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Right on time for the first week of September, the leaves here are starting to turn red and gold. Days are getting a bit shorter, and there’s a chill in the air. It’s a perfect time to grab a hot drink, and curl up with an autumn read like Crystal Collier’s Young Adult tale, Moonless, which feels like Jane Eyre mixed with supernatural elements.

But before you take a look at Crystal’s books, please join me in congratulating author Jill Biskar, who stumped all with last week’s Lie-dar when nobody guessed that her actual proposed tattoo is “A skeletal hand as if someone was gripping my bicep”. By random drawing, winner of the copy of Finding the Way Back is Cathy at Between the Lines.


Moonless coverBlurb 

In the English society of 1768 where women are bred to marry, unattractive Alexia, just sixteen, believes she will end up alone. But on the county doorstep of a neighbor’s estate, she meets a man straight out of her nightmares, one whose blue eyes threaten to consume her whole world—especially later when she discovers him standing over her murdered host in the middle of the night.
Among the many things to change for her that evening are: her physical appearance—from ghastly to breathtaking, an epidemic of night terrors predicting the future, and the blue-eyed man’s unexpected infusion into her life. Not only do his appearances precede tragedies, but they’re echoed by the arrival of ravenous, black-robed wraiths on moonless nights.Unable to decide whether he is one of these monsters or protecting her from them, she uncovers what her father has been concealing: truths about her own identity, about the blue-eyed man, and about love. After an attack close to home, Alexia realizes she cannot keep one foot in her old life and one in this new world. To protect her family she must either be sold into a loveless marriage, or escape with the man of her dreams and risk becoming one of the Soulless.
 

gold starReview: 4 stars out of 5

It’s 1768 in Devonshire, England. George III (not yet Mad King George), reigns over an increasingly troubled realm, the industrial revolution is underway, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” is the new Stuart claimant to the throne, and the American colonists are protesting against Britain’s policies. Meanwhile the aristocrats are more concerned with having their dresses made by Worth, their gardens designed by Capability Brown, and their daughters safely married to the most socially superior suitors. And behind that is another world where monsters prey on moonless nights.

Sixteen year-old Alexia Dumont was born into the high ranks of wealth and privilege. But she’s always known herself to be an ugly, unworthy member of that class. Her mother shuns her, while her father is desperate to arrange a marriage “…early— before anyone had a chance to glimpse the ghastly girl and advise the gentleman against it.” On top of that are the dreams where she sees death—both others’ and her own—as well as the dazzling blue eyes of a man who comes straight from her nightmares to appear before her. Somehow, her appearance is altered into one of unearthly beauty, but her night terrors are turning into reality. Witnessing the murder she’s seen in her dreams, she is introduced to the world of the Passionate, another race who live amongst humans. They are pitted against the Soulless who prey on them on moonless nights. Alexia is given the choice of leaving behind her status, her family, and everything she’s ever known, or forsaking the blue-eyed man who has watched over her since childhood.

In Moonless, author Crystal Collier has delicately crafted a world of supernatural creatures coexisting within the familiar pre-Regency world of aristocrats, manners, and constraints. But the typical gothic elements that went into classics like Jane Eyre—orphaned young heroine, gloomy mansion complete with turrets, sinister servants, family members who’ve met with untimely deaths, mysteriously significant piece of jewelry, weather that mirrors the frightening series of events—are overturned one by one. Although Alexia’s mother dies, it’s her own weak father who tries to force her into an unwelcome marriage. Without providing spoilers, I can promise that the other elements are introduced and turned upside down as well. And through it all, we see Alexia struggling and ultimately succeeding in growing from a typical young aristocrat into a strong young woman with power of her own.

While the plot is original and engrossing, there were a couple of places when things happened which weren’t explained until much later in the book, leaving me confused about what was actually going on. Once or twice I got lost in pronouns and had to circle back to see who “he” and “she” were. But at its essence, Moonless is a character-driven story, and at that it succeeds brilliantly. Alexia draws her strength from within, but also from her training and background, even as she struggles with the decision to reject those elements.

Minor characters are well-drawn and three dimensional, especially the irresistibly psychotic demonic child Bellezza. Alexia’s love interest, Kieren, is compelling, although we never find out enough about him. While the pace was slightly uneven in a few places, it never dragged. But overwhelming all of this is the dazzling, gorgeous style of Moonless. There isn’t a single paragraph which steps outside of the look, feel, and sensation of the world that Crystal Collier creates.

I’d give four stars and highly recommend that you read Moonless quickly, because the next book in the series, Soulless, will be released October 13th. If you’re like me, you’ll want to know what’s next for Alexia, you’ll hope for more Kieren, and you’ll need to know what happens to Bellezza and the other characters you’ve met in Moonless.

**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**

 

Excerpt

1 Blue Eyes

Alexia was reasonably confident that exiting the carriage was the equivalent of stepping into Hell. She glanced out again at the grand Roman pillars of the finest country estate in Devonshire and shivered. Just let me be invisible.

Mother cleared her throat. Her golden tresses glowed in the lamplight leaking through the open door. Alexia straightened up. Her mouth curled into a forced smile as she smoothed the folds of her amber gown , the newest cut and height of fashion for 1768.

Mother rolled her eyes, took Father ’s waiting hand, and descended to the drive.

Alexia scowled. A month ago she had turned sixteen. A month ago the expectation to be lady-like and presentable had begun. A month ago the nightmares had started. Her night terrors certainly resulted from Father’s talk of making her a match early— before anyone had a chance to glimpse the ghastly girl and advise the gentleman against it. Her too-thin frame and sunken jowls were enough to keep her own eyes away from reflective surfaces. How could she fault others for sharing that opinion?

Father extended a hand. “Alexia, come.”

She’d inherited his dark tresses, but that’s where her resemblance to this handsome man ended. He gave her a grim smile and assisted her down before taking his wife’s arm. Her parents pulled together, draping her in their shadow— though out of embarrassment or a need to shelter her, she couldn’t decide.

She glanced back over her shoulder as the carriage rattled away. Goodbye, safety. Goodbye, anonymity. She turned to the brightened steps. Hello, Hell.

“Ah, the Dumonts! It’s been six years since I’ve had the pleasure.” Baron Galedrew bounced on the balls of his feet as they arrived at the top step. He had only recently returned from living in London, and Alexia didn’t remember quite so many wrinkles.

“Welcome, welcome! And who is this?” He pushed her parents apart. His creased brow doubled, lip drawing back in a grimace. He coughed . “This cannot be Alexia, can it? What a . . . mature young woman you are becoming.” He bowed.

She curtsied , wishing she could douse the heat in her cheeks and hurtle back into the carriage. “You are too kind.”

He opened his mouth to speak.

Thunder pealed behind them. She turned, ready for a distraction, any distraction. A cloud of dust billowed up against the sky, masking the night. With a shimmering white mane, a speckled grey horse sped toward them, the forerunner of an approaching storm, a rider bent over its neck. The beast skidded to a halt at the foot of the steps, spraying dust.

Alexia froze, unable to move even to save her hem from the prevailing dirt. That horse, she knew that horse— but it could not be!

“Oh dear,” the Baron uttered.

A cloaked stranger leapt from the animal and approached through the filthy cloud, face masked in a menacing hood. Alexia stumbled back toward Father.

The newcomer stopped two steps below, head turned in her direction. Her knees shuddered. With a slower but still harried gait, he ascended.

“You will excuse me.” The baron shook hands with her father and hurried into the house. As the stranger rounded her parents, she glanced up to find him watching her. Though his face remained in shadow, the light caught his eyes, eyes that radiated the hue of deep still waters below wooded boughs— eyes that resonated with her soul.

She grabbed Father’s arm as the stranger disappeared after Galedrew. She forced herself to breathe. Surely she was mistaken— he could not be the same . . .

Alexia’s mind whirled, snatches of the dream racing through her memory:

Starlight streaked across the silvery hair of the man who lay on the entry’s floor, glassy-eyed. His open mouth was frozen in a gasp or silenced scream, a ladle protruding from the breast of his night-dress. Real, warm, oozing blood . . . It pooled across the estate’s open doorway and stained her fingers . . . A speckled gray stallion shrieked in the drive. She cringed into the shadows as the beast’s master, a cloaked stranger, snapped around. Blue eyes flashed.


About the Author

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Crystal is a Young Adult Author who’s been accused of an obsession with cheese. She answers that anyone who accuses her merely of “obsession” is grossly misinformed. Cheese is the best food on the planet. Cheese makes the world go round. Cheese=happiness.

Self proclaimed #cheese addict, #youngadult author, #homeschooling mom, and composer who may or may not own a pet zombie. And a broken teleportation device.

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