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Book Review: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

heroine-complex-by-sarah-kuhnHeroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Published: July 5th 2016 by DAW
Format: Paper Book
Length: 378 pages
Genre: Adult, Urban Fantasy, Superheroes, Comical, Paranormal, Romance
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right… or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

Adult books but not erotica. Supposed to be ages 18 and over but I’ve known mature teens to be fine with adult books. Adult books have mature situations, maybe non-graphic sex, and are not meant for young kids.

If you want something fun to read, then Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn is right up your alley. This book is entertaining and packed full of action. The characters kick-ass and are incredibly diverse. It was a pleasure to see characters that break out of the mold, especially for superheroines. These girls were not secondary characters or love interests to the main male character. I loved the focus on female relationships, either between sisters or best friends. I did have a bit of a problem with Aveda/Annie’s behavior through the first and middle sections of the book. Her attitude made me want to reach in and slap her. Thankfully, she progresses and realizes how she is treating Evie and her other friends is unacceptable. I also adored Evie. Everything from her quirkiness to her fire power made me love her. She was an extremely likable character.

Heroine Complex can also be a little cartoonish and a tad drawn out. It felt like a Saturday morning cartoon, full of color and silly but a little jarring to read. Especially since this is an adult book, not YA. This is accomplished by dropping a fair amount of sexual situations into the plot and some nice cursing. Neither which I had a problem with. If anything, it made the characters more believable. It was just out of place with the tone of the writing. The ending also felt drawn out. Kind of like a ridiculous comic book situation that you have to roll your eyes at. It’s campy and outlandish but so much fun. As long as you don’t take the book too seriously and are looking for something comical, Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn is a good pick.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender


Young Adult Book Review

Book Review: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie AlenderThe Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender
Published: August 25th 2015 by Point
Format: Paper Book
Length: 329 pages
Genre: Paranormal, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

In this asylum, your mind plays tricks on you all the time…

Delia’s new house isn’t just a house. Long ago, it was the Piven Institute for the Care and Correction of Troubled Females—an insane asylum nicknamed “Hysteria Hall.” However, many of the inmates were not insane, just defiant and strong willed. Kind of like Delia herself.

But the house still wants to keep “troubled” girls locked away. So, in the most horrifying way, Delia gets trapped.

And that’s when she learns that the house is also haunted.

Ghost girls wander the halls in their old-fashioned nightgowns. A handsome ghost boy named Theo roams the grounds. Delia finds that all the spirits are unsettled and full of dark secrets. The house, as well, harbors shocking truths within its walls—truths that only Delia can uncover, and that may set her free.

But she’ll need to act quickly, before the house’s power overtakes everything she loves.

From master of suspense Katie Alender comes a riveting tale of twisted memories and betrayals, and the meaning of madness.

It’s unusual for me to hand out a 5 star rating this early in the year. I waffled about perhaps giving this a 4 star rating but the single, tiny problem I have with the book is hardly worth dropping the rating. I won a copy of The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender during a Thanksgiving giveaway. It took a while to arrive and then I put it aside for other books. I wish I hadn’t. I ended up loving it completely. I’ve always toyed with the idea of a ghost story told from the view point of the ghost and I guess Alender beat me to the punch.

I’ve read through some other reviews of The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall and the main complaint I see is that is wasn’t spooky or scary enough. While I did find this to be true, it didn’t detract from the book for me. I love the paranormal. Seeing a ghost story from the other end was more than entertaining enough for me, even without a high creep factor. I found it fascinating reading about Delia’s experiences as a newly made ghost. Some might find this part slow or uninteresting as Delia learns the rules of her new existence, like walking through walls and picking things up, but I loved it. I found the details of the other occupants of Hysteria Hall incredible and while I could see how things would end, it made sense and felt right. It was everything I wanted out of a ghost story.

I loved the characters. All the ghosts stuck in the hall were fascinating and I felt like Delia and her family were real and solid. (I made a pun!) People who enjoy family angst in their books will like this. Those who are interested in unconventional ghost stories will like this. Those looking for a new take on ghost stories will like this. This isn’t a horror book, even with the ghostly theme. There aren’t enough chills and thrills for that. The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender is, however, thoroughly entertaining. My single, tiny problem with it is the so-called romance angle. Theo is stuck outside the hall and he and Delia spend one day together but that is apparently enough for him to kiss her and profess his feelings before the ending. It just felt unnecessary and sort of tacked on there because, obviously, it’s not a proper young adult book without some teenage romance. (eye roll) That was my only gripe.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness


Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick NessThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Published: October 6th 2015 by HarperTeen
Format: Paper Book
Length: 317 pages
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Romance, GLBT, Urban Fantasy
Rating: 2.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

I seem to be stuck in a string of books where I have great expectations but end up with lackluster results. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness has an awesome premise. What are the ordinary kids, the kids who aren’t ‘The Chosen One’, doing during those end-of-the-world adventures? It’s kind of like checking up on the rest of Sunnydale High School while Buffy and her crew were off stopping the hell-mouth from opening. They are just trying to pass math and not get eaten by a vampire. It focuses on the average, rather boring kids on the sidelines. These are the kids not in the spotlight but having to deal with the consequences of the big throw-down between the heroes and whatever evil that they are fighting this time. The problem with this is you end up with a story that is average and rather boring.

It is a clever and fascinating concept but the execution falls flat for me. For one thing, even if they are the average kids that the big, epic story is not happening to, there should still be a story. There is no plot in this. Just a meandering slice-of-life narrative that is pretty bland. Don’t get me wrong; I feel for the characters. The only saving grace of The Rest of Us Just Live Here is its characters. It’s painful to read about Mike’s OCD and hate for himself. That takes skill to write and I found myself most invested in the emotions of the characters. The cast is a diverse set of characters and they are the most interesting thing about this book. Too bad nothing interesting is done with them. I guess that may be the point; The Rest of Us Just Live Here is about the uninteresting lives that ordinary people live, as messed up as they are. But it doesn’t make for a very entertaining book.

I’m probably not the right person for a book like this. I like my books a bit more thrilling. Contemporary novels aren’t really my favorite but I was hoping for something special from this concept. I would have been happier with the clichéd and incredible campy book we see in the blurbs at the beginning of each chapter. The chapter pages was where Ness gave us an update on where the epic showdown between good and evil was progressing so we’d know where the events of our ordinary joes ran parallel. Like narrowly missing the gym being blown up during prom and then not so narrowly missing the whole high school being blown up during graduation. Epic showdowns between good and evil are very hard on schools.

My point is, that you have to enjoy character driven stories to enjoy The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. I don’t. These characters are some of the best I’ve ever seen written. They are having a tough time with life, evil trying to take over the world notwithstanding. They are real and true and evoke strong emotional responses in the reader with their problems and anxieties. It hurt to read Mike. It hurt to read Mel. It called to my own anxieties and messed-up-ness. I applaud Ness on his characters. It was the plot that was lacking and made for an overall unexciting novel.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty


Book Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert BeattySerafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
Published: Published July 14th 2015 by Disney•Hyperion
Format: Paper Book
Length: 299 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Historical, Mystery, Paranormal
Rating: 3.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

There was a lot of excited chatter when Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty came out this summer. Frist of all, gorgeous cover. This is one of my favorite covers from this year. Second of all, the story is set at Biltmore Estate, in North Carolina. I love that place. I’ve only visited once when I was a little kid but I wish I could go back as an adult so I could appreciate it probably. It’s a gorgeous house and land. This isn’t a complicated story and it’s fairly predictable but it is cute and fun. There are some pacing problems and a fair amount of “special snowflake syndrome” but this might not matter to a younger reader. I do have one massive problem with Serafina and the Black Cloak but I’ll save that for last.

Serafina and the Black Cloak is a mix of fantasy and mystery. Children are disappearing at the Biltmore Estate and an evil man in a black cloak is prowling the grounds. Thankfully, the evildoer is not the only one on the prowl. Serafina’s secret was obvious and I felt like I could have stopped reading in the middle and not missed a thing. I started skimming parts and for a shorter book, this is not good. If you’ve got a short book then you want to make every single part important and gripping. Serafina gets lost in the woods in the first half and that takes up more pages than it should. Then the plot is sort of meandering after that.

I found myself growing impatient. I could see where everything was going, guessed the secrets by about the halfway point, and was pretty much done by that stage. I finished reading that book in case the author wished to surprise us with something different but no such luck. There is a haunting and ominous atmosphere to the setting that I found enjoyable. The characters fill pretty standard roles and feel a little plastic, although some of Serafina’s thoughts on good and evil are well done. Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty has a charming and nostalgic feel to it from books I read as a child but falls short of being really great as an adult.

My biggest issue with this book is the beginning. Trigger Warning! I don’t know why some proofreader or editor didn’t turn to Beatty and say “You know your beginning sounds like a pedophile rape scene, right?” Because it totally does. Serafina and the Black Cloak is published by a Disney company and you can’t tell me nobody bought a clue reading that. That scene would seriously trigger a rape survivor. It even made me uncomfortable reading it. A little blond girl being dragged through a dark basement (Please, sir, we aren’t supposed to be down here!), a man with a raspy voice (I won’t hurt you, little darling.), and just everything (The man wraps his arms around the little girl and pulls her to his chest and then shudders.). I seriously can’t believe someone didn’t Nope that hard.

Thank you for reading!

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Photo Diary: Colorado, Day 1, part 1


Bad, blogger. Bad. This was supposed to be up Monday. What can I say? Procrastination is my worst bad habit.

Last year a friend and I took a trip to Colorado. We flew out of Lambert Saint Louis International Airport in Missouri early Tuesday, September 9th and then flew home from Denver International Airport early Saturday, September 13th. I must say, the Denver airport was the largest I’ve ever been in. You have to take a train – a train – to get from the main building to the terminal arms and even then you have to hoof it to your gate. That airport is freaking huge. It puts the Lambert Airport in Saint Louis to shame.

We landed in Denver around 8am, collected our bags after wandering around trying to figure out where the hell the baggage claim was (did I mention the Denver Airport was freakn’ huge?), and then caught the bus to our car rental place. I talked my travel buddy, Jamie, into springing for an upgrade on our rental car. She was going to get a compact car but I knew we’d be doing a lot of mountain driving and did not want to be sitting in a little car like that for the amount we planned to drive. We got a mid-sized SUV and were incredibly grateful that we did. It made a lot of difference in how safe we felt on those winding, high roads. Trust me, if you are traveling to mountain country for the first time, spring for a better car rental.

We headed for our first stop, Estes Park (elevation of 7,522 feet). Most of the way was highway driving but once you start climbing, you climb quick. Luckily it was sunny and beautiful on the way up and we reached Estes Park without problems. We had a tour at the infamous Stanley Hotel booked, which we were late for, but they just stuck us in the next tour. (Click on photos to see larger versions on my Flickr. Also, sorry for the freaking date stamp in the corner. They are all like that because I’m an idiot and forgot to turn it off.)

Colorado, Estes Park

The first photo of the trip, taken from the parking lot of the Stanley Hotel.

Our tour guide at the Stanley Hotel was funny, energetic, and a good story teller. We went up into the balcony section of the Concert Hall where our tour guide told us the basic story of Freelan Stanley and his wife Flora. We then went down into the empty Concert Hall and walked around. We saw the piano that Flora’s ghost supposedly plays, misplaced from its usual position in the main lodge building at that time. We returned to the main lodge building to tour the dining room, men’s lounge, and music room. Then our tour guide led us up the main stairway to the upper floors. We saw the door of Room 217, the room Stephen King stayed in where he had the inspiration for his book ‘The Shining’, but weren’t able to go in.

Stanely Hotel 5

Stanley Hotel 6

The front of the main lodge building.

We walked around the hallways while our tour guide told the story of ghost children heard playing at night and of a housekeeper who reportedly still continues her duties despite having died years before. I could have sworn I took at least one picture of the hallway while we were up on the fourth floor but for the life of me I can’t find it. It’s not on my camera either, even though I haven’t deleted any of the photos. Ugh! I wish I had taken more photos while we were on the upper floors but I was too busy listening to the tour guide and spaced.

We did have one slight ghostly encounter. Flora, Stanley’s wife, was said to wear rose perfume, which supposedly you are able to smell in odd places. Our tour guide had just told us this and then this floral scent overcame us as we were walking up the stairs. Someone else in our group asked “do you smell that?” and my travel buddy said she could. Jamie asked if I could too and I could but I can’t really accept it as paranormal because we were all trooping up the stairs, touching the polished wood banister that I know is probably cleaned with a scented cleaner, and then there was a cleaning cart in the hallway when we got up to the third floor. I think I sort of burst everyone’s bubble when I pointed it out. Sorry!

The tour guide then took us down to the basement and the tunnels. She told us about the story of the maintenance workers seen down there and about her own experience seeing someone out of time and place. I really enjoyed the whole tour. It was interesting, even for those who might be less enthused about the paranormal aspect and just there for the history and architecture.

We did some wondering around the lobby and the gift shop at the end before leaving for lunch. The Stanley Hotel is a beautiful place and I’m glad we went. This was one of the things that my travel buddy agreed to for my sake. I don’t think Jamie had any interest in it but there was no way I was going to Estes Park without seeing the most haunted building in Colorado!

Stanley Hotel 3

Stanley Hotel 9

A couple pictures of the main stairway in the lobby.

Stanley Hotel 2

The lobby.

Stanley Hotel 1

The Stanley Steamer car on display in the lobby.

Stanley Hotel 8

Safe on display downstairs.

Stanley Hotel 13

Plaque out on the front porch.

Stanley Hotel 4

Stanley Hotel 7

A couple of photos from the front veranda of the Stanley Hotel.

It was nice and sunny when we arrived at the Stanley Hotel but by the time was left it had started to rain. We had lunch at a KFC, of all things, and then headed over to the jeep tour. I’ll talk about that and show you the photos next week. Estes Park was an adorable little town. The main street is lined with restaurants, more interesting than KFC chicken, I promise, little shops, and boutiques. I bought a couple of post cards and a key chain from the “trading depot” and some loose leaf tea from the tea shop. (More about that later.) I plan to go back at some point. We only spent a day and a half there before going south and I wish we’d stayed longer. Estes Park was the prettiest part to the whole trip, in my opinion.

Up next week: the jeep tour and the hotel.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

vintageVintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman
Published January 5th 2008 by Lethe Press
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 204 pages / 317 KB
Genre: Paranormal, Romance, Ghost, M/M
Reading Level: Mature Teen
Goodreads | Amazon

A lonely boy walking along a highway one autumn evening meets the boy of his dreams, a boy who happens to have died decades ago and haunts the road. Awkward crushes, both bitter and sweet, lead him to face youthful dreams and childish fears. With its cast of offbeat friends, antiques, and Ouija boards, Vintage is not your typical romance but does offers readers a memorable blend of dark humor, chills and love.

I love ghost stories and paranormal fiction is one of my favorite genres. Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman is a classic ghost story with added nontraditional relationship. Our main character is never named in the book, not that I can find, so it makes my review writing a little hard. Be patient. Main character (MC) is dealing with a lot in this book, from his parents’ reaction to him being gay to a ghostly romance that’s turning out to not be all that great after all. I have to give kudos to Berman for creating a complex romance that had a completely unexpected ending. With a cast of awesome secondary characters and excellent paranormal themes, Vintage turned out to be an even better book than I was anticipating.

In paranormal fiction, characters often gain the ability to see ghosts after brushes with death. (Trigger warning: attempted suicide spoken about in past tense.) This happens to our MC, opening up an opportunity to meet the ghostly boy of his dreams. But Josh, the ghost, turns out to be a little too good to be true. I have to say, I expected our MC and Josh to somehow overcome all obstacles to be together. (How cliché.) So the path Berman selected was a thousand times better in my opinion. The complex relationships in this book were unexpected and I feel propel Vintage to a level above.

All the characters are exceptionally well-written and I am so pleased to find a book with a gay teen character so well done. My only problem is that the MC ends up starting a relationship with the younger brother of his best friend and while I know there is only two years difference between them, it still weirds me out. The end conflict resolution with Josh, the ghost, feels a bit rushed to me and a bit too neatly tied up, if you know what I mean. I would have liked to see a bit more struggle there. The portrayals of mediumistic powers and paranormal events in Vintage are fantastic and exciting. This book is definitely for older teens and adults due to drug use, sexual scenes, and a great many messed up people and their weird coping mechanisms. Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman is in turns fun, suspenseful, and exciting and I really recommend it for anybody looking for a great ghost story.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I love a good spook story. I’m not much into horror and gore, even in a book it just makes me nauseous. But I adore the paranormal genre and love ghost stories. That’s why I had to pick up Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Well, that and people have been raving about the book ever since it came out in the autumn last year. I can certainly see why! I really enjoyed this book and, for now, it is my favorite book of 2012.

Cas Lowood inherited an unusual vocation from his father: he kills the dead. Cas and his kitchen-witch mother travel the country with their spirit-sniffing cat to seek out those unruly ghosts and ghouls that trouble the living. When Cas travels to Thunder Bay, Ontario in search of a local legend said to kill any person who sets foot in the house she once lived in, he thinks it’s going to be a normal hunt. But when he ends up in the path of Anna Dressed in Blood without his mysterious and dangerous athame to protect him, Cas expects to end up dead himself. But Anna, for some reason, spares him. With his newfound friends, Cas will have to unravel the mystery of Anna Dressed in Blood and confront his past, including the death of his father.

Anna Dressed in Blood turned out to be everything people were gushing about in their reviews. It’s an awesome story and blew me away. On the surface it looks like a simple, really well-written ghost story but underneath that we have layers of events that turn this simple ghost story into something truly fantastic. I enjoyed all the characters, even the token defenseless but surprisingly necessary girl character. (Although, I have trouble taking people with ridiculous names seriously and with a name like Carmel, you might as well tattoo ‘hooker’ across her forehead because that was all I could think about when I read her name.) The characters all drive the story.

Anna Dressed in Blood has ghosts and witches and demons woven into a story about love and redemption. It’s complex and well thought-out. I was very surprised with how well the differing elements worked together in this book. The pacing is good and it never slows down. The book never drags and the reader is never bored. I enjoyed how aware Anna was, so unlike the other ghosts Cas had encountered. None of the characters annoy me and nobody suffers from ‘too stupid to live’ syndrome. It’s hard to write reviews for truly good books because I have nothing to nitpick and I’m trying not to sound like I want to marry this book and have its little book babies. (Which I sort of do.)

Anna Dressed in Blood is the best book I’ve read this year so far. Anybody looking for an exceptional paranormal story will love this book. Whenever I read a paranormal story, I always feel as if I’m reading something that is a little silly. I can’t quite believe in it. But with Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake the elements of the book are so well put together and everything just flows in a way that makes this a true treasure to read. The sequel, Girl of Nightmares, comes out on August 7th, 2012.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Published August 30th 2011 by Tor Teen
316 pages
First in a series

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