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Monday, January 19, 2015

UNHIDDEN by Dina Given ♥ BLOG TOUR Review

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Title: Unhidden (The Gatekeeper Chronicles, Book #1)
Author: Dina M. Given
Release date: December 29, 2014
Book Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance



It’s not always easy to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys, especially when a trained killer may be falling in love with her evil hunter…

Emma Hayes, a former military Special Forces Operative turned mercenary-for-hire, finds her tightly controlled world turned upside down when she becomes the target of attacks by powerful supernatural creatures.

Emma must use every skill in her arsenal to stay alive as she tries to solve the mystery of why she has been targeted. Her list of enemies keeps growing - from Zane Shayde, an evil Mage, to a secret branch of the US government - and she doesn't know if there is anyone left she can trust. 

To complicate matters further, Emma is inexplicably drawn to Zane in a way she does not quite understand, even knowing her life is forfeit if captured. Who is he and why does he have this affect on her? How can she fight someone who calls to her, body and soul?

Emma is left haunted by questions, doubts and fears as to why she has been targeted, when they will come for her next, and how she will possibly survive against an enemy she doesn't understand.

Excerpt 1

It was only when my prisoner began to change that I realized it might not have been the most brilliant idea in the world to cage myself into a small box suspended over open air with a complete stranger. I had once again forgotten I was potentially dealing with a supernatural enemy, and I shouldn’t have assumed my tail was only a normal human being.
The man standing huddled in the corner straightened to his full height of only ’five-foot-ten, and his eyes began to glow a pale yellow.
“I’m more of a lover than a fighter …” he said, his voice becoming deeper and rougher with every word. I heard the snapping of what I realized were his bones, and his skin bulged and rippled as if something living beneath it was trying to get out. His face elongated, and wickedly sharp teeth extended from what was quickly becoming a muzzle. “But I can dish out a pretty good disemboweling,” he completed in a growl before the transformation of his mouth prevented any further human speech. His clothes tore away as his limbs bulged and bent. He fell to all fours as course, gray hair sprouted over his entire body.
Cold terror bled through my body, filling my veins with ice as I tried to remember all the rules I had seen in movies about taking down a werewolf. I had no way of knowing whether there was any truth to them, but it was all I had to go on. Unfortunately, the bullets in my gun were made of steel, not silver.
He completed the transformation from man to wolf in a matter of seconds, although even before then, I had put three bullets into him. I continued to hold out hope that I could interrogate him; therefore, I didn’t aim for his head. Instead, I blew out his knee, trying to incapacitate him.
I was surprised when the creature actually let out a yelp of pain as a spray of blood and cartilage hit the back wall of the elevator, and the wolf’s leg collapsed under it. He still had three good legs, though, and he lunged at me with snapping jaws.
I got off another two shots, but they went wide, missing him as he barreled into me. I managed to keep hold of the weapon, but the wolf’s jaws clamped down on the gun. Unfortunately, the muzzle was not pointed into his mouth; thus, pulling the trigger would just put a bullet harmlessly into the wall of the elevator.
I needed the gun though. I wasn’t about to let go of it. With my free hand, I punched the wolf square in the muzzle, raining repeated blows on its face, my hand going numb as my knuckles split and bled, but I kept hitting him. His eye was a bruised and swollen mess, and blood poured freely from his nose.
When I felt his jaws loosening, I pushed past the pain in my hand and hammered him with one final fist to the nose, throwing my entire body weight behind it. He released me, and I brought up my gun, but he was changing again.
Thinking he was shifting back into a man and conceding the fight, I held my fire. Instead, his muzzle sharpened and hardened into a point. His gray fur sprouted feathers, and his arms extended into broad wings that flapped wildly. His injured leg was less of an impediment now that he could fly.
He lifted from the floor and dove straight for me. I ducked, instinctively raising my arms to protect my head and face. He hit the wall behind me yet recovered quickly and flew at me again.
Staying low, I tried to get a bead on him with my gun, but he was moving too fast. The cramped elevator wasn’t large; however, this form made him quicker, more capable of tight turns, and gave him more room to maneuver since he could take advantage of the air space above my head. He launched at me with talons bared and sliced through my forearm as I shielded my eyes. The pain was sharp and intense, and blood flowed freely from the lacerations.

Excerpt 2 

The highway was empty, but Lilly continued to swerve randomly because an unpredictable moving target was harder to hit. The chimera threw another firebomb, and Lilly avoided it by mere inches. Realizing it wasn’t having much luck with this tactic, the creature tried a different approach. The chimera flew lower until it could peer through the missing rear window of the car.
“Oh, shit! It’s going to blast us,” I realized.
“Not if I blast it first,” Jason responded. He aimed the grenade launcher I had been using earlier, but the chimera was faster. It let loose a burst of flame from its throat. Lilly tried to stay ahead of it by speeding up yet was only partially successful. The tail end of the flames still reached the back of the car. I had ducked behind the seat, but Jason was still intent on aiming his weapon, and the molten phlegm touched his arm.
Jason’s scream of pain pierced the night, but the sensation also caused his hand to spasm and depress the trigger before he dropped the weapon. He landed a perfect shot right to the chimera’s head, although when the smoke cleared, the creature was still coming. The grenade didn’t seem to have seriously injured it, but it must have been enough of a nuisance to cause the creature to fly farther back from the car.
“Jason! Are you okay?” It sounded like a stupid question even as I said it, but I didn’t know what else to say. He clearly wasn’t okay. He had managed to put out the flames; however, the skin underneath was charred black and melted. He clutched his wrist, his face twisted in an agonized grimace.
The chimera came at us again, but this time, it rammed its full body weight into the side of the car, tipping it onto two wheels for a moment before the car righted itself again.
“We can’t stay out in the open like this,” Alex said.
“I know, I know. I’m working on it!” Lilly turned off the highway and onto the Brooklyn Bridge.
The network of steel cables that crisscrossed the historic bridge framed the roadway like a prison, making it impossible for the large chimera to fly alongside or directly above the car without slamming into the cables. The chimera was forced to pace us along the outside of the bridge over open water.
Alex shifted in his seat, pulling out his rune-carved staff. He rolled down the window, pointing his staff down toward the churning, black waters below. He muttered indecipherable words under his breath, his green eyes developing a deep luminescence I was learning signaled the use of magic.
Nothing happened at first, then a roaring began, like the sound of a freight train. It rapidly grew closer, louder. Jason and I leaned toward the window, trying to figure out what Alex was doing, when a geyser of water shot up from the East River, rising hundreds of feet into the air. It slammed into the chimera with such force the beast howled and went spinning through the air toward us.
The chimera was pitched violently into the steel cables of the bridge. Several cables snapped, and the bridge swayed slightly under the impact.

“You’re going to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge!” I screamed in horror, slapping Alex in the back of the head. “Figure out another way to kill that thing without destroying an iconic landmark.”

Guest Post 1

I dragged this book kicking and screaming out of my head.

I had aspirations of becoming a novelist since I first learned to write my name, but I always heard stories from authors that their ideas came to them in dreams, or in a moment of complete clarity, or their characters just spoke to them, etc.  So I sat around for decades waiting for that lighting bolt to strike me…and it never came.

I was under the belief that if a story idea didn’t just come to me from the universe, it wasn’t worth writing because it wouldn’t be any good. It wasn’t until I turned 40 when I finally gave the universe the finger. I decided that I was going to write a book come hell or high water, and if that meant burning brain cells for weeks trying to come up with an idea, then so be it.

Thankfully the nugget of idea didn’t take weeks. I first came up with a general theme based on what interested me, and that I didn’t see very often in novels – that no one is pure good or pure evil (good people can do bad things), and it’s the gray in people that creates conflict.

So I built on that, brainstorming page after page of ideas (which did several weeks), until the plot finally starting to take enough shape to create an outline and then start writing. And so UNHIDDEN was born, without an epidural.

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1.    What do you do in your down time?

I don’t really have any down time. I work a full time job; raise two children (ages 7 and 9); have a husband who travels for business 3-5 days a week, so I do pretty much all of the cooking, housework and homework help; volunteer for an animal rescue group; oh, and I’m training for my fourth triathlon. In between all of that, I try to get some writing done. Needless to say, I don’t sleep much ;).

2.    When you walk into a book store, where do you head first?

The Sci Fi/Fantasy section and the Staff Pics shelf.

3.    Who, if anyone, has influenced your writing?

Unhidden was inspired by Jim Butcher. I had just finishing listening to every single Dresden Files novel back to back on Audible. I was a woman obsessed. I love the world and the rich characters he created. I also get a huge kick out of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International series. Those books are literally jam-packed with over-the-top action. I tried to combine my favorite elements of each series when I wrote Unhidden.

4.    What research did you have to perform to back up your story? Any research which really opened your eyes or gave you new respect for a topic or profession?

Since this was my first novel, I did a ton of research before ever putting pen to paper. I researched the craft, including how to effectively outline, how to create meaningful characters, how to build a story arc, how to write engaging dialog, etc. Then when I started writing, I did ongoing research on some areas of the story itself – secret spots in New York City, ancient Sumerian creation stories, how to kill a chimera, etc. I think all of that research gave me the confidence I needed to get started, but at some point, you need to put it aside and just write the story you were meant to write.

5.    What is your method for writing a book? A certain amount of hours every day? A certain routine? Are you character/story builder or an outliner or some other method?

Given my unpredictable schedule, I am not able to set a specific writing routine. What worked for me was just grabbing every minute I could – banging out a few sentences while cooking dinner, spending 20 minutes writing after getting the kids to bed and passing out myself, writing in the waiting room while my daughter was in dance class, etc. 

6.    How do you get past writers block or distractions like Facebook?

I haven’t really experienced writers block yet, but I have run into times where I’m not sure which direction to take the story. What has worked for me is taking my dog for a hike and talking to myself - asking myself lots of questions about character motivation – and usually the story becomes clear.

Facebook is a tough one. No matter where I go, there is usually the ability to get an internet connection. So it really just takes a concerted effort of will to stay away from those kinds of distractions. I also use it a reward – if I write a certain number of words, I can take a 10 minute break to surf the net.

7.    Favorite book from childhood.

I was always a sucker for a series. It started with Nancy Drew, moved to Sweet Valley High, and then I discovered the fantasy genre through Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. 

8.    What’s on your desk? Can you see your desk? Describe what you see when you look around.

I don’t have a desk at home – I write at my kitchen counter, in front of the TV, in bed, or wherever else I happen to be – but my desk at work is covered with pictures and artwork from my kids, and stacks of boring paperwork.

9.    What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I’m still so early in the process that I haven’t heard any tough criticism yet, but I know its coming and it makes me very anxious. I don’t have the thickest skin, so I think it will affect me. So far I have gotten some terrific reviews, and I treasure every one of them. I love that people are enjoying the fast pace and action in my book. 

10.Is there a certain type of scene that's harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?

Action scenes are the easiest for me to write. I see them in my head like a movie, and then just write them down. Erotic scenes are tougher for me. Specifically, trying to find ways and words to depict these scenes that are unique or don’t sound completely corny.

11.How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?

I spent a decent amount of time thinking about the names. Many of the names I use are Sumerian in origin, balanced by standard everyday names. I’m just careful not to use names that start with the same letter – that confuses in me in books sometimes.

12.What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Getting out of my own head. By that I mean, not allowing myself to get sidetracked or delayed by second-guessing myself. I had to constantly push myself to just keep going and finish the first draft, then come back and fix it afterwards.

13.What did you want to be when you grow up?

I always wanted to be a college English Lit professor and a writer, and at 41 years old, I’m finally making one of those dreams come true.

14.Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

That I could really do it!

15.What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?

I turned 40. UNHIDDEN is my mid-life crisis ;)

16.Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

I am definitely an outliner. I typically spend several weeks outlining the story before starting to write. My outlines aren’t heavily detailed, but I like to have a 2-3 sentence description of every chapter.

17.For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?

I used to be devoted to paper books, and had bookshelves full, but they were taking up too much space (and collecting too much dust). So I switched to ebooks and never looked back – so much more convenient!

18.What book/s are you reading at present?

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read. I spend my miniscule amount of free time writing. However, I listen to audio books during my commute. Right now I am listening to The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness.

19.If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

The Harry Potter series – do I really need to explain why?

Guest Post 2

1.     I spent my childhood in a bubble. I grew up with fairly severe asthma and environmental allergies to pretty much everything around me. I couldn’t participate in gym class, or play in piles of leaves in the Fall (although I couldn’t clean the house either, so it wasn’t all bad). I got allergy shots (one in each arm) every week for 15 years, trying to build up immunity. And it worked. I was 21 when I had my last asthma attack and cats no longer land me in the hospital (although nuts still do).

2.     Less than 10 years ago I started exercising. I did a Couch-to-5K program and finished my first 5K in 35 minutes. I did it again the next year to try to beat my time, and I finished the 5K in 28 minutes. I was hooked. Since then, I shaved a couple of more minutes off my best 5K, completed 4 half-marathons, 3 sprint triathlons and a full marathon. Weight loss never worked as a good motivator for me to regularly exercise. What worked was competing against myself to always get a little better, and the alone time away from my crazy kids to unwind and decompress was a significant contributor. I am now in training and registered for 3 olympic triathlons this summer.

3.     I have a major obsession with jigsaw puzzles. I try to avoid them because whenever one is placed in front of me, I will work on it intensely for hours or days until it’s finished. My husband bought me two for Christmas, so I blame him for the fact that I didn’t get any writing done. He says jigsaw puzzles cleanse my brain’s palate. I can shut off the incessant thinking and just focus on something singular and somewhat mindless.

4.     Alas, writing is not my full time job. I am hoping someday it will be, but for now I work a fairly demanding job for one of the largest health care companies in the world. I am Health Care Compliance Officer, which essentially means I help the company do the right thing, both legally and ethically. I actually do a lot of writing in my job, but its mainly policies, procedures, training materials and performance reviews – which isn’t nearly as much fun as writing UNHIDDEN was.

5.     I am a huge animal lover - dogs in particular – and I am a big advocate of adopting rescue dogs. I adopted my dog, Dixie, from a local rescue organization that pulled her from a high-kill shelter in Kentucky, where she had been found as a stray. She is a boxer/pointer mix, and likely a failed hunting dog. She was probably abused a bit too because she flinches away when a hand comes close to her face. But she is the sweetest, most loyal dog ever! So now I volunteer for that same rescue organization, and as I write this, I am trying to convince my husband (not as much of an animal lover) to agree to foster a shelter dog for the rescue group. Fingers crossed that I can sufficiently tug on his heart strings! 

About the Author

Author Photo Dina Given lives in rural New Jersey – home of farms, horses and the largest hot air balloon festival in North America – with her husband, two crazy kids, and one rescue dog. She is an exercise enthusiast and avid lover of food and wine (hence the need to exercise). Dina also works full time for one of the largest healthcare companies in the world. She attributes her ability to juggle family, work and writing to her obsessive, hyper-focused, Type A personality.  

Connect with Dina

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Unhidden (The Gatekeeper #1)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would categorize Unhidden as adult urban fantasy with a helping of sci-fi, a little paranormal, a hint of mythical and some dark fantasy mixed in. The author mentions or hints at certain aspects of several Comic Con hits and geeky fan favorites which should give you an idea of the what to expect from the storyline. The following are some that I remember: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Halo, The X-Files, Pokémon, Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian, James Bond, Superman, Men in Black, Ghostbusters, Awakenings, The Matrix, Dungeons & Dragons, True Blood, Star Trek, The Walking Dead, Indiana Jones, World of Warcraft and Stargate.

The main character is Emma, a very tough chick. She grew up in an abusive foster home after loosing her family. When she was old enough, she joined the military and was eventually accepted into the Army Special Forces' Delta Force. Later she left to become a hired mercenary. She knows how to handle her weapons, is skill in martial arts and responsible for many kills. With all of this you would expect her character to come off as uncaring and cocky, any maybe perhaps a bit too badass to be realistic, but she isn't any of these. She is the leader of a three people team—her younger foster brother (a world class hacker) who she saved from further pain at the hands of their foster father and an ex soldier from her Army days (a sexy playboy) who met her the first day and will now follow her anywhere. She loves these people immensely, and she knows her limits. Although she does love them, she has a hard time letting anyone be there for her.

The plot just does not stop in this book, total action cover to cover. It was very hard for me to find a spot to leave off in order to get things done around the house or go to bed. Something important and interesting is always happening.
"In the past week, I have been set up; almost killed in some sort of voodoo ritual; attacked by ghouls, Pokémon, and shadow demons, not to mention your psycho buddy; tailed by a shape shifter you murdered right in front of me; and then you—a complete stranger, by the way—threaten me about lying when no one has yet to tell me the truth!"

The US government is running Blacks Ops missions. Different creatures are popping up like elves, a chimera, shape shifters, manticores, gargoyles and dragons, all from another world and even government made monsters from secret labs. The Mage Council is also representing with their magic.
He appeared to be talented and capable; however, I didn't think he was at the Gandolf or Dumberdore level, given his youth and periodic erratic outbursts, especially with me.

There's lots of planning and gearing up on side for an approaching war. The reader only learns as Emma does so you have to try to figure out what to do, who to align with, etc. Who is more powerful? Who is good? Who is bad?
"All of the greatest moments in history occurred when the little guy overcame all odds: David and Goliath, the Spartans and the Persians, the American Colonies and the British, Rocky and Apollo Creed."

During the battles, everything is all out. Intent to kill is high, and mercy is low.
I took the first few creatures by surprise and was able to slice off heads and limbs without much of a fight. Blood and brains flew through the night air, splattering my face as I pushed through the throng.

It was impossible not to get an adrenaline rush while reading this book. I will definitely pick up book 2.

4.5 star blasts

***copy given in exchange for an honest review***


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