Donners of the Dead by Karina Halle

Donners of the DeadDonners of the Dead by Karina Halle
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

So there’s some…

Chills gripped my chest with an iron fist the moment Isaac turned his head and stared down at me. Half of his face was gone, his eyeball blasted into his face leaving a dark red and black hole of bone, brain and blood.

and a bit of…

We were a tribe of two but a tribe all the same. Two broken people looking for their place in the world and finding each other.

Woah. That was one hell of a sexy, creepy rollercoaster. If Karina Halle set out to have us sleeping with the lights on with this latest addition to her impressive works, then she can consider it mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned. I hope you’re not too hung up on the concept of genre because Ms Halle gives traditional genre boundaries the middle finger with this… historical zombie horror western romance. Somehow, she manages to bring sexy cowboys and flesh-eating monsters to the table at the same time and make it work. I don’t know how she does it, but I couldn’t put this book down.

There was a loud, solid thunk on the porch, followed by another. The house shook slightly. I kept my eyes trained on the outside but couldn’t see anything. But I could smell it. It was blood and sweat and hay and horse and something unfathomable. A severe chill threaded down my back.

The dark, creepy, foreboding tone of this novel is set from the very start and it only gets scarier as the story wears on. It’s an historical horror re-imagining of the true story about the Donner Party – a group of American pioneers who in 1846-7 became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. I love love love it when a fictional story weaves in elements of truth – it makes the paranormal/fantasy aspects seem even more real and believable. And the author certainly knows how to use language to create a sense of impending tragedy:
Autumn was at our doorstep and winter was lurking in the darkness behind it.

Then there’s that whole steamy romance that is happening alongside the horror.

He’s a broody cowboy and she’s half-native american. He’s seen the world and she’s spent her entire life in a small town, working for her uncle. An expedition into the mountains forces the unlikely pair together and they soon find out just how much their survival depends on each other. What I really love about Halle’s characters is how they’re all often just a tiny bit nasty at times. They’re all flawed, all troublemakers and rebels. No Mary Sues or whatever you want to call them. They’re fleshed out and make mistakes and say the wrong things sometimes… but they’re still likable. I think it’s really great when an author can do that. When they can take people who you maybe shouldn’t like and convince you to be on their side. It’s one of the main reasons I loved Sins & Needles, it’s one of the main reasons I loved this, and it’s also the main reason I will continue to be excited every time I see Halle has an upcoming book release.

One final haunting piece of truth:

Men are the real monsters here. They often are.

Thank you to the guys at Rock Star PR for the ARC! Please note that all quotes are taken from the advance review copy I received and may differ from the final version.

The Star Thief by Jamie Grey

The Star Thief (Star Thief Chronicles, #1)The Star Thief by Jamie Grey
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

Welcome to my first ever five teacup review for a New Adult book.

“If nothing else, humanity excelled at war.”

I’ve been considering abandoning this whole silly “NA experiment” thing a bunch of times and getting back to books I’m more likely to have a good chance of enjoying. But I decided to have one last browse through some of the recently released New Adult; I moved my search to further down the pile, past all the popular “this is the next 50 Shades” titles and to the ones with fewer ratings. That’s where I discovered this book. A book that promised to be all kinds of wild and crazy scifi-ness combined with a steamy romance. I wasn’t really expecting much. But damn, not only did this book deliver the promised goods, it hooked me from the start and gave me an exciting combination of everything I love: spunky heroine, great writing, an imaginative world, humour and, yes, sexual tension so thick you could cut it with a knife.

In this novel, the world we all know is the “old world” and this futuristic tale plants us right in the middle of space. And conflict. Don’t be fooled by what you would usually expect from the New Adult “genre”, this is very much a hardcore, detailed and sophisticated piece of science fiction. It is as much a story about war, slavery and military operations as it is a sexy romance. But both aspects of the book complement each other and make for an exciting pageturner. The author doesn’t neglect her world-building, space politics or action scenes. She has written one of those creatures that I love above all others: a genre-defying beast that takes all the best elements of my favourite genres and mixes them together to create something even better.

Then there’s the chemistry between Renna and Finn. She knew him as Hunter a long time ago and she always thought he’d died until fate throws them together again for the most important mission of their lives. Their history hangs in the air between them making the verbal sparring even more entertaining and hot. God, I love Renna. Finn’s a bit of a jerk at first (we learn the reason later) but she gives as good as she gets:

Renna lowered her voice to match his tone. “I don’t mind you on top, darling. It’s when you start pushing me around that we’ll have a problem.” She smiled at him coldly. “So I’ll do my job, don’t you worry. Just don’t expect me to play by your rules. You know I was never very good at following orders.”

I love how bitingly sarcastic, funny and totally unapologetic she is. She is exactly the kind of heroine I love. This isn’t supposed to be a humour book but there are a number of great lines scattered throughout – which I won’t quote because you should discover them yourself – and I found myself laughing out loud a number of times. It was also very refreshing to get a female MC in New Adult who wasn’t obsessed with being virginal and shaming other women for being “slutty”. Renna is very comfortable with her sexuality and with other women. I liked this quote:

The woman stood up straighter and puffed out her chest. She did have a nice rack. Renna would have puffed them out, too.

The book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger but I still recommend you go pick this up now. I honestly liked how everything was handled – it was well-written with lots of plot but provided me with the kind of romance I could happily stick around for. There was a realistic progression with all the relationships in the story and I particularly liked how the dislike and suspicion between Renna and her other crew mates blossomed into mutual trust and respect over time. Very, very impressive and entertaining. And I’m sure all your inner nerds will perk up at the science-y language, the artificial intelligence and the cybernetic implants. You know I’m right:)

Landry Park by Bethany Hagen

Landry Park (Landry Park, #1)Landry Park by Bethany Hagen
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

What a pleasant surprise! I didn’t realise I’d added Landry Park to my mental list entitled “just another dystopia” until it managed to completely prove me wrong. My first thought after finishing this book is that it’s probably more suited to fans of historical fiction than the typical dystopia. The style of writing, the plot, the characters and the setting all feel like something straight out of an historical novel. If you ask me, it worked very well.

The story starts as I might have expected. There’s a female protagonist, it’s set in a future United States (no longer so united), something has happened to change the social order, there’s a hot guy, there’s a bitchy girl… you know how this one goes, right? Because you’ve seen all this a million times, yes? Well, apparently not. As the story unravels, more questions arise and characters receive greater development. The world-building is spread over the novel but is refreshingly intricate and fascinating. The story is full of surprises, both in the main plot line and in the cast of characters. And sometimes who can resist a bit of the backstabbing, rivalry and family scandals found beneath the riches and pretty ballgowns of the upper classes?

This “dystopia” (or perhaps “utopia”, depending on your point of view) is all about class. It’s about wealth, knowledge, power and the relationship between the three. The setting is the beautiful Landry estate in a future United States which is ruled by the gentry. The main character – Madeline Landry – has lived in luxury her whole life and has long known her destiny to be the next ruler of the Landry estate. But Madeline has always been a bit feisty and rebellious. She isn’t sure she’s ready to walk down the path her family has laid out for her. As she begins to discover the truth behind the society in which she lives, she finds herself obligated to challenge the poor treatment of the Rootless (the lowest class in society). But her good intentions prove to be more dangerous than she could have imagined and she starts to unearth secrets that have been hidden for generations.

What I really liked most of all was the way each character was handled. Hagen introduces us to individuals who we think we know at first, we think we can slot them into neat categories of heroine, love interest and mean girl. But each one is more than that. I love it when YA authors don’t neglect complex character development and remember that people are multilayered. Each character surprised me in Landry Park and I especially loved the friendship that grew between Madeline and Cara when it had first seemed as if they were typical teen girl rivals.

Beautifully written, occasionally dark and surprisingly addictive… I hate the term “an author to watch” but I know I’ll be keeping an eye out for more books by Ms Hagen.

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor's BladesThe Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

Stayed up till 2:45 reading this bad boi.

I’m not sorry.

But I do have a lot of packing I have to do since I blew everything off to read all day yesterday. Not sorry about that either, lol.

Super duper quick though, this book was really fabulous. Great prose (toed the purple line once in a while, and it’s like the author caught that and reeled it back in – loved that), outstanding characters, completely engrossing storyline, and TOTALLY AWESOME world. I am on the edge of my seat waiting to see what comes next!! Those twists and turns and that last reveal, GAH! This is a debut book, but you’d never know it by the skill in which the story is told, and I for one will be on the lookout to see what other gems Brian Staveley brings to this genre.

My only – very minor – complaints: there are three pov’s here, but the two brothers’ dominated so much that I would be slightly annoyed at being pulled from their tense moments, only to be annoyed at leaving Adare’s story so quickly. This complaint is more like a compliment since it’s just me wanting moar, but there it is just the same.

People would vacillate between referring to Ha Lin that way, or just Lin, and it caught my eye every single time. This is a personal thing I’m sure, but whatever, reading is personal.

I’m always in awe when I read a high fantasy story (granted, I haven’t read that many), but what must it be like to construct such an immense story! I mean, I don’t think that my typical fare of stories are easy to write per se, I know I’d never be able to, but then I read something like this, and my mind is just blown by the sheer amount of work and imagination involved. Hats off to a brilliant new addition to a brilliant genre!