Book Review: “The Rings of Power” by Lor Hasse

September 19, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

The Rings of Power (Solomon's Circle Book 2)The Rings of Power by Lor Haase
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

“The Rings of Power” is the follow-up to Lor Hasse’s novel, “Circleborn.” In that first book, we met a group of young adults who are part of a circle of magic wielders, whose powers are passed down from one generation to the next, and each of whom wields a different kind of magic – for example, there’s blood magic, earth, ancestral, and so forth. For the circle to function properly, each type of magic must be represented, and to maintain that balance needed for the magic to work properly, there are bonds of varying strength between different kinds of magic.

The first book introduced us to the characters, the magical system, and the basic conflict, which involves a member from an older generations circle who wants to obtain more power for himself by eliminating the next circle generation. While trying to protect themselves from the rogue mage, the group also finds itself facing stresses from within due to the complex nature of the bonds, leading some members to consider taking actions that might prove to be detrimental to the group and its goal. The play between the internal and external struggles is nicely balanced and gives each character different issues to contend with and different opportunities for growth.

One of my biggest complaints about the earlier book was that Hasse the tended to keep a lot of balls in the air at one time, dropping hints and foreshadowing, but tending to drag out the explanation that allowed the story to progress forward. Fortunately, in this second installment, he rarely does this at all, providing us instead with good, solid suspenseful scenes that lead up to a reveal, taking enough time to let our curiosity peak, but doesn’t draw it out too long, giving this book a much faster pace. Also, a problem with typographic errors I had noticed in the first book has apparently been cleared up as I didn’t notice as many this time around.

While I did enjoy the book a great deal, and do recommend it, there are a few places where it feels like I might have missed some details – either from the first book or from earlier in this one. There are times various concepts are discussed or references are made to structural issues within the circle where I feel like I’m perhaps missing some of the information needed to put it into a fuller context, but I found that for the most part when I kept reading the context would usually become clear enough that I was able to follow along without any problem and enjoy the story unfolding.

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Book Review: “Bitter of Tongue” by Cassandra Clare

September 19, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Epic Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

Bitter of Tongue (Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy)Bitter of Tongue by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of my favorite entries in the “Tales From Shadowhunter Academy” series. This book helps set up the next book in the Shadowhunter series by giving us a closer look at the Blackwood family. In the “Mortal Instruments” series, young Mark Blackwood is kidnapped by the Fairies and forced to join the Wild Hunt. Because the political situation with the Fairies is so tenuous, however, the Clave decides not to try to rescue him.

In this story, Simon has an encounter with Mark, one which is both deeply moving and deeply troubling, and helps show what it is about Simon that sets him apart from so many of the other Shadowhunters. His response to the situation is surprisingly mature and shows us more of the strength that gave Simon the ability to survive his transformation into a vampire (and back) and the loss of so many of his memories.

Most of the books in the series have really been quite good, but I think of the ones released so far this one is easily my favorite. It presents a very difficult situation that has no easy answers and serves as an excellent reminder as to why Simon has been such a fan favorite in the series.

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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: “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: “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: “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: “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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