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Archive for December, 2011

Description From Goodreads:

There can only be one allegiance.
It’s her time to choose.

Some humans can see the fae. McKenzie Lewis can track them, reading the shadows they leave behind. But some shadows lead to danger. Others lead to lies.

A Houston college student trying to finish her degree, McKenzie has been working for the fae king for years, tracking vicious rebels who would claim the Realm. Her job isn’t her only secret. For just as long, she’s been in love with Kyol, the king’s sword-master—and relationships between humans and fae are forbidden.

But any hope for a normal life is shattered when she’s captured by Aren, the fierce and uncompromising rebel leader. He teaches her the forbidden fae language and tells her dark truths about the Court, all to persuade her to turn against the king. Time is running out, and as the fight starts to claim human lives, McKenzie has no choice but to decide once and for all whom to trust and where she ultimately stands in the face of a cataclysmic civil war.

THE SHADOW READER, by Sandy Williams
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Review: ***** 5 Stars
THE SHADOW READER is an inspiring interpretation of the fae in contemporary fantasy. Thoroughly enjoyable, the tale follows McKenzie Lewis as she is kidnapped from her college final exam and thrust into the middle of a fae war. She’s always been on the side of the fae King Atroth, but as she learns more about the rebels around her, she comes to discover that all may not be what it seems.

There were a couple of relatively minor world-building issues that stretched the limits of my ability to suspend disbelief, but despite that, I was carried away by this book and enjoyed every minute of the read.

Characters: ***** 5 Stars
I loved all of the characters in THE SHADOW READER. Each had a unique voice and brought together a deep, well-developed cast. Even the secondary characters enhanced the story, moving beyond mere placeholders to full characters in their own right.

Don’t let the girl on the cover deceive you, McKenzie Lewis is an average human college student, except for the fact that she can see fae magic and read the path of their fissures – portals from one world to another. Most notably, she does not carry a sword. However, that doesn’t mean she isn’t kick-ass in her own right, stubborn and brave, trying to do the right thing without being deceived by the devious fae around her. She is the best shadow reader in the world, able to track the fae to within yards of their location after they jump through a fissure, making her a valuable asset to the King and a high-value target to the rebels.

Kyol is King Atroth’s sword-master, a cold warrior that softens only around McKenzie and loves her despite the King’s restriction that fae and humans cannot have a relationship. He does everything in his power to protect McKenzie, keeping her as far from the front lines of the war as possible and hiding her from the rebels, but eventually they catch up to her.

Aren is the rebel leader who finally manages to capture the shadow reader, but instead of killing her as he should in this brutal war, Aren tries to persuade her to see their side and learn the truth of the King and Kyol’s actions.

Plot: ***** 5 Stars
The plot was really well developed, with several twists and turns as McKenzie discovers more about the war, its origins, and her place in it. I especially enjoyed McKenzie’s internal conflict as she finds herself both sympathizing with the rebel cause (and its charismatic leader) and loyal to Kyol and the King. I couldn’t put the book down!

Setting: **** 4 Stars
Some of the world building threw me for a loop, sending me slightly out of the story to consider whether I could really believe the set-up. For example, when on Earth, the fae visibly show “chaos lusters”, bright lightning bolts of magic that dance across their skin. Only humans with the sight can see this magic, but the magic can jump from fae to human and back, a pleasurable sensation, apparently. The chaos lusters move faster when the fae is agitated or in pain, but why would the environmental magic be affected by mood? Similarly, human technology hurts the fae and drains their magic, regardless of what it’s made of, but I never understood why that would happen. I guess I like an explanation, even for the unexplainable.

However, the worlds themselves were really well developed, with great detail in the political situation, the atmosphere, and the scenery. I was drawn in and captivated by the world, not wanting to put the book down despite the few moments of distraction.

Romance: ***** 5 Stars
The love triangle between McKenzie, Kyol, and Aren is fantastic, despite Kyol not actually being present for most of the story. McKenzie is rightfully hesitant to trust Aren, her kidnapper. But Aren is immediately attracted to her and wants to keep her alive and safe. He works hard to make her see the rebel point of view, and change her opinion of him in the process. Kyol, on the other hand, has secretly held McKenzie’s heart for ten years and does everything in his power to bring her back to safety. McKenzie can’t help but think about him and struggles against her growing attraction to Aren in part due to loyalty to Kyol. There’s plenty of sexual tension between McKenzie and her two suitors, as well as plain old regular tension, but even though McKenzie eventually does make a choice, the novel is kept PG and the window is left open for further tension in future books.

Genre – Contemporary Fantasy: ***** 5 Stars
A great combination of action, suspense, and adventure, with strong character development, makes this a great contemporary fantasy. For those that like a lot of heavy romance in their fantasy, this might not be a great pick for you, but the author brought something new and interesting to the genre with THE SHADOW READER. I look forward to the next installment!

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A few weeks ago, I was asked by Marie Borthwick of Write Panic Live to participate in a reader interview. Of course, I was happy to help! Marie asked a lot of great questions, forcing me to really think about what I like, why I like it, and how I developed as a reader. Be sure to check out her site and my responses. Hopefully you’ll learn more about me in the process.

Copied below is a brief excerpt from the interview:

Q: What is your favorite genre and why?
A: I love SFF, in just about all of its subgenres, because I love being taken away to other worlds.  SFF authors have to develop new worlds and alternate realities, and can’t rely on just the real world for their inspiration.  Not that I’m downgrading the creative ability of other authors — writing in any form is a challenge to master — but when done well, a fantasy or science-fiction novel is transformative and more than the sum of its parts.  In my opinion, people that snub SFF a) haven’t read the good stuff, and b) don’t understand that SFF isn’t just about elves or space travel or vampires or interplanetary wars…it’s about the conflict between people and cultures.  Often, there’s an underlying question of morality and investigation of the gray areas between good and evil.  It also doesn’t hurt that there are good looking men, beautiful women, and supernatural creatures to dream about!  I don’t think it affects my opinion of the other genres, I still read outside of the genre a lot, but I do tend to pick fantasy over other books.

Q: What grabs your attention most when shopping or considering books to read?
A: I hate to admit it, but first impression is always the cover.  It’s what draws me to click on the thumbnail for the book.  Then it’s the description: does it sound like a unique take on the theme, do the characters sound interesting and the plot fun? After that, I often look at the reader reviews, both good and bad, to see whether the good features outweigh the bad.

Q: What are your feelings on traditionally published authors vs. independently published authors?
A: I read and review both traditionally and independently published authors, but I hold them both to the same standards.  I don’t give indies slack just because they’re selling their book for $0.99 or because they didn’t have a big-time editor reviewing the work.  With the digital age, I think it makes sense for many authors (not all) to publish electronically and offer their work at a lower price than the traditional houses.  But those authors need to act professionally when putting a book on the virtual shelves.  It needs to be edited, they need to have a good cover, and the story should hold its own in the marketplace.  Some authors aren’t ready to tackle the challenges of being both a writer and a publisher.  Those authors need the traditional publishing space.  But I don’t punish indies that have done their job and published a good book.  In fact, you’ll find some really positive reviews of indie books on my blog.

Check out the rest of the interview at Write Panic Live!

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Description From Goodreads:
In steampunk Victorian London, Lady Phoebe Hughes develops an herbal elixir, Viridis, unlike any other. London’s elite flock to her club to experience the euphoria and heightened senses the drink brings. Imagine an orgasm brought on by a single kiss. But when Lord Hawthorne is murdered after leaving her club, Phoebe is shocked to find that not only was he working for the Special Services to infiltrate the Cause, a movement fighting for the city’s poor, he was also in possession of her secret formulation for Viridis.

Adding to her difficulties is the unexpected return of Mr. Seth Elliott, a brilliant tinkerer who stole her heart and imagination, only to abandon her when she needed him most. Unable to ignore all that is between them, Phoebe finds herself falling for Seth once again, only to have a powerful rival for her affections wrongly accuse Seth of attempted murder. As Phoebe struggles with a way to free her love, revolution, conspiracy and murder threaten to ruin it all.

VIRIDIS, by Calista Taylor
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Review: *** 3 Stars
I finished this book awhile ago, but it’s taken me a long time to write this review. In its fundamentals, VIRIDIS was a good book. It was well-written with relatively few typos or formatting errors, the plot was decent, and the characters were more or less likable. The problem, I think for me, was one of taste.

VIRIDIS is dark, and I don’t mean that in a blood and guts kind of way, but in a psychological, I-think-the-author-might-have-gone-slightly-off-the-deep-end kind of way. I’ve read a lot of dark books in the past – with S&M, blood, violence, psychopathic killers, and everything – but something about VIRIDIS really bothered me. It took me a long time to put my finger on what that thing was, and eventually I realized it was a lack of positive outcome. I guess I’m a happy-ending kind of gal, and although the book does end on an upswing for the protagonist and her lover, the pain and suffering throughout the story far outweighs the hope and joy. In fact, the very last chapter is the scene of a murder.

This is not a book for the faint of heart. There is rape, some sexual bondage, multiple murders, conspiracy, and a monster in human skin. However, for those that find the dark side of human nature fascinating, and enjoy steampunk London, this still might be a good book for you.

Characters: *** 3 Stars
Pheobe is likable and semi-realistic for an independent steampunk Victorian lady and brilliant herbal “tinkerer”, though a bit delusional about her own safety. She travels about London on her own, even to the poorest parts, without an escort or bodyguard or any kind of security. She even refuses to carry a weapon. However, she’s feisty and stubborn, and a bit of a revolutionary, willing to fight for who and what she believes in. Her ex-boyfriend, Seth, is also a brilliant mechanical “tinkerer”. He returns from a special mission for the Cause and pursues Pheobe with determination, trying to win back her heart and ultimately her hand in marriage. I liked that both Phoebe and Seth were ambitious and motivated individuals, but never really connected with either of them.

Secondary characters include Pheobe’s brother Gabriel, who I wish played a larger part in the story (his character is integral, but we don’t learn much about him until the story is almost over), and Gavin, Seth’s best friend and an airship captain from Scotland that always wears a kilt.

The villain is Lord Victor Fenwick, a self-righteous cold-hearted man, who demonstrates an absolute lack of compassion as well as an impressive network of allies. I actually wanted to know more about Victor – why he was so interested in Phoebe, and how he came to be the bastard that he is. Unfortunately, his motives were never fully revealed.

Plot: *** 3 Stars
While the story was well-built with few plot holes, I had a hard time enjoying the novel. One bad thing leads to another, leads to another, and the few glimpses we have of potential happiness for the characters are quickly crushed under the weight of another lie or catastrophe. The final resolution to the murder case was also a bit disappointing, as I think the author could have done a better job of providing subtle clues throughout the novel.

Setting: ***** 5 Stars
The setting was perfect for a steampunk romance. The club, Viridis, was really well described, and the author brought Victorian London to life throughout the novel.

Romance: *** 3 Stars
I was not a fan of Seth and Phoebe’s relationship. Seth was overbearing and nearly abusive in one instance, and Phoebe keeps secrets from Seth, never really trusting him completely. While this makes sense given their background (Seth left Phoebe after her sister died, when she needed him the most), I never felt like they were a good match, despite their passionate physical relationship.

Genre – Steampunk: **** 4 Stars
VIRIDIS was a solid steampunk romance novel, but didn’t excite me as much as some of the others I’ve read. Phoebe’s lab (really more of a distillery) had some interesting security measures, and some of the devices sounded cool (if a bit too futuristic for Victorian London, even steampunk Victorian London), but I wanted more ingenuity from the author. Given Phoebe’s herbal elixirs, I had hoped for a bit of a twist on the regular steampunk themes, but VIRIDIS failed to deliver on that.

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Description From Goodreads:
Audrey Callahan left behind her life in the Edge, and she’s determined to stay on the straight and narrow. But when her brother gets into hot water, the former thief takes on one last heist and finds herself matching wits with a jack of all trades…

Kaldar Mar-a gambler, lawyer, thief, and spy-expects his latest assignment tracking down a stolen item to be a piece of cake, until Audrey shows up. But when the item falls into the hands of a lethal criminal, Kaldar realizes that in order to finish the job, he’s going to need Audrey’s help…

FATE’S EDGE, by Ilona Andrews
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

This is the third book in the series:

Review: **** 4 Stars

FATE’S EDGE was exactly what I’ve come to expect from the author team of Ilona Andrews, a perfectly paced adventure with unique characters and a romance that leaves you breathless for more. I’ve read all three of the edge books at this point, and look forward to the continuation of the series. Each book is a stand-alone novel following one of the secondary characters from the other books. Ilona Andrews does a great job of weaving backstory where needed without ruining the other stories, meaning that you can actually read these out of order.

Characters: **** 4 Stars
Audrey and Kaldar are an unbeatable team. Both grifters with specialized skills, the duo quickly realizes that the attraction is more than professional. Audrey has brains and beauty, using both to her advantage to achieve her goals. It also doesn’t hurt that she has a magical ability to pick any lock ever designed. Kaldar has good looks and charm, plus an ability to change personalities at the drop of a hat. Magically, Fate shines on Kaldar and he will win just about any bet he makes. The secondary characters were the charming young brothers, George and Jack, from ON THE EDGE, showing how they’ve both grown up a bit since we last saw them. I particularly love Jack, the lynx changeling that has issues understanding the rest of humanity and controlling his temper.

Then there were the villains, which, unfortunately, lived up to my expectations of being rather one dimensional with no redeeming qualities. They’re simply evil monsters, with an outrageous lust for blood and lack of humanity. The Hand (the spy organization that they work for) trains them that way, but I’d like to see one of them surprise me by showing a little compassion, or something above a desire to maim and kill. However, they do each have their own motivations for their work, and skill sets that make them interesting within the story.

Plot: **** 4 Stars
Perfectly paced, the story kept my butt glued to the seat of my chair but still allowed for character development and a realistic romantic relationship. Without giving anything away, I loved that Audrey came the the rescue at the end, using her wit to outfox the enemy and win, although I would have liked the final climactic scene to have progressed from her perspective rather than Kaldar’s so that we could have gotten a better picture of what actually happened.

Setting: **** 4 Stars
I’ve knocked a star off on the setting not because of anything in particular that was bad, but because it was 100% expected as compared to the other novels in the series. The Edge is a deep dark wilderness, the Broken is our earth, and the Weird is a medieval magical realm. I would have liked a new climate or something completely out of expectation to create some interest in the setting.

Romance: ***** 5 Stars
Ilona Andrews excels at developing realistic romances that make sense to the story. Audrey and Kaldar are a wonderful match, but Audrey has reservations for good cause. As a result, they don’t jump into bed too quickly and the plot isn’t entirely centered around the sex scenes. Instead, Kaldar has to work to win Audrey’s acceptance, building to an intense moment together that had my heart pounding.

Genre – Contemporary Fantasy Romance: ***** 5 Stars
FATE’S EDGE has it all, an action packed story with a fantastic romance and well-developed characters. Ilona Andrews is a master of the genre. I highly recommend The Edge series and FATE’S EDGE in particular.

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