Book Review: “Circleborn” by Lor Hasse

April 10, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

Circleborn (Solomon's Circle Book 1)Circleborn by Lor Haase
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

At first glance, Lor Haase’s “Circleborn” – the first book in his “Soloman’s Circle” trilogy – may sound a bit reminiscent of the “Secret Circle” series (at least the TV version – I’ve not read the books) in that it features a group of families bound together by magic and the magic is passed from one generation to the next.  That’s where the similarity ends, however. 

In Hasse’s story, each family wields a different type of magic, and types gain their power from different sources. The circle is structured in an intricate hierarchy based on how much power a certain type of magic has and the order in which power can be shared between circle members.

 I found the book to be quite enjoyable. He sets up the main conflict nicely, and the characters are likable. The book is fairly short and makes for a quick read, but it’s full of action, making it a lot of fun.  It’s a dark story, though – a couple passages left me pleasantly creeped-out.

There are a couple things that bothered me a bit, which is why I gave it 3 stars. The first is that there are quite a number of typos throughout the book, and while they’re not so serious as to make any part of the book difficult to understand, they did slow down the flow of reading and had a tendency to pull me out of the story for a moment.  

The other is that for much of the first half of the book, Hasse has the characters drop a lot of hints and clues about different story elements by having their thoughts and conversations referencing an unspoken common context without letting the reader know exactly what that context is. This is a tactic many books use to build suspense – and it’s very effective in doing so – but usually it doesn’t seem to take quite as long for the author to reveal the secret to the audience, and it usually only involves a couple characters.  Here, Hasse suspends information from at least 5 different characters, and there were times I found myself flipping back a few pages to refresh my memory on what I’d learned so far. 

That said, I do recommend “Circleborn” for lovers of urban fantasy. There are a lot of surprises in the book, and Hasse has some interesting ideas in play. I found the power-sharing idea intriguing, and really liked the power-learning technique he devised for one character, among many other things, and I’m really looking forward to reading the next installment. 

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Book Review: “Erato” by Sharon van Orman

March 28, 2015 | Posted in Fiction, mythology-based, Urban Fantasy | By

Erato (The Sophia Katsaros Series # 2)Erato by Sharon Van Orman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Erato by Sharon van Orman

The last time we saw Dr. Sophia Katsaros, she had just returned from a trip to Greece – where she’d gone to find her missing brothers – only to discover an entirely unwelcome guest waiting in her apartment. She soon learns that she’s been targeted by the Enforcers of the werewolf pack who have come after her because no one who learns the secret of the pack is allowed to live.

When she begins finding gruesome messages being left for her as warnings, she decides to go to the pack alpha and get him to call off the dogs, as it were. There she learns that her situation is even more precarious because someone has been killing wolves from the pack and Sophia is the number one suspect. She offers the alpha a deal – if he’ll call off the Enforcers, she’ll prove she isn’t the killer, and use her scientific skills to help him find out who is. So begins a uneasy alliance and a trip back to Greece to track down a killer.

As in “Lykaia,” the story is told from multiple perspectives, with Sophia as the main narrator, written in first person. We also follow one of the Enforcers, see a few scenes from the killer’s point of view, and learn more about the Dryad and Dryad magic in general. I found the system that van Orman has set up for the Dryad magic to be quite interesting. I also liked that as skeptical as Sophia was to start with, as she becomes more excepting of the magical world, you can sense a greater openness in her in general. 

Something I really appreciated was that even though it was obvious that the pack alpha and Sophia found each other attractive, there was no insta-romance to be had here.  They were working together out of necessity and each had very good reasons not to trust the other. While their relationship warmed up some throughout the course of the book, it would have felt cheap to have them jump into bed with all of the questions that is still lingered.

We also spend more time with Illyanna, the girlfriend of one of Sophia’s brothers and mother of her soon-to-be-born niece. The friendship between Sophia and Illyanna is a lot of fun, especially as they learn more about the magical world. There was a natural easiness between them that carried over from the first book as they bonded over their mutual love for Sophia’s brother, and I hope that we are not done with their story.

“Erato” does a great job of wrapping up the story begun in the “Lykaia,” and the pair make for a very satisfying tale. Dr. Sophia Katsaros is an easy character to like and the world van Orman has created has a great balance of the fantastical and the realistic. There are some nice threads that could be easily woven into additional stories – and I sincerely hope they are.

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Book Review: “Lykaia” by Sharon van Orman

March 26, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Urban Fantasy | By

Lykaia (The Sophia Katsaros Series #1)Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lykaia by Sharon van Orman

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

I love werewolves. When it comes to paranormal creatures only witches hold more interest for me than our short, dark and furry friends, so when I had the chance to check out a series with a new take on their origin, how could I pass that up?

Lykaia actually tells several stories. The main story is that of Sophia Katsaros, a medical examiner from Ohio whose younger brothers had gone to Greece for the summer and are now missing. Another tells us about Stavros, a young boy being trained to serve as the high priest for the werewolf pact. A third tells us the true history of how werewolves came to be, and not the myth that has been circulating for centuries. And I the fourth, we learn about a Dryad whose daughter was instrumental in the werewolves’ origin – and who may still have a role to play in their future. 

The book alternates between the four stories in a fragmented fashion that can be a bit tricky at first. While the changes in perspective only happen at the start of a new chapter, we’re not told when the perspective is changing or whose perspective we’re changing to. I soon got a feel for the different voices making the changes much less jarring. All of Sophia’s story is told in first person, the rest are in third, but each has a distinctive voice and tone.  There are also two short vignettes which provide a glimpse into the life of two people who wind up on Sophia’s morgue table. Why these vignettes were included isn’t clear, but they’re both quite short and don’t really detract from the story as a whole.

In spite of the unusual presentation of the different stories, I found the book to be a fairly quick read and quite enjoyable. I’ve always loved the idea that myths came about as ways to explain things mankind couldn’t quite grasp, and Van Orman uses that concept to good effect, especially in the way scientifically-minded Sophia find her beliefs challenged as she searches for answers to the disappearance of her brothers.

The only real complaint I have about the book is that there are several Greek words used throughout the story – and many of them are variations on the title – Lykaia – but there’s no guide as to how the words are pronounced. For me, seeing these similar strings of letters without being able to mentally differentiate then by how they sound left me feeling at times like I was listening to a storyteller who kept mumbling. It wasn’t enough of a problem to keep me from thoroughly enjoying the book, but it did occasionally send me looking pack a few pages to refresh my memory on what a particular term referred to.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, setting up the next volume, “Erato,” but even if it hadn’t, I found the story and the characters enjoyable enough that id want to spend more time with them anyway.

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Book Review: “Sisters of Blood and Spirit” by Kady Cross

February 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

Sisters of Blood and SpiritSisters of Blood and Spirit by Kady Cross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I had just recently finished reading Kady Cross’s “The Strange Case of Finley Jayne when I noticed her new book, “Sisters of Blood and Spirit” was available as an ARC, so I quickly requested it and was quite happy when I was approved for a copy. I’m even happier now that I’ve read the book.

I love the premise: Lark and Wren Noble are twins, and like many twins, they have aa special bond. There’s is a bit unusual, though, because Wren was stillborn, but her ghost has remained connected to – and grown up with – her sister. While Lark loves her sister and loves having her around, it has made life difficult for her in many ways. Because almost no-one else can sense Wren’s presence, when Lark says something to her, looks at her or reacts to something Wren has said, most people think she’s nuts. As a result, Lark has been bullied and ostracized most of her life. Even her parents don’t want to have anything to do with her, so she lives with her grandmother – one of the few who can sense Wren – instead.

Lark soon learns that some of her classmates had trespassed at an old, shut-down asylum with a reputation for being haunted. The reputation is well-deserved, and the teens have attracted the attention of a particularly malevolent ghost. They ask her and Wren for their help in getting free of him and the sisters agree to do what they can, which leads us to the main action in the story.

There are a lot of things I really liked about the book. Ms. Cross is smart by not trying to explain how it is that Lark and Wren have the connection that they do – or why Wren ages wham most ghosts don’t. It feels realistic that the girls would just accept the situation – they’ve been that way since birth – and avoids cluttering up the story with needless metaphysics.

It also feels realistic that – given Lark’s history, she’s skeptical when the other kids tell her they want to be her friends, and it adds a bit of poignancy to their attempts. Another nice touch is that Wren has some familiarity with pop culture, but also has some gaps, especially when it comes to various figures of speech. It makes sense because even though she spends a lot of time with Lark, she does reside in the Shadow Realm and isn’t totally immersed in the culture of the living.

It’s interesting to see how Lark changes as she begins to gain aa bit more confidence – helped along, in part, by some light romance – and how that affects Wren

Unlike “Finley Jayne’ this novel is set in contemporary times, and has no steampunk elements to it. It’s an excellent story, and if Ms. Cross ever feels like checking back in on the sisters, I’ll be happy to tag along.

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Book Review: “Destruction” by Sharon Bayliss

February 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

Destruction (The December People, #1)Destruction by Sharon Bayliss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sharon Bayliss’ novel “Destruction” is the first book in her new series “The December People.” The series name refers to the Vandergraff family, who are all dark wizards, and the book features one of the more interesting systems of magic I’ve come across.

In Bayliss’ world, magical people don’t choose the shade of their magic, and it doesn’t reflect the moral quality of the mage – though if dark magic is overused, it can allow the darkness in a person to take over. A wizard’s magical color is determined by what “date” on the solar calender their magic represents. There’s no explanation for how that date is determined – it’s not the same as their birthdate – but how it’s determined doesn’t really matter. Magic that represents days in the summer is “light” magic, winter magic is “dark” with spring and fall representing various shades of “neutral.”

The story opens when David Vandergraff gets a call telling him his children – who he’s been searching for for years – have been found. While he’s thrilled to have finally found them, it’s a bit of a mixed blessing. His wife knows nothing about these kids (nor do the there children he’s had with her) and their ages are such that they were obviously born after their marriage. But he goes to pick up the son and daughter he hadn’t seen in years, knowing he’ll have to face the repercussions eventually. What those repercussions involve, however, is something totally unexpected. Because of their return into his life, he finds out that not only they are dark wizards, but his entire family is. The reason he hadn’t known it was because his wife had removed all of his memories having to do with wizardry.

There are several things I really loved about this book. First and foremost, it’s not a book about one unprepared, reluctant hero facing an impossible battle of good and evil. While David may be the main character, the story is very much about the family as a whole and how they deal with all of the changes they’re facing. How do his wife and their children deal with not only having two more kids move in to the house, but also the betrayal those children represent? How does he handle the news that not only is he a wizard, but that his wife had messed with his memories about it? What happens when one of the children seems to be letting his dark side get the better of him? And while he’s trying to deal with all of this, his business falls into serious financial trouble.

Given all of those issues, Bayliss makes the smart decision to not have the family trying to fight against some huge outside force. There’s a brief episode near the end where they have to deal with an outside threat, but otherwise all of the drama is focused on what the family is going through, which gives the story a strong emotional impact.

By the time I finished “Destruction” I really wanted tho see more of the Vandergraff family and find out what happens when they are faced with an unexpected threat. Fortunately, the sequel to “Destruction,” “Watch Me Burn,” it’s available, and while I didn’t found it to be quite as strong, it’s still an excellent book.

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Book Review: “Watch Me Burn” by Sharon Bayliss

February 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

Watch Me Burn (The December People #2)Watch Me Burn by Sharon Bayliss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After finishing “Destruction,” the first book in Sharon Bayliss’s “The December People” series, I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the follow-up as an Advanced Review Copy (in exchange for an honest review.) I enjoyed the book quite a bit and recommend it, but I have to say it wasn’t quite as good as “Destruction.”

I think much of that was due to the way the first book focused primarily on introducing us to the Vandergraff family and the world they live in. By having the narrower focus of setting the stage for future stories and letting us see how the family interacts with each other and reacts to the changes they face just made for a tighter narrative.

In “Watch Me Burn,” the family have adapted to their new circumstances and are going about living their lives when David hears that a local girl has gone missing. In fact, the news of her disappearance seems to be following him around, as he keeps running into reminders of it. Knowing that when someone casts a spell they can’t always predict how the spell will bring about the desired results, and that sometimes a spell will “decide” that a certain person needs to be part of the process, David comes to believe that the missing girl must also be from a wizard family, and the spell her parents cast has decided it needs his help.

It turns out that his daughter Emily has met the girl previously, and when she discovers the girl’s bracelet in the family car, she decides she needs to help investigate as well. Things quickly get complicated when it seems one of the Vandergraff boys may know more than he’s letting on, another girl disappears, and Emily finds herself falling for a boy who just might be trouble.

There are a few other complications as well, and this is where my only real complaint with the book comes in – there’s just almost TOO much plot for a book of its length. There’s a side story about Amanda Vandergraff trying to help her son Jude get back on the right track, and one about the lengths a wizard will go to in trying to thwart a prophecy. That second side story, had it been fully fleshed out, could have made for a very interesting – and tension-filled – central story in a book of its own. Instead, it almost gets lost mixed in with the other story threads.

Don’t get me wrong, though – “Watch Me Burn” is a very good book and certainly makes me hope for another visit with the Vandergraffs. Bayliss does some very smart and unexpected things in the book that kept me turning the pages even when my brain was telling me it was time for food or sleep. This is a series worth checking out!

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Book Review: “Storm” by Danielle Ellison

September 16, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance | By

Storm (Salt #2)Storm by Danielle Ellison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While reading “Storm” I found myself on few occasions thinking that it might be nice if the author had provided a bit more of the backstory for certain events or references made in the book. Not that the story was significantly lacking in any way, but just that it might enhance the story a bit further. But the references to these events and people were sufficient enough that I had no problem following what was happening and enjoyed the book nonetheless.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that “Storm” is actually the second of a two-part series written by Danielle Ellison. I consider it a testimony to her skill that at no point did I suspect that I was reading a sequel. The story stands up that well on its own, and I had no trouble quickly getting oriented in the world that she presents, knowing (and liking) the characters that she has created and becoming invested enough in what was happening thatI found the book hard to put down.

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Book Review: “Imitation” by Heather Hildenbrand

September 15, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy | By

ImitationImitation by Heather Hildenbrand

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Imitation” was a very fast-reading book for me – I finished it in under 24-hours, so, obviously, the book is.enjoyable and held my attention. That doesn’t mean it’s not without its flaws, however. The basic premise is that wealthy clients can have a clone made of themselves, which is known as an Imitation. The original person is called the Authentic. An Authentic can use their Imitation for virtually any purpose they have in mind – from having them step in and attend an event the Authentic doesn’t want or is unable to attend, to using them as a source for harvesting organs should the Authentic need a transplant, or – as in this case – to step into the Authentic’s life and serve as a decoy when threats are made to the Authentic’s health and safety.

As the story opens, we meet Ven – the Imitation of Raven Rogan, the daughter of one of the world wealthiest man – who also just happens to be the man who created the Imitations. Attempts have been made to attack Raven, so her father sends her into hiding – though it’s never really explained exactly where she is – and Ven has been sent in to take her place. This is one place in which the story sort of falls down.

Ven has been specifically created to be able to stand in for Raven on a moment’s notice. She goes to extensive training, watching videos of Raven interacting with her friends, going shopping, and other such mundane activities. Ven is expected to have watched countless hours of these videos and be able to perfectly imitate Raven. At no point, though, is then given any real training in how Raven thinks, what her general beliefs are, her morals or ethics, or even if she has a boyfriend – much less what level of intimacy they might share. It’s one thing for Ven to know how Raven might say something – her vocal tone, the kind of attitudes she projects, etc., but it’s problematic if she doesn’t know *what* Raven would actually say in that situation. Meanwhile, Ravens father constantly chides Ven for not being enough like Raven, but seems unwilling to offer any insight or practical advice as to how she could do that better.

The romance at the center of the book is sweet, and to a great extent feels believable – except that when they meet, the man has been working as one of Raven’s bodyguards for some time, but he doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the fact that she’s not acting like her normal self – someone he obviously has very little respect for.

What really saves the book, is Ven, herself. She is an interesting, well developed character and feels like someone you might want to have as a friend. The story maintains a nice dramatic pace – there’s enough action to keep things interesting, while still allowing our characters room to breathe. Foreshadowing is nicely done, without beating us over the head with a too-obvious clues, and the dialogue doesn’t come across as stilted or overblown. It also touches on some of the ethical issues related to cloning, what rights – if any – clones have, and if there is any degree to which they are actually human, and not just a man-made creation.

While I can’t say that “Imitation” is one of my favorite books, it’s enjoyable enough that I’m looking forward to being able to check out part two.

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Book Review: “Liesmith” by Alis Franklin

September 2, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Urban Fantasy | By

Liesmith: Book 1 of The WyrdLiesmith: Book 1 of The Wyrd by Alis Franklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this as an Advanced Review Copy.

This is one of the more unique books I’ve read in quite some time. The narration combines first-person and 3rd person omniscient viewpoints, as well as a kind of stream-of-conscienceness that, in a way, lays over the whole thing. And even though that sounds confusing, it really isn’t.

The characters are well written and thankfully don’t spend too much time freaking out when they find themselves in odd situations. While it may sometimes feel like they’re a bit TOO accepting of the strange going-ons, once their ability to readily adapt to new experiences is established it’s welcomingly refreshing to just have the story move forward without all the usual folderol.

One other nice thing – even though this is listed as the first book in a series, the story ends with things open enough for more stories to be told in this universe, but solidly enough to make it a complete story with a satisfying conclusion.

The main weakness I found with the book is that it might be a bit hard for someone who isn’t at least modestly familiar with Norse Lore and Gamer culture to keep up, as there are a number of side references that might not be readily understood otherwise.

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed “Liesmith,” and am hoping it won’t be too long for the next book In the series to arrive.

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