REVIEW: How to Ditch Dead Guys

How to Ditch Dead Guys by Ann M. Noser

We start where How to Date Dead Guys left off. There’s no time skip—we jump right in after Mike disappears into the river. Emma is still dealing from the shock of losing all of her friends, and she wants to solve Steve’s murder. She also clearly has unresolved feelings for Jake, even though she came to grips with her issues with Mike at the end of How to Date Dead Guys.

Emma and Walker investigate a series of murders, and Emma becomes possessed by the spirits of the victims. She relives their deaths, and a particularly evil spirit, Shadow, inhabits her, too. Through Shadow, Emma learns that ‘the Master’ wants to turn her to The Dark Side. This part of the plot isn’t particularly clear, but it launches the story into the possession plot line, which carries through the remainder of the story in a more satisfying way than whatever is meant to happen with the Master.

There are lots of horror elements in this novel, more so than in the first book of the series. The dead church ladies coupled with Emma’s hallucinations are creepy, and while the visualization works, it’s not the story’s strongest elements. The psychological tension between Emma, Walker, and their respective families grips much harder than anything with dead people and witches. The tone in How to Ditch Dead Guys isn’t as lighthearted as the one in How to Date Dead Guys, but during its best moments, the book tries for it. The ease with which the characters interact offsets the darker moments in this series.

The award of ‘Most Improved Character’ goes to Walker. He’s an actual character in this novel instead of a plot device! Walker’s growing relationship with Emma and the tension between Emma and his family is more dramatic than a thousand spirit possessions. I genuinely cared what would happen with Walker this time, and I’m glad he’s sticking around in this series. Being that this is, you know, a series about dead people and necromancy, that’s not a guarantee.


Part 2 opens when Emma ‘dies’ and goes to purgatory. Her spell to destroy the Book of Shadows goes awry and she finds herself in a swim center. The bad news? She thinks she’s dead. The best news? Jake is back, and oh boy, did this story need the romantic tension he shares with Emma. The purgatory section focused on what this series does best: interpersonal tensions. All of the paranormal elements are side dressings to how Bernard misses his wife or how none of them trust Steve or how Emma can’t parse her complicated feelings for Jake. The paranormal elements are underwhelming compared to what’s happening between the characters, which is the tension the feeds the story.

This carries through to the end of the novel, where Mike and his brother, Kevin, come back into the story. Kevin’s a cop now, and he helps Emma clear Walker’s name. Emma’s guilt propelled How to Date Dead Guys into the final act, and Emma’s understandable stubbornness in the face of her family and friends’ struggles brings this second book in the series to a close. If I’m honest, I wasn’t quite as into the earlier parts of this book because I didn’t feel the focus on the paranormal elements did Emma or the story any favors, but these stories are slow burners. The later parts of the book make up for some of what I found lacking early on because the story shifted back to relying on the tension between the characters for drama, which is what worked the best in this novel.


  • Black moths! Moth terror: take 2. This is the second book I’ve read with demonic moths. I’m glad their horror potential is being recognized.
  • Walker’s mom is quite the obstacle. The best parts of this book are the human elements. It almost feels more like contemporary NA than paranormal.
  • Of course purgatory is swim aerobics.
  • The series always shocks me with how dark it gets. It feels like a cozy family drama, but then it springs this ending on you, and you wonder what you’re reading.

Rating: 4 stars

Even though I personally didn’t like this story as much as the first one, it builds the series and ultimately will have the same elements that made How to Date Dead Guys so much fun to read. This is a darker book, but this is a series about dead people, so I’m not completely shocked.

[amazon asin=1620071770&template=add to cart][amazon asin=1620071770&template=add to cart]


Grey by Christi J. Whitney

Sebastian wants to be apprenticed to his tattoo artist brother, Hugo, when a whole lot of weirdness steps into his life. Sebastian finds out that his brother is a part of the Corsi gypsy clan, and he’s made an honorary member. This is around the time the Romany clan and their performing circus comes back into town with the alluring Josephine, who Sebastian feels a strange urge to protect.

This is a story that was, for me personally, was a bizarre read. This isn’t because the book was bad, but because it did several things that ultimately make it difficult for me to judge a book (more on those below). By about ~25% of the way through a book, I ask myself what I’d rate the book. At about ~2/3 of the way through the book, I check back in and ask myself if that rating still holds. For most books, it does, and to me, the ending is usually inconsequential if the set-up works. (An ending has to be horrendous for me to rage-quit a book.) However, I knew whether I loved this book or found it ‘meh’ would hang solely on the ending. I vacillated between finding this book tedious and being unable to put it down within the same freaking chapter.

The voice of Sebastian is engaging. Sebastian’s personality isn’t particularly original in YA, but it kept me hooked. The ‘I-want-a-normal-life’ plot works because it’s obvious this story is careening into crazy, and the horror of Sebastian’s transformation drives this aspect of the story. I felt bad for Sebastian for 100% of this story, but some people might find aspects of his self-depreciating personality grating.

The secretive element of the gypsy clans are played up early in the novel, and that slows it down. However, I didn’t want to stop reading this piece because I hoped those secrets would pay off. The risk of  using secrets is that they can make/break an ending. I’m not sure all of these secrets paid off, specifically in the case of Josephine and her past, but the ending didn’t end up relying on the gypsy clan secrets to make it work. This was a massive relief for me because the ‘we can’t talk about this now’ moments early on made me wary that there was going to be a half-baked plot drop at the end. There’s not! It’s more of a straight-forward action climax with a surprise, low-key coda ending, which paid off the main, emotional plot elements well, ignoring the vaguely defined gypsy mysteries that could’ve bogged down this ending.

This story reminded me of Horns, but in a good way, in that it kept the focus on Sebastian and his struggles.  Josephine is underdeveloped as a love interest, but this doesn’t destroy the story because it’s apparent that this relationship is designed to be unrequited and one-sided. This means that Sebastian’s longing for Josephine doesn’t rely on her being developed or returning his affections. Most of Sebastian’s friends didn’t get a lot of novel time, but Katie stood out as a solid choice for a best-friend. Katie didn’t feel like a stereotype. None of these characters did, which is refreshing in YA, and this novel never descends into high school cliche verses high school cliche.

Didn’t particularly care for the gargoyle characters. They could’ve been fleshed out more. They seemed out of place, which was weird, considering the rest of the cast felt like they fit into the story well. They’re basically there to serve as mooks at the end, but being that this is the first book in a trilogy, I’m sure their leader, Augustine, is going to play a major part in the next part(s) of this series.


  • Liked the tattoo parlor. It’s an original setting, and it grounds Sebastian and gives him goals in this story.
  • All the teasing about Sebastian’s changes worked to propel the story, but damn it if they weren’t slow, too. This might ruin the novel for you, but the tense pacing kept me reading, and the ending paid it off.
  • I hated most of the chapter titles, so I pretended they didn’t exist after about chapter 10.
  • This is one where the ending determined how I viewed the entire book. I didn’t love it all the way through, but boy, that ending rested on the right elements of the story and pushed the weaker points into the background.
  • I wanted more of the scenes between Hugo and Sebastian. That part of the ending was heart-wrenching and heart-warming.

Rating: 5 stars

I kind of wanted to give this 4 stars for questionable pacing, but I ended up loving this story. It’s a unique entry into YA fantasy and paranormal, and it ultimately focused on the strongest elements in the story. I’m excited–and a little bit afraid–of how the series is going to continue, but if you can get 1/3 of the way through this book, it’s worth it and pays off all the right emotional moments.

[amazon asin=0008120455&template=add to cart]

REVIEW: Crown of Ice

Crown of Ice by Vicki L. Weavil

Thyra Winter is the Snow Queen, her powers gifted to her by Mael Voss. Her fate is bound to his task of assembling a magic mirror before she turns eighteen or else she’ll become one of the disembodied wraiths that haunt her frozen castle. Thyra suppresses her emotions to deal with the oppressive nature of living with Voss and with the seeming impossibility of her task. The premise is interesting, but the focus veers away from all of that and delves into Thyra immediately trying to recruit a local yet somehow brilliant boy, Kai, to help her construct the mirror. This is a problem because Thyra’s struggle with Voss and his old mentor, Sephia, could’ve made an interesting story if it would’ve been the focus.

Spoiler: it wasn’t. Instead of this more interesting book, we get Thyra chasing a boy, Kai, and adopting a puppy, Luki. I ended up enjoying Luki as an animal companion, but the fact that the dog is the most interesting character in the story says something for how shallow the remaining characters are. Thyra’s character veers into Frozen fanfic territory. No, really, it’s Frozen fanfic. She uses the phrase ‘Let it go’ too many times for this to be a coincidence. This served to limit Thyra as a character for me, and she doesn’t step beyond being a shadow of Elsa’s (more vibrant and fleshed out) personality.

We get a lot of Thyra chasing after Kai and not so much of Thyra trying to build the mirror puzzle early on. There’s a lot of talk about equations and math involved in sovling the mirror, but this is never fleshed out; it’s poor world building and lacks convincing details. There’s a bit of burying the conflict early in story, which could’ve been helped if the setting and world buliding aspects stepped up to fill them in, but they don’t. For example, a scene with Mael Voss transforming the reindeer would’ve done a lot to make him scarier. The earlier portion of this book, up until Sephia’s addition, probably shouldn’t have involved any of the weaker characters like Kai or Gretta at all. I would’ve been completely okay exploring Thyra and her limited world; it would’ve made her seem more lonely instead of fixated on some boy.


This story was boring. The writing isn’t bad, but I kept asking myself why I was so freaking bored reading this. A large part of it, I think, has to do with the setting. Thyra’s setting–the uniqueness of her world and situation–should’ve been explored in depth. Instead, there’s a fixation on Kai, who adds nothing to this story. Thyra and Kai had no chemistry, and the story hangs so much on that element. I found myself hoping that this wasn’t a romance because it lacked romantic tension or any type of special spark between the characters.

There are other characters, but there’s always something lacking in them. Everything feels one-dimensional, and this snowballs throughout the story. By the time Thyra hunts for the shard, I was bored for so long that even the mid-book climactic moments couldn’t save this book for me. This story has one note, and it’s not an exciting one. If you like the first two chapters and can tolerate Kai, this might work for you, but the fairy tale retelling aspect wasn’t enough to hook me.



  • There’s nothing wrong with fanfiction or taking story ideas from it, but without the fleshed out world of the movie, the Elsa expy characterization falls flat here.
  • Bae the reindeer is great. I liked all the animals in the novel, which adds to the fairy tale feel, and I’m a sucker for animal companions. They were the best characters.
  • Was that the most boring ball in the history of paranormal fantasy? TVD wants a word with you.
  • Greda is supposed to love Kai. If I felt anything about these two other than cardboard cutouts, I might care.
  • Kai beats Bea. I have a feeling for him now: dislike.
  • Kai likes math, but all we get is ‘equations’. It’s hard to convey a love of math and make it part of the world when it’s so vague. This might be a sci-fi bias speaking, though.
  • The real relationship in this novel is the one between Thyra and Luki, the wolf pup. It might’ve been a better story with just the two of them.

Rating: 2 stars

There’s so much in this premise for a unique retelling, but very little of it delivers. Something in this story needed to be stronger (characters or setting) to elevate the basic plot into something special and exciting. Still: magic animals.

Book Review: How To Date Dead Guys

How to Date Dead Guys by Ann M. Noser

How to Date Dead Guys is about Emma, a nerdy college girl who has problems fitting in because she’s always had a connection to spirits. When her crush drowns, Emma is over come with guilt, and she’ll do anything to get him back, including summoning him from beyond the grave. However, it’s not Mike that comes back, but Sam, a boy who killed himself the semester before. The story gets more complex, yet remains fun, as more people come back from the dead. Emma has to find a way to put them to rest while overcoming her own guilt over Mike’s death.

The call kidnaps Emma and Chrissy gives her a makeover. If you like Ghost World (the movie), you’ll love the tone and feel of this book. Early on, we meet a pioneer spirit girl and a chem TA who dropped in the river by the local college. The river becomes a major set piece in the novel, and it works unusual elements of horror into the story.

Let’s talk about Emma. She’s a complicated person, and she can often come off as an ice queen. However, you understand the emotional turmoil she deals with in her life, which humanizes her. Also, Emma is a biology and math major, which is comp bio, and it’s a great major. I personally related to Emma’s realization that she didn’t want to be a doctor, too. There’s so much humanness to Emma, and it pulls you into the story. This is necessary because the story lacked a solid villain, but the emotional conflicts between characters drove the plot well.

There are plenty of fun scenes in this story, which adds to the complexity of the world. Emma has 100% less fun than I did at house parties in college, where she meets her crush, Mike. The early part of this novel focuses on Emma and her relationship to her roommate, Chrissy, and a pair of brothers, Mike and Kevin. Mike is the guy whom Emma likes, and she attends his 21st birthday party, where Mike gets predictably shit-faced, and he wants to go for a swim in the river.

The story takes a turn for the dark here. Mike drowns in the river, kicking off the main plot of the novel. Through coincidence, Emma finds a grimoire, and her guilt drives her to attempt to bring Mike back to life. Emma becomes a de facto villain during this part of the story, and that’s kind of amazing.

Things don’t go as Emma planned, and Sam, the chem TA comes back from the river instead. There’s a murder mystery plot that begins to exist here, and Emma learns that loads of other people have drowned in this river. The book continues to veer into dark plot themes, and we find that Sam killed himself. Emma now has to help Sam deal with the baggage of his previous life with getting into med school, leaving his mom, and getting rejected by the girl he was obsessed with. Sam is a quintessential NiceGuy in some ways, but my strong dislike for automatically slotting ‘popular, pretty’ characters in as default villains vexed me. The characters are still strong, and we get introduced to Abby, a young woman who’s pregnant. I expected Abby’s baby daddy plot to factor into the story, and boy, does it ever, but the twist in that plot line is natural.

Sam is taken back to the river, and we get introduced to Jake next. Emma becomes a necromancer version of Touched By an Angel, and she has to help Jake with his personal struggles, too. The section with Jake starts weak, but it became my favorite part of the book. Jake and Emma’s relationship became a major emotional set piece, and it pays off by climaxing in a mid-book Christmas arc. (“It’s Christmas” will always get you drunker than you’d think.)

Setting anything around Christmas automatically makes it a hundred percent sadder, and the story hammers an emotional moment per page during this section. Jake visits his family, and the tension between Emma and Jake reaches a breaking point. Then, the magic yanks Jake away, and Mike returns, but not alone. Two other spirits return with Mike, and the remainder of the novel follows the same format of Emma unraveling their own pains and secret pasts. The story resolves most of its plot lines, and even though it’s the first in the series, the plots resolve themselves.

Random Notes:

  • Every guy who plays Frisbee is named Mike.
  • Some of get As and have belly rings. Just saying.
  • When your bf, here Chrissy, tells your crush how rich your family is, you need to find a new best friend.
  • The novels don’t mention abortion as an option when it totally is. This is my only real complaint with Abby’s story line is that this option is completely ignored. Maybe the author didn’t want to go there, but when a young woman doesn’t have a baby and getting rid of the baby isn’t seriously discussed, it’s an irksome oversight in plot to me. In this story, where every character has emotionally driven motives, Abby never considering abortion or at least objecting to it for an emotional reason stands out as a strange oversight.
  • The dead men shed an ectoplasm skin, which is a great piece of horror.
  • Emma, the NiceGuy apologetic, rears her head several times.
  • There’s an 80s movie prank montage! I’m a bit picky about Nostalgia because it usually says more about the author than the characters, but it works here.

Rating: 4 stars

The story had light-hearted dialogue, but it veers into dark territory. There’s a lot of emotional angst here, but the characters stay grounded. This is a great start to a unique paranormal YA fantasy.

God’s Play Blog Tour Round Up

The God’s Play blog tour finished up last week. It was a lot of work (and a lot of fun!) to finally have this happen, and here’s a master list of the blogs that hosted the book and my favorite highlights of what they said about it.

Overall I enjoyed this book. A nice read, great writing and the story will keep you interested throughout. The fantasy was done well and the author didn’t over do it on the genre. I liked that, and would read more from the author!

Lovely Reads

Lynn weaves together a variety of mythologies in an original fashion and writes top-notch character interaction.  The few domestic scenes are particularly well done.  She even manages to weave in flashbacks fairly organically.

In Bed With Books

This is a creative story blending paranormal, fantasy and mythology together into an interesting albeit simplistic plot.

I’m A Voracious Reader

The idea of shapeshifters isn’t a really unique one, but I felt that with the Veil and the links with the mythology, it was a much more unique take on the shapeshifter genre. Since I read a lot of Egyptian and Greek mythology-based books, I recognized a lot of the links that there were in this book.

-Sarah, via GoodReads

Once things got going, I read this book in one sitting. Toby and William are great characters. They are perfect opposites to each other. The start of their “relationship” is biased only on Toby wanting revenge for his mother’s death, and William just wants to get rid of someone from his past who wronged him as well as many other shifters.

Pages to Explore

My Guest Posts:

To Sally Forth

We Do Write

What Happened to The Wallflower

Matthew Graybosch

Lili Lost in A Book

Diane’s Book Blog

Nightwolf’s Corner

God’s Play is a Featured New Release!

It’s also $0.99. In honor of writing what I consider a particularly bloody scene in my WIP today, I’m going to post another snippet from God’s Play that I considered a bit…gruesome. 🙂

“No sign of habitation. Bad tip, brother.” Henry shakes his head, still scanning with his flashlight. He turns to her and mouths one word. “Father.” My mum frowns, the shadowed creases in her forehead half-lit by the dual beams. Henry treads without so much as a shoe squeak towards the front of the store while Mum and I sweep out, moving like a single pair of headlights.

A door shuts. I jerk my head up. A thump from the back of the warehouse, and something crashes over. The woman shouts. There’s a gun shot. And then, another.

There’s more than one monster.

I pull the Bowie knife, and Henry sprints around a dresser. I turn to him, watching in time to see a wolf jump on his back . There’re no wolves this large― it’s a shape-shifter that’s slipped its human skin. The creature digs into his neck, and Henry’s arm twists around, stabbing it in the side. My knife sails through the air, but it whizzes past the monster’s hindquarter.

I drop the flashlight and pull out both knives. Henry’s light thuds on the carpet, rolling around like a top, illuminating the warehouse like an epileptic strobe light. Behind Henry’s attacker, there’s another pair of glittering eyes. My mother steps forward, throwing a knife at it. Hers connects, a sharp thud in the rib cage, and the creature charges, blood leaking from its side. It wheezes, stumbling like a drunk. She hit a lung― the wolf collapses before we need to bother fighting it again.

Her butterfly knife flits in her left hand, the big hunting knife poised in her right. The second pair of eyes gauges her, but this monster lurks behind a set of drawers. It slinks out of sight, and neither of us have a chance to strike it. One of the shifters growls and sprints across the carpet. It pounds down on me like a speeding train. I pivot, duck, and thrust upwards with my hunting knife . I connect with flesh, slitting the stomach when it leaps over me. The canine shifter staggers into a mattress column, howling with rage, splitting my ear drums.

Deafened, I can’t hear the other one attack. It flashes by, maybe some type of feline, pinning me underneath it . My mother screams. Claws dig into my chest, but I thrust upwards and kick it off like I’m launching from the gymnastics vault. My vision bursts into a thousand colors. I punch my knife hand into the feline, and the blade glints in the flashlight beam after each strike. The animal wheezes, and in its death spasms, falls down on top of me. I gasp under its weight, avoiding the last snaps of its jaw before it goes limp, but my eyes are still popping. The flashlight rolls, spinning the world in dollar store yellow lighting. I fumble for my Bowie knife, numb hand grasping chunks of cheap carpet. There’s a scuffle, and in the beam of light, on the other side of a stack of off-white mattresses, my mum is crouched. She only has her butterfly knife left, and she’s swinging it at the giant wolf approaching her. Its eyes glow like a hell hound’s. She backs up, and through neon color pops, I watch the wolf jump at her. She thrusts the knife into its throat.

Its breath gurgles as it dies, but I can’t see either my mother or the wolf over the mattresses now. The scent of blood floods the air like after a shark attack. It can’t be my mum’s― there’s too much of it. My heart is still beating, and it’s driving the bile up my throat. I’m rocking on one of those cheap county fair rides. The world tilts up and down, whirling me until the little cart breaks and goes flying through the cotton candy stands and into the parking lot.

A hand grasps the flashlight, pulling it off the floor, and turning the world dark. Footsteps crunch over the carpet. The soles are heavy, not practiced and light, so it’s not a hunter. I’m hearing through a tunnel now, so maybe I don’t know. The world is all neon lights and animal stench. Someone speaks, and I think it’s a man, but I can’t understand him. The voice is stretched like it’s in slow motion.

The footsteps come near me. A man leans down, and I look up into the face of a jackal.

When I lurch awake like a car with no brakes skidding on ice, I see a monster’s face― the jackal. It slips away, turning into the face of all the monsters I’ve hunted. But that’s a hallucination, and I slip back into nothingness. He’s carrying me― it feels like floating. The rain pours over him while he changes back to a man, but it smells like alcohol and the bitter sting of antiseptic.

Weekend Writing and Book Excerpt

Time flies, especially when I’m hustling to get things done. As usual, writing distracted me last night, but not the writing I was supposed to be doing; minds are finicky like that sometimes. So I’m up, bright and early, doing the work I’m supposed to be doing (and not getting donuts, but I’ve been craving cream filed donuts since last night, so today will probably begin and end at Dunks). To get ready for God’s Play’s two week blog tour, I’m gonna share an excerpt from the book! While I’m writing away, enjoy, and if you’re already bought and started reading the book, congratulations–you’re awesome.

My hands tingle, and my feet are numb. The barrier between my human form and my jackal form is dangerously thin. I push away from the bar, drop a tip, and walk into the drizzle. I don’t bother covering my head and press the paper to my chest like a talisman. I autopilot down to the bridge; it’s a metal serpent grown old and fat and beached across the river, and it can’t get up, can’t move. Below it, down along the wharf, huddles a neighborhood of slum warehouses.

I approach the address, the red-bricked front attached to the large, aluminum box. A gaudy sign sits in the window. From a narrow lane, I watch five figures appear out of the fog. They walk in a V formation like a flock of geese. Hunters. I’m a bit pissed for muscle-clenching fear, but I muster a cold sweat for them. I’m too young to remember the old wars― before the shape shifting, when the hunters banded together with an exploding human population to hunt us. It was pitchforks and torches. But it’s a lot more difficult to convince people that shifters are monsters. We look human most of the time. The hunters go to the warehouse and slip into the side door. I twitch my ears, but there are no shots or yells coming from inside that dump. Then, I see why. Another pack materializes in the mist. These five arrive from different directions, three padding on four legs, and the others stalking in on two legs like B movie horror monsters. They enter through loosened panels close to the ground and slide under like shadows. Fennis, the big wolf in the front, goes inside last.

It’s a nature documentary, except there’s nothing natural about it― monsters hunting hunters hunting monsters. I want to see the BBC cover it. I could be filming it right now― if I had a camera and some balls, I’d be famous. But I’m not close enough, so I go in for a better seat. I’m about to emerge from the alley when two of the beasts limp from the back door. I smell their blood, which makes my mouth water. One of them might make it, but the other staggers like a drunkard. I hope it’s Fennis. He deserves it, if only for drinking that shitty scotch before a hunt.

I let them pass and slide through the open back door. The inside reeks of blood, the sweet smell of death and food. I wire my jaw shut and hunch forward, using my enfeebled human nose. I sniff the first bodies in the back before seeing them. A beast and two hunters, all ripped to ribbons and stabbed with claws and metal. I pass over them, stepping on a gun. I kick it under a sofa and head towards a faint glow.

My boots squash on the carpet, and I try not to slip on the gore. There are two more downed creatures and an older man, lying on his stomach; his entrails reek, and I skirt away from him. I pick up the flashlight. A faint, wheezing gasp catches my attention.

Her hat sits crooked on her head, revealing the ginger hair beneath. Her skin is ashen grey. I look down at her, not wanting to get too close to the blade she clutches in her hand.

“It was a trap, didn’t you know,” I tell her. It’s all I can say, a weak eulogy. My little joke lands flat amid the blood pools and bodies.

She nods and mouths the word, ″Toby. Toby.”

I knit my brow. “Don’t know what that means, love.”

“My son. He… get him out,” she wheezes. The blood pumps from her side. She’ll be dead in minutes, but I get the message.

“Probably dead, too,” I tell her. She shakes her head, using her last breaths to insist her son is alive. Her brain churns to a stop― her eyes going blank and unfocused. A frown creases my face while I watch this warrior woman die. And she died like a warrior should― proud and strong in battle and not wasting from old age. If she knew what I was, she wouldn’t have hesitated to take a stab at me, so maybe it’s for the best. I was too chicken-shit scared to come and die in battle, but she wasn’t. So I honor her last wish and go looking for her son.

When I stand up, I scan the battlefield. There’s a faint rasping ―breathing and a heartbeat― someone struggling for air on my left, gasping in a way that suggests they’re not about to die. I walk over to the dead feline. I roll away the carcass to get at the human body underneath.

And then an iron-fingered grip clutches my ankle, nails digging into the skin above my sock. Every cell of my flesh convulses with a thousand itches, which shoot up my body like rug burn. My skin becomes raw like it’s covered in bug bites. I’ve felt this before, but not for a long time. I stagger, twist my leg, and tug away, pulling deep breaths into my lungs, breaking off contact with the hand. But it’s too late― I’m covered in ebony fur, and I convulse in my clothes, unable to even curse while my face reshapes itself.

I stagger backwards. The damage is done. My hands sport matching sets of two inch black claws, and I’m staring down a canine snout― the one for my jackal face. My real face. The air is alive with blood; when my senses expand, it crashes over me, trying to pull me under and drop me in a rip tide. I’m salivating― I need to run, but there’s the boy, hidden beneath the dead feline. He’s attached to that cursed hand gripping my ankle. He lifted the Veil, the protection that keeps me hidden in my human shape.

That little bastard. I’m just lucky my jackal shape is of the anatomically incorrect bipedal monster variety.

Even when I yank my leg from his grasp, I don’t shift back. Not that I expected to. My heightened senses are awash in the delicious scent of blood and fresh meat. I have to get out of here. I grab a large drape, wrap it around the boy, and carry him away. When I leave, even my animal hearing can’t find another breath in the entire warehouse.

Read more inside the cover.

Book review: Catch Me When I Fall

Catch Me When I Fall by Vicki Leigh

Daniel is a 200 year old Protector, people who spend their afterlife protecting humans from Nightmares, which are creatures who invade people’s minds and make them go insane. Daniel’s job is a Catcher, someone who stops the Nightmares, and he partners with other Catchers and at least one Weaver, whose job it is to bring humans dreams. When Daniel is assigned to protect Kayla, a sixteen year-old girl in a mental institution, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him—and this goes double when, during his first night on duty, Kayla is attacked by six Nightmares at once. The race is one to find out why Kayla is a special target, but the more Daniel digs into Kayla’s history, the more he finds himself attracted to her.

For the most part, I really liked Daniel’s character, and he was the right choice as the focus on this story. His personality and the world-building is established immediately, and there’s a lot of history between Daniel, Seth, Sam, and Tabbi that is hinted at; I got the impression that these were people who’d been friends for a long time. They shared stories, had that easy lingo that exists among friends, and it simply made them human. These characters are also funny, which is a huge plus for me in a paranormal book. Some of the older characters like Giovanni, Bartholomew, and Trishna aren’t as fleshed out, but they don’t have to be; they serve their given roles well.

But if you don’t like Kayla, this book might not work for you because the stakes of the story are tied up in Kayla, her past, and her budding relationship with Daniel. I personally found Daniel and Kayla’s relationship to be freaking cute, and they share a lot or realistic couple moments. Kayla is the catalyst that raises Daniel’s mission from ‘everyday business’ into ‘life-threatening weirdness.’ Kayla, as a character, worked best for me early on the in the novel when she was institutionalized. After she leaves the hospital, I never felt she grew much as a character, even as her relationship with Daniel progressed. In the end, Kayla was supposed to have a connection to the antagonist that felt hollow for me, which is a shame because it did weaken the finale of the story.

This gets to the larger plot issue in this book: the ending didn’t feel like it had the emotional weight it needed to have. Maybe it happens too quickly or the bonds between various characters never materialized, but the villains ended up feeling weak. There should seriously be an emotionally strong reaction to the climax of this story, but it just rang a bit hollow for me. The ideas are there, and the protagonists are fleshed out, but there’s never a moment when I believed Kayla would go ‘dark side’; it just wasn’t a plot that was set up, and nothing in her character up until that point indicated it would be. Daniel’s battle with the surprise villain of the story also should’ve carried more weight, but there was never a moment where I felt Daniel cared for this character as a person, so the betrayal at the end didn’t register anything more than a superficial reaction.

That said, there are some great twists and battles building up until the finale that are satisfying; Daniel and Kayla face off against a wraith, which really gets the plot rolling. There’s a great feud between Daniel, Seth, and Ivan early on in the novel as well that establishes that everything might not be sing-alongs and hand-holding circles in Protector manor; they’re the good guys, sure, but not all of them are good people. There are copious fights against Nightmares and the witches and warlocks use powerful magic throughout the story, too. Kayla’s flashback showing how she was put in the mental institution is intensely real, and I loathed the way her mother treated her after the incident; that entire scenario felt so real to me.

There’s a lot of good character work with the protagonists in this novel. They’re funny, they’re grounded in an interesting world, and the main protagonists feel unique. The initial plot and premise was very interesting, and it kept me wanting more. However, the plot did fall apart near the end, and the emotional stakes between protagonist and antagonist didn’t quite reach the level they needed to for this story to deliver on its strengths.

Random Thoughts:

  • “Lasso my heart” was a very beautiful line—one of the best ways I’ve seen a budding romance described recently
  • I would read a novella about Seth’s antics with the Pope.
  • The Veronica Mars dream would’ve been so worth having nightmares for.
  • Daniel’s crack about girls liking to shop made me dislike him for a while. Seriously, dude? You’ve been a live 200 years, and that’s what you take away from your time watching women? It’s a joke, but still—UGH.
  • I wanted more Ivan and Nolan because they’re both sardonic a-holes, which are my types of characters.

Read if: You want a paranormal romance with a strong, male romantic lead who doesn’t read poetry or swoon. The relationship in this story is seriously cute but not sappy.

Beware if: You want a story with interesting villains. This story doesn’t have one, unfortunately, even though it has plenty of supernatural monsters.

My rating: 4 stars because Daniel was the main character and the world building is strong, but the villians let me down.

Book review: My Sister’s Reaper

My Sister’s Reaper (Reaper’s Rite #1) by Dorothy Dreyer

Goodread’s Review

Zadie’s sister Mara was hit by a bus and is in a coma, and Zadie is feeling guilty about chasing a boy, Gavin, while her sister is on the brink of death. Zadie’s guilt isn’t misplaced because she has magic powers, and she thinks she might be able to bring her sister back to life. The novel starts slow and gains traction, and the initial focus is on Zadie and her BFF, Naomi, who are both obsessed with getting a double date with the afore mentioned Gavin and his cute friend, Danny. But this story builds from Sweet Valley High to haunted house, and that’s where its strength is.

The action is more ghost story than slasher flick, which works well for the nebulous mythology woven around Vila and Reapers. The magic in this book works best when it’s left vague, and it feels like a cope out when the ‘control the four elements’ plot is added; that aspect of Zadie’s training feels like filler for something that should’ve been more interesting. The heist plot was also the most underwhelming heist scene I’ve ever read, too, and additionally felt like filler.

The highschool humor felt real, and this serves to elevate the characters above the difficult plot moments. I could see some of my high school friends reacting the way the characters did to many of the circumstances in the novel (even when the events themselves feel bland, the characters don’t). Zadie and Naomi have the most developed relationship in the novel, and I genuinely liked Naomi; Zadie’s character suffers a bit from having to shoulder the emotion burdens of the story, but I bet she’d be more fun in happier circumstances. Mara isn’t very well fleshed out (there’s a good reason for it), but I never got a solid idea of what Zadie and Mara’s relationship had previously been like before the accident. Zadie and Naomi felt more like sisters than Zadie and Mara did. It took longer for Gavin and Chase to feel real to me, but their characters get there.

The high school tropes abounded in this novel, too, and they worked for the sweet romance that developed between Gavin and Zadie; it’s a genuinely cute romance with all the hallmarks of first love done in a non-cliché way. However, I’m a little weary of the popular, alpha bitch character being used as the stock bad guy in every novel featuring a nerdy, plain girl as the protagonist. It just feels lazy to me, but maybe that experience of thinking of all popular/pretty girls as Plastics is something I never experienced so it doesn’t resonate with me. I understand that teens can be terrible to each other, but some of that bled into lazy characterization.

Dreyer’s writing voice is completely comfortable linking together the disparate parts of this novel, and that’s what ultimately saves it. The dialogue is sharp and authentic, and Zadie’s experience really captures the turmoil of juggling high school stress, relationships, and taking on a bigger role in life.

Random Thoughts:

  • Cation: this is an example of how you use science terms correctly in a paranormal fantasy novel. It’s a sharp insight, and I liked it.
  • The ugly floats thing rang true for me. Don’t pretend you didn’t paint/make some ugly floats or set pieces for a play in high school.
  • Is it ever a good idea to let your friend dye your hair?
  • I’m 90% sure I knew a Gavin in high school, and if Gavin said his favorite band was the Black Keys, I would have to email Dreyer and ask her if that’s a pen name because that characterization was uncanny.

Read if: You want a paranormal book that feels more like a ghost story that turns ordinary events like taking a bath, going to a slumber party, or building a float into a supernatural occurrence. If you’re sick of vampires, werewolves, demons, or other supernatural creatures, this could be the paranormal book for you.

Beware if: You want a mystery. There is no mystery to this plot, and I kept expecting one, but what you see is what you get in this novel.

Rating: 3 stars — loved the writing style, but didn’t connect with some of the characters and didn’t enjoy parts of the plot