Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Sisters, Witches, Finding Oneself, and the Thing Under the Bed

The Witches of Dark Root (Daughters of Dark Root, #1)The Witches of Dark Root by April Aasheim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maggie Maddock has always struggled with growing up in Dark Root, Oregon. There are the usual struggles that normally accompany being a young woman in a small town, but in addition there are the struggles of dealing with her increasingly erratic mother who insists Maggie is the key to the success of the family legacy. A legacy that involves alleged witchcraft passed down from the city founders. With plenty of pressure and few answers, and watching her sisters driven away one by one, Maggie decides to leave as well. It’s not until years later and a call from home regarding her ailing mother that Maggie is enticed to leave her current personal drama to face her past. Back in Dark Root, she is reunited with her sisters and meets a new cast of characters to her life, some bent on harm. Maggie discovers her alleged witchy heritage is not so alleged after all, and it is up to her to revitalize Dark Root’s Halloween festival as a stronghold against darkness.

At its heart, Witches of Dark Root is more about family and finding one’s place in the world than about magic and witches, though there is plenty of that. There are comparisons to “Charmed” and “Practical Magic” with all their humor and fun, but there are also Stephen King moments of the “Thing Under the Bed” variety.

My only complaint, and it’s a small one, is that this introductory story to the Dark Root series ended with sparkler rather than a sky booming firework as if it were just a another chapter ending. Which may very well be the case, as there are many more books in the series to come. Indeed, with a rich and numerous cast of characters and the number of volumes, Dark Root could easily make a good TV series. I’m picturing an opening credit sequence set to Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman.”

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Review: The Mayan Red Queen

The Mayan Red Queen: Tz'aakb'u Ahau of Palenque (The Mists of Palenque Book 3)The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque by Leonide Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lovers of all things Maya will enjoy the Mayan Red Queen. Leonide Martin has written a beautifully detailed story that showcases the depths of her knowledge on the subject, bringing to life a time, place, and people that text books only present two dimensionally. I had no trouble picturing the world and the characters as they fought, cried, and loved their way through it. One normally thinks of Medieval Europe, Biblical settings, or perhaps dynastic China when they consider court intrigues and drama, but the Mayan Red Queen proves that the New World could be just as fraught with royal peril. Such is the case when young Lalak is chosen to be the bride of the new ruler of Lankam Ha by his severe and controlling mother. Though Lalak is royalty, she comes from a smaller polity and is untested in big-city politics. Plus, she has been chosen for her lineage, and not her looks. She must rely on her intelligence, wit, and big heart to survive all challenges, external and internal. Will her surprising solution to many of her new home’s problems win the heart of the people, and the indifferent husband she has come to love?

The Mayan Red Queen did start out a bit slow, with very dense text, before I became vested in the characters, and one of the aspects most know and are fascinated by in Mayan culture, human sacrifice, was never really explored. Also, I felt opportunities for further excitement and drama was passed over when major wars or battles were only touched on. All that aside, the legacy of characters and stories in which this book belongs in the series coupled with the authenticity of the world made it an interesting read.

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Review: Most Difficult of Adventures Call for a Strong Female

Faces in the Water (The Shades of Venice, #1)Faces in the Water by Tonya Macalino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the near future, reality TV has taken the next step with immersion entertainment brought to you by studios employing nano-teched-out “immersion artists” who can record every sensory experience possible. Everything from the simple taste of coffee to swimming with sharks to tastes which run even more exotic…or erotic.

In this world comes Alyse Bryant, a world famous immersion artist who has recently lost her father to a tragic accident, which leaves her reckless in her mourning. She agrees to take her recording team to a charity ball in the Quarantine Zone of Old Venice. For in this world, all the carriers of a disease which has caused innumerable children the world over to fall into a permanent sleep, have been gathered into this fishbowl of luxury among flooding ruins.

There, Alyse’s recklessness drives her to find solace in the arms of a stranger which in turn leads her to a race for her life through a watery graveyard of old Europe. Those who pursue who are not quite human anymore, yet they may hold all the answers to what has become of her.

Tonya Macalino has presented an erotic and beautifully written story just as tantalizing as any immersion artist could.

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Review: A Tale Born of a Thousand Influences

Deomans of Faerel (World of Faerel)Deomans of Faerel by Ted Fauster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Deoman’s of Faerel, those of us who grew up with Dungeons & Dragons will recognize the classic gathering of varied and colorful characters to go on campaign to accomplish great deeds.

Such is the premise behind this story of a group of people, mostly flawed, but also mostly dead or dying, gathered magically from their perspective worlds and given a second chance to do some good in the universe. A “retired” angel is pulling the strings, explaining to them that once upon a time the original laborers and engineers who created Earth at the direction of the Creator made another world, but not entirely sanctioned. This world needs help. Help from heroes, however flawed.

Ted Fauster introduces us to an incredibly imaginative world peopled with creatures Jim Henson would be proud of. Our heroes, upon arrival, take on the forms of these colorful creatures; reborn in the fashion of “River World.” Indeed, Fauster’s influences are evident in not just Philip Jose Farmer, but also in tales as diverse as the Dark Crystal, Dr. Seuss, and ancient mythology.

Though a quick read, a lot is packed into the pages. I found myself distracted by the individual adventures of each hero as they arrived separately, often forgetting who is who among the other characters from both worlds. Despite that, I loved one adventure in particular reminiscent of a sequence from Running Man.

Overall, you won’t be disappointed and a firm foundation has been set for further adventures in Faerel.

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Review: Refreshing Creatures Rule This World

Murder of CrowsMurder of Crows by Athena
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just like the heroine of Murder of Crows, this story has a duality to it. Two stories in one.

Fable Montgomery has always felt out of place. Not in the sense that she was raised by her aunt and gaggle of “Nana’s” in their Portland, Oregon home, or that her mother died tragically when she was young, or even that her estranged archaeologist father has not figured prominently in her life. But in the sense she doesn’t belong to this world.

She doesn’t know just how right she is until the FBI call her back to Portland away from her unfulfilling journalist job in New York to deal with the aftermath of her aunt’s murder.

Soon Fable is thrust into the adventures of two worlds…the film noir murder mystery of this world, and the Narnia-esque salvation of another. The latter being where she discovers she had made a mind-bending sacrifice that is just as troubling as her slowly returning memory. Even more troubling is the fact those who love her most refuse to help her recover her memory.

In a book market clogged with vampires, werewolves, and zombies, it is refreshing that Athena has painted us a new world where (winged) extraordinary creatures rule.

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Review: Hollywood Cowboys: Kiss of the Traitor

Kiss of the TraitorKiss of the Traitor by Mike Chinakos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kiss of the Traitor picks up right where Hollywood Cowboys left off with the supernatural fighting 80’s metal band racing to find a cure for their friend before he fully “turns” to a vampire.

In doing so, they attract the attention of an ancient vengeful being who plans on picking up where the last Cowboy-vanquished bad-guy left off: Assembling the pieces of a talisman that will open the Hell Gate which will, you guessed it, bring Hell on Earth.

To stop her and save their friend, the Cowboys will travel to the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan, to fight their way to an invisible island frozen in time.

Chinakos brings us great fun and adventure again with this second outing which plays like an R-rated episode of Scooby Doo (and I mean that in the coolest way possible). But, just like the 80’s action genre which inspired this romp, a definite tongue-in-cheek suspension of belief must be taken when considering that a full on gun battle in the industrial section of Portland Oregon goes entirely unnoticed by the police, among other things.

Rock’n’roll figures less prominently in this story, replaced by a nod to martial arts action flicks and an introduction to the evils of tech corporations with a nemesis worthy of the Umbrella Corporation from Resident Evil.

You won’t be disappointed.

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Yetzirah: A Place of Rescue is Suddenly in Need of Rescuing-Book Review

Yetzirah: The Pocket WorldsYetzirah: The Pocket Worlds by Pam Bainbridge-Cowan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is a Golden Oldies song out there called, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” It is also commonly known that when when people are faced with extreme trauma, children in particular, they will withdraw into themselves. Some to the point of withdrawing into a make believe world.

What if it wasn’t make believe? What if some people, under just the right conditions, could gain access to a magical realm where you could create their own rules? Their own little “Pocket” of reality where they were safe from whatever hardship drove them there?

Such is the case with Elise who, with her twin sister Elena, discovers the world they call Yetzirah after hiding from their abusive father. It is a world of mostly mist that harbors many “pockets” each created by a cast of colorful characters who can make their worlds appear anyway they like, and people it with whomever they like – each world more Burton-esqu than the last. Though Elise and Elena cannot create their own pocket or wield magic, the other Pocket Wizards entertain the twins through much of their childhood, offering occasional refuge until they reach adulthood.

Though Elise continues to visit this wondrous world, Elena lets it go even to the point that she denies its very existence.

The day comes, however, when a butterfly made of wire and jewels follows Elise home from her latest visit announcing that the wall separating the worlds is dissolving. An instability is taking hold of the Pocket Worlds, making it not only difficult to control them, but the pockets start to turn on their creators.

Elise concocts a plan to save the world that saved her sanity as a child. She will find the elusive Queen of Yetzirah, the only person with the power to stop the instability. But to do so, Elise will need to band the disparate Wizards together and convince them to leave their comfort zones – and not all Wizards are exactly easy going characters with worlds full of rainbows and sunshine. Most difficult of all, Elise will need to convince Elena to join her on the quest. Something that will require re-visiting a lot of hard feelings and pain.

Yetzirah: The Pocket Worlds is an entertaining study on human pain, escapism, and healing. The idea of a Matrix or Inception-like world where people can go in their minds to take a break from “reality” to heal (or be tempted to withdraw indefinitely) is fascinating. Watching the character driven story unfold as the characters tackle their problems by coming together for a common cause is timeless and evoked many a real laugh and tear from me. Highly recommended!

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Celestine Prophecy Meets Twilight

The Light WarriorThe Light Warrior by Cynthia Robbins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lucy Hayes has felt out of place all her life. Never quite fitting in. Always feeling like something was missing or out of place, right up to the start of her Freshman year at Willamette University. It is then that her life is turned upside down by a handsome stranger named Eli who hints that she is the key to something bigger. Her life is then turned absolutely inside out when dark forces enter her life, requiring Eli to rescue her and reveal her true nature: She is a Light Warrior, an Ascended Being, who has voluntarily assumed human form to combat evil forces that want to keep earth ignorant of its magical past, and deny its potential place among the star races. A cosmic rule prevents Ascended Beings from interfering directly in the affairs of mankind, but that is not the case for the Dark Brotherhood, an earthbound order of extraterrestrial reptilians and soul sucking space vampires who in the distant past outright enslaved humanity, but now rule through misinformation and conspiracy with complicit evil humans.

It’s up to Lucy Hayes to take her rightful place at Eli’s side and his band of Light Warriors who come from diverse backgrounds and skills. Lucy’s untapped potential will be the key they’ve been waiting for to open the Light Gates…pathways of cosmic energy that have been cut off by the Dark Brotherhood to prevent earth from basking in the loving glow of the Universe. Once that has been done, the world will see with unfiltered eyes the lies they’ve been living under and rise up.

Unfortunately, to get around the cosmic noninterference rule Lucy had to descend to earth as a naturally born human, leaving her confused, weakened, and ignorant of her previous life. It is a race against time for Eli and his band to train and prepare her for the final battle before evil can permanently shut the gates. This all becomes more challenging when Eli and Lucy fall in love just about the time help arrives in the form of Lucy’s soul mate from her previous life, and Aron isn’t about to give her up without a fight.

Can Lucy overcome her doubts about her abilities, and quiet the distracting struggle in her heart between the love for what she knows, and the stirring memories of a mate before it’s too late?
If you’re into adventure, romance, science fiction, alternative history, time travel, and higher planes of existence, you’ll enjoy The Light Warrior.

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British Blogger Eloise Hopkins Reviews Echoes of Avalon

UK blogger, and devourer of books, Eloise Hopkins honored me by reviewing Echoes of Avalon. I’m always surprised at the many ways people will describe my story. What impressed them, what could be better. She didn’t disappoint and introduced readers a perspective I did not consider. See it here: http://elloisehopkins.blogspot.com/2012/02/book-review-echoes-of-avalon.html

Swamp Barbarians and Headstrong Princesses

Suffering RancorSuffering Rancor by Andy R. Bunch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Suffering Rancor by Andy Bunch is an old school fantasy sure to please those who demand the classic elements found in the genre.

There is the young hero going through his right of passage. There is the villain of ultimate evil hell bent on taking over the world. There is the headstrong, but capable, princess determined to prove herself in a man’s world. Mix in quirky side kicks, colorful characters, intrigue, adventure, magic, demons, zombies, lusty barbarians, pirates, nubile women, exotic locales and you have a tale Robert E. Howard could appreciate.

In the tenable peace time between the lands of Kardoma and Restorloke, an ancient evil that had been imprisoned in a pit of flesh eating mud in the middle of a magic-sucking swamp, beats the odds and manages to escape.

The church that had purged the lands of magic-using people five hundred years earlier to starve the evil Rancor into submission, did too good a job. Now the lands have all but forgotten magic, leaving a politically powerful but magic-less church with no means and no one left to stand in Rancor’s way.

No one, that is, except Princess Ambria of Kardoma on her way to Restorloke to be her nation’s ambassador, and Greymar, a swamp dwelling warrior who has just come into manhood in time to see many of his loved ones destroyed by Rancor’s pirates.

Neither of them know the true potential that lies inside them. Rancor, however does, for he throws every power natural and unnatural at them to bring their untimely demise.

It’s only a matter of time before their paths and their destinies cross and that’s when the real fun begins.

Bunch has created a vivid world, rich in it’s own history that could pass for a real place in time despite the fantastical creatures walking through it. Lovers of fantasy will enjoy not only the requisite “map of the realms” that gives context to the story at the beginning of the book, but also the pictures beginning many chapters created by artist Corey Pennington. The hurried water color and inkblot nature of the artwork lend themselves well to the portions of the book that are done in journal format by one of the hapless henchman of the evil lord chronicling his brutal return to power.

Fantasy “purists,” though, may not like so much the introduction of gunpowder and muskets to the story, but they are incorporated convincingly, especially in the ocean going scenes. Indeed, in just about every aspect Bunch demonstrates a rich vocabulary when expressing his knowledge of seamanship, combat at arms…and women’s clothing.

If you like your fantasies with more action and less fluff, follow a traditional formula, are out to entertain rather than make you think too much, then Suffering Rancor will fit nicely in your reading list. The only drawback is that the end of the story is the beginning of a series, leaving you suffering for more Suffering.

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