Early Review: The Collector of Dying Breaths

The Collector of Dying Breaths by MJ Rose (pub date April 8, 2014)

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From Goodreads:

A lush and imaginative novel that crisscrosses time as a perfumer and a mythologist search for the fine line between potion and poison, poison and passion…and past and present.

Florence, Italy—1533: An orphan named René le Florentin is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. Traveling with the young duchessina from Italy to France, René brings with him a cache of secret documents from the monastery where he was trained: recipes for exotic fragrances and potent medicines—and a formula for an alchemic process said to have the potential to reanimate the dead. In France, René becomes not only the greatest perfumer in the country but the most dangerous, creating deadly poisons for his Queen to use against her rivals. But while mixing herbs and essences under the light of flickering candles, Rene doesn’t begin to imagine the tragic and personal consequences for which his lethal potions will be responsible.

Paris, France—The Present: A renowned mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, is trying to recover from personal heartache by throwing herself into her work, learns of the 16th century perfumer who may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality. She becomes obsessed with René le Florentin’s work—particularly when she discovers the dying breathes he had collected during his lifetime. Jac’s efforts put her in the path of her estranged lover, Griffin North, a linguist who has already begun translating René le Florentin’s mysterious formula. Together they confront an eccentric heiress in possession of a world-class art collection. A woman who has her own dark purpose for the elixir… a purpose for which she believes the ends will justify her deadly means. This mesmerizing gothic tale of passion and obsession crisscrosses time, zigzagging from the violent days of Catherine de Medici’s court to twenty-first century France. Fiery and lush, set against deep, wild forests and dimly lit chateaus, The Collector of Dying Breaths illuminates the true path to immortality: the legacies we leave behind.

My Review:

I’ve been a fan of MJ Rose for about two years now, and I fell in love with her “Resurrectionist” series after I read Seduction last year. The Collector of Dying Breaths is a follow-up to Seduction, and also features the brilliant mythologist and perfumer Jac L’Etoile.

After suffering a personal tragedy, Jac uncovers a 500 year old mystery that was thought to only be the stuff of myth. In a historic French chateau, Jac finds an extensive collection of dying breaths owned by famous 16th century perfumer Rene le Florentin. Rene was supposedly working on an elixir that could be the key to immortality, and his work could give Jac the answers she has been looking for…or destroy her.

I loved this book; I enjoyed it even more than Seduction! Jac is a wonderful protagonist: dynamic, compelling, and real. Her intelligence and spirit set her apart from other people, but her fragility and tenderness make her relatable. Her obsession with the dying breaths mirrors Rene’s own obsession with death and immortality. Rene’s story is just as gripping as Jac’s, and the two tales are blended seamlessly to create this intense, beautiful story of love and loss.

If you’ve never read MJ Rose before, the “Resurrectionist” series is a great way to get started. Don’t miss out on The Collector of Dying Breaths. It’s an imaginative, passionate, and suspenseful story that’s sure to stick with you long after you’ve finished!

Book Review: The Geek’s Guide to Dating

The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith (pub date 12/3/13)

“Let your geek flag fly, because someone will salute it.”

If pop culture has taught us anything in the past few years, it’s that it’s cool to be a geek. We may have gotten picked on in grade school for liking D&D and comic books, but now finally, geek culture is in. The immense popularity of events like ComicCon and E3, along with endless blogs and podcasts dedicated to all things geek, are proof that geeks are hip and are here to stay!

But while geekiness is awesome, it also presents certain challenges, especially when it comes to dating. It’s hard to find that special someone who not only accepts your dorky quirks, but shares them too. Lucky for you, The Geek’s Guide to Dating is here to help!

The Geek’s Guide is a pocket-sized wonder of a how-to book written for geeky guys who want to get in on the dating scene but aren’t sure how to get started. It’s written primarily for (straight) men, but geeky girls will definitely appreciate the humor and might even find some useful advice themselves.

Author Eric Smith starts by helping the reader (aka “Player One”) identify what kind of geek he (or she) is. A tech geek? An academic geek? A pop culture geek? Each has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to dating. From then on, Smith guides Player One through the ins and outs of dating, from asking someone out to handling a breakup.

The Geek’s Guide is loaded with useful tips on grooming and wardrobe, suggestions for a first date location, and helpful hints to help Player One decide when it’s time to take the relationship to the next level…or when it’s time to say goodbye. Smith’s tone is friendly and lighthearted but never patronizing, and his advice is relevant and realistic. The adorable 8-bit style illustrations and funny references to video games, movies, and comic books are an added bonus. One of my favorite sections is a list of geek-worthy songs to get Player One pumped up before the big first date.

If you’re looking for an accessible guide to dating and relationships that’s just as nerdy as you are, this is the book for you. Or if there’s a geek in your life who is hoping to meet a “Player Two” but needs a gentle push, get him The Geek’s Guide to Dating. I can think of several people I’d like to give it to this holiday season. Maybe I’ll tell them it’s from Santa.

Dark Secret Love Blog Tour!

All this month, erotica author Alison Tyler hosted a blog tour to celebrate the release of her new novel, Dark Secret Love: A Story of Submission. The book is amazing, and I’m thrilled that Chicks Dig Books got to participate in the tour. Be sure to visit Alison’s blog for more information about Dark Secret Love, as well as her other books. And if you’re an aspiring erotica writer yourself, you can find out how to submit your work for an upcoming anthology! And on with the show…

“You have to make it hurt.”

I love erotica that makes you think as well as turns you on. Give me a story of self-discovery that’s filled with conflict and intelligent characters as well as amazing sex, and I’m a happy reader. For me, if the characters are only interesting when they’re having sex, then there’s no point to the book. But there’s no need to worry about that with this book.

Dark Secret Love is a thinking person’s erotica. Inspired by Alison Tyler’s personal diaries, it’s a semi-autobiographical account of a young woman named Samantha and her journey into sexual submission. With crystal clear self-analysis and a biting wit, Samantha regales readers with details about her sexual history and her search for true love. After a failed three-year relationship, Samantha finally meets Jack, a man who seems to know just what she needs. Jack pushes Samantha past her boundaries, tests her obedience, and helps her find self-acceptance.

Dark Secret Love is a beautiful and honest exploration of BDSM that’s both wickedly hot and a joy to read. The language is gorgeous, and the character development is realistic, which isn’t found often in this genre. All of Samantha’s fears, joys, disappointments, and desires come vibrantly to life throughout the story. Her humorous quips reminded me of the dark humor in Carrie’s Story.

If you enjoy erotica but have been frustrated by the incessant rehashing of the same basic storyline over and over again, I’ll make it easy for you. Read Dark Secret Love. It’s more than just a sexy one-handed read; it’s erotica for people who love to read, a perfect marriage of hot sex and beautiful language. And when you get to the end and still want more, don’t be sad, because Dark Secret Love is the first in a new series! Samantha and Jack will return in The Delicious Torment, due out in January 2014. I’ll definitely be reading it to warm up those cold winter nights ;)

A big THANK YOU goes out to Ms. Tyler for including me on her blog tour, and to Cleis Press for providing me with a review copy.

Book Review: The Last Winter of Dani Lancing

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner (pub date 10/8/13)

“She did not want to see him for fear he would cheer her up. How idiotic, to be so married to grief.”

Following in the footsteps of bestselling author Gillian Flynn, British author P.D. Viner gives us this twisting and turning suspense novel, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing.

Over twenty years have passed since the rape and murder of 21-year-old college student Dani Lancing. Dani’s case has since gone cold, but not for the people who loved her. Dani’s father, Jim, exists as a mere shell of the man he used to be, and has daily conversations with his daughter’s ghost. At the same time, Dani’s mother Patricia works tirelessly in an attempt to solve the case and bring Dani’s killer to justice. Aiding Patricia’s efforts is police detective Tom Bevans, who was also Dani’s childhood sweetheart.

Things are pretty quiet for this broken family, until Tom approaches Patricia with some interesting news. Dani’s case is going to be reopened, and modern forensic techniques might be able to determine who murdered her. As more and more details about Dani’s life are revealed, her parents learn that she might not have been as sweet and innocent as they remember her.

Overall, I thought this book was pretty solid, but somewhat flawed. The narrative often switches freely between the present day and a character’s memory, which can be pretty jarring until you get used to it. I also had an issue with the paranormal aspect of the story. Using Dani’s ghost as a character was a bit silly for me, and it didn’t aid the story progression much, as the ghost says she is unable to remember the events of her murder. The only time the ghost really adds anything to the story is during the ending, which was a tad unbelievable but still decent.

Other than these critiques, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is still a good mystery/suspense novel. The characters are very well developed, and it was interesting to read how the murder affected Jim, Tom, and Patricia so differently. Patricia was especially fascinating, as her need to solve the murder seems to come more from personal guilt than her desire for justice. Eventually, her obsession with revenge clouds her judgment and lands her in more trouble than she’s ready to deal with.

If mystery is your genre, this debut novel is definitely worth reading. Imperfect as it may be, it’s a solid story with plenty of suspense.

Book Review: The Mountain of Light

The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan (pub date 10/8/13)

“My father was the lion of the Punjab. Today I’m a mere, mewling kitten.”

Most people are fascinated by historical treasures, from the gilded sarcophagi of ancient Egypt to the Imperial Fabergé eggs of Russia, and even the historically disputed Ark of the Covenant. Whenever we get a chance to see such items, whether in person or on television, we can’t help but wonder how many sets of hands they passed through to get where they are today.

The Mountain of Light is a novel about just such a treasure: the famous Kohinoor diamond of India.

Set in 19th century India during the period of British colonization, The Mountain of Light tells the story of how the Kohinoor diamond passed from the deposed Shah of Afghanistan to the Maharajah of Punjab. When the Maharajah dies, the gem is left to his only surviving son and heir, who is only six years old. The boy-king, Dalip Singh, has high hopes of following in his father’s footsteps when he comes of age, but what he doesn’t know is that he is a ruler in name only.

When the British annex Dalip’s land, so too goes the Kohinoor diamond. Years later, Dalip travels to England, where he is celebrated among the British nobility and even gets to meet Queen Victoria. But for the rest of his life he will always carry around the pain of knowing that his land and his birthright have been taken from him.

The concept of this book is fascinating, but I had a little trouble with the execution. The story spans over thirty years, and there were a lot of major and minor players in the story of how the Kohinoor ended up in England. It was hard at times to keep track of so many characters, and some characters were introduced only to quickly disappear and never be heard from again. It felt to me as if there was no real protagonist. Dalip’s narrative was the most compelling to me, so some of the middle parts that didn’t feature his character I found a bit dry. There is also some switching from third person to first person in the last section of the book, as well as jumping back and forth in the timeline. It was as if the last chapter didn’t match the preceding ones.

Despite these hangups, The Mountain of Light is a great window into the history of Anglo-Indian relations. Author Indu Sundaresan clearly made a tremendous effort in researching the famous diamond, and her descriptive writing style helped bring all of these long-dead historic figures to life.

In case you were wondering, the British still have the Kohinoor diamond. It’s currently on display at the Tower of London as part of the Crown Jewels. And based on Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement this past February, it doesn’t look like they’re giving it back anytime soon.

Book Review: Doomed

Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk (pub date 10/8/13)

“Maddy, prayer is for superstitious idiots and Baptists.”

It’s been a long two years since the release of Chuck Palahniuk’s last novel Damned, but the sequel Doomed is finally here! I was lucky enough to pick up an advance copy at this year’s BEA, which alone was worth the price of admission.

Palahniuk’s spin on The Divine Comedy continues right where Damned left off. Madison Spencer finds herself exiled in Purgatory (aka Earth), having missed her window to get back into Hell on Halloween night. On Earth, Madison is able to see and hear everything around her, but no one can see her, except for an obnoxious, fame-seeking “ghost hunter” hired by her parents.

Shortly after finding herself stuck in Purgatory, Madison encounters the ghost of her deceased grandmother, causing her to remember one particularly horrible summer she spent with her grandparents in upstate New York. The events of that summer would come to shape the young woman she would become, and also shed some light on just how she ended up in Hell in the first place.

Soon after, Madison uncovers Satan’s plot to plunge the world into eternal damnation, with herself as his unwitting pawn. Tired of playing into his hands, she comes up with a plan of her own…

Damned got some mixed reviews from Palahniuk fans, so I’m curious as to how they will react to Doomed. I enjoyed Doomed a little more than its predecessor, mainly because it reveals more of Madison’s backstory. Those who found her to be a little snarky and annoying in the first book might change their minds about her now, as her character development takes an interesting turn in this book.

True to form, Doomed is also laden with Palahniuk’s trademark brand of satire. I particularly enjoyed the commentary about how people always misinterpret religious signs or visions as having more meaning than they were really meant to. Palahniuk tackled religious extremism before in Survivor, and it was interesting to see a different variation on that theme.

Doomed is every bit as offensive, unique, and disgusting as Damned was…probably even more so. Trust me, when you get to that section you’ll know what I mean. It sets up nicely for the third installment in the trilogy, and I’m eager to see what the future has in store for little Madison. While Palahniuk’s earlier books are still my favorite, I think his fans will find this one enjoyable.

Are you a die-hard Chuck fan? Tell me what you thought of Doomed!

Book Review: Watch How We Walk

Watch How We Walk by Jennifer LoveGrove (pub date 10/1/13)

“The house, the Kingdom Hall, and the town itself were like prison cells and all my energy went into planning my escape.”

Canadian poet Jennifer LoveGrove makes her debut as a novelist with this absorbing book about a young girl’s relationship with her Jehovah’s Witness family.

Ten-year-old Emily was raised to be the perfect Jehovah’s Witness, with meetings at the Kingdom Hall three times per week, family study nights, and distributing religious literature door to door every Sunday. She dresses modestly, doesn’t celebrate any holidays (including her own birthday), and avoids anything and anyone considered to be “worldly.”

But soon, Emily starts to notice how her family’s religion is becoming a source of tension rather than comfort. Her mother seems to be losing her faith, especially after their community turns its back on Emily’s closeted Uncle Tyler. As Emily’s teenage sister Lenora starts to test her independence by hanging out with non-Witness kids from school, she clashes with their strict father, and attracts gossip and scorn from the Kingdom Hall elders.

When Lenora suddenly goes missing, Emily’s life is shattered. Her nervous habits quickly turn into self-mutilation, and she starts to take on her sister’s personality as a way to stay connected to her.

I really enjoyed Watch How We Walk; it’s gripping and powerful. It’s both a coming of age story and a look into the effects of growing up in a rigid and closed-minded community. The story alternates between Emily’s childhood and adulthood, while switching back and forth from the first to third person. I wish it had stayed in the third person throughout the whole book, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. Emily is a great character, and I could feel every bit of her anxiety and she hoped and prayed that her family would just be perfect again.

Suspenseful and well written, and with a kick-in-the-face ending, Watch How We Walk is a book you won’t soon forget. This is a great treat from a small publisher, so don’t let it slip under your radar!