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Review: Beneath The Blood Moon by R.J. Blain

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“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” -Buddha

The chaining of Fenrir cost the god Tyr his right hand” – Völuspá,  translated to English in The Poetic Edda,  Henry Adams Bellows, 1923

 Free On Kindle!

Sara Watson thought her life was bad enough as it was. Working as a stripper and part time Vegas showgirl, she tries to hold down four part time jobs, go to college, and still pay the rent and eat. They say Vegas is a hard place to live, and she knows all about that. But even the hell of her life is better than the hell she ran from in New York. A father that beat and controlled her, a life with no meaning. At least now, if she can get through school, she can start a real life on her own – fake ID or no fake ID.

Yes, life was hard. But nothing as hard as being kidnapped along with her best “friend” (though the idea of friend is Las Vegas equates to ‘what can I get out of you for doing you the favor of being your friend) and dragged out to the desert by her ex ‘I’m-a-cheating-POS’ boyfriend who has tracked her down to Las Vegas to bring her back. Or kill her. Whichever works.

Telling him to get stuffed, taking her beating and broken ribs, then crawling out into the desert to die on her own and free is gutsy enough. I gained a ton of respect for her at this point, though I already respected her for keeping her moral compass (unlike her crappy friend) and going against said ‘friend’ and not going full-on prostitute made me respect her. Yep. She is one tough cookie, with more internal fortitude than any man her age I have ever known. But after the ex and the girlfriend finish doing the nasty and track her down as she crawls across the desert, then turn into wolves and begin eating her alive (literally), even weirder things happen. And suddenly, Sara’s life is more hell than she could have ever imagined.

Let’s get serious here. First, I really, REALLY wanted to give this book five stars with a bullet. Sara is tough and strong, yes. But she isn’t unbelievable, and she has a heart of gold and a strong sense of right and wrong – and did I mention the heart of gold? Then she meets four other women who are an absolute joy. Tough, take no prisoners women with a fetish for guns, not taking any crap off of anyone, and their husbands (pretty much in that order). There is romance, but no sex scenes, which was completely refreshing (if you are an erotica-only lover, skip this one). The story is fast, suspenseful, sometimes terrifying, and kept me totally immersed in the story. The characters are wonderful, the world building is unusual (living in the world as we know it, but with their own governance, etc.) Some of the scenes literally brought me to tears. That’s the good.

The bad came after I had a chance to come down off my ‘reader-high’ and start thinking about what I would write in my review, and realized I couldn’t give it a five at all. The story is complex, and kept my attention throughout, but there were some issues that a really good content editor could have solved. Ms. Blain has a brilliant mind for writing paranormal suspense, but she isn’t organized. She has a few different threads moving through the book, which is fine, I really enjoy books that are more than one-note songs, but she literally dropped the ball about midway through, dropping one of the more interesting story lines and never going back to it. No wrap, just dropped. Poor form. The book is quite long, 564 pages, and I was never bored or wanting to skip pages as I do with some longer books, and her descriptive narrative and conversational style was enjoyable, but dropping the story line, which I was invested in, shows a lack of organization. Editing for word usage, spelling, and dropped words was OK, but not good. Someone put effort into beta reading for that sort of thing, but the continuity is what killed it.

Overall, I will still recommend the book. The story and pace kept me up all night long (literally, yawn) and then the minute I rose I went right back to it and stayed with it to the end. Give this woman a good content editor, or just a whiteboard to write down all of her threads to make sure she ties them all up at the end and a couple of really good beta readers and she will be a force to be reckoned with in the world of Paranormal Suspense. Recommended, but could be better.

 

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If Cupcakes trinkets and other deadly magic by meghan ciana doidge

Cupcakes, Trinkets, and Other Deadly Magic

By Meghan Ciana Doidge

Jade has never wanted more from her quiet life than cupcakes, dancing, and occasional witchcraft. But everything is about to change — the undead werewolves are on their way, and she’ll either have to step it up or be swallowed alive.

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Review: Demons Not Included: A Night Tracker Novel

demonsWhoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

 Over the centuries, mankind has tried many ways of combating the forces of evil… prayer, fasting, good works and so on. Up until Doom, no one seemed to have thought about the double-barrel shotgun. Eat leaden death, demon. – Terry Pratchett

Monsters are real. You just can’t see them. And if you do? Well, a Soothsayer will make sure you forget all about it. So, it’s all good, right? Olivia’s T-Shirt says it all: People like you are the reason People like me need medication. And there is heavy need for medication going around. Because the Ruhin Demon Gate has been breached, the Gatekeeper murdered, and demons are at, and past, the gate.

Nyx is a Tracker, protector of the people of Earth from the things that go bump in the night. Of course, Nyx is one of those things that go bump in the night – a Drow Princess, half Dark Elf, half human, crazily strong, crazily brave, and more fragile than most would understand. She lives between worlds, not only as a Tracker but also in her very makeup. By day, she works as a PI beside her friend Olivia, a human. But by night, Nyx is Drow, or as close as she can get. Her half-blood heritage means she her skin is amethyst rather than blue, her hair cobalt rather than sapphire, but she is still Drow in her heart, and her Drow powers of manipulation of the elements, strength and speed mean that she is very, very good at her job. But the sudden presence of demons in Manhattan changes everything. As Trackers die, and their human liaisons disappear, Nyx’s strength will be tested beyond anything she ever imagined – and the whole world will be at risk.

This first in the series had the potential to be “just another UF.” There is the expected cast of characters – vampires, werewolves and elves (Oh, my) as well as characters that aren’t often seen, such as shadow stalkers and metamorphs. But Cheyenne McCray has done a wonderful job of taking this book to a new level, writing a much more character-driven novel than one normally sees. There are twists and turns, some seriously messed-up stuff, and the truth of never knowing if those who you believe to be your friends truly are.

This is a great start to the series, and I look forward to reading more.

I was given this book as a gift from a friend. All thoughts are my own.

Review: The Society of Imaginary Friends by Kristen Pham

societyI had an imaginary tormentor. He was made up by my parents whenever we would go on holiday to Porta Pollensa. He was `The Vampire Man’. He lived in a house with round windows, and my parents told me that, if I didn’t behave, he’d feast on my blood. When I go there now, I still cross to the other side of the road to avoid that house. I’m a 27 year-old man. – By Toby Manhire In The Internaut

My niece was around 6 years old but could talk really well. She grew quite fond of this imaginary character named Donney or Donee. She said he would only show up whenever Mommy and Daddy went to sleep. He said she would play with her and s***. Well, one night she was in the living room resting on the couch when I walked in the door. She shot right up looked at me with the most dead but evil filled stare ever and, I quote, said, “Donney, no! Don’t hurt him! No!” then went back to a comatose that would be followed by screams of horror. This is where it gets real interesting. One day I was sitting watching the television when she looked at me and said, “Sometimes, when I’m playing with Donney, we take of our clothes an jump on the bed.” I decided to ask her what Donney looks like (no, I didn’t have a clue what I was ******* doing) and this is exactly what she said, ” He’s tall, with black and red skin. He has worms crawling out of his eyes. He also has black teeth and black hair. He wears black clothes.” – An Ask Reddit reader

What is a girl to do, when her imaginary friend is plotting to kill her? When we first meet Valerie this is a very serious consideration for her – because Sanguina, the imaginary “friend” that has tracked her all her life isn’t a friend at all. And she is setting up Valerie’s foster brother, Daniel, to die. Sanguina, Valerie’s very own personal tormentor, who doctors considered proof that Valerie was truly, certifiably schizophrenic. And to make things worse, every time Sanguina shows up, Valerie has a seizure – and now, one more of these seizures and Valerie will die.

But things are about to get much worse – because Sanguina has a partner – and he is very, very real.

Pham has made me eat my words. Yep. I have said repeatedly that I am not a Young Adult' book reader. I have found that there is a lot moreteenager’ in `teenage’ books than I can handle. Well, imagine that! LOL

Really, when you think about it, excitability and end-of-the-world histrionics is what being a teenager is all about, and the proliferation of `Young Adult’ books on the market today is, in my mind, a wonderful thing. It not only encourages teens to read, but gives them an outlet, an ability for even the shyest to realize that they are not all alone, that what is happening to their minds and bodies is natural.

So, as I was saying, Pham has changed my mind about not enjoying YA with her book, The Society of Imaginary Friends. Yes, there is a YA feel overall, with it’s compliment of temper tantrums and attitude. But this is a lot more, a testament to the strength of a young girl and her friends as they begin a fight which ultimately will become a war – a war of magic and terror, of hatred and pain which will change the fate of not one world, but two – and possibly that of the universe itself.

There is much to like about Pham’s first in The Conjurors series. The characters, Valerie, Thai, Henry and Cyrus are all well written, well-developed characters. They are brave, but not too brave. Smart, but not too smart – they feel real. Through heartache and joy, they work together to do what needs to be done in order to not only survive, but to thrive. Society is a book filled with magic and wonder – and a lot of terror and madness as well.

I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All thoughts are my own. Highly recommended.

Review: Thin Places by Diane Owens Prettyman

Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the think places the distance is even smaller. – Celtic Saying

In prison, if you know how to get there, you can travel to those thin places. – Calvery, Death Row Inmate, Thin Places

thinplacesChloe Thomas lives a quiet life, fishing off the coast of Washington and Oregon, only unusual in that she is the only woman charter fishing captain in the area. A cash strapped charter fishing captain, at that. But she has a poorly kept secret in her small town of Clam Harbor. For the Clam Harbor Gazette says it all on the front page: Clam Harbor Resident Slated for Execution.

Of course, Chloe didn’t always know that her father was a convicted murderer, Her mother didn’t want her growing up knowing that her father was sitting on death row, so she picked the name “Gallagher” out of a book of Irish names, gave it to Chloe, and until her grandmother was on her deathbed three years ago, Chloe had never known that her father was dead.

Finn Tully is a loser, an addict and a liar, doing time in the Polunsky Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Working in the prison as a porter, Finn mops the floors of the halls of Death Row, and comes to know the man he calls “Calvery,” a death row inmate. Muling sugar for Calvery, for the production of “toilet bowl wine” Finn and Calvery become close.

This ended up a little risky for me, but in his situation, I figured he deserved a little hooch to wash down his bread and beans.

As Finn and Calvery become close, Calvery makes a final request of Calvery. Find his daughter, Chloe: You promised you’d talk to Chloe, Finn,” he said. “Tell her I’m innocent.” When Finn’s wife files divorce papers just before Finn’s release, one of many releases over his loser life, taking his daughter Lacy away from him, Finn decides to keep his promise and find Chloe. And possibly a treasure? But what kind of treasure?

The plot of Thin Places twist and turn, as redemption and betrayal, love and loss all pay a part, as do ghosts – both of those lost and memories of the past.

Overall, it took me a while to get into the book. Maybe because I really didn’t care for Finn at first. I mean, really didn’t care for Finn. And other than Chloe, I couldn’t engage with the other characters, so I sat it down for too long. But once I went back to it and started reading again (yes, because I promised I would) the story gradually began to flow, and ending up being a tale of loss and tragedy, mystery, romance and mystical insight.

Read past the first few chapters, and I think the book will hold your attention as well.

This book was provided to me in return for a realistic review. The review is late, but I enjoyed it after all. I would rate it more 3.5 stars overall.

Review: Dirty Blood by Heather Hildenbrand

dirtyIt is funny to consider an urban fantasy to be “charming” but that is just what Dirty Blood is – blood, guts, gore, murder and all. Without looking up how it is placed on the genre ladder, I would say that this qualifies as young adult, or new adult, but I found it extremely readable as an adult urban fantasy novel as well. Tara is 17-years-old, but she seems more mature, while still throwing the occasional temper tantrum. Of course, if I were her, I would have thrown a fit and fallen down in it at the way she is treated by those around her.

You see, Tara thinks that she is just a normal girl, with a normal boyfriend she has been friends with most of her life. Well, until he turned into the football obsessed moron who ditches their dates for recruiters, agents and interviews. But nevertheless, normal school, normal activities, normal life. That is, until a girl turns into a wolf right in front of her and proceeds to try her best to rip Tara’s throat out. From that point on, you can toss ‘normal’ straight out the window and go for spectacularly weird all the way around. For Tara is a Hunter, from a long line of Hunters. Genetic killers, born to kill werewolves.

As Tara’s life becomes more and more surreal, she begins to realize that her whole life has been a lie, and that she has been left open to the perils of her blooming talents and the scent of Hunter that the wolves can sense, with no training to help her survive. While her mother may have been ‘protecting’ her, she has also left her open to attack with no defense.

This is a very fast paced read. Tara is thrown into the metaphorical deep end of the pool, left to struggle to learn to fight and kill with the help of member of “The Cause” a group of Hunters and Werewolves who are trying to stop the fighting between the breeds – to create peace from the ashes of war. It is a lot for a 17-year-old to take in – especially when her mother is determined to bury her head in the sand and pretend that Tara can simply spend her life on the run, hiding from those who would kill her. Or would use her for their own ends. For Tara is something more than a Hunter, and what she is puts her at odds with both sides.

There is a love interest in the story, and it is incredibly well done. Her new boyfriend, Wes, is very special himself, a “Dirty Blood,” a hybrid of Wolf and Hunter, an abomination to those who would keep the war going to appease their own hatreds and superstitions. With a small group of friends around them, Wes and Tara have a hard job ahead of them, Tara’s harder than anyone’s as she tries to overcome the ‘protection’ of those around her which actually does more harm than good.

Overall, I would recommend this for any UF fan, male or female. I don’t normally care for YA and all the attendant ‘sturm und drang’ but this is not your typical YA. Tara is a great hero – she is strong and brave while still showing her lack of training and the shock and fear that such a tremendous change to her life, along with her fear for the safety of those she loves engenders. Of course, my favorite part of the book is during “the” big battle scene (there are several in the book) when her grandmother walks into a building full of warring Wolves and Hunters and commences to staking Wolves as if she is picking daisies. Awesome.

I received this book from the publisher in return for a realistic review. All thoughts are my own. The next book in the series is Cold Blood. Tara has been shipped off to Hunter Boarding School, where she will be safe and cozy and well-trained. Well, the well-trained thing might happen. The rest of it? Well, that is highly doubtful….

Edited Review: Spook Squad

I spent my birthday with a new series (for me) that I was really enjoying. The Spook Squad by Keri Arthur. The premise and story are fascinating, involving a close-to-us parallel world where nonhumans live alongside normal in an uneasy balance. They are policed by the SIU, a shadowy group set up to police nonhumans.

The main character in the book is Sam Ryan, a State Police Officer. As far as Sam is concerned, she is fully human – but is she truly? With no memory of the first 14-years of her life, Sam is an exemplary officer, but she is also a haunted woman, searching for her life before she awakened in a foster home at 14.

zero In Memory Zero we first meet Sam as she is set to meet with her partner, Jack, in a dark and stinking back alley of Melbourne. Jack – who has been missing for over two weeks, supposedly the victim of an unknown cop killer. Called to the alley by the missing Jack, having promised to tell no one, Sam finds much more than she expects as the Jack she meets is no longer human, but instead is a vampire. And something else – something much, much worse. Killing the man who is her partner, and yet not, Sam is pulled into a whirlwind of terror which begins to pull her history from her own mind, opening doors that should have stayed closed.

18Generation 18 is the second in the series, and continues Sam’s story. Now a member of the SIU, she is partnered with Assistant Director of the SIU, Gabriel, the two are neck deep in the investigation of a serial killer who is targeting a seemingly unrelated group of victims, whose only link is that they are all adopted, and all have red-gold hair. We learn a lot more about Samantha in this volume, and I really came to admire and like her, though not Gabriel, a cold and isolated man, determined to shake Sam off as his partner. He is determined to never have a partner again after the death of his former two partners, one of whom was his mate, Andrea. That loss, when he was 18, has set in his mind that he will never allow anyone close to him again, not even his twin brother. Struggling to catch the killer, the invisible Sethanon, Sam has to fight not only her growing memories, and her jackass of a partner, but also a growing threat against herself and who she may, or may not, be.

pen Penumbra is the third book in the trilogy, and builds up the series to a massive head, as Sam finally realizes who, and what she is. And who Gabriel is supposed to be to her – though he desperately fights it. Tracking a mix of clones, shapeshifters and shapechangers, the murders come fast and furious as the military comes closer and closer to achieving their goals of an unstoppable army, and Sam comes to realize that her dreams of her twin are not only real – but that they are much more dangerous than she ever could have imagined.

I was really liking this series. I mean, really liking it – enough that I sat other things aside and continued reading through all three books without stopping, other than to do what I absolutely had to.

EDIT TO REVIEW:

It appears that the whole “won’t be publishing any longer” wasn’t actually Keri’s fault. Here is a note from here. I really loved the books, Keri, and will be updating all my reviews. I also just finished Full Moon Rising and will be writing a review on that one too. Loved it.

Sorry I’ve upset you by not finishing the series…but the reason is not as simple as I didn’t feel like finishing it. I had planned a 4th book, but the Riley Jenson series came along and given it was my first major book contract (along the publisher’s decision to release the first 4 books in one year), I had to give priority to that series rather than the Spook Squad novel. And I’m afraid that several years away from the Spook Squad world meant I was no longer immersed in it. I’d rather leave a series unfinished than make a total and utter mess of it.

However, with Bantam re-releasing the series in paperback in the US, I did write a brief (5 page) epilogue that gave some closure on the relationship aspects. The rest of the plot (and the war) does remain unfinished.

Again, sorry to upset and disappoint you. I wish I could finish the series, too, believe me, but there’s just too many other books I have to write.

So, now we know why Spook Squad was never finished – the demands of Publishers! I am updating and reposting my reviews everywhere to take her note into account.

So, my apologies to Keri for losing my temper and being a snot!

Review: Hard Spell: Occult Crimes Unit Investigations, Book 1

hardspell“My name’s Markowski, a Detective Sergeant on the Scranton PD’s Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.”  – Markowski, Hard Spell

Death is when the monsters get you. – Stephen King

Scranton, Pennsylvania fifty years after WWII is a different place than one might expect.  When millions of Americans poured into Europe to fight in the war, they picked up a little something extra to bring back home besides war wives and interesting STD’s. Quaint little things like cases of werewolves and vampires and zombies (oh, my!) Needless to say, it changed the way life is lived in the good ol’ US of A. Instead of McCarthy going after ‘Commies’ he gets to do real, honest-to-goodness witch hunts – for real witches. . .

There is a lot to like about Hard Spell. There is humor and a great deal of creativity that I got a kick out of. Gustainis writes an engaging tale with a strong noir flavour which reminds me quite a bit of the feeling I get from the Nightside stories by Simon R. Green – one of my favorite series of all time. There is a feeling of reality in the very unreal situations of the book, which was pleasing. However, the role of women characters in the book was, well, I hesitate to say “demeaning” but it comes very close to the razor edge of treating women as lesser beings – something that I found less than enjoyable. Even the female SWAT team member was portrayed in a less than admirable manner – something that irritated me to no end. I wanted to shake the author and remind him that “noir” doesn’t equate with “testosterone poisoning.”

I listened to the book – the Audible edition. As much as I enjoyed Gustainis’ work, I cannot say the same for the narrator. He was, in a word, completely irritating. What narrator worth his salt cannot be bothered to check pronunciations?!?! The guy STINKS at pronunciation! Come on – you don’t know how to pronounce “were” as in “werewolf??” Weer (like a Bostonian we’re)  is not even close to correct, Peter. It is rather insulting to the author that you can’t be bothered to take a moment to learn pronunciations.  Especially for such common terms.

Overall, I knocked a full star off for poor narration. Another half star for some problems with trite characterizations (especially the handling of Markowski’s first partner) and with his tendency to treat his characters with something less than respect. Overall, however, this was a completely bad introduction to the series. I hope to find a more well rounded volume with the next in the series, Evil Dark: Occult Crimes Unit Investigations, Book 2 – though I won’t be buying the Audible edition. Five more minutes of Peter Brooke and I may have been forced to throw my reader across the room. . .

 

Review: Magic Gifts A Kate Daniels Novella

magicgiftsKate Daniels has always been on my very short list of the best Urban Fantasy heroines today. Strong, caring, heroic. She is all the things that a strong heroine should be, and I love her for it.

In the Kate Daniels Novella, Magic Gifts, we see Kate at her best as she, Curran and Doolittle struggle to save the life of a child. A child who has been cruelly endangered by his sociopathic mother. With only a short time to save the child, our intrepid trio must do what it takes to rescue the child, even if it endangers their own lives. Pure, classic Kate.

This novella was a holiday gift from the team of Ilona Andrews to all their loyal readers, and it is a lovely gift indeed! Taking place during the action of Gunmetal Magic, Andrea’s story, it blends the happenings of Gunmetal with Magic and as usual blends seamlessly into the overall story line. And with all the action and pain, there is also the Andrews undercurrent of humour from the very first, when Andrea and Kate are trying to wrestle the body of a seventy pound flying jellyfish dripping pale pink slime through the door of Cutting Edge Investigations.

If you are a fan, don’t miss this novella. And if you haven’t been blessed with knowledge of this series, well, pick it up. It is like Cookies and Crème Ice Cream – you can’t stop with just one bite!

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