Book Review: “Incite” by Erica Crouch

March 4, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy | By

Incite (Ignite, #2)Incite by Erica Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Have you ever finished reading a book and then had a hard time figuring out which of the books you’ve been so eager to get to you’re going to read next because what you REALLY want to do is spend more time with the characters from that book in which you’ve just turned the last page? Well, that’s the dilemma “Incite” currently has me in.

I’ve sung the praises of the first two installments in Erica Crouch’s “Ignite” series (“Entice” and “Ignite” – and I strongly recommend reading them in that order as “Entice” really sets the stage for the series!) and “Incite” lives up to its predecessors.

In “Ignite” twin demons Azael and Penemuel (but call her Pen) find themselves on opposite sides for the first time, and in this latest installment, we see how the loss is affecting each of them differently. Azael has been promoted to King of Hell, but is finding it difficult to take joy in achieving a level of power he’d only dreamed of. Even the companionship of the wicked Lilith is lessened by his confused feelings over Pen’s departure. But while he swings from being confident all he needs to do is talk to her and she’ll come back to him and raging at her betrayal, Pen is far more saddened than anything.

Michael does what he can to help her, but there are other urgent matters that need attention – such as the fact that both Heaven and Hell have put bounties on their heads, Michael’s heart seems to be weakening, and there’s a feisty little angel who keeps showing up trying to convince the pair that they’ve really started something. She tells them that other angels and demons who have come to believe there had to be something other than the stark black and white of Heaven and Hell have formed a community dubbed New Genesis, and she wants them to join up.

We meet several new characters in this book, and they all fit nicely into the story. Pen and Michael have their new friends, and Azael has a band of assassins and other useful sorts helping him track down his wayward sister and her beau. And even though Azael and his companions definitely represent the evilest of evil, they are not so far out there that they serve only to repulse. Azael is far from being an unsympathetic character, and that helps keep the tension high and the ultimate resolution unclear.

As with the previous books, there’s some intriguing philosophical discussions that elevate the story, which I happen to love, but there’s enough action and romance to satisfy those interests as well.

The next book will be a novella focusing on Ana and Kala, two of the new characters introduced in “Incite.” It will go into more about their history before we meet them. That will be followed by “Infinite,” the (sob!!) final book in the series. They can’t get here soon enough for me!

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Book Review: “Ignite” by Erica Crouch

February 17, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy | By

Ignite (Ignite, #1)Ignite by Erica Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review

I read the prequel novella – Entice – for this series a couple weeks ago and was blown away – not just by author Erica Crouch’s ability to write stunningly beautiful prose, but also by her ability to weave a new telling of the story of the Fall of Man – including some serious theological concepts – into a paranormal romance that never felt overly heavy or preachy. And even though Entice is technically the second book in the series, it does a great job of setting up the world for the Ignite series, introducing us to the main characters, establishing how this version of the world works, helping us to understand the bond Pen and Azael share – and why she would follow him into Hell, even when she wasn’t sure if that’s where she truly belonged. I wanted to bring this up to encourage you to read Entice before reading Ignite. Even though it was published second, I found that what I had learned from Entice really enhanced the story in Ignite because of how well it set the stage for this truly extraordinary story.

As Ignite opens, we find the Pen and her twin brother, Azael – both demons – finishing up an assignment to collect a soul for Lucifer, when they are shocked to run into a young – and apparently quite new – angel claiming to be the archangel Michael, whose death they had witnessed centuries before during the war between Heaven and Hell.

This new Michael has the silver-feathered wings of an archangel and he carries the archangel sword that belonged to the original Michael – the only archangel sword known to exist. But, as Pen discovers while talking with him, he has no memory whatsoever of his previous life or of the time his soul was held captive and tortured for centuries by his brother, Lucifer. Instead of the arrogant, self-assured Michael of old, who was completely loyal to Heaven and never questioned anything, this new Michael is surprisingly innocent – and even more surprising, he’s asking questions – a lot of questions.

Soon Pen finds herself tasked with either convincing Michael to join the forces of Hell or kill him, while Azael is sent on a mission of his own, and this is where the book
really began to shine. As Pen and Michael interact, the affect each has on the other is profound. We begin to see the vulnerability Pen tries to keep hidden and the strength that this new Michael initially appears to lack.

What I love most about “Ignite”is that it’s an escapist, romantic fantasy that still has the ability to make you think. Pen and Michael are both searching for where they each truly belong. They’ve always been taught that everything is either black or white but are now doubting if that is really how it works.

Their conversations about what – if anything – might lie between those extremes is beautifully handled. Author Crouch provides a lot of good thoughts through Pen and Michael’s dialog while providing room for readers to form their own opinions.

There are many other aspects of the book that I also loved. With one exception, Crouch does a wonderful job of avoiding most of the more annoying cliches of romance books – and even in that case, she doesn’t drag it out overly long. I understand why she did it as it sets our characters up to be where they needed to be for the book’s climax, but I think she could have probably found a more creative way to get to the same place. Her prose continues to be gorgeous. The way she describes locations let me not just see the place in my mind, but to feel the atmosphere, hear the background sounds and sometimes even catch its scent for a moment.

She takes just as much care with her characters. The romance is sweet and the changes Pen and Michael go through as a result of their friendship are well-paced and believable. Likewise, while Azael plays a much more limited role in this book than he does in Entice, the growth he undergoes while working separate from Pen is handled well and helps emphasize just how close the siblings have been.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, which some may find annoying, but in this case, the story has earned the right to leave us hanging for a bit, and I am truly eager to see what’s next for Pen, Azael and Michael.

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Book Review: “Court of Nightfall” by Karpov Kinrade

February 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy | By

Court of Nightfall (The Nightfall Chronicles, #1)Court of Nightfall by Karpov Kinrade
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intriguing start to a new series

I have to admit, the reason I initially picked up this book is simply because my husband’s nickname is Nyghtfall, and it made me curious about the book, so I had no real expectations for the story. I ended up liking it quite a bit. I usually have 3 or 4 books I’m working my way through at any given time, but this one was interesting, fast-paced and good enough that I read it almost straight through.

The story is set in an alternate, dystopian reality where society is primarily controlled by the Knights of the Four Orders: Templars, Teutonics, Hospitaliers and Inquisitors. In the not-too-distant past, humanity had fought a war against the Nephelim – a race of half a human / half-angelic beings that essentially function like vampires with wings – which ended with the destruction of the Nephelim. Also in the mix are humans with “parapowers” known as Zeniths. Because their powers are feared, Zeniths are socially ostracized and politically oppressed. Against this backdrop we meet Scarlett Night, her uber-cool parents and her best friend Jax. When her parents are attacked, however, Scarlett learns that not everything is at it seems, and finds that she and Jax are no longer safe. With that our story its off and running.

Though the initial setup follows a well-worn path, once the action befins, the story really starts to come into its own. The world-building is nicely done – and done without any excessive infodumps. Meeting with the heads of the Four Orders gives an idea of what each Order is like, and the general atmosphere is communicated by how people act and what our heroes observe. The history of the war its likewise presented more through dialogue without just tossing a big history lesson into the middle of the action.

I really only had a couple of issues with the book, none of which are major, but they did have an impact on my enjoyment.. I’m not a big fan of vampire stories – in part because there are just so many of them coming out these days. When I realized the Nephelim are, for all intents and purposes, vampires, I felt a bit “tricked” by the authors. I suppose in some ways its not a bad approach, since I might have skipped the book if is known that’s what they were, but it still irked me a bit. I will say, though, that the Nephelim seen to be without some off the typical vampire tropes that have led to my disliking them: They aren’t automatically evil, nor are the overly sexual. Personality-wise, so far, at least, they seem mostly like normal humans, which is rather nice.

There are several references to a Nephelim named Nyx. Most references to Nyx use a male pronoun, but at least once the female pronoun is used. Nyx is also referred to as both a god of the Nephelim and the name is also described as being “used” by their leader, so perhaps the god is one gender (traditionally, Nyx is the Greek goddess of night) and the leader is the other, but it really wasn’t clear.

Lastly, I found myself surprised when the book ended. It felt like like the players had just gotten all of their pieces set and were about to begin the game when the emcee came out, thanked everyone for a lovely evening and invited us all back in a few weeks for more.

As I said, they’re really fairly minor issues and I will certainly be tuning back in when the game continues. Overall is a fun read and I’m very interested to see where the story will be taking us.

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Book Review: “Entice” by Erica Crouch

January 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy | By

Entice: An Ignite Novella (Ignite, #1.5)Entice: An Ignite Novella by Erica Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review.

This is a really nice novella, and is part of Erica Crouch’s “Ignite” series. It’s listed as part 1.5 in the series, but it’s actually a prequel to the events in Ignite, so I read it first. Whether that will have an impact on how I perceive the next book (which is Ignite) I don’t know yet – but I do know that I’m quite eager to keep going with the series.

The story opens with a battle scene from the war between Heaven’s angels and the angels who fell with Lucifer. It is told from the perspective of Penemuel (but don’t call her that – just call her Pen) who choose to fall at the urging of her twin brother Azael, and is somewhat conflicted over her decision. Azael has no problem bowing to and “yes sir”-ing Lucifer – he’s a true believer in Lucifer’s cause, but Pen is more defiant, something that doesn’t go over too well with her new boss. This leads to a retelling of the story of the Fall of Mankind in the Garden of Eden.

Crouch’s version is original, even as it retains all of the traditional elements of the Biblical story, and the rest of the tale is quite well done. Crouch truly has a way with words and I found myself highlighting several phrases just because I really liked the way she put something. Even though this is a novella, she still manages to give us a good look at what the universe the story takes place in looks like as well as some excellent character building. The only thing keeping me from giving the book 5 stars is that there ars couple of apparent tips – one in particular that resulted in my spending about ten minutes trying to figure out what it was supposed to mean. Given that the book took only about 3 hours to read, having to take that kind of time to puzzle out a sentence made it just that much more irritating that a single typo like that would be in a longer book.

All-in-all, though, this is definitely a book worth checking out!

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Book Review: “Cruel Beauty” by Rosamund Hodge

January 8, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance | By

Cruel Beauty (Cruel Beauty Universe, #1)Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a truly amazing book. While it’s an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, it’s unlike any other adaptations of that story I’ve read. What really made me fall in love with the story is that it went beyond the idea that she just had to see beyond his beastliness to set things right, and it does so in an unexpected way. Add a few surprising turns and you have a tale that honors its source material while being an original in its own right.

The writing is very lush, making the world vivid and almost tactile, and the characters are complex. It takes a certain skill to write a book where the majority of the story only involves three characters and not have it feel like a large, empty house. Because the cast is small, there’s room to let the characters breathe and grow – and the relationship blossom – at a nicely measured pace.

This is the first book in a new fictional universe, which will feature additional retelling of fairy tale classics. Already, a novella – Gilded Ashes, a retake on Cinderella – has been published, and it shares many of the strengths that Cruel Beauty possesses, so the series shows some promise off being one to keep an eye on.

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Book Review: “The New England Witch Chronicles” by Chelsea Bellingeri

December 11, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy | By

New England Witch Chronicles (New England Witch Chronicles, #1)New England Witch Chronicles by Chelsea Luna Bellingeri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The New England Witch Chronicles, Book One is a tasty little confection about a girl who discovers that she’s a witch and that there are still people who hunt them. One of my favorite things about the book is that it takes its time to tell the story, giving us a chance tho get to know our heroine, Alex, and the important people in her life. We get to see her as the normal girl she’s always been hanging out with her friends, going to school, coping with a father who’s emotionally distant and sometimes borderline abusive (verbally, not sexually) and an ineffective and alcoholic mother, and – of course, given that this is a YA novel – falling in love,

The author,Chelsea Bellingeri, does a nice job with creating relationships that feel more realistic than I’ve seen in many books. The romance develops at a nice pace and avoid that kind of over-the-top grand destined soulmates that often feels so forced – especially when dealing with teenagers.

As for the paranormal aspect of the story, Bellingeri allows that to develop slowly. Alex starts having nightmares and noticed some odd things that happen when she’s upset, but she doesn’t really start thinking about possible supernatural explanations until well over half-way through the book. Yet the story never feels like it’s dragging. I found it to be very comfortably paced and I like that the story has a solid foundation for it to build on over the rest of the series.

Bellingeri also has a nicely evocative way with scene-setting. At one point, Alex goes through a tunnel which is smaller than shed like and makes her uneasy. Bellingeri describes the sensation of what Alex was experiencing so clearly that I started feeling claustrophobic myself.

The book has almost no bad language or sexual content – -aside from a few kisses – and while there are several fist-fights and a few deaths, the descriptions are not overly graphic. I would consider it ok for audiences of about 14 and older.

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Book Review: “Izrafel’s Acceptance” by Loralie Hall

November 29, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy | By

Izrafel's Acceptance: Ubquity, 1.5 - A Companion Novella (Ubiquity)Izrafel’s Acceptance: Ubquity, 1.5 – A Companion Novella by Loralie Hall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not as good as the first novel but not bad, either

This novella focuses on Izrafel, one of the characters we met in “Uriel’s Fall.” Since we last saw Izzy – as he’s known – at the end of that book, he’s fallen in love and is thinking about moving in with his boyfriend, though he has some reservations because he’s still not quite sure how to to explain his past and because he feels there’s something his boyfriend is hiding from him. We’re quickly thrown into the action – almost too quickly, in fact, and the the story takes off like a runner so eager to start her race that she jumps the gun a bit.

The biggest problem I had with the story is that like in the preceding novel, most of the dramatic tension comes from people simply not talking to each other. Even Ronnie, the protagonist from the first book – who was constantly frustrated because no one was telling her the full truth – can’t seem tho find a way too clue Izzy in as to what’s going on.

Still, in spite of these issues, it’s a fun, quick read and helps set up the conflict for next summer’s release of the second novel in the series.

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Book Review: “The Void” by JD Horn

November 28, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy | By

The Void (Witching Savannah, #3)The Void by J.D. Horn

[Note: This is the third book in the “Witching Savannah” series, but the review covers my opinion of the series as a whole.]

I always hate giving up on a book, but I just can’t take any more of this series. The protagonist never seems to learn from her mistakes and – in spite of a near perfect record over the last two books of being right anytime she says her instincts are telling her that doing something or going somewhere will be a bad idea – she never pays any attention to those instincts and keeps getting in trouble for it. And even though everyone keeps saying they won’t be keeping any more secrets, they still keep keeping secrets.

Author JD Horn does a nice job of bringing Savannah to life and comes up with some imaginative scenarios that the characters find themselves getting caught up in. His characters are well-rounded and distinct, which is nice. Their collective inability to learn from past mistakes, however, makes reading the series feel a bit like watching a hamster running in a wheel in its cage.

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Book Review: Scala – Angelbound, Book 2

November 13, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy | By

NOTE: I have not yet written a review for the first book in this series, though I plan to. I wanted to go ahead and post this one since I had it ready.

Scala (Angelbound, #2)Scala by Christina Bauer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got the first “Angelbound” book as part of Ink Monsters “Angels & Alphas: An Angelbound and Becoming Alpha Bundle” package. Being something of a werewolf fan, I was mostly interested in the Alpha part of the book, but decided to go ahead and read for the Angels part as well since it was there. I’m glad that I did – it’s a quirky story set in one of the most warped visions of Purgatory I’ve come across that has a lot of humor to it, a spunky as Hell quasi-demon as its heroine, family secrets, romance and – of course – a great destiny to be filled.

This second book picks up shortly after the first one leaves off, and we see our heroine – Myla – adjusting to her new life. Unfortunately, an old nemesis has come back try and take “back” some things she claims Myla “stole” from her. The reader knows from the start that it’s the nemesis trying to do the stealing, but for the people living in Purgatory, it’s not so clear. Myla must gather her friends and family in order to hold on to what is rightfully hers. The middle section of the book – where some of the dramatic tension should be mounting – is pretty slow, but the first part of the book is great as is the ending. And I absolutely love Myla’s relationship with her beloved Lincoln. They are a believable couple in the kind of heightened world that the author has provided and are really cute and how they interact. This isn’t terribly long book – nor is the first one – so if you’re looking for something kind of light and fun and don’t mind a bit of a slog through a few chapters in the middle, I would definitely recommend it.

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Book Review: “Becoming Alpha” by Aileen Erin

October 21, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy | By

Becoming Alpha (Alpha Girl, #1)Becoming Alpha by Aileen Erin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book really have mixed feelings about. On the positive side, the plot is reasonably interesting and the characters are nicely distinct from each other. There are a few characters that are a bit too one-dimensional – such as the requisite spoiled rich girl at the boarding school – but the primary characters have more to do mention to them and are well enough written that I actually care about what happens to them.

On the downside, a fair amount of the plot in the book is fueled by one of my absolute least favorite tropes: people not talking to each other and thus misunderstanding what’s happening. When the book starts, we meet Tessa, the girl who gets visions when she touches people or objects. We eventually learn that she is half bruja – a Mexican witch – who, it is strongly hinted, is supposed to take over her family’s coven soon. Her parents, however, have not told her this and while she knows that others and her family supposedly have similar gifts, she doesn’t believe that brujas are anything more then people essentially play-acting at spirituality. Similarly, when her father takes a job at a special boarding school for werewolves, all she is told is to stay out of the woods after dark, avoid the wolves in the area, and stay away from all of the students at her father’s school. Nobody explains to her why. Of course, she meet one of the boys from the school and he ends up biting her lip as they are kissing. This leads to several scenes of various people freaking out, without explaining to her why. She becomes quite ill and has to be hospitalized – and it’s only after she has spent a fevered week there that she can’t remember that anyone tells her that werewolves are real and she is now one of them.

The same problem plagues the romance. She and the boy who bit her are very clearly meant for each other, but both of them seem to have an inability to talk to the other and instead will overhear snippets of conversation or see part of a situation (such as one of them hugging somebody else) and storm off before finding out what was actually happening. This results in one refusing to speak to the other while the other is trying to explain what the deal was, with the inevitable reconciliation to follow – lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s a good thing that the characters are as interesting as they are, and the world is as well drawn as it is. Aside from the main romance, the relationships are reasonably well done, and Tessa’s burgeoning friendship with her suitemate Meredith is fun and very reminiscent of campus life.

As for the rest the story, aside from the drama that is created by not talking to each other, it’s interesting enough that I’m going to keep reading the series and see what happens. Hopefully, as the relationships mature, they will develop better communication skills!

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