Fantasy including Urban Fantasy

This is the place for all things magical, mystical, and paranormal.

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STONE MAGIC by Thea Atkinson

Fiction, Urban Fantasy

4****

Blurb: She’s a fraud. She’s a crook. But she’s no killer. Even if she’s being framed as one. When three well-known psychics are murdered in her city, Brie Duncan starts to wonder if pretending to be magical is such a great idea after all. She’s no witch, but she does make good money using her fake powers to read her clients’ futures. Money that’ll do her no good if she turns up dead. So far, she’s managed to keep up the pretense, but when those self-proclaimed witches are murdered, a gruff detective suggests she might be involved. She fears she’s about to get busted. Unfortunately, his reasons for being there are far worse than she imagines. Since she’s a member of the psychic community, he thinks she should be able to provide some insight into the murders and the victims. The trouble is, all the evidence seems to point in one direction, and unfortunately for Brie, those roads all lead to her… 

Thoughts: This was an interesting story with lots of action, a little romance, and more twists and turns than Lombard Street in San Francisco. Garder and Brie are great characters who work well together – but I really loved Parrish too! I can’t wait to see more about her.

This was obviously the first of a series. It ended well, but left a lot of threads dangling so you know there will be more from Brie and Garder. The only thing I didn’t like was some of the scenes were a little too graphic for me. Yes, it’s a murder mystery, but as the bodies stacked up (I think six at last count), it got to be a little more than I was comfortable with. And throw in the things with Brie’s mother… not a book I could read while eating my breakfast. Also, I hope that the final edition will address the multiple editorial issues I saw (typos, missing words, etc.). A minor thing, but stood out for me.

Still, it was well written and intriguing enough that I did finish the book. And I will probably read more as I enjoyed the characters.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a paranormal mystery with a lot of twists and turns, this one will do it.

Disclaimer: Thanks to the author for providing this book. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone. I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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WINDMASTER GOLEM by Helen Henderson

Fiction, Fantasy

3***

Blurb: Kia, sister to the current Oracle of Givneh, is expected to one day assume the mantle and lead the temple’s followers. Her emerging powers force an impossible decision. For to have magic demands she turn her back on her family, her heritage and the teachings of the Oracle. Banishment to a remote village as healer, a position he despised, fueled Relliq’s desire for revenge. The discovery of a mythical city and an army of clay soldiers provided the means to control all mages–including the one he wanted most—Kia. Brodie, weaponsmith for the School of Mages, couldn’t refuse his friend’s request to act as escort for a healing team fighting a curse upon the land. But how can a man without any magic of his own fight a curse or protect a friend from an invisible stalker?

Thoughts: I have to admit, I had a love/hate relationship with this book. I loved the story. It was imaginative and intriguing with a mixture of romance, magic, adventure, good vs. evil, and more. Everything you want in a fantasy book. Though I haven’t read the other books in the series, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. The story itself came across beautifully.

So why the hate? The editing. Maybe it’s a Canadian vs. American thing, but having the emotions act as speaking characters threw me completely. Took me completely out of the story. There were other editorial issues also that jarred me.

That being said, I still enjoyed the story. It’s a good fantasy story that I enjoyed except for the editing.

Recommendations: I do recommend the book with the caveat that, if you are a stickler for editing, turn off your internal editor and just read for the story. It’s a good fantasy.

Disclosure of Material: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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THE ANGEL BY THE TOWER by Marla White

Fiction, contemporary

4****

Blurb: Gabriel wakes up naked and alone in the desert with only one clear memory–he must find Abby Campbell before it’s too late. Normally it wouldn’t be a challenge–he is her guardian angel after all. Unfortunately, a dispute with his heavenly Boss has left him busted down to a mere mortal with no wings, no powers, and no idea of exactly what he’s supposed to protect Abby from. Once he convinces Abby he’s not completely bonkers, they work together to find the key to a mysterious tower and the ancient evil locked inside. But the answers force Gabriel to choose between saving Abby and being exiled from Heaven forever.

Thoughts: This was an amazing read. The opening caught me right away and the story telling kept me reading. So why not 5 stars? Because of the editing. There were so many editorial issues that I could not ignore them all. POV hops, mixed tenses, missing words, and more. Plus issues with HIPAA rules in the hospital… it just became too much for me. But, if you can ignore those issues, this is a really good read. There is a lot of action, angels, demons, the end of the world things happening. And in the midst of it all, the romances between Abby and Ryan, and Gabriel and Eve.

Gabriel arrives at the hotel where Abby works looking a mess—and except for a few times, he’s pretty much a mess throughout the story. For an angel, he sure gets knocked around a lot. He’s there supposedly to protect Abby, but his memory is a mess. The Eve, a demon he’s known for centuries, shows up and things get really strange. And Ryan—who works with Abby—is adorable and the perfect guy for her. Together, they have to figure out who is going to end the world and how to stop them. But things don’t always go to plan.

Also, this is obviously the first in a series as there are some threads left dangling. Nothing important, but enough to know that our foursome is probably going to be in some further adventures. And I can’t wait.

Recommendation: If you can overlook the editorial issues, I’d definitely recommend this book. There’s action (a lot!), a touch of romance, fantasy (angels, demons, wyvern) and more. It’s an excellent story.

Disclaimer: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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BITTER THORN TRIBE by Julie D. Revezzo

Fiction, Fantasy

3***

Blurb: Destined to be a bride, if only the gods will let her…
Stacy Macken tries to acclimate herself to her training under Tuatha dé Danaan druids—as if she doesn’t have enough work in planning her wedding to her beloved guardian and fiancé Aaron.
When Fomorii loyalists violate their treaty and seek revenge for their recent defeat, even Stacy’s druids are at a loss to explain the mayhem that ensues. Can Aaron and his brothers-in-arms stop it before Stacy and her family are caught in the crossfire?

Thoughts: This book takes up where the first one (Keeper of the Grove) ended. In this one, Stacy and Aaron are trying to plan their wedding while fending off evil lizard killers, and bad guys at every turn. The grove and the vine have been poisoned and burned, but there is hope, but only if they can survive long enough to make things happen.

In this one, there are more battles while Stacy is attempting to learn her history and work on becoming a Druid. She’s a modern woman of 38 who is learning about ancient wars, warriors, druids, and her part in it all. And it’s not easy. She discovers cousins she never knew about and where the original grove is.

Because of the blending of mythology, romance, and the whole good vs. evil thing, the story is sometimes slow, but there is a lot going on. And it all comes together in the end. Or, at least, most of it. This is very much a second book in a multi-book series and does not give you a satisfying ending. It continues in the next book. As in the first one, Stacy has help in the form of Aaron and the warriors and others with him who are just as determined as Stacy to save the land.

Recommendations: If you find it a little slow, hang in there and keep reading. There are plenty of twists that keep you interested. And you’ll have to read the next one to find out if it all turns out right for Stacy and Aaron. But it’s a good follow-up to the first book.

Disclaimer: Disclosure of Material: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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PRELUDE by CA Oliver

Fiction, Fantasy

3***

Blurb: PRELUDE acts as a prequel to the Songs of the Lost Islands series. This story precedes that of An Act of Faith by focusing on events which occurred in the Valley, 1,700 years before.
The Valley hosts the shrine of all the Lost Islands’ faiths and the cities of four Elvin peoples. It is the prize of kingdoms and the battlefield of many clashes of civilizations. From the war of Giants and Deities to the making of the fabled swords of the Bladesmiths; from the fall of a meteorite to the coming of Lon the Wise, the Valley is the epic history of millennia of creeds and coexistence, curses and slaughter, the cause of an all-pervading obsession which haunts the minds. How did this remote vale become the symbolic centre of the Lost Islands? How did the events of Year 1,000 LC irremediably influence the essence of Elvin mysticism? PRELUDE is the story of the three days when the Valley became the Nargrond Valley and the unique place that exists twice in the minds of all Elves, in the material and ethereal worlds. 

Thoughts: Not having read the other books in the series, this was a little confusing. It is advertised as a prequel to the series and might make more sense when read with the series. I love high fantasy, but at times, the language and style of this put me off. Plus about a third to half the book is nothing but extensive lists of names of elves, lands, history, etc. Which is fine if you’re reading the rest of the series. In this… it’s a bit much.

Recommendation: Read the series first, then read this. Or read this with the series. Don’t expect this to be a story in and of itself. It’s something better read with the rest of the series.

Disclaimer: Disclosure of Material: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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EMPIRE OF AIR AND SHADOW by C.A. Masterson

Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy?

4****

Blurb: Atop the Kabellak Mountain, in The Blessed Heights, Tayari Thorne trains to become a Favored One, a title of distinction bearing no freedom. A man would choose her, keep her, provide for her—until he tired of her. Home was one privilege she would not know. Below in The Dregs, in the shadow of the mountain, Amina Emezi readies for the day when she can escape her parents’ home, and escape the Dregs, dependent on no one else. Home would be the place of her choosing. Neither realizes the fragility of her existence. Neither could guess how their lives would intersect, and change course unalterably on the same day. 

Thoughts: This is a well-written book with excellent world-building and great characters, but… it’s not a complete book. It’s part of a series and doesn’t come to an end. So just be aware of that when you buy it.

The two separate societies Masterson develops are interesting. The ones on top the mountain – the Favored Ones and the elite – and the ones in the shadows – the Dregs. They each have their own problems, and their own prejudices and ideas about the other–most of which are unfounded, as many prejudices are. Life for the Dregs is hard. Really hard. For Amina (Mina) in the Dregs, all she can think about is getting out. Flying. Being somewhere in the light. For Favored One, Tayari, she wants to escape a life that could very well lead to her death. For both girls, life is wanting something more…something different.

This is not an easy book to read. It’s full of nasty stuff like torture, kidnapping, murder, and more. But there’s also friendship and hope for a better future.

I did enjoy the book right up to the end when I realized it wasn’t a complete book. I really hate that kind of story. An overall character arc through a series is fine, but give me a complete book. I like to finish a book and be done. Not have to wait months (or longer) for the next one.

Still, I will recommend this as a very well-written book with worldbuilding that puts you right there and well-done characters.

Disclosure of Material: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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THE EXECUTIONER’S APPRENTICE by D.K. Holmberg

Fiction, Fantasy, 2nd in series

4****

Blurb: As apprentice to the master executioner, Finn struggles to understand his place in the city as he searches for truth in those sentenced. The job is more complicated than he ever imagined. He’s proven his understanding of the basics, but for him to serve as an executioner—if that’s what he wants—he needs mastery. Distracted by his search for a way to heal his still ailing mother despite the hegen magic, he finds himself at odds with the master executioner. When assigned his first solo case, he knows he needs to impress Meyer. An investigation into a fire that burned through an entire section of the city leads Finn to learn of a greater threat to Verendal—and the entire kingdom. When only Finn believes there’s more to the fire, can he save the city or will his quest for vengeance finally lead to his downfall?

Thoughts: I thought this was a really good book, well written with interesting characters and amazing worldbuilding. So why not five sparklers? For one thing, because it was confusing at first. This is the second in the series and it becomes quickly obvious that you need to read the first book to really understand what is going on in the story. Yes, the author does a decent job of weaving in some of the background, but it is definitely not a stand alone book. However, because I did find it so well-written, I will probably end up going back and buying the entire trilogy so that I have the beginning/middle/end of the story instead of just the middle.

That being said, it is very well-written. In this book, the main character, Finn, is learning his job as an executioner involves not just carrying out executions, but searching for truth—basically, investigating the crime and then presenting the evidence to the jury—which I found interesting. There are a lot of undercurrents going on in the story which I wish I knew. Things that were probably explained in the first book.

Recommendation: I can definitely recommend this book – but only if you read the first one first! Reading the second one without the benefit of the first is just too confusing. So pick up the entire trilogy and enjoy.

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone.

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FLIRTING WITH FAIRIES by Peg Pierson

Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Humorous

4****

Blurb: Literary agent, Nicole McConnelly is in trouble. Her career’s in the toilet, her bank account overdrawn, and she’s a wanted, fugitive fairy, from the Realm of Imagination, with a price on her head and a ruthless bounty hunter, who happens to be Satan’s brother, on her heels. Lonely young writer, Kaleb Whalen, lives in a rundown apartment with his pet cockroach and dreams of becoming a best-selling author. But after a run-in with a Boston city bus, he may have lost any chance of a future at all. When both agent, and author, magically appear center-page in Kaleb’s jungle adventure novel, Nicole finds herself faced with something more terrifying than her long-time nemesis…the possibility of something she has artfully avoided for three centuries. True Love.

Thoughts: This was a rollicking fun peek into the “behind-the-cover” Realm of Imagination. Most of the story takes place in this realm where book characters wait around in green rooms or scenery for their authors to do something with them. Nicole is a fairy in disguise in the human realm where she works as a literary agent looking for the next best seller. She thinks she’s found that in Kaleb, but things go terribly wrong when he is hit by a bus and both of them are pulled into the Imagination Realm. Unfortunately, Nicole is a wanted fugitive there since she skipped out on a Shakespeare story three hundred years ago. The two of them have to dodge bounty hunters, psychic monkeys, bored characters, and more. And when some of them discover that Nicole is protecting a treasure… it’s almost more than she can handle.

What I liked: The characters are amazing as are the settings and the idea of interacting with characters in the book and what happens when authors don’t write them well, or never finish a story. It’s imaginative and fun. And there is an interesting plot twist at the end that gives you a HEA you weren’t expecting.

What I didn’t like: It was sometimes a little confusing to follow and there were a very few minor editorial issues (typos).

Recommendation: Don’t expect a deep story here. This is a fun-filled tale that will have you laughing—which is not a bad thing. We all need more fun and laughter. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

1/24/21

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MOORIGAD: DRAGON COLLECTION by Debra Kristi

Fiction, Fantasy

4****

Blurb: When Kyra, the Moorigad dragon-shifter, unwittingly finds herself at Mystic’s Carnival, a supernatural world between realms, she believes her runaway days are finished. Amidst the carnies and never-ending magic, she finds a home of the heart – friends and belonging among a gathering of paranormal beings. However, living an uncomplicated life was never one of Kyra’s strengths. She’s falling for her all-too-secretive best friend, Sebastian. And as she delves deeper into his mysteries, her goodwill sabotages their future and her very existence.

Thoughts: This is an amazing series. I read all three books together which worked out really well. Had I read them individually, I would probably have been upset because they are basically one (really big) book split into three. But in reading them together, I get the entire story. I would have liked a little background on the carnival – it’s intriguing. A place for paranormals that is alive itself and changes around at various times so you’re never quite sure where you are. Maybe a prequel to give us background on the carnival and the people who live there. The world building is incredibly complex. And the characters—especially Kyra and Sebastian—are well done. I loved Higgins and Zeke too, and several others as well.

What I liked: World building is amazing. Characters too. Loved the Carnival that is alive. Cried when…not giving it away… someone died. That means I was invested in the story and the author pulled me in emotionally. Having Kyra and Sebastian both be hybrids gives them something in common, and something each has to deal with on different levels. Kyra’s family doesn’t want her. Sebastian’s father wants to control him. Interesting conflicts. I found book two easier to read than one, but both (actually all three) are good.

What I didn’t like: I had trouble following at times where we were. Carnival? Earth? Purgatory? Somewhere else? Don’t get me wrong, the world building was beyond well-done. But I just had trouble following sometimes.

Recommendation: Love fantasy? Love dragons? Love all things paranormal? Then pick this series up. You won’t be disappointed.

Disclaimer: I received these books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone.

Vicky 2021

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CURSE OF THE BLACKNOC WITCH by Tori Rainn

Fiction, Fantasy

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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.

Vicky 7/13/20

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EYE OF HORLUNE by Raven Snow

Fiction, Fantasy

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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.

Vicky 6/11/2020

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THE PHARAOH AND THE LIBRARIAN by Amber Polo

Fiction, fantasy, romance, ancient history

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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.

Vicky 5/27/2020

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DEBRIEFING THE DEAD by Kerry Blaisdell

Urban Fantasy

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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.

Vicky 1/14/2020

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COVEN OF SECRETS by C. J. Beaumont

Paranormal Romance (witches – Urban Fantasy)

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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.

Vicky 12/21/19

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GREED AND OTHER DANGERS by TJ Nichols

LGBTQ+ paranormal romance

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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.

Vicky 11/21/19

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Blood of an Exile by Brian Naslund

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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

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WHISPERS OF SHADOW AND FLAME by L. Penelope

4 Sparklers

Fantasy

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.

Vicky 8/24/19