fantasy

Review of ‘Mermaid Fins, Winds & Rolling Pins’

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Murder and mayhem follow Imogen Banks everywhere she goes. Still trying to learn to control her witch powers, under the tutelage of Prince Hank, and worrying about Horace and his minions of the Badlands Army, she sees a trip to the Mermaid Kingdom to cater the wedding party of the Mermaid queen and the Pirate king as a welcome diversion. But, when a member of the mermaid court is found murdered and entangled in a pirate’s net, and a confection from their kitchen is thought to be the murder weapon, Imogen must find the real murderer before she and her friends become fish food.

Mermaid Fins, Winds & Rolling Pins by Erin Johnson is book three in the Spells and Caramels series, and it builds on the previous two books, but with a refreshing difference. As Imogen and her cohort has to deal with the licentious behavior and secret scandals of the mermaid court, smuggling of illicit substances, and a deadly octopus; while Imogen struggles with her romantic feelings for Hank, who is betrothed to another, and their susceptibility to an intoxicating monster’s brew, this story will hook you from the opening pages until you get to the startling conclusion, when Imogen discovers more secrets from her own past.

This story makes a shift from the relative innocence of the first two volumes, as intimate relationships are explored in a more explicit manner, raising the series from one that appeals to fantasy lovers of all ages to one that is aimed at a more mature audience.

I was attracted to this series from the beginning, but am now irrevocably hooked. I received a free copy of this book.

It promises a lot from the opening, and delivers on every page.

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Review of ‘Mated by the Alpha Dragon’

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Two centuries after nuclear war has destroyed human civilization, the few survivors live in isolated settlements in a kind of servile condition. The effects of radiation have affected a few, causing them to transform into dragons, while the rest exist as serfs. Theo lives with his mother in a village under the dominion of the cruel King Harold. When Elise, whose mother has been taken away by Harold’s men, comes to live with them, Theo’s life changes. He discovers that he is one of the few with the ability to become a dragon. Worse, he falls in love with Elise, who is also a dragon-shifter. When, fearing for the safety of those around her, Elise runs away, Theo is determined to find her.
Mated by the Alpha Dragon by K. T. Stryker follows Theo and Elise, as they struggle against Harold’s tyranny and learn to control the changes in themselves. One series of adventures and misadventures after another until the final confrontation in Harold’s castle—a bit predictable, and a touch of deus et machina at the end. Despite the predictability of the story line, it is still an entertaining story that delves deeply into the internal motivations of the two main characters.
I received a free copy of this book, and I give it three and a half stars. High marks for a compelling theme, but subtracting a few for the predictability.

Review of ‘Oddjobs’

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Mythical beings, demons and demi-gods really, have taken over earth, and at some unannounced future date will pull the plug on humanity. The British, being British, are determined that the end of the earth will at least be orderly. A special government organization has the task of seeing to the paperwork and other bureaucratic actions to achieve that. Morag Murray is assigned to the consulate in Birmingham as a new field operative, but she has a problem; in her previous job, she offended earth’s new masters, and is now marked for immediate death. While dealing with murderous starfish, a strange old woman with cats, and new colleagues who are anything but normal, she has to try and avoid her own inevitable death.

Oddjobs by Heide Goody and Iain Grant is a rib-tickling, heart-pounding book that I have a hard time categorizing. Is it fantasy or is it science fiction? After reading it, I’m still unable to decide. What I can say, though, is that it’s funny; funny and scary at the same time. The characters in this (unimaginable?) dystopian future are believable, even the aliens, because they behave in a consistent manner, they talk like people we’ve all encountered at one point or other in our lives, and the action flows, if not exactly in a linear manner, in a way that makes sense under the circumstances that the authors so skillfully describe.

If you want a tickle and a tingle all wrapped in one package, read this book. I give it five stars.

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.