The Beautiful and the Cursed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan1899: Ingrid Waverly is ruined in London, her reputation in tatters and her friendships irrevocably broken. In the wake of a disastrous summer, Ingrid can hardly bring herself to care when her mother uproots the family to open an art gallery in a Paris abbey.

Both Ingrid and her younger sister, Gabriella, are horrified by the sorry state of the abbey and the prospect of actually living in it. Worse, upon arriving in Paris the family soon learns that Ingrid’s twin brother Grayson is missing.

As Ingrid struggles to find some trace of Grayson she is drawn into a strange underworld of Paris filled with demons and monsters that boggle the mind. But not all of the grotesques Ingrid encounters will lurk in shadows. Some will be closer than she could ever imagine in The Beautiful and the Cursed (2013) by Page Morgan.

The Beautiful and the Cursed is Morgan’s first novel and the beginning of a series. It also started life with the much fiercer title of Grotesque.

A combination of a picturesque setting, an impossible romance and living gargoyles guarantees that The Beautiful and the Cursed will be wildly appealing to many readers. Particularly to readers who enjoy paranormal romances.

Unfortunately other pieces of this novel do not come as smoothly together.

Many aspects of the story do not make sense ranging from unlikely names* to poor plotting. The incident surrounding Ingrid’s departure from England seemed particularly unconvincing to the point of either being contrived or completely fabricated by an unreliable character.**

These problems could have been forgiven and the story truly has potential. The real problem, the one that became impossible to ignore, was how the romance aspect of the story progressed. Ingrid is immediately drawn to one of the abbey’s surly servants–a young man named Luc. While (rightly) Gabriella notices something with Luc, all Ingrid sees are his vivid green eyes. He is at times dismissive, arrogant, rude and brash in his interactions with Ingrid.*** There is absolutely no reason to believe Ingrid would ever be attracted to someone beneath her (albeit sullied) social station and given her supposed independent and pragmatic nature there is even less reason to believe that person would be Luc if such a thing were to happen. Readers who enjoy an unlikely romantic pairing and instantaneous attraction may still find redeeming qualities in Luc (much as Ingrid herself does).

Although the romance is fraught with problems and numerous narrators add unnecessary complications (and repeated information reveals) to the story, The Beautiful and the Cursed is an interesting historical fantasy romance. The story has suspense, drama and even some swoon-worthy moments. Morgan also does an admirable job creating a mythology for gargoyles that is all her own.

*Calling proper English girls Gabriella and Ingrid seemed strange to me. Perhaps with a French mother Gabriella makes sense, but Ingrid? Really?

**She started a fire. By accident. Really?

***I don’t care how tragic the backstory. Luc is a jerk. Really.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Greta and the Goblin King by Chloe Jacobs, The Iron King by Julie Kagawa, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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The Demon Catchers of Milan: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat BeyerBefore Milan, Mia Della Torre was the unexceptional sister compared to her smarter, prettier younger sister Gina. Before Milan Mia was the kind of girl who would check for monsters under her bed and make sure all of the doors and windows were locked each night.

Now, even if Mia is afraid she knows what to do. She knows who in a house is dead and who is something else. After Milan, she might still be scared but she also knows.

Mia’s grandfather left Milan, and his family, behind years ago when he settled in New York. Mia knows nothing of her distant relatives or their strange livelihood until she is possessed by a demon and saved by a cousin and great uncle she has never met. Even freed from the demon, Mia still may not be safe. Not when it can come back.

Suddenly Mia’s normal, unexceptional life is over. She is whisked away to Milan to live with the demon catching relatives her grandfather hated–the only people who might be able to keep Mia alive.

In a strange city Mia is cooped up indoors as she learns the strange language and stranger history surrounding Milan and her family. Demons, it seems, can be anywhere and her family always has to be ready. But with the threat of another possession looming, Mia isn’t sure if she wants to face her fate or hide from it.

Mia came to Milan for protection from the demon who wants her and to learn more about the family she never knew. Along the way, surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins, Mia will also find confidence, a new language and even a new place to call home in The Demon Catchers of Milan (2012) by Kat Beyer.

The Demon Catchers of Milan is Beyer’s first book. It is also the first in a projected trilogy.

Filled with interesting tidbits about Milanese culture and phrases of Italian, The Demon Catchers of Milan is part travelogue, part fantasy. After an action packed opening (complete with a possession and an exorcism!), Beyer slows things down as Mia comes to Milan and begins to acclimate to her new surroundings.

There is not a lot of action in the middle of the story, something that might turn off readers expecting non-stop excitement. There are thrilling moments and the threat of Mia’s demon returning is a constant throughout the story, but the bulk of the plot focuses more on Mia connecting with her family and making sense of her place both in Milan and among the demon catching Della Torres.

Beyer’s focus on family is refreshing. Mia is surrounded by people who love and value her. It’s nice to see that kind of affection and unconditional love in a novel. It was equally pleasing to find a fantasy where the plot stays firmly focused on the heroine (and her family) instead of a messy love triangle or a star-crossed love plot.

Perhaps it’s because my mother’s side of the family is Italian but I absolutely loved Mia and the rest of the Della Torres. The Demon Catchers of Milan is short (288 pages hardcover) but Beyer manages to fill those pages with countless well-realized and vivid characters to create a real ensemble cast.

Although the pacing, particularly near the end, became frantic The Demon Catchers of Milan  remains a solidly enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys fantasies with a strong heroine coming into her own. Best of all, this story is contained. There are hints of things to come in future installments but The Demon Catchers of Milan works very nicely on its own without leaving readers hanging until the trilogy is complete.

Possible Pairings: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

Daughter of Smoke and Bone: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini TaylorBlack hand-prints are appearing on doors all over the world, burned there as if by magic by strange soldiers with winged shadows.

In a dark shop that exists outside the realm of conventional doors, a Devil’s supply of teeth is growing dangerously low.

And on the streets of Prague an art student named Karou is about to learn the real cost of a wish and all of the secrets of her murky past–more, perhaps, than she wants to know in Daughter of Smoke and Bone (2011) by Laini Taylor.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first book in a trilogy (which is lucky since the book actually ends with “to be continued”). It also has a pretty website with information about the book, the characters and the world.

Broken into four parts, this book has an interesting structure. Each section begins with a short phrase that almost tells readers what to expect even if what follows is never exactly what was expected. For instance, the book begins with “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love, it did not end well.” Yet the story still entices and much remains to be revealed before the novel is over.

The world Taylor creates in Daughter of Smoke and Bone is stunning in both its scope and its execution. In addition to evoking Karou’s mystical life in Prague complete with a church that serves goulash on coffin tables, Taylor weaves an intricate story of angels and devils replete with history, myths and one very bloody war.

Taylor artfully tells at least three stories in this one book as the focus shifts between angels and devils, Karou’s present, and the near past. Though names and details come very fast in the beginning the density of the story eventually lessens as events resolve themselves into one clear, related narrative. At least until the shocking conclusion that leaves things up in the air in a very literal sense until the next book is available.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a delightfully original addition to the ever-growing world of literature about angels (and devils) and a fine example of what the landscape of a fantasy should look like. A must read for fans of urban fantasy and high fantasy alike.

Possible Pairings: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The Beautiful and the Cursed by Paige Morgan, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Exclusive Bonus Content: I read this book back to back with another fantasy. Usually that’s not a problem for me except that this other fantasy was The Girl of Fire and Thorns which, you will agree, has a very similar title. So now I have to really think before saying either title lest I conflate the two.

After Obsession: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

After Obsession by Carrie Jones & Steven E. WedelAs soon as Alan arrives in town, he knows something isn’t right even if he can’t quite place what. He knows from his dreams with his spirit animal that it involves a dark force. And a girl with bright red hair.

Aimee’s friends call her Red because of her hair. She notices Alan right away, even with her boyfriend, it’s hard not to when he’s so tall and good looking. And he’s also the guy she’s been seeing in her creepy vision-dreams for the past few weeks.

Their connection is immediate, but Alan and Aimee have a lot to do before they can think about anything as simple as a relationship. Courtney–Alan’s cousin and Aimee’s best friend–has been acting strangely. Like, something else is controlling her strange.

There are four stages to any possession: Invitation. Infestation. Obsession. You can probably guess what comes after. Aimee and Alan have to save Courtney before that, and together they might just manage it. They kind of have to, because after obsession there is no turning back. For anyone in After Obsession (2011) by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel.

After Obsession was written in collaboration with alternation chapters where Jones wrote Aimee’s narration while Wedel wrote Alan’s.

Aside from a catchy title, After Obsession has a clever premise that is straightforward and wastes no time getting to the crux of the story. Aimee and Alan are clever narrators with their chemistry and unique abilities.

Jones and Wedel play fast and loose with supernatural elements here generally to good effect. Aimee has visions and can heal people (which no one at all seems to find odd). Alan is half Navajo and has a spirit guide and is a spirit warrior (and also apparently completely embraces a culture he knows little about outside of Internet research because his father was Navajo even though he never met his father and doesn’t even know his father’s name for certain).

If you can get past those issues, After Obsession is a fun, breezy read with suspense, excitement and romance.

After Obsession is currently a standalone novel, which is fine except for the end of the book when things start happening really fast and a lot of plot threads are not fully explained or resolved. With so much left up in the air After Obsession felt more like a first installment than a complete novel albeit an entertaining read either way.

Possible Pairings: Swoon by Nina Malkin, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, The Game of Triumphs by Laura Powell, Misfit by Jon Skovron, Between by Jessica Warman

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2011

Misfit: A Review

Misfit by Jon SkovronGoing to Catholic school and living with your super strict dad (who, by the way, is totally a teacher at your school) is hard enough at the best of times. Even more so for Jael Thompson because, in addition to the usual problems you might be able to imagine, she’s a demon. More accurately a half-demon.

For the last fifteen years that has meant Jael and her dad move around a lot trying to stay one step ahead of the demon’s working for one of Hell’s dukes who wants to kill Jael. It’s also meant being completely in the dark about her mother, her powers, and a lot of her family’s past.

Everything changes when Jael receives a strangely beautiful necklace on her sixteenth birthday. Her mother wanted her to have it. Her father has forbidden Jael from wearing it. Jael knows the necklace is the key and that her choice will change everything. The only problem is, Jael isn’t sure what to choose. Does she venture into her demonic side or stay true to her human life by going to high school and flirting with Rob–the cute skater boy in all of her classes? Jael is half-demon and half-mortal, but if she can live long enough maybe she can have the best of both in Misfit (2011) by Jon Skovron.

Misfit is Skovron’s second novel and his first venture into the fantasy genre.

Misfit has a really interesting premise. Skovron artfully combines conventional ideas about Hell with mythology and his own take on things. While the story is heavy on religious references (unsurprisingly since Jael’s father was a priest and she is in Catholic school) Skovron manages to present a surprisingly secular and refreshing take on demonology.

Written in the third person present tense, some of the prose here felt distancing and often pulled me out of the action of the story. Jael’s narrative alternates with anecdotes about her mother (written in the traditional third person past tense) and often the flashback segments felt more engrossing.

While Skovron did a wonderful job introducing Jael and her family and explaining her origins, the story felt rushed and ended abruptly. Misfit is a great setup for what will likely become a popular series but on its own the ending of this one felt a bit too open-ended. At times gory (but not too gory) and often surprising, Misfit is a great pick for horror and fantasy fans alike.

Possible Pairings: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, Mister Monday by Garth Nix, Paranormalcy by Kirsten White

The Demon’s Surrender: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees BrennanJust one year ago Cynthia Davies thought her place at the Goblin Market was assured. The darling of Market’s leader, a talented dancer, Sin Davies is Market royalty in every possible way. Sin had thought that made her the obvious choice as the heir to the Goblin Market. Sin actually thought it made her the only choice.

Then Mae Crawford showed up and usurped Sin’s rightful place, forcing Sin to fight desperately for her place as the Market’s heir.

Good thing Sin is used to fighting for what she wants. Every day she struggles to keep her younger siblings Lydie and Toby safe. Lately she has also had to wrangle her feelings for the infuriating Alan Ryves. Once little more than a tall, irritatingly smart, thorn in her side Sin now owes Alan a debt that can never be repaid. And Sin doesn’t like owing anything to anyone.

As time runs out for Sin to stake her claim to the Market, outside threats are also closing in. Mae’s own brother has joined the magician’s that want to kill them all and destroy the market. While the loyalties of Alan’s brother remain perilously uncertain. Nick, Sin’s favorite dance partner and a dangerous demon, might still have an allegiance to his brother Alan. Or he might destroy them all.

Victory will come at a cost for all of them. Will the price be more than Sin can pay in The Demon’s Surrender (2011) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

The Demon’s Surrender is the conclusion of Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon Trilogy. It is preceeded by The Demon’s Lexicon and The Demon’s Covenant–the first and second books respectively.

In the first book readers met Nick Ryves and learned the startling truth of his past. In book two readers learned more about Mae, her brother Jamie, and the dangers of dealing with magicians. Throughout both books Sin appeared as an attractive, athletic and integral part of the Goblin Market.

Readers did not learn much more about this often aloof heroine until this final book which is told from Sin’s point of view. Lacking a frame of reference for Sin’s personality–it was a little worrisome to know an entire book, not to mention the conclusion of the trilogy, would be told from her point of view.

Turns out there was absolutely nothing to worry about.

Reading about Sin in The Demon’s Surrender was a revelation as Rees Brennan reveals more and more facets of Sin’s personality. An athletic dancer, Sin plays many roles. Some things don’t come easily to her and often she struggles with her responsibilities. She is multi-layered, tough and so much fun to follow throughout the story. As events unfold it is soon obvious that Sin really is the perfect character to wrap up this stunning trilogy.

While Mae and Jamie take a back seat in this installment (after featuring heavily in books one and two), Nick and Alan remain major characters. In fact, having a Sin book turned out to be the next best thing to an actual Alan book.

It’s hard to review the conclusion of a trilogy without revealing too much or explaining too much of the first books. All you really need to know is Rees Brennan’s writing remains taut and seamless as she works out twists, turns and lots of action.

The Demon’s Surrender is a perfect conclusion to a beloved trilogy wrapping up events appropriately and giving the characters some kind of closure while showing that Rees Brennan still has a lot of tricks up her sleeve. I can’t wait to see what she has in store for readers in her next series.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Demonglass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

**This review (and the book itself) contains MAJOR spoilers for Hex Hall. You have been warned.**

Demonglass by Rachel HawkinsSophie Mercer’s first year at Hex Hall is almost over and in those months everything she thought she knew was turned upside down. Now Sophie knows the truth about herself (turns out she isn’t a dark witch but a demon), her crush (undercover agent of The Eye–a group determined to kill all Prodigium including witches, shifters, fairies, and definitely demons), and the dangerous nature of her powers (being a demon could lead to, well, killing people).

All of which just convinces Sophie that she needs to go to London for the Removal, a dangerous procedure that can strip Sophie of her powers–if it doesn’t kill her.

Traveling to London with her estranged father (and head of the Council in charge of all things magic including the Removal) Sophie finally realizes knowing the truth doesn’t mean she knows everything. Turns out there’s a lot more to her family and her powers than she thought.

As if Sophie’s plate isn’t full enough she also discovers other demons in London, learns more about her crush (the one that might want to kill her), and discovers there might be more to Hex Hall’s stoic caretaker Cal than she gave him credit for. With or without the Removal Sophie’s summer is sure to be exciting (but hopefully not deadly) in Demonglass (2011) by Rachel Hawkins.

Demonglass is the sequel to Hawkin’s first novel Hex Hall.

If Hex Hall was a funny, exciting, fantasy with strong heroine then Demonglass is all of that but more.

Readers will find the same breezy narration and action-packed story along with the characters they loved from Sophie’s first adventure. At the same time Hawkins does a wonderful job expanding Sophie’s world and building on the events of the first book to create a new and original plot here. Sophie’s relationship with her father is also handled in a realistic way helping to make him a well-realized character who adds a lot to the story. Speaking of great characters, as a fan of Cal from the very beginning, I am also happy to report that he features more prominently in this installment to great effect.*

Sophie continues to be a great heroine with her sharp blend of sarcastic humor, bravery and a basic authenticity about her. Really, my only regret about this book is that it ends with the most epic cliffhanger I’ve seen since Catching Fire. Luckily the final installment in Sophie’s trilogy is slated for a 2012 release.

*Cal is now officially a part of the very exclusive Literary Guys I Wish Were Real Club.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde