A MelanieM Release Day Review: Guardian (Aisling #1) by Carole Cummings

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Aisling Trilogy: Book One

As he pursues a man who is not what he seems, Constable Dallin Brayden learns the lines between enemy and ally, truth and deception, and conscience and obedience are not only blurred, but malleable.

 

Constable Dallin Brayden knows who he is, what he’s about, and he doesn’t believe in Fate. “Wilfred Calder” has no idea who he is or what he’s about, and he’s been running from Fate for as long as he can remember. When Wil flees after witnessing a murder, it’s Dallin’s job to pursue him. Along the way, he’s pulled into a maelstrom of ancient myth, fanatical religion, and the delicate politics of a shaky truce between two perpetually warring countries—all of which rests on the slender shoulders of the man he knows is not Wilfred Calder.

 

Even Dallin’s success proves a hollow victory. Wil is vengeful, rebellious, and lethal, and his tale of magic and betrayal rocks the carefully constructed foundations of Dallin’s world. Suspicious and only half believing, Dallin must question not only his own integrity and his half-forgotten past, but the morality and motives of everyone around him—including those who hold his own country’s fate in their hands.

I’m going to come out and say I gave this 5 stars despite the ending.  Guardian is just that good.  The first in Carole Cummings’ Aisling Trilogy, it doesn’t so much end as stop, clearly waiting for the next story to take over.  No cliffhanger, just a cessation more or less in the storyline.  Argh as they say.

But everything that comes before that ending? Just outstanding!  From the incredible world building to the nuanced characters full of anguished pasts and unimaginable pain to a present to comes with a slow buildup of suspense and a flight of terror against faceless enemies, this story is one you cannot put down.

And it starts off  so calmly with our introduction to Dallin Brayden, an orphan whose fate is tied up with the man he’s about to meet.  All the characters here are densely layered,  with revelations about who they are peeled back over the course of the story. Dallin’s character is imminently likable and that only increases the more we get to know him.  His own doubts and confusions let us understand him while the innate goodness Cummings has written into his personality makes him an anchor for us to connect with.  Then there’s Wil. Oh, my, there are hardly any words for Wil.  You must meet him, go along the journey here with him to begin to understand why you will fall in love with him so.  And fear for him.

Cummings is building a complex mythology here along with her relationships and cultures.  It all works to a stunning detail.  I’m so tempted to wait until the last two books are out and read through the entire trilogy to the end.  I don’t think I can handle another ending like that.  Just too frustrating as this story is that good and I want to know how it  ends!  You will too.  You decide what sort of reader you are.  Can you handle a story one book at a time?  If so, then pick this up and get started on the Trilogy and a couple you’ll want to meet.  If you are someone who wants to know how it will all end, you might want to wait until all three books are out and read them all together.  Either way,  I’m in line for the next one to come out!  This author has me hooked on Aisling!

Cover Artist: Anne Cain.  I’m not sure I’m a fan of this cover.  It fits in a way, just a matter of taste.

Sales Links:  DSP Publications | Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 285 pages
Expected publication: August 15th 2017 by DSP Publications
ASIN B073Q8GV1G

A Paul B Review: Stealing Dragon’s Heart (Lifting the Veil #6) by Susan Laine

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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Stealing Dragon's HeartTen years after the Unveiling, Finn Greyson knows all about mythical creatures.  It has also made his life as a master thief a bit more difficult as security has increased with the new times.  When his fence offers him a job of breaking into a master collector’s suite and stealing the Earth Shard, Finn is reluctant to take the job.  New Shanghai has become a walled city with few if any escape routes.  Finn is already a wanted man in the city anyway.  Add in the fact that his fence only says that Finn would know the object when he sees it, the job seems almost impossible.  Considering the amount of money that could come his way, Finn decides that this could be his last job and agrees to the mission.

Cameron Feilong has possession of the Earth Shard.  It is one of five pieces of the Elemental Crystal, along with ones representing wood, water, metal, and fire.  Each shard is protected by a guardian.  If the five shards are reformed into one crystal, then dangerous things could happen.  The last time the elven race got an evolutionary advance while others devolved into more basic creatures.  Cameron is one of the five charged to make sure these objects are never together again.

Finn breaks into Cameron’s suite and is amazed at all the priceless objects that are stored on the multi-level apartment.  Pushing away ideas of stealing a couple of the priceless art pieces that he sees, Finn searches out for his bounty.  Strange things begin to happen to him after he passes a small dragon statue in one of the hallways.  When he starts dancing an Irish sword dance and singing nonsensical rhymes, Finn realizes that he has wandered into a dragon’s lair and his horde.  When confronted by Cameron in his dragon form, Finn tells Cameron the reason that he is there.  Cameron is alarmed and immediately goes to where he stores the Shard.  Noting that it is gone, Finn realizes that he has been set up.  When the New Shanghai police arrive asking about a murder in Cam’s suite, Cam also realizes that he is being set up to take the fall for Finn’s murder.  Together the pair must solve who is willing to kill both of them and prevent the mastermind from retrieving all five shards before it is too late.  But in the end will Finn be able to steal something even more precious than the shards of the elemental crystal?

This is the first Lifting the Veil book that I have read from Susan Laine, but I have read several of her other books.  As with the other books that I have read by hear, I totally enjoyed it.  What I really liked was the different settings that she built within her mythical world.  From the barren tundra home of the first lycan to the underwater world of the Undine, her descriptions gives the reader a sense of the worlds that these people live in.  Each of the four settings where we find a new guardian is brought to life.

I also liked how Finn, while seemingly the weakest of those searching for the shards, might actually be the strongest.  His persistent optimism might annoy Cam somewhat but it is what is needed to accomplish their mission.  When he has to make a couple of decisions that test his moral system, you can feel the pain he goes through as he is weighing his options.  Because of his actions, he lashes out at the guardians for not being there when he thought he needed them most.    At the end, he realizes that he might have been a bit harsh and hopes it is not too late to make things right.  I look forward to reading more in this series.

The cover art by Anne Cain is a pretty drawing of what I think is Cameron’s mountain retreat.  While it is a gorgeous cover, I wish the cover had more to do with either the elemental shards or the characters themselves.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press | ARe | Amazon

Book Details

ebook, 240 pages
Expected publication: March 2nd 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781634769723
Edition LanguageEnglish

Series:  Lifting the Veil

Review: Knight of Fire (Terra #2) by S.J. Frost

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Once in the kingdom of Ocassus, humans and dragons shared the lands as allies. That time has passed into legend. But

there’s one who wants to see it return.

Knight of Fire coverHumans have forgotten the fact that it was dragons that agreed to share their lands with humans and not the other way around.  Over  the centuries, mankind has lost their knowledge and respect of the dragons that used to be their allies.  Now in a kingdom where dragons are feared and Dragon slayers are welcome, only a few humans remain that have the ability to talk to dragons, every type of dragon.  One such man is Torran.  Torran is a Dragon Speaker,  gifted with the rare ability to understand dragons.   He has made it his life’s work to rescue and keep safe every dragon that needs him.  And in all that time, he has never met another like him.

Sir Karrick Brenton is a Knight of the Crown, On a mission to unseat a cruel Duke, Sir Karrick met the motley crew of Forest’s End, already at the duchy in the middle of a battle.  Once the evil duke and dark mage are slain, Sir Karrick remains behind with Torran, Garrett Evergard, Bryson Summers,and the rest of the group.  Karrick has never met someone like Torran before.  Both men are instantly attracted to each other but their lives are so very different.  Karrick not only lives in the city of Dragon’s Landing but has secrets that he has been keeping as well. Torran lives in Forest’s End and is constantly traveling.

Torran is requested to come to the capital city of Dragon’s Landing when the King needs an interpreter to speak with the Ancient One, a dragon of immense power whose appearance is needed to crown the king’s successor.  Bryson too is needed when the King’s Gatekeeper goes missing. Once more the group of  friends sets forth on a mission, only this time it includes a Knight of the Crown, Karrick Brenton.  But unknown dangers await them all, and it will take all of their combined powers to defeat a common enemy and uncover the mystery of the missing Gatekeeper.

Knight of Fire picks up shortly after the events of To The Other Side and the destruction of the dark mage and corrupt duke.  The group of friends, Bryson the Gatekeeper and mage, Garrett his lover, Torran the Dragon Speaker, Lark the minstrel, Zain the assassin and the elf, Aleric, are still cleaning up after the last battle with help from the newly introduced Sir Karrick Brenton, Knight of the Crown.  After dispatching the Nightmare back to Hell (a great creation by S.J Frost), the men receive a missive from the King where he requests (demands) the presence of Torran in Dragon’s Landing, the main city of the kingdom.  Normally the group would use the gate to transport to Dragon’s Landing but unfortunately, the King’s Gatekeeper is missing and the Gate is locked.  Only another Gatekeeper can access the abandoned gate and that means that Bryson and crew are coming too.

S.J. Frost keeps a lively pace as her narrative flows from the end of the first novel to the events that spark the next adventure for this ragtag group and the Knight of the Crown send by King Orrin to investigate the corrupt Duke Bartell and the dark mage in his employ. Even from the few scenes Torran and Karrick had together in To The Other Side, it was clear they were made for each other.  Now in a traumatic opening chapter, Torran and Karrick are thrown back together when Karrick saves the Dragon Speaker’s life.  Frost’s ability to create characters that connect immediately with each other as well as the reader shines here with Torran and Karrick.  Torran is instantly lovable with his ability to speak to all sorts of dragons. Torran is subtly handsome and his small dragon companion, Rose, just adds to the picture of a man in tune with his gifts and the creatures he is meant to help.  When Frost introduces Torran to Karrick,a knight at his most heroic,  its clear that these men have much in common, not the least of which is their attraction to each other.   Even though their friendship is newly established, we believe in them and the romance that is almost guaranteed to come.

To access the other Gate, the ragtag little group must travel on the Earth side to the missing Gatekeeper’s cottage, and it is here that Frost’s story takes a humorous turn.  Modern plumbing and hot water are savored by all and the scene with Garrett and Bryson’s companion dragon Wynn in the Earth bookstore is hilarious.  I think that segments like this, where the characters return to the Earth side of a Gate , helps to reinforce the fantasy aspect and otherworldliness to be found on Terra.  One short journey later and the gang reenter’s Terra at the abandoned Gatekeeper’s cottage.  Frost returns to the darker story at hand with a poignancy that will resonate with all readers.  Cara, the missing Gatekeeper functioned almost as a mother to Karrick, and the descriptions of his emotions and memories as they survey the empty rooms are as powerful as they are intimate.

The puzzle of the missing Gatekeeper is just one of the mysteries this group must solve.  Frost introduces us to the Ancient One, a dragon of immense size and power who refuses to speak to the King.  The reasons behind that refusal and the implications for the health of the kingdom will involve all the characters in a plot as full of deceit and treachery as it is of romance and love.  For every lusty, sexy interlude there is sure to follow one full of magic and action.  Frost knows how to whip up a battle filled with fighting knights and a slew of archers, fire breathing dragons of all sizes as well.  There is a hatchling sure to capture your heart and a young scion in need of support and love.  This is a fictional cauldron full of wonderful characters, action packed scenes and couples on the path to romance and their HEA. Truly there is something here for everyone to love.

S.J. Frost continues to build her vision of Terra and its history with each new story in the series.  Knight of Fire adds new layers to its human/Dragon history and mythology as well as expanding on the characterizations of the people we have met and fallen in love with.  With a world full of unicorns, elves, brownies, mages, and more, for me, the real stars here are the dragons.  Tiny floral dragons that act like hummingbirds, white dragons that read bodice rippers, small ruby red dragons with feathers and a lady like sense of decorum, and immense dragons with the wisdom of the ages and everything in between.  They are all here and talking to us.  These dragons have the ability to fascinate even as they grab onto our sense of compassion for their plight.  Dragons and dragon lore will always be popular and here with her Terra series, S.J. Frost has added a wonderful new chapter all her own.

I love this series.  Knight of Fire is charming, fanciful, and a great romantic continuation of the story that started in To The Other Side.  I think both books should be on your TBR list.  If you are new to the series, start with To The Other Side to see where it all began.  For those of you familiar to this great group of misfits and miraculous creatures, than you will be happy to see where the next adventure takes them in Knight of Fire.  Grab them up and start your reading now!

Cover Design by Kris Jacen.   I love the knight on the horse.  What a perfect image for Karrick.

Buy Links  MLR   Amazon  ARe

Book Details:

290 pages
Published April 11th 2014 by MLR Press
original titleKnight of Fire
ISBN139781608209323
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.mlrbooks.com/ShowBook.php?book=SJFKFIRE
seriesTerra #2

Books in the Terra series to date in the order they were written and should be read are:

To The Other Side (Terra #1)
Knight of Fire (Terra #2)

Review: The Blight by Missouri Dalton

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

The Blight coverNoah Abbott is the only one who knows he isn’t crazy.  He knows what he saw all those years ago when he was a younger was real just as he knows the fantastical beings, the trolls and the goblins he sees walking around him unnoticed are too.  The trouble is no one else sees them.  Just Noah.  And that fact got him a trip and long stay in a psychiatric ward when he was 16 and Noah’s not going there again.  Now Noah keeps his head down and his eyes to the ground, he works in a box factory doing menial work for menial wages, and he says nothing to anyone.

Then things slowly start to change.  One of his coworkers, Christian, follow citizen on the outskirts of society, takes an interest in him, one that goes far past friendship into that of potential lover, new ground for a virgin like Noah.  And a young woman, Hannah Regent, approaches him and asks for help.  Turns out she sees the trolls and goblins too and needs Noah to help fight them off and keep her safe.

And with Hannah’s appearance, Noah’s reality is shattered.  Turns out he’s an elf on the run. Hannah too.  And that monster he saw all those years ago?  Well, that monstrous troll is back and hunting them both.  With  a Goblin King,to aid them, Noah and Hannah flee to another  universe, one that is their home.  There awaits a mighty quest for Noah, and the fate of all the elves hangs in the balance. But Noah isn’t sure he is up to the challenge.

Wow, what a story.  It has been several days since I finished this book and I am still trying to decide how I feel about it.  Missouri Dalton brings a number of intriguing and thought provoking elements to this story of a “Magpie” child. Noah has been hidden in the human world to protect him (and Hannah) until he can be found and returned to his rightful place as one of the remaining elven royalty.  But that world, Noah’s  “human world”, is that of most people’s nightmares.  He sees things.  Awful things that do harm to others and they are coming for him.  A basic bump in the dark  nightmare that explodes into reality for Noah only no one believes him.  Dalton plays further into our fears by having Noah confined to a less than desirable  psychiatric ward for years, abandoned by family and friends.    This element of the story is so artfully conceived and accomplished that it kept me up thinking for hours on end.

The Noah that is let out of the ward after learning to “play the game” is a person that anyone might meet on the streets today.  Head down, eyes averted, trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible.  His posture is exactly that of a person recently released from a mental institution.  That has also been his persona at work, a box factory that is one of the few places willing to hire excons and the mentally unstable.  Again Dalton has found the perfect setting for Noah and his post “crazy ward” life.  Her descriptions of Noah’s job and coworkers is grounded in the reality of such workplaces and it plays out that way in the story too.

Noah is such an interesting character because he is such a dichotomy himself.  A fake human, a false past, a newly reclaimed elf who just happens to be young by elven standards, a elf teen going through pubescence, it all throws Noah through the proverbial emotional and mental loop until he is not sure who he really is.  Is he a hero?  A virgin turned slut by his own Elvish pheromones?  It is a tumultuous journey that Dalton takes both Noah, now Neiren and the reader on.  Trust me when I say its not a real enjoyable journey, nor are some of the situations and events that happen along the way.

One issue I had with The Blight is that the multiple romances were all too new and shallow to become as meaningful as they needed to be.  Noah/Neiren is a highly charged hormonal elf, new to sex and possibly love.  And he behaves just like you think such a character would.  He is promiscuous, conflicted about love and relationships as well as what is truly acceptable behavior now that he is an elf once more.  So much of human morality has been ingrained in his mind and emotions but that has nothing to do with his current and true reality and quite naturally Noah/Neiren is having problems adjusting.   I thought the author did a great job in making Noah’s dilemma real but those readers who have issues with multiple sexual partners (m/m, potential m/m/m, m/f, m/?) as well as what might be seen as “cheating” will feel uncomfortable with these elements.

And the same can be said about the deaths that occur within the story as well.  They happen fast and the events that follow leave little room for grieving.  I think most readers will be shocked and hurt by these deaths.  We won’t see them coming and neither do the characters making their impact on all of us genuine and  pain filled.

There is something here to upset everyone.  Main character deaths, deaths of beloved characters,  characters behaving badly, polyamorous relationships (no one on one relationships here), and finally maybe a happy for now ending.  Missouri Dalton gives the reader instance after instance of moments and events that will have the reader wanting to put this book down and walk away.

And that would be a mistake.

Because as put out as all of above items will make you, there is also so much substance and wonder to be found here as well. The magic of the Goblin Kingdom, and the Goblin King himself.  The grotto of lost elves, shaking mountains and black dragons, its all here too. I can’t call this story heartwarming because its not.  But it has so much to recommend it, the lovely descriptions of magical place hidden away from our mundane human society, and all the beings trying to survive a calamitous time of war and race death.  The scope of this story and the descriptions make it worth your while to pick it up and decide for yourself.

For me, it was worth the journey.  Here is a taste of how it all starts:

“Noah Abbott, this court has found you incompetent and your parents have decided it is to your benefit to give over guardianship to the state of California. It is the decision of this court that you are to be remanded into the custody of the St. George Psychiatric Hospital until your twenty-first birthday, upon which time you will be re-examined for mental fitness.”

She banged her gavel down. “Court is adjourned.”

I felt the shock of it run over me; it was like being hit by a truck. As I’d been hit by a truck, I was able to make this comparison with some accuracy.

“I’m not crazy, I know what I saw! I am not crazy!”

“Bailiff, please remove Mr. Abbott.”

The men took my arms to take me away; I jerked in their grips, and my tired body protested.

“I know what I saw! I know what I saw!”

The bailiff and his friend dragged me out of the courtroom.

“I know what I saw!” I screamed, my voice hoarse. “I know what I saw!”

That cover illustration by BS Clay is magical.  I love it and think it is one of the best of the year.

Book Details:

ebook, 192 pages / 53000 words
Published September 11th 2013 by Torquere Press
ISBN 1610405714 (ISBN13: 9781610405713)
edition language English