Category Archives: Book Reviews

Forbidden: Book One of The Arotas Trilogy by Amy Miles

Forbidden Book One of The Arotas Trilogy by Amy MilesForbidden by Amy Miles

Self-published, available in e-book format on Amazon. Buy this book here.

Forbidden is a paranormal young adult romance that follows our hundred-something heroine Roseline Dragomir in her journey to escape her blood thirsty and power-hungry husband Vladmir.

It’s a vampire story with a twist: these immortal blood suckers don’t need to drink blood to survive (but it helps with the healing process and makes them more powerful), aren’t afraid of the sun, and can come back from even the most gory assumed deaths. And while they are abnormally attractive, none of them sparkle.

Fed up with living in fear of her (extremely) abusive husband, Roseline flees the country and sets up a new identity as Rose, head-turning teenager at a Chicago high school. There she makes friends with a punky but spunky outcast named Sadie and her sweet brother William.

This is where things get a little…unbelievable. Roseline has been alive for hundreds of years, and although she looks like a teenager one wouldn’t really expect her to act like a teenager or care much about teenage drama. I also had trouble believing that the moment she lands in Chicago the first thing she does is rent a house and enroll in high school. Why would a hundred-something year old vampire on the lam bother with high school? Here is the part where you either toss down your e-reader device of choice in scorn or you employ some suspension of disbelief and soldier on.

I soldiered on. After a few amusing high school escapades our dear Rose meets Gabriel and falls in love. Of course love is never easy in a paranormal YA romance, and so trouble ensues.

Generally I fell in and out of interest with this book. The plot moved quickly enough to keep my attention, the characters were developed enough so that I could picture them and easily keep track of who is who, but often the storyline dipped into “really?” moments that were pretty jolting. Part of this problem is the subject matter. Rose has to go to high school so that she can meet her high school friends and they can become part of the story. Okay. This is a YA book so of course it makes sense that it would be set in an environment familiar to the YA crowd. Alright. Could the author have explained things just a little better so it was easier for the reader to swallow and follow? Definitely.

For those of you who aren’t thrilled with the thought of these high school shenanigans, don’t worry. Things change.

To avoid letting out any spoilers, I’ll stop here with the recap. This book is written with (mostly) a good flow and the writing has the appropriate amount of youthfulness without walking too far down “like, totally” lane. While I typically avoid vampire-themed books (no, I never read the Twilight series but I’ve read my fair share of vamp fiction) this one had enough fresh ideas that it didn’t feel stale. I also enjoyed the transcontinental settings (though they could have been fleshed out a little more, I often felt a little blind when it came to the surroundings).

Come back next week when I review Reckoning, Book Two of The Arotas Trilogy.

Bound, Punished, Possessed: The First Three Books of the Arelia LaRue Series by Kira Saito

Bound by Kira SaitoSelf-published, available as e-books on Amazon.com.

I am going to review these three books as one story, since each book is very short and flows into the other seamlessly.

These books follow the story of our young teenage protagonist Arelia as she accepts her powers as a voodoo queen and struggles to fight against dark powers and curses at the stately Darkwood Plantation set just outside New Orleans. There’s love, spirits and magic, and one very annoying blonde best friend.

This book has a very teenage voice, which I suppose is appropriate considering that it’s written from the first person point of view of a teenager. While I tried to adjust to this voice, it often made me feel like I was trapped inside of a car with a gaggle of teenage girls who just won’t stop talking. This feeling can be, as you might guess, rather annoying. Each book reads as if a girl is sitting right next to you telling the story, which leaves little to the imagination and takes away from the plot considerably. I also wasn’t happy to see the immense amount of pop culture references, from Lady Gaga to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Each reference took me out of the story and made me feel disappointed in the author.

I didn’t care for the two female characters, Arelia the protagonist and Sabrina her vapid blonde friend. Both have their interesting life details, yet they are stuck with one-dimensional personalities with a flair for the annoying. Sabrina is a self-obsessed rich girl with abandonment issues and Arelia is a self-deprecating poor girl with self-esteem issues. If you didn’t pick up on these things naturally through character development, the author helps out by telling you outright.

Not only does she talk outright about her many “issues”, but Saito has Arelia explaining everything to us rather than letting the story play out:

“Whatever you say,” I said reluctantly.

I knew I was more anxious than usual tonight because I wanted to look good. I wanted to be noticed, and I knew by exactly who. Although I felt beyond guilty for wanting what or who I did, I couldn’t help the way I felt. I wanted Lucus, and I wasn’t afraid to admit that anymore.

Okay, so theoretically I was trying to be all confident, but I knew that when I actually saw him, I’d probably say something stupid. – Excerpt from Punished

Saito needs to learn the great art of subtlety—not everything needs to be blatantly told to the readers and she needs to learn that we are smart enough to follow along without her hand-holding. As I read this book one of the first rules of writing rang in my head over and over: Show, Don’t Tell.

That said, I read all three books and genuinely enjoyed them. I even found them somewhat addicting. While Saito’s pace is incredibly fast (Arelia is always in conversation with someone and something dramatic is always happening) it does keep the story moving and kept my attention throughout all three. She’s good at leaving cliff hangers and I was always left wanting more of the story.

Which brings me to what I liked: the story. Saito’s characters may be flat, annoying, and unlikable, but her story is incredible. She dabbles with mythology and magic while setting her story in (obviously fictionalized) history. Much of the story involves Haitian voodoo spirits, which Saito did her homework on instead of making up (I was happy to find) and slavery.

She also has a great way with sensory details, focusing primarily on food, which always captures my attention and praise. After reading these books all I wanted to do was go straight to New Orleans and eat everything Saito mentions in her books.

The fourth book in this series (Oppressed) is not yet available, but I can tell you that I will read it and probably the rest of the series. I do wish she wrote this series as a trilogy, however, and that she get herself a better editor. I believe these books, given more time and editing, could be something really impressive.

You can read the first book in this series, Bound, for free. Punished and Possessed can be purchased for $2.99 each. All books are only available as e-books.

Secrets & Lies by Josh Gross

Josh Gross’s collection of short fiction (or collection of nonfiction, or fictionalized nonfiction, or some combination of all of the above, depending on how you look at it) span a variety of both funny and distressing topics. A barista tries to  treat a homeless man like a human being much to the chagrin of his boss and coworkers, a young couple deals with an abortion, a girl kidnaps a cat, and more than a few people get their hearts stepped on. More than anything, though, these stories are about the often painful experience of growing up.

The collection, aptly titled Secrets & Lies, is composed of stories that feel incredibly honest while others are more like a jolting romp through imagination. It’s difficult to tell where the nuggets of truth are in these stories, but all of them have an intensity of spirit and depth that can’t be denied.

His first story, “The Dog House,” is arguably one of the best stories in the collection. It tells the story of a young couple buying a dog together (a droopy-eared lovable mutt named Elvis) but this, like many of Gross’s stories, is really about the complicated world of relationships. It’s about the feelings of alienation and confusion that come from being left behind, whether you be dog or man. At times funny, at many times heartbreaking, this story pulls at the heartstrings and the funny bone almost equally.

One of the shortest pieces (barely five pages long) titled “Echoes” is incredibly simple and yet undeniably poignant. Written as a dialogue between a couple, it’s a conversation I would bet all writers have had with a lover at some point in their lives. The girl is asking her writer boyfriend why he never writes about her, and the discussion unwinds from there ending in his incredibly stirring one line response (sorry, no spoilers here!).

Probably the most shocking story in the collection, “One Friday in April,” is about  a couple dealing with abortion and the painful aftermath of this unhappy event. What makes this story different from other abortion stories you may have read is that it comes from the honest perspective of the man. He isn’t the archetypal jerk who leaves the girl to deal with it herself, nor is he the perfect boyfriend gently smoothing away tears and promising eternal devotion. He is a human being going through an unpleasant and confusing experience with someone who is often closed off and uncommunicative. That’s what Gross does best- he writes stories about real people and how they would really react in these situations.

Summarizing these stories doesn’t do them justice. They are incredibly real and familiar, and while they are fiction, often it feels as if these stories are your own. These are the kinds of soul-molesting stories that are difficult to forget, and would be a shame to miss out on.

The Short, Short Hitchhiker by Stanley Gurcze


I opened up my small mailbox (just barely big enough to fit one book, ok, maybe two) the other day and inside was this short, short autobiography by a short, short man. The good people over at Virginia Avenue Press had decided to send me their newest title to review, and review it I will.

I’m going to admit, I never would have bought this book had I seen it in a store (or more likely, online). “Not another On the Road! Not another Into the Wild!” I would have exclaimed, rolling my eyes and passing it by. How could I have known that not only was it nothing like those books, but that I would actually enjoy it more than both those highly regarded novels.

The Short, Short Hitchhiker is an unbelievably funny and interesting autobiography by a man, now sadly deceased, named Stanley Gurcze. At an all too brief 136 pages Stanley weaves his many stories of hitchhiking across the United States (mostly through Nevada, Arizona, and Texas) and how he came to be a  homeless roamer.

This is the exact opposite of a “woe is me” story, although much woe can be felt from the loss of his legs below the knee when he was young. Aside from that, Stanley is an insightful, amusing storyteller and this book entertains far more than saddens. He describes his travels and interactions with some of the people who pick him up from cops to swindlers to the governor of Nevada. I found myself laughing out loud in amazement at some of the things Stanley wrote about, and was disappointed when the book ended.

This is a little gem of a book written by someone who simply wanted to tell stories, his stories. It’s rare to find a manuscript written purely for the sake of storytelling, without the driving desire to be rich or famous or respected through being a published author. I wish more books had the raw honesty of this memoir, and I highly suggest you all give it a read.

How this book came to be published is almost as good of a story as the book itself. Stanley sent his manuscript to an editor who once gave him a ride, Richard Menzies, who eventually got it published by Nevada publisher Virginia Avenue Press.  For more about Menzies and excerpts of the book read aloud, watch here:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

*Warning: Spoilers ahead. 


When I was about ten years old I attended a sleep over party at which I was introduced to the cinematic masterpiece The Princess Bride. Years later, the film remained on my favorite movies list. I introduced the film to as many people as I could: friends, younger siblings, even boyfriends. I still have the DVD sitting among the five other DVDs I currently own.

Needless to say, The Princess Bride had an impact on me. Now, fifteen years after being first introduced to the film, I have read the book it was based on.

William Goldman wrote The Princess Bride in 1973, claiming that it is an abridged version of a novel written by an S. Morgenstern. The book features the story (very close to the film version) and asides from Goldman himself, explaining why he cut certain sections and inserting short personal anecdotes (all of which are fictional).

In the book he mentions that his father read him the “original version” when he was a boy, and now that he has a son of his own he wanted to pass on this tradition. In reality, no such version exists, Goldman doesn’t have a son (he has two daughters), and he of course wrote the book entirely himself.

The story, if you have been living under a rock since 1973, is a fantasy about the love between Buttercup and Westely, and the trials/tribulations they must overcome to be together. If you’ve ever heard anyone say, “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!” you may cease your wondering: the quote is from this book.

The story is romantic, but mostly it is a comedy. The film features many of the best jokes from the book, but the book has even more comedic elements the film lacks. Goldman’s introduction and asides are incredibly witty, and I found myself more than once laughing out loud (and remember, I’ve seen the movie at least 20 times).

The book also features the back stories of Fezzik and Inigo, a welcome addition to the primary knowledge of the two lovable characters.  Prince Humperdinck is also given more character development in the book, as is the relationship he has with Buttercup during Westley’s absence.

The only complaint I have of the book is the depiction of Buttercup. In the film she is certainly the dullest character, but in the book she is described as an absolute moron. Westely and Humperdinck frequently ridicule her lack of intelligence, while she herself is constantly thinking about how stupid she is. She is often described as beautiful and stupid.

I have read that Goldman wrote this story more or less for his daughters (who, it is said, asked for a story about a “bride” and a “princess”). I would think a man writing for his daughters might give them a female character to aspire to, not one to be mocked. That said, his male characters (ALL of the other characters, apart from a witch and the King’s wife, neither of which have much page-time) are very engaging.

Fans of the film won’t be  disappointed by the book, and if you have never seen the movie I recommend both highly.