This is the place for all things magical, mystical, and paranormal.
CURSE OF THE BLACKNOC WITCH by Tori Rainn
Blurb: Samuel dreamed of being a lot of things, but a monster trapped in a forest realm never entered his mind. The Blacknoc Curse wasn’t supposed to be true, only a children’s story meant to persuade them away from evil. Yet, here he was tasked with hunting cursed kids. There’s nothing left for Samuel except the horror surrounding him. Layla, a young girl tormented by the same curse, is dropped into the terrifying forest every night, running from the monsters intent on taking her life. She meets Samuel and vows to save all the children, especially Samuel, from their torment. Working together can they defeat the Blacknoc Curse?
Thoughts: The premise of the book was intriguing. Kids who commit a sin cursed to turn into monsters who then attack the new (sinful) children who arrive in the forest at night. One monster, Samuel, tries to save them. There is a lot of action—some of it gory. Everything was set for a good fantasy read. Unfortunately, it just didn’t pan out for me. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters (except maybe the librarian). Plus there were editorial issues that had me cringing. Multiple points of view, sometimes skipping from one to the other so I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be with. Also questions that left me baffled. For instance, it’s said at one point that it takes Layla three hours to ride to the city and the library. Yet later, she not only goes there and back home, then back to the library in less than a day. The timing just didn’t work.
What I liked: The premise of the story, and the ending. That was really good. And Layla’s character was a really strong one. I loved the librarian and how he helps Layla.
What I didn’t like: The sometimes cringe-worthy gore. And the editorial issues noted above.
Recommendation: It’s an interesting story with a good premise and a satisfying ending. If you don’t mind POV shifts and things like that, then pick it up.
Disclaimer: I received this book in hopes for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone or anything.
EYE OF HORLUNE by Raven Snow
Blurb: Holly wanted to stay here with him, if not forever then at least for tonight but her quota of luck had just run out. Meet Holly Willow – a nineteen year old witch who packs a punch. Join her, her dysfunctional group of friends that joins her team and her mission to defeat the evil megacorporation, Valor Incorporated, and stop their leader from obtaining a magical artifact that could give him the power to control or destroy the world. With some magic, a little corporate espionage, and a whole heap of luck, Holly and her friends will fight for family, love, and the fate of the world… Novella (approx. 20,000 words). Romance is CLEAN. Raven Snow is known for her Cozy Mysteries. This is an early work, be warned there is some violence, does not have a the “small town” feel of a typical cozy mystery. It is a standalone (reading further volumes not required to enjoy the book)
Thoughts: This is a short novella full of action, adventure, witches, djinns, oracles, bad guys, and more. It starts off with a bang and the action doesn’t let up until the end. Even though it’s short, there are a lot of characters. And a lot happening. Though it’s obvious this is part of a larger story, it is complete for the most part. There are loose threads, but you’re not left dangling in the middle of a chapter. The characters are quirky and fun, but not really well-developed—a problem often with shorter works. Still, you know exactly what’s going on with them and why, especially the main character of Holly. Unfortunately, there were still a lot of holes that sometimes made it difficult to relate to the characters.
What I liked: the characters, the action, the imaginative storyline. It’s all a fun read.
What I didn’t like: POV jumps that made it difficult for me at times to figure out who I was with. And the fact that this is obviously part of a much larger story (that I would happily read). I’d love to see more of this – and will be checking it out.
Recommendation: This is a short read full of action, adventure, magic, and more. If you’re looking for a quick read that is definitely part of a larger story, this is a good place to start to see if you want to go further with this author. I know I will be.
Disclaimer: I received this novella for free as part of a promo. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone or anything.
THE PHARAOH AND THE LIBRARIAN by Amber Polo
Fiction, fantasy, romance, ancient history
Blurb: What if Cleopatra faked her death and escaped on a pirate ship? While her sister sailed for Wales with the most valuable ancient books from her Library of Alexandria? And they both landed in an imagined new world filled with crypto-creatures and historical humans? Trekking the desert of 1st century New Mexico, Cleo from the Yucatan and Alex from Nova Scotia, they’d need bravery and help from friends and lovers to evade inner demons and determined villains across an uncharted wilderness filled with crypto–creatures and historical humans.
Thoughts: I thought this was a very imaginative book. The author brings in fantasy in the form of harpies, dragons, mermaids, shapeshifters, gods from multiple cultures, and more. The chapters move back and forth between Cleopatra and her twin sister Alexandria and their travels from Egypt to the southwestern area of the US. We meet with families of Big Foot, pirates sailing the Caribbean, Mayan and Aztecs as well as other native cultures. We even meet an alien from Sirius who crashed there and doesn’t expect her people to pick her up for a couple thousand years (yes, in Area 51). Cleopatra has to leave Egypt before it is overrun by the Romans so she fakes her death and heads for the Mayans where she is betrothed to the emperor. Unfortunately, things don’t go well for her. Meanwhile, Alexandria has left with her precious library, heading for Wales and the Druids who supposedly will help her protect the precious cargo of knowledge. Neither one ends up with what they expected. As in the circle of life, the two sisters eventually meet up again in a place where their sacred body of knowledge will finally be safe. The book was a little bit romance, a little bit adventure, a lot of history (told in a good way!) and fantasy.
What I liked: I loved the fact that this was all about librarians. Being one myself, I know how the characters felt about their precious cargo. I also liked the intriguing juxtaposition of history and story. The characters are believable and do grow and change through the story, becoming stronger by the end.
What I didn’t like: there were minor editorial issues that a good proofreader should have caught—typos, POV jumps, and more. Also, the story was a little hard to get into at first, but I kept reading and am glad I did. Though at times, I was “seriously?” With some of the things going on.
Recommendation: If you can ignore the editorial issues, this is an interesting and imaginative story with a good ending that leaves you smiling.
Thanks to the author for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone.
DEBRIEFING THE DEAD by Kerry Blaisdell
Publisher blurb: The only thing Hyacinth wants is her life back. Literally. She and her sister were murdered by Demons, leaving her young nephew, Geordi, to his father’s family in the brutal Sicilian Mob. Then Archangel Michael offers her a deal: recapture a powerful rock the Demons stole, and she can live long enough to find Geordi a safe home. Refuse, and she’ll continue up (or down) to the Afterlife. So, slightly more alive than dead, she heads for Turkey and the Demons, taking Geordi, her mysterious neighbor Jason, and a sexy dead guy only she can see with her. But the hardest part won’t be battling Demons, meeting Satan, or dodging Middle Eastern customs—it will be later, when Geordi is settled, and Michael rips her away again. How can she abandon her nephew? Or can she outwit the Angel of Death himself, and stay with Geordi forever?
Review: What a hoot! I loved this book. Is it great literature? Nope. But it is fun and with a snarky heroine who strikes up a deal with an archangel for the sake of her nephew. And now that she’s “not dead”, she can talk to the ones who are, including a hunky cop. This was an entertaining read with great imagery (okay, I was forced to look up the places in Turkey that she mentioned, but wow. Thanks for that research! The places are beautiful!). I also liked the whole “I hear the rocks” vibe that got her involved in everything in the first place.
What I liked: Hyacinth is snarky, unapologetic, sometimes skirts the law… willing to do what’s necessary to get the job done, no matter what that job might be. I liked Jason, her neighbor, though he has some deep secrets we don’t find out until the end. I loved the dead cop! And the imagery – she made me go look the places up and wow. That’s some setting she put them in.
What I didn’t like: Really, very little. Though some people might have an issue with the way Archangel Michael is portrayed, I thought it was an interesting change. One thing I will note: I was expecting a romance, and this is not a romance—but it was a very good book. Yes, there is connection between Hyacinth and the two men (Jason and the dead cop), but no romance. So don’t expect that. And that’s fine. It’s not necessary. Not for this type of book.
Recommendation: If you’re looking for action, adventure, a snarky heroine ala Indiana Jones, pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed.
Thanks to the author for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
COVEN OF SECRETS by C. J. Beaumont
Paranormal Romance (witches – Urban Fantasy)
Blurb: Once touched by darkness, always tainted. Roxanne Cole swore off magic for a reason. But now her little sister Kathryn has gone missing, and the only person willing to help is her pretty-boy nemesis, Ray Hammond. Roxy’s not sure she can trust him, but with nowhere else to turn, she’s forced into an uneasy alliance. When the coven’s high priestess also goes missing, it seems her sister’s disappearance is just a small piece of a much bigger puzzle. And the more she works with Ray, the more she realizes he’s just another temptation that could add to the ever-increasing magical missing persons count. As bodies start dropping and the death toll rises, it becomes clear someone is declaring war on the Bayshore Witches. Now, if Roxy wants her little sister back, she’ll have to decide what, and who, she’s willing to sacrifice.
Review: Wow, does this story grab you from the first page. There’s a lot of impact in the first paragraphs…BUT… I will note here that the beginning has a “suicide attempt” that could be a trigger for some people. I have a friend who would lover this story, but I won’t recommend it to her because of that scene and the way the subject arises through the story.
What I liked: the characters. They are well-developed with issues and problems that go beyond what we in the “normal” world deal with, although there is crossover. I can absolutely see religious fanatics going after people because they are witches. It’s an interesting commentary on our “conform or else” society. I also loved the cat Logan, the way he shows up and settles in. The issues between Roxy and Ray Hammond were good—she hasn’t forgotten their past, he has no clue. I really liked the way they came to an agreement on jobs. So funny.
What I didn’t like: and the only reason it got 3 sparklers instead of higher, was that this is NOT a stand alone book. It doesn’t end. It’s a “to be continued” story, which I detest. I know it’s a marketing ploy, but it really makes me angry to get so invested in a story, and it doesn’t end. The story is a good story, the ending isn’t.
Recommendation: with the caveats listed above, if you can handle them, pick this up. It’s a good story.
Thanks to the author for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
GREED AND OTHER DANGERS by TJ Nichols
LGBTQ+ paranormal romance
Publisher Blurb: Dragon shifter Edra has always lived to serve and protect—in ages past, as a knight, and in the modern world as a mytho liaison to the San Francisco PD. Behind the scenes he safeguards the mythos community from scandal—and further human hatred. When the eggs of a rare greater dragon are stolen, Edra must find and return them before the mother razes the city. Edra’s partner, Jordan, has just been promoted, and he’s on the trail of several stolen mythos artifacts. Together, they track the eggs to a colony of mermaids living in the bay near Alcatraz Island. But trying to separate a mermaid from her treasure is asking for trouble. As Edra and Jordan grow closer, they test the bounds of human-mythos relationships. But Jordan isn’t ready to mate for life, and Edra won’t pretend to be human for Jordan’s friends. With the hills on fire and a storm brewing in the bay—and in their bed—something’s got to give.
Review: This is the second book in a series. The world building is excellently done with the author giving a viable reason why the two worlds collided. I am normally a huge fan of TJ Nichols work, but this one didn’t draw me in like others have. And maybe it’s because I didn’t read the first one. Although I knew exactly what was going on in the story, I wasn’t invested in the characters enough to really care about them. Also, like many books in series, it didn’t really end. It just kind of left you hanging in the middle. So, yes, there’s going to be more.
What I liked: the world building. It was beyond excellent. Having ogres walking the streets of San Francisco and mermaids swimming around Alcatraz? Nicely done. And the tensions between humans and mythos comes across clearly. As does the problem with politics getting in the way of getting things done.
What I didn’t like: the non-ending. But…it’s a series so that’s kind of to be expected.
Recommendation: Definitely get the first one in the series first, then follow up with this one. The fantasy aspects of this story are well done, the relationship between the main characters believable, and the issues in the story realistic enough to suspend disbelief.
Thanks to Dreamspinner Press for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Blood of an Exile by Brian Naslund
I loved Blood of an Exile by Brian Naslund. He is a new author and this is the start of a great new world in fantasy. His new series is called The Dragons of Terra. This is important not because dragons figure prominently in his new book (although they do) but because of what kind of dragons they are.
They are real dragons which are part of a real ecosystem. They’re apex predators. Everything they do affects their world down to the proliferation of poisonous snails in local riverbeds when the local population of dragons gets exterminated. They are not sapient, they are not sages and mages, they are not humans in disguise, nor do they make fantastic lovers with whom normal men can never compete. They are animals with a specific set of niches in the food-web.
In addition to being apex predators, they are also very valuable animals because their fat, when melted down, makes the best fuel ever. If you’re familiar with the whaling industry, you already know where this is going. If you’re not, you’ll find out.
There are people too, starting with our hero, Silas Bershad, aka The Flawless Bershad. As the tagline says (and what a great cover! Yum yum yum) he’s sentenced to die and impossible to kill. He really is too and he starts finding out why at the end of this book.
The world of Terra is complex, with kings and queens and peasants and alchemists. They jockey for power, status, and position, just as you would expect them to. They don’t hold hands and sing songs and work together as a team. It’s a dangerous, violent world, very similar to our own.
Brian Naslund doesn’t shy away from how nasty people can be so be forewarned. There are some very violent passages. Unlike in the movies, real fighting is painful, messy, and bloody. It is here too.
I’ll warn you now. The book ends on a cliffhanger.
Sadly, we’ll have to wait until August 2020 for the sequel, Sorcery of a Queen. Macmillan, current owners of Tor Books, has decided that the best way to market a huge, complex fantasy is to release the huge, complex books one per year. What great marketing. Why not let your readers completely forget you exist while they read everything else out there? Or maybe they’re gauging public interest. If Blood of an Exile doesn’t sell well enough, we won’t ever see Sorcery of a Queen. If that turns out to be true, we’ll have to hope that Brian Naslund held onto enough of his rights to self-publish the sequels.
I hope there are a lot of them. I’d like to see a lot more of this world and these people.
I really liked the book and I can’t say that as often as I would like.
So why didn’t I give it five sparklers?
First is his ecology building. It’s unusual for a fantasy author to pay much attention to the underpinnings of the world; the complex web that binds every living thing to every other living thing. Yet Brian Naslund has. However, he seems to think that removing an apex predator leaves a huge, unfillable hole. This isn’t true. Ecosystems can and do recover because other critters step into that empty niche. Thus, since wolves have essentially been exterminated east of the Mississippi, we now see coyotes stepping into the niche the wolves left behind. They’re getting bigger. They’ve even been seen in Central Park in New York City. Think about that for a moment.
Removing the dragons will launch a cascade of changes but eventually, everything settles out. It doesn’t happen fast, but it does happen. But this isn’t an ecology textbook and his characters aren’t worried about the passage of eons. They’re worried about now.
I didn’t like how he handled the peasants and their struggles. The book opens with an apprentice alchemist getting ready to see the Flawless Bershad come to the village to kill a dragon. The peasants complained to their local lord and their local lord responded as was his duty and obligation. One of the reasons the peasants complained was that the dragon killed and ate about a hundred sheep.
Our queen, Ashlyn Malgrave, doesn’t want dragons killed because they are so important to the ecosystem. However, losing one hundred sheep at once means famine for those peasants. Their ruling lord isn’t going to cut their taxes. He won’t make up for the loss of the wool, meat, milk, or lambs. It takes time for a herd of any kind of animal to regrow back to its original size. That herd was probably what was successfully wintered over. With it gone, the owners are destitute.
They won’t recover, but who cares? They’re peasants! Certainly not our queen, Ashlyn Malgrave, or Lord Nimbu, to whom those unfortunate peasants belong.
Remember that the dragons of Terra are apex predators. They do not limit their appetites to woodland rodents and sheep. Some species are not fussy at all. Apex predators generally eat any animal that is smaller than they are. They can work as a unit (wolf pack) to eat animals bigger than they are. Some of those dragons get pretty big. Do the dragons of Terra eat people if given the chance? You bet they do.
As a peasant, I would object strenuously if a dragon came to my village and ate my sheep. I would object even more strenuously if a dragon gobbled up my children. Or my elderly mother who can’t run away fast enough.
This concern on the behalf of the peasants is elided over, since, as I mentioned, the dragons are so very, very important to the ecosystem. For the peasants, the ecosystem’s long-term health doesn’t matter very much compared to keeping their kids and livestock alive and healthy today. I suppose it matters where you are in the food chain. If you’re the queen and on top, what’s a few peasant children? It’s like losing a few hundred sheep. It’s meaningless compared to the big picture.
I didn’t like how he handled religion. The residents of Almira, the country where much of the action takes place, believe in a host of localized spirits. They make mud totems on a near-daily basis to do the usual things prayers do: help me, guide me, praise to you, forgive me, wow, and thank you.
Again, most fantasy writers don’t even bother to mention that their people have religious beliefs. Yet every culture does. What bothered me was Mr. Naslund’s main characters (and his own authorial voice) denigrated the citizens of Almira for believing such silly superstitions. Sensible, worldly people like our hero and our queen would never do anything so useless. They rely on alchemical potions and not prayer.
Brian Naslund also has an odd writing tic whereby he uses sentence fragments. A lot. I kept stopping to parse out the missing words. Here’s a sample from opening the book at random. This one is from page 127, near the top.
Probably been hung there for two or three days.
He does this throughout the book, omitting filler words like ‘it had’. Maybe dragons devoured those filler words like sheep. This may not bother you, but I noticed every single one of those fragments. Since Blood of an Exile is published by Tor Books (owned by Macmillan), I will assume this is a style choice and not due to lack of editors.
If you like high fantasy that feels realistic, give Blood of an Exile a try. It’s well worth your time.
Here are the links:
Brian Naslund’s website: https://www.briannaslund.com/
Reviewed by Teresa 11/19/19
WHISPERS OF SHADOW AND FLAME by L. Penelope
WHISPERS OF SHADOW & FLAME is a second installment in the Earthsinger Chronicles. This is a world filled with magic, primarily Earthsong, which is a natural magical ability connected to life, allowing people to have some level of healing and other power. There is also blood magic, which is unnatural and Nethersong, the magical ability connected to death.
The “True Father” rules the land of the Lagrimar and takes Earthsong from his citizens in a mandatory tribute. The Keepers who live in Elsira are working against him, and the Shadowfox is the most famous among them with his/her mastery for Earthsong. When intel reaches the True Father about where the Shadowfox will be, he has his Cantor send Kyara, known as the Poison Flame, to capture him and bring him back alive. Kyara has an ability over Nethersong that is used to kill at the True Father’s whim. She is controlled by a powerful blood spell that forces her to follow orders.
As Kyara seeks out the Shadowfox, she must infiltrate the Keepers to learn which is the Shadowfox, and in the process, she gets closer to Darvyn and learns more about them/him. At the same time, we also follow a slave/servant, Zeli, who had given tribute in the past and works in the house of one of the nobility under the True Father’s reign. There is also a Sleeping Queen who seems to be connected to the Elsira. The Keepers are trying to save everyone from the True Father and return the Sleeping Queen to her throne. I think. Note: the book, like most fantasies, contains subjects of abuse, torture, kidnapping, and other unsavory elements.
This book is part of an epic fantasy series. Though I have not read others in this series, if they are as strong in world and character building, I will probably take a look at some time. Though I would assume that some of the things I didn’t understand, I would if I’d read the first book before this one. As it is with all books in series.
Things I liked: the characters are well-developed and realistic with problems and strengths. The world-building is very well done and believable. I find the combination of medieval-like setting mixed with gas-powered vehicles, radios, and other “modern” conveniences interesting—if a little surprising in the beginning. It was unexpected and almost off-putting, but added a different and unique element to the story.
Things I didn’t like: the occasional changeover to what seemed a minor character at first that also changes to third person/present tense POV. It was disconcerting. Also, the story ends with a cliffhanger – which I do *not* like. Yes, some threads came to an end, but a huge one was left dangling which means you *have* to buy the next book to find out what happens. A marketing ploy, but I understand that. I don’t like it, but I understand it. I just wish I’d known ahead of time.
Recommendations: An interesting series, but I’d definitely recommend picking up the first book first so you understand what’s going on. Although this book (from what I’ve read elsewhere) follows different characters, the background may help you understand what’s going on better. If you like fantasy with a unique twist, I’d pick this one up.
Please note that I received an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.