Book Review: Fluffy Bunny by Sarah Buhrman

Fluffy Bunny (Runespells, #2)Fluffy Bunny by Sarah Buhrman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I voluntarily read an advanced reader copy of this book.

Oh so good!

The “Runespells” series knocks its second volume outside the park just like it did its first! When I first read in the description that Nicola was going to have to handle this mission without her friends Mercy and Joseph from the first book, I was worried it might end up being too “flat” of a story because they’d added so much texture to Nicola’s adventures, but I honestly found I didn’t really notice their absence as much as I thought I might, and the new friends she makes are welcome company.

In “Fluffy Bunny” Nicola is called upon to investigate a healing cult that is messing with the natural order of things by saving the lives of people who’s time has come, and the death goddess Hel is *not* pleased. To find out what is going on, Nicola must go undercover as someone hoping to join the cult. Her mission becomes more complicated when she finds the cult atmosphere almost too seductive.

Much of the story takes place more-or-less in Nicola’s head as she finds herself taking refuge in the Astral. I found those to be some of the most interesting parts of the book as I got to know Nicola in ways its often hard to get to know a character and because her adventures there helped me not only see but get a real feel for how the physical and ethereal relate to each other. But don’t think that this is mainly a big noodley mind-trip – there’s plenty of action, suspense and things that hit right in the feels.

This series as a lot going for it. For me, one of the best things is it avoids a number of Urban Fantasy tropes. We learned in the first book “Too Wyrd” that Nicola isn’t some chosen one who was born to solve a problem, nor was she someone who suddenly learned her life is a lie, there’s magic in the world, all the myths about the Old Gods are true and that because she’s reached a certain birthday or a little known relative has died she now has a bunch of powers and has to save the world. She’s known about magic and the Old Gods because they’re part of her faith. She ends up being given her task because of choices she made when she was faced with various challenges – and while she may not have known that making the choices she did would result in her taking on this responsibility, her nature is such that it’s hard to imagine she’d make different choices even if she knew what the result would be. While I do love the more “normal” (for lack of a much better term) UF, reading something that looks at the concept from such a different starting point is just a real nice treat.

I really can’t wait for more in this series!

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Book Review: Wolves and Roses by Christina Bauer

Wolves and Roses (Fairy Tales of the Magicorum #1)Wolves and Roses by Christina Bauer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is a really fun book, even if part of the premise didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. In the world the book is set in, there are people who are destined to live life – or at least part of it – by the basic plot of a fairy tale. It’s never explained how or why this happens, but once I decided to just accept that it does and not worry about it making sense I was able to thoroughly enjoy the book.

There a lot of humor in the story but plenty of mystery, too. The romances were sweet (and yes, there’s more than one!) and the guys are great. There are a lot of twists and turns to the plot, but they’re nicely set up and the reveals flow naturally into the narrative.

This is the first book in Christina Bauer’s “Fairy Tales of the Magicorum” series. It’s certainly an intriguing start and I’m interested to see where it goes next.

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Book Review: Trials of Magic by Thomas Carpenter

Trials of Magic (The Hundred Halls, #1)Trials of Magic by Thomas K. Carpenter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: An orphan who’s parents died in a magical calamity goes to a magic school, quickly makes enemies with an arrogant blonde and discovers a number of secrets have between withheld for many years. Actually, don’t stop me, keep reading – because as familiar as that may sound, it’s where any similarity between this story of new students attending a magic school and the rather well known other such story ends.

In “Trials of Magic” we meet two orphaned sisters who are trying to get into the Hundred Halls, the only magic university in the world. Finally living on their own after years bouncing through foster homes, they’re short on money – and one sister is short a sponsor for the Hall she wants enter – and have to pass the entrance exams to get in. But these girls are determined to get in, even if it might mean taking dangerous risks to do so.

This is a really great book and a good start for a series. The characters are complex and while the girls do tend to run headlong into dangerous situations, they are capable of learning from their mistakes and show a lot of growth through the course of the story. The writing is clear and the author does a good job of making it easy to keep track of who’s who so that I didn’t have to keep looking back at what I’d already read to figure it out (something I run into far too often!) It’s definitely a series I plan to continue reading.

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Book Review: Cursed Sight by TG Ayer

Cursed Sight (Dark Sight Book 2)Cursed Sight by T.G. Ayer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

In this second volume of TG Ayer’s “Dark Sight” series, Pythia Allegra Damascus and her guardian Commander Max Vissarion are headed to Peru where Allegra’s visions have shown her an event of massive destruction is soon to occur. Upon arriving, however, she discovers that not everyone is thrilled with her desire to help, perhaps not even the representatives of her home country’s government who are supposed to assistant her – and she has no idea why.

“Cursed Sight” introduces us to several new characters, including the staff who had cared for Aurelia, Allegra’s predecessor as Pythia. I found Mara, Aurelia’s handmaid, to be a delight. She’s a mischievous and cantankerous older woman who’s as sharp as a tack and hides beneath her gruff exterior a deep devotion for the women she serves. I hope we see more of her in future installments.

We also learned more about Allegra’s enemies and a few breadcrumbs were dropped that point to a possible future betrayal that had the potential to be devastating. I can’t wait to see how that develops!

While there were a number of mysteries that kept me guessing up until they were revealed, there were a couple of cases where the foreshadowing was a bit heavy-handed making their eventual revelations a bit too obvious for me. That said, the book as a whole was very enjoyable and has me looking forward to what happens next.

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Book Review: Skin Deep by TG Ayer

Skin Deep (Dark World, #1)Skin Deep by T.G. Ayer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Another in a string of strong stories by TG Ayer.

I have to admit, Skin Deep got off to a bit of a slower start than most of her other books that I’ve read, but once the story really got underway – which didn’t take too long – it was a very enjoyable ride.

Skin Deep is part of Ayer’s Dark World universe, an alternate take on our world in which a number of various paranormal creatures live mostly hidden alongside humans. These include Skinwalkers (aka “shifters,”) mages, Immortals, Death-talkers, Wraiths and more. It is the first book in her Skinwalker series, one of two (so far) set in this universe. The other is the Soultracker series, which I am also reading. I’m really hooked on her stuff!

At its core, Skin Deep is a police procedural / mystery – but it’s a well-written one. The case involves the discovery of a gruesome murder by our heroine, the Panther shifter Kai (short for Kailin) Odel. While she usually divides her time between hunting Wraiths and counseling troubled teens who come to the clinic where she works, she gets pulled into the investigation when she realizes the victim is also a shifter and then finds that other shifters have disappeared as well.

Kai is a great lead character. She’s as tough as one would expect given her dual occupations, but she has enough vulnerability to make her believable and endearing. Her romance with Logan Westin, an investigator assigned to the case, is sweet, if a bit too quick to start (something I’ve noticed in a few of Ayer’s books, though when she decides to play with the romantic formula – as she did in her Valkyrie series – it’s very effective and a great change of pace!) Logan is well-developed, and it’s fun to watch Kai trying to figure out the effect he has on her before she discovers what he is.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. There’s a nice collection of side characters – some of whom also appear in the Soultracker series, neatly tying the stories into the same world – and I look forward to following Kai and Logan’s story in the rest of the series.

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Book Review: Dragon Redeemer by Amy Bearce

Dragon Redeemer (World of Aluvia, #3)Dragon Redeemer by Amy Bearce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The third – and, I believe, final – book in the “World of Aluvia” series wraps up the stories of our six heroes – Sierra, Micah, Phoebe, Tristan, Nell and Corbin – quite nicely. While all six are involved, though, this is truly Nell’s story.

In Fairy Keeper and Mer-Charmer (the first two books in the series) we are initially introduced to Nell as an enforcer for the ruthless gang of drug-dealing alchemists who was doing what she had to for her family’s safety, and saw her grow into a new role as the host of a mysterious voice which spoke through her to the people of Aluvia about the need to rebalance magic in the world and maintain that balance so the world won’t be destroyed.

By the time of “Dragon Redeemer,” Nell has gotten somewhat used to the voice taking over whenever it decided a message need to be relayed, but she wasn’t entirely at peace with it, nor with having given up her identity as a warrior to learn how to be a healer instead. While her boyfriend Corbin is thrilled with her transition into a peaceful way of life, Nell feels like she’s setting aside an integral part of who she is.

This conflict – both within herself and between her and Corbin – comes into sharp focus when the group learns that a magic-user calling himself The Dragon plans to take over the world and declare all magical creatures – such as fairies, mer-folk, fauns and dragons – as subservient to humans, who can use them and their magical abilities however they want. To stop him, Nell will have to learn more about the voice that has chosen her as its vessel and find a way to reconcile her healing and warrior sides.

Much of this book, like Fairy Keeper, is taken up by a trek through unknown lands searching for something Nell needs to help her defeat The Dragon. Quest stories aren’t always my favorite, but this one was better than many I’ve read, with a minimum of the side distractions that usually only serve to slow the heroes – and the story – down. And the last part of the book, after they’ve reached their objective is really good. Author Amy Bearce’s descriptions of what is happening and how Nell is reacting are vivid and, in some ways, I almost felt like I could see it unfolding on a screen in front of me.

Nell is probably my favorite of the six main characters in this series. She’s the most complex, and I find her quite relatable – and very likable, too. This isn’t to say that the other characters aren’t relatable or likable – they are – but there’s just something about Nell that makes her stand out even more, at least to me.

I’ve noticed with a few series in the last couple of years that sometimes the author keeps escalating things until they become so big and out-of-control that by the last book (or books, in longer series) the situation has gotten so preposterous that I don’t even want to finish it. That is most certainly *not* the case here. Bearce has done a great job over the three books of raising the stakes enough to keep things interesting and make the adventures important, without turning it into a metaphysical Gordian Knot that makes you want to turn your brain inside out to see if that helps it make more sense, and for that, I heartily thank her.

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Book Review: Mer-Charmer by Amy Bearce

Mer-Charmer (World of Aluvia, #2)Mer-Charmer by Amy Bearce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The second installment in the World of Aluvia takes place 4 years after “Fairy Keeper” and focuses on Phoebe Quinn, the younger sister of “Fairy Keeper’s” main character, Sierra Quinn. As the story opens, Phoebe has largely recovered from the ordeal she underwent in the previous book, but not entirely, and has found a great deal of comfort hanging out under the sea with her Mer friends, Tristan and his twin sister Mina. While Sierra is off traveling, she has asked Phoebe to stay close to home and not go to the sea, but being 14 and lonely, Phoebe goes anyway. Her defiance nearly gets her into serious trouble, however, and her only escape is to go with her friends to their village under the sea – a town filled with Merfolk who aren’t too fond of humans and, unbeknownst to them, about to face an ancient threat that has recently re-emerged.

Unlike “Fairy Keeper,” “Mer-Charmer” doesn’t involve a small group undertaking a quest to far-away lands in search of something, which gives the book a faster pace and the action seems more relevant to the actual goal than the various hazards a questing group can run into, and it made for nice contrast with the first story. Bearce has created a well-developed culture for the Merfolk as well as a history that explains why they tend to be wary of humans – even a human like Phoebe who clearly only wants to help.

I really enjoyed this book and read it pretty much in a single sitting. Bearce provides clear descriptions of the underwater world she’s created and I felt like I could see the Merfolk, their village and the events taking place there. Phoebe, Tristan, and Mina are very likable characters, and the friendship they share is portrayed strongly enough to justify the risks they’re willing to take for each other.

All-in-all, “Mer-Charmer” is definitely a worthwhile read.

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Book Review: Dead Radience by TG Ayer

Dead Radiance (Valkyrie, #1)Dead Radiance by T.G. Ayer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a great love for books that use Norse lore as a basis, so checking out this series was pretty much inevitable for me – and I’m glad I did. It’s one of the better ones I’ve come across. Author TG Ayer mines the rich treasure that Nordic myths provide and keeps the main core of the various characters reasonably close to the source material while giving them a unique spin to make them her own. She gives Asgard and its denizens the sense of ancient grandeur and magical wonder they deserve interwoven with the culture and technology of today, giving the series depth and relatability.

Ayer also does a nice job of keeping the story fresh by subverting some of the tropes that are all too common in the Urban Fanfasy genre. There were a number of times throughout the 5-book series where I thought I knew exactly where something was heading only to be surprised when it played out in an entirely different way. That’s something I appreciated so much, I’m now checking out some of her other series in the hopes that they, too, will provide such freshness (and in the case of Dark Sight – the only one I’ve finished so far – that’s been the case.)

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Book Review: Fairy Keeper by Amy Bearce

Fairy Keeper (World of Aluvia, #1)Fairy Keeper by Amy Bearce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

Fairy Keeper is a good story. It tells the tale of a young teenager, Sierra Quinn, who has a special connection with the fairies of her world. Her cruel father has her collect the nectar the fairies make to use in poisons and highly addictive potions. When Sierra discovers a problem with her fairies, it threatens her father’s business and puts her beloved little sister in danger. Sierra, accompanied by one of her father’s enforcers, undertakes a quest to find a solution. As is usual in stories such as this, other companions join in the journey, creating an interesting mix of personalities that play nicely off of each other.

One problem I ran into is that there are times where Sierra will sort of get “stuck” thinking about a certain topic and even if her thoughts on the matter were gradually evolving, the author would reiterate them frequently enough that they’d become overly repetitious. While the point may be to show that she’s preoccupied with the topic, the point could have been made with fewer repetitions.

Aside from that, though, the book is enjoyable. The characters develop nicely and in ways that feel realistic. There are some nice twists and turns to the plot and the book gives you a complete story. There’s certainly plenty of room for further adventures with Sierra and her friends in the world of Aluvia (and there are two more books in the series, “Mer Charmer” and the forthcoming “Dragon Redeemer,” but you’re not left hanging at the end, something else I appreciated.

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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: 2 of 5 stars

Below is my original review for the first, non-extended, version of the book. I recieved a free copy of the extended version in exchange for an honest review. Sadly, the extended version did not improve the book at all in my opinion – in fact, it took what had been a 4-star novel and turned it into a 2-star mess. The problems included ooccasionally inconsistent characteizations, some new material that felt a bit more like filler than a vital part of the story, and a few times where the plot snuck across the line of suspension of disbelief, but I could forgive a lot of that. What ruined it for me were the incredible inconsistencies in the timeline.

Starting with the event that changes our heroine’s life irrevocably, the time frames in which things happen are shockingly muddled. Things are presented in chronological order, but the characters switch back and forth between referring to the event as having occurred the previous night and as them having been a week ago. And while just the sheer amount of things that happen between the event that caused her to flee Montana for New York and her return to her home would probably need a week, it’s the 24-hour time frame that’s mentioned the most often.

The writing itself was good, and the story has many interesting twists and turns. Unfortunately, the confusing time references had me going back to check things over and over again, trying to sort out the whole mess, that I really wasn’t able to enjoy the strengths the book has.

4 stars

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 begins, 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 Nephilim 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 Nephilim 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 Nephilim 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 Nephilim 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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