Midnight Sky by Amy Braun

Take a ride to another world where airships control the skies and Hellions are but one step away from painful and horrid death…

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Midnight SkyTitle:  Midnight Sky
Author:  Amy Braun
Series: Dark Sky #2
Publish Date:  August 2, 2016
Genre:  Urban fantasy
Source: Provided by the author

Publisher’s Description: There are secrets, there are betrayals, and there are sacrifices…

The Behemoth has been destroyed, and the bloodthirsty Hellions seem to have left Westraven. But Claire Abernathy’s mind is not at ease. A terrible disease plagues her sister, appearing to have been brought on the Vesper, the leader of the Hellions beyond the tear between worlds– the Breach.

To save Abby and stop the Hellions for good, Claire must find the machine her parents built before the attacks, and fix it before the monsters return. To do so, she needs the help of her crew, and must ignore the secrets and rivalries between her captain and the man she saved.

Because the Hellions are not the only dangers following Claire. Twisted humans and old enemies surface to stop her and destroy all she loves. While she is determined to endure the trials, a single betrayal could shatter the hope of a better world, and force Claire to make a choice that will cost her dearly…

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Nervous Nellie says…Nervous_Nellie_100

…forcing myself not to think about pale faces with shark teeth smeared with blood, or crimson eyes that seemed to smile as onyx claws sank into my flesh and started to rip it open…

Yes, there is a cliffhanger. I’m getting that out of the way straight out of the chute. It’s not so bad. I could handle it, so I’m sure anyone can. No sex, a little male chest pounding to claim alpha status and lots of death. This is not a stand alone, so please start with book one.

Amy Braun is a story teller of the highest degree. This series is about one woman trying to save a world that is practically collapsing in on itself. Dauntless may be the name of the airship, but it accurately describes the female protagonist in this book. She is part of a team of pirates that are searching for a lead to help them close the ‘breach’ to another dimension all the while dodging and weaving through dangers that can only be termed as death defying.

badge5v4The characters are vivid and they all have their secrets. The premise of this series is that the human team is fighting the Hellion team.  The humans chose to invade another world and got more than they bargained for. The descriptions of the airships and battle scenes are good. Brother is turned against brother and power is how they all keep score.

I enjoy this author’s work. She writes a face paced, action packed story with a lot of emotion and heart. If you want to delve into a world that is post apocalyptic steampunk, jump on in.

Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

What drew me to this book: I love Amy Braun’s work and, having read Crimson Sky, I wanted to find out what happens next!

Why I kept reading: Midnight Sky is full of action, heartache, and betrayal. At the end of Crimson Sky, the protagonist—Claire—has rescued her sister from the clutches of the Hellions along with Riley, a former soldier who had been captured and nearly killed.  They all return to earth and are bunking with Sawyer and his crew on the Dauntless, Sawyer’s airship.

Now they have to face the consequences of breaching the Behemoth, the Hellion ship, to rescue Abby and Riley, making their presence known to the Vesper, a telepathic alien, and his Hellions alike. At the same time, Claire is searching for answers to her parents role in creating the breach between worlds and the key to closing that breach. Can they find the answers they need while evading the Hellions who are hunting them?

There are a lot of tense moments in this book, and the cliff-hanger ending provides no relief! But it makes for a great story. We’ll have to hope our characters can find a way out of their many troubles when we rejoin them in February 2017.

badge4v4Why I recommend it: Braun’s Dark Sky series is a great steampunk adventure without the manners and tea. There are machines and electricity and airships, but the feel is decidedly more science-fiction than Victorian British. So if you’re looking for a good adventure without the corsets and goggles, the Dark Sky series is the one you want. Midnight Sky comes out August 2, so if you haven’t read Crimson Sky yet, now is the time.

Our reviews in this series…

If you like this book…

…you might try the Cursed series also by Amy Braun.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

“Station Eleven is a five out of five if I could give it a higher rating I would. It truly is a masterpiece.”

Station ElevenTitle:  Station Eleven
Author:  Emily St. John Mandel
Series: stand alone
Publish Date:  September 9, 2014
Genre:  Sci-Fi, Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionAn audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

Station Eleven is a five out of five; if I could give it a higher rating I would. It truly is a masterpiece. I’ve read it twice and I wish there was a literature class that could discuss themes and social commentary and story structure and character building, etc. It is truly an amazing book.

The first time I read it, I read it so fast I didn’t really know how to describe it, so I sat with it for a couple of months. The second time I read it, I tried to pace myself and savor each of the characters and the developments in the story and think about how would I describe this book. It is a complex story about people in dire circumstances and the choices they are forced to make and how those choices affect others. The setting comes off post-apocalyptic or maybe even science-fiction, which isn’t really the point. Emily St. John Mandel uses a cataclysmic event to create an environment where her characters must react to their new world and define their relationships in new ways.

The story is about the characters, developed in such a way that you go back and forth from chapter to chapter, first-person narrative and from timeframe to timeframe because you see the peoples lives when everything was normal, like we know it today, and then you skip forward into peoples lives 20 years in the future after a horrific event has happened and people are put into extreme circumstances and it all kind of circles around how these people knew or interacted with, even for just a few moments, the other characters and what affect those interaction had.

badge5v4At the end, the author folds you back into the storyline and catches you up on each of the individual characters, and how they relate to each other. They have become who they truly are and their lives are stripped down to that one most important way to be. I haven’t read any other book like it so I don’t know what to recommend if you like this book. I do have in my queue Emily St. John’s other books, but at the same time I’m a little nervous that they won’t measure up. This is just such a fabulous book!

Ultimatum of the Nameless God by Brian McGoldrick

Another entry in my review series of LitRPGs, stories that take place partially or entirely within massively multiplayer, virtual reality games.  PLEASE BE WARNED: This novel includes descriptions of rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Title: Ultimatum of the Nameless God
Author: Brian McGoldrick
SeriesPath of Transcendence Book 1
Publish Date: July 29th, 2015
Genre: LitRPG, Sci-Fi
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Taereun: Battleground of the Damned was never really a game. It was a testing ground to find minds and souls for the The Nameless God to use, and for tens of thousands of players, the game became reality, when they were put in the bodies of their characters. The Nameless God told them that he would return them to their real lives, if they fought through the Labyrinth of Yggr and freed his body from beneath the city of Haven. After searching for over 11 years, they found the Gate leading to Haven.

After being murdered right before the gate to Haven was opened, Mark McGuinness wakes up in a hospital in his original body. As a child, he was in an automobile accident. A freak whose body rejects most medical treatments, he was left scarred and disfigured. Angry, bitter and disgusted with the world, he had used Taereun: Battleground of the Damned to take out his frustration and anger, so he would not lose control and hurt or kill someone in real life. The closest he had ever come to being happy was living as Talon, during the eleven year search for Haven.

Having learned about the Power called ki, Mark McGuinness discovers that his human body is capable of channeling and using it. Once again armed with Power, he finds a way to travel from Earth to Taereun. He has questions he wants answered and people he owes. Whether mortal or divine, he will let no one and nothing stand in his way.

WARNING: For Mature Audiences Only. This story contains profanity and rather graphic descriptions of violence, gore, sex and sexual violence.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Vagabond Vahn says…

You know when the description of a novel contains a warning about physical and sexual violence, gore, and other adult themes, you have to make a decision.  Are you willing to explore these themes, or are you more comfortable simply moving on?  There is no right answer to this question.  Not only do each of us respond differently to these types of warnings, but we approach our handling of them in a variety of ways depending on where we’re at in our lives.

Ultimatum of the Nameless God was in the List of 119 LitRPG Books on Goodreads.  The title caught my eye.  The warning raised an eyebrow, and I decided to see how deep down a novel in this new genre would go.  I’m glad I did, but I’m conflicted sharing my review.

I want to be clear right now that in no way do I encourage or condone unwanted sexual violence.  This story includes rape, straight and homosexual.  It includes torture and violence, both sexual and physical. They are not the focal point of the story, but they happen.  With that said, these themes have existed throughout human history and I am not one to ignore them simply because it makes our society uncomfortable.  So it was that I purchased Ultimatum of the Nameless God – and in the end, despite the above, I’m glad I did.

The Good: It’s no secret among those who know me that I favor sociopath characters.  I relate to them on some level, and they intrigue me.  I find them far and few between as protagonists.  This is one reason I’m drawn to stories about assassins, vengeance, revenge.  The main character, Mark McGuinness, fits this mold.  There is a great balance in the exploration of what has led him to walk the line between being a sociopath and a psychopath—and he arguably does cross that line at times, but I find myself on his side when he does.

The story and events are gritty and uncompromising.  While it’s given away in the book’s description, the character comes to realize the “game” he’s been playing all this time is actually another world, and the people there, real.  The danger to them, the joys and horrors they experience become all the more palpable.   The journey Mark takes from his character of Talon, to his physical being of Mark, to the new Brand he becomes once back in Taerun kept my interest from beginning to end.

Brand leaves behind the scarred, weak Mark of his past.  He wants revenge for the death of Talon, his alter ego when he thought it was all a game.  He wants vengeance for the wrongs that have been thrust upon him.  He wants to remove all sense of powerlessness and won’t allow another to hinder that quest.  I find an almost atavistic empathy with these motivations and they continue to intrigue me.

The Bad:  Brian’s writing style is straightforward.  It doesn’t read as an author writing for the masses, it reads as a good friend across the country relaying an epic story to me.  This is detrimental to the experience for some readers.  For me, the events of the story itself made up for it and after a time I hardly noticed, but I feel it important to share for those who may be bothered by it.

I think the strengths of the story could have benefited from more exploration of the other characters.  At the same time, doing so could have created conflict with any empathy the reader has managed to build and share with Mark McGuinness.  I’m not sure in the end what I would prefer, but as result the side characters sometimes become background characters instead.

The adult themes may be a serious turn-off for some.  I equate it to watching a movie with depictions of the subject matter.  They are rarely the central point of a scene, but the author doesn’t shy away from drawing your attention to them, much the way the camera may pan over the scene and the audio revel in the screams.

It ends on a cliffhanger—be prepared if this kind of thing drives you nuts.  I immediately moved on to book two, and thus was not affected by this fact.

The Conclusion:  I wrestled for a few weeks before writing this review, about how I would rate Ultimatum of the Nameless God, and how I would present the review on the site.  It’s a great story.  It has straightforward, if not impressive, writing.  It explores concepts that make an awful lot of people uncomfortable but which shouldn’t necessarily be shied away from if we’re going to become better as a people.  It held my attention throughout, and provides a fresh alternative protagonist to the LitRPG Genre.  In the end, it’s a Great story.  I recommend reading it if the warning doesn’t immediately turn you away.  If it does, then the warning has served its purpose perfectly, because it is warranted.

Starlight by Chelsea M. Campbell

Welcome to Saturday Shorts where we review short stories and novellas.  Today, Kat Mandu is reviewing the stand-alone novella, Starlight.

22925258Title:  Starlight
Author:  Chelsea M. Campbell
Series: stand-alone
Publish Date:  September 2, 2014
Genre:  YA Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Adrienne Speck is the biggest loser in her high school, so she can hardly believe it when a magical boy falls from the heavens to grant her three wishes. He is cool, confident, and definitely popular-crowd material—everything Adrienne’s not. With his help, she has a chance to get everything she’s ever wanted: get kissed, get popular, and get a date for the upcoming dance.

But Adrienne discovers magic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the road to popularity is paved with humiliation. To make her dreams come true, not only will she have to get the lead in the school play, ask out the most popular guy in school, and stand up to the current queen of popularity, but also keep her personal genie from trashing her room, dressing like a nerd, and revealing to her mom that he’s living in their attic. For someone who’s supposed to be helping her, he couldn’t be making her life any worse. That is, until she starts to fall for him.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Kat_Mandu_100Kat Mandu says…

My thoughts on this are complicated.

The good – I loved the set up. A fallen star, coming down to earth to grant three wishes? That’s a great idea. The sugared aroma of Saiph is also interesting. I love Chelsea’s quirky little tidbits that are in all of her works and just give it that silly creativity. This novella was somewhat shorter than most and so I got through it fairly fast. The writing is spectacular as usual.

The so-so – I’m not a fan of continual teenage angst and although Adrienne gained some confidence near the end, she was mostly whiny and immature. I wasn’t very confident when I was growing up but damn, even I feel like I didn’t complain that much. I felt for the girl but I also wanted her to shut up and get a grip.

badge3v4I thought the romance was a bit forced though it was a sweet ending regardless. The dance scene was a bit rushed (I would have liked to have seen the outcome of her dumping Toby last second so he could go with Charlotte) and I wish I would have gotten more detail on Saiph’s real mission to earth – despite the story within the story.

Overall, not my favorite of the author’s work but I still liked it.

Arctic Dawn by Karissa Laurel

A solid follow-up to what may become a long running series bringing Norse mythology into the present; a Later Years concept for the gods and goddesses of old, given fresh perspective through a modern protagonist.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Title: Arctic Dawn
Author: Karissa Laurel
Series: Norse Chronicles Book 02
Publish Date: July 5th, 2016
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Provided by the Author

Publisher’s Description: Alone and exhausted after her month-long sojourn as a shooting star, Solina Mundy flees to southern California to lie low, recuperate, and plot a survival strategy. The one person she trusts to watch her back is her best friend, Skyla Ramirez. But Skyla has been missing for weeks.

The arrival of a dangerous stranger and the discovery of a legendary weapon of mass destruction forces Solina out of hiding and back into the fight for her life. Solina knows she won’t last long on her own. She must find out what happened to Skyla and unite her contentious allies if she hopes to track down this devastating weapon before her enemies use it to burn the world to ash.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Vagabond Vahn says…

Seeing old friends after a time away is always a pleasure.  They’ve changed, you’ve changed, but somehow your relationship hasn’t – at least not in the way that matters as you sit down with a drink to catch up.  It’s been a full year since I reviewed Midnight Burning – twelve full months since I last read of Solina Mundy and her Norse god friends.  We were due to sit down and catch up.

Solina went through a lot at the end of her last journey.  She changed figuratively and literally; she evolved into something more, but is still the Miss Mundy from North Carolina we met at the start.  She also happens to be on the run now, hiding out and working in a California bar – but she’s also making Southern sweet tea and promising banana pudding to her co-workers  The South hasn’t left her, despite all she’s been through.  Like friends you haven’t seen in years, everything has changed.  It also hasn’t.  Author Karissa Laurel captures that in Solina very well.

Despite what otherwise appears a respite from her troubles, there is never rest for those who make friends (or enemies) with ancient gods, nor is there rest when you take the essence of one into yourself.  It’s even worse when that essence is also the key to bringing about a new Ragnarok by her enemies.

The Good: Arctic Dawn picks up a few months after the first entry.  Enough time has passed for a bit of character progression, and it’s handled in a way that merits discussion.  We all change over time.  I expect the characters in my stories to change over time as well.  This progression is important to keep a sequel, and especially a series, from going stale.  Solina has changed an awful lot since the beginning of her tale, as has her friend Skyla.   Thorin and Val, however, are another story.  They’re still at each other’s throats like the Alpha males they are.  Val is still trying to seduce Solina at every opportunity, and Thorin is still conflicted over his emotions.  Thorin and Val lack an obvious progression of character that opposes the development of Solina and Skyla.  Yet I’m listing this in The Good section – why?   Throin and Val are immortal.  Time flows differently for them, and a few months – a couple of years even – is not necessarily an acceptable amount of time for them to leave behind centuries of perspective, habit, and manly insecurities.  That’s right, manly insecurities.  It sounds better than “the inability to share emotions because I am man, beat my chest and hear me roar”.  Or, it’s shorter to type – one of the two.  Looking back on it, I would find an equivalent in character progression for them in this amount of time to be more bothersome than the lack of it, and in the end appreciate this from the author.

The story itself is solid, and an appropriate follow-up in terms of scale.  There are a few more locations to explore, and a bit more history of the gods with whom Solina keeps company.  Where Midnight Burning was tightly focused both geographically and in literary scope, Arctic Dawn takes the next step with characters traversing multiple locations and the histories of Val, Thorin and others being explored.  Where the novel titles juxtapose a heated night with a freezing dawn, so too do we find ourselves in the deserts of Arizona and the snowy mountains of Thorin’s home away from home.   Loyalties are questioned and emotions challenged.  Karissa Laurel is moving forward with a series that requires her to step it up with each entry, and Arctic Dawn satisfies without introducing the worry that it’ll become hard to top moving forward.

The Bad:  On a personal level (I am a man after all), I would have enjoyed exploring Thorin and Val’s past in more depth.  Enough information was provided, but I find myself wanting more.  Whether this would have been detrimental to the story in the end is a question I’ve been wrestling with myself, and I remain conflicted.  I may not be the author’s target audience, but the genre is a mainstay for me.  I love a strong female protagonist, especially when they’re not so focused on their strengths that they refuse to show a weakness, but I can’t shake wanting more justification for the stubbornness over emotions these ancient gods display.  I discussed above that it makes sense they are still stubborn, in terms of how they view time and would evolve slower than a mortal – I just want to have a deeper understanding what has happened over the centuries that has caused them to still remain so closed.

Just enough happens with a variety of characters in this entry that I feel each of them could have easily filled another chapter or two.  Again, enough is present to handle the story from start to finish, but I wasn’t done with the Valkyries and their base before we moved on.  Helen, our enemy in book one and persisting through book two, kept mostly to the background here.  That’s fine, obviously we’ll be seeing more of her later, but everything still revolved around her.  This kept the satisfaction of an epic encounter with her dormant, and will obviously have to wait until the next entry.  It was odd, bringing her up and being reminded of her throughout, only to hit the end and realize we’ve never really had the showdown I was expecting.

badge4v4The Conclusion:  If you enjoyed Midnight Burning, please continue because Arctic Dawn delivers.  If you’ve not yet read book one, consider this my endorsement to do so.  I also rated it a 4 – Great, last July and awarded it the 2015 Standout Award at the end of the year.  I’m really looking forward to what is in store for these new friends of mine on the next step of their struggle to prevent the end of the world.  I rather like this world, and  would keep it around as long as possible.  While I’ll never tire of wizard detectives and private investigators, shaman cops or elemental assassins, the charm of Norse meets South is a satisfying addition the Urban Fantasy stories that occupy my mind.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Karissa Laurel as she delves into what looks to be Fantasy, based on the great cover displayed on her site for the upcoming Heir of Thunder (Book One of the Stormbourne Chronicles).

If you like this book…

…consider trying Midnight Burning, also by Karissa Laurel, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, or The Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


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