A Boy and His Dragon (Being(s) in Love #2) by R. Cooper

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Rating: 4.5 stars

A Boy And His DragonDr. Philbert Jones is a renowned historian but he simply cannot get organized.  His house is in complete disarray, dusty tomes and statues compete with a tower of papers and unidentifiable objects strewn everywhere.  Nothing is where he can find it, so a close friend at the University suggested hiring an assistant, Arthur McArthur, a former student that had  worked for him doing research.  But he knows that  humans can  see dragons as the path to riches or as something to be feared.  Only a few can get close enough to understand them and  Philbert or Bertie as he wants to be called is  looking for that rare human to help him with his next book.

Arthur McArthur loved being a research assistant in college but when he took in his younger sister, his bills mounted until he had to quit the university and get  multiple jobs to pay all their  bills.  Now Arthur finds himself standing in Dr. Jones’ house, amidst gargantuan clutter, facing the dragon himself, and  trying to remember the last time a dragon ate someone,  decades ago surely?  But the interview goes well, and Arthur leaves the house with a new job, and his head in the  clouds.  Professor Jones is gorgeous, brilliant and needs his help to research the Red Dragons, a topic that was the focus of Arthur’s dissertation.  Then Bertie starts flirting with him, calling him a pearl…..surely the dragon isn’t serious, is he?  There is nothing special  about Arthur or does Bertie see something extraordinary in a boy called Arthur.

I loved this book and the author, R. Cooper, who is a recent must read for me.  It started with Play It Again, Charlie, a contemporary romance, so I was not prepared for the intensity of a dragon/human love story that unfolds in A Boy And His Dragon.  One of the things I admire about Cooper’s writing is that she takes the time to fully invest her characters with personalities that have depth and resonate with the reader.  Arthur McArthur is a charming, noble lad who cannot see his own purity and forthrightness that attracts  Beings (dragons, elves, or fairies) like honey to a bee. And Dr. Jones is definitely attracted.  Bertie is another lovely creation.  He is a dragon and neither Arthur or the reader is able to forget that.  His thoughts come from a  different place than ours and Cooper makes us see that in a manner that still lets us relate to this wonderful persona who just happens to breathe fire.

So while juggling the personalities of two completely different beings, the author gives us a slow but intense courtship between Bertie and  Arthur. Neither is especially sure of themselves and each is afraid to take a step forward and admit that they are falling in love.  While the story is told from Arthur’s pov, Bertie’s feelings are telegraphed beautifully as well while still leaving us with an Arthur oblivious to Bertie’s feelings.  And then there are the descriptions of Bertie’s house, full of treasures and tomes laying under mountains of dust and neglect. The portrait she paints of Bertie’s abode is so rich, so realistic it will leave you coughing and wanting to open a window.

This story is so rich, so heated that it begs for another in the same universe.   And of course, with the same characters.  I wanted to know more about Bertie’s parents who seem to disapprove of their romantic son.  And how Bertie and Arthur get on with their lives because you know that will not happen smoothly for these two.  With Arthur’s sister needing their help and Bertie’s friend Zeru, another dragon,  hanging about, you just know complication will arise and I want to be there when they happen.  These are  wonderful characters so full of life that one book surely is not big enough to hold their story.  But while we are waiting, pick this one up and settle in with an unusual love story between A Boy And His Dragon.

Cover is delightful by artist Paul Richmond.  I just wish he had played a little more with the descriptions of Bertie to give him that look that says he is not completely human.

Review of A Sky Full of Wings (Notice #3) by M. Raiya

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Rating: 5 stars

Varian and Josh are getting married and all their friends are in attendance, Dragons, Knights, and lots of Humans unaware of their magical presence, all have come to see two of their best friends forever bonded.  Varian’s normal nerves of steel are rattled as never before when facing the prospect of a wedding planned by his unpredictable lover, Josh.  And the fact that his brother and best friend won’t look at him while refusing to tell him what Josh has  planned?  Not at good thing at all.  Plus the new age minister that Josh found to marry them is giving off strange vibes to go with the stranger looks he is giving the couple.  Varian’s wedding jitters continue to ramp up, only his love for Josh keeps him safely anchored instead of fleeing in panic.  Now if only he can overcome his natural dragon’s reticence  for speech in time to speak his vows!  What can go wrong next at the marriage of Varian and Josh from the Notice series? Welcome to their wedding where anything that could happen does and a special wedding present to match all wedding presents is delivered to the happy couple.

M. Raiya’s A Sky Full of Wings was my first introduction to this author and the series.  I knew this short story was part of a series I had not read before but ended up loving it even without the first stories to go by.  Raiya fleshed out enough of Varian and Josh’s backstory for me that I did not feel as though I was missing out on too much information.  I loved the characters the author created almost immediately from Dr. Adrian Varian Kendall, a teacher who just happens to be a black dragon and Josh, his human lover who just might be more than he seems but no one appears to  know what that is exactly.  All the elements here are vividly described, from the multilayered characters to a dragon cartwheeling in joy through the sky.

I felt that this story was so well written from the humorous beginning to the end with its unexpected wedding guests and its portents of things to come that A Sky Full of Wings is sending me back to start from the beginning.(note: I have now read and reviewed them. See below)  I don’t feel that it is entirely necessary to read the other books first to love this story as M. Raiya gives the reader all they need here to understand the characters in the wedding party and some of the backstory. This promises to be a great series for me.  I will let you know how it goes. Until then, don’t wait to grab this one up! You won’t be sorry.

Cover:  Cover artist Alessio Brio.  I love the dragon in the background, but to be honest, I have no idea what those things are on either side.  If you know, please clue me in as my curiosity is up!

Other books in the series, starting from the beginning are:

Notice (Notice #1) read my review here.

The Dragon and the Mistletoe (Notice #2) a Christmas short (my review is combined with Notice – see above)

A Sky Full of Wings (Notice #3)

Review of Ruffskin (Dance With The Devil #4) by Megan Derr

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Rating: 5 stars

It is a typical night at The Bremmer, it’s pouring outside and Johnny is arguing with Grimm inside over an alleged flirtation at a party they just left.  A messenger interrupts them looking for Peyton Blue, the werewolf coowner and bartender of The Bremmer.  The strange courier has a package to deliver, one that has an immediate effect on their beloved barkeep.  When Grimm chases after the courier, he disappears  under a magical spell.

The package is from Peyton’s past, bringing with it bloody memories and a death sentence.  It is up to Johnny and Grimm to find the messenger, and finish the conflict started years ago when Peyton still belonged in the Blue Pack.

Ruffskin is a short story that follows the characters of Dance in the Dark (Dance with the Devil #2), Johnny Goodnight and his boyfriend/guard Grimm,  and their friend Peyton Blue, a werewolf.  Without reading Dance in the Dark, you will miss the backstory on all the characters involved in the case here which would be a mistake and leave you confused as to the elements involved in Ruffskin.  That said, this is a marvelous addition to that universe.  Most of the denizens of The Bremmer, local bar and hangout, have interesting pasts and it’s bartender and owner is no different.

Of course, it is a dark and stormy night that brings Peyton’s past home to him, a past he has tried so very hard to forget and one that could cause his death.  Johnny Goodnight is none other than John Derossiers, son of The Dracula Derossiers who rules the territory they live in. When the mystery and conflict from Peyton’s past intrudes on the bar and his father’s land, Johnny is called in to investigate and solve the problem.  And what a problem it is.  A dreadful dark secret that is at the heart of the chaos in the Blue werewolf pack. This is a very sensitive subject matter that Megan Derr gives a delicate and compassionate treatment, identifying the matter through the use of a poem instead of outright stating the nature of the abuse. Simply and elegantly done.

Ruffskin contains all the usual elements I have come to expect from Megan Derr.  Great characterizations, smart dialog and a storyline that keeps the reader engaged right to the end. Ruffskin is listed as the fourth book in the Dance With The Devil series but the author states at the beginning that this story fits in right after the second book as I have noted above.  While Midnight could almost be read as a stand alone (it figures into the books that follow it), the first three books should be read in the order I have indicated below:

Dance With The Devil (DWTD#1)see my review here.

Dance In The Dark (DWTD#2) – see my review here.

Ruffskin (DWTD#4)

Midnight (DWTD#3) – see my review here.

Cover:  Again another gorgeous cover by London Burden in keeping with the series and containing a simple graphic of a object center to the storyline.

Review of Midnight (Dance With The Devil #3) by Megan Derr

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Rating: 5 stars

Devlin White, Duke of Winterbourne, is the last of a great line of Black Witches.  With the death of his father, his remaining siblings has renounced the black arts for white and left for the new world, only he remains to carry on the family name and glory.   He receives a request from Lord Tamor, demon lord of his land, to investigate the latest draugr sightings in the countryside just outside his territory, far more numerous than ever before.  The vampires whose territory it is refuses demon assistance, preferring that of a renown and infamous witch instead.

When Devlin accepts the mission, he decides to leave behind his beloved ward, Midnight, who he treasures above all. The reason?  Midnight is a draugr as well, a living corpse made by Devlin’s own special magic, and until White can figure out why or who has called these draugrs from the grave, he doesn’t want Midnight close to the problem or Midnight may be influenced as well.

Powerful magic is at work and the culprit clever at hiding themselves and the motives behind their actions.  When Midnight appears on the scene despite Devlin’s orders, he catches the attention of the person behind the draugr attacks.  Then the race is on to find out who is responsible for the draugrs and stop them before they take control of the one being Devlin loves, whether he knows it or not.

Midnight continues our journey through the different territories of the world that makes up The Dance With The Devil series.  Each book contains  either overlapping characters or mentions characters/beings that are central to the next  book.  Midnight’s focus is on the walking dead.  We know them as zombies.  People or beings called from the grave, animated for some or someone’s purpose.  Midnight, the character, of the title is a unique draugr, created by Devlin White himself and another sorcerer, when just a boy.  With snow white skin, blue hair, nails and eyes only to give away his status as a walking dead, he is otherwise perfection to look upon with powers of his own.  He is an innocent among evil or those to whom evil or black magic are constant companions.  Midnight is also deeply in love with Devlin and doesn’t know how to get Devlin to look at him differently.  Every aspect of Midnight will claim the reader’s compassion and instill him into our hearts, so beautifully is he realized. In Devlin White, Derr draws our attention to the witches in her universe and their companions. I loved Devlin White who continues her rolecall of aristocratic main characters.  He is elegant, wry, and aware of his status without being autocratic and  unduly harsh.  He is a wonderful construct   among many here.  I found his feelings towards Midnight especially authentic.  He has raised Midnight since he was a boy.  In the back of his mind, he wonders if his feelings toward Midnight are appropriate, if he is not taking advantage in some way of Midnights total reliance on him.  Devlin recognizes his love for Midnight, but doesn’t want to recognize at what level that love exists.  It is a touchy emotional terrain he has to navigate over and Derr does a wonderful job of helping us understand not only his frustration with their relationship but Midnight’s as well because we get to “listen” to both sides of the argument they are having with themselves and each other. Barra, his man servant, is equally memorable as he is a “wolf elf” to use the term coined by a dragon.  A mongrel who is hurt by the term and gentle in spirit. Barra is such an interesting character all by himself, made more so by his interactions with others, especially a certain knight and his dragon.

Yes, that would be dragon, and where there are dragons, there are also knights, a goblin or two, an angel, imp, vampires, and several sorcerers as well.  Derr throws the whole complement of mystical and supernatural beings at us not only in this story but the entire series.  And each and every being comes through as believable, from their actions to skin color.

Derr’s vivid description extends to her settings, where the mist lies cold upon your face, the rains soak your clothes and the fog obscures the frightening creatures hunting you.  She doesn’t just inform you of the danger but makes you feel each second of every minute of the menace and perils facing our protagonists.  She can make your heart race and your breathe quicken along with Devlin’s as he faces down one opponent after another.  Derr finds subtle ways to endear her quirky characters to you even when they are characters that exist towards the edges of the story.  There is no character or stray plot thread that can ever be considered a “throwaway” in a Derr novel.  Somehow,  someway, that fact, that character will make a reappearance and resolve a plot point you hadn’t considered before.

Midnight is a solid 5 star story in the middle of a wonderful 5 star series.  Megan Derr really deserves such a larger audience for her stories and her talent, both of which encompasses many gifts as well as wild and wonderful elements. From supernatural detectives, a bar where everyone knows your name even if it be mystical in nature, action/adventure stories as told by demons and love lorn vampires, there is something for everyone here.  Start at the beginning or start here.  Just don’t let this series or this book pass you by!

The Dance With The Devil Series.  The first two especially should be read in order:

Dance With The Devil (DWTD #1) – see my review here.

Dance In The Dark (DWTD #2) – see my review here.

Ruffskin (DWTD#4) – see my review here (the switch in order is intentional)

Midnight (DWTD#3)

 

Cover.  The cover by London Burden is just outstanding.  Simple, elegant and with a cohesive design for the entire series.  I love it.

Dance in the Dark (Dance with the Devil #2) by Megan Derr

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Rating: 5 stars

All Johnny’s parents had ever wanted for him was to live life as a normal child.  And with the life he has been given, all he has ever wanted was to fit in and be anything but normal. After his parents were killed by a vampire in the throes of a blood lust, Johnny was adopted by The Dracula Desroseiers and raised along side his vampire son, always aware that he was normal in a family of abnormals and a member of the ruling class. Now at 23, he is considered by most “more vampire than the other vampires”, more coldly beautiful, more arrogant and as well as brilliant. Not quite accepted in either human or vampire society, Johnny spends his days with his books, his studies, and mysteries.

Then his best friend needs Johnny to solve a mystery of a pair of magicked Cinderella slippers, that dominos into a succession of mysteries, increasing in complexity and danger until the final mystery Johnny needs to solve is one that involves him and his family. Then Johnny has to wonder if it is better to dance in the dark than be devoured by it.

Dance in the Dark is the second in the Dance with the Devil series but follows the same format as the first, each chapter is a series of detective cases that Johnny solves.  But unlike the first novel with Chris and Sable Brennen, this takes place in The Dracula Desrosiers territory and John Desrosiers is the Sherlock Holmes type sleuth. Although quick to comment on his normal status, he is also proud of his ability to deduce the solution to the mysteries presented to him, using just his mind and powers of observation. In other hands, Johnny could come off as cold, proud and plain unlikeable. However, this is Megan Derr and in my mind, I automatically equate her with complex characters with real emotions and dimension, and with Derr as his creator, Johnny is completely understandable in his prickly behavior.  He may hide behind his spoiled rich brat front but there is true kindness and the loneliness of a orphan behind all his actions.  I adored him immediately, including his habit of using quotes from poetry to answer questions put to him. Johnny is also the Beau Brummell of his day and I looked forward to the descriptions of his garb and matching jewelry as much as I did elements of the case.  His dress said as much about him as does his manners, beautiful details I have come to expect from a Megan Derr character. All that  lonely brilliance needs balance, and Derr provides it with a host of wildly different characters and beings, each unique, each endearing and all memorable.  This includes Eros, a being of darkness who visits Johnny in the dark for sexual encounters that  quickly turn into more for Johnny, as he needs the intimacy but Eros keeps his identity and physical self hidden to Johnny’s increasing frustration.

If you are not familiar with the books of Megan Derr, I will tell you that every name, every object or event that comes up has a hidden meaning that will be revealed later in the story.  It may not seem like much at the time the information is introduced, but I have learned over many books to take nothing for granted and take great joy in the many traps she springs and surprises that  lay in store.  Here Derr plays with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and other fantasy childhood stories such as  Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty but with a much darker take on them then the current Disney versions and much more in keeping with the original folktales.  Each chapter is such a tale as in Case No.004 The Bremen, as in The Town Musicians of  Bremen. And with each case, layer upon layer is added, eventually connecting all the mysteries to one enormous event that will amaze you with its depth and devilry.

In Dance in the Dark, you get the added bonus of meeting with Chris, Phil, Sable and other characters from Dance with the Devil as a case of Chris’ from that novel is the focal point around which the cases here revolve.  All will be involved in the final solution. How I loved visiting with them again and of course, it caused me to return to read that story once again.

Along with great characters, Derr gives you such wondrous stories filled with complex settings of such vivid description, I often wanted to be a pixie myself riding on their shoulders to experience it all myself. Here they be dragons, and imps, witches and succubus, demons and alchemists – all at play, all none as they seem.  Every time I think Megan Derr has outdone herself with a book, she ups the standard with the next one until my mind boggles over her gift with the language and her ability to tell a story.  In olden times, she would have been a Bard of Legend, her tales told far and wide.  Read Dance in the Dark.  You will find yourself believing it too.

Start the series at the beginning, to get the full understanding of the characters complex backgrounds and world building:

Dance with the Devil (Dance with the Devil #1) read my review here.

Dance with the Dark (Dance with the Devil #2)

Midnight (Dance with the Devil #3) – review coming soon.

Cover art by London Burden.  Love the covers for this series, simple, elegant and perfect.

Review of The Wizard and the Werewolf (Mixed Mate Series#1) by Amber Kell

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Rating: 3.5 stars

Peter Moore, Alpha of his pack, doesn’t expect to start his day with a request from his sister Anna’s new Mate, Cyrus Kane.  Always shy in his presence, Cyrus seems especially nervous now.  Cyrus has a request to make of Peter and their pack.  Cyrus’ half brother Justin needs a place to stay for a few days and Cyrus suggested that he stay with him. Which wouldn’t be a problem except that Justin is a wizard, someone not always welcomed by shifters.  Justin also is a bit of a trouble magnet.  Still after granting his request, Peter is not prepared for the gorgeous man on a motorcycle roaring up his Pack’s driveway.  One look, one sniff, and Peter finds he has his Mate in Justin, something neither man is prepared for.

Justin is on the run, a small fact he has kept from his brother.  Justin has stolen a powerful talisman from Tom Frells, member of the Wizard Council and Justin’s exboyfriend. Tom has promised to track him down, retrieve the artifact and make him pay.  Could the timing be any worse on finding out that he has a Mate? Now not only must Justin keep his Cyrus and Anna safe, he has a possessive Alpha as Mate and a psychotic ex-boyfriend chasing him.  Justin must use all his wits and power if there is to be a future for them all.

The Wizard and the Werewolf is the beginning of a new series by Amber Kell and it has the makings of a good one.  This book sets up the story, the characters and the quest/conflict that will involve everyone in the books to come.  I like the cast of characters Kell has presented us with starting with Cyrus and Justin, half brothers superficially opposite and completely similiar inside where it counts, including giving shy, submissive Cyrus a core of steel.  The pack also has characters of note, from Peter Moore and his dominant sister, Anna to Gregory, his beta in the pack. Kell throws a demon and god for good measure.  But at 117 pages, there is just not enough time to satisfactorily and realistically accomplish all she has set down in the first book, which is such a shame. I find that the characters could have been more fully developed and a little less stereotypical.  Peter is a Alpha we have seen before as is the Gay for You element here. I wish she had given Peter her own twist to this character and the same goes for the bad boy  wizard, Justin.

Then there is the plot. We need a little more backstory here, why do the wizards and shifters not get along to the point of extermination? Tell us more about Gaia and her son. The narrative needed more polish and more depth than the length and Amber Kell was able to convey. All the questions brought up by the events in the book never received any answers by the end.  In fact, the book was more of a cliffhanger than anything else, a technique that, in my opinion, only belongs in a free serial story.Yes, one aspect was cleared up but so many more were left hanging. Leave hints, lay a trail or two to set up the next book in the series but finish what you start and leave the reader satisfied with the book they just finished.

Unfortunately the book came across as more of a hastily scribbled book outline that the author wanted to get off to the publisher to show what they were working on next.  I just wish Amber Kell has take the time to flesh out the story that she has created for us.  All the elements are there, including the mixed mates element which I really love.  This book gives us two mixed mates and several cross bondings, all of which adds the potential for this to be a great new series if the author brings the promise I see here to fruition.  I am looking forward to the next book, but if loose ends and cliffhangers leave you irritated and unsatisfied, perhaps you should wait until the series is further along to pick this one up.

Cover:  Nice design by artist Reese Dante but the  models look a little generic for me and nothing speaks to the storyline inside.

Review of Ensnared by Dawn H. Hawkes

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Rating: 3.5

Evan’s life during the day is mundane, being a lowly waiter carries little excitement. There is that customer who comes every week but Evan has never worked up the courage to speak to him. Oh, but his dream life.  There the man of his dreams, that sexy nameless customer, makes hot, sexy wild love to him all night long, bringing out his inner hedonist until the early morning hours when Evan awakes exhausted and alone. Between his dreams and seeing weird creatures in his nightmares, Evan is afraid he is losing his mind.

Gar is an alien warrior brought to Earth to hunt down and kill a predator species who escaped from their world.  As a warrior he is expected to fulfill his mission and return to his planet and mate with a warrior his equal to further their species.  So why are all his thoughts consumed by the small Human who waits tables at the restaurant he visits?  So while Gar stays back from the man physically, during the night he visits the Human in his dreams, taking him sexually and making the Human his own.  Each time Gar vows it will be the last time and every night he goes to Evan unable to stay away.

When the creatures attack Evan, Gar saves him. Faced with the one man who fills his dreams and thoughts, Evan is not about to let him go. But after sharing a kiss, Gar decides that the only way to save Evan and remove himself from temptation is to leave the planet.  This is not something that Evan can bear to think about, let alone happen.  What’s a young Human to do?

Ensnared is the first book I have read by Dawn H. Hawkes and I came away with some very mixed feelings.  On the one hand, her characters were wonderful.  I loved the downtrodden Evan, who still managed to show some sparks of fire despite his shyness and sad neglectful upbringing.  Gar  was lovely as the tough warrior who was still able to see beyond Evan’s meek exterior to the real person inside.  I like them as a couple as well as individuals.  And that saved the book.  Otherwise there are so many holes in the plot, that its resemblance to swiss cheese is easily noted.

My first quibble starts with Evan’s background which is presented with its own mystery.  His parents just walked away and left him in foster care but left him their home? Also, Evan has been seeing strange creatures all his life which in turn had him seeing therapists because some people thought he was crazy. I expected Hawkes to work that into the plot, perhaps Evan is not what  he seems sort of thing.  Nope, nada.  Little things here and there kept popping up that I thought Hawkes would pull them all together and make Evan’s past a neat twist to the story.  But it never happened, they all add up to one red herring.

The next stumbling stone in this story is literally a stone, the Ra stone.  A rare gift, Gar uses it to visit Evan in his dreams.  One of its properties is that it can act as a two way method of communication, the person it is used upon can then take the stone and enter the dreams of stone’s owner.  Neat idea that never came to fruition.

Next quibble concerns the attacks on Evan by the K’reet who have a nasty habit of eating people.  Apparently Evan is especially tasty but there is no explanation for the frequent attacks until the end.  And that revelation doesn’t make much sense nor it is fully explained. Then there is Shia, the head warrior.  She is hell on wheels, all the warriors fear  her and apparently she won’t  accept that Gar wants Evan as his mate.   All this buildup only to see it fizzle out at the end.  And that is the primary problem here.  We get set up after set up and our expectations are engaged and then nothing really happens.  It is like expecting to see a humongus tiger to leap out at you and getting a tiny kitten instead. So the frustrations keep building as the story runs its course like a limping greyhound we keep routing for but know won’t win the race.

And finally, my most important quibble.  Gar’s home planet.  I really am at a loss to explain what happened here.  Lack of imagination? Ran out of steam? I don’t think it is laziness because the author clearly has talent and some great ideas sprinkled throughout the story.  But basically Gar’s home plant is almost exactly like Earth, right down to the restaurants.   Yes,  they seemed to have an Oracle of sorts, the warriors dressed like leather daddies at ComicCon, complete with swords but it seems they all live in Mayberry.  And the K’reet came from there?  Nothing made any sense. Much less the ending.  I did check out the author’s bio and book facts to see if this was just the first in a series but it seems to be a standalone novel.  So while I liked Evan and Gar I don’t think I will be visiting with them again.  What a shame.

Cover:  Reese Dante.  The Ra stone is front and center here, along with a very nice design with great fonts.  Great job.

Review of Mind Magic by Poppy Dennison

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Rating:      4.5 stars

When Simon Osbourne starts hearing the cries of children begging for help in his head, he tries to ignore them.  It’s against the rule he is governed by to interfere as he is an apprentice mage and the children in danger are werecubs. But as the cries continue, he feels the children weakening and decides to act.  Under the darkness of night, Simon steals onto the grounds of a house in the woods, and finds five were children being drained by a demon.  Using the magic tricks he has learned as an apprentice, Simon frees the children and drives them back to the Wolf pack compound outside of town.

Grey Townsend, alpha of the High Moon Pack, has been going crazy ever since his son, Garon and four other children were stolen from the compound.  For two days, the pack has searched but all traces of the cubs are gone, along with hearing their mind speak.  When a strange mage brings the children home, Gray owes Simon his gratitude and trust, not something the weres give to the Others.  Little is known about the Others except that the groups stay away from each others societies, segregated by rules and laws arcane in nature.  Then Simon saves Garon from a demon attack for the second time, and Gray admits they need Simon to help solve the mysteries before them.  Simon loves the family life he sees in the pack and is attracted to the handsome Alpha, Gray.  With the pack and their cubs still in danger, Simon and Gray come together to help find the demon behind the attacks and begin a possible relationship.  But Simon’s actions have repercussions within the Mage Society and he could lose the one thing he has wanted all his life if he continues on this course – the chance to be a full blown mage.

Mind Magic combines so many of my favorite elements in one book.  It has shifters, vampires,  and demons with different takes on all.  In this universe magic is divided up into a triangle.  At the top point is the Head Magic of the mages, another point is Body Magic of the shifters with the final point that of Soul Magic (demons/vampires).  As the author sets the stage in her world, all magical beings have long thought the division between them to be rigid and final. But with Garon demonstrating an aptitude for mind magic as well as body magic, Simon, Gray and the others begin to understand that all is not as they have been told or seems.

Dennison’s alternative world is a wonderfully compelling place that pulls in the reader  completely from the very beginning and doesn’t relinquish its hold even after the story is finished.  I love the notion of the magical divisions and her unique take on all things fantastical extends to shifters and vampires.  Recently I was reading a note on the shifter thread at GoodReads where someone wondered about the difference in body mass between the human and  animal forms that disappears from most shifter fiction.  Dennison addresses that question as her shifters are much larger than the natural wolves, something that doesn’t appear often in shifter fiction.  Her shifters live in a pack in adhering to wolf natural history.  Her vampires and mages get the same attention and neat twists to them, especially her vampire who takes very little blood, only enough to sustain his magic.

The author also excels with her characters, both main and secondary.  Simon Osbourne is kind, gentle, appealing in every way.  Here it is the mages that lead a lonely life, isolated from their families and others which is used to a nice contrast with pack life.  Simon yearns to be a part of a family as his backstory makes plain.  Simon has a love of herbs and plants that his grandfather passed on to him which gives Dennison a chance to go into herbology with lovely results.  I fell in love with Simon quickly just as Gray and the children did.  Definitely not a case of “instant love” as Simon must earn Gray’s trust.  Gray Townsend is a great addition to shifter Alphas out there. He is steady, older, a wonderful father and pack leader.  Slowly Dennison shows us Gray’s history as the story continues with another interesting twist on an Alpha coming of age at 30 to emerge as leader of the pack,  Gray is a family man who takes his responsibilities seriously and still has an open outlook on the world around him.  Of all the characters in the story, it is the mages who remain the most hidebound, strictly adhering to the old ways and narrow outlook on the world around them.  Then there is Goran, Aunt Maggie, and Liam and Cormac, Simon’s “grandfather”. terrific characters, as fully fleshed out as the main characters.

Mind Magic combines some of the most wonderful supernatural elements, tosses it with a good dose of herbology, great characters, and an ongoing mystery to create a story that will continue past Mind Magic. My only quibble is that the end came sooner than I had expected and left me with more questions than were answered. But that makes sense as Mind Magic is the first in a new series called Triad Trilogy.  The next books are Body Magic and Soul Magic.  Poppy Dennison promises that we will be seeing all the wonderful characters we met here again as the series continues.   Great job, great story.  And I have a new author to love.

Cover:  I love the cover by Anne Cain.  That is Gray is every respect.  How I love her artwork.

200 pages in length.  Published by Dreamspinner Press.  Find out more about the author here at her website.

 

Note;  The next edition of Vocabulary Gone Bad will be posted next week instead of today as promised.  Sorry, guys but inspiration hit and I have to add it in somehow!

Review of Sunset (Pact Arcanum #1) by Arshad Ahsanuddin

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Written for JoyfullyJay

Review of Sunset (Pact Arcanum #1) by Arshad Ahsanuddin

Rating: 4 stars

The year is 2040.   A terrorist appears during an Oscar-like awards show and threatens to blow up the city with an atomic bomb unless her demands are met.  Rising from the audience to deal with the threat is Nicholas Jameson, known rock star.

As the clock ticks down the minutes to detonation, it is not only millions of lives at stake. Nick is also hiding a secret of monumental importance. Nick is Daywalker and one of the most powerful members of a secret supernatural society made up of Nightwalkers (vampires) , Daywalkers (vampires with souls), and Sentinels (warriors of the Light, vampire killers).  For tens of thousands of years,  unbeknownst to Humans among them, enemies Nightwalkers and Sentinels have lived and warred.  In secret, they created their own cultures and societies,  even as they strove for each others total destruction.  Then came the Redeemer and he offered the two sides a way to coexist without the constant warfare. Those Nightwalkers that accepted the Armistice became Daywalkers who worked with the Sentinels to keep the peace.  Now all is threatened when circumstances demand that Nick reveal his  true nature to the terrorist and the Human world watching the award telecast live.

Foes to the Armistice come from all sides as the Human governments react to the new reality of beings more powerful and advanced living among them and Nightwalkers seek to rule once more.  The Society needs a leader and looks to Nick to help save the Armistice and their existence.  But Nick is haunted by his past and his weakness is a threat to all near him.  Can Nick surmount his traumatic past and become a hero the world needs?

Sunset (Pact Arcanum #1) is the first in a series of seven books (the seventh book is called Book #4) written by Arshad Ahsanuddin.  The Pact Arcanum series is world building on an epic and labyrinthine scale.    There are so many convoluted and confounding layers to this story that the maze of King Midos begins to look like a game of Chutes and Ladders next to it.  For me it never bodes well that the Introduction is pages of the Hierarchies of the Nightwalker, Daywalker and Sentinel societies, complete with Titles you won’t remember (i.e, ” Imperator: Adjudicator between vampire Houses, called the Huntmaster Magister: Leader of a vampire House, called the Prince (gender neutral)” etc.), places and names of places too numerous to remember, and a cast roster you won’t need to remember as each character is well introduced within the confines of the novel.  Whereas maps help place events, information lists of this nature impede the forward motion of the story and is unnecessary if the exposition is clear.

Sunset starts out with great promise.  As Chapter one and the story opens, the award ceremony is underway and the terrorists are taking their places inside the auditorium.  The tension increases as the terrorists make themselves known, the bomb is unveiled, and Nick is forced to reveal himself to the world.  I love fantasy stories and when the author has created a universe within a series of books, I am filled with anticipation of days ahead of joyous reading.

At Chapter 5, I start to get that “duhoh” feeling as time starts to jump ahead.  Chapter 6 is “five hours after public exposure”.  Chapter 7? That is “four hours earlier, two hours after public exposure”.  Chapter 10 and its now January 2040, one day after public exposure.  Each chapter is a different time frame, most of the time.  Sigh.  Chapter 11 and its February 2040, two weeks after public exposure, Chapter 12 takes place three hours earlier than Chapter 11.  And on it goes as straight forward storytelling is abandoned in place of a high wire trapeze act, as time swings back and forth between each chapter.  Also most chapters describes where as well as when the chapter takes place, as in “Chapter  39, Armistice Embassy, Washington, D.C.; Five minutes earlier.” Then “Chapter 40 Armistice Security Headquarters, Anchorpoint City, Grand Mesa, Colorado; Thirty minutes later.”  Chapter 41 has no such description. It is just a continuation of the previous chapter.  For the sake of continuity, Chapter 41 should still be 40.  But this happens throughout the book.

Flat characterization is also a problem here.  Nicholas Jameson is a vampire that everyone is in love with to the point of aggression but I could never understand why the   character instills such passion in others.  I certainly didn’t feel it. In fact, none of the main characters here ever felt real.  At the very end of the book, I was sniffling over the death of a minor character, a “satellite” person brought in to achieve a goal the author had in mind.  This person was more fully actualized than any of the main characters introduced previously and the only one I actually cared about.  That is a sad fact.

Jeffrey Hirschberg in his “11 Laws of Great Storytelling” states “attentiveness (or lack thereof)  of the audience is directly related to its ability to make a successful emotional connection.” And he’s right.  I can tell that Arshad Ahsanuddin not only loves the world he has created but is a scientist as well due to all the minutiae created and recorded here.   In addition to the layers of Titles, titles given to powers, layers of titles within each court, there are also drawings of glyphs and symbols and drawings of weapons.  While such minutiae can enrich the storytelling experience, it can also serve to weigh down the momentum of the story under too many details until that “emotional connection” is lost.

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing*, Rule 10 is “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

While this sounds humorous, it is also true. In sections of Sunset, the layers of details are so dense and numerous, the story grinds to a halt.  Desperate to find the story’s energy again, heck desperate to find just the story, I started to flip through the paragraphs, pages even, until the novel reached out to me once more.

Elmore Leonard’s Rules 8 and 9 also apply here.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

But both are self explanatory and would make this review much too long.

As with Burn, another fantasy epic in the making, Sunset (Pact Arcanum#1) becomes powerful in the very last portion of the book, pulling the reader to the edge of the seat in suspense and anticipation of events unfolding.  But Sunset takes that emotional punch it just achieved and throws it away at the contrived ending.  I actually reread the last pages in disbelief, but this has to be where the author planned to take us all along.  It just does not seem to match the rest of the  book.

So I give Sunset 4 stars mostly because of the universe building and its details.  That is all very well done.  The story is a terrific one that gets lost in fragmented storytelling ,detail overload, and poor characterization.  The rest of the books are already written (including Books #2.5 and #3.5, along with 2, 3, 4 and Interludes).  But I think I will stop here.  There are other universes and fantasies on the horizon calling to me.  I think I will journey there instead.

Cover:  The Cover is glorious and so suitable for the story.  The illustrator is Craig Payst.