In Anticipation: The Kingdom by Amanda Stevens

Without a doubt, the book The Restorer by Amanda Stevens was one of my favorite books of 2011 (easily top three). The chilling, highly atmospheric debut (yup, this was a freakin debut!) novel was absolutely unexpected, but it turned out to have been just what I needed. So enter the followup one year later, called The Kingdom, which is promising to be just as spooky and mysterious:
Deep in the shadowy foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies a dying town...

My name is Amelia Gray. They call me The Graveyard Queen. I’ve been commissioned to restore an old cemetery in Asher Falls, South Carolina, but I’m coming to think I have another purpose here.

Why is there a cemetery at the bottom of Bell Lake? Why am I drawn time and again to a hidden grave I’ve discovered in the woods? Something is eating away at the soul of this town—this withering kingdom—and it will only be restored if I can uncover the truth.

I like how the book description above is not very spoiler-y. There was a lot that went down in the first book, a lot of unfinished business between certain characters, but it's left alone in the blurb to focus on reintroducing the mysterious unknown that's explored so well by the author. Amelia Gray is sent on another assignment, to complete the seemingly straightforward (though labor-intensive task) of restoring a graveyard. But of course, nothing is as it seems, and even the dead have an active role to play. The elusiveness of the blurb is the stuff great mystery is made of.

The cover of this book (and the other installments) is not the flashiest ever, but that's perfectly appropriate to the tone and focus of the series. It's quiet, unassuming, and mysterious, and it belies something dark and forbidding. I love how all the little visual clues just reinforce what the blurb and previous installment established--that this will be a quietly powerful tale--and a super creepy one, to boot.

If you haven't checked out this series yet, I'd sooo recommend you do, provided you can handle a bit (read: a lot) of creepiness. ^_^ Be sure to read in broad daylight, preferably with someone else present. ^_^ It'll totally be worth it.

Graveyard Queen series:
#0.5 - The Abandoned (published April 1, 2011 by Harlequin Mira)
#1 - The Restorer (published April 19, 2011 by Mira)
#2 - The Kingdom (to be published March 27, 2012 by Mira)
#3 - The Prophet (to be published April 24, 2012 by Mira)

Shorty Reviews! (Kaye, Hanson, Ashley)

Time for a quick rundown of some notables I got the chance to read. (Sometimes, it's nice to "get to the point" and keep it simple!)

Forever Freed by Laura Kaye
This is a standalone vampire story (about love--romantic love, parental love--and friendship) with a great deal of character development. In fact, this is all character driven. The mood is subdued, and actually starts out very, very slowly, but there's a wonderfully fleshed out romance that builds steadily throughout the book. The protagonist Lucien begins as a character of questionable morals and ends up completely identifiable and lovable. Indeed, I ended the tale with a big smile on my face. (4 of 5 stars)

Love is Darkness by Caroline Hanson
(Valerie Dearborn, #1)
This was an incredibly fun story, with a feisty (and sometimes really moody) heroine, and two majorly sexy male suitors. ^_^ It'd be higher, but I can't--cannot--ignore the fact that the book was in dire need of a copyedit/proofread. The story was great, lots of fun. But it was seriously riddled with errors of all types, almost inexcusably so. A crying shame, because the story is full of awesomeness. The one thing that kept this book from being a favorite of mine w Oh, and a couple of distracting plot holes. But this is a series to look out for, especially if the follow-ups are given more technical polish. (3 of 5 stars)

The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley
(Highland Pleasures, #3)
What a pitch-perfect historical romance! The main couple is so endearing, a perfect match--two life-hardened, wounded souls crashing into each other time and again. Unlike the previous two books in this series, this story is less event-driven and more centered on the protagonists, who are both multi-faceted and intense. While standalone, it also does great buildup for future installments. Drama and levity in excellent proportion. (5 of 5 stars)

Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Attachments
Series: n/a
Genres/Themes: romance, gal pals forever, never-met-you-but-i-love-you trope
Author: Rainbow Rowell

Quick Take:
A refreshing take on sweet romance. The atypical narrative format works well, and the main character is amiable and charming. Though the story is not action packed (and may seem quite slow to start), it's a great one to spend a lazy afternoon reading.

Book Description (via Goodreads): 
Beth and Jennifer know their company monitors their office e-mail. But the women still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers at the newspaper and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can't seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period.
     When Lincoln applied to be an Internet security officer, he hardly imagined he'd be sifting through other people's inboxes like some sort of electronic Peeping Tom. Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can't quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can't help but be entertained-and captivated- by their stories.
     But by the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? "Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you." After a series of close encounters and missed connections, Lincoln decides it's time to muster the courage to follow his heart . . . even if he can't see exactly where it's leading him.

Review (first posted at Book Lovers Inc):
No, he was just going to kiss her. He wasn't going to wait. She'd kiss him back. He was absolutely certain that she would kiss him back.
And then he'd tell her that he loved her.
And then he'd tell her his name.
Squee! How romantic-comedy is that, right? Just one of the many cute little snippets from Ranbow Rowell's debut novel. This story is slightly tough for me to classify, because it's not quite chick-lit / women's lit: the main character is a guy, and the story is ultimately about said guy's emotional growth and development. But neither is it lad-lit; the story also follows BFFs Beth and Jennifer through their respective man- and life situations. And it's far from a hot-and-heavy romance--the romantic leads have never met. Or seen each other. Or...talked to one another.

But classification aside, this is just a smart, witty story. There's a lot of giggle-inducing banter, especially between characters Beth and Jen. The snappy dialogue and easy emotional connection to the characters was just a breath of fresh air. I didn't have to try to relate; I just did. I actually wish I knew Beth and Jen. Hell, I feel like I already do. The key is that the characters were rendered real; their insecurities, their fears, their simple joys and daily quirks. None of it was rendered larger than life and overly dramatic; it just was.

Now, it's important to note that the format used in a large portion of this book takes the form of emails between Beth--the smart film reviewer who feels her love life is in a rut--and Jennfier, the funny married friend who has her own relationship trepidations. Part of my curiosity with this book had to do with the atypical narrative vehicle--and I'm glad I took a chance with it, because it paid off. The format actually disappeared behind the very strong and believable connection between friends. I know that I've gushed and chatted with friends via email before; haven't you? ^_^ The email format was also well balanced with a traditional narrative structure, which follows only the protagonist, Lincoln.

Speaking of which...I know I haven't mentioned much about the protagonist yet, but he warrants his own bit of gushing, too. Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln. I love him. ^_^ Why? His character is instantly relatable, and he's so easy to root for. When he is giddy, I, as the reader, am too. When he is sad and wistful, so am I. He's a "regular guy"; no brooding heroic intensity, no hulk-like, insanely hawt looks (though he's supposedly an attractive guy). He's just a man trying to figure out his place in the world, trying to determine what he's good at and what's important to him. I dig that. Furthermore, I also bought into the fact that he fell for someone he'd never before spoken to. Sure, it's an unlikely situation, but the way that Rowell followed Lincoln's life and shared--with considerable focus--the personal struggles and personality traits that made very clear why he was a great match for Beth.

I think this story has broad appeal; anyone that likes life-and-love stories would dig it. And it's sweet enough to rival anything from Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. ^_^ Therefore, this book couldn't NOT have an HEA, and if you're the kind of person who loves those, you've found the right read. You pick a book like this up when you want to feel good; in this case, that satisfaction comes by way of some "laugh and cry" moments that always feel genuine. Rainbow Rowell's first novel is a book I'd definitely recommend--to you. ^_^

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
"I really liked it."

Review: The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters by Sierra Dean

Title: The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters
Series: Secret McQueen, #0.5
Genres/Themes: urban fantasy, one-wild-night, short story, werewolf/vampire hybrid protagonist
Author: Sierra Dean
Excerpt: available at publisher website

Quick Take:
This quick read was a lot of breezy fun. The protagonist, Secret McQueen, is the major draw here, with her wry sense of humor and complex identity issues. It's the perfect lead-in to the series--or a great way to sample the tone of the series before diving into book one.

Book Description (via Goodreads):
     They say it's impossible to find a man in New York City. Secret McQueen needs to find two in one night. Of course, it’ll mean pulling off the impossible—find and kill a displaced rogue vampire without disrupting the first promising date she’s had in ages. As a werewolf hybrid used to walking a fine line of survival in the vampire world, though, Secret eats impossible for breakfast.
     Somewhere between hello and the first round of drinks, Secret makes her move. Her target, Hollywood’s biggest star, shouldn’t be hard to spot. Just look for swarms of fans. Except every time her vampire liaison, Holden, helps keep her mission on track, her date runs further off the rails.
     Either Holden has a hidden agenda, or he knows more than he’s letting on about her quarry. One way or another, Secret is determined to get her man, and meet Mr. Right. Or die trying.


What a freakin' surprise this little story was! The premise to this story seemed pretty no-nonsense, nice and straightforward. While that's exactly what it ended up being, I was charmed by the characters and quirky style of the protagonist, Secret McQueen.

The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters didn't have a whole lot in the way of exposition and world building, but I think that's the whole point. I hear that it was written (and certainly published) after the first full-length book in the series was released. So more than anything else, this story is something to whet the appetite, to fill in some of the tiny but promising tidbits alluded to in Something Secret this Way Comes. I'd personally recommend reading this before Something Secret, both because the events of Secret Guide chronologically come first, and because the read does not require great commitment and investment to be enjoyed.

As such, the plot moves fast here, but since there's not a whole lot of world building and complex character interactions, it reads like something of a quick procedural. It takes what would've been a straightforward event--Secret's date with a nice, "normal" guy--and throws everything in the path of preventing it occurring in a normal way. 

I really liked Secret's narrative voice, perhaps more than any other aspect of the story. She's witty, sexy, and she's got a bit of a chip on her shoulder. I really liked the element of her being part vampire, part wolf; yes, I know we've heard of that trope before, but it works well here, allowing this feisty, judgemental protagonist to wrestle with not only real baddy monsters, but also the "monsters" within herself. But Secret's everyday observations were amusing, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Whether she was high or low, she was always magnetic.

I must admit that I had some trouble envisioning some of the action scenes based on the descriptions. Granted, such scenes (along with "action" scenes, if you get my drift ^_^) can be be tricky to stage, especially if the choreography is complicated and the pace is really fast. There was one crucial scene in a subway that felt almost too frenetic to grasp.  It was definitely a lot to untangle and figure out, at least for me.

But overall, this story was a lot of fun. It sets up a very promising world with a highly likable heroine. After finishing this one, I'd immediately followed up with Something Secret This Way Comes. I really think this will be a series for the urban fantasy masses.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
"I really liked it."

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