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: “Uriel’s Fall” by Loralie Hall

November 27, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Urban Fantasy | By

Uriel's Fall (Ubiquity, #1)Uriel’s Fall by Loralie Hall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I tend to read book’s fast, but it’s not often one draws me in so much that I finish it in a single day. Uriel’s Fall was one such exception. It actually started out feeling like a nice bit of fluff, but developed more depth than I’d expected. Loralie Hall dose a nice job world-building, though the company Ubiquity that gives the series it’s title still feels a bit vague and undefined, and her characters have enough depth to make you care about them. She presents a rather different take on the concept of angels and demons – at least it’s one I’ve not fun into previously – which is nice. There is one rather explicit sex scene and profanity used, so it’s more appropriate for an older audience. A few things could be tightened up – some dialogues go a bit longer than really needed, but on the whole, it’s a good book and a nice fast-paced read. I’ve already picked up the companion novella and will be watching for the second novel in the series next year.

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Book Review: “Red Rising” by Pierce Brown

November 24, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Science Fiction | By

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Red Rising by Pierce Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Red Rising” is not an easy – or fun – book to read. It is a brutal look at society as created and ruled by the worst aspects of humankind. The story is set in the future, during a time in which man has colonized the moon and several other planets, and society is divided into a series of castes, each designated by a specific color. The color coding of people goes so far as their eye and hair color – making it almost impossible for someone to surreptitiously move into another caste. At the top of society are the Golds, followed by a veritable rainbow of Pinks, Browns, Greens, Blues, Grays and so forth, leading down to the Reds at the bottom.

The story itself takes place on Mars, where the Reds have been kept living underground, working in the mines and being told that they are pioneers who are gathering the material necessary to terraform the planet, and that once the terraforming is complete they will be the first to be able to move to the surface. This, of course, is lie, as the Golds have no intention of ever allowing the Reds to move out of the mines.

Darrow, the main character of the story, is found by a rebel faction who believe that he will be able to infiltrate the Gold society with the intent of gaining as much power as possible and then using it to subvert the social order and free the Reds from their slavery. It’s not an easy task, as Darrow will need to change virtually everything about himself – from his appearance to the way he speaks to how he treats others – everything except who he is at his core, where are the qualities that the rebels think make perfect for this mission lie.

His first test is to attend the Gold’s Institute, a school that teaches leadership in the most brutal way possible. It is up to Darrow – with no help from his rebel allies – to not only survive the Institute, but to graduate at the top of his class so that he can obtain the best apprenticeship possible, launching him on his path to gaining the power needed to overturn society – all without losing sight of who he truly is.

The story is told from a first-person perspective which – though not my favorite method of storytelling – is quite effective here. It allows us to see the world exactly as Darrow sees it and experience it as he does. The level of immersion that develops as a result can be quite disturbing at times, but I found that it provoked me to think about who I am and what I would do under similar circumstances, which is one of the best aspects good literature can have.

Pierce Brown does a great job at world building. The society he envisions, while extreme, is plausible enough to work as a foundation for the story and at the scenes he writes that take you through the various areas of the underground mines, cities and the Institute are vivid and memorable. There were several times where I felt I was “watching” the book as much as reading it, and I’m generally not a terribly usually-oriented person. I’ll be rather surprised if it isn’t eventually made into a movie.

The characters Brown writes feel authentic – with all of the messy, conflicting emotions, desires and values that we humans have. The way that friendships are made and broken have genuine emotional impact and Darrow’s motivation for taking on this task and the choices he makes as a result feel realistic.

As I said at the start, “Red Rising” is neither fun nor an easy read, but it is good and it is well worth the effort. I know I am looking forward to the next part of the story see where Darrow goes from here. This is a book I highly recommend.

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Book Review: “The Paper Magician” by Charles N. Holmberg

November 16, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction | By

The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #1)The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an absolutely delightful story! “The Paper Magician” is probably one of the most imaginative tales I’ve come across in quite some time. I certainly can’t think of any other books in which the main character actually journeys through the physical heart of another character.

Ceony Twill is a magician’s apprentice – not a stage magician, but someone who can create real magic using specific materials. In her case, she uses paper. Shortly after being assigned to a her mentor, he is attacked and his heart is removed from his chest. She quickly uses her magic to give him a paper heart in the hopes that it will keep him alive while she goes to track down the thief. Upon finding the thief, however, Ceony finds herself suddenly thrown – literally – into her mentor’s heart where she must journey through all four chambers – each containing the secrets of his life – to reach the other end and exit before the thief catches up with her.

The imaginative and inventive ways that Ceony and her mentor are able to use paper to create a variety of spells – from bringing a written story to life to animating life-like creatures, and so much more – is amazing, and the detail of the journey she takes through her mentor’s heart is beautifully written, easily visualized and quite moving.

Quite simply, this is an absolutely charming book with well-rounded characters, a light sense of humor, strong dramatic scenes and well-crafted plotting. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone looking for a bit of whimsy and wonder in the world.

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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: “The Dream Thieves” by Maggie Stiefvater

October 5, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2)The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good, but flawed follow-up to the excellent “The Raven Boys.”

I have absolutely loved the first book in the series “The Raven Boys, so this one had quite a bit to live up to. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite make it. The story is still quite good and held my interest well, and there’s a lot of interesting character development along the way, but there were just a number of things about the book that felt off or out of place, and the author used one technique heavily throughout the book that I’ve always found to be rather annoying.

I think the biggest problem I had overall was that the entire subject this book – the ability to remove things from dreams and bring them into reality – is only connected to the previous book by the very last line of that book, where Ronan reveals that he brought his pet raven out of a dream. This pushes the search for Glendower – the major plot line for the entire series and the motivation for our main characters to have gotten together in the first place – into the background, and a very little progress on that plot is made during this book. Perhaps in the next book a connection between the dream ability and the search for Glendower will be brought into the same circle, but for right now it feels like we just sort of jumped off the track of the original story into a whole new story for reasons that aren’t at all clear.

Also, much of the activity in this book keeps the four Raven boys doing things separately, and features a number of fights between them, which destabilizes the core relationship from the first book – and because the boys are all doing things separately, Blue doesn’t get invited along as much, so her presence is missing from large swaths of the story.

As for the technique that I found annoying, often times when a writer doesn’t want to reveal the identity of a character, they will be introduced and given a kind of “placeholder” name – which is generally based on something descriptive – until the point in the story where revealing their identity will have the greatest impact. I’ve never cared for it much because too often the reveal is letdown and does not carry the dramatic impact that it seems the author intends.

There are two main causes for that kind of a letdown. The first is because the character is described in enough ways through his actions or tidbits about himself that he drops as he speaking to various characters throughout the book that guessing his identity fairly easy. The second comes about because when the character’s identity is finally revealed, he turns out to be someone we’ve never heard of before nor is he connected to any of our characters in any significant way. In both cases, it ends up making the whole subterfuge of hiding his name feel pointless.

On the plus side – and there certainly is one – we do get a considerable amount of good background information on our main characters, and we get to know Persephone, Calla, and Maura much better. There’s a lot of good, tense drama – and, even though the story feels a bit out of place coming out of the first book, it’s an interesting and fun to read story. I certainly enjoyed it enough to want to continue with the series, and am hoping that maybe that next book will help connect some of what happened in the first book to what happened in this one more closely.

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Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

September 30, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply excellent

I’d not previously read any of Maggie Stiefvater’s books, but I’d heard good things about her work, and I’d seen that she’d also worked some with Tessa Gratton, who’s books “The Lost Sun” and “The Strange Maid” I’d gladly devoured a couple months ago, so I thought it might be worth a shot to check her work out. I am quite glad I did!

The story is solid paranormal/urban fantasy, even though it doesn’t have any of the standard hallmarks like vampires, werewolves, witches, angels or demons, nor does it have any grand romance at the center to fuel the plot. instead, it offers psychics, ley lines and a long dead Welsh king, along with four very different prep-school boys, several psychics and a psychic’s daughter who amplifies spiritual energy around her and has been told that when she kisses her true love, he will die.

it all adds up to a dark and suspenseful tale of the boys’ obsession with finding the burial place of the king which is rumoured to be somewhere along a local ley line, and what that obsession does to them and those around them.

On the surface, the boys seem like they’d be easy to reduce to a stereotypes: The rich guy, the slacker, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks and the quiet one, but as written by Stiefvater they become so much more, each having multiple layers and surprising depths.

I would recommend this to anyone looking for a change of pace or something a bit darker than much of what I’ve read so far. And now I’m going to dive into the next part in the series!

READER CAUTION: The story deals in places with child abuse and there are a couple of scenes where abuse takes place.

Other books mentioned in review:

The Lost Sun (The United States of Asgard, #1) by Tessa Gratton
The Lost Sun

The Strange Maid (The United States of Asgard, #2) by Tessa Gratton
The Strange Maid

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Book Review: Wiccan Shadows by Lori J. Shiele

September 25, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, The Graveyard, Urban Fantasy | By

Wiccan ShadowsWiccan Shadows by Lori J. Schiele

I did not give this book is star rating as I was unable to finish it.

I didn’t get very far into the book before giving up. I know there are many flavors of Wicca, but there were some touches to the way the author was presenting it in this world that just hit me as a bit cliched and – for lack of a better term – gawkier that I prefer. Unfortunately, this lead to some giggles where you really don’t want any, like in the middle of an otherwise nice and tense “impending death” scene. This is much more a matter of personal preference than any real flaw in the writing, and had I read further, I may have found it to be less annoying as the story went on, but I didn’t really find anything else that gave me a strong enough desire to continue. YMMV.

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