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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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I’m a Featured Reader!

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!

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.

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.

THE WARDEN THREAT

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.

SAPPHIRE HUNTING

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.

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!)