadow of their former selves. Everything seems too happy until some gemstock is stolen from a super secure government building and DI Sharon Varsi, a norm now married to gem, is sent to investigate. While the investigation unfolds the savant Herran is asked to work for the former baddy Zavcka Klist. What seems like two very separate plots combined with secrets from Ayrel Morningstar's past all culminate in one fantastic read.

I reviewed Gemsigns back in May 2014 and it later became one of my favourite books of the 2014. I was not disappointed with Binary (with the added bonus that in the UK it was released much earlier). Saulter introduced us to very few new characters but likewise did not bring back that many of the main characters from Binary. This really worked as all the sub-plots revolved around the beautiful and wise Gem leader Ayrel Morningstar.  We get to see a glimpse into her past through a series of flashbacks and see how her past has shaped his future self as she faces off with the former gemtech kingpin Zavcka Klist.

I was a bit dubious that I was going to enjoy this book as much as I liked Gemsigns but Saulter did it. She managed to weave a story that flitted from the past to present with ease and drew the reader in so deeply that it was almost impossible to put this book down. While I missed some of the characters I had grown to love in the previous book I was just as happy to spend time getting to know new ones. The book still focused on Aryl Morningstar who is a compelling protagonist and the flashbacks make her even more so. Kavcka was equally interesting and nothing is better than a baddy who isn't overtly sinister. Saulter writes truly believable science fiction and I almost feel smarter from having read it. I can hardly wait to find out what happens next.

Review: Hunted Warrior by Lindsey Piper


Hunted Warrior
Author:  Lindsey Piper
Series:  The Dragon Kings 3
Publisher:  Pocket Books,  April 28, 2015
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
List Price:  $7.99  (print)
ISBN:  9781451695939 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Hunted Warrior by Lindsey Piper
Demonic gladiators, ruthless mafia villains, and a race on the brink of distinction: What will become of them? One proud leader wields his power to unlock dark mysteries in the third book in this fierce, sensual new paranormal romance series.

When the head of the Five Clans of the Dragon Kings wants something, he gets it. Raised among the most privileged of his dying race, Malnefoley conceals a devastating tragedy from his youth. Now, many call him the Usurper because of his unconventional rise to power. His influence is waning while the Dragon Kings must solve the puzzle of their slow extinction. So when a particularly important captive escapes his compound in the Greek mountains, Malnefoley leaves nothing to chance. She is his prisoner to retrieve.

The woman is known as the Pet, a former associate of a sadistic doctor from the Asters, a human crime cartel. Her loyalties cannot be trusted, even when she claims to hold the secret to conception—an invaluable secret for a race unable to procreate. Neither can her unique gift from the Great Dragon be believed. She’s a soothsayer, able to see glimpses of the future. Her quest is to find and save a Cage warrior on the verge of her first match—a young woman whose destiny is bound to a timeless prophecy.

Malnefoley has no respect for the ancient superstitions that brought about his childhood trauma. His only goal is to return the Pet to his compound and use her knowledge for the betterment of their people. Yet her restless energy and raw sensuality are as intriguing as her predictions about the rise of the Great Dragon. He dares not trust the crafty fugitive’s loyalties, but as their treacherous chase turns passionate, can he even trust himself?


Melanie's Thoughts

Hunted Warrior starts approximately six months after the end of book 1 Caged Warrior with the destruction of the fighting cages and the Aster family lab. Mal aka The Giva has been keeping Aster's pet Dragon King, the aptly named Pet, prisoner until she gives up Aster's secret cure to the Dragons King's infertility. Pet however, has a few secrets of her own. She escapes Mal's custody and starts her search for some ancient weapons that will help a young cage warrior fulfill the destiny that Pet saw when the warrior was still in the womb. There is only one problem and that is in the form of a tall, blond, Adonis-like Dragon King by the name of Malnefoley. He doesn't trust Pet and doesn't believe in her visions or her belief in the original dragon. He is, however, determined to find out all that she knows from her time in the Aster's labs in order to save his race. On a journey that takes them from Greece to Italy to London Mal soon discovers that Pet isn't quite who he believed her to be. Drawn to one another the former slave and the leader of all Dragon Kings are on a perilous journey to fulfill a prophecy.

It's almost as if Piper has read my reviews of the prior books in the series and took my comments into account when writing Hunted Warrior. I wasn't happy with the brutality of Caged Warrior where Nan was almost raped and the romance was more violent than romantic. In Blood Warrior I felt there was a lot of romance but very little background about the Dragon King race. Now in Hunted Warrior there is a much better balance between romance, plot and background. This is PNR so obviously there is a lot of romance and steaminess between Pet (who he later names Ayva) and Mal but through both characters Piper explains more about the origin and the role of The Giva along with some of the history of the different families within the Dragon King race. Pet gives the reader a different perspective on the history of the Dragon Kings through her visions and with her relationship with Mal which I thought was effective.

I feel that Piper put more effort into these characters. Pet/Ayva had a tragic upbringing yet she sticks up for herself and can hold her own. I didn't immediately warm to Mal and thought he was a tad stuck up but I am sure this is what you were supposed to think of him. He did start to grow on me towards the end but only just. I had high hopes for a bit more of a slow burn romance as the hot and steamy hadn't started a third of the way in. This wasn't meant to be and it wasn't too long before Mal and Avya are getting horizontal almost everywhere including an Italian crypt! That sounded uncomfortable and lacking in the R in PNR.

I don't think it is necessary to read the first two books of the series to enjoy this one. There is enough re-capping of previous events to understand what is happening. Overall, Hunted Warrior is a more balanced book and therefore, a more enjoyable read. There is something for everyone in this book - romance, action and even a dragon!





Previously

Silent Warrior
Dragon Kings ePrequel
Pocket Star, April 22, 2013
eBook, 80 pages

Review: Hunted Warrior by Lindsey Piper
An exciting, emotionally charged prequel to the Dragon Kings trilogy featuring warriors fighting for their lives in violent cage matches to guarantee their clans’ survival—available exclusively as an eBook!

A silent woman ashamed of her criminal background becomes a Cage warrior to seek redemption. An unrepentant fortune hunter will do anything to escape his mounting debts. Although rivals on the streets of Hong Kong, they find common ground when seeking their clan’s stolen idol, but for vastly different reasons. Neither one suspects that love will begin when he becomes the first man in five years to hear her speak.



Caged Warrior
The Dragon Kings 1
Pocket Books, June 25, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Review: Hunted Warrior by Lindsey Piper
The first installment in this fierce and sensual new paranormal romance series features demonic gladiators, ruthless mafia villains, and a proud race on the brink of extinction.

Ten years ago, Audrey MacLaren chose to marry her human lover, making her an exile from the Dragon Kings, an ancient race of demons once worshiped as earthly gods. Audrey and her husband managed to conceive, and their son is the first natural-born Dragon King in a generation—which makes him irresistible to the sadistic scientist whose mafia-funded technology allows demon procreation. In the year since her husband was murdered, Audrey and her little boy have endured hideous experiments.

Shackled with a collar and bound for life, Leto Garnis is a Cage warrior. Only through combat can Dragon Kings earn the privilege of conceiving children. Leto uses his superhuman speed and reflexes to secure the right for his two sisters to start families. After torture reveals Audrey’s astonishing pyrokenesis, she is sent to fight in the Cages. If she survives a year, she will be reunited with her son. Leto is charged with her training. Initially, he has no sympathy for her plight. But if natural conception is possible, what has he been fighting for? As enemies, sparring partners, lovers, and eventual allies, Leto and Audrey learn that in a violent underground world, love is the only prize worth winning.



Blood Warrior
The Dragon Kings 2
Pocket Books, July 30, 2013
Mass Market Paperback, 400 pages

Review: Hunted Warrior by Lindsey Piper
The Dragon Kings, an ancient race of demons, were once worshipped as earthly gods. Centuries later and facing extinction, their survival is challenged when a madman renews his clan’s tradition of ritualized murder.

For decades, Tallis of Pendray has been visited in dreams by a woman who tempts him to fulfill a sacred prophecy. He devotes his life to the cause, until her violent demands destroy his family. Now he wants revenge.

To her devoted followers, Kavya of Indranan is a peaceful savior. But believing Kavya responsible for his deadly dreams, Tallis kidnaps her on the eve of a vital truce within her warring clan. During the ensuing chaos, her bloodthirsty brother attempts to kill her, certain the sacrifice will transform him into a dangerously powerful telepath.

Tallis safeguards Kavya—who shares little but a name in common with his avowed enemy. Their impassioned flight leads them to the Scottish Highlands, where Tallis is held liable for his crimes. He’ll do what he must to protect Kavya and the iconic message of harmony that could ensure the survival of the Dragon Kings . . . as much as her love could heal his jaded heart.

Interview with Andrea Phillips and review of Revision - April 28, 2015


Please welcome Andrea Phillips to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Revision will be published on May 5th by Fireside Fiction.



Interview with Andrea Phillips and review of Revision - April 28, 2015




TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Andrea:  Hello, and thank you for having me! I've been writing since at least the third grade — back then it was stories about being kidnapped by an alien civilization. By eighth grade I wrote a ton of what I know realize was the worst kind of self-insertion fanfic for ElfQuest. I'm a lucky one who always had supportive family and teachers telling me, "Andrea, when you grow up, you should be a writer."



TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Andrea:  When I wrote Revision, I was a pantser. Basically I wrote interesting scenes and chapters as they came to me, and then tried to put them into something like a causation order. Frankly all the worst problems in the book are a result of this. There are some structural hiccups I couldn't smooth out entirely; reviewers have said the first couple of chapters are a leeeetle too slow, and they're 100% right — because I wound up with four chapters that all wanted to go third for pacing!

Since then I've done more writing from a detailed outline, and I love it. It's faster for me, and comforting to be certain where it's all headed. I'm not sure I'll ever go back!



TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Andrea:  The single most challenging thing is just… doing the work at all. Putting the hours in, day in and day out, no matter how I feel or what else I have going on. Isn't that the hardest part for everyone?!



TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Andrea:  My #1 literary influence is probably Naomi Alderman, because she's a dear friend and we've spent so much time talking about the mechanics of writing over the years. If you happen to have the opportunity to befriend a highly acclaimed literary author and talk about writing over the course of years, I recommend it; your writing cannot fail to improve.

The whole world influences me and how I approach writing. Elizabeth Bear and Jennifer Crusie write about writing on their blogs, and I learn from them constantly. I read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass many years ago and finally understood pacing and tension for the first time.

And then there's the stuff you learn from by way of example: Sean Stewart, Tim Powers, Roger Zelazny for showing me how magic can be hidden in the now, and not just long-ago and far-away. Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley for showing me that you can write SF/F about women and women's concerns. Not just literature, either — the game Ultima IV showed me what moral ambiguity is and how to use it, for example. The whole world is constantly teaching you how to be a better writer, the trick is learning how to see it.



TQ:  Describe Revision in 140 characters or less.

Andrea:  Revision is about a wiki where your edits come true. Also snark, startup culture, and bad relationships.



TQ:  Tell us something about Revision that is not in the book description.

Andrea:  One of my goals with Revision was to write a book from a decidedly feminine point of view, that is also unquestionably science fiction. Alas some readers may be put off by the first couple of chapters because of this, because yeah, it feels like chick-lit. Not going to lie, that's a little scary, because "chick-lit" means a bunch of things that we tend to think are the exact opposite of "serious science fiction." So there's the terror that people won't take the book seriously purely because of tone.

But the truth is, it's a book I would love to read, and I can't be alone. So I'm trying to shrug off that reflexive sense of shame. And c'mon, let's be real — if I get a fraction of the readership of a Marian Keyes or Helen Fielding, I'll be selling beyond my wildest dreams.



TQ:   What inspired you to write Revision? What do you hope that readers will take away from Revision?

Andrea:  The intersection between magic and technology has fascinated me since I was a kid playing Trinity (the Infocom game), and first came across that famous Arthur C. Clarke quote: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." That comes out in my writing in lots of ways; AIs that do spellcraft, for example, or ghosts that send email.

Along those lines, I'm fascinated by the process by which technologies slowly accrete a sense of magic. We have ghost ships and ghost trains; mirrors that show the truth or take you somewhere else; phone calls from the dead; dolls that take on a life of their own. But it takes a while for a technology to reach that eerie tipping point, and some technologies never really become magical at all. Who writes about ghost ATMs, or light bulbs? Has anyone ever written about a magical blender or flush toilet? We have endless stories about books where their contents come true; so why not… a wiki instead?



TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Revision?

Andrea:  I'm not typically much of a researcher, honestly. I'm more likely to draw from the well of things I already know in the heat of writing.

There's one thing, though, I researched exhaustively — data center disaster recovery systems, building codes, water sprinklers, halon. For the most part, Verity technology in the book is what I say it is and I can wave my hands and tap-dance until it works the way I want. But for this one particular scene, if I got it completely wrong, I knew someone would be annoyed. And who wants to annoy their readers?



TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Andrea:  The easiest character was Mira herself. Which is a good thing, since the book is first person! Since I spent so much time in her head, I developed a really solid sense of what she's like and how she thinks: she has generally low expectations for herself and for the world, she's a little too self-centered, she has a bunch of principles but isn't great at living up to them. She's very human, I think.

It was much harder to write Benji, though, Mira's boyfriend. He's meant to be a bad boyfriend — patronizing and kind of douchey, but with enough heat and magnetism that you see why Mira would stay with him. It's funny, because people cling to bad relationships allllll the time in real life, but in fiction you have to work hard to make a character's terrible life choices seem plausible.



TQ:  Which question about Revision do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Andrea:

Q: Wait, your book has a content note? What's that all about?

A: You know how some people don't want to read a book if it has a pet die in it, that kind of thing? No animals are hurt in Revision, but there are some things that happen in the book that might be upsetting to some readers, and the publisher and I thought it would be kind to provide some sort of warning. We felt it was the right thing to do, and so we did it!



TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Revision.

Andrea:  In terms of sheer lyricism, I love this one the most:

I found myself craving the earthy flavor of truthful words.



TQ:  What's next?

Andrea:  Right now I'm writing a YA novel about the Luckiest Girl in the World (literally), which has a mythology involving luck-eating magicians, the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles, and attempted human sacrifice. If things go according to plan I should be done writing it this summer, and then… I'll try to sell it, I suppose!

After that I have an experimental story I want to do called Attachment Study. It'll be told in emails and text messages to the reader in real time. One of the characters will fall in love with the reader over the course of the story. Speaking as an artist, that's a very interesting emotional dynamic, and you can only really explore it in a work that feels interactive.



TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Andrea:  Thank you so much for having me! Eeee! This has been a delight.





Revision
Author:  Andrea Phillips
Publisher:  Fireside Fiction Company, May 5, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 230 pages
List Price:   $14.99 (print);  $6.99 (digital)
ISBN:  9780986104015 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Interview with Andrea Phillips and review of Revision - April 28, 2015
Mira is a trust fund baby playing at making it on her own as a Brooklyn barista. When Benji, her tech startup boyfriend, dumps her out of the blue, she decides a little revenge vandalism is in order. Mira updates his entry on Verity, Benji’s Wikipedia-style news aggregator, to say the two have become engaged. Hours later, he shows up at her place with an engagement ring. Chalk it up to coincidence, right?

Soon after, Benji’s long-vanished co-founder Chandra shows up asking for Mira’s help. She claims Verity can nudge unlikely events into really happening — even change someone’s mind. And Chandra insists that Verity — and Mira’s newly minted fiance — can’t be trusted.

Amazon print edition, Barnes and Noble ebook, and iTunes ebook will be available May 5th


Melanie's Review

Mira does what every heart broken girl does when her boyfriend says the fateful words 'its over'. She cries her eyes out, looks in the freezer for the largest tub of ice cream available, drinks too much and then hits social media with a declaration of the scoundrel's undying love and imminent engagement. No one is more surprised than Mira when the very recently ex-Ben turns up on her doorstep on bended knee to propose. Pure coincidence or something more sinister? Mira soon learns that Verity, the news aggregating software Ben's company has developed can turn statement into fact. Science or magic? Is it good or evil? Is Ben involved? Mira is about to find out.

Revision is Phillips' debut novel and she does an admirable job of setting the scene and further chain of events that lead Mira on her journey to discover the truth. The plot is punchy and the dialogue is witty, especially Mira's inner dialogue. Phillips carefully builds the plot and leaves the reader so many breadcrumbs that its not difficult to figure out what the Verity software is capable of and what Ben's role in it really is. It is therefore, quite surprising that Mira seems almost the last to know or should I say, last to believe the truth that is practically slapping her in the face. When Chandra, the former Verity employee that everyone thinks is dead shows up and tries to convince Mira that all is not as it seems she is still reluctant to believe. After a near fatal car accident of a dear friend and the death of a loathed one Mira is forced to face the facts of what Verity can do and what Ben is capable of.

As much as I enjoyed Revision and thought that Phillips had created an interesting concept with Verity I didn't warm to Mira. The trust fund heiress slumming it as a barista in a boutique coffee shop did not ring true. Mira comes across as being on the world's longest pity party and apart from a demanding mother I couldn't really see why she she disliked everything about her former life. She also lacking in empathy or true remorse. There is a whole series of events from her best friend almost dying to her witnessing the death of someone she knows from childhood, yet Mira shows very little in the way of feeling. She even makes a comment about her fiance almost killing her best friend and then continues on with her self involved life. As much as I think that her dialogue was, in parts, extremely funny she just isn't the heroine for me.

I like Revision and think it could have been an 'I love it' book had I liked Mira a bit more. Well done though to Phillips' on creating a great plot for her debut novel.





About Andrea

Interview with Andrea Phillips and review of Revision - April 28, 2015
Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. She has worked on projects such as iOS fitness games Zombies, Run! and The Walk, The Maester's Path for HBO's Game of Thrones, human rights game America 2049, and the independent commercial ARG Perplex City. Her projects have variously won the Prix Jeunesse Interactivity Prize, a Broadband Digital award, a Canadian Screen Award, a BIMA, the Origins Vanguard Innovation Award, and others. Her book A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling is used to teach digital storytelling at universities around the world.

Her independent work includes the Kickstarted serial The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart and The McKinnon Account, a short story that unfolds in your email inbox. Her debut novel Revision is out on May 5from Fireside Fiction Co. and her short fiction has been published in Escape Pod and the Jews vs. Aliens anthology.

You can find Andrea on Twitter at @andrhia. I mean, if you like that sort of thing.

Review: The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris


The Diamond Conspiracy
Author:  Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Series:  The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences 4
Publisher:  Ace, March 31, 2015
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 368 pages
List Price:  $7.99  (print)
ISBN:  9780425267325 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
For years, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has enjoyed the favor of Her Majesty the Queen. But even the oldest loyalties can turn in a moment…

Having narrowly escaped the electrifying machinations of Thomas Edison, Books and Braun are looking forward to a relaxing and possibly romantic voyage home. But when Braun’s emergency signal goes off, all thoughts of recreation vanish. Braun’s street-wise team of child informants, the Ministry Seven, is in grave peril, and Books and Braun must return to England immediately.

But when the intrepid agents finally arrive in London, the situation is even more dire than they imagined. The Ministry has been disavowed, and the Department of Imperial Inconveniences has been called in to decommission its agents in a most deadly fashion. The plan reeks of the Maestro’s dastardly scheming. Only, this time, he has a dangerous new ally—a duplicitous doctor whose pernicious poisons have infected the highest levels of society, reaching even the Queen herself…


Melanie's Thoughts

Book four of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series The Diamond Conspiracy starts not long after my favourite heroes escape certain death in Dawns Early Light. For those of you who have been following the series will remember that the two agents had come to a 'romantic understanding' in book 3 and this instalment starts with Books and Braun getting to know each other a bit more intimately. However, it’s all bad news back in London. Braun's band of street urchins, The Ministry of Seven are about to come very close to their last ever mission. In the midst of a normal snatch 'n' grab one of the seven is captured by an evil doctor. It's not long before Books and Braun are summoned back to London, determined to find the missing child. They however, discover something far more fiendishly evil is in play with the Ministry in ruins, it’s agents on the run from the Department of Imperial Inconveniences and The Maestro about to take the entire empire on behalf the Queen. It’s all hands on deck to save the Ministry and themselves from whatever nefarious plans The Maestro has up his sleeve.

Everything was turned on its head in The Diamond Conspiracy with the Ministry agents being hunted down by the Department of Imperial Inconveniences. It made for a rather exciting twist in the story and introduces or re-introduces us to more of the Ministry's agents. The writing duo of Ballantine and Morris felt the need to emphasize the horror of what was happening to the agents by describing the horrific murder of one of my favourite Ministry agents from the Ministry Protocols short stories not once, but twice.  I enjoyed the return of awesome Aussie, agent Bruce Campbell even though I wasn't that fond of him in the previous books. I think I liked him so much more because he was almost handed his butt on more than one occasion by one of the Department's more dedicated female agents, Beatrice Muldoon. The chapters involving Ministry's female enemies were some of my favourites. Beatrice was an excellent adversary but she didn't hold a candle to Sophia Del Morte. Sophia found that the Maestro and Dr. Hyde had gone one step too far in their evil plans so in order to save her own very attractive but evil bacon she takes the most unpredictable course of action.  To tell more would be too spoilery!

The Diamond Conspiracy could have just as easily been called 'the big reveals'. Ballantine and Morris serve up a plethora of uncovered secrets. Books' learns more about his father when he returns to his childhood home. What he discovers is far worse than he ever imagined. I wasn't totally surprised but thought there were a few good twists in store for my favourite character.  One of the biggest reveals was the  mystery surrounding Dr. Sound and the 'the Restricted Area' that had me silently shouting 'nnnoooooooooooooooo'. I felt let down that Ballantine and Morris decided to use other people, both real and fictional, as plot points.

I absolutely love this series. I love the characters (especially Books), I love the setting, the steampunkiness and the secrets and intrigue are second to none. Why is it in book number 4 where everything is ripe for maximum enjoyment that I have to say....and I can barely type it ...that I was disappointed? I felt let down by the crossover of other characters. Ballantine and Morris are so imaginative, not just in this series but in all their others and I think this is why I was so disappointed. I will say that despite my disappointment this is still a good book, a fantastic series and check out the cracking cover. Love it! I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on any of the adventures of Books and Braun so if you haven't indulged I suggest you start at the beginning with Phoenix Rising.

Review: The Conquering Dark by Clay Griffith and Susan GriffithReview: The Undying Legion by Clay Griffith and Susan GriffithReview: The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott WilbanksReview: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha PulleyReview: The Shadow Revolution by Clay Griffith and Susan GriffithReview: The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath by Ishbelle BeeReview: Binary by Stephanie SaulterReview: Hunted Warrior by Lindsey PiperInterview with Andrea Phillips and review of Revision - April 28, 2015Review: The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

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