Book Review: “Lykaia” by Sharon van Orman

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

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: “Crimson Bound” by Rosamund Hodge

Crimson BoundCrimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

I was really eager to read “Crimson Bound” after having read Rosamund Hodge’s “Cruel Beauty” and “Guided Ashes.” There were a number of things in those books that made them really stand out: characters you didn’t expect to empathize with but did (and vice versa), challenges brought on by the unanticipated consequences of deals made with an clever spirit, a tightness to the stories that kept the action moving and a certain kind of intimacy afforded by the use of fairly small casts. And while much of that was present in “Crimson Bound,” it didn’t seem to fare as well this time.

One thing I was surprised to find is that this book does not take place in the “Cruel Beauty” universe in spite of the similarity in the titles and the book cover designs. Instead, “Crimson Bound” takes place in an alternate version of middle-ages France. In this world there exists a Great Forest which seems to exist in a slightly different dimension. It was a concept that in someways I found a bit difficult to grasp because the rules by which it worked seemed unclear. Apparently, if you go far enough into the woods, you may find yourself in this magical Forest, and creatures from the Forest can cross into the real world and interact with humans at any time. There are also areas of the Forest that reach into the areas humans inhabit, but only those who have been Bloodbound or Forestborn can actually see it there. The Bloodbound are people who were marked by one of the Forestborn, after which the must kill someone within 3 days or die. If they do kill someone and become Bloodbound, they will have increased strength, speed, stamina and healing, and will find themselves being pulled to give themselves over completely to the Great Forest. One they do that, they become Forestborn themselves, in essence losing their humanity and becoming wild humanesque creatures.

When we meet Rachelle, our heroine, she is training with her aunt to be her village’s next woodwife – a wise-woman who can make medicines and is able to work charms that help protect the people of the village from the dangers of the Great Forest. When we jump ahead a few years, we find Rachelle has become one of the Bloodbound and has entered the King’s service which protects her from being killed by fearful townsfolk. She seems to have an on-again/off-again thing going with Eric, her superior officer, and is assigned to be the bodyguard to the King’s bastard soon, Armand, who was marked by a Forestborn, but neither killed anyone nor died. As a result, he is viewed by many villagers as something of a saint or miracle-worker. Rachelle has also learned that the Devourer – an evil creature most consider to be a myth – will be returning soon to swallow the sun and moon, plunging the world into darkness, unless someone can find one of the only two swords in the world that can kill it. Of coerce, Rachelle is determined to be that someone.

This is a much more complex story than Hodge’s previous books, and sometimes it almost feels like there’s too much going on. The biggest problem I had, though, was with Rachelle. She is deeply burdened by guilt and lets that guilt determine how she thinks others see her, often leading her to see genuine fondness from someone as mockery and dismissing kind words and actions because she feels unworthy. Unfortunately, this causes her to sometimes trust the wrong people – or worse, mistrust those she should rely on. Her tendency to wallow in her self-disgust also keeps her from noticing things about people around her that – once revealed – are things you’d expect her to have at least suspected, if not intuited, much sooner. And even though she’s a strong, determined young woman who can more than hold her own in a fight, she frequently seems unable to make up her mind or stick to a decision once she’s made it. This leads to a number of scenes feeling repetitive. Had Hodge made her less wishy-washy, much of the apparent repetition could have been avoided and the story would have been much tighter.

In spite of the complaints, however, the book’s not all that bad. While reading the book, it was only the repetitive nature of some of the scenes that I found irritating. The rest of the issues really only surfaced when I was reflecting on it after having finished it. And she did add some interesting touches that I really liked – in particular how she wove the Norse legends of Tyr and Zisa and the Fenris wolf with the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tail. The Fenris wolf in Nordic lore is a very big, very bad wolf, indeed, and having him symbolically represented here by the Devourer is a nifty way to tie the two stories together. We learn about Tyr and Zisa as there story is sprinkled between events in Rachelle’s life, and it all dovetails very nicely into a good conclusion.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the book. What it does well it does quite well, and I had no trouble finishing it. In many ways, though, it feels a bit like how someone’s first book might – bursting with ideas that might have worked more smoothly with a bit more restraint. Still, it’s worth reading, and I’m looking forward to what Ms Hodge comes up with next.

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Book Review: “Ignite” by Erica Crouch

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

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

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: “Izrafel’s Acceptance” by Loralie Hall

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: “Uriel’s Fall” by Loralie Hall

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: “Liesmith” by Alis Franklin

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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