Book Review: Too Wyrd by Sarah Buhrman

Too Wyrd (Runespells, #1)Too Wyrd by Sarah Buhrman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I voluntarily read an advanced reader copy of this book.

This book is great. The characters are a lot of fun, and the heroine, Nicola – a single mother and a witch – had just the right mix of strength, stubbornness, street-smarts and courage tampered with compassion and vulnerability. As the story opens, her best friend, Joseph, is telling her that her sister Muriel is missing and that she may have gotten caught up in a cult Nicola’s ex-boyfriend – and the father of her child – is running. She and Joseph quickly head out to determine what’s happening, and when they find out its nothing they’d expected.

I really liked how the story covered a range of emotions. There are action sequences, scenes that are laugh out loud funny, scenes that are heartbreaking and more. It keeps the story moving along nicely and gives the book a feeling of real life when we can experience all those emotions in any given day .

The main characters are well-developed and believable and many of the side characters – even if they’re only in one scene – are colorful and distinct .

The only complaint that I might have about the book is that the final battle scene has so much going on that it was difficult to keep track of what was happening during that scene. Given how good everything else in the book is, though, that’s really just a minor quibble.

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Book Review: Rage by Sierra Cross

Rage (Spelldrift: Coven of Fire #3)Rage by Sierra Cross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I voluntarily read an advanced reader copy of this book.

With Matt’s dramatic actions at the end of “Ignite” the stakes are even higher for the Coven of Fire. While Alix and Asher head to Europe to help Matt, Liv works in Seattle to find a way to save the good Cassie she believes is still hidden within the dark witch she’s become.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this installment in the series and we get a closer look at the various ruling bodies that regulate the Magicborn community. A lot happens during the story – sometimes it came close to being a bit too much – but overall it’s a good, fun read.

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Book Review: Nightmare Realm by MV Stott

Nightmare Realm (London Coven #2)Nightmare Realm by M.V. Stott
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.

This is the second book in Genre Reader’s London Coven series, one of three series set in their Uncanny Kingdom, and like the first in this series “Familiar Magic” it’s a lot of fun, though there’s a bit of heartbreak in this one as well.

This time out, Stella and her friend/sidekick David are facing a monster thought banished from London forever. Children are falling asleep, unable to wake up or be woken and trapped in their nightmares. While the London Coven has defeated it before, they’re now dead and Stella hasn’t been able to find any information on how they did it. Faced with more children are being taken every night – and the situation becoming more personal – she knows time is not on her side. Yet even in this grim story, the overall series’ sense of fun and humor comes through, giving needed breaks to the tension and helping to keep the story moving.

I strongly recommend checking these books out if you like stories with a nice balance of humor and darkness.

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Book Review: Ignite by Sierra Cross

Ignite (Spelldrift: Coven of Fire #2)Ignite by Sierra Cross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The new Coven of Fire has barely gotten its feet wet when various presiding bodies in the magical world decide they want to have some chats and a new nemesis arrives on the scene – not to mention, Alix is concerned there’s something a bit wonky with her magic.

While the stakes were pretty high in the first book, Rise, Cross ratchets up the tension even more, and the Coven finds itself looking at the possibility of having to work with some rather unsavory characters to get everything sorted out.

The story itself is engaging and I enjoyed learning more about the version of our world this series is set in but, for me, the romance aspect tends to fall a bit flat. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of stories where would-be lovers are kept apart by seemingly arbitrary means, such as a rule that people from groups “A” and “B” aren’t allowed to fall in love, without much explanation as to why. Hopefully there will be more of an explanation down the road. Other than that, though, these first two books have been nice, quick, fun reads, and I want to see what happens next.

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Book Review: Familiar Magic by MV Stott

Familiar Magic (London Coven #1)Familiar Magic by M.V. Stott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The London Coven is made up of the three most powerful witches in the city who have been charged with policing the denizens of the Uncanny Kingdom – the hidden magical world in this series’ universe – and to help keep most humans unaware of its existence. They’ve been doing their job for a few hundred years, but as the story opens, Stella Familiar, a humanoid woman the Coven had created to assist them in their work, comes home to find them dead. Stella quickly begins trying to find out what killed her witches and avenge their deaths.

Aside from a short prequel story I haven’t yet read, “Familiar Magic” is the first book in publisher Genre Reader’s London Coven series, one of at least three series they have that are set in their multi-author Uncanny Kingdom universe. It’s full of action, snarky humor, interesting people and lots of magic. It’s a face-paced tale that still manages to work in some strong world-building and good character development.

Stella makes for an intriguing heroine. She was conjured up, fully grown, by her masters, and she never ages, but even though she was created for a specific purpose, she’s not just a puppet or living automaton. She has a full range of emotions, is smart and witty, has strengths and vulnerabilities and is able to determine her own path, be it what she needs to do in the moment or what plan she had for her own future.

She gets teamed up with Detective David Tyler, who until Stella entered his life knew nothing about the magical world existing along-side the human one. And while he may get flustered when confronted with yet some other new thing or experience, he has an almost unrelenting positive attitude and does his best to just roll with it. Together, Stella and David make for a formidable (and entertaining) team.

This was one of those books I had a hard time putting down once I picked it up. It’s a promising start to what I’m hoping will be a really fun series.

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Book Review: Rise by Sierra Cross

Rise (Spelldrift: Coven of Fire, #1)Rise by Sierra Cross

“Rise” by Sierra Cross is the first book in the Spelldrift: Coven of Fire series, set in an alternative version of modern Seattle. Our heroine is Alix, a young woman still trying to heal from the trauma of the death of her mother – and all of her mother’s coven – ten years ago, and not doing too well with it. To make matters worse, as the daughter of a witch – and a powerful one at that – Alix should have been a witch herself, but has led to believe she has no magical ability. As a result, she finds herself tending bar for a less than ideal boss instead of working side-by-side with her mother and their coven fulfilling the duties of a witch. Things begin to change, however, when one night she unexpectedly discovers that she might not be as magicless as she thought.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Alix is a fun heroine and her compatriots make for an interesting and engaging set of personalities. I found the romance aspect of the book to be a bit tiresome because it’s based on the overused trope of capital-F “Forbidden Love” though, thankfully, it’s not one of the more predominant themes in the book, which focuses more on the action and growth of the characters. There are a few major twists that are very well handled. I didn’t see them coming, but when they did, the author had done a good job of laying the groundwork for them so that they didn’t feel like something that just came out of nowhere. I also liked how the story makes use of the history several of the characters share and how that history plays into their growth through the events of the book.

If you’re looking for a good, witchy urban fantasy this one should did quite nicely.

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Book Review: Muddy Waters by Sara O. Thompson

Muddy Waters (Otherwhere #1)Muddy Waters by Sara O. Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for free in exchange for an honest review.

I was really impressed with this book. When I started reading it, initially I was struck by several similarities between this book and the “Black Dog/Gemini/Lorimar Pack” books by Haley Edwards in that – like them – it too deals with a rip between our world and another where creatures of exist, and stars a half-human/half-other law enforcement officer dealing with cases that affect both realms. As I got further in two the story, however, I found similarity was only superficial, and that “Muddy Waters” is quite original in plot and in the structure of the universe in which the story takes place.

I really enjoyed the characters in the story, and Thompson has created an interesting and likable team to center the plot on. I also very much appreciated the balance she maintained between the mystery that forms the meat of the book’s plot and the overarching mystery that – presumably – will be further explored in the next book or books in this series.

The central mystery of this story is full of twists and turns and yet the pieces make sense when the puzzle is put together. As for the overarching mystery that will connect all the books in the series, rather than just offering a few cryptic dribs and drabs here and there, Thompson digs into the meat of this larger plot and brings it to an initial resolution while still ensuring there is enough left to keep you interested in and curious about what’s going to happen next. I just hope it won’t be too long before we get to find out.

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Book Review: “Destruction” by Sharon Bayliss

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

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: Wiccan Shadows by Lori J. Shiele

Wiccan ShadowsWiccan Shadows by Lori J. Schiele

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

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

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