Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Brianna's Top Ten Books I Read In 2013

Hosted by Broke & The Bookish
December 31: Top Ten Books I Read In 2013

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
2. Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Levithan & Cohn
3. Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin
4. Divergent by Veronica Roth
5. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
6. Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List by Levithan & Cohn
7. Bite Club by Rachel Caine
8. Deadly Decisions by Kathy Reichs
9. Foretold by Jana Oliver

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Brianna Reviews - Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy

Published -  18th February 2005
Publisher - Scholastic
Format - Paperback
Synopsis - Three children walked away from the cottages on the edge of town toward Berwick Waters. Later that day, only two of them came back. . . . Alice Tully knows exactly what happened that spring day six years ago, though it's still hard for her to believe it. She'll never be able to forget, even though she's trying to lead a normal life--she has a job, friends, and a boyfriend whom she adores. But Alice's past is dangerous, and violent, and sad . . . and it's about to rip her new life apart.

So Looking for JJ is a book that I had picked up years ago to read, and for some unknown reason I never read past the first chapter. I had originally picked this book up because I had read and loved The Story of My Life by the same author. Recently I found a collection of 6 Anne Cassidy books for a fairly reasonable price which included Looking for JJ and Story of My Life which Caragh reviewed here.
The book was more or less how I remembered it being. It was every bit as thought provoking as I remembered/thought it would be. Looking for JJ starts around the time that convicted murderer Jennifer Jones (JJ) is released from Prison. JJ is guilty of murdering a friend when they were both 10 years old. The Media obviously is focused of finding JJ: Where exactly is the newly released teen that killed a girl? And are the public safe? Alice Tully also has an interest in where JJ is and whether the media find the answer.  Over the course of  Looking for JJ the book takes you very close to the moral divide and gets you questioning right and wrong. And more importantly what is fair.
This book is told in 4 parts. The narrative coming from the points of view of Alice, JJ and Kate, and the majority of the book being told by Alice and JJ. Alice is quite a shy girl who just wants to study history at Uni next year, sort out her relationship with her boyfriend who thinks she spends too much time at her job in a local coffee shop. Why does she offer to work extra hours when she could be spending the time with her? JJ is a ten year old girl who is proud that her mother is a model, but what she really wants is to spend time with her mum, she want friends and security. Kate has just moved to Uni she has just left everything behind for a little bare room in university halls.
I like the way this story was told, I also liked how relatable the characters were which in itself is one of the things that makes you question your moral standing. What is a fair punishment for JJ and does she deserve a second chance? The only thing I disliked about Looking for JJ is that I would have liked a bit more from Kate, I want to know how she faired settling into Uni. There is a sequel called Finding Jennifer Jones due out in Feb 2014 so maybe that will hold the answers that I want. I am also not sure what to think of Alice’s boyfriend I think he is a little too pushy and far too moody, but he has his moments of sweetness but that is all they really are moments, and the rest of the time I don’t see why she is with him.
Overall I really enjoyed reading Looking for JJ. I’m not sure if I will read the sequel because even though I wanted more I am worried that getting my answers might spoil the story slightly, perhaps not knowing makes it better. I would definitely recommend Looking for JJ (in fact I already have to Caragh)

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Caragh Reviews - The Story of My Life by Anne Cassidy

Published - 1st January 2006
Publisher - Scholastic
Format - Paperback
Synopsis - It's life or death: his or yours. Tonight, Kenny is looking for Tommy Fortune. If he finds him, Tommy will be silenced, perhaps for ever. Kenny's not a bad guy. So where did it all go wrong? This is going to be the longest night of Kenny's life.

The Story of My Life is another book that was recommended to me by Brianna but this time it wasn't quite such a hit as the last one she recommended - sorry, Bri!

The Story of My Life, plotwise, was actually good. The book maintained mystery and intrigue throughout; beginning with Kenny on a mission to find Tommy but not actually revealing why until the very end of the book. The book uses flashbacks and current actions to describe how and why Kenny got to this night and what it is that the mysterious Mack wants with him.

Overall, it is the type of book that I enjoy reading; mystery, excitement, danger, unfortunately i'm not a fan of plots that go back and forth on their timelines unless the 'flashbacks' make themselves relevant as they are told - which didn't happen in The Story of My Life. I can't quite put my finger on the reasons I don't enjoy this type of thing but there we go. Everyone has something they don't enjoy sometimes! Much like my review of Junk, my favourite thing about this book was the moral implications and how incredible it is that one small decision can ultimately change a persons entire life. I think it's important to cover this in YA novels as the target audience for YA books are teenagers who are making the kind of decisions that can and will affect their future lives.

Though the plot devices used to keep this book intriguing didn't really work for me, I did really enjoy the actual story and I have been informed that other Cassidy books aren't like this so i'm looking forward to trying my hand at more of her work! Keep an eye out for Brianna's review of Looking For JJ by Anne Cassidy tomorrow!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas guys!
We hope you all have a wonderful day and received lots of bookish gifts this year.

Lots of love,
Caragh & Brianna

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Caragh's Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing Me

Hosted by Broke & The Bookish

December 24: Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing Me

1. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
2. Every Day by David Levithan
3. Kneller's Happy Campers - Etgar Keret
4. Unbreakable by Kami Garcia
5. It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
6. The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan
7. Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn
8. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
9. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
10.  Being Human: The Road by Simon Guerrier

Monday, 23 December 2013

Caragh Reviews - Junk by Melvin Burgess

Published - 6th March 2003
Publisher - Puffin Modern Classics
Format - Paperback
Synopsis - Two teens fall in love with each other and heroin. Tar has reasons for running away from home that run deep and sour, whereas Gemma, with her middle-class roots firmly on show, has a deep-rooted lust for adventure. Their first hit brings bliss, the next despair.

Four years ago when I met Brianna, she gave me this book to read with the guarantee that I would love it. After a year or so I gave it back to her, unread. I just didn't feel interested in it and didn't want to set aside any time for it. Since then though, she has a good idea of the books I read and love and she still insisted that I read it, and so I did. Thank god for pushy friends!

Junk tells the tale of two teenagers who are somewhat unequally in love with each other. Tar is lovesick for Gemma whilst she seems more excited about the prospect of Tar than the actual boy. Tar's family life is disturbing and erratic to say the least and so when he decides to run away from home, Gemma finds the whole thing exciting and can't wait to join in on the unlikely adventure.

Honestly, I completely devoured this book. I started it slowly, reading a few chapters. Then before I knew it it was 7am, I was completely exhausted and i'd read the entire book! Much like the content of the book, Junk was addictive, intriguing and really disturbing. As the title and front cover suggests, Junk focuses on heroin and it's effects on innocent children. What I loved about Junk was the societal discussions it beings to the table; how a perfectly ordinary pair of teenagers can make one bad decision and change their lives forever. I was concerned a little as Junk, at times, seems to promote drugs quite severely; describing in detail how much enjoyment these kids get from the drug, from being high and escaping their lives. I thought about this book long after I finished reading it and my initial thoughts weren't entirely correct. Burgess writes expertly and on reflection the warning signs and deterrents are in there! Though definitely subtle at times, the perspective gained from the book is striking and left me a little open-mouthed. It was truly inspiring.

I'm not entirely sure how I felt about the characters. Each one serves their purpose brilliantly but considering the circumstances it is difficult to actually 'like' them, perhaps with one or two exceptions. The character 'Lily' was truly devastating. It wrenched my heart and her inevitable downfall is where we really begin seeing the true dangers of heroin. I began the book thinking Gemma was a spunky, independent girl but by the end I had maybe a pinch of respect amongst a handful of dislike. I've never met anyone with severe drug problems as depicted in Junk so I can't comment on how realistic their actions and behaviours were but it was definitely believable. Junk was hard-hitting and a brilliant read and is well deserved of the awards that it received. 5 stars from me!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Caragh Reviews - Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris

Published - 27th October 2009
Publisher - Berkley
Format - Kindle
Synopsis - Lightning-struck sleuth Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver take a break from looking for the dead to visit the two little girls they both think of as sisters. But, as always happens when they travel to Texas, memories of their horrible childhood resurface... To make matter worse, Tolliver learns from his older brother that their father is out of jail and trying to reestablish contact with other family members. Tolliver wants nothing to do with the man - but he may not have a say in the matter. Soon, family secrets ensnare them both, as Harper finally discovers what happened to her missing sister, Cameron, so may years before. And what she finds out will change her world forever...

The final book in Charlaine Harris' 'Harper Connelly' series ties the whole thing up nicely, but not in the pretty ribbon I was hoping for. I have thoroughly enjoyed this series (much more than Southern Vampires, actually) and have been sitting on the edge of my seat to find out what happened to Cameron!

Harper and Tolliver are trying to reconnect with their sisters back home in Texas and naturally that stirs up some old memories about how their sister Cameron mysteriously disappeared. But it would be too easy to have the answers fall at their feet. During the plot of Grave Secret, more than one secret is uncovered as Tolliver's father reappears, trying to fit himself into their family and hearts again. The bodies that Harper has to lay to rest are a little closer to home this time around and I felt like the whole book was quite emotional. Naturally these books a quite dark but it reaches it's height in Grave Secret, as it should.

Although I was hopeful for a different outcome, I wasn't disappointed at all, other than the fact that it was the last book. Harper's gift is unique and I would love to know more, and see how far she could go when she pushes herself. It's a great concept and i've always loved reading about the paranormal. As the final book focuses more on Harper's family, it was a little slow in places as I missed the intrigue of the murders but there are other surprises in store that make up for it once revealed. It was great, quick read and i'm happy to have ticked off another series on my list.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

GUEST SPOT! Josh Reviews - The Giver by Lois Lowry

Loaded Shelves couldn't be happier to share with you a review from Josh! His personal blog can be found here.

Synopsis - Jonas' world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

For the last few months, I have been interacting with Caragh and Brianna from Loaded Shelves and endorsed them as being a blog that all readers from different walks of life can enjoy. I am incredibly honored to be able to contribute book reviews to their blog, for reading is one thing I thoroughly enjoy to do. I am Josh Caporale and I created my blog, Caponomics, back in March 2011. Caponomics began as a column in my high school newsletter. After graduation, I briefly had a column with the same name before I took my high school newsletter editor's advice and created a blog. I am a growing blog that has 19 followers, over 200 posts, and over 22,000 page views, holding high hope that at some point in time, I can surpass these numbers. The topics I cover on my blog include politics, music, film, television, sports, food, nostalgia, and most importantly... books and literature. While there isn't a direct concentration, my absolute passion lies in writing and reading and I hope that some day, I become a successful writer who writes in the realm of horror, sci-fi, speculative, or just situation fiction ("what if").

I have given you enough about my story and should move forward with a story far more excellent of my own: or should I call it a warning? In the American curriculum, Lois Lowry's The Giver is seen as a staple in some way, shape, or form. Since I went to private school, I did not have the opportunity to read it. Thankfully, when I took a Young Adult Literature class this semester, this was one of the books we read and it just so happened my group and I presented this book to the class. When I say that The Giver is a warning, I mean we are taking visible steps toward a world that is very much similar to this novel. The fact that somebody is possessing a power like "The Giver" would probably come in the form of technology, such as a ring that plays a role equivalent to a computer flash drive, but the nature of possessing memory will become nearly obsolete, something we have seen multiple times in literature.

The Giver follows a boy named Jonas who will be entering his twelfth year. During this point in time, individuals are assigned a role in society. Yes, this is a society that provides just about no freedom to its citizens. Citizens are assigned a role, their spouses are chosen from them based off of their personality and common interests like they're on, they request children that they receive if they successfully survive their first year, and they are required to share their dreams with one another. There are been plenty of arguments in futuristic societies in which children will not be naturally born, but instead in test tubes or in laboratories. This seems to be that kind of society, for the only individuals that can be seen naked are babies (before their first year) and older people living in the "House of Old." Jonas lives with his father, who is a nurturer that cares for babies, his mother, who worked for the Department of Justice, his sister, Lily, who is years younger, and Gabriel, who is a baby that Jonas' dad is raising until he turns one and is either adopted by a family or released if he does not meet their standards.

Jonas is the last one called during the ceremony, for he is selected to be the next Receiver. This individual eventually becomes the subject that holds the memories of society from generations ago. This requires meetings with "The Giver," who is an older looking man that possesses the memory from generations ago in which he passes onto Jonas by rubbing his back. Of course, this is a relatively strange method that will catch some attention, but the intent is to use this in order to deliver memories. Through these meetings, Jonas learns about a society of snow and sunshine, relief and pain, as well as the memory of color. Unfortunately, this society has converted to that of "sameness" (ohhhhhh boy, does that look familiar???), in which the weather is always the same year round, people don't end up in situations in which they hurt (and if they are, they just take a pill), and this society did away with color, because they wanted everyone to look as identical as possible so no one would complain. Jonas learns the secrets behind what really happens during release and why the last person who took on the role of Receiver surrendered the position and demanded a release. This all leads to a climatic result that turns into something that's incredibly open-ended. At the same time, these connections are tied in some way in the three sequels: Gathering BlueMessenger, and Son.

The Giver is downright brilliant! It delivers a powerful message about how a futuristic utopia is relatively impossible, even if the world around us supports such a notion. At the same time, we are taking steps further toward living in such a society. The Giver has elements of *SKIP THIS SEGMENT IF YOU DON'T WANT TO CONSUME A SPOILER* human euthanasia *YOU MAY CONTINUE* Totalitarianism, climate change (solved with climate control), and rebellion against such a controlling society, something we see through plenty of leaders throughout history. The purpose of a work is that it delivers a message, often originating as a thought in someone's head, that will keep the reader thinking long after the last words have been read. That is where The Giver succeeds best and it's rightfully taught in schools, even when schools have made an effort to engage in the inappropriate practice of censoring it. The Giver should be seen as a warning to anyone that believes in the government tending to their everyday needs, for that will be a case in which freedom will become obsolete and to see freedom become obsolete is the biggest sin that society has to offer.

Verdict: 10/10

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Caragh Reviews - Have Yourself a Curvy Little Christmas by Sugar Jamison

Published - 1st October 2013
Publisher - St Martins
Format - Kindle
Synopsis - On the first day of Christmas, Dina Gregory, former wild child and prodigal daughter returns home to New York on a mission. Finding her young son’s father and making him take responsibility for the child he created is the only thing on her wish list. But instead of finding the man she was looking for she runs into his stuffy older brother Ben.

Please note - I believe this is a novella that is part of a full series. I wasn't aware of that before reading and have not ready any of the books in the series. I am unaware whether this affects the reading of the novella.

I was looking for cute Christmas stories to read to help get me in the festive spirit and this was available as a galley so I thought, why not? Have Yoruself a Curvy Little Christmas tells the story of Dina and her baby boy who is on a mission to get Dash's father to accept some responsibility - if only financially. Dina doesn't quite get what she was looking for but instead she gets a whole lot more.

The novella for me didn't really offer what I was looking for. Though Christmas day takes place at the end of the book, I felt there was a distinct lack of festive spirit. Though Dina's 'take-no-crap' attitude was endearing and relatable, it was a little hit and miss. Dina strives to be independent to take care of her son, whilst all the while she is counting on the help of the mysterious Ben Rowe to take care of her. Granted, she doesn't expect help but she takes his help with very little questioning. I don't read novella's often so it's hard for me to really accept that such huge, momentous events could take place in just a couple of days. It didn't feel realistic to me and seemed to rely a whole lot on coincidence which I think is a bit of a cop out.

It took about an hour for me to read it and it wasn't bad but i'm not sure I would have paid to read it and I don't think i'll be reading it again.

Caragh Reviews - Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Published - 26th May 2009
Publisher - Penguin
Format - Kindle
Synopsis - St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger... Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.

I've been hearing about these books for so long that i'd actually forgotten that I hadn't even read it. I have them all on my Kindle and so whilst I was torn up about what to read next, I went for this one. I was expecting to fall in love with a new series, new characters and experience a whole lot of adventure; which I desperately need now that Morganville is over *sob*. It sadly wasn't the case though.

I had an insta-connection with Rose; she's badass, kickass and tells it like it is, which I like to think is the same mental attitude that I have so I could relate. She was fiercely protective of Lissa and would go as far as it takes to keep her friend safe. I also started to develop a little book-crush on Dimitri (at least I think that was his name - prime example of my issues with this book).  Other than that I don't have a whole lot of positives to give Vampire Academy. It seemed like there was going to be a lot of intrigue and action as there were a lot of hints towards the reasons why Rose and Lissa ran away etc but it was all really anti-climactic! I just didn't really care about anything. When parts of the plot were revealed, my reaction was more 'Oh yeah..that was a thing..' than the 'OMG NO WAY!' that I was looking for. Everything was easily forgotten, to the point where I had to read the synopsis just to remember the names of the main characters.

As an overall, it wasn't like it was an absolutely terrible book, it wasn't! It just wasn't anything special to me. I wasn't hooked, I didn't relate, I generally was just disinterested. Because i'm a glutton for punishment, i'll of course be finishing the series because, ever the optimist, I hope that it gets better with time and I can build a connection to the characters or something.

Do you disagree with me? Please, let me know why you loved/loathed Vampire Academy!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Caragh Reviews - Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

Published - 24th May 2012
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Format - Paperback
Synopsis - Tally has finally become pretty. Now her looks are beyond perfect, her clothes are awesome, her boyfriend is totally hot, and she's completely popular. It's everything she's ever wanted.
But beneath all the fun -- the nonstop parties, the high-tech luxury, the total freedom -- is a nagging sense that something's wrong. Something important. Then a message from Tally's ugly past arrives. Reading it, Tally remembers what's wrong with pretty life, and the fun stops cold. Now she has to choose between fighting to forget what she knows and fighting for her life -- because the authorities don't intend to let anyone with this information survive.

Pretties is the second book in Scott Westerfeld's series. It took me a little while to get into the book because it had been months since I read Uglies and had forgotten a little bit about how it left off and where Pretties was starting.
Tally is now Pretty and is having the time of her life running around with Shay and her new friends, pulling tricks and partying...but something doesn't feel right and with her new crush my her side, she once again tries to find out what's going on.

The world that Westerfeld has created is thrilling, intriguing and totally disturbing. It's a world where children are raised believing that they ugly and must be transformed and become pretty in order to be happy. It provides a disturbing social commentary that at times is hard to really get through. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series but I had a few problems with Pretties.

It felt like a rehash of the first book in a lot of ways and it worries me that each book will continue to follow the same pattern. Tally is like everyone else/Tally discovers something new/Tally goes off on a mission/Tally ends up in trouble/Tally starts a new life. Rinse and repeat. Of course I could be totally wrong about the next book but from what I can tell of the ending of Pretties, the next book seems as though it will do the same thing. At least to me, Pretties didn't really raise anything new or add anything extra to the world that was created and the story that was told in the first book. Pretties was a good read but it wasn't really anything special and I felt let down that nothing more happened. This is a pretty short review because I don't feel like I have much to say about it! It was a good, quick read but I didn't get much from it. Fingers crossed that changes in the next book as there is so much potential for this world and for Tally!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Brianna Reviews - Deadly Decisions by Kathy Reichs

Published - 7th July 2011
Publisher - Arrow Books
Format - Paperback
Synopsis - A nine-year old girl dies on her way to ballet class, caught in outlaw biker crossfire. Violence is spilling on to the streets of Montreal and Dr Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist for the state, has to pick up the pieces.She knows she shouldn't let emotion get in the way of her role as scientist, but when nine-year-old Emily's body is wheeled into the morgue she cannot help but react. Tempe's nephew, Kit, is mesmerised by motorcycles. Does he understand the dangers posed by the outlaw gangs? An exhumation uncovers the bones of another innocent, hidden in a clandestine grave close to a biker headquarters. With her boss in the hospital and her sparring partner Andrew Ryan disturbingly unavailable, Tempe begins a perilous investigation into a lawless underworld of organised crime.

Deadly Decisions is the third Temperance Brennan book. This book was the turning point of the series for me. If this book failed to impress then I wasn't going to read any further through the series as I wasn't really sure if I liked the book or just liked the TV series.

So after the last book, Temperance and Andy seem to be getting on and Temperance is finally being nice to him. leading on from Death Du Jour, not only is Temperance being nice to Andy but there is also a hangover from the last case. Upon finding a young girl in the morgue, Temperance can't let another child lie dead and vows to put a stop to the gang wars that are going on. predictably she inserts herself into the investigation.

This book saved the series (isn't saving me money though!). I thoroughly enjoyed this book and this time around i'm sure it is the book that I enjoyed and not it's link to the TV series. Deadly Decisions seemed a little more fast paced than the first two. although it was still a little heavy in the description side in places; three and a half pages on blood splatter is interesting but it would be more interesting if it was explained while explaining what the reader and Temperance wanted to know.

Again, there was just not enough of Andy Ryan in this book and I don't like the way things were left with him - I just can't cope with the suspense of not knowing that's happening with him! And yet again, Temperance's decisions baffle me. And why does she deliberately put herself in danger and not inform any of the many cops that she is 'friends' with?! Lastly, just how many family members can she get mixed up in cases before they all start avoiding her like the plague?

I know after all of these negative thoughts it seems like I didn't like the book but I did, I really did and I gave it 5 stars. I can't wait to read the next one!!
P.S. What happens to Ryan?

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Caragh's Top Ten (5) Winter TBR Books

December 10: Top Ten (5) Books On My Winter TBR

1. Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
2. Story of My Life by Anne Cassidy
3. Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
4. Death Note Vol 8 by Obha & Obata
5. Percy Jackson & The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

None of these are really wintery or Christmassy but they're the books I aim to get through over the next couple of weeks! If you have any suggestions for any good Winter/Christmas themed books then let me know!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Caragh Reviews - Daylighters by Rachel Caine

Published - 5th November 2013
Publisher - Allison & Busby
Format - Paperback
Synopsis - Something drastic has happened in Morganville while Claire and her friends were away. The town looks cleaner and happier than they’ve ever seen it before, but when their incoming group is arrested and separated—vampires from humans—they realize that the changes definitely aren’t for the better. It seems that an organization called the Daylight Foundation has offered the population of Morganville something they’ve never had: hope of a vampire-free future. And while it sounds like salvation—even for the vampires themselves—the truth is far more sinister and deadly. Now, Claire, Shane and Eve need to find a way to break their friends out of Daylighter custody, before the vampires of Morganville meet their untimely end…

Daylighters is fifteenth (!) and final book in Rachel Caine's incredibly successful Morganville Vampires series. This series has been close to my heart for years now and so reviewing it is going to be difficult! 

Daylighters picks up where Fall of Night left off. The humans have taken back Morganville and the Glass House residents have a moral and practical dilemma on their hands. We have seen Claire grow from a timid young girl into a strong, ass-kicking woman. The Glass House has been fighting for human rights for Morganville for years now, and it is finally happening. Unfortunately the consequences of that are too extraordinary for Claire to believe in it. In order for the humans to take control, the vampires are being rounded up, tortured and killed. Claire takes up a moral issue in that she believes (as do I) that a whole species cannot be blamed for the act of a few. On that note, Claire decides to do what she does best - fight for Morganville. 

The Daylight Foundation was actually kind of terrifying. I can't really find a comparison good enough, but I find it scary when people commit crimes of great evil but truly and completely believe that they are doing the right thing. Its even more scary when it is humans doing the heinous crimes! Which is exactly what The Daylight Foundation are doing. Caine wrote the whole thing brilliantly and at every turn I was anxious, nervous and excited. Admittedly, most of my anxiety was aimed towards Shane, who is not only my bookish heartthrob but was also in great danger of a different kind than he is used to! Despite assurances from Rachel Caine during a book signing I attended earlier in the year, I spent May til November being crazy worried about what was going to happen after Fall of Night! I'm so pleased with the way it all worked out; both Shane's drama and the whole book. 

By the end of Daylighters, it is clear to see how all of the characters have grown throughout the course of the series, from Claire right through to Myrnin. They have learned from each other how to work together and be strong. I love every single one of them as if they were truly my best friends and I feel as though I fought those battles with them too. The series tied up beautifully and my only regret is that it's now all over and i'm desperate to know what life will be like for Michael and Eve especially now that things are so different. Thanks Rachel for a wonderful series and some of the best reads of my life!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Caragh Reviews - Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Published - 22nd October 2013
Publisher - Harper Collins
Format - Kindle
Synopsis - The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.  But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. 

Allegiant is the third and final installment of Veronica Roth’s Divergent Trilogy. I had been so ridiculously excited for this book to come out as it was definitely setting up to be one of my favourite series of all time. Divergent gripped me instantly and despite the negative reaction that some people had towards Insurgent, I actually liked it more than the first. It was an incredible sequel and didn’t suffer as a middle book at all. Which is why I am finding it so difficult to rate and actually form my thoughts on Allegiant because I 
I felt that the pacing of Allegiant was so slow and that for the longest time nothing was happening. Of course that isn’t true, lots of things are happening but I just didn’t feel anything. I wasn’t filled with anticipation or excitement for anything which was disappointing because this was it... the moment when everything was going to be explained. On that note though I should say how impressed I was with the explanation of why this world is the way it is. The science and psychology of Divergent was something I did enjoy, even if it was given in what I felt was a rushed and unemotional kind of way. I won’t spoiler anything, but I definitely would have liked to have known more about the genes and experiments in other cities. There was so much more that could have been done with this and it was basically ignored so that we could focus on Four and Tris’ emotions both individually and towards each other. 

I wish I could say differently, but I had huge issues with Tris’ whole character in Allegiant. She just didn’t feel like the badass, strong woman that I had come to know. Obviously since Divergent, a lot of factors have to be taken into consideration and that is bound to change Tris but I felt like she spent most of the time being over-emotional and under-active. Her thoughts didn’t seem to match her actions at all, particularly regarding Caleb. Characterisation in Allegiant was a bit of a problem over all for me. I didn’t connect with any of the characters (including Tris and Four) and that is probably why I didn’t connect to the book itself. Everyone was distant and that could be explained away if Allegiant was plot-heavy but it was lacking there too as I said before.

I am on the team that believes the ending was unnecessary but even then it just wasn’t as emotional as it should have been. This huge, series-changing event happens and the only thing that made me cry was Four. In general though it felt like it was passed over so that Roth didn’t really have to try and recreate the emotions that were needed if she was to go in depth. I did like the epilogue, where we saw what was happening in the world after things had settled down though. 

This was a bit of a negative review and I’m sorry for that! It wasn’t a bad book, despite everything I said and it was at least a 3 star but I’m not sure I could give it more than that. It was a good story; it was just disappointing as a series finale and I think perhaps that my expectations and my own ideas for where this series was going just weren’t matched at all.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Caragh Reviews - Anyone But You by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes

Published - 18th January 2014
Publisher - Merit Press
Format - Kindle
Synopsis - (At the time of writing, no synopsis is available)

My review of Exposure

My review of Tempestuous

I read this book quite a long time ago now after receiving an email from the lovely Kim and Amy informing me that it was now available to review! I absolutely adore the Twisted Lit series and so I immediately read it on the spot.

Anyone But You is the 3rd Twisted Lit novel and this time Askew & Helmes take on Romeo and Juliet. Many years ago I did a research project on R&J and in the process I discovered a lot of different 'spins' regarding the Star Cross'd Lovers and so I was a little nervous that i'd already know what was going on but that totally wasn't the case. At all.
From the start I was intrigued by the characters and wow, there are a LOT! One of the things I most enjoy about the Twisted Lit series is guessing which character is 'supposed' to be whom from the original tale because despite similarities, each character really does have their own personalities and sometimes it can be a little tricky!

For a long time I wasn't really sure where the story was going. I couldn't figure out how Anyone But You was going to be Romeo & Juliet - but that's what is so beautiful about these books. They are the essence of Shakespeare but they are truly something else. The story swapped and changed between two times/eras, and many different scenarios and characters and so it was never boring and Askew & Helmes offered up something new with almost every page. I found myself really rushing through the whole book because I just couldn't wait to find out what was happening - and with who! I really loved the way that the modern day drama and the family feud drama of the past worked so well together before culminating in the final showdown where everything is revealed. The story flowed slowly as everything naturally happened but there was never any slow moments - I hope that makes sense! Everything was relevant and pushed the plot forward without feeling like it was forced.

I was really happy to find that there was a good balance between romance and family feuding in Anyone But You. I know that sounds obvious due to it being R&J based but with a lot of adaptations i've found that the romance always wins out in the main story and I don't think that was the case this time. It's really difficult to find new, GOOD & modern Shakespeare material because it's been so popular for so many years but yet again Askew & Helmes rocked it and the only problem I have now is waiting to find out what & when the next one is!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Caragh's Top 7 2014 Releases

Hosted by Broke & The Bookish
December 3: Top Ten 2014 Release I'm Dying To Read

I'm actually really terrible for knowing when books are being released and I rely heavily on goodreads, twitter and word of mouth to let me know when books are on their way to us! However, there are 7 on my mind so here you go!

1. Shattered by Teri Terry
2. Book 4 of Maria Snyder's 'Study Series' though it has no release date!
3. Unhinged by A.G. Howard
4. After The End by Amy Plum
5. The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson
6. Unforgotten by Jessica Brody
7. Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

Monday, 2 December 2013

Book Blogger TMI Tag | Brianna

Caragh did this and so I guess it's my turn now... Book Tag by The Mile Long Bookshelf

How old are you?

What book are you reading?
Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones
Good Omens by Pratchett & Gaiman
Blood of the Fold - Terry Goodkind
Just One Damned Thing After Another - Jodi Taylor

...I have a book for every mood!

What are you wearing?
Jeans, polo neck, hoodie and fluffy slippers.

Kylar and Elene from The Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks.

 Blogger or WordPress?

Going outside being active or staying in and reading a book?
Staying in and reading a book obviously! There's so many to get through.

What is the last book you read?
Death Note Vol 3.

What is the book you’re going to read next?
Daylighters by Rachel Caine

eBooks – yes or no?
Yes. I was skeptical at first but now they're ok. I still prefer reading an actual book though.

Where do you prefer to read?
Anywhere and everywhere.

Who is the last person you tweeted?
I don't really tweet.

Who’s blog did you look at last?
This one.

Who is your favourite blogger?
I'm going to say Caragh XD

Who is your favourite booktuber?
Sanne from booksandquills.

What do you do when someone tells you reading is boring?
Tell them they're not reading the right books!

Who is the last author you spoke to?
Rachel Caine

Who is the last person you texted?

Who is your all-time favourite book character?
Olek Skillgannon from Gemmell's White Wolf

USYA just because i've read more of them.

What is your preferred drink whilst reading?

If you hated reading, what would you be doing instead?
I probably wouldn't be weeks behind with tv shows and i'd write a lot more.

How many bookshelves/bookcases do you have?
7 bookcases, 1 double shelf and 1 single shelf - Same as Caragh as we share a house.

If you had the choice to meet all of your favourite book bloggers or all of your favourite authors, which would you pick? You can only pick one.
Authors, seeing as I live with my favourite book blogger.

Insta-love- yes or no?
No. It just doesn't happen like that. You can be instantly attracted to someone but not love!

Favourite author?
Terry Pratchett

What is the number-one book on your wishlist?
The City Watch books by Pratchett. I've read them but don't own them.

Do you prefer books with female or male protagonists?
I don't have a preference.

Which is your favourite book-to-film adaption?
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

What is the last song you listened to?
Little Pill by Stereoside

Which do you enjoy reading more – negative reviews or positive reviews?
Positive reviews - but mostly just honest reviews whether good or bad

Who are you going to tag?
Anyone who wants to

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Book Blogger TMI Tag | Caragh

We've been gone for the whole of November! It was hard to stay away but we're back now and thought we'd ease in with Amber's Book Blogger TMI Tag which you can find here.

How old are you?
I'm 25.

What book are you reading?
I'm reading Charlaine Harris's final book in the Harper Connolly series and it's called Grave Secret. I'm also reading very slowly and just for nostalgia's sake, The Children of Cherry Tree Farm by Enid Blyton!

What are you wearing?
Blue jeans, Slipknot t-shirt, black hoodie and black converse! It's freezing now :S
Claire Danvers & Shane Collins from Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampires series. Always. Forever.

 Blogger or WordPress?

Going outside being active or staying in and reading a book?
Definitely reading a book - hence book blogging!

What is the last book you read?
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. It was okay but nothing like I expected and a little meh overall.

What is the book you’re going to read next?
I have no idea! I never know what kind of book i'm going to want until the moment strikes.

eBooks – yes or no?
Yes! I love my Kindle. I even named him Sherlock.

Where do you prefer to read?
I love reading next to a window when it's raining outside. But more often than not I tend to read in my chair in the living room or on my bed.

Who is the last person you tweeted?
A YouTuber. We had a disagreement about the way they treat people who are 'new fans' of things. I'll leave them nameless.

Who’s blog did you look at last?
Amber's! The Mile Long Bookshelf
Who is your favourite blogger?
Anya @ An Awful Lot of Reading and Misty @ The Book Rat

Who is your favourite booktuber?
Again that would be Misty! BookRatMisty

What do you do when someone tells you reading is boring?
Tell them why I love reading so much, maybe suggest a few books that may help change their mind and more importantly, just respect that not everyone can like the same things.

Who is the last author you spoke to?
The wonderful ladies who co-wrote the Twisted Lit series, Kim Askew and Amy Helmes. Look out for my early released review of their upcoming novel Anyone But You THIS WEEK!

Who is the last person you texted?
My mum!

Who is your all-time favourite book character?
Oh how am I supposed to answer that! There are too many. If I was really pushed for an answer it'd either be Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray or Charlie from The Perks of Being A Wallflower.

I love both but of course i'd have to go with UKYA. I need more of that in my life!

What is your preferred drink whilst reading?

If you hated reading, what would you be doing instead?
Probably writing. I used to love writing when I was younger until I discovered that other people were much better at it and I enjoyed their writing more than mine!

How many bookshelves/bookcases do you have?
7 bookcases, 1 double shelf and 1 single shelf - but i'm getting more soon as I hate double stacking!

If you had the choice to meet all of your favourite book bloggers or all of your favourite authors, which would you pick? You can only pick one.
Probably authors if i'm honest. I have a lot of questions!

Insta-love- yes or no?
Ugh no, not really. Sometimes it works but it kind of irritates me. I like the struggle, tension and the actual falling/realisation that they're in love. I want to fall in love with them too and that does not happen instantly.

Favourite author?
My instant answer is always Jodi Picoult because her books really make me feel and her writing is true and beautiful but honestly I have so many now. In the last couple of years i've read more than ever before which has opened me up to a lot of great authors.

What is the number-one book on your wishlist?
Probably Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell or Every Day by David Levithan. I love Levithan's writing SO MUCH and i've heard great things about Rowell.

Do you prefer books with female or male protagonists?
It makes no difference to me as long as the plot is handled well.

Which is your favourite book-to-film adaption?
Right now it's probably Perks of Being A Wallflower. I saw the film first and LOVED it and then the same week I read the book. Incredibly well done.

What is the last song you listened to?
I have no idea what it's called. Brianna has her iTunes on XD

Which do you enjoy reading more – negative reviews or positive reviews?
I don't have a preference really. Positive reviews get me excited about a book but negative reviews always make me curious to know how *I* will feel about it. I just want to read ALL of the books.

Who are you going to tag?
I'd quite like Anya to do it, if she reads this!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Giveaway Winners & November Break

Hello everyone! First of all i'd like to say CONGRATULATIONS to the 2 commenters who won the giveaway for The Oracles of Troy.

1. Josh Caporale
2. AdultandUnaware

If you could get in touch with an email address, your free copy of the book will be sent your way!

In other news - so it's coming to the end of the year now and a lot has been going on. It's November now which means we are both hibernating in an attempt to get through Nanowrimo and it's taking it's toll! Books are piling up and life isn't slowing down anyway so we have decided to take a break through the month of November.

We'll be back in December with lots of reviews and things for you! Until then we'll be writing for Nano and reading as much as possible.
We can't wait to get back into the swing of things and we hope you'll join us when December gets here!
Happy Nano-ing to those who are participating.

Caragh & Brianna.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Caragh Reviews - Doll Bones by Holly Black

Publisher -Doubleday Childrens
Published - 7th May 2013
Format - Kindle
Synopsis - Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

Doll Bones is the first book that i've read by Holly Black. 
I first saw this book in the local supermarket and it looked so wonderfully cute and disturbing, so when I got a copy to review I was extremely happy to find that it was exactly that.

Doll Bones started off very cutesy, a trio of friends love nothing more than playing with their toys and using their imagination to the fullest. It definitely reminded me of my childhood. My friends and family members would do exactly that - come up with great & grand ideas of what our toys had been doing (think Toy Story!). It wasn't long though before things started heading towards the creepy and I LOVED it.

The china doll that the book focuses on was another thing pulled right from my childhood. I had so many of those scary looking things and I adored them. It's only as I got older that I truly appreciated the creepiness of the realism. Doll Bones is an action packed adventure that anyone of any age can appreciate. Zach, Poppy and Alice are brave, courageous and determined as they set off for the biggest adventure they have ever had to face whilst being haunted both metaphorically and literally; by their secrets and the disturbing history of the Queen they are carrying around with them.

It was such a fun and quick read and the illustrations alongside the text were beautiful and really added atmosphere to the whole thing. A great little story for both young & old!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Caragh Reviews - The Hanging Tree by Michael Phillip Cash

Published - 15th October 2013
Publisher - CreateSpace
Format - Paperback
Synopsis - Enter a world where spirits roam the earth in Michael Phillip Cash's haunting new novella, The Hanging Tree. Set amid the eerie backdrop of Long Island, an area famously steeped in old legend, two young would-be lovers contemplate their future while visits from those who have come before them reveal the lure of fate...and the power of free will. At seventeen years old, Arielle's relationship with her parents is slowly deteriorating. Angry and defiant, she is at a loss on how to cope with the tumultuous situation in which she finds herself. Arielle's only comfort is Chad, an eighteen-year-old young man who seems to truly understand her struggles. Arielle and Chad meet beneath the low-hanging branches of what the local community has nick-named the "Hanging Tree". An ancient and majestic landmark, it has long been rumored that the tree is haunted by ghosts. These ghosts span various centuries and vary wildly in age, but each one of them has one thing in common: their deaths are all somehow connected to the tree itself. As Arielle and Chad commiserate over their current situation and their precarious nature of their future, the spectral inhabitants of the Hanging Tree witness their conversation. One by one,the ghosts begin reminiscing about their own lives-and deaths- as they examine the inner demons with which their human forms long struggled. 

I was contacted about the possibility of reviewing this book and though I have a HUGE back log of reviews and review books to do, I loved the synopsis so much that I said yes. It arrived this morning and, well. I've finished it. 

I haven't read many novellas before so I was surprised that the story kicked in immediately and was none stop until the very last word. The story is told from a few different perspectives which added to the suspense of the story and it pushed me to read quicker. The Hanging Tree was suitable creepy in places and I loved that even though the story was constantly moving forward, nothing was revealed until the end. It was great to see how all of the characters and their stories were woven together.

The Hanging Tree is less than a hundred pages long but it is packed full of intrigue and suspense. There is definitely enough material here for a full length book but I loved that it was such a quick and wonderful read! Cash is an author to look out for. He currently has two full length novels available and I hope to be able to check them out in the future!

Friday, 1 November 2013

FREE CHAPTER ONE: The World Below by Mike Phillips

The World Below
Chronicles of the Goblin King Book One
By Mike Phillips
Please Visit:
Chapter One
Baron Finkbeiner sat upon his throne, eagerly awaiting the arrival of his guest. Unable to contain his irritation, he fidgeted ceaselessly, first drumming his fingers and then wringing his hands. Patience was not one of his virtues. He sent his guards to fetch Jason Hume hours ago and he was tired of the delay.
Perhaps you got the better of them, he mused, unconcerned about the fate of his guards. Jason Hume was no ordinary man. It was said he had abilities strange and terrible. That was why the Baron needed him so badly. No, I would have heard something by now.
At last the Baron lifted his great bulk from the throne and climbed down to the dirt floor. Perched on a dais made of fifty-five gallon drums, the throne was an odd looking contraption.
It was an old lawn chair, covered in scraps of aluminum foil, streamers, gold stars, and pinwheels. Ornamented plastic soda bottles hung from the armrests and spun in circles even though there was no wind. Party lights were strung along its frame, blinking like many-colored stars. All of this contrived to make it look less like the garbage it was in the dim light.
The rest of the chamber was not nearly so charming. The place was dank and poorly lit. The walls were paneled in roughly cut wood, boards four foot long nailed into squares--the type of pallet used in commercial shipping. Water seeped in through the walls and mud was everywhere.
When he reached the floor, a puddle was underfoot and Finkbeiner had to be careful not to slip. Despite the hazards, his impatience drove him to pace back and forth, stretching his muscles and fiddling with a length of cord about his waist. The act did little for his state of mind. As time continued ticking by, he became more and more agitated.
Hearing something, he stopped short. There were voices, indistinct, distant. Booted feet approached, stomping and shuffling upon the floor. As they drew nearer, the Baron could recognize the feral grunting of his guards.
They were short of breath, but whether through exertion or fear, Finkbeiner could not tell. He then realized it was a struggle for control. It was all a game. Their prisoner was resisting, not so much as to earn punishment, but enough to make their work difficult.
With a sly smile on his face, he slipped his feet from his low cut shoes and dug them into the mud. The great Earth was his home and gave up its secrets like a jilted lover. He wiggled his toes, his keen senses reading the small vibrations in the ground.
The smile swept across his features, impossibly wide. His guest had finally arrived.
Only then did Baron Finkbeiner remember the most important part of the meeting. Giggling as he went, he hurried over to a corner of the chamber where he found an old chest. It was a sturdy thing of wood and iron with a modern lock fitted into the hasp.
After a brief search of his pockets, he produced a small key and inserted it into the lock. It failed to turn. Uttering a few curses, the Baron tried to force the key to work. No matter how profane his commands became, the lock would not open. Giving up, the Baron returned to his pockets. He wore a robe made of various scraps of fabric. It looked more like a patchwork quilt than the attire of nobility. Once the garment had been brightly colored, but now it was faded and tattered.
Pockets of all kinds were sewn within the patches of fabric --even the Baron did not know them all. As the footsteps in the corridor grew louder, his search became desperate, even frantic. He found coins, charms, parchments, safety pins, buttons, even a whole watermelon--he had no idea how that gotgot there--but no key.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, snapping his fingers. He remembered a cord hanging around his thick neck.
At the end of the cord was a brass key. It fit into the lock, and, with a turn and a click, opened the chest. Inside was a crystal ball the size of a fist. The ball was alive with energy, softly glowing white. With a satisfied grin, Baron Finkbeiner took the crystal ball out of the chest and thrust it into a pocket of his robe just as his guest entered the room.
Standing in the doorway, one of the guards announced, “You are in the presence of his Excellency, Baron Finkbeiner, Dragon of Worms, Lord and Protector of the World Below.”
“No need to be so formal on this occasion,” said the Baron. His thick hands fidgeted, touching the crystal ball time and time again. “Mister Hume, welcome, welcome. Do please come in.”
Where Baron Finkbeiner was short and rather stout, Hume was his opposite. Lean and muscular, he towered over the guards. Even though he had a burlap sack over his head, he would not suffer anyone to guide him as he marched into the room.
“You may remove his blindfold,” Finkbeiner ordered the guards. The guards weren’t human. They stood on two legs and had two arms, but there all similarities ended. They had piggy faces and squint eyes. Their ears were large and floppy.
With a hand that looked more a cloven hoof, one of the guards did as he was told. When the bag came off, Hume scowled, his quick eyes darted from one side of the room to the other, taking everything in.
“What?” snapped Hume.
“No need to be so rude,” the Baron replied, pleased with himself. He was unable to keep his hand from entering the pocket of his robe and fingering the crystal ball once more.
With a wave of his hand, he released the guards. They backed away.
“Following the ancient accords, I have invited you here in good faith to make a bargain.”
“What is it?”
Pacing thoughtfully back and forth, the Baron said, “Something valuable has been stolen from me.”
“You drag me all the way here because you can’t look after your toys?”
“Now, now, let me finish. This is no trifle I am speaking of. The Blade of Caro has been taken.”
Hume burst into laughter. “What goes around comes around.”
“It is rightfully mine,” said Baron Finkbeiner indignantly. Perpetuating the lie he was so accustomed to telling, he went on, “I won it in a duel. The spoils of combat give me right to claim it as my own.” “So, Frick and Frock here let the only weapon that can kill their boss get stolen? I’d hate to see their bonuses at the end of the year.” Hume crossed his arms. “What makes you think I’ll get it for you?”
“Because of this!” said the Baron, holding out the crystal ball with a flourish.
“So what? I can get one of those off the internet for twenty bucks.”
“Look inside.”
The Baron held out his hand. The crystal ball began to shine with the purest light--warm and sensuous as a spring morning. The light grew brighter andmore intense, filling the room. It was alive with power, enchanting in its simple beauty, and drawing every living thing toward it.
Lightning struck the ceiling and floor, then the walls on all sides. The pallets were blown to splinters. Thick mud oozed through the gaps like blood. A half-second later, the thunder clap was deafening.
The guards fell to the floor, holding their ears. Shards of wood protruded from their scaly skin, shedding dripping blood as black as tar.
When the smoke cleared, the Baron stood frozenwith his hand clutching the crystal ball. He hadn’t been touched. Neither had Hume.
“What kind of a stunt was that?” said Hume dangerously. Electricity sparked at his fingertips.
“Sorry, sorry, my fault,” the Baron sputtered. “I should have explained. All I meant was to have you take a look inside.”
“You can’t trap me in that,” Hume said slowly, as if to a halfwit. “Try it and the Blade of Caro will be the least of your problems.”
“No, no, you are quite right. No tricks--you have my word.”
“That’s worth a pile of dung.”
Extending his hand, the Baron asked, “Please? Have a look?” He smiled his wicked smile, showing a mouthful of pointed teeth.
Glaring, uneasy, Hume did as he was asked.
Light from the crystal ball shone once more. This time Hume gave himself up to its magic, allowing the warm light to surround and envelope him. His skin tingled. He looked up and found the Baron travelling into the light with him.
“Here we are. Not much longer now,” the Baron reassured him.
They floated in a blue sky. The air was fresh and smelled of flowers. Clouds as thick as cotton dotted the air around them. Below was a little homestead. The walls were made of logs and the roof of shake shingles. There was a wide garden with a cherry orchard and strawberry patch. A pasture held a jersey cow and a pair of goats. Chickens pecked in the yard.
“Nice place,” Hume said noncommittally.
“I try to make my guests as comfortable as possible.”
“Prisoners, you mean.”
“Yes, quite so, but let’s not quibble over semantics.”
“Your prisoners wouldn’t call it that.”
They landed on the garden path and walked up to the front door. A knock on the door was met with silence. No one was home.
“This way, I think,” said the Baron. “My prisoner, as you say, will not be able to see us or touch us. We are only observers, not really here at all if you take my meaning.”
“Shared illusion. I know the drill.”
“Good, then it goes without saying we cannot harm each other either.”
Hume gave the Baron a sidelong glance. “I’m losing patience.”
“Temper, temper,” the Baron said wickedly, leading them down the garden path. “I rule here.”
At the far side of the orchard, they found a trail to a little stream. The grass was thick and insects buzzed around their ears. A garter snake a foot long and thin as a pencil raced across the path.
When they came to a stream, they found a girl sitting on the rocks. Her back was turned to them and she held a pole in her hand. She had long, dark hair and a simple sundress with a floral print.
“Bastard,” Hume said. “I’ll kill you, Blade of Caro or no.”
“Now, now,” Finkbeiner said wickedly. “Nothing has changed. We remain in my throne room and I still hold the crystal in my hand.”
The sky went dark. Storm clouds grew thick above them. The chattering birds went silent. From the forest arose the voices of monsters. They growled and snorted. An odd collection of noises collected in what must have been a sentence. Whatever was said brought a roar of laughter and rush of activity. The unseen menace trudged through the undergrowth. Dead wood cracked under their feet. Boulders were kicked out of their away. A deer broke from the forest and ran across the stream. The monsters were close now, almost to the forest’s edge.
The girl turned. Her face was ugly with fear.“By my whim your sister remains safe or is tortured beyond all human imagining. She lives or dies. It’s up to you.”
“This is your bargain?”
The sky cleared. The sounds of the monsters faded into the distance. They were in the Baron’s chamber once again.
“Find the Blade for me.”
“I could refuse.”
Baron Finkbeiner considered the statement. “Come on Hume, I know what you are. Thief, murderer, you’re no better than me. You can do this to save your sister and earn a little coin along the way. Come now, I’ll owe you a big favor if you do this for me. You can’t tell me you haven’t thought about that.”
“How about I take her from you right now and save myself the trouble?”
The Baron smiled a devilish smile, revealing in some part what lay hidden beneath his human fa├žade. “Because I could break it to powder in my hand before you had half the chance.”
Considering for a moment, Hume turned what he thought was an honorific to an insult and replied, “I’ll do it, you rotten worm.”
Unaffected by the intended slight, the Baron said, “Let’s not make it personal. This is business; nothing more. I know that little wench took it, the Lady Elizabeth. She has some noble idea about subverting my authority, no doubt. Find her and get the Blade. Then you can have your sister back without a scratch on her pretty little head.”
“Not so fast. First you must swear by the blood oath not to use to Blade against me or to attack me in any way until our business is done.”
“The blood oath? With you? Forget it.”
The Baron’s hand became a claw at the end of a long tentacle, wrapped tightly around the crystal ball. The implication was all too obvious.
“All right, have it your way, but any dirty tricks and I’ll bring it to you with tongs. That hide of yours may be thick but there are powers beyond the Blade of Caro. Remember what Zeus did to the titans.”
“Yes, just so, I expect. Now come with me. All is prepared.”
For a moment, Hume stood still. Violence loomed as he looked upon the crystal ball. He was fuming but able to keep his emotions under control. Giving Finkbeiner a final, appraising look, he came to a decision and relaxed.
The choice did not go unnoticed. The Baron met his gaze and returned an appreciative nod. His hand was once again in human form. There was no transformation, no morphing of one shape to the next. It just happened.
Returning the crystal ball to the safety of his robe, the Baron put a hand on Hume’s shoulder. The gesture was accepted and they began walking. They didn’t speak as they made their way from the throne room but the tension between them had eased.
The corridors were as broad as they were tall, making gentle curves rather than straight lines. Even the intersection of hallways weren’t square. It was like the entire place was carved from stone by some great serpent, rather than nailed together from scrap wood by the Baron’s slaves.
A short walk brought them to the Laboratory. The room bustled with activity. Live specimens were everywhere. Some of the creatures were bizarre beyond imaging, sprouting thick fur or feathers in spectacular shapes and colors. Others were the product of unlikely coupling. There was a cat with a snake’s head and tail. A small dog had the claws of a lobster.
In most cases, their cages were barely large enough to hold them, let alone allow movement. More of the pig-men tended the various animals, but they cowered in fear upon the Baron’s arrival.
“Please excuse the hubbub,” said the Baron, tittering like a schoolgirl. “It’s the lesser harvest today.”
“Nice,” said Hume, pondering the implication.
“Oh, I do so much enjoy the smell of it. Don’t you?”
Disgusted by the odor, Hume said, “It stinks.”
“That’s fear.” The Baron’s eyes were alight, like he was strung out on some powerful narcotic. “They know what’s coming. The poor brutes aren’t as dumb as they look. Fear and blood, there’s nothing like it.”
A cauldron sat in the center of the room. It was as large as a dumpster, made of hammered copper turned green with corrosion. The lip was covered with the blood and gore of untold heinous rituals. Fire burned underneath, flaming high as they approached. The copper glowed with the heat, shining with a reddish orange light like the sun.
Unaffected by the heat, the Baron walked toward the cauldron. Hume followed a few steps behind. Even though the slaves backed away, neither the Baron nor Hume broke a sweat. This was the Baron’s work. He kept Hume safe until the deal was finished.
Inside the cauldron, a rancid mixture resembling feces was bubbling. The smell was terrible. Hume tried to hold his breath but soon gave it up and covered his mouth with his sleeve.
Withdrawing a knife from his robe, Finkbeiner offered it to Hume. It was a kitchen knife with a wood handle. The blade was serrated, bent with use, and pitted with rust.
Frowning, Hume said, “I’ll use my own.”
“Suit yourself.”
Cutting their hands, they let their blood run into the boiling contents of the cauldron. Smoke fumed and billowed in clouds. The smell was rancid as Lucifer’s breath. It stung the eyes and burned the lungs. Hume could hardly breathe but would not allow himself to cough. They spoke their oaths to each other, the magic binding their minds and bodies to their words.
“Done!” Finkbeiner announced. “Good luck to you. I’ll provide aid however I may. Just ask and it will be done.”
“Thanks,” said Hume, narrowing his eyes. “No need to show me out.”
went After Hume left, the Baron returned to the throne room, finding his guards still nursing their wounds. Taking a broken pair of pliers from a pocket, he pulled the worst of the splinters from their bodies. That done, he grumbled an incantation, healing them.
“Mutt, Tigg, I want you to keep an eye on our new friend. Make sure he keeps his part of the bargain.”
“Yes, Master,” grunted Mutt, the bigger of the two, in a rough voice. “You want we should stick a knife in him if he looks to be playin’ round?”
“No, not right away.” He took a small bottle from the shelf, amongst other potions of dubious efficacy. “One drop of this into a pool of water and we can talk. We’ll give our wizard friend enough rope to hang himself, but who knows? He might just do the job I require of him.”
Mutt grinned.
“Now, to make you both a little more presentable. Clothes make the man and so does the skin.”
Returning to the shelf, the Baron sorted through a number of bottles and flasks until he found what he looked for. It was a small, earthenware jug, stopped with cork and dusty with years of neglect.
“This will do the trick, but take care. The effects wear off quickly. I don’t have much, so use small sips whenever you go out in public and only when you absolutely have to. Otherwise stay to the shadows.”
Taking the jug, Mutt nodded acknowledgement.
“Now go; follow him. Find out where he lives and what he does in the world above. You must not fail.”
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