fantasy

Review of ‘Sister Witchcraft’

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Mimi AuClair moved from L.A. back to her home town of Lafay to reopen her grandmother’s tea shop. Her older sister, Sybil, is not too happy about the prospect, much preferring that her two younger sisters not upset her nice, normal suburban existence with her husband and two young daughters. To add to Mimi’s problems, the Jigg sisters, owners of the town’s other tea shop, are determined to prevent the competition. The Jigg sisters, Mimi learns, are witches, who also are on the town council, and are willing to go to great lengths to sabotage her grand opening. She’s not completely helpless, though, being a witch herself, and from a long line of witches, and she has her grandmother’s familiar, a wise-cracking black cat, to help her. Things go awry when a customer, the town troublemaker, dies from poison at the opening, and the police, at first, suspect her.

Sister Witchcraft by J.D. Winters and Dakota Kahn is a short book; it can be read in less than an hour; that is thoroughly delightful. An interesting cast of characters, and scenes that would play extremely well in an animated movie, will make you wish it was even longer.

I read this book on a dreary, rainy day. The weather and witchcraft gave me goose pimples, but Mimi’s antics kept me laughing. If you’re looking for a short, entertaining read, get this book.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Gretel: Book One’

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If you’ve read the story of ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ and you think you know all there is to know about a girl and her brother abandoned in the forest by their father at the behest of an evil stepmother, think again. You simply have to read Gretel: Book One by Christopher Coleman.

An ancient evil lurks in the back country. For a long time, it was sleeping, but it’s now awake, and is hungry. It sets its sights on a mother, alone in the forest and seeking help. Gretel, in charge of taking care of her ailing father and brother while her mother, Anika, is away, she longs for change. That change comes when they determine that Anika is missing, but it’s not the change she sought.  Evil, she learns, is everywhere—including right in her own home. Gretel has to grow up fast if she’s to deal with corrupt police officials, a father and grandfather who are not what they seem, and an evil as old as mankind.

Your pulse will race from the first page, and the tension doesn’t let up, even at the end. This is not your usual fairy tale.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘Within the Soul’

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For Aura Mishan, thanks to her superior reflexes and speed with a gun, killing is all too easy. All she wants, though, is peace and quiet, and to be left alone to run her shop. When a new machine is invented that draws power from the sun, she is drawn into a life or death struggle over its control. Her mission is complicated by the reappearance in her life of the Maker of All Things, who also happens to be her father, the presence of Janns, a Regulator for whom she has unsisterly feelings, and, Cobb, another gunslinger with abilities equal to hers, who has been hired to steal the machine.

Within the Soul by Craig Allen is a fantasy story, continuing the adventures of Aura the gunslinger, with a decidedly modern touch. Fast action, with scenes of conflict not for the squeamish, and non-human characters that are all too human. Parts will make you squirm, and others will make you laugh. A good read.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘The Healer: Box Set, Volumes 1 – 3’

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Hope is a young woman with a secret; she had the ability to heal others, and helps her father, a doctor, with critical patients. She is unaware that there are those who know of her secret, including two warring gods who compete with each other for her love, and a fallen god who wants her for less-than honorable purposes. Forced into a dream-like state, she lives her life as Mikomi, princess of an empire and the Healer of the world. As Mikomi, she joins forces with a rebel group against her evil father, but falls prey to a ‘friend’ who has her own deadly secret. Finally, when the veil between life and death is weakest, Hope/Mikomi must face her fate.

The Healer (Box Set, Volumes 1 – 3) by C. J. Anaya is a three-volume set of books that follows Hope/Mikomi through her battles, physical and metaphorical, as she fights evil and finds love. I previously read book one in this set, and was impressed with the author’s plotting and facility with the prose. She’s created a strong character who, surprisingly, holds up extremely well through three books, and a fantasy/science fiction world that, while unbelievable, is acceptable.

Her treatment of Asian culture, and the melding of ancient lore with popular modern Western culture is very well done.

This is a good starter set for young adult sci-fi/fantasy fans.

I give this set four stars.

Review of ‘Prophecy of Light – Trapped’

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Kady and her aunt have, it seems, always lived a nomadic life. They are fleeing some unknown, dark force, which her aunt will never name, because ‘words have power.’ When Kady is awakened one night by some force destroying their home, her aunt uses magic power to spirit her away to safety, while she battles the dark mage, Zyam. Alone, and seeking to rescue her aunt from the dark mage’s clutches, Kady learns from the dwarf mage, Pylum, that she, too, has magic powers, but they have yet to fully awaken.

Prophecy of Light – Trapped by R. J. Crayton is the opening salvo in a three-part series that introduces Kady as her powers begin to manifest themselves. This story is short, but powerful, and does a masterful job of setting out the characters, their histories, and the obstacles they must overcome in order to prevail. The author has built a credible world, and peopled it with characters the reader will have no trouble relating to—either to cheer on, or to jeer at.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Enchant’

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Enchant by Demelza Carlton is a retelling of the story ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and it’s definitely not for children.

When the wicked king, Thorn, forces the enchantress, Zuleika, to cast a terrible spell, and then imprisons her in his castle, she flees to wander the world and provide magical help to those in need. In her wanderings she comes upon an island, whose ruler, Prince Vardan, has been cursed to be seen as a beast. Repulsed at first, Zuleika soon finds herself warming to the man who, under the beastly exterior, is really a kind person. She’s determined to undo the curse upon him, but even her power is taxed to the limits—especially when she learns that it was Thorn’s curse that turned his brother, Vardan, into a beast.

This story follows the general theme of the original ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ in that the beautiful woman finds herself drawn to the Beast because of his kindness which enables her to see past his horrific exterior appearance. The machinations and action from that point on, though, are completely different, and makes for entertaining reading. Carlton is a competent story-teller, whose work is worthy of note.

I give her four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Red Noon at Helltowne’

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The hunter, Oborren, and his not-so-merry band of eccentric allies are enroute to Helltowne, on a mission of revenge. Not only must they face the town’s hellish (pun intended) supernatural threats, but they must contend with the philosophy of its red dwarf masters and their leader, Commissar General Noel. The philosophy of Equalitarianism is a threat to the human race and all the other beings, but an even bigger threat is their inability to get along with each other.

Red Noon at Helltowne by Dan Oberchuk is a book that defies genre classification. It has elements of fantasy and magic, science run amok, blood-curdling and blood-letting action, and as much humor as you can stomach. As you follow this band of misfits on their quest, it’s hard to know who to root for. Sure, Noel is a bully who is trying to install a Soviet-style rule over all, and destroy the human race in the process, but our ‘heroes’ have many stains on their escutcheons as well. Nevertheless, you’ll find yourself rooting for them—after all, genocide’s a bummer.

This was an entertaining bit of escapist reading that had me chuckling as often as cringing.

I give this rib-tickler five stars.

Review of ‘Eternal Desires of a Succubus

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Mired in a 9 to 5 job, short, and a bit too curvy, Isabel’s only outlet involves visiting a local drinking establishment looking for a late-night hook-up. One night, she hits the trifecta, hooking up with two gorgeous men (one after the other). The next morning, though, she wakes up feeling strange, and looking even stranger—she has turned into a gorgeous woman, one that no man can resist.

Isabel learns that her gorgeous hunks of the previous evening were Oz, and angel, and Gavin, a vampire, and that her encounter has transformed her into a succubus, an immortal being who can control any man’s mind and desires. Then, she discovers that she’s caught in the middle of a war between angels and vampires over who will have ultimate control of hybrids like her.

Eternal Desires of a Succubus by Lucy Lyons is a bit of an erotic romance story laced with the supernatural. It gets off to an achingly slow start, plods along a bit, and then takes off like a NASCAR driver heading for the checkered flag.

Competently written, and the characters, after a blasé start, become mildly interesting. I didn’t particularly care for the cliff hanger ending, and the interesting action started too late and ended too soon for my taste.

I received a free copy of this book.

This one I give three stars.

Review of ‘Chasing Rabbits’

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When Alice visited Wonderland, or so the story goes, it was a magical and wonderful place—well, there was the Queen who insisted, ‘off with their heads,’ but over all, it was a nice story for kids. But, when Katherine ‘Kat’ Nottington found herself back in her hometown looking for a job, any job, and she chased a marauding rabbit into a cave and found herself in a strange place called ‘Underground,’ she discovered that Alice was wrong—there was nothing wonderful about Wonderland.

Chasing Rabbits by Erin Bedford isn’t exactly a parody of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ It’s more a sequel with a radically different take on the old classic; and, it’s definitely not for kids. Kat has to deal with strange creatures, like a brown troll and a talking rabbit addicted to her tasty carrots, a queen with a murderous bent, and a sexy Cheshire Cat who gives off seductive vibes. What she wants to do, or so she thinks, is go home, except, home for Kat is not exactly a welcoming place either.

Funny, scary, and thoughtful, with a touch of romance, this story gives a whole new perspective on Wonderland, including a startling revelation about Alice. It turns out that she’s not the innocent little moppet we thought she was.

When you start reading this book, make sure you have nothing else on your schedule, because you won’t be able to put it down.

I give this outstanding story five stars.

Review of ‘Cassie Mason and the Oracle’

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When Cassie Mason turned sixteen the strangest thing happened; she developed magical powers. At a loss as to how to deal with it, her parents summoned her Aunt Jenni, a paranormal investigator, to help teach her how to control her new powers. In the meantime, people in her hometown begin to make magical transformations—the town is going magically crazy—and, it’s up to Cassie to set things right.

The Magic of Cassie Mason and the Oracle Witch by Keith Coppuck and Kelly Proudfoot follows Cassie as she learns to take control of her magic, while at the same time fighting off a magic invasion of her home. This is an interesting story, but it’s somewhat clumsily told—I couldn’t tell if I was reading a variant of UK English with which I was unfamiliar, or just some grammatical gaffes—and, the narrative is a bit choppy. The biggest sin, though, is that the book just sort of . . . ends. Cassie’s brother is missing, accidentally sent off with Loki, who was invading the human realm, and we have no idea what might happen next. The epilogue describes a young man, not identified, walking through a space containing interesting artifacts. Is that Cassie’s brother? Who knows? I hesitate to call the ending a cliff hanger, because the image I have is a reader hanging from a ledge by his or her fingertips, and that, believe me, is not a pleasant thing to contemplate.

There are some interesting passages in this story, and the overall idea is laudable—sort of your magical coming-of-age story, complete with humor and action. It needs work though to make the story flow more smoothly, and an ending that has at least some of the loose threads accounted for.

I received a free copy of this book.

I can only give it three stars.

Review of ‘Power Rising’

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Tatya is a gifted healer, so gifted in fact that a demon is out to ensnare her to gain control of her powers. An enigmatic vampire offers assistance, but since that vampire has recently turned her best friend, she’s conflicted about accepting the offer.

Power Rising by Teagan Kearney is an interesting novel, part urban fantasy, part paranormal thriller. It moves along at a fast clip, almost (but not quite) too fast for comfort. A fascinating cast of characters and a different take on the whole vampire/demon myth.

I received a free copy of this book. It was a nice read that I give four stars.

Review of ‘My Fair Assassin’

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Crysta Jensen is a recently emancipated 17-year-old who, because of her strange, other-worldly appearance and odd eating habits, has always had trouble fitting in. When a strange, but attractive, stranger shows up in her apartment and announces that he’s there to kill her, her life goes off on an even stranger tangent. After encountering her, the stranger, Jareth, finds himself drawn to her and decides, instead of killing her, it is his mission to be her protector, sending them both on an even stranger journey as she discovers that she’s, in fact, not human but fae, and not just an ordinary fairy. Crysta, it turns out, is the daughter of royal winter fairies who were assassinated, and she too has been marked for death.

My Fair Assassin by C. J. Anaya is a novella that is part fantasy, part thriller, and part young adult romance. The author spends almost the first half of the book developing the relationship between Crysta and Jareth, passages that are laced with budding romance and rib-tickling humor as they learn to communicate with other and test the limits of their growing relationship. The second half unravels the mystery of who Crysta really is and why she is on someone’s hit list—but, more chillingly, who really wants her dead. While the ending is not technically a cliff hanger, it does very effectively set the reader up for the next book in the series, and leaves a strong desire to read more.

This was an enchanting story (pun intended) that had me laughing and tense with worry at the same time. One can’t help but cheer for Crysta and Jareth as they each come to fateful conclusions on the proper way forward, as individuals and as a couple.

I received a free copy of this book. I don’t usually give this genre higher than four stars, but I have no qualms about giving this one five stars. It was a thoroughly enjoyable short read.

Review of ‘Aaron in Sinland’

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Aaron Chasin, a failed musician in his thirties, is unemployed and addicted to drink. Consumed by anger and childhood trauma, his dream of becoming a famous A&R Rep for a music company seems out of reach until he meets the enigmatic tantric guru, Shankar Govinda, who initiates him into the arcane world of tantric yoga. Now, all his dreams seem within his reach, but will his dreams turn out to be nightmares? Only time will tell.

Aaron in Sinland by Antara Mann follows Aaron on his troubled journey, as he comes to believe in Govinda and his magical abilities. The reader is taken deep into Aaron’s psyche in this first person account of his adventure. The character of Govinda is also well-developed. Other characters, however, are somewhat one-dimensional, and the ending, while not precisely a cliff hanger, seems to leave the story unfinished.

I received an advance reader copy of this book. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Dead Spark’

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During an epic battle with the Dragon, Faz Pound, ace Dark Magic Enforcer, and Dancer, Head of the UK Council, were bitten by zombies. Infected now and on the verge of becoming two more of the undead, Faz and Dancer are making a mad dash to find a mysterious woman that Dancer knows who can cure them. Unfortunately, they’re also pursued by Wyrmlings bent on exacting revenge against Dancer for something he did ages ago.

Dead Spark, the seventh book in Al K. Line’s Dark Magic Enforcer series, is a heart-throbbing adventure as the two heroes race against time to cure themselves before they become dangerous to the ones they love. But, it is the ones they love who must help them in their quest. This is one of the more adventurous of the series, with tons of action on every page, and just enough obstacles in the way to make the reader unsure that they will succeed. An interesting twist is added when the mysterious woman turns out to be Amber, claiming to be Faz’s daughter from his long-dead wife, and I won’t spoil it for readers by explaining how that turns out.

If this is your first Dark Magic Enforcer book, I strongly encourage you to go back to book one and catch up. Not, mind you, that you need to do that in order to enjoy this one. It pretty much stands on its on as a fantastic fantasy. Magic and mayhem aplenty will keep you thrilled from page one to the last.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book.

Once I started reading, I skipped lunch to finish it. I give this one five stars!

Review of ‘Thieves & Wizards’

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The Forlorn Dagger, forged from the stuff of stars, is the only weapon that can kill wizards. It’s been missing for centuries until it shows up in a mysterious collector’s library. Then, Stin, a cunning thief, steals it—unaware of its powers. Stin’s path then crosses with a group of wizards, young princesses training for their destiny, and a young prince out to reclaim his stolen throne. Under the leadership of the wizard, Greystone, Trant, the prince, and a young princess training to become a war maiden, go head to head with Darkstone, a rogue wizard bent on conquest.

Thieves and Wizards by Jaxon Reed is an epic fantasy that spans characters, kingdoms, and times as smoothly as a well-cast spell. Unlike toys that are ‘batteries not included,’ this story has a bit of everything; intrigue, skullduggery, humor, romance, and battle scenes that make the ‘Star Wars’ fight against the Death Star seem mild by comparison.

You don’t have to be a fan of the fantasy genre to enjoy this story; you just have to like a well-told tale.

I received an advanced review copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Shift: Strangetown Magic Book 2’

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Swift is tired. Having just evicted many Strange back through the great Rift to where they belong and forestalled an invasion of bad elves, she really wants to take a break. But, Strangetown is changing, and not in a good way. The town is being overtaken by jungle growth, and is threatened by an invasion of Normal military and other officials. Worse, her mother, the Queen of the Witches, wants her to put things right, and Levick, the chief Justice and her boss, wants her to find the evil witch, Blue, who has been randomly killing both Strange and Normal.

Shift: Strangetown Magic Book 2 by Al K. Line is another exciting adventure as Swift, her sister and her weird friends face off against a world of plants gone mad, Normals who think they can tackle an ogre, and a mad witch who has someone pulling her strings. Dialogue is pithy, and the situations Swift finds herself in are just as wild as they were in Book 1. Magic and mayhem abound in this romp through a land that only the fevered mind of this author could create.

Hard to put down, and as satisfying as a Long Island Ice Tea on a sweltering day, you’ll enjoy this book. If you don’t, Mack the ogre might just pay you a visit.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Hemlock: Tales of a Traveler, Book One’

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Martha Bigalow, wanting to get her noxious ex-boyfriend out of her mind, decided to take a hike in the English Lakes District. While crossing a stream, she slipped and fell, and woke up in a cave with a dark stranger who looked like a medieval reenactor gone native. But, Vadim is not a reenactor, he’s an outlaw, and it’s Martha who has gone native; she’s been somehow transported back in time to Erde, a society that’s as alien and unsettling as her life in the twenty-first century had been, with one difference; at least in her time an evil earl wasn’t trying to kill her. The only hope she has of survival and maybe getting back to her own time is to pretend to be Vadim’s wife.

Hemlock: Tales of a Traveler, Book One by N. J. Layouni follows Martha as she learns to adapt to an age where women are lower in the pecking order than the livestock in many cases, and where one false step could be her last. The author pulls off the modern person mysteriously transported to an earlier, less advanced age, with a bit of Mark Twain-style humor, and with tons of action and intrigue. Characters are multi-dimensional and empathy-inducing, and come alive on the page. The medieval theme is maintained by never explaining the mechanism of the time-shift, but a few hints would have been appreciated, as it would set up any sequel—and, there simply must be a sequel, because the story ended on a whale of a cliffhanger.

Except for the unresolved issues: the relationship between Martha and Vadim, what happened to the evil earl, and how Martha came to be transported, it was an interesting and entertaining story. I give ti four stars.

Review of ‘Aurora Skye: Vampire Hunter’

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Eighteen-year-old Aurora Skye only wants one thing, to graduate from high school and get the heck as far away from Alaska as she can. An unfortunate auto accident changes all that. Taken to a nearby military base, where she is given new organs to save her life, it’s discovered that she has special blood—blood that the government can use to combat the plague of vampires infecting our northernmost state. In order to save her daughter, Aurora’s mother signs her over to the government, who, after infecting her with a cocktail of viruses, trains her to be a vampire hunter. With her special blood and the viruses in her body, Aurora can paralyze any vampire who bites her, but she must then kill them herself.

After training, she finds that she can kill, but her new-found commitment is tested to its limits when she discovers that the boy in her high school to whom she’s attracted is a vampire. Love and duty war within Aurora as she becomes ever more proficient in her job. Worse, she’s not sure what she has become.

Aurora Skye: Vampire Hunter by Nikki Jefford, even though it has mostly teens as the principal characters, is not a book for young readers. This is a gritty, in your face story for people who like their action hard core. Characters are believable, even the vampires and witches—yes, it has them too—and the action is bloody. There are a few scenes that are a bit overblown, but given the premise of this story, that’s probably to be expected. At least, it stays away from the old myths about vampires not having reflections or being able to go out during daylight hours, which makes them all the more believable . . . and frightening.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘Hidden Spark’

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After his trip to Japan, where he finally avenged the deaths of his parents, Faz Pound had had it with magic. He returned to Cardiff and tried to live a ‘normal’ life, refusing to use magic. Instead, he retreated to his farmhouse with his vampire girlfriend, Kate. But, after five years, he’s bored out of his skull, and realizes that without magic, he is nothing. He aches to return to work. His friend, Dancer, now head of the UK Council of the Hidden, calls and offers him a job. He wanted to get back in the saddle, but going after a dragon that is keeping the dwarves from their hoard of gold wasn’t really his idea of the first job he wanted after a five-year hiatus. But, he takes it.

Now, Faz, the Black Spark, a Dark Magic Enforcer, is no friend of dwarves—heck, dwarves aren’t particularly fond of each other, and Faz knows that he’s really no match for a real dragon, but a job’s a job, so off he goes to the underground lair of the Queen of the Dwarves. There he finds not ‘a’ dragon, but The Dragon, the legendary mage who brought magic to the world. The Dragon wants his help, he wants Faz to help him escape the dwarves’ lair with his skin intact. Faz shrugs and complies, only to learn that The Dragon has a whole other agenda, one that could be fatal to Faz and all his friends. Faz discovers that it’s not real dragons he must fear—it’s all the other snakes skulking around in the grass, the woodwork, and just about everywhere he turns.

Hidden Spark by Al K. Line is the sixth book in the Dark Magic Enforcer series, and while it’s not the best of the lot, it’s still one heck of a fine read. The author knows how to pull the reader into the mind of his characters, to make you smell the brimstone, or is it Sulphur, and involuntarily duck when Faz’s tattoos start to pulse. Take my word for it, you’ll enjoy this book.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Talisman’

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Shiloh Wallace spells her name with a ‘y’ instead of an ‘i,’ not because she’s shy, but just to be different. She has few friends, beyond her dad, his best friend, Samuel, his blind secretary, Bea, and her best friend forever, Katie. Life in Welch, West Virginia is boring for 17-year-old Shiloh who is anxious to turn 18 and finally graduate from high school so she can leave Welch in the coal dust. Then, she starts to have strange dreams and experience strange things, especially when the strange man, Lazarus comes to town with plans to buy the man where he daddy works. When she touches the stranger, she learns an even stranger thing, she can read thoughts of people when she touches them. As if that’s not strange enough, the oddball geology professor who came to town with Lazarus, when she finds him sneaking around Shiloh Ridge, informs her that she’s not really ‘human.’ She’s a Talisman, a strange race of supernatural being who can channel awesome powers through stones. Okay, do I have you attention? Good, because  it only gets better—or worse depending upon your point of view—from that point. Shiloh quickly finds herself in a life or death struggle with other Talismans who want to kill her because she’s the heir to the most powerful item on earth.

Talisman  by S. E. Akers is a refreshing paranormal story, with lots of humor, a ton of teen angst—did I mention that Shiloh’s mom hates her and her kid sister thinks she’s been put on earth only to serve  as her handmaiden. Add a town bully, son of the mine owner, and the usual complement of high school harridans, and Shiloh doesn’t really need angry Talismans trying to poison her or rip her throat out. But she has all that, and precious little time to learn to harness her powers, because not only is her life at stake, but so are the lives of the few people she cares about and the survival of the whole town. If Shiloh can’t learn to control the diamond wand—yeah, and you thought diamonds were a girl’s best friend, right?—it’s curtains.

What can I say—you’ll enjoy this book. The dialogue is authentic without becoming insulting or corny, and the action is riveting. My hat’s off to the author for writing a YA s tory that an old graybeard like me could read without concealing it behind a ‘Sport’s Illustrated.’

I give this one four stars.