Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: Party Games

Her friends warn her not to go to Brendan Fear's birthday party at his family's estate on mysterious Fear Island. But Rachel Martin has a crush on Brendan and is excited to be invited. Brendan has a lot of party games planned. But one game no one planned intrudes on his party—the game of murder. As the guests start dying one by one, Rachel realizes to her horror that she and the other teenagers are trapped on the tiny island with someone who may want to kill them all. How to escape this deadly game? Rachel doesn't know whom she can trust. She should have realized that nothing is as it seems… on Fear Island.

I'll be honest...while I devoured Fear Street novels as a kid (12/13 or so) they are not what you'd call tightly written grand works.  They are enjoyable cotton candy that while didn't often frighten me (by the time I was reading Fear Street I had been watching Slasher/Horror films for nearly a decade, Fear Street paled in comparison to some of them) they did leave me guessing as to whether it would be a mundane reason or a supernatural one. And just how ridiculous the wrap up could get.

So to that PARTY GAMES perfectly excels.  I wasn't sure, even as the book wrapped up, whether this was a supernatural story or a whacked out mundane one and while it had shades of  my favorite show Harper's Island it wasn't an out and out similar situation. 

Where Stine excels, where he has always excelled in my opinion, is his ability to  draw a reader in.  Sometimes it takes a little while, but by the time he starts the ball rolling towards the ridiculous conclusion you'll be eagerly turning the pages like I do.

Here's the thing - Rachel is not likable.  Brendan, his friends, his cousins...they're not really likable.  They're not well developed beyond some traits to hang off them.  His best friend for instance was basically a class clown sort, who hit on everything and made off color jokes.  Rachel endlessly calls him "cute" and "adorable in his own way".  And despite what the summary may lead you to believe Brendan Fear is not apparently the most popular kid ever.  He's gamer chic - that is he's a hardcore gamer (in every sense of the word), but he's not your typical gamer.  He's more hipster really.

Rachel is also firmly of the "too stupid to live" category of heroines--but that's par for the course in Fear Street novels so I would have been surprised if she had any sort of survival instinct.  Throughout the novel she makes countless newbie Scream Queen errors that if not for the grace of God (Stine that is) things would have gone much differently.

Which leads me to a weird sort of complaint but...[spoiler]no one dies.  I mean literally, no one dies.  Those who do "die" aren't dead, they're part of an elaborate prank and when the real bad guys pop around they're basically all talk[/spoiler] I'll give Stine credit, he managed to one up himself with the story of Brendan's great aunt the Taxidermist who well taxidermied (is that the word?) herself alive.  That story was all kinds of creepy.  As was the pit of human bones (yeah I can see the Fears playing "The Most Dangerous Game" with their servants...creeps).  Plus he tossed in a few red herrings that weren't very obvious as being decoys.

Still the ending is kind of bland and just like every other Fear Street book I'm left wondering about the parents of this town.  Seriously--even if this one had a low body count (compared to older books) I'm still surprised any of them choose to remain in a town with such a dark, gory and murderous past.  And Rachel's parents!  Oh my shiny stars - she never makes mention of them being concerned about her wellfare.  She just decides to run off to a remote nie on unreachable island owned by a family who's last name is basically a by word for "creepy", overnight with a group of friends she maybe mentioned in passing.  This doesn't ring any bells at all?

I'm happy to return to Shadyside, and while it wasn't quite what I was expecting given some of the lead up and events that occurred, I did enjoy the absurdity of it all.  Here's hoping there's more planned that bring back the creep factor!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cover Reveal: Milayna by Michelle K. Pickett

In the battle for her soul, which side will she choose?

Series Name: The Milayna Series
Genre: Young Adult (Paranormal Romance)
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
CTP Content Rating: YAm
Release Date: March 17, 2015

From the bestselling author of PODs comes an unforgettable tale of action, intrigue, and following your heart in the midst of betrayal.

It’s hard being good all the time. Everyone needs to be bad once in a while. But for seventeen-year-old Milayna, being good isn’t a choice. It’s a job requirement. And it’s a job she can’t quit. Born a demi-angel, Milayna steps in when danger and demons threaten the people around her, but being half angel isn’t all halos and happiness. Azazel, Hell’s demon, wants Milayna’s power and he’ll do anything to get it. But he only has until her eighteenth birthday, after which she becomes untouchable.

With the help of other demi-angels, Milayna thwarts the trouble Azazel sends her way. Fighting by her side is Chay. He’s a demi-angel who's sinfully gorgeous, and Milayna falls hard. But is Chay her true love… or her nemesis in disguise?

When she learns of a traitor in her group, there’s no one she can trust… not even the one she loves.


Michelle is the bestselling author of the young adult novel “PODs.” She was born and raised in Flint, Michigan, but now lives in a sleepy suburb outside Houston with her extremely supportive husband, three school-aged children, a 125 pound “lap dog,” and a very snooty cat.

Red Bull or Monster Khaos are her coffee of choice, and she can’t write without peanut butter M&Ms and a hoodie. A hopeful romantic; she loves a swoon-worthy ending that will give her butterflies for days. She writes across genres in the young adult and new adult age groups. She loves to hear from her readers.​

Michelle signed her new young adult contemporary novel— Unspeakable, with Clean Teen Publishing in 2014. 

Keep up-to-date on her current and future projects at www.michelle-pickett.com.


More from Clean Teen Publishing:


Friday, September 12, 2014

PR Special Edition: Kameron Hurley

Poisoned Rationality Special  Edition

Welcome to another Poisoned Rationality Special Edition!  Today we welcome Kameron Hurley, author of the recently released The Mirror Empire and one of my favorite trilogies the Bel Dame Apocrypha.  She's going to discuss magic systems - so pay attention, you'll learn a lot I say completely unbiasedly.

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.


"Bug Magic and Satellite Mages: 
Writing Magic Systems that Stand Out"

There are, I’m told, two schools of building magic systems. The first are the rule-builders. The careful architects of rule-based magic that have detailed costs and benefits, restrictions and power-ups. Many refer to this as the Brandon Sanderson school of magic; it’s so codified it’s almost like a science. It’s “hard” fantasy, for lack of a better term. The second school is, I admit, the one I get far more excited about, and that’s sometimes referred to as the Tolkien school, or simply the WTF school. It’s the HEY! We are writing fricking FANTASY school. And in that school of thought lies this: we are dealing with strange and unknowable powers. We aren’t always going to have all the answers. We’ll muck about. We’ll make a mess. At the end of the day, magic is about miracles, and miracles don’t have rules, only guidelines.
Both of these approaches can be super successful, it simply depends on which one you’re partial to. I grew up reading 90’s fantasy, which was generally a pretty rule-bound system. I’m uncertain if it was the influence of science fiction that compelled this rule-based magic logic to take over from the more free-wheeling mythological divinity type. Most likely it was simply the influence of tabletop gaming. Dungeons and Dragons inspired a massive swath of writers, and they often brought their love of rulebooks and stats and hit points with them.

I don’t tend to start by building a rule-bound magic system, but make the rules up as I go along. Instead of seeing it as “cheating” I actually find that it’s a more imaginative way for me to build the system. If you sit down and set out all the rules before you actually start moving your people around in the world, you limit your choices right out of the gate. It’s like putting on a blindfold and diving into the water and saying the rules say you can only turn to the right. What kind of sense does that make?

I worked toward building a more organic system in my God’s War novels, a science-fantasy noir that uses bugs and the ability to control them as a sort of techno-magic wielded by magicians. I went in knowing that certain kinds of bugs could be directed to perform certain tasks, but only by those imbued with the gift to do so. I had several scenarios in mind about how they’d come by this power, but didn’t want any of them to be explicit in the text. The fact was that it had happened so long ago that it was now just considered magic. I wrote down what certain types of bugs were known to do as I came up with them – I didn’t work it all out beforehand. I didn’t draw up big schematics of how they powered the vehicles or what combinations of which bugs did what. Those weren’t things my primary protagonist was interested in anyway, and were very unlikely to come up.

But where’s the tension? you might ask. Because the best part of a magic system is its restrictions. Those, too, I manufactured as I went. I didn’t decide magic users could be drugged until I did it to someone else during an interrogation. And I decided that the more wild the bug, as in, it not being tailored to a certain function in the cities, the harder it was to control. But I basically came up with that idea as a character said it out loud during my second book. Luckily no retconning was required – it hadn’t come up before.

My magic system in my new epic fantasy, The Mirror Empire , was a little different. Instead of bugs, this magic system revolved around the heavens. Three heavenly bodies rose irregularly in the sky, their orbits (for lack of a better word) erratic. Sometimes they just… appeared and disappeared a year or two earlier than expected. The heavens above them were not set. These heavenly bodies had a guide, not a rulebook. And as they rose and fell so too did the powers of those who drew on the particular bodies’ energy to create unique feats. Those who drew on Tira were great healers, and could manipulate living organic, non-sentient plants to their will. Those who drew on Sina had power over fire, and some could even bring back the dead. Para users could manipulate the air to do whatever they liked, and some could even change the weather. And the fourth body, Oma, the dark star, the star that only came around once every two thousand years or so, that one gave people a variety of powers, one of them being very unique: the power to open doors between worlds.

This magic system needed to be a little more codified than the one in the God’s War books because I knew I was going to be writing from the point of view of several characters who were actually living within strict systems that taught them how to use their powers, and put strict limits on them. That was done on purpose: this magic system brought with it so many great upsets in power that it made sense for many societies to attempt to manage and control those with the potential to use it as soon as possible. I also had to come up with rules for its use within specific societies.

I spent a little more time codifying this than I did with my bug magic, but funny enough, the magic system in this book is actually one I consider far more on the miraculous/divine spectrum that the bug magic. Sometimes you draw on the magic of your star and it works. Sometimes you draw on it, and it doesn’t. Sometimes you try and build one thing, and it becomes another. I wanted a much more fickle system. And in this system, though one is also able to drug a person to cut them off from the power of the stars, the most effective means of breaking a “spell” is simply to break the person’s concentration, whether through surprise or, most often, pain. I also wanted a fairly strict line-of-sight restriction where it was difficult to let loose a targeted attack unless you could actually see the thing you wanted to attack. That gave me a lot of restrictions and moments for tension, as well as one very memorable scene where I have a non-magical general working to outsmart a gifted assassin. Knowing what his restrictions were as she fought him was paramount to making a good scene.

But let’s be real: I didn’t spend days and days working this out. I spent a couple hours on it. The rest I figured out as I went, just like with the bug magic, and edited everything else to fit in revision.
Making magic systems that bust down the same old same old has been, for me, about not codifying too much of the system too soon. Yes, figure out your restrictions, some places for tension (reading about an all-powerful deity can be fun for awhile, but gets boring fast), but leaving some things unsaid was vital to my own creative process. To build really wondrous magic, leave room for the magic itself to tell you what direction it’s going and what it’s capable of. Restricting it too soon can strangle the capacity of your own creativity and imagination right out the gate.

And what is magic, after all, if it doesn’t bring with it some sense of wonder – not only to readers, but to you as a creator?


For me the magic system is always the primary attraction in a fantasy series.  Also despite my complete and utter dislike of people telling me what to do, I'm a fairly structured sort of person.   There is, as the Director always says, an order to things Counselor.  Looking at my favorite books though, most of them are, as Hurley says, "Hard fantasy".  Perversely I hate hard science fiction.  I like my science to be fictional and not bogged down by realistic mumbo jumbo.  Thank you Star Trek.

How about everyone else?  What kind of magic system do you favor--in your reading or your own writing?

Thank you Kameron for taking the time to come by and share with us your insights!

About the Author
Kameron Hurley is the author of The Mirror Empire, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy, comprising the books God's WarInfidel, and Rapture. She has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Hurley has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed MagazineYear's Best SFEscapePodThe Lowest Heaven, and the upcoming Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.

Author Links:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

eBook Review: Lay Me Down

Able to navigate sleep’s vast dreamwaters, wild child Maisie Lane makes easy money as a courier delivering packages from one dream to another. So what if her employers are on the shadier side of the law? Her sister thinks she’s living for the pleasure of the moment. Pleasure is involved—why shouldn’t it be?—but every step Maisie takes is part of a careful plan. That is, until she crosses into a dream so evil, she has no choice but to run.

Special Agent Steve Coll is tasked to recruit Maisie for Chimera, the organization that polices shared dreams. At first he’s taken with her funny and carefree spirit, then brought to his knees by her tough and passionate soul. Touching her is forbidden ecstasy, but Steve can’t resist breaking the rules with Maisie. A darkness is gathering, evil preparing to strike, and only Maisie stands between it and innocent lives. No matter what happens, Steve won’t let her stand alone—he’ll die before he leaves her side.

This second book in Kellison's "Reveler" series follows Maisie (Jordan's sister - yes the one who got her tangled up in all the hell she went through originally) and Steve (Rook's boss who yes is the one who set Rook after Jordan originally) as they try to figure out a way to survive the insanity that is enveloping their lives.  Something Steve is very used to handling and Maisie is very good at creating.

Kellison doesn't waste much time on the development--a lot of that happened in the first book and really these guys have their hands full.  It suits both their personalities though, Maisie's impetuousness and Steve's obsessiveness.  And while Steve, much like Rook, would be considered all kinds of stalker in any other setting, it makes sense here.  Maisie REALLY gets over her head and she needs someone who is thinking three steps ahead of her to keep her from diving too deep.  In turn Steve needs someone who sees past the exterior and can make him smile.

I wasn't as fond of Maisie as I was of Jordan, she took a lot of risks and did a lot of things rashly.   And I didn't quite forgive her what happened with her sister in the first book.  Steve....I was so happy to learn more about him.  He was a bit of an intimidating enigma when dealing with Rook, but here he was certain that Maisie was fully capable, but fiercely determined to prove why he needed to stay near her.

You do have to read the first book first, this isn't a book to just jump into and hope they explain.  While the events of DARKNESS FALLS are gone over, this is squarely centered on Maisie and Steve who are experienced Revelers and thus don't waste time on basics.  Kellison wrote these more as serial novellas that interconnected to a larger framework.  They don't work by themselves nor out of order.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

eBook Review: The Governess Club: Louisa

Louisa Brockhurst is on the run-from her friends, from her family, even from her dream of independence through the Governess Club. But sometimes it's easier for her to hide from those she loves in order to escape the secrets of her past.

Handsome but menacing John Taylor is a prizefighter-turned-innkeeper who is trying to make his way in society. When Louisa shows up at his doorstep, he's quick to accept her offer to help-at a price. He knows that she's hiding something, and he can't help his protective instincts toward the beautiful woman.

Their attraction grows, but will headstrong, fiery Louisa ever trust the surprisingly kind John enough to tell him the dangerous secrets from her past that keep her running? Or will the power of her feelings scare her into running yet again?

Oh Louisa.  I remarked in the last novel, "Sara", that I wasn't looking forward to Louisa's novella because she was so blunt (almost cruel) towards Sara.  In truth I did want to know why Louisa was so straight forward about most things, but the very picture of evasive with her own life.  Seriously look up "evasive" in a Dictionary, you'll see almost any conversation Louisa has with John in this book for certain. And while her tongue is just as sharp here as it was in Sara's story, its helpful to read the why of it.

Feeling betrayed by her friends because they found happiness, and feeling especially betrayed by Sara who she thought of them all would become a spinster and grow old with her, Louisa has been gone for about 2 months at the start of her story. She's been traveling here and there, doing this or that odd job and changing her name as often as possible. She doesn't take the apparent dissolution of her dreams very well in fact, but very quickly finds a new one at John's inn.

John meanwhile is a hulk brute of an ex-pugilist who is trying to prove that he can be more then his past brawling days. And while he's running a (very) modest inn to some satisfaction he can't quite get his head around how it could be more. In waltzes Louisa, who within two weeks of being hired on as a maid tells John how to improve things and then gets promoted to partner in the business.

I appreciated that Louisa wasn't a shrinking violet. Many of the issues I had with her advice to the others stemmed from the fact she had a very narrow idea of how things should be and should turn out. If its not a situation where you can come out on top, well don't get in the situation. Either manipulate things to your best possible outcome or its not worth it. We see her manipulate John several times, but he calls her on it. Tells her point blank he'd, well if not happily at least willingly discuss anything she'd like.

Oh and would she please consent to marry him? That would be lovely.

It was entertaining, and oddly romantic, how often John tried to convince Louisa to marry him. He was content to wait for however long she liked...as long as it happened eventually. Not today? Well that's okay, let's do the books and have a tumble and then maybe...? No? Okay well keep at it John! (His earnestness reminds me a bit of another book I read recently where the guy was gung-ho for the marriage and the woman was like 'Wait? What? No! Sexy times!')

Of course Louisa's past catches up with her and some most of the issues I had with the novella began here. Without spoiling anything, you find out why she originally fled and in all honesty I was really surprised that she had remained ignorant of the going-ons in society. [spoiler]Granted her brother helped cover up and she remained as far removed from society as possible, but it was kind of a big deal what happened and the ramifications thereof maybe should have been more discussed I think[/spoiler]. MacDonald and I spoke about this part of the story and really some of it comes down to how strongly you believe that Louisa could remain separated (practically amputated) from society to not have found out the truth.

And the Epilogue? It made sense on so many levels. It was a wonderful way to wrap up the Governess Club stories and okay I got a little teary-eyed at one point. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Review: What A Wallflower Wants

Miss Prudence Merryweather Payton has a secret.

Everyone knows that she's the only graduate from her finishing school to remain unwed on her fourth season—but no one knows why. With her romantic illusions shattered after being compromised against her will, Prudence accepts a proposal even though her betrothed is not exactly a knight in shining armor. When he cowardly pushes her out of their stagecoach to divert a highwayman, she vows never to trust another man again.

John Roark, Viscount Castleton, is nobody's hero.

He's a blue-eyed charmer with a mysterious past and ambitious plans for his future—that do not include a wife. When he finds himself stranded at a country inn with a captivating young woman, a delicate dance of seduction ensues. He knows he should keep his distance. And he definitely shouldn't start falling in love with her.

When Prudence's dark past comes back to haunt her, John must protect her—even though he risks revealing his own secrets that could destroy his future.

**This will serve as a trigger warning for sexual violence.  While its never explicitly shown and Prue is careful in her own explanation and memories of the incident, its still a very real plot point**

This is one of the few times that the historical novel outdid its contemporary counterpart in this unusual companion set-up Rodale had.  Prue, who I did not always connect with and who I often felt at odds with from a personality stand point, was given a story that trumped the previous two novels.  Not just in execution, but also Prue herself. 

WHAT A WALLFLOWER WANTS is not by any means a "light" novel.  Rodale's historicals trend more towards the fluffy and entertaining, with even the dark corners being rather dimly lit.  However despite the wit and playful banter that occurs this book handles heavy themes.  Which I found suited things just fine.  From Prue's lacklustre fiancee basically handing her over to the highwaymen as spoils to save himself to John's murky past preventing him from achieving the only two goals he cared about, its a rocky road.

Prue's anxiety because of the Incident is understandable and I don't blame her for feeling trapped.  Options were few and its a sad fact that the law may have been on her side, but in her world the law was not what was important.  Society was and they were harshly condemning no matter the reason (often because of--she was right to fear that if she had come forward many would have decried her as a tease and tart for hadn't they seen her pleasantly socializing with him?  Wasn't she looking for a husband and wouldn't he have made a good one?).

Quite frankly that jackass deserved far worse.

John meanwhile had his own demons to excise.  The twist to his story is rather well foreshadowed once you know what you were reading.  Unlike Ashbrooke or Phinn, who despite their reputations wielded enough social and financial power to basically swat aside most people, all John had was his brain.  He proved several times to not only put that to good use, but also to be the Knight in Shining Armor he claimed he wasn't.

And while the entire courtship strained credulity quite a lot (especially the scene at the Ball) I found I didn't care because I wanted to see how they shared each other's burdens and came together.  Truthfully that was far more interesting whatever was going on otherwise because you never knew what Prue or John would say next.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Book Review: Wallflower Gone Wild

Being good has worked out very badly for Lady Olivia Archer. All she has to show for four seasons on the marriage mart is the nickname Prissy Missy. Her prospects are so bleak that her parents have betrothed her to a stranger with a dire reputation. If Phinneas Cole—aka The Mad Baron—wants a biddable bride, perhaps Olivia can frighten him off by breaking every ladylike rule.

Phinn has admired Olivia’s poise and refinement from afar…qualities that appear to have vanished now that they are officially engaged. This Olivia is flirtatious, provocative, and wickedly irresistible. She’s not at all the woman he bargained for, yet she’s the only one he wants.

He’s determined to woo her. She’s determined to resist. But Olivia is discovering there’s nothing so appealing as a fiancĂ© who’s mad, bad, and dangerously seductive…

Right off the bat, I liked Phinn better then Olivia for the most part.  Olivia spent so much time dancing around communication with him that it got to be tiresome.  Her attempts at "wild behavior" to deter him got more ludicrous and quite frankly horribly reckless as the book went on.  And I'm not entirely sure why.  He did not, despite her belief to the contrary, act in a threatening manner.  Oh he didn't bother denying the murder charges, but he believed he was the one who caused the murders, even if it wasn't directly.

And while I appreciate the fact Prue was trying to look out for Olivia, she was doing more harm then good. 

Really what it boiled down to was that I was finding it hard to see what Phinn saw in Olivia and vice versa.  Olivia spends the better part of the book convinced that he's going to kill her and rarely seems to soften towards him.  Phinn, who seemed much more cerebral and in his head (which I appreciate in a hero), seemed awfully determined to remain aloof from Olivia.  Even with his reputation I would have thought he'd be able to find some plain miss or merchant's daughter to marry if all he wanted was a quiet, proper wife.  His insistence at courting Olivia as her behavior grew more reckless didn't speak well of his intellect...

At times the book was thoroughly entertaining; I found Phinn and Olivia to be at their best when discussing his projects.  Though she was less then knowledgeable Olivia's interest in what he was doing was enthusiastic (when she let herself just be).  It was good to see Emma again, I do think she wanted what was best for Olivia and she did counsel wisely (where as Prue was just...well in hindsight it made sense but at the time it was just awful).

As a Rodale fan this won't be as light-hearted or humorous as her previous books.  Olivia is just too frustrating and the circles Rodale has them go in before they wind up together get annoying.