Redlaw (Redlaw #1) By James Lovegrove

Redlaw (Redlaw #1) By James Lovegrove

 

TITLE: Redlaw (Redlaw #1)
AUTHOR: James Lovegrove
GENRE: Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
PUBLISHED: September 2011
RATING: ★★★★☆

Redlaw is set in London, the story’s premise that vampires suddenly have gone from myth to reality. Author Lovegrove’s vampires are different from the usual vampire; his are slovenly and disgusting creatures with little intelligence ruled entirely by the thirst for blood. The only exception is the Shtriga, a special elite type of vampire that’s much more human. Vampires have been illegally immigrating to London and have become such a large problem that they are confined to what is called Sunless Residential Areas, or SRAs. An SRA is a reservation for vampires. Vampires are required to remain in their designated SRAs or they are to be staked on sight by shade officers.


Quote:
“He nudged open a door to a stairwell. The stench that poured out almost bowled him over. The Sunless were using the stairwell as a kind of communal open-plan latrine. “

“They led him up the cloacal staircase, eleven flights to the top. The vampires trod blithely—many of them barefoot—through the globs of faecal matter that had piled up on the steps. Redlaw placed his feet with care and fought to keep from gagging.”

The novel opens with action, our main character John Redlaw puts a few stokers in their places. Stokers are vigilantes who stalk the streets at night looking for vampires who have left their SRA; the stokers stalk and beat them to a pulp before finally dusting them with a stake through the heart.

Quote:
“Redlaw didn’t relent until both Stokers were half senseless and their features were like bloody maps of hell. Then he went over to the rollerblader Stoker with the crippled knee and, almost clinically, stamped on his good knee until it was crippled too. Finally he turned to the man with the broken arm, who was hobbling away, whimpering. He yanked the man’s helmet off, exposing a pain-wracked, tear-streaked face. “If there’s one thing lower than vampires,” he said, “it’s people who prey on vampires.”

Redlaw is a detective of the Vampire police agency known as shade; he is a bad ass and his name alone sparks fear in vampires across London. The plot of the novel focuses on a series of violent riots during blood drops to the SRAs. Redlaw knows vampires, and his gut is telling him that this behavior is unusual.

Quote:
“What are your suspicions based on?” “Nothing. Yet,” said Redlaw. “Instinct. A feeling.” “Oh, dear Lord, please don’t say a hunch.” That would have been the very next word out of his mouth. “I patrol the streets every night. Have done for a decade and a half. It’d be fair to say that I’ve developed a… sensitivity for how ’Lesses think and behave. What I witnessed at Hackney, the savagery, the intensity—it wasn’t normal.”

“I had to post mortem neutralise two men last night in Hackney. Two men whose last few minutes of life must have been spent in utter, abject terror. Two men with families. That isn’t right. There has to be a root cause to the riots, something more than simple thirst.”

John Redlaw reminds me of John McClane from the Die Hard movies — IF he were British and in his sixties. Redlaw started his career as a police detective and ended up working as a shade officer. He’s a devout man, not fanatical in his faith but serious in his devotion; and doing what’s right and to the vampires he’s the Boogeyman.

Quote:
“As for Nikola, he was truly terrified. He might not have been in this country long but even he had heard of John Redlaw. The man was spoken of among his kind often and only ever in hushed tones, the name rarely uttered louder than a whisper.”

But Redlaw has a lot on his plate, trying to solve the mystery of the increased riots at the SRAs dealing with guilt over the death of his partner.

Quote:
“You still feel guilty over Leary’s death.” Father Dixon pitched the remark carefully as both statement and query. He already had a clear notion of the answer. “Of course. If I’d been with her, it never would have happened.”

The story follows several characters, each important to the development and conclusion of the story. The story switches point of view with each character, which isn’t bad except at times when following a less interesting character the story gets boring and monotonous. This is mostly because the acts of the villains aren’t action packed, it’s more strategic moves and ulterior motives. The author tries to give readers background info that is informative but not necessary to the story and its development.

But Redlaw isn’t the only hero of the tale, we have the endearing Father Dixon and the Shrtriga Illyria Strakosha. Father Dixon is John Redlaw’s spiritual guide and probably his best friend.

Quote:
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” said Redlaw as he knelt at the communion rail, facing the sanctuary. “No, you haven’t, John,” Father Dixon replied from the other side of the rail. “Don’t talk rot. If you’ve sinned, then it’s truly a sign of the End Times and I should be looking out the window for my first glimpse of the Four Horsemen. What’s troubling you? Care to share?”

“Think about it,” said Father Dixon. “Vampires. Supernatural beings. They’re immortal—as long as they steer clear of you chaps. They have abilities that some might call superhuman, godlike even. They skulk in the dark, forbidden the light. They’re compelled to leech off the living, to drink blood, kind of an anti-Eucharist. They’re dead but they mimic life. What are they, looked at like that, but a parody of God? His warped reflection. The negative to His positive. We infer the shape of Him by the shadows the Sunless create. They provide the outline, leaving a blank for us to fill in. He made them, John, just as He made the Devil, in order to show us Himself. Unholy and blasphemous as they are, vampires are the clearest evidence we have that God is real and wants us to know it. Do you see that? Often I’m asked by a parishioner why doesn’t God ever just give us a sign, something concrete and undeniable, so that we can be sure, one hundred per cent, that He’s there. I reply: He already has. Go to an SRA and look. There’s your sign.”

Illyria throws Redlaw for a loop. Putting everything he thought he knew about vampires to the test.

Quote:
“The woman turned. She was—and Redlaw could not hide his surprise—striking. Pale-skinned, yes, but she lacked the greasy pallor common to the Sunless, and her eyes were not scarlet, just dark. Dark like a starless night. There was, too, none of the familiar slouchy cadaverousness about her. She held herself straight. She had presence. Her hair was thick, glossy and black as ink. Her features were fine, not feral. Even her clothing—jeans, tailored jacket, a blouse, knee boots—was a cut above the shabby vampire average. Not brand new, to be sure, but in good condition and showing signs of having been laundered not so long ago. She smiled at his confusion.”

One of the best things about the novel is following the development of Redlaw and Illyria’s relationship as they work together to uncover the cause of the SRA riots.

Quote:
“You’re out of your SRA,” he said. “That’s in direct contravention of the Sunless Settlement Act.” “So impale me.” “I would if I could.” “I know, old bean. That’s what makes you so spiffingly entertaining—your relentless dedication to your job. To the point of masochism.” “I… entertain you?” Redlaw snorted.”

“He had no recollection of Illyria mending the stitches he had torn. She must have done it while he slept. Dear God, how insensible did you have to be for someone to put two fresh stitches in you and not be woken by it? He was both alarmed and oddly touched, picturing her ministering to him in the dark. Any other Sunless would have taken advantage, ripped a hole in his neck and drunk from his jugular as though slurping water from a spigot. Illyria, instead, had deftly, delicately fixed him up, knowing he would never have given his consent had he been conscious.”

I enjoyed the originality of Lovegrove’s tale using the slang sunless or ‘less to refer to the vampires. The idea of vampires as immigrants, to have the vampires confined to the SRAs, and for the main character to be an officer in his sixties. For the villain of a vampire story to be the humans. Vigilantes on roller blades stalking vampires. I also found the British accents and dialects fun. It was a change of pace for me, the first time I read a book written completely using British dialects and slang. But by novel’s end, I was well ready for it to be over. Bouts of unnecessary wordiness began to make reading the story a chore. Towards the end of the story, the author managed to somewhat redeem himself by hitting us with a completely unexpected plot twist. All throughout the novel the reader clearly knows who the good guys are who the bad guys are and whose in between, then bam! Sneaky, sneaky Lovegrove, who changes the game.

The author deliberately leaves things up in the air at the end of the novel. We never find out what happened to Redlaw or the Solarville project.

Redlaw is not the usual urban fantasy. There’s no magic involved but it is a nice change of pace for any reader who loves urban fantasy and vampire tales. I definitely recommend the book.

Shift (Mackenzie Grey #1) By Karina Espinosa

Shift (Mackenzie Grey #1) By Karina Espinosa

 

TITLE: SHIFT (Mackenzie Grey #1)
AUTHOR: Karina Espinosa
GENRE: Adult Urban Fantasy
PUBLISHED: Jan 21st, 2015
RATING: ★★★★☆

Shift is an Urban Fantasy Novel about werewolves and the first book in the Mackenzie Grey Series by indie author Karina Espinosa. Shift is set in Manhattan, NY but the author takes us to many places throughout The Big Apple, Brooklyn, Cold Spring, Little Falls, Alphabet City, Central Park, Astor Hall.

The book begins with our main character and Heroine; Mackenzie and her bestie Amy going “toe to toe” with her arch nemesis Diana Stone. Diana stole Mackenzie’s former childhood best friend and now ex-boyfriend James and seems to have nothing better to do than to stalk and torment Mackenzie.

Mackenzie Grey is a college student and aspiring Cop trying to finish her criminal justice degree while surviving the heartache of being cheated on by her ex-boyfriend James. Mackenzie is strong, independent, sarcastic, and impulsive. She’s a feminist with a strong sense of justice.

But Mackenzie isn’t your average college student. She’s a werewolf – a lone wolf to be exact; strangely she has no idea how she became a werewolf. But Mackenzie’s problems are about to get a lot bigger than getting over a cheating boyfriend.

Mackenzie is discovered as a lone-wolf by the Brooklyn pack and kidnapped. Suddenly thrust into werewolf society, the more she finds out the more she wants to escape.

Jonah Caldwell is the Beta Wolf of the Brooklyn wolfpack; he is instantly infatuated and becomes highly territorial when it comes to Mackenzie.

Sebastian Steel is the Alpha of the Brooklyn wolfpack. As alpha he expects obedience even from a Luna ignorant of the ways of werewolf society. Sebastian and Mackenzie manage to push each other’s buttons at every turn yet the sparks to still crackle between the two, but he’s all alpha and expects Mackenzie to become a Luna.

Quote:
“They do as their Alpha says, like they should,” he said. “Soon, you will as well.” “Not happening. I’m not joining your little club.” “We’ll see,” he said and turned around just as the Luna came up to us with the items he requested. “

Both men are Alpha personalities and seem to run hot, when things are going their way and cold, when things are not.

Quote:
“He snorted. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be back home with your cheating boyfriend?” he said and I clenched my fists at my side. Okay, now I’m starting to feel like myself again. A thought stopped me, maybe it was better if I gave him space before I couldn’t control what came out of my mouth. “Low blow, Jonah,”

“I think there is, asshole. You can’t just try to seduce me and then act like you do that with everyone. I mean, unless you do, then—then you’re a whore,” I said”

The main plot of the novel is the suspicious disappearances of members of the supernatural community, as well as Mackenzie’s status as a lone wolf and her lineage.

Quote:
“We have another reported kidnapping, but this time in Spanish Harlem. Do you want to tag along or are you done for the day?”

But there’s also a sub-plot of gender inequality.

Quote:
“Why does being a woman matter?” “Mackenzie, when are you going to get it through that thick head of yours? The Pack hasn’t caught up to modern human times. In this world, women have a place and they are kept in line! Not doing so is insubordinate”

The book does conclude with a resolution, to the case of the suspicious disappearances. The issue of Mackenzie’s lone Wolf status becomes a moot point, but the issue of gender inequality among the werewolves remains unresolved.

Honestly, I loved the book but it is not perfect, at times the story is a bit ‘choppy,’ but there is never a dull moment. Shift gets more interesting with each chapter. One of the best things about Shift is the story is pretty to the point; the tale is just as long as it needs to be and not a word longer. The author Karina Espinosa considers the book to be adult urban fantasy but it’s pretty PG-13.

Shift is an interesting and enjoyable tale. I recommend it to any urban fantasy lover from teen to adult.

Caged (Mackenzie Grey#2) By Karina Espinosa

Caged (Mackenzie Grey#2) By Karina Espinosa

 

TITLE: CAGED (Mackenzie Grey #2)
AUTHOR: Karina Espinosa
GENRE: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
PUBLISHED: April 26th 2016
RATING: ★★★☆☆

Caged is the second book in the Mackenzie Grey urban fantasy series by author Karina Espinosa. With the help of Lucian, the head vampire of NYC, Mackenzie was able to escape the fate of being forced into a pack by Charles, the alpha of the northeast. Since then Mackenzie has become a better wolf. She has realized her dream of becoming a police officer and has acquired the skills she previously lacked to protect herself. Trouble still follows Mackenzie wherever she goes but she has yet to find a case she can’t solve or an injustice she doesn’t feel obligated to make right.

In Caged the main plot focuses on Mackenzie’s lineage, her personal freedom, and her destiny. As well as the still simmering issue of the Luna’s rights. Mackenzie Grey has had a taste of werewolf society and found it wanting she isn’t a Luna and never plans on becoming one.
Quote:
“Rights are wronged. Screams are held. Etched scars kill hearts that dare rebel. Victory eats in the presence of the saved. Oppression rests in idle hands of the brave. Lest fear ignite a silence too loud to ignore, Untie the bonds, reclaim what’s yours. Tides rise in the wake of the unchained moon. Innocent howls split open the sleeping tomb. Only one will champion and lead the enraged. No warrior surrenders. No warrior remains caged. “That’s what the wolf told me during my Quest. I sweated enough to hydrate a third-world country, and that was the shit it told me. It doesn’t even make sense!” I whined. “And then La Loba, after more than a year later, tells me saving Emma is the journey the Vision was talking about!”

Quote:
“Lunas weren’t slaves, but they weren’t free to be who they wanted to be. There was a structure and they had to follow it. It was the reason I was on the run and not part of the Brooklyn Pack. I couldn’t live like that—I’d rather be dead.”

To save a juvenile female werewolf from becoming a luna Mackenzie must come out of hiding and face the truths of her lineage head on. As events unfold, Mackenzie realizes she can’t hide forever and she doesn’t want to be looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life. She wants to changes things so that she can truly be free.

Quote:
“The oppression of Lunas! What they’re doing is wrong and I haven’t done a thing about it. What if it’s my job to change things…for Emma,”

“I don’t want to be on the run forever and I can’t throw Emma to the wolves.”

At the end of book one, Mackenzie learned she was adopted although she chose to ignore it. In Caged Mackenzie’s lineage is brought to the forefront. She learns who her father is, which only creates more problems for her. She becomes the most wanted unmated female luna of the American werewolf nation. Alphas are willing to go to any means to capture her and force her into their packs.

Mackenzie is forced to defend herself and fight for her freedom several times. Realizing that fighting for her own freedom changes nothing. Mackenzie’s fight becomes a fight for the rights of all lunas. Mackenzie becomes the Simone de Beauvoir of the werewolf world.

Quote:
“Look at this part: Only one will champion and lead the enraged. I know I’m not the only Luna who is sick of their misogynistic ways. I can do this, Rome, I know I can. I have to—for my own freedom.”

“Right now there is an eleven-year-old Luna in the warehouse and Charles has no idea where to place her. What if she lands in a Pack similar to Chicago’s? Is that the future you envision for any child you plan to have? To raise girls who will become slaves and boys who will become monsters?” I took a breath and eased my racing pulse. “We can do something about it. We have to stand up for ourselves—we are capable, I’m living proof that we are.”

Mackenzie also has to deal with the still simmering love triangle between herself, Sebastian the alpha of the Brooklyn pack, and his beta Jonah.

Quote:
“What’s going on between you and Jonah?” I said, as we entered Cold Springs, my hometown. “Nothing.” “No, there’s something and I feel like I’m entitled to know. So spill, because I won’t shut up until you do.” He sighed. “We haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye, lately, that’s all.” “Why? You guys are best friends.” “Sometimes that’s not enough, Mackenzie. People change.” “Do I have anything to do with it?” I fiddled with the radio station to occupy myself. “Yes,” he whispered.”

Sebastian seems to have come to terms with Mackenzie’s alpha personality. It goes against his Alpha sensibilities, but he respects Mackenzie’s right to make decisions about her own life.

Quote:
“You’re just going to let her do this?” Jonah asked his Alpha. “You heard her, Jonah. It’s her life, her decision. We will respect it and do what we can. You understand?”

Jonah who in book one seemed the most likely to succeed in the fight for Mackenzie affections, in Caged reveals his true colors. While he loves Mackenzie, he has no respect for her independence. He would see her safe by any means in spite of what she wants for herself. For his own happiness and peace of mind, he would turn Mackenzie into what she would never want to be, a luna.

Quote:
“You think I would own you? I wouldn’t do that to you, Kenz,” his brown eyes saddened. “Essentially you would. At some point in our mate-whatever-matrimony, you would put your foot down on something you were against me doing. It would be irresponsible of me to think you could change.”

By the end of Caged, the issue of Mackenzie’s lineage and freedom is somewhat resolved, but the issue of the luna’s rights seems to have ended in a massacre.

Throughout the first two books, I really enjoyed Espinosa’s writing. Caged is definitely a step up from Shift; the Author seems more confident in her tale. Espinosa knows exactly where the story is going and takes us three via fastest route. Caged is enjoyable and face-paced. I recommend the book to urban fantasy lovers or any reader looking for a quick escape from reality.

Stony River By Tricia Dower

Stony River By Tricia Dower

SR - TD

TITLE: Stony River 

AUTHOR: Tricia Dower 

GENRE: Historical Fiction, Mystery

PUBLISHED: July 24th 2012

RATING: ★★★★☆

A startlingly realistic story, Stony River follows three adolescent girls – Linda Wise, Tereza Dobra, and Miranda Haggerty – on their perilous journey towards womanhood while living in New Jersey in the 1950s. Each of these girls face different struggles: Abuse, Parental indifference, Molestation, Religious Zealotry, and Prejudice. This is a tale of women oppressed, repressed in their sexuality, caged by society’s views on what is proper; some endure many types of abuse sexual, verbal, and even mental. Growing up female in a society that treats women as lesser beings. Forced to hold your tongue taught by your own father to always oblige a man’s ego. A time where religious beliefs often bordered on zealotry. A society where people turn a blind eye to wrongdoing simply because it’s not their business.

Tereza and Linda are friends its seems the only friend to one another. Seemingly because they are both outcast although in different ways. While Linda comes from what seems to be a middle class family she has serious self-esteem issues. Tereza is a misunderstood and abused child. Truly these girls have nothing in common at all except a need to escape the constraints placed upon them by their families. In fact, their friendship is short lived, the discovery of Miranda Haggerty is the catalyst to the end of Linda and Tereza’s friendship.

Quote:

“Tereza was the only girl even close to her age on the “right” side of the highway Linda wasn’t allowed to cross alone. Tereza moving in was like finding an extra gift under the Christmas tree.”

Linda Wise is eleven years old, her family isn’t rich but well enough off not to be considered poor; her mother is a stay-at-home wife and her father works at the town chemical plant. Linda is a sweet innocent wholesome god fearing young women innocent of “worldly things”. Linda is full figured and has low self-esteem.

Quote:

“She flushed with pleasure. Occasionally, when he called on her in class, she sensed he saw through her hideous plaid eyeglass frames to someone he could love if she were older and thinner. “

She grows up repressed and kind of flails her way through her adolescence through trial and error due in part to her lack of friends and real world knowledge, but also attributed to her parents indifferent and self-absorbed ways their inability to accept their daughter for who she is and their failure to guide her properly to being the woman she should become.

Quote:

“Linda remembered her own disappointing twelfth birthday. When the Stage Manager said the dead didn’t stay interested in the living for long, she’d thought of Mother, shut up in her room across the hall, showing little interest in anyone or anything. It made her feel hopeless and angry.”

The world that Linda Wise lives in is one where she doesn’t even feel like she can come to her parents after the terrifying event of being sexually assaulted after taking a ride from a stranger. She won’t even go to the police for fear of getting in trouble with her parents. And given the way her father reacted when the elderly store owner forced her to kiss him its really not surprising.

Quote:

“Did you say anything to encourage him?” Mother asked. “No.” Should she have said she didn’t like him? “Did he hurt you?” Daddy asked. “Not really.” His hands had dug into her shoulders. “Well, then,” Daddy said, “try to understand how lonely he’s been since his wife died.”

Linda’s own father, the image of what to look for in a man fails to guide her as a father should

Quote:

“He saw himself whisper into Linda’s ear and the two of them make their way to an alcove near the entrance. He saw himself grip her shoulders with his big, square hands.Heard himself trot out his authoritative business voice. Linda’s expression froze as he bit out the words “Don’t ever turn down a dance, do you hear me?” Ignoring her attempt at an explanation he pressed on, explaining the fragility of the male ego, the courage it took to ask a girl to dance and how humiliating it was to be turned down, especially in front of others. She was to follow along with whatever steps the boy made, laugh if he laughed, reassure him if he apologized for stumbling, treat the dance as though it were the most fun she’d ever had and the boy the most interesting person she’d ever met. Roger couldn’t make himself stop even after Linda’s eyes got shimmery with tears and her body rigid as marble.”

Linda’s mother’s own feelings of repression caused by her husband rogers selfishness, and disregard for her feelings. And her unhappiness with the choices she’s made as well at her depression caused by a miscarriage have had a direct effect on how she handles her daughter.

Quote:

“whatever Bill’s job demanded came first. She’d learned the practical wisdom of that perspective from her army Wife-with-a-capital-W mother.” 

“If Robert had lived, Roger would have doted on him and not stolen Linda away from her. Mom had told her countless times to put the boy behind her and love the child God gave her, but three people wasn’t much of a family, not like the eight kids her own parents had. The plain truth was that Roger and Linda didn’t need her.” 

“Roger would never move away from the house he was born in. Betty accepted that. Those first few years she didn’t mind sharing a home with Mother Wise, as she insisted Betty call her. She didn’t mind taking care of her when she was dying, even though the woman called Betty a hick. After she died, Betty wanted Roger to give some thought to living near her mom for a while. But he said, “You’re the one who came out here and decided to stay.” True enough. She just wished he’d try to make it more worth her while.”

Tereza Dobra is a completely different case she knows more of the world than any child at age 13 should. She’s a street child running rampant, unsupervised and not cared for the way she should be searching for a way out of the life she’s living the daily abuse at the hands of her step father and a mother who fails to protect her. The circumstances of her life cause her to have far more “Worldly experience than any child should. And Tereza makes it to adulthood by pure luck finding a knight to her damsel and he surely saves her from her own stupidity. As much as Tereza had reason to escape her life she doesn’t know as much about the real world as she thinks she does, and finds out quickly that a young girl cannot survive on her own.

Quote:

“Talking dirty was their way of showing they liked her. She only ever let them stick their tongues in her mouth and flash their dicks at her. Guys were so impressed with their dicks.”

“Jimmy hardly ever smacked Ma and Allen. He never hit their jaws so hard they practically amputated their tongues with their teeth. That time, he’d been scared shitless the hospital would call the cops. He bought her a Dale Evans lamp and didn’t raise a hand to her for months. That was when she was eleven and keener on Dale Evans.”

“the realization that Ma had been forsaking her for Jimmy since she was four years old smacked her clear across the face.”

Kept in seclusion since the age of three Miranda Haggerty is well learned, incredibly intelligent and a quick learner however the circumstances of her life in seclusion have left its mark on her personality. Raised by her father a Celtic Zealot, Miranda lacks the social skills of the average girl her age. Miranda quickly finds that the things she’s been taught about the world are just not what she thought. As well as having to face the truth of her son Cian’s conception and the realization that the person she loved trusted abused her trust and stole her childhood.

Quote:

“FOR TWELVE YEARS Miranda has viewed the World through the attic’s streaky half-moon window, seeing half a tree, half a street and only the birds and clouds that passed by her scrap of sky. “

“She’s the best reader and speller in Sister Celine’s fifth-grade class and excels at religious studies; she’d be in a higher grade if she knew more about such things as the Pilgrims and the Gold Rush.”

Miranda begins to adapt to the world around her. Miranda and her son Cian become wards of a Catholic Orphanage run by Nuns now thrust into a world of Catholic dogma bordering on religious zealotry.

Quote:

“Once a week Mother Alfreda tries to guide Miranda into a trance state. Last week she had her gaze at a crucifix because, hundreds of years ago, Christ had visited mystic-turned-saint Margaret Mary with his hands and feet bloodied as if he’d just fallen off the cross.”

Miranda adapts by combining the similarities between the Celtic religion she’s been raised with and the Catholic religion she now has no choice but to treat as law.

Quote:

“Mother Alfreda has instructed her to stare at the globe in hopes she’ll go into a trance long enough to entertain another holy visitor or to glimpse, as Mechthild of Magdeburg did, the “Eternal Hatred” of Hell.” 

“You must conserve your mystical energy for divine visitations.”

Dower makes a pointed comparison between the orphanage and prison.

Quote:

“Mother Alfreda lays out orders: lest Miranda show a continued proclivity for losing a pulse, she will move to the infirmary where Sister Nurse can watch over her; she’ll be excused from the classroom so that she won’t be tainted by other inmates’ cynicism and worldliness”

It’s clear right away that the Nuns word and that of the catholic church is law there the children are treated no better than inmates they have no rights and are guilty. Surely some sin committed by them or their parents have landed them in the care of the orphanage. Miranda’s resilient though and adjust to her new life and the new rules presented before her,  she becomes adept at maneuvering through a world she’s never known, and learns to bend things in her favor.

Stony River is inspired by the author’s memories of what she describes as a repressive time as well as some true crime events that occurred in her home state of New Jersey. Although Dowers main focus seems to be the treatment of females during this time in our history, she also touches on lives built based on society’s expectations, and a culture of and double standards rather than happiness, sexual repression and prejudices that plagued society during that time.

Quote:

“Stony River sits on the peninsula of I’m Better Than You, she wrote. White vs. colored. Christian vs. Jew. Catholic vs. Protestant. The married sit in judgment of the divorced. People who live on one side of the highway think they’re better than us on the other and those in the big houses near the high school think they’re best of all. Patients in private hospital rooms feel superior to those in wards. Some fathers think their jobs are more important than others. Teenagers are no better. Jocks think they’re cooler than hoods and nobody wants to be a freshman.”

“She returned to her desk and wrote: Stony River is the ground asleep under snow, its secrets imperceptible from behind a thick pane of glass.”

Tricia Dower has done well here the work of fiction in my opinion sheds a serious spot light on the failures of society in 1950’s America, and allows us to appreciate how society has grown even if there is still a long way further to go.

Interested In More book From Tricia Dower?

See Tricia’s book on goodreads

Visit Tricia Dowers Website

 

The Crown’s Game (The Crown’s Game #1) By Evelyn Skye

The Crown’s Game (The Crown’s Game #1) By Evelyn Skye

The Crowns Game

TITLE: The Crown’s Game (The Crown’s Game #1)
AUTHOR: Evelyn Skye
GENRE: YA, Historical, Fantasy Romance
PUBLISHED: May 17th 2016
RATING: ★★★★☆

Read It!!

Warning: This review contains spoilers

The Crowns Game is a wonderfully executed work of literary art. Set in 18th century Russia and loosely based on the life of the ruling Tsar of that time, The Crowns Game is an engaging YA Historical fantasy romance. Author Skye’s words will enchant you, and pull on your heartstrings. A wondrously imagined tale… of love, magic, and duty, the author takes readers on an enchanting tour of Russia. When I think of Russia I envisioned a cold grey snowbound land but Skye paints a transfixing and vibrant picture of a beautiful country. Her descriptive talents transform Russia into a magical land, showcasing some of Russia’s most beautiful attributes. Laced with artfully imagined scenes of magical splendor you will be enchanted until the last page.

Quote:
“he wanted his daughter to grow up truly Russian—hiking through birch forests, playing the balalaika, and having an almost religious zeal for buckwheat kasha with mushrooms and fresh butter. It was why they lived on this rural island, rather than in the imperial capital, because Sergei swore that living on Ovchinin Island kept them closer to the heart of their country.”

“Vika spun in a circle in the middle of the promenade, looking at all the benches behind and in front of and around her, each with a different plaque and a different, subtle mist about it. “It’s a dream tour of the wonders of Russia,” she said aloud.”

“They followed the path and entered the boulevard of trees. Everywhere they looked, there were larks and wrens, peeping a melody that sounded almost like an old Russian folk song. If Nikolai listened too closely, the song disintegrated into random notes, but if he softened his focus, the tune came back together again, like the whistling of panpipes and the strumming of a balalaika. “This is a wonderland,” Pasha said.”

“Then, like a watercolor, a new scene filled in. She stood along the Arbat, the main thoroughfare of Moscow, surrounded by opulence. Corinthian columns and intricate mahogany veneers adorned the houses, and women in fashionable gowns strolled arm in arm along the street. The entire city had been rebuilt after its citizens had burned it down to prevent Napoleon from pillaging it, and here Moscow was, shiny and proud and new. It was like being in a dream. Vika could scrape her boots against the dirt, feel the autumn chill upon her skin, even take in the rich smell of mushroom and meat pies wafting in the air. And yet, for all the reality of the scene, the people on the Arbat couldn’t see her. When she said hello, they did not greet her. She strolled away from the Arbat and continued walking until she came to Red Square. She marveled at the white Kremlin walls and paused to admire the red brick and the cupolas of St. Basil’s Cathedral, built to resemble a bonfire rising to the sky. Vika had never been to Moscow, but it was beautiful to behold.”

All her life Vika has been training with her father Baron Sergei Mikhailovich Andreyev, to master her enchanter abilities and become the Tsars enchanter charged with the protecting of Russia during treacherous and tumultuous times. Vika wants this more than anything; this is her life’s dream the most important thing she will ever do.

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“Two more years, she thought. Two more years of training, and my magic will be powerful enough to serve the tsar and the empire.”

Nikolai has also been training to be the Tsar’s enchanter orphaned at birth, he’s never known real family and has been trained by his mentor, the cold-hearted Countess Galina Zakrevskaya. Nikolai knows he’s not the only enchanter the countess has been grooming ever since she found him in a rural village in the Russian Kazakh Steppes, and bought him from his village in exchange for 2 horses and 2 sheep. Although provided room and board he’s mostly had to fend for himself the assistance provided by the countess…..his magical training. Nikolai has nothing and his only opportunity to change his lot in life is to win the crowns game and become the Imperial enchanter bringing him and his best friend Pasha even closer. Pasha is the only family he’s ever known, and he will win the crowns game even if he has to kill to do it.

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” The clothing he tailored was, of course, necessary for life in the heart of the capital. There was always an invitation to lunch or to play cards or to go to the countryside to hunt. But Nikolai had had to fend for himself in every one of these realms, for his mentor and benefactor, Countess Galina Zakrevskaya, was not about to spend a kopek on him for new boots or a proper rifle for shooting grouse, and certainly not for dance lessons, even though Galina’s friends deemed it fashionable to invite her charity case to their balls.”

“But becoming Imperial Enchanter was about much more than wealth and power to him, unlike what Galina was suggesting. It was also about becoming closer to Pasha, who was like a younger brother to him, and closer to a family of some sort, even if it wasn’t Nikolai’s own. Because, needless to say, Nikolai had no real family. He was, and always had been, alone.”

A Black sheep by anyone’s standards, Pasha is the heir to the Russian empire but he just wants to be an ordinary young man, but is unable to escape his destiny to become Russia’s next Tsar. He’s soft hearted and earnest, and often misunderstood by his family…

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“How glad I am to be out of the palace. I think when I inherit the throne, I shall abdicate immediately.” Nikolai perched on the log next to him. “You’d do no such thing, and you know it.” “Ah, but I can dream.” Pasha opened his eyes.

“He turns seventeen tonight,” the tsar scoffed. “The time to grow into his position has long since come and gone.” He turned to Pasha. “You have already been inside the ballroom, haven’t you?”

“There are rules governing with whom you interact and how. Your sister has never had a problem comprehending this. And yet, after seventeen years, it has somehow still not been impressed upon you that the conventions and ceremony of the tsardom matter.

“It is a masquerade for all of them.” The tsar flung his hand in the direction of the ballroom doors. “But it is an imperial state function for you.”

Pasha and Nikolai are best friends, Pasha is ignorant about magic and knows nothing about the crowns game. A whole new world is opened up for him the day he and Nikolai meet Vika on Ovchinin Island rising from flames like a phoenix reborn in a storm of fire and lightning. Both Pasha and Nikolai are immediately intrigued by Vika even though they have no idea who she is, Nikolai however knows what she is and that they will meet again. Pasha’s thought are consumed with thoughts of Vika he searches for and eventually finds her. A love triangle commences.

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“Then, as the blaze devoured the remaining length of the trees, lashing its way out to the edge of the circle, a small figure rose from the center, itself engulfed in flames.”

“But Nikolai didn’t need her to tell them who she was. He already knew. He had never seen the girl before, but she had to be the one. The other enchanter in the Game”

“But back to the girl. Pasha began to pace the well-worn groove of the carpet again. “She rose as if the fire were nothing . . . no, as if she were part of the fire.

Fate throws a curve ball. Vika learns’ she not the only enchanter. Vika and Nikolai must compete in an ancient competition called the crowns game. A competition of skill between enchanters, but like one of my favorite TV shows Highlander at the end there can be only one. At the end of the game the losing enchanter dies drained of magic, so that the winning enchanter can receive all Russia’s magic, giving them the strength enough to defend the Russian empire against hers foes.

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“The Crown’s Game.” Vika did not even bother to inflect her tone upward this time, for everything now was a question mark. She was beyond using punctuation. “I don’t know what that is.” “I didn’t think there was a need for it. . . . I thought you were the only enchanter. But you’re not, and that means there will be a . . . a test. A competition.”

“When I declare a winner, the Game’s own magic will eliminate the other enchanter. Even if, for some reason, I did not declare a winner after you had each taken five turns, the Game would make the decision for me and extinguish one of you. Russia will have only one Imperial Enchanter to wield the full force of its magic. Understood?”

“Each country’s wellspring emits a finite amount of magic at any given time. It is not without limits. So the number of enchanters must be limited as well.”

And so the crowns game commences and here we have the opportunity to benefit from the beauty of Skye’s writing she makes the magic happen. I didn’t read the scenes, I envisioned them, the artfully written scenes allowed for no less…

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“The Jack and ballerina continued to twirl around the sky. The music soared louder and louder. It crescendoed to a furious trill. And then it suddenly broke off into silence. Every muscle in Vika’s body tensed. The Jack and ballerina halted their dance, as if they, too, were startled. The crowd gasped then and pointed at the ballerina’s chest. Although she hadn’t heard Vika’s earlier warning, the ballerina heard the audience now. She looked down at the bodice of her dress. A red silk handkerchief blossomed from where her porcelain heart ought to be. “I knew she couldn’t trust him,” Vika said. The ballerina’s painted mouth formed a devastated O. She glanced at the Jack. He looked not at her, but at a cloud near his feet, his wooden mouth set in a grim straight line. Then the ballerina went limp and plummeted from the sky into her box. The Jack hung his head. The ballerina’s lid lowered and latched with a click”

“Her ordinarily red hair was pale blue tonight, and the black streak had been transformed to silver, like a sliver of mercury. On her face, she wore a mask made of birch wood, rough white with flecks of gray. But it was the gown that had triggered the silence, for it was unlike anything the guests had ever seen. The bodice appeared to be carved from white ice, reflecting the light from the chandeliers on its polished surface, and yet it hugged the curves of her frame and moved with her as if made of water. The skirt was similarly frosty, an endless eddy of snowflakes, like a blizzard erupting from the ice above. Even the air seemed to chill around her. This was not from Nikolai’s Masquerade Box. This was far beyond his tailoring and imagination.”

The commencement of the Crowns games leaves our enchanters conflicted they’re not killers, but one of them will die just the same. Nikaloi’s mentor pretty much orders him to end the game quick, kill Vika and get it over with but he doesn’t think there’s any other option any reason to draw out the games when one of them will die either way. Vika is honorable she doesn’t enter the game planning murder he intends to win solely based on the merit of her magical skill. But often times the best laid plans get washed away.

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“Use your magic to kill her and end the Game yourself. Don’t give the tsar the chance to choose anyone but you.” Nikolai’s limbs liquefied. Or at least he felt as if they had. “I have to kill her?” “Did you think the losing enchanter would simply get to live happily ever after?” “I . . . Well, what else was I supposed to believe? You never even hinted at it before.”

Neither of our characters are coldhearted murderers, they make meager attempt’s on each other’s lives only to be relieved by their failure. And their feelings on the game change.

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“The girl still lived. The Game continued. But at least he wasn’t a murderer today.”

“He reached the shores of Vasilyevsky Island, on the other side of the Neva, before Vika could use the water to reel him back in. Not that she had the stomach to do it again. Her conscience was still waterlogged from the first attempt to drown him.”

“She stopped walking. “Are you glad for the Game?” she asked.”

“No, I am not at all glad for the Game. Are you?” Vika chewed on her lip as she considered. Finally, she said, “Yes. I’m glad for it. I both love it and hate it. Which, I think, means I both love and hate myself. I am the Game, and the Game is me. This is what my whole life has led up to, and this will determine the rest of it.”

The magic within Vika and Nikolai draw them together like a moths to a flame. I know the author intended for a love triangle conflict but Pasha never stands a chance. As different as Vika and Nikolai are no one can understand them like they do one another. No matter how hard they try they can’t stay away from each other.

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“Nikolai’s magic. She wanted to be closer to it. Needed to be closer.”

“He needed to be closer, to feel her magic, to touch . . . her. He trembled at the thought. And he took a step in her direction.”

Pasha is in love with Vika, and so Is Nikolai while Vika shows a little interest in Pasha Her heart warms with Nikolai is around.

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“I like you,” he said. “More than like you.” She shook her head slightly, but more to herself than to him. “I don’t want to like you.” “But you do?” Pasha went to run his hand through his hair, but caught himself before he gave his nerves away. “Doesn’t everyone?” “I’m only asking about you.” Vika focused on a deformed crystal of syrup on her thumb. “I’m not in a position to fall in love. With you, or with anyone else.”

“Oh. Heaven help her. Nikolai was more striking than she remembered, and the darkness in his eyes was more dangerous than she recalled. He was a poisonous autumn crocus: deadly beautiful with no antidote. She wanted the flower anyway.”

“Vika didn’t even bid farewell to the imperial family. She certainly did not look back at Nikolai. For it was too cruel of life to bring him to her now, only to remind her that one of them would soon be taken away.”

I must wonder whether Pasha’s infatuation with Vika is in part because of his mother’s insistence that he find a wife.

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“The pressure is not only from my father these days. It’s also my mother. She thinks it urgent that they find me a wife.” “I know more than a few who are willing.” Nikolai nudged the prince with his boot. Every girl in the Russian Empire would sell her soul to be the tsesarevich’s Cinderella.”

“You know I want more from a wife than a girl fawning at my feet.”

As Pasha continues his investigation of The Crowns Game, searching for a way to help ensure Vika’s victory it becomes increasingly hard for Nikolai to keep his secrets. Ironic that Nikolai hopes to become closer to Pasha the only family he’s ever known, and when he finally reveals himself to Pasha as the other enchanter and confesses his Love for Vika’s it destroys their relationship.

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“Nikolai snapped his fingers, and a needle and thread appeared. They dipped down to Pasha’s shirt and began stitching the tears the broken glass had left. “You’re the other enchanter,” Pasha whispered.”

“I love her, too,” Nikolai said quietly as he sank back into his seat. Pasha, however, did not sit. He towered over Nikolai. “So you lied to me about that as well.”

“Pasha—” “Why do you have to steal Vika?” Nikolai sat up again. “What? I’m not. I said I love her, not that she loves me.” “She’d choose you over me, though. You’ve always had everything, and now you have to take Vika, too.” Pasha stabbed a knife into the center of the loaf of bread.”

“You’ve had years to explain. It’s too late now. From this moment on, I want nothing to do with you or your kind. Keep your magic to yourself.”

Nikolai’s recently resurrected mother kills the Tsar as revenge for abandoning her. An unexpected plot twist leads to the revelation to Nikolai, that he and Pasha are in fact brothers.

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“Tell me who you are.” “I will. That I also promise. But first, would you like to know who your father was?”

“Your father was the tsar.” Nikolai stopped in the middle of the street, in front of a small church. “Pardon?” “You heard me right. Your friend the tsesarevich is your half-brother.” “That’s impossible.” “Is it? I think I ought to know. The tsar took me as his mistress during a month long visit to his army on the steppe. I was young and beautiful then, and we spent every night in his tent. Eight months after he left, I bore him a son, whom I named Nikolai.”

Pasha becomes Tsar. Still reeling with feelings of betrayal, anger, and jealousy. Pasha orders the Enchanters to duel to the death using their loved ones as pawn to ensure their cooperation.

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“The tsar ceased his attempt to escape from the tent. What was he thinking, anyway? There was no way he could run from her. He sagged onto the edge of his bed. “Nikolai Karimov is your son?” he asked. “Yours, as well.” “Mine . . .” “He does not yet know. But I shall tell him soon.”

“I won’t survive? What have you done?” Aizhana shrugged. “Given you a parting gift, a token of my affection. However, you may not see it as such. You may see it as typhus.”

“The tsar tumbled out of the carriage, and Death swung his scythe. It took the tsar’s life just as he made it into the tsarina’s arms. Death took the tsarina soon afterward.”

“Pasha closed his eyes. He exhaled deeply as he sagged into the throne. Then he nodded. I will be tsar. Because it’s the only thing I have left.”

“I propose a classic duel to determine the winner,” Pasha said. “What do you mean, a classic duel?” Nikolai’s eyes narrowed. “A fight à l’outrance, to the death.” Icicles hung off Pasha’s voice.’

“What if we refuse to duel?” Vika asked”

“My Guard has taken custody of your loved ones,” Pasha said. “Ludmila Fanina and Renata Galygina have been placed under lock and key in an undisclosed location. They will be comfortable during the remainder of the Game, but should you not carry out my wishes, there shall be consequences. Your duel shall take place on the new island, beginning at dawn tomorrow”

“Perhaps it’s not the Pasha of the past, but I have no choice. I am to be tsar. This is me now.”

I enjoyed The Crowns Game; it is a fantastically fun read. The author has a gift for writing enchanting scenes. Scenes that play in your mind like a movie. The author’s adept use of imagery gives a wondrously voyeuristic feel, it’s like you there watching it all unfold. While you read this book you’ll feel alive inside, and feel a sense of loss when it all ends; the book will amaze and enchant you. Even knowing there can be only one enchanter, the ending will still shock and surprise you. (There is a mouth-open, chin-hanging plot twist.) There will be no duel Nikolai knows what he must do, and his mentor knows him too well she’s has already ensured his victory whether he cooperates or not, who would’ve known? The events that unfold won’t be anything you expect.

The Crowns Game might be categorized as YA but is an enjoyable read for all readers, no matter their age.