Awaken Me Darkly by Gena Showalter

ShowalterAwakenMeDarklyWhy I Read It: Future Earth infested with aliens that need to be policed by a tough, heavily armed woman in her late 20s? Perfect!

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Need some butt-kicking practical boots, alien murders, and a slice of romance? Check this book out.

Narrator: Justine Eyre

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)

Length: 8 hours 58 minutes

Series: Book 1 Alien Huntress

Follow along inside Mia Snow’s head as she and the guys from Chicago’s PD AIR (Alien Investigation & Removal) team track down an alien serial murderer of humans. In her late 20s, she’s lived long enough to not make the basic mistakes. No, her mistakes are all complicated. Hence, the plethora of weapons she carries on her person. Mia and her partner Dallas get a little closer to the alien’s identity, at least, until he is very badly injured. In a future world where Earth is lightly infested with a variety of aliens, a deal had to be made. Aliens could live on Earth, provided they do so peaceably, following all laws. Members of the AIR team can use their professional discretion to execute a law-breaking off-worlder. Mia uses her wit and cool tech to track and capture first Leela and then her brother Kyrin, both powerful Arcadians with dangerous abilities. Oh, and there is sexual tension left and right.

First, let me talk about the cover art. There is no black lingerie anywhere in this book. Or is that a nightclub dress? There aren’t any skimpy black nightclub dresses either. Anyway, there is a white gauzy revealing piece at one point. So, while this cover is not aesthetically displeasing to me, it doesn’t really portray the awesome fun murder trip inside this book. I see one knife on the cover. Mia Snow would laugh. She wears practical boots, carries knives and guns (plural), and is trained in hand-to-hand combat. there’s aliens and a future world covered in new-fangle technology.  Can I please have some of that on the cover? If I saw this cover in the SFF section, I wouldn’t even give the book a second look. I’m looking for something other than a wee little knife and a black teddy in my reading.

OK, thanks for letting me share. Now, this book was a lot of fun. It is my first Gena Showalter book and I really enjoyed getting inside Mia’s head. Her past isn’t too dark, but definitely has grey spots, especially concerning her dead brother Dash and her distant father who turned abusive after loosing his son. She’s been reliant on herself for a long time and it shows in her work and snarky attitude. She holds her own in a male dominated career. I kind of had mixed feelings about that element of the story: Even in the future, men still dominate police business and women have to use attitude and occasionally a well-placed elbow to hold their own. While it sets up a fun and well-known dynamic, I had a little trouble believing us ladies hadn’t evened the battle of the sexes by the time the aliens found Earth.

So, back to the goodness. Men turn up dead and an alien is suspected. Leela is arrested and detained, though she is difficult to subdue with her strong telepathic abilities. Nevertheless, Mia manages it, barely. However, as more info comes forth, Mia becomes convinced that Leela, while not telling everything she knows, is not the center of the crime spree. Leela’s brother, an Arcadian who is quite nice to look at, wants his sister released. He offers Mia a trade: His healing blood for her injured partner Dallas in exchange for his sister’s freedom. Obviously, Mia can’t go for such a trade. Hence, a combative dynamic is set up between the two – they are both physically fit, emotionally damaged, and in need of a good lay. Yes, we’re talking about the romantic element here folks. I loved the sexual tension that gave a tantalizing undercurrent to the murder plot for the first 2/3 of the book. I won’t give away the ending to this subplot, but let me say the initial combative nature between these two was the best.

I really enjoyed how everyone had a past in this urban scifi (yes, I just made that term up). Mia has her issues with family. Kyrin and his entire race have a population issue on the homeworld. Then there are all the guys from AIR that I am looking forward to seeing what Showalter does with them: Kitty, Ghost, her boss Jackson, partner Dallas. The cool tech was interspersed along the plot, built into the furniture and weapons and transportation. While we really only spent time with one alien race, we heard little snippets of others. The world building for the series is off to a good start. While I would like to see more female characters, a bit more tech, and some related cover art, Awaken Me Darkly was still a fun read.

Justine Eyre, the narrator, was a perfect fit for Mia Snow. She gave the character a sensual yet no-nonsense voice. I could totally see Eyre in kick-ass boots while narrating this book, channeling Mia Snow. My one negative criticism is that sometimes the male voices were not distinct and I had to pay extra attention to figure out which male character was talking.

What I Liked: Female lead detective in a murder case; aliens inhabiting Earth under a treaty; cool future tech; Mia’s family issues; the sexual tension between Mia & Kyrin; the boots – I love serious boots; a woman with sensible weapons.

What I Disliked: Could use a few more female characters; unrelated cover art; the love scenes didn’t grab me as much as the initial sexual tension; even in the future, women are still fighting for their place in male-dominated careers.

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Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford

FordParadesEndWhy I Read It: British classic that I had never heard of.

Where I Got It: Review copy via the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Those interested in the British society structure during WWI.

Narrator: Steven Crossley

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2012)

Length: 30 CDs

Parade’s End follows the fictional lives of the Tietjens. Christopher Tietjens is the youngest son of this high-placed family and the pivotal character. At first, he seems rather boring, being a mild-mannered statistician for the British government. But as the war breaks out and his life and social standing become tangled due to his adulteress wife, Sylvia, he becomes more interesting. His older brother, Mark, encourages Christopher to take a mistress of his own, Valentine Wannope. Christopher is sent off to war, not once, but twice, receiving injuries both times.

That’s a pretty short description of such a long book. The pacing of the plot was very, very slow. Indeed, I found myself enjoying this book more on days where I could give it a listen for 3-5 hours at a time because then I felt that the book was moving forward. Set in a time period and place where not only WWI is taking place, but the Suffragette movement, and the breaking down of class barriers, nearly the entirety of this book is about the personal social interactions of the Tietjens.

Yep, you read that right. It was like one long gossip fest with a little bit of historical bits thrown in to give it some credence. Does that sound harsh? Many classics I find to be focused on perceived societal norms (read ‘gossip’) and many people enjoy them. So, if you enjoy the drama of people trying to find love, happiness, and acceptance within constrained class systems, don’t let this review stop you from checking this classic out.

Tietjens is a descent guy, marrying a beautiful woman who seduces him for her own purposes but later comes to lust after him. I think it is a case of Sylvia can have any man she crooks her little finger at, except her husband, who she has abused for a number of years. Christopher is also generous with lending out money to the point of detriment, nearly ‘beggaring’ himself, which means he has to get a job.

I found the class differences to be one of the most interesting aspects of this book. Each societal class has it’s dos and don’ts of who you can interact with at what events to what level. The necessity of having these classes mix in the military of WWI starts to break these class barriers. However, the the British Suffragette movement was happening at the same time and is merely mentioned in a conversation or two; it’s a footnote. Sigh…..One of the biggest moves towards equality and Ford Maddox Ford turns it into a footnote.

The characters spent far more time anguishing over their personal lives and desires than fretting over the war. Yes, the war disrupted some of their planned holidays and their weekly get togethers. Yes, Sylvia managed to punish her husband through the gossip line, forcing him into ‘degrading’ service with the lower orders. These machinations of Sylvia’s practically guaranteed Christopher would be wounded. I loved hating her meanness.

Valentine Wannope is an interesting character, but doesn’t get as much reader time as the others. She is many years younger than Christopher, a Suffragette, and believes war is repulsive and peace is the way to go. Of course these opinions set her on the opposite track as Christopher, who grew up in a time where it was thought preposterous to give women the vote, equal pay, and employment opportunities. Plus he is serving in the war. On the other hand, Valentine’s mother is a well-known writer, with thoughts of her own; and Christopher has the utmost respect for her works. Alas, Valentine’s main role is as love interest.

Mark Tietjens, who is many, many years older than Christopher, has his set ideas on what female companionship is for. He expects perfect compliance within the limited role, set up for his comfort. He wants a woman to keep house, cook his meals, dust his hat, and warm his bed. Ford does a good job of placing this internal monologue of Mark’s in contrast to how the world has moved on, how women now have a greater say in their role in a relationship, society, and the work force.

In the end, I am glad I took the time to read this classic. While a bit long-winded, it was an interesting take on upper British society during WWI. I enjoyed seeing demonstrated how a bit of mean-spirited gossip could potentially ruin a man; and how that man rises up and marches on with his life.

The narrator, Steven Crossley, did a decent job of all the male voices, especially with making Mark and Christopher sound related, but distinct. His female voices could use a little more femininity, but were still distinct for each lady character.

What I Liked: Historical tidbits thrown in; class differences; breaking of societal norms.

What I Disliked: It’s a book built on gossip; Suffragette movement all but ignored; very slow unfolding of events.

I am participating in Darkcargo’s Ye Olde Booke Clubbe, a year-long event focused on classics. Anyone can join in the fun.

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Interview: Mysti Parker, Author of The Tallenmere Novels

MystiParkerProfileDab of Darkness welcomes Mysti Parker, author of The Ranger’s Tale, Serenya’s Song, and Hearts in Exile. Mysti was kind enough to subject herself to my nosy and prying questions. Enjoy!

1) In your writings, what makes a complex character an essential part of the story? 

Thanks so much for having me here!

To answer this question, it really boils down to my love for character-driven stories. I love writing and reading stories in which the main characters have several options they can take when faced with a challenge. Should they choose option A as opposed to B, it becomes a whole different story. Remember those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books?

When characters have to make choices, you really get to know them and what makes them tick. They may even make a choice that goes against their beliefs or morals, but the motives behind it add to their complexity. Their faults and hang-ups get in the way too, adding more layers to their personality. For example, Jayden Ravenwing, one of the leading males in my series, has a weakness for women, and sometimes married women.

‘Mary Jane’ (perfect) characters are boring. Give me a character who’s uncertain, unwilling, bitter, scared, or lonely. I want to see imperfection—moments of selfishness, jealousy, rage, and lust—and then you’ve got a complex character who may or may not rise above the challenges. That doubt keeps you reading (and rooting) for them to succeed!

ParkerRanger'sTale2) The Tallenmere series strongly features elves and romance, so I have to ask: Did you read Tolkien and wonder what was going on behind the scenes with the elves? 

YES!! Those elves were just too perfect, don’t you think? Better than everyone at everything, like those perfect soccer moms who attend every PTA meeting with J. Crew sweaters draped over their shoulders and a Starbucks latte in hand. Ahem…

Tolkien’s elves, though I dearly love them (my God, don’t get me started on Orlando Bloom as Legolas *drool*), they were all so whimsical. I just knew they had skeletons hiding in those tidy closets of theirs, so I decided to expose some of those bones once and for all.

In Tallenmere, elves put on a perfect show for the world around them, but as soon as you step inside their private chambers, you’ll see a whole different act. Pure elven women can give birth to a maximum of three children, but if you listen to the gossip, you’ll find out about all the half-siblings there are, many of whom come from Leogard’s nobility. All the elves tend to be xenophobic and intolerant of every other race, even other elven races. Half-elves like Galadin Trudeaux (A Ranger’s Tale) are especially looked down upon.

In reality, elves are just as imperfect as the rest of us, suffering from petty jealousies, inflated egos, self-doubt, and wanton desires. But, I did keep one aspect of Tolkien’s elves: they’re still very good-looking!

3) In writing your bad guys, do you want the reader to enjoy hating on him/her, or do you want the reader to be waiting for that magical moment when they redeem themselves?

ParkerSerenya'sSongThis really depends on the story. Complex villains are best—those who show more than just a 100% evil attitude. They have to have motives for their actions. Not just “I want to take over the world”. Ok, so maybe they do, but why? Did Mom abandon him? Did Dad get drunk and beat everyone in the family? Did one of their siblings steal all the attention?

Take Sebastian Crowe from Serenya’s Song, for instance. At the beginning of the story, readers just hate him, but as the plot unfolds, we start to see a completely different side of him, one that’s much more than just a big, mean brute.

Just like the main characters, I want to make it obvious that the villains have a choice in their actions. Sure, they may have someone in the background driving their evil deeds, but ultimately the choice is still theirs whether to continue on their path of destruction or not. I think just leaving that question in the readers’ minds is best. Give the villains a little bit of heart, some hints that they could do a 180, but keep the readers wondering (and hoping) until the very end.

4) You’re a gamer, so tell us your addictions: Oblivion? Titan Quest? Assassin’s Creed?

Big fan of the Elder Scrolls series. Currently, it’s Skyrim. Before that, it was Oblivion, and before that, Morrowind. Before all of those, it was Everquest & Everquest II. I’ve also had moments of addiction with Zoo Tycoon 1&2, Webkinz, and several others.

5) If I stumbled in to your Super Secret Writer’s Cave, well, you would need better security, but what would I find? 

My son has some sort of Lego construction on my desk. Some papers are strewn on the floor near the printer. There’s a messy book shelf. Make that two. A few instrumental CD’s scattered by the CD player and a too-full bulletin boards covered mostly with children’s art. A coffee cup with a ring of dried coffee in the bottom (better make more while I’m thinking of it). And copious amounts of dust and cat hair. Crap, now I need to clean…be right back!

ParkerHeartsInExile6) In the Great Mighty World of Fiction, what are 5 creatures you would want to avoid and why? 

Flitters: These are native to the Eastwood Mountains of Tallenmere. Butterfly-sized creatures with cute little pixie faces and pretty patterns on their wings. Just don’t look them in the eye for too long, or you’ll wind up in a paralyzing trance, while they shred you to pieces and have you for dinner.

Vampires: Yeah ok, so they’ve become sparkly lovers in recent years, but seriously—what’s so romantic about a guy biting your neck and drinking your blood?

Were-anything: Same here. If a guy can eat me for breakfast should he so choose, I’d rather not sleep next to him. No offense to the Jacob-lovers out there.

Zombies: This should be obvious. All instinct, some are very strong and fast, and always ravenous. And they smell bad, too.

Angry dragons: In Hearts in Exile at least, they’re usually not a threat unless you cross them or they think you’ve crossed them. There’s an old Haddo saying that goes something like this: “Never break a promise to a dragon; ye won’t live long enough to be braggin’.”

7) In passing nuggets of wisdom on to aspiring writers, what are some non-writing, non-reading activities that you would suggest to improve writing? 

Play roleplaying games like Skyrim. They’re like visual novels in themselves, filled with massive worlds and storylines. They can really get your imagination flowing.

Watch movies—not just for the special effects, but for the stories. See how the plot unfolds, how suspense is built, how the characters react to different situations. You’ll catch some brilliant ideas and some not-so-brilliant ones that will teach you both what to do and what not to do in a story.

Also, travel and visit as many places as you can, even if it’s local, like different restaurants, zoos, museums, parks, etc. You’ll gather all kinds of visual and sensory information that could provide new settings and help spice up your stories!

ParkerHeartsOfTomorrowAnthologyThanks again for letting me be Chatty Cathy for a while. These questions were really fun!

Mysti Parker (pseudonym) is a full time wife, mother of three, and a writer. Her first novel, A Ranger’s Tale, was published in January, 2011 by Melange Books, and the second in the fantasy romance series, Serenya’s Song, was published in April 2012. The highly anticipated third book, Hearts in Exile, has already received some great reviews. The Tallenmere series has been likened to Terry Goodkind’s ‘Sword of Truth’ series, but is probably closer to a spicy cross between Tolkien and Mercedes Lackey.

ParkerChristmasLitesAnthologyMysti’s other writings have appeared in the anthologies Hearts of Tomorrow, Christmas Lites, and Christmas Lites II. Her flash fiction has appeared on the online magazine EveryDayFiction. She has also served as a class mentor in Writers Village University’s six week free course, F2K

Mysti reviews books for SQ Magazine, an online specific publication, and is the proud owner of Unwritten, a blog voted #3 for eCollegeFinder’s Top Writing Blogs award. She resides in Buckner, KY with her husband and three children.

Contact the Author:

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Twitter @MystiParker


A Ranger’s Tale, Tallenmere #1

Serenya’s Song, Tallenmere #2

Hearts in Exile, Tallenmere #3 Available June 3 @