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Archive for November, 2011

Description From Goodreads:

The Warden Threat is a lighthearted tale of looming war, subversion, and a terrible magical weapon.

Prince Donald, the idealistic third son of the king of Westgrove, believes he may be the only one able to protect his country from an invasion spearheaded by an ancient and massive stone warrior known as the Warden of Mystic Defiance. Donald, unfortunately, is woefully unprepared. His only real understanding of such things comes from his reading of adventure stories, which he soon realizes understate the realities and hardships of such quests. His guide, Kwestor, a competent but jaded ranger, feels seeking adventure is the same as asking for trouble. Donald finds both as well as an answer he never expected.

THE WARDEN THREAT, by D.L. Morrese
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Review: **** 4 Stars
THE WARDEN THREAT is a lighthearted epic fantasy parody with a science fiction twist that kept me engaged and entertained from page one.  The journey starts with Donald’s initial foray into the wider world to “find out about the commoners”, as ordered by his loving but overprotective mother, but proceeds through the country of Westgrove and into the border of neighboring nation Gotrox, home of the stoutfolk.  Despite the epic fantasy trappings, the story is humorous and fun, clearly not taking itself seriously as Donald struggles to define himself as a hero of the realm and stop an impending war with Gotrox.

Here are a few choice quotes from early in the book:

“Adventurers did not poop.  Well, they did, but they certainly never talked about it.”

“The gonds, the domesticated ones that could be ridden anyway, could, admittedly, travel long distances and carry a great deal of weight, but these assets paled when you considered their considerable lack of speed, an intellect approximately equal to that of overcooked asparagus, and their frequent flatulence.”

Characters: **** 4 Stars
Donald is idealistic, young, inexperienced, and naive, but he tries hard to do what is right and make a difference in his father’s kingdom.  He’s not a dumb or ignorant young man, he’s simply been sheltered from the real world for far too long.  Traveling with Kwestor, the unenthusiastic and pragmatic ranger, gives Donald a new perspective as he struggles to learn how to be a man.  Kwestor acts as Donald’s mentor and advisor, albeit in a somewhat closemouthed way, and tries to help Donald throughout his journey. It doesn’t take long in the story before they meet up with Muce, a sword for hire that’s a bit of a simpleton and obsessed with potatoes.  Muce provides the comic relief during their travels, but the author does a good job of reining him in when appropriate to keep the reader, and I suppose the other characters, from getting irritated with his long-winded anecdotes.

Plot: *** 3 Stars
Though humorous, the plot had a tendency to drag at times, slowing down the read. I wanted more action and danger, even silly danger, to keep the story moving. There was a lot of walking, and a lot of staying at inns, mixed in with a few abbreviated accidental fights and shenanigans. In addition, the ending was too abrupt for my taste. That being said, I enjoyed the story and the twists within the plot.  There are a couple of layers of intrigue, and a science fiction component that I’m sure will be explored in more detail in the second book, which kept me involved in the story.

Setting: **** 4 Stars
I imagined the world as a very rural earth, and pictured the gonds like the banthas from Star Wars. It was fun to combine both the science fiction and fantasy tropes in the story. The Westgrovian society was reasonably well developed, as was the cultural interaction with the Gotroxians. I look forward to spending more time in their culture in the next book.

Relationships: **** 4 Stars
By the end of the story, Kwestor shined as a mentor for Donald. He’s the young prince’s sounding board, and despite his constant pessimism, Kwestor seems to really care for his charge, wanting him to succeed despite his perception that no matter what he does, the prince will fail. Kwestor provides strong advice and lays the foundation for a positive message throughout the trilogy.

“When all is said and done, success or failure, how you see yourself is really all that matters.”

“When you are sure, absolutely sure, you have done everything you could and you still can’t succeed, you have to be willing to admit defeat and go on. Some battles you can win, some you can’t. That’s just how things are.”

Genre – Cross-genre Science Fiction and Epic Fantasy Parody: *** 3 Stars
I love a good cross-genre novel, but THE WARDEN THREAT needed a little more science fiction to bring it all together. I imagine this will become more pronounced in future installments, but this first book read almost entirely as an epic fantasy parody until the last few chapters, and the fantasy was slightly muddled by the humorous tone and slow pacing. I could have used a bit more action, a bit more intrigue, or at least a bit more magic to bring it further into epic fantasy.

Note: This review was made at the request of the author.  The only compensation received was a free copy of the book.

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Description From Goodreads:

Shadow figures are stalking the population of an English University town. A Physics student can sense the emotions of others. His two best friends notice he is coming home injured and distracted. He is looking for something. What he has already found is magic that connects this world to a sister-planet, and people who can help him.

SAPPHIRE HUNTING, by J SenGupta
Available on Amazon

Review: * 1 Star
Ordinarily, I would not have finished this book, but the author requested a review, and I wanted to give it a chance. Unfortunately, I was never engaged by the story. The writing style was disjointed and choppy, skipping from one idea to the next without a clear connection or flow. If you happen to be a rider, it was like trotting bareback on a bony horse with a limp. I never felt connected to the world, or the characters, or the danger in the plot. It was all laid out as basic facts. Even the dialogue made little sense and there were several scenes that didn’t seem to have a place in the story…like when James would suddenly be in his friends room and would ask for tea and biscuits.

From page 1:

“Alex’s foot struck the stack of folders by the desk. They began to slide from the middle of the pile. He dove down to stop them, grabbed at the nearest one to him and turned it over, scattering its contents.

‘Oh hell.’

He straightened up and stepped back. James knelt down to begin to help him pick them up.

‘No, no. Just leave it. Just go over there and sit down.’ This was Michael rapidly running out of patience. Alex sat down. He grinned at the carpet.”

Characters: * 1 Star
James is a an eighteen year-old college student who finds himself drawn into a conflict bigger than anything he has ever experienced before, yet immediately he feels like he’s the only person that can stop what’s going on, and he never questions that he needs to fix it. His friends and companions are mostly peripheral, and their interactions seemed forced. I never got a real sense of any of their personalities and never connected with any of the characters.

Plot: * 1 Star
It was largely due to the disjointed writing style, but the story never grabbed me. It didn’t feel immediate, and I never felt present in the story. It was as if someone was simply relating facts as they happened rather than telling a story.

Setting: * 1 Stars
The descriptions and world building in SAPPHIRE HUNTING were severely lacking. The author attempted to imbue a sense of lyricism, but it failed miserably. For example: “The sun had broken through the clouds and the rain, now gentler, was falling in fiery drops through the afternoon sunlight.” Despite the strong adjectives, the description as a whole failed to help me visualize the setting. I couldn’t help thinking he was just getting wet.

Relationships: * 1 Star
While I never felt connected to the story, neither did I feel the connections between the characters on the page. I couldn’t read their emotions or understand their motives. Once again, the reader was expected to take as fact that the characters had emotional involvement, without ever actually seeing it.

Genre – YA Fantasy: *** 3 Stars
The age group was older teen, and it fit within that model. The elements of fantasy were present in the story, and had the other parts of the story worked, the genre would have probably appealed to the desired audience. However, with everything else that didn’t work, it’s hard to rate the genre as better than a 3.

Note: This review was made at the request of the author.  The only compensation received was a free copy of the book.

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Description From Goodreads:

Zoë Merrick wakes up after she is murdered, and is surprised to find she is not only alive – but transformed. Even more unexplainable are the new abilities she has no control over.

It’s not until a handsome and arrogant man named Justus walks into her life that Zoë discovers she is no longer human, but like him – a Mage. Forced to trust him, she must come to terms with accepting her new life and identity.

When her immortal freedom is threatened by the one man who has a right to claim her, Zoë learns the price of freedom…and the value of loyalty.

STERLING, by Dannika Dark
Available on Amazon

Review: **** 4 Stars
The Goodreads description does not do this book justice!

Zoe Merrick is an average Jane. She lives with her cat, just got out of a bad relationship, and her best friend is gorgeous, leaving her feeling slightly less than perky. But on her way home from a girls night out, Zoe’s average life ends with a brutal attack and she’s thrust into a new and confusing existence.

It begins when she wakes up in a body bag covered in blood. Then she goes through physical changes: she grows taller, her eyes turn green, and her copper hair turns black and glossy. Luckily her rescuer, Adam, has a protective instinct and a strong stomach as he takes it all in stride and helps her without question…until Justus arrives and reveals the truth: Zoe has been transformed into a Mage, a Breed that can control energy and manipulate it based on individual gifts. Usually, a Mage is made by special selection and it is an honor to be chosen, but Zoe is unique in that she did not choose to be Mage. Her Creator attacked and left her for dead. Without a Creator, Zoe is left vulnerable to other Mage until she has enough power and control to protect herself. Justus takes her under his wing, becoming her Ghaurdian until her Creator comes to claim her, a Creator’s right by Mage law, and he can do whatever he wants with her.

I didn’t have high expectations for STERLING based on the original description, but I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed every minute of it. I can’t wait for the sequel!

Characters: **** 4 Stars
The beginning of the novel was a little rough in the character development arena. After being attacked, Zoe is rescued by Adam, a handsome former soldier who watches over her while she sleeps and her body physically transforms. The problem I had was how quickly Adam takes it all in stride and Zoe feels comfortable around him. I’m sure, had it been me, I would have been terrified, not knowing how who this strange man was, whether he might be connected to the attack, or how I got to his apartment. Yet as soon as she’s fed they’re best friends. Similarly, when Justus arrives on scene, he’s antagonistic and angry, yet Zoe manages to trust him really quickly.

That being said, as the novel progressed, the characters really grew on me and I ended up loving them all. Zoe is strong and resilient, indomitable yet also vulnerable. Adam is protective and has a truly generous heart. Justus is also protective, but more chivalrous and old-fashioned. Simon, introduced later in the story, is sexy and funny, using his rockstar appearance to hide a kind soul. I did think it was a little much to have three protective men guarding over her (and no other women), but they all had distinct personalities and served different roles in Zoe’s new life.

Plot: **** 4 Stars
The pacing of STERLING was perfect, the plot complex enough to be interesting, and the world-building nicely done. I’ve knocked off a star because the beginning of the novel suffered from some abrupt time shifts that skipped too much potential character development. However, I could not have asked for a better ending! It was climactic and action packed, building the danger to a perfect pitch before resolving with a happy conclusion. The story was complete in itself, but the real “Big Bad” was left for Zoe to deal with in later installments. I only wish the second book in the series was already available!

Setting: ***** 5 Stars
I was able to visualize Zoe’s surroundings in almost every scene, but the description wasn’t overly heavy or obnoxious. I lost myself in her world, never skipping a paragraph to move onto the next bit of dialogue or action.

Romance: *** 3 Stars
With three male protectors, all of whom seem interested in her, it was hard to know who to root for, and apparently Zoe didn’t know either. Adam is fantastic in the beginning, and I was drawn to him, hoping that he would somehow manage to overcome the obstacle of her new abilities (unable to safely interact with him when she’s in a…ahem…high emotional state). But then Justus turns out to be a really great guy, just awkward and unsure of how to behave around Zoe, particularly since she’s his student. And Simon was a lot of fun, but I felt like he managed to wiggle his way into her life too quickly. There’s a lot of potential for a love…pyramid? square?…anyway, there’s a lot of potential with any of the three men, but nothing was accomplished and I felt like I was left hanging in the wind, waiting for one of them to make a move (one that wouldn’t involve anyone getting physically hurt, anyway).

Genre – Contemporary Fantasy: ***** 5 Stars
STERLING is a unique take on a current trend, and I loved it. The fact that Mage aren’t sorcerers and don’t perform magic, but manipulate energy was interesting and a fun twist (I haven’t seen too many elementals recently). Plus the modern day setting with some centuries-old protectors, with dark action and high stakes, made this a fantastically fun story. It was worth every penny, and then some!

(In fact, with a few revisions to the first few chapters, and a better description on Amazon, I would have gladly forked over a few extra dollars!)

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Description From Goodreads:

Valerie Dearborn wants a cotton candy life, but it’s more like a puffer fish: pointy, unusual, and—if not prepared exactly right—deadly.

In London for graduate school, Val knows she’s finally free. Her father and ex-almost-boyfriend are back in California and she’s out of the Vampire hunting biz for good. Or is she?

She draws the attention of Lucas, a 1600 year old Vampire, and King to his kind. He’s also wicked hot. As golden as Lucifer, and just as tempting, he makes Valerie an offer she can’t refuse— help him find out if the Others (Empaths, Fey and Werewolves) still exist or he’ll stop protecting those she loves.

Lucas tells her that Empaths were a Vampire’s biggest weakness before going extinct hundreds of years ago. While the Fey or a Werewolf might kill a Vampire, an Empath could enslave them, seducing or harming with emotions at will. The one detail he leaves out? Valerie is an Empath.

And after 1600 years of an emotionless existence, Lucas wants Valerie like a recovering alcoholic wants a wine cooler.

Can she keep those she loves alive, stop Lucas from munching on her, survive a fanged revolution and still find a way to have that boring, normal life she’s always wanted? Probably not, but boy is she gonna try!

LOVE IS DARKNESS, by Caroline Hanson
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Review: *** 3 Stars
The Goodreads description pretty well sums up the book. Valerie Dearborn wants a simple human life, but she keeps getting sucked into the dark underworld of the Others…well, the vampires anyway.

Overall, this was a good book, but not a great one. The characters were reasonably believable, the plot was fast enough to keep me entertained, but there were also quite a few problems that were distracting during the read, including grammar and spelling errors, and problematic point of view switches (one paragraph from one character followed immediately by another paragraph from a different character, and back again). At $.99, it’s a fun distraction and a quick romp in urban fantasy, but don’t expect anything extraordinary.

Characters: *** 3 Stars
Nearly every character in this novel was a contradiction of themselves. Valerie wants to have a “normal” life, but she loves men who can’t give her that normalcy. In fact, the only man that could, Ian, is a non-character that was present for a couple of chapters and unnecessary for the plot. I actually would have preferred her just focusing on her grad school studies rather than getting involved with a stand-in. Meanwhile, Jack is the bad boy from her past that simultaneously wants to protect her by keeping her away from the action, but gets jealous when she actually tries to have a life outside of his world. Lucas is the vampire king that has been emotionless for centuries, but on finding out that Valerie is an empath, wants to take her as his own while using her as a tool to find more of the Others (empaths, werewolves, and fae). None of the characters really grew through the story or resolved their issues, although at least Valerie realized she was probably never going to have her white picket dream.

Plot: *** 3 Stars
Beyond the basic spelling and grammar issues (which automatically subtract a star), the story concept was strong but the execution of the plot was forgettable. The intro flashback chapters could have been incorporated into the rest of the story better, providing integrated background and adding some suspense instead of being front-loaded on the novel. Once we finally get into the meat of the story, Valerie does a lot of complaining while being whooshed around by Lucas or ordered around by Jack. Some of the action sequences toward the end were good, and the verbal repartee was fun, but there were huge plot holes that needed to be filled. For example, a whole section of the story is devoted to Valerie doing research on the Others. Lucas whisks her off to the British Library, sneaking her into the stacks using his ability to dematerialize. However, in subsequent chapters, Valerie is going to the library on her own. How does she get to the books she needs without Lucas? Similarly, she finally discovers some information, but never has a chance to report it to Lucas, yet somehow he magically knows about it. It left me with a lot of unanswered questions.

The ending also left me hanging. It was too open-ended and too abrupt, like a cliff-hanger at the end of your favorite TV series before they go on break for the holidays. LOVE IS DARKNESS clearly wasn’t intended to be a stand-alone novel, but I shouldn’t have turned the last virtual page thinking there were still several chapters to go.

Setting: **** 4 Stars
I love London, so the setting worked for me, but probably because I’ve been there. The description was somewhat limited, and I never fully felt sucked into the world, but I was still able to enjoy it.

Romance: *** 3 Stars
The love triangle was set up nicely, but failed due to an overabundance of jealousy, lack of willpower, and inability to make a decision. I loved the tension between Valerie and her two interests, but I never felt emotionally involved in either relationship. I wanted to her to have some kind of epiphany, even a small one, that would start her down the path toward one of the men.

Genre – Urban Fantasy: **** 4 Stars
LOVE IS DARKNESS fit right in to the urban fantasy genre. It’s dark enough to please, with a couple of kinky twists and lots of vampire action. That being said, I didn’t feel the story offered anything new to the genre, so I can’t give it a full 5 stars.

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Description From Goodreads:

Only one thing is certain: when Hallows’ Night comes, the Wild Hunt will ride – and it feeds on mortal blood.

Cat and her cousin Bee are caught in a maze of intrigue, treachery, and magic. Everyone seems to want something from them: the Cold Mages are trying to take them prisoner, and the warlord who wants to conquer all of Europa seems sure they have a special destiny to aid him whether they want to or not. Worse, hidden powers deep in the spirit world are rising, and they are the most dangerous of all. Cat must seek allies and figure out who she can trust in order to save the ones she loves. For if she doesn’t, everything will be lost.

COLD FIRE, by Kate Elliott
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

WARNING: SOME SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T YET READ BOOK #1, COLD MAGIC

Review: ***** 5 Stars
COLD FIRE continues right where COLD MAGIC left off: Cat, Bee, and Rory at the law offices of Godwik and Clutch. I was slightly irritated that the story backtracked a little, but that’s only because I read it immediately following COLD MAGIC. I’m sure the rest of the world appreciated the refresher. In any case, COLD FIRE was a fast and furious continuation of the trilogy, and a perfect middle for the story arc. If only I didn’t have to wait for the conclusion!

In this second installment, Cat finally gets some real answers about her identity while fighting against the powers that seek to control her, which is pretty much everyone. The story starts in Adurnam, but the majority takes place in Expedition, the revolutionary city in the Caribbean, where Cat is forced to spy for the Master of the Wild Hunt or he will sacrifice Bee on Hallow’s Night. Meanwhile, Camjiata is back with his own plans for Cat and her cousin. There are so many layers of intrigue, it’s hard to believe that anyone is on her side. Even Bee betrays Cat on accident, and Cat herself unwittingly acts as the pawn in multiple schemes. Everyone has their own angle, and everyone seems to think that they can force Cat into their own plans. Cat struggles to break free, determined to make her own destiny and protect those that she loves.

Characters: **** 4 Stars
Everything I said in my review of COLD MAGIC still holds true. I would love to sit down with the main characters, and they felt so real to me that I almost thought I could! Andevai in particular grew as a character, and I was thrilled that he pursued Cat with such determination. I will say, however, that the Expedition natives felt a bit one-dimensional. They were secondary, but they felt stereotypical: the mother hen, the protective and distrustful friend, and the witless teenage sister. More could have been done to flesh them out and bring them into the story.

Plot: **** 4 Stars
With more twists than a mountain road, COLD FIRE kept the story moving. Betrayal after betrayal leaves Cat spinning, but she stays strong in the face of mounting problems. Overall, I thought this was a great follow-up to the first book, but there were a couple of issues that threw me out of the story for a moment (a very brief moment).

First, Cat is magically dropped off in the middle of the ocean near Salt Island, a quarantine zone for the salters. However, the Master of the Wild Hunt dropped her there because he has no ability to enter the area (hence his need for her to spy). It seemed contradictory that he didn’t have to send her back to Adurnam and force her to travel to Expedition on her own, but perhaps that’s why she was dropped in the ocean and not on land?

Second, when she finally arrives in the city of Expedition, she just happens to run into Andevai, 7 months later and halfway across the world from their last meeting. It was necessary for the story to have them in the same place at the same time, but the setup was a bit awkward.

Setting: ***** 5 Stars
As in COLD MAGIC, the alternate earth setting really worked for me. With the addition of Salt Island and Expedition, the world expanded and exploded with color, literally and figuratively. Given that it’s November, it made me wish I could hop on a plane and take a vacation on the beach!

Romance: ***** 5 Stars
Away from the mage houses and the Northern cold, Vai finally breaks through the cold mask he wears and reveals his true nature: a warm, sentimental heart that will fight to find and win Cat’s love. The two have to learn to trust each other, each overcoming their past and choosing to move forward together. It’s a slow process, with heartbreak along the way, but eventually they take the step that solidifies their bond. [Note: Kate Elliott has written a free bonus chapter from Vai’s point of view that was a wonderful look into his psyche during the critical…ah…adult moment. It’s available on her website, but don’t read it until you’ve finished the book!]

Genre – Multiple: ***** 5 Stars
Steampunk becomes more prominent in COLD FIRE, but the genres integrate even better as a result. Like COLD MAGIC, it’s a fantastic mash-up that is hard to categorize, but fun to read. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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Description From Goodreads:

It is the dawn of a new age… The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming in the cities. But the old ways do not die easy.

“I was not a bard or a djeli or an historian or a scribe and I was certainly not a sage, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t curious…”

Young Cat Barahal thinks she understands the world she lives in and her place in it, but in fact she is merely poised, unaware, on the brink of shattering events. Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood, betrayal and old feuds, she will be forced to make an unexpected and perilous journey in order to discover the truth, not just about her own family but about an ancient secret lying at the heart of her world.

Cat and her cousin Bee are part of this revolution. Young women at college, learning of the science that will shape their future and ignorant of the magics that rule their families. But all of that will change when the Cold Mages come for Cat. New dangers lurk around every corner and hidden threats menace her every move. If blood can’t be trusted, who can you trust?

COLD MAGIC, by Kate Elliott
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Review: ***** 5 Stars
COLD MAGIC is a fantastic cross-genre epic, bringing together themes from epic fantasy, romantic fantasy, steampunk, and alternative history to snare readers for hours. I was 100% sucked into this world, reading the first two 500+ page installments in less than a week. If the third was available, I’d be reading that one right now too!

Catherine Hassi Barahal is a young woman raised in a family known for its skill as merchants of information…in other words, spies. She’s trained to use a blade and keep secrets both for her family, but more importantly for herself. Born with unheard of abilities to disappear in plain site, hear beyond human ability, and see in the dark, Catherine is very much the Cat that everyone calls her. But her most important secret is one that even she doesn’t know. When the cold mage comes to claim her, Cat is drawn into a chaotic adventure that slowly reveals the truth about her history and lays the path of the future.

Characters: ***** 5 Stars
I adored the characters in COLD MAGIC. Cat is fully believable, and someone that I would probably be great friends with if I ever met her in person. She’s feisty and talks too much, but she’s also loyal, hard-working, and has a vulnerable core that endeared her to me. Her cousin, Beatrice (Bee), is similarly well-rounded. Also loyal, Bee is a much better actress and knows how to use her feminine charms to get what she wants. The two together make a perfect team. Meanwhile, the cold mage, Andevai (Vai), is just what he sounds: cold. He’s haughty and rude, paying little attention to the physical needs and emotional turmoil of his hapless bride. However, every once in awhile, you get a glimpse of the real man underneath the cold mask, and by the end of the book I have to admit I was rooting for him.

Plot: **** 4 Stars
Betrayed by her family and married off to the cold mage, Cat’s adventure is just beginning.  There are enough twists and turns to keep it interesting despite the length of the novel. I will admit that a few of the twists were obvious chapters in advance of their revelation, and occasionally I was frustrated that Cat wasn’t figuring things out faster, but it was never enough to make me want to put the book down, even for a moment!

Setting: ***** 5 Stars
The alternate earth setting is drawn with fine detail and attention to our earth’s history. Kate Elliott must have done a great deal of research in preparation for world building, because the quality of the descriptions and integration of backstory is unparalleled.

Romance: **** 4 Stars
I’m giving the romance less than 5 stars for one reason and one reason only: Cat, though confused about her feelings, still doesn’t trust or like Vai at the end of the book. I have a strong feeling this is going to change (okay, I already read the second installment, but I’m reviewing that separately) but I couldn’t give a full 5 stars when the romantic interest isn’t at least partially gratified by the end.  That being said, I loved the slow-build as Vai’s true nature is revealed, and Cat’s conflicting emotions. In the full arc of the trilogy, I expect great things from the two of them.

Genre – Multiple: ***** 5 Stars
This may be the first book I’ve read that crosses more than two genres. Certainly it’s epic fantasy: it’s a cross country adventure with magic and trolls and a parallel spiritworld.  It’s also steampunk with a conflict between the old magical order and the new technologies rising from the Amerikes. There’s a potential for a strong romance between Cat and Andevai, and the the novel also takes place in an “alternate earth” setting. Regardless, Kate Elliott does a wonderful job tying together these elements and creating a story that fits into all and none of these.

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Description From Goodreads:

Gwen Sparks holds a rare power. She can see into the memories of the dead. When she learns that vampires are killing witches for the power in their blood and selling it as the new hot drug, brew, she’ll have to team up with her ex-boyfriend, detective Micah Reynolds to catch the murderer. As if working with her ex wasn’t bad enough, Gwen’s also being pulled into the realm of death by an unsettled ghost and has to deal with a sexy but frustrating vampire who wants nothing more than to claim her as his. Can Gwen protect her heart, and her veins from the very species that craves her?

CRAVED, by Stephanie Nelson
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Review: ** 2 Stars
Gwen Sparks is a witch living in the otherworldly town of Flora, an enclave of witches, vampires, faeries, and werewolves where no humans are allowed to visit except on one weekend a year.  She reads in the paper that a witch was found dead in a ditch, drained of blood, but the local police are encouraging people not to assume that it’s a serial killer.  Gwen, unable to stand by while witches die, decides to offer her unique ability to learn the last thoughts of the dead to aid in the investigation, thrusting herself into a dangerous police case where she must work with her ex-boyfriend (a werewolf), appease her new boyfriend (a vampire), and avoid being next on the killer’s hitlist.

Reading the description, I had high hopes for this book and this author.  Unfortunately, the reality did not meet up with my expectations.

The premise of the story was unbelievable.  Gwen is an untrained civilian with no offensive magical capabilities.  Yes, she’s helped the police in the past using her abilities, but I have to assume it was at their request and on a limited basis.  It is completely unreasonable to expect cops to welcome a civilian as a full partner in an investigation, yet on this case Gwen manages to insert herself into the center of the action, not only reading the victim’s last thoughts, but going out with the cops to interview suspects and research leads.  Beyond the initial setup, the story also suffered from bad formatting, stiff and immature dialogue, repetitive and unnecessary descriptions of character motives or behaviors, and a lack of a magical system that leads me to believe this was a first effort by an otherwise unpublished author.  I would certainly encourage Ms. Nelson to keep trying, but unfortunately, CRAVED could have used more work before hitting the virtual shelves.

Characters: ** 2 Stars
Gwen is naive and somehow uneducated in her magic, despite living in a community surrounded by other witches.  I’ll grant that she’s young at twenty-six, but I would have thought that she would have been better trained at the school she apparently attended at the age of sixteen.  In the beginning, she is consumed by bitterness and grief over the breakup with her ex, avoiding the vampire that has essentially stalked her for two years, Aiden.  Then without warning, she suddenly falls head over heels in love and can’t stop drooling over him.  Meanwhile, Aiden does very little to deserve her sudden change of heart.  He’s nice enough, but mostly serves as a pretty face and generic alpha male.  The secondary characters are equally terrible.  Fiona is a selfish, spoiled brat that acts like a teenager even though she’s supposed to be Gwen’s best friend.  Micah is Gwen’s ex, but with the exception of the obvious tension in their relationship, I never got a good feel for him.  And the villain might have been crafty, but Gwen suspected him immediately, so there was little suspense to the story.

Plot: *** 3 Stars
The plot had promise, but it was overwhelmed by poor execution.  The first several chapters could have been condensed to provide a more concise introduction to the instigating event.  The magic system also needed to be further developed: there were no rules as to what could or could not be done.  In some cases the witches would use magic to change clothes or put makeup on their face, all with just a thought, and then they had to order a dress from the local tailor.  Finally, the ending was both predictable and far too open-ended for my taste, leaving me wanting (but not in a good way).

Setting: ** 2 Stars
I never got a good feel for the setting throughout the book.  For one thing, the town being segregated from humans threw me for a loop.  Supposedly it’s the humans that want separation, but then only a select few, chosen by the town, are able to visit during an annual festival, while the otherworldly residents can apparently come and go as they please.  I was also never clear on the boundaries of the investigation.  How does the Flora police department have rights to go into other towns to do its investigation?  Were the other towns also otherworld towns?  It was confusing to say the least.

Romance: * 1 Star
Gwen and Aiden were completely unbelievable together.  First, Gwen wants nothing to do with Aiden.  He’s an annoyance.  Then with a flip of a switch, she adores him.  They have sex at the most inappropriate times, like when they’re supposed to be on a stakeout and Gwen’s ex (a werewolf with supernatural hearing) is nearby.  The romance was forced and almost entirely about the sex rather than their relationship.

Genre – Urban Fantasy: ** 2 Stars
The author hits on a few of the urban fantasy tropes, but none are particularly well executed.  There are a couple of deaths and some action, but the horror and gore isn’t well described.  Gwen is on an investigation, but most of the facts just fall into her lap, or are dropped there by ghosts.  It’s sort of in an urban setting, but I couldn’t tell if Flora was really a city or just a large town.  Overall, I was underwhelmed.

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