Urban Fantasy

Book Review: The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

I had the honor of attending the release party for “The Cure for Dreaming” at Powell’s a few weeks ago. You can read about it here. When I saw this book cropping up on so many of the blogs I follow, I knew I had to look deeper into it. As I read more, I realized that this book was pretty much written for me. Women’s rights? Check! Victorian Era? Got it! The setting is in Portland, it involves Gothic elements, and the supernatural crops up? Check, check, aaaand check! There is also no denying that it has a beautiful cover. It is much prettier in person with a semi-metallic tone to it. There was no doubt in my mind that I would own this book. It was great to meet Cat Winters and have it signed. This was the first of her writing I have read, and it was wonderful introduction.

The most appealing aspect is the message– Even if you feel like you have no voice, you can still make a stand. You can make a difference. You are allowed to follow your dreams and they cannot be taken from you. What a wonderful message to send to our young people who can feel marginalized by the flood of dissenting voices and differing opinions that saturate the media. Like the 1900s where this is set, we are in the midst of rapid social, economic, and technological change and there are vocal extremists on all sides of the equation. “The Cure for Dreaming” is a story where teenagers can easily relate to the feelings and emotions of Olivia and her desire to speak out and bring forth social change without a contemporary setting. The themes of social equality, bullying, and emotional abuse are also contained between the covers, making the cure for dreaming quite a deep story for its relatively short length.

What sets “The Cure for Dreaming” apart from other historical novels with similar themes is the incorporation of paranormal elements as well as imagery from Dracula. I enjoy two types of vampires. The first are the sort of wolf-like predators found in Deborah Harkness’ “All Souls Trilogy”. Noble, long lived, yet unable to escape from the predatory instincts within them. The second, and most beloved, are Bram Stoker vampires. Use elements and imagery from Dracula, or talk about Vlad Tepas and Erzebet Bathory and I am hooked. Olivia’s visions after hypnosis are laced with imagery from her favorite novel, Dracula. These elements enhance the Gothic feel of the novel and gives readers a slightly different take on a historical novel. If you are a fan of the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen, there are pieces here you will love. My only real complaint is that sometimes the language felt a bit anachronistic, but this is definitely coming from someone who really enjoys Victorian literature and Steampunk.

I recommend this to a wide audience. There are strong male and female characters. The themes will appeal to many young adults, and older adults. If you are a fan of creepy novels, or paranormal, I definitely suggest you pick this one up.

If you have read it, what did you think?

the cure for dreaming by cat winters

Book Signing – Release Party for The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

Cat Winters at Powell's Books

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the release party for Cat Winters’ new book “The Cure for Dreaming” at Powell’s Books. When the event schedule had first come out I brushed over her name, zeroing in on William Gibson (who, alas, I will not be able to see as I had originally planned). It took me a couple of weeks and a second go-over on the events page to connect the release party with the book I had been coveting on other blogs for weeks. I am glad I didn’t miss it, because it was great fun, complete with snacks, visual aids, costumes, and giveaways.  I picked up the book on Saturday and am about halfway through and enjoying it immensely.

Here are a few takeaways from the reading and the Q&A Session:

  • Cat Winters has a young adult novel, short story, and adult historical fiction novel in the works. We can expect a lot more from her!
  • She is inspired by Victorian and Gothic literature. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” plays a large role in “The Cure for Dreaming”.
  • She has a soft spot for “Wuthering Heights”.
  • “The Cure for Dreaming” was inspired by the music of Kristen Lawrence from Halloween Carols.
  • The cover illustration is a colorized version of an actual hypnosis session done in the 1800s.
  • She will probably stick with historical fiction for a while.
  • “The Cure for Dreaming” opens on Halloween because it was the day before the presidential election in 1900.
  • She spent hours researching and pouring over images for “The Cure for Dreaming”.

Now for the pictures! Please forgive the quality. It was a rainy, blustery day and I didn’t have a proper cover with me to tote my good camera from the car to the shop, so I was relying on my phone.

 

Paranormals on Parade – Five Stories About Vampires, Ghosts, and Monsters (Oh My!)

Happy Wednesday! This is Halloween week, such an exciting, dark (maybe a little too dark since daylight savings time has yet to hit), and spooky time of year. If you are staying in, sheltered away from the rain and cold wind (at least here in Portland) you are going to need something to read, and I have a few haunting suggestions for you.

1. The Bird Eater by Ania Ahlborn (3.42 Goodreads)

bird eater ania ahlborn

Goodreads Summary: Twenty years ago, the mysterious death of his aunt left Aaron Holbrook orphaned and alone. He abandoned his rural Arkansas hometown vowing never to return, until his seven-year-old son died in an accident, plunging Aaron into a nightmare of addiction and grief. Desperate to reclaim a piece of himself, he returns to the hills of his childhood, to Holbrook House, where he hopes to find peace among the memories of his youth. But solace doesn’t come easy. Someone—or something—has other plans. Like Aaron, Holbrook House is but a shell of what it once was, a target for vandals and ghost hunters who have nicknamed it “the devil’s den.” Aaron doesn’t believe in the paranormal—at least, not until a strange boy begins following him wherever he goes. Plagued by violent dreams and disturbing visions, Aaron begins to wonder if he’s losing his mind. But a festering darkness lurks at the heart of Holbrook House… a darkness that grins from within the shadows, delighting in Aaron’s sorrow, biding its time.

My Thoughts: Wonderfully creepy. There was a part of me that was never certain if what was going on was real or imagined, and a part of me that dreaded turning the page to find out.

2. Written in Red by Anne Bishop (4.36 Goodreads)

written in red anne bishop

Goodreads Summary: As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

My Thoughts: “Written in Red” has one of the most unique views on creatures of the night that I have read. It is wildly creative, and well worth the read. There are some nail biting parts, but overall if you are sensitive to scary, you should be good here.

3. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (3.74 Goodreads)

the historian elizabeth kostova

Goodreads Summary: Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.

My Thoughts: I have a morbid fascination with Vlad Tepas and the role his bloody legend played in the creation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. This story is such a wonderful and haunting tale that in some ways shows how a legacy can become a legend. I am not going to lie, this is one of my favorite books. It’s got just enough creep factor to make it a perfect Halloween read.

4. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman (3.82 Goodreads)

Anno Dracula Kim Newman

Goodreads Summary: It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. Peppered with familiar characters from Victorian history and fiction, the novel follows vampire Geneviève Dieudonné and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club as they strive to solve the mystery of the Ripper murders.

Anno Dracula is a rich and panoramic tale, combining horror, politics, mystery and romance to create a unique and compelling alternate history. Acclaimed novelist Kim Newman explores the darkest depths of a reinvented Victorian London.

My Thoughts: Yet another vampire novel that plays with the legend of Vlad Tepas. Sensing a pattern here? Vampires, Queen Victoria, and Jack the Ripper in an interesting alternate history? This story was steampunk before people even knew what steampunk was. Kim Newman has a wonderful writing style, and the best word for this story is engrossing. I could not put it down. The sequel “The Bloody Red Baron” is worth a read too, though I did not lose myself in it nearly as much as Anno Dracula.

5. Splintered by A.G. Howard (4.02 Goodreads)

splintered ag howard

Goodreads Summary: This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

My Thoughts: I could do without the burgeoning love triangle, but otherwise, this is a great read. If you really think about it, “Alice in Wonderland” is one of the most frightening tales we tell our children. Lewis Carroll’s classic has taken imagination in a darker direction for years. This is one of the best “dark” adaptations I have read. Asylums, monsters, dark and dangerous world, and so much more make it an excellent Halloween read.

Book Review: The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood

I was given a copy of this novel for free by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

First, let’s publicly announce the winners of the giveaway. Each winner will receive a copy of “The Younger Gods”

Benni from Benni’s Bookbiters

and

Olivia from Olivia’s Catastrophe

I hate pilots of new television series. They are often enjoyable, and often interesting, but I always feel like the spark that gives characters a life of their own separate from the actor is missing. I feel like I can’t truly immerse myself into the story and enjoy it until I have had the chance to get to know the characters and the world a bit better. Books usually escape this criticism, but not always. It took me three books to get into “The Dresden Files”. I was interested enough to keep reading the series, but until book three, I didn’t have that “Gotta turn this page right now and find out what happens next” feeling. I think it is going to be the same for “The Younger Gods”. There is not getting around saying it, this was a fun read. Really fun. I just feel like I need a bit more time to form a deep and lasting relationship with Michael R. Underwood’s new series. I want a little more character development and a little more world building before becoming fully vested. We are friends, but not yet BFFs.

“The Younger Gods” strength is in its protagonist. Jacob Greene is awkward and lovable. His formal way of speaking, huge heart, and general naivete about the modern world endeared me to him in a way I can’t really explain. It was as if he embodied the awkwardness many of us nerdy folks, no matter what we geek out over, feel in the face of a “normal” society. Granted, I doubt anyone reading this blog was sequestered from society and home schooled by an intelligent and frighteningly evil family of cultists, but there are very few people, especially in the Geekdom who have never felt like an outsider looking in. I could understand Jacob and his motivation as his voice carried me through the story. He grew as each page progressed. Beside him, the extremely diverse (both culturally and personality-wise) cast of characters felt a little thin, and the antagonist was a cookie cutter evil baddie. This is the first book in a series, so I have no doubt that Jacob’s friends and companions will grow into themselves and the story as time goes on.

This adventure is your traditional black and white good vs. evil romp through New York City with a surprising twist at the end. Once the story revs up, it is nonstop action until the last page. There is not a lot of time to breath in “The Younger Gods”. Think action movies and think Dresden Files (and if you have never laid hands on Jim Butcher’s “The Dresden Files”, get thee to a library!) and you will understand what I am talking about. It is one fiery, tooth and claw gnashing, sword wielding, magic slinging battle after another in a quest to save the world before time runs out. The plot’s urgency can definitely be felt in the pacing of the book. On the other side of the coin, the nonstop action may have come at the cost of character building, creating the lack of attachment I mentioned above.

Underwood is a true geek and a student of mythology. Both are clearly illustrated in his work as the cast meets up with a variety of mythical creatures from different cultural backgrounds. He is passionate. And, while I am not really interested in reading his other series Geekomancy because I prefer my urban fantasy a little less full of pop culture, I look forward to the next installment of “The Younger Gods” and other books by Michael R. Underwood. If you are a geek/nerd like me and enjoy action packed adventures specifically tailored to an urban fantasy, mythology loving (dare I say Dungeons and Dragons playing?) crowd, you probably want to give this one a try.

The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood

Book Review: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness (All Souls Trilogy 3)

Please be warned that this review contains spoilers for the first and second books in the “All Souls Trilogy”. It would be impossible to review without spoiling them, but I will try to keep it to a minimum.

It took me a while to get to this book because of my Galleys, but the time has come for my adventures with Diana and Matthew DeClaremont to end, and I am saddened by that fact. It has been such an amazing journey from Diana’s discovery of Ashmole 782 in a “Discovery of Witches”, to Diana and Matthew’s romp through the 16th century in “Shadow of Night”, and finally their action packed return to the modern word in “The Book of Life”. This series had me at “Oh look, such a pretty cover!” I mourn its end.

The conclusion to the “All Souls Trilogy” is non-stop action. Nothing is ever easy for the witch and vampire couple and when they return to modern times, they have very little time to rest. First, Diana must face the loss of one she holds dear, as well as the loss of her freedom and coven in the 16th century. Then Matthew must deal with the deadly politics of his family. All of this while Diana goes through a highly unprecedented pregnancy. But, it doesn’t end there. The search for Ashmole 782 is still on, and the congregation is still on thier tale.

Our favorite cast of characters returns in the final installment. Ysabelle, Gallowglass, Diana’s aunts, and Marcus are key players. We are also introduced to a few new faces that serve to enrich the story rather than confuse. Deborah Harkness has a way of writing her character’s interactions in such a believable way that I am drawn into their world and can understand their feelings and interactions. There were moments in the story where my heart ached for the people I had come to love.

Deborah Harkness never wavered in her telling of the story. Diana’s strength and resolve remain a fixture. Her scientific and academic approach to the existence of creatures in the modern world continues and we are even offered a few revelations by the end of the series. Intrigue abounds, and I can promise that I was never bored. “The Book of Life” is everything its predecessors were, and more. If you enjoyed the first two books, you definitely don’t want to miss this one! I hope Deborah Harkness shares more of her stories with the world, because I can easily see her becoming one of my favorite authors.

the_book_of_life_deborah_harkness

Book Release and Giveaway: The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood

I am excited to announce the release of “The Younger Gods” by Michael R. Underwood. I was over halfway through my Galley when the publisher contacted me to ask if I would like to feature the title and host a giveaway. I was quite enjoying the story, so I happily accepted. “The Younger Gods” is a fun new Urban Fantasy series complete with mythical creatures, fun characters, and evil cultists bent on bringing about the apocalypse. Everything you could ask for in an Urban Fantasy, really, and just in time for Halloween! I am giving away two free copies. Check out the summary and excerpt below and enter the giveaway. The winners will be announced when I post my review on Monday, October 20th.

The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood

THE YOUNGER GODS

  • By: Michael R. Underwood
  • Publisher: Pocket Star
  • Pub Date: 10/13/2014
  • ISBN: 9781476757797
  • Price 4.99
  • Format: eBook

Summary

Jacob Greene was a sweet boy raised by a loving, tight-knit family…of cultists. He always obeyed, and was so trusted by them that he was the one they sent out on their monthly supply run (food, medicine, pig fetuses, etc.)

Finding himself betrayed by them, he flees the family’s sequestered compound and enters the true unknown: college in New York City. It’s a very foreign place, the normal world and St. Mark’s University. But Jacob’s looking for a purpose in life, a way to understand people, and a future that breaks from his less-than-perfect past. However, when his estranged sister arrives in town to kick off the apocalypse, Jacob realizes that if he doesn’t gather allies and stop the family’s prophecy of destruction from coming true, nobody else will…

Chapter 13

I’d never met lycanthropes before. There were no packs in the Dakotas. My father and grandmother had seen to that years ago.

I was starting to understand why. Our family’s sorcerous might was unmatched, but a wolf moving through thick brush, especially with a pack at her back, could make quick work of an unprepared sorcerer, unless the sorcerer was willing to bring down an entire forest to protect themselves.

It’s what Grandmother had done.

One of the many races made by the gods in the first days, lycanthropes could move among humans without notice, only revealing their power when they wished. When their creator, the moon, was strongest, so were they.

Antoinette cleared her throat. “I am Antoinette Laroux. And a friend told me to show you this.” She produced the Nataraja statue, holding it out in the scant inches between herself and the looming wolf-woman.

The woman chuffed once, very canine in that moment, all pretense of humanity cast aside. She looked Antoinette dead in the eyes, then sized her up, gaze going to her feet and then back up to her eyes.

She took a single step back.

“So you know the Nephilim. Fine. Why are you here?” “Someone’s after the Hearts. She’s trying to awaken the Younger Gods.”

The wolves snarled as one. All of them, the woman included. “And you’re here, what, to warn us? As if we aren’t always  on guard? There’s precious little of the earth left in this place. You think we aren’t always vigilant?”

“We want to help,” I said, breaking with Antoinette’s request.

The woman snapped at me, baring her teeth. “You smell of the Deeps, boy.”

Again, judged before I was known. Even thousands of miles away from my family’s center of power, I was just a Greene to them. Even if I bested Esther, would I ever be rid of that stain, or would I carry it with me my whole life, my family’s sins painted clearly across my face with the distinctively bland look of our family?

“We’ve had a long day already,” Antoinette said, by way of explanation. “But he’s right. We’re trying to get the whole city to join up so we can stop this woman. She’s ridiculously powerful.”

“Her power means little here,” the woman said. “Her power comes from the Deeps, but this is the horizon, the union of earth and sky, and we are protected.”

“Tell that to the Hidatsa and Arikara packs,” I said. They’d been the last two to give up the fight. The Hidatsa had fled west. The Arikara had been eradicated.

More snarls.

“We are not them. But we take your offer as it is intended, in recognition of the Nephilim’s friendship to our pack. Go. This island is sacrosanct. Help the others, and when the time comes, call for us and we will be there. Our fangs will tear her throat and spill her lifeblood. It will be washed away by the Hudson and her stain sent out to sea.”

A cheery sort, this one. I could just imagine what she’s like at parties.

“Care for some juice?”

“I will rip this cup to broken shreds and see its ruin smote upon the mountain.”

“Chips?”

“No, thank you.”

Perhaps not.

“Thank you for your time,” Antoinette said. “How will we call you?”

The woman reached into her sweatshirt, and produced a spent exoskeleton. Cicada, possibly a grasshopper. I’d always been an indoor child. “Crush this beneath your boot and we will know.”

“Will you know where as well?”

The woman snarled at me. “We will know.”

I elected not to probe further, trusting the wolf-woman’s confidence.

Antoinette accepted the exoskeleton, handling it with care and sliding it into the pocket with the Shiva Nataraja statue. “Thank you for your time. We will go now.”

The woman nodded, and another wave of shadows passed over her, leaving behind the wolf she had been before.

In an unexpected act of kindness, the wolves led us to another way down the hill, such that we were able to leave the park with no more bruises and scrapes.

About the Author

Michael R. Underwood is the author of “Geekomancy”, “Celebromancy”, “Attack the Geek”, “Shield and Crocus”, and “The Younger Gods”. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. He has a BA in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies, and an MA in Folklore Studies. Mike has been a bookseller, a barista, a game store cashwrap monkey, and an independent publishers’ representative. Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiancée, an ever-growing library, and a super-team of dinosaur figurines and stuffed animals. He is also a co-host on the Hugo-nominated “Skiffy and Fanty Show”. In his rapidly vanishing free time, Mike studies historical martial arts and makes homemade pizza. He blogs at MichaelRUnderwood.com/blog and Tweets @MikeRUnderwood.

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway is sponsored by the Pocket Star Publishing, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Winners’ e-mail addresses will be given to the publisher who will e-mail back promo codes. Two winners will be chosen on 10/20/2014. Each will receive one promo code from the publisher for an ebook copy of “The Younger Gods”. EBooks are available for download in all file formats save for Kindle.

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