Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Category: Book Reviews (Page 1 of 18)

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Book Review: Backfire by Philipp Kessler

For today’s Book Review Wednesday, I’m stepping outside my fantasy/sci-fi comfort zone and reviewing something a bit unusual: a story of pagan magick in modern society!

Backfire

It was a simple protection spell, what could possibly go wrong? Everything and then some!

Sandra Blackwell wants to help her friend find peace and protection after a nasty break up. Little did she know that Elaine’s home was already under protection – if you call flickering lights and depression protection. After the bulbs begin to blow and they realize something has backfired, they battle their own mental and emotional demons to fix what Sandra did. Two Egyptian Gods play with Sandra’s understanding of who she is and Elaine is floating in her own personal limbo after the blow up of her relationship and the backfire of a well intentioned spell. Can they fix things without it all blow up in their faces?

The first in a series of stories following Sandra and Elaine, Backfire introduces the characters and establishes their life together. Friends since middle school, the two are now getting established in their careers. Magick, love, and unexpected happenings follow them all over the place.

My Review: 4 Stars

I found this an utterly fascinating book! While many other novels skirt the issue of spell-casting and magick, this felt more like a how-to primer on the concepts. I walked away from the reading knowing a lot bit more about paganism, the pagan lifestyle, belief system, and practices. It had me curious and wanting to find out what else I can learn. Definitely going to keep reading the next books to delve more into pagan practices!

There’s not a whole lot in the way of action or suspense—just two women trying to find out what went wrong with the spell. There was a lot of interesting concepts presented through the pages of the novel, offering information without cramming the belief system or practices down a reader’s throat. Well-presented, thoughtfully laid out, and set in an interesting (if slow-moving) story.

100% worth the read for anyone interested in learning more about paganism!

Here’s a Taste:

Sandra opened the window a crack to let a bit of fresh air into the room. The incense smoke swirled in the breeze as it was sucked out the window. As the air cleared she blinked the smoke from her own eyes.

“Well that sucked,” she muttered under her breath. “Back to square one.” She pushed her hair away from her forehead, brushing the sweat away from her brow.

She looked about the now smoke free room and sighed. Picking up the athame she began to put her ritual and spell tools away. Sandra put each tool into its place in the box she pulled out from under the altar table. The wand, the incense burner, and the athame each had a special compartment in the ornately carved oak box. As she put the pentacle plate and the bowl into their pouches she gazed into her own reflection in the blade of the boline.

The curved blade, shaped like a crescent, was affixed to a piece of deer antler. The antler was hand carved with delicate Celtic knot work and the blade itself had been hand forged by her grandfather. Her eyes were captured in the blade’s surface, reflecting back her own frustration at the failed spell. Her hand shook a little and she broke her own personal staring match.

“Oh, stop it!” she admonished herself. “No sense in crying over spilt milk.”

She tucked the boline away into its pouch and picked up the simple silver chalice she preferred to use for her personal workings. Her gaze went to her reflection in the curved metal and she paused. What she saw in that reflection was different from the narrow bladed reflection of the boline. She could see more than just her eyes. She could see the frown of her lips and the smudge of soot on her nose where she had touched her face after snuffing out the candles with her dampened fingertips. The smudge made her grin a little and as she watched her lips twist in the curve of the chalice she couldn’t help but giggle at the image. The giggle soon turned into a laugh.

She took up a small terry towel and wiped out the chalice before placing it into the box as well. All the while laughing to herself.

“Hmm. Wonder what I did wrong this time.” She shook her head and made sure that she had placed all the tools in the box before closing it and putting it back under the altar. “Too much sandalwood in the incense? Or what is it the wrong color for the candles?” She wrinkled her brow with thought and picked up the remains of the failed spell materials. A bit of burnt twine, blackened parchment, and a small cracked quartz. She brushed it all into her hand and got up from the pillow on the floor.

As she left the small room she used for rituals, spell work, and meditation it was as if she walked from one world into another. Her bearing and attitude changed as soon as she stepped over the threshold. She hurried off to the kitchen and dumped the remains of the spell materials into the trash before washing her hands at the sink. She wiped the smudge from her nose with the dampened towel and filled a glass with water from the tap.

Her phone made a beep. Picking it up she saw that her best friend Elaine was texting her.
U AVAIL?

YES. WHAT UP?

WEIRDNESS AROUND HERE. WAT U DID?

WAT U MEAN?

THINGS WEIRD HERE. SAW U IN CORNER OF EYE & THINGS WENT WEIRD.

??? SAW ME?

YES. IN CORNER OF EYE. WEIRD!

VOICE?!
Sandra’s phone rang in reply to her last text. “What do you mean you saw me? I’ve been here all afternoon.”

“I saw you out of the corner of my eye. I did. And then everything started to go weird.”

“What do you mean weird?”

“The light in the bathroom blew as I saw you out of the corner of my eye. It was like catching a glimpse of you in the mirror and then boom! The light bulb blew. Scared the shit of me, I tell you!”

“Wow, I imagine. You said things went weird. More than just the blown bulb?”

“Oh, yeah! A lot more. I ran out of the bathroom, scared the shit of me. Almost literally. The lights were flickering in the whole apartment. What did you do?!”

“I, uh…” she hesitated. Elaine knew she was a witch, but trying to explain magick to her was not always easy. “I just tried to cast a spell. It didn’t work.”

“Didn’t work? Elaine asked. “What on Earth were you trying to do?” Her tone of voice was enough to convince Sandra that she wasn’t going to have to explain much about magick. At least not just yet.

“I was trying to bring you peace,” she replied flatly.

“You call this peace?” her tone was almost accusatory.

“No. I said the spell failed. Nothing seemed to happen on my end.” Sandra was grasping for an explanation in her own mind. She cast a spell for peace in Elaine’s life and nothing seemed to happen.

“Girl! Something happened here on my end!” Elaine’s voice rose in pitch a notch and her volume was increasing. “What the hell were you doing!?”

“I did what I always do. I made my Circle, laid out my tools and worked the spell. Other than a lot of choking incense smoke, nothing happened. Nothing,” she was really at a loss here.  She couldn’t fathom that a simple spell for something positive would cause anything to go wrong, let alone on the other side of town.

“Okay. Let’s take a breath.” She could hear her friend take a deep breath and exhale loudly over the cell’s speaker. Instinctively she did the same thing. “Now, tell me exactly what you did.”

“But you don’t believe in magick.”

About the Author

Philipp Kessler is a man of many hats.  An accomplished High Priest in the Covenant of Kernunnos Tradition, Phil has been an active practitioner for 25 years and has followed his passion for knowledge by climbing the ivory tower of the written word, from some of the oldest available works to modern, in the moment writings.

This desire for knowledge has led him to change his hat to pursue another passion, which is broadcasting.  He has been co-host of the longest-running pagan radio show, Murphy’s Magic Mess, for 8 and a half years and has been co-host of Pagan Musings on Blog Talk Radio for 8 years and Pagan Weekly News, also available on Blog Talk Radio, for 5 years and co-host of Lavender Hill, a weekly LGBTQIA news show on KZUM public radio for 6 years.

Phil donned his reviewers cap and became a regular contributor to Green Egg magazine and his leadership cap led him to being published in Pagan Leadership Anthology: An Exploration of Leadership and Community in Paganism and Polytheism edit by Shauna Aura Knight and Taylor Ellwood.
Phil changes his hat again and is an editor and the founder of Saturn Returns Publishing.

He turns around again, changing his hat as he does, and he is an author of pagan fiction & poetry, with many stories in different genres (from horror to speculative historical fiction) in the works. His first title in the Dark of the Moon, New Beginnings series, Backfire, came out on April 1, 2017, quickly followed by volume two in that series, Waterfall, on May 1.

But most of all, he wears the hat of butler to his 3 feline rulers, tending to their every need with utmost devotion.

Find Backfire on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XTSBM9W/

Connect with Philipp on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RevKessPMPC/

Tweet at him: www.twitter.com/RevKess

Check out his Patreon: www.patreon.com

Sign up for his Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/cNqARz

 

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Book Review: Thief of the Night Guild by Andy Peloquin

As is my tradition with each new book launch, I like to share some of the reviews posted for the book. These reviews aren’t written by me (that would be cheating!), but they’re written by independent, third-party, unbiased reviewers.

Thief of the Night Guild (Queen of Thieves Book 2)

“I am Ilanna, Journeyman of House Hawk. I do the impossible.”

A cunning thief of unrivaled ingenuity, Ilanna is determined to secure her freedom. Nothing will prevent her escape from the Night Guild’s callous cruelty, not even the most powerful man in Praamis, Duke Phonnis.

Thief of the Night Guild Cover

Commanding a crew of pickpockets, bounty hunters, poisoners, and assassins, Ilanna schemes to disgrace the Duke. She must survive blackmail, a bloodthirsty rival syndicate, and enemies within her own House to claim her spoils: vengeance for the deaths of her friends and gold to buy independence.

But all Ilanna’s skill may not suffice to protect the one person who matters most: her son.

Reviews:

5 Stars: “Peloquin shifts gears with this book. While the last one was more biopic, following GiRL from the age of seven until her early twenties as she has her ups and downs dealing with her rival, the brutal Sabot, this book is a heist thriller through and through. And with all the grimdark fantasy elements Peloquin is so skilled at balancing.

Thief of the Night Guild is a riveting read, keeping you following the intricacies of Ilanna plan as she has to overcome new obstacles, deal with dubious allies, and race against the clock to get everything ready for her window. Because if she doesn’t, more than she will pay the price.” – RJ Reviews on Amazon

4 Stars: “If you thought the little one was a bada$$ before you have NOT seen anything yet. This author says he wanted to show that women can be strong and powerful and resourceful and he surely does. Wonderful read, imagery that puts you in the midst of all the action.” – Teri on Amazon

5 Stars: “Rarely have I come across a book, a series, written so eloquently, full of passion, joy, trauma, adventure, determination, and a will to succeed above anything else. What does one write after reading such perfection? Thief of the Night Guild (Queen of Thieves #2) is a perfect rendition of the exact manner in which one should write a fantasy novel.” – Tiffany Landers Have You Heard on Goodreads

5 Stars: “OMG. My head is still spinning. This book is totally unpredictable and had me on a rollercoaster of emotions.” – Lesia Connelly Vargas on Goodreads

 

I’m thrilled by the positive reception so far, and I can’t WAIT until the 2 and 3-star reviews come rolling in so I can learn how I can make the next book (Queen of the Night Guild) even better!

Find Thief of the Night Guild on Amazon

 

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Book Review: Amaskan’s Blood by Raven Oak

For today’s Book Review Wednesday, I’ve got a treat: an award-winning novel by the amazing Raven Oak. This book had some fascinating themes, some of which we covered in our Fantasy Fiends Podcast Episode #003: What is Family, Really? This is a book I’m very certain you will enjoy!

Amaskan’s Blood

Her name was Adelei.

She was a master in her field, one of the feared Order of Amaska. Those who were a danger to the Little Dozen Kingdoms wound up dead by her hand. The Order sends her deep into the Kingdom of Alexander, away from her home in Sadai, and into the hands of the Order’s enemy.

The job is nothing short of a suicide mission, one serving no king, no god, and certainly not Justice. With no holy order to protect her, she tumbles dagger-first into the Boahim Senate’s political schemes and finds that magic is very much alive and well in the Little Dozen Kingdoms.final_front

While fighting to unravel the betrayal surrounding the royal family of Alexander, she finds her entire past is a lie, right down to those she called family. They say the truth depends on which side of the sword one stands, but they never said what to do when all the swords are pointing at you.

Amidst her enemies, in a land from the darkest reaches of her past, she must decide if she is to be more than another brainwashed puppet. No matter her choice, she must fight to do what is just and right to save the people of the Little Dozen.

My Review: 5 Stars

A very well-crafted story, one that explored some very emotionally intense and intricate issues. From the first page, I was drawn to the story of Adelei and her journey from the only home she’s ever known (that of an assassin) to the city and country that should actually BE her home. A fascinating look at the truth of what makes someone family—blood, loyalty, love, emotional ties, duty, respect, and more.

There were parts that I had a hard time reading (slowed down a bit), but once I got through them, I enjoyed the story immensely. Highly recommended!

Here’s a Taste:

The sleeping woman in his arms shifted, her heel connecting with his shin. The jagged scar to the right of her eye bunched together with worry lines. One of her hands flitted to the scar tissue along her throat, and she whimpered in rhythm to the twitching of the facial muscles around her eyes.

“Shhhhh,” King Leon murmured, running his thumb down her jawline. Through the deep blue bed curtains, tiny hints of light streamed in from one of four windows which left most of the room dark in the early dawn.

Even with the lack of light, the scar running parallel to her jaw stood out in contrast to the others along her body. The puffy and angry line stretched the full width of her neck, from ear to ear. Ten years together, and still she never spoke of it, never talked of the wound that walked in and out of her nightmares.

She thought she’d kept her past from him, but a few paid informants gained a king whatever information he wished. That and the fact that she talked in her sleep. A smile lifted the corners of his thin lips as he stared at the woman wrapped beneath the heavy winter blankets.

His thumb froze at the shift in her breathing, and he peered down to find blue eyes staring up at him. Instead of their usual humor, the deep, blue pools were haunted by shadows, and the smile fell from his lips. “What is it, Ida? What’s bothering you so? Was it something in Sadai?”

“I begged you not to send me.” The scar across her throat jumped when she spoke, and her voice resembled gravel.

“Since when has my sepier been afraid of anything?” The former captain of the royal guard didn’t answer as another tear slid down a cheek more gaunt than it had been a few months before. “Ida, love, I know you hate Sadai, but we all must make sacrifices for duty.”

Her body stilled while long pale fingers gripped the bed sheets. “You know nothin’.”

Leon didn’t know what shocked him more, that she was angry with him or that she was afraid.

“‘Twas a mistake to return to Sadai,” she whispered.

“I sent a woman I trust into that country, a tenacious spy who feared nothing, and she’s returned to me broken. I was going to wait until the sun rose before asking for your report, but considering your tears, I have to ask. What happened? What brought you back early and afraid?”

Ida rose from the bed, her bare feet picking their way across clothing strewn haphazardly on the floor from a few hours before when she’d returned.

The look on her face had led him to ask no questions, but as she stood in the sprinkling of sunlight the morning brought, dread seeped into Leon’s bones. Her fifty years did little to mar her body, but a decade of leading battles had left scars aplenty across her frame, and Leon frowned to see a fresh mark across her thigh, its scab already sloughing off and healing.

“I’ve failed you, Your Majesty.”

“Were you not successful then in finding the location of the Order of Amaska?”

Her lips trembled. “I—I was successful, Your Majesty.”

King Leon sucked air through clenched teeth much too fast, and the ever-present congestion in his lungs leapt forth. Another coughing spasm whipped through him.

Stars danced before his eyes, and Ida’s footsteps sounded nearby. Shortly after, she pressed the mug into his waiting hands. Some of the medicine sloshed out of the cup before it found his lips, and several swallows later, the spasm passed, leaving hope in its wake. “Where is the Order located?”

“Sire, there’s more—”

“Where are they?”

“They’re near the coast, near the town of Haif—”

He was two feet out of bed and halfway to the door before he remembered the need for clothing, and despite his bruised lungs, he quickly dug through his clothes chest. Leon seized the first clothes his fingers touched: an old pair of breeches a touch too loose at the waist, and an undershirt that bore a hole from a moth.

He didn’t care what he looked like. After thirteen years, he had finally found the men who had massacred his family. His giddy footsteps carried him across the room where he rang for a page. When the boy appeared, Leon said, ”I need Captain Fenton brought to my sitting room immediately.”

When the door shut behind the young page, Leon haphazardly dug through a box of letters. “Once Michael arrives, you’ll tell us both about their location. We have plans to make.”

“There’s more, and you must hear it alone.”

When he faced her again, she knelt on the stone floor, and her shoulder length hair spilled limply across her face. “What more is there? After thirteen years, I finally have the location of the bastards. Today is a good day, Ida. Today I will have my revenge.”

“Will ya march across Sadai’s borders to take it?”

“If necessary.”

“You’d bring the wrath of the Boahim Senate down upon us? Would you rip this land apart again for ‘nother pointless war?”

King Leon took her hands into his own as he knelt down beside her. “I thought you would understand this. Those bastards killed my wife. My daughter. What else would you have me do? The Boahim Senate has done nothing to stop the Amaskans. If they won’t seek justice, then I will.”

About the Author

Award-winning and bestselling speculative fiction author Raven Oak is best known for Amaskan’s Blood (2016 Ozma Fantasy Award Winner and Epic Awards Finalist)Class-M Exileand the collection Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays (Foreword Reviews 2016 Book of the Year Finalist). Raven spent most of her K-12 education doodling stories and 500 page monstrosities that are forever locked away in a filing cabinet.

When she’s not writing, she’s getting her game on with tabletop games, indulging in cartography, or staring at the ocean. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband, and their three kitties who enjoy lounging across the keyboard when writing deadlines approach.

Find the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Amaskans-Blood-Boahim-Series-Volume/dp/0990815706

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32722359-amaskan-s-blood
Visit Raven’s website: www.ravenoak.net
Tweet at her: http://twitter.com/raven_oak

Connect on Facebook: http://facebook.com/authorroak

And Google+: https://www.google.com/+RavenOak

 

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Book Review: Rosinanti by Kevin Kessler

It’s Book Review Wednesday, and I’m thrilled to bring you the review of a book by a great new author—and a great guy, Kevin Kessler! If you like dragons, wuxia-style martial arts, and elemental magic, you’ll dig this series.

Rosinanti

The Rosinanti Dragons are no more. Since their extinction nearly one thousand years ago these primal powerhouses have fallen into the obscurity of history’s forgotten lore. In that time, humans have come to dominate the world of Terra, peacefully ignorant to one horrifying truth: ancient evil stirs around them, waiting to reclaim its lost world.

For Valentean Burai, animus warrior of the kingdom of Kackritta, the details surrounding humanity’s victory over the Rosinanti are more than just a history lesson. The long-buried mysteries of this archaic conflict may hold the answers that he has so desperately sought regarding his own past.

Rosinanti Audiobook Cover

As the awful truth of the Rosinanti’s supposed demise comes to light, Valentean must stand together with Seraphina, a magically gifted princess, to embark upon a mission to maintain order and light throughout Terra. Only together can these two lifelong friends face down the resurgence of the Rosinanti legacy, and combat the greatest threat their world has ever known.

My Review: 5 Stars

This felt like one of those classic high fantasy novels that were popular around the time of Dragonlance or Icewind Dale, with that same old school feel that brings back so many happy memories. At the same time, it delved into deeper themes like “the dark and light in all of us”. All in all, one heck of a fun read.

I blasted through about 400+ pages in one sitting. The beginning was most enjoyable for me, though I felt it lagged a little as it approached the climax. However, there were a couple of plot twists in the book that totally caught me by surprise—always something I enjoy.

Aside from a couple of “first book mistakes”, it found this to be one of the best books I’ve read this year. Can’t wait to dive into Book 2 and beyond.

Here’s a Taste:

Pain seared through his faded consciousness, reminding him to breathe. He would have fallen to death’s embrace had it not been for the searing grip of agony. Still, however barely, he clung to life. It took considerable effort to open his heavy-lidded eyes, their weight monumental to bear in wake of the thrashing he had endured. Through the haze of blood and dizziness, the boy, barely old enough to call himself a man, took in what remained of his surroundings. What had once been a beautiful crystalline cave now laid in fiery ruin. What had once been an enclosed structure, safeguarding its occupants against the powerful wind and snow that raged across the white landscape, now lay bare before the might of the elements.

The cold did little to cool the angry burns scattered across the boy’s flesh, now beginning to crack, ooze and blacken. A cough ripped its way from his lungs as a slow birth of blood wound red rivulets down his arms and legs. The morbid flow pooled around him, warm and sticky against his skin as it spread along the snow and ice.

The boy stared blankly at the frosted sky, resigned beneath a thickening blanket of falling snow. He turned and saw a tattered man clad in long black robes lying mutually prone to the stinging of the bitter wind. The boy’s eyelids narrowed approvingly. The body showed no signs of life. At least I managed to do something properly before things got out of hand. His ego stirred as he examined the lifeless figure. It inspired the boy to move, but pain ripped through him with renewed intensity and a gurgled howl leaped from his throat. He turned his head slowly to stare at his ruined right arm, now fallen listlessly at his side. He gazed at it with a grimace of dread; it more resembled that of an abused corkscrew than an arm, having snapped grossly at the elbow joint.

Just beyond his outstretched hand laid a girl clad in a blue dress that danced around the contrast of her silent body. While the lifelessness of the first figure filled him with accomplishment, this visage in blue startled his heart. How had he failed her so? The boy desperately tried to extend his ruined arm toward his companion with tears spilling from his eyes, turning blood and grime to mud on his cheeks. His initial flutter of valiance was now gone. How had it come to this?

Then, as if an answer to his silent angst, a low growl filled the air like the rumble of shifting rubble. Tearing his eyes from the girl, he struggled to lift his head, just enough to stare at the vision of death that hovered before him. The creature was inconceivably massive, with every bit of its body, from tip to tail covered in red rock-like scales. A pair of impressive wings extended outward, framing its enormity. Through the glowing miasma of snow, the boy could still see the creature’s most defining feature: a pair of flame-red eyes. These were eyes the boy had known all too well and for far too long, eyes that haunted his waking and unconscious hours alike since childhood. Now here he was, finally faced with them one more time—the last time.

The beast reared back, its head whipping the air. As familiar as it was, the boy still could scarcely believe what he was to face: an actual dragon, the most ancient of enemies, believed to have been extinct since times only known by popular fable.

The crimson monstrosity slowly opened its massive mouth, rows of razor sharp white teeth glinting in luminescence as a red glow began to gather at the back of its throat. Now would come the fire. Now would come the end. He had hoped, should this moment ever come, he would face death bravely; however, the gentle quaking of his intact limbs coupled with sharp frenzied intakes of breath betrayed him. A medley of stark emotions accompanied his growing dread: anger, disbelief, denial. The purveying emotion, however, despite his defiant wish was sheer terror. He gritted his teeth, determined not to allow the fear to continue playing out on his face—those murderous red orbs would not have the satisfaction of consuming his panic. Then, as the fiery glow flared from the dragon’s massive maw, the boy heard his name, spoken so softly he was almost sure his desperate mind had imagined it.

“Val…?”

His head snapped to the side, seeing his companion slowly stir. She was alive after all, and now they were going to die together.

The dragon’s head darted forward, filling the air with stifling humidity before flames would burst forth to burn its victims to ash. Her weak fingers reached for him with agonizing slowness. Their hands crept closer until he could feel the warmth of her skin against the pads of his fingertips. So tantalizingly close. If he could only touch her for one final moment, he could face his death a more complete person. But they were out of time.

In this, his final moment, fear mocked him from the shadows of his mind, as it always had these many years.

Everything dies, Valentean. No flame can burn forever. 

About the Author

Kevin J. Kessler lives in Orlando Florida, where he owns the White Dragon Podcast Network, which puts out weekly podcasts on a variety of topics from Walt Disney World, to movies, television, comic books, video games and more.

A lifelong geek, Kessler can often be found at the many theme parks and local attractions in Orlando. He developed the story for Rosinanti as a sophomore in high school, sixteen years before the book’s release.

Since an early age, Kessler has been an avid reader, often found lost within the magical worlds found within the pages of fantasy novels.

Find the book on Amazon: mybook.to/rosinanti

 

Connect with Kevin on Facebook: facebook.com/kevinjkesslerauthor

Tweet at him: twitter.com/kevinjkessler

Join the Rosinanti Facebook Group: facebook.com/groups/rosinanti

 

ROGUE 2

Book Review: Rogue by Martyn Halm

I’m happy to once again bring you a book from the Katla Sieltjes series, one of my favorite modern-day series about the bad-ass assassin Katla! I reviewed both Book 1 and Book 2 in the series, and this new one is an amazing continuation in a great series.

Rogue

Freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter Katla Sieltjes runs her business of disguising homicide below the radar of law enforcement, but when her latest target is a judas goat intended to draw her out into the open, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Fooling local law enforcement can be challenging, but hiding from intelligence communities aiming to enlist Katla for their dirty work might prove impossible.

ROGUE 2

With Homeland Security, DEA, and the German BKA joining forces with Dutch Intelligence in an effort to track down Loki Enterprises, not only Katla’s future is threatened, but also the lives of her lover and his friends.

My Review: 5 Stars

I breezed through this book in a couple of days—I just couldn’t put it down! From the first page, the rich descriptions of Amsterdam (and other cities the characters visit) drew me in, and it was a true pleasure to return to the world of Katla, Bram, and the other awesome characters created by the author.

The story was fast-paced, with not a dull moment. I can’t wait until I get to read the next book in the series!

Here’s a Taste:

Unlike his girlfriend, Bram Merleyn seemed unperturbed by the situation. Or maybe it was the VIP lounge instead of an interrogation room. He had taken off his shoes, and sat cross-legged on a leather sofa, hands resting on his knees. Together with the half-smile on his face, the blind man exuded a Zen-like calm, as if he was detained by the police on a regular basis. Polak planted the tripod and switched on the camera while the Chief Inspector sighed and took a seat opposite Merleyn.

“I’m sorry,” Basalt said. “This must be quite a blow for you.”

“This?” Merleyn tilted his head. “You have to be more specific.”

“Your girlfriend being questioned for killing someone.” The Chief Inspector paused, then said, “How long have you known her?”

“Long enough.” Merleyn rolled his head like a boxer. “Long enough to know you’re wrong.”

“You’re sure?”

“Absolutely. Business is war, but she’s only shrewd and ruthless within the confines of a boardroom.”

“Strange. I look at your girlfriend and I see a headstrong young woman. Not the type to cuddle babies or pet puppies, but the cool executive type.”

“With the emphasis on executive, right?” Merleyn gave him a smug smile. “She works in a male-dominated environment, where femininity equals subservience. To command respect she projects a tough image. Apparently convincing enough to fool you.”

“You’re saying her attitude is an affectation? I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that. I saw her stab a man to death.”

“Stab?” Merleyn leaned forward. “With a knife?”

“Yes.”

Merleyn flashed the Chief Inspector a wry smile. “Quite an achievement for someone who cannot stand the sight of blood.”

“What do you mean?”

“She can’t even look at a rare steak without going woozy.”

“We recorded her every move.” The Chief Inspector’s soft voice grew apologetic. “She killed someone in front of a security camera.”

Merleyn sat up straight again. “Seeing is believing.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“If you have her on tape, what are you talking to me for?”

“Background information.”

“Meaning, she wouldn’t tell you anything.” Merleyn snorted. “Maybe she made the correct assessment and I should follow her lead.”

“You paint a different picture than what I’ve seen so far,” Basalt said. “You sound convincing, but can you prove she’s like you say she is?”

“Prove?” Merleyn titled his head. “You’ve seen her limp?”

“Yes.”

“Did she tell you how she got it?”

Basalt shrugged. “I didn’t ask.”

“Last summer she spent a week in England for business meetings. I wasn’t able to accompany her, I had other commitments.”

“What is it you do?”

“I’m a musician. Anyway, she rented a motorcycle to ride around the countryside. Her way of unwinding. Despite her considerable experience riding motorcycles she ran off the road into a fence and skewered her thigh.” Merleyn paused to let it sink in. “You know what caused that accident? She nearly killed herself swerving to avoid running over a hedgehog. She might not look the type to pet puppies, but appearances might be deceiving.”

The Chief Inspector fell silent. Polak was still translating the last words and the blind man cocked his head. His English was impeccable. “Do I have an audience?”

“A small one,” Polak said. “I’m also with Amsterdam Municipal Police, and translating for a colleague from the United States, Ms. Cohn.”

Laure automatically inclined her head, sighed at her own stupidity, and said, “Hello.”

“What agency are you from, Ms. Cohn?”

“What makes you think I’m from an agency, Mr. Merlin?”

“It’s Merleyn. You’re too far from home for local or state police. What are you? FBI? CIA?”

“Mr. Merleyn,” Basalt interrupted. “You implied that your girlfriend affected a tough attitude.”

“I didn’t imply anything.” Merleyn turned back slowly to the Chief Inspector and spoke in measured tones. “I know she affects a tough attitude and I told you the reasons why to save you confusion on the issue.”

“Could you be wrong about this?”

Merleyn didn’t hesitate. “No.”

“Are you telling me you’re infallible?”

“Can I have some water?” Merleyn held out his hand with the commanding presence of someone used to having his wishes fulfilled. Basalt nodded at Polak, who went to the water fountain in the corner and filled a plastic cup. His free hand touched Merleyn’s wrist before he lowered the cup in the blind man’s grip. Merleyn drank the water and licked his lips. “Thanks.”

“So,” Basalt said. “How do you—”

“How long have we known each other?” Merleyn smiled in the Chief Inspector’s direction with an easy familiarity. “You and me?”

Basalt steepled his fingers. “I don’t think we met before today.”

“Right.” Merleyn put his hands together, as if unconsciously mirroring the Chief Inspector, then pointed at Basalt with his fingertips. “How do I know you are fifty‑plus years old, smoke cigars, don’t pay much attention to trends or fashion, are overweight, Protestant, and recently divorced?”

Basalt moved back imperceptibly, as if Merleyn had pushed him back in his chair.

Merleyn placed his hands on his knees again. “Am I right?”

“Yes. Yes, you are. How did you guess?”

“I didn’t ‘guess’, Chief Inspector. I pay attention.”

“Neat trick.”

“Don’t try to reduce my deduction to a parlour trick. You’re easy to read. You refer to my girlfriend as a ‘young woman’, so you’re obviously twenty or more years older. The cigars wasn’t difficult, nor the trends and fashion bit. The atrocious scent you doused yourself in to mask the smell of your unwashed body can’t have set you back more than a few euro. The floor vibrated as you entered the lounge, you wheezed when you sat and the chair complained under your weight. And like most married Protestants, you used to wear a wedding band on your right hand, long enough to form the indentation I noticed when I shook your hand.”

Basalt folded his arms. “I could’ve been a widower.”

“Doubtful,” Merleyn said. “If your wife had died, you would’ve worn both your wedding bands to honour her.”

“Not my wife,” Basalt said, drawing a chuckle from Polak.

Merleyn didn’t crack a smile. “You’re too bitter to have lost your wife. So she left you.”

“Listen, we’re not here to—”

“You missed the point, Basalt. I don’t care about you. Now, if I know this much about you after,” Merleyn ran his finger over his watch, “seventeen minutes, imagine how much I know about the woman I live with and actually care about. You arrested the wrong person. I’d know if my lover has homicidal tendencies.”

The Chief Inspector held up his hands. “Ms. Sieltjes is being questioned, not arrested.”

“You saw her kill someone and you didn’t arrest her?” Merleyn wrinkled his nose. “You ought to be ashamed, lying to the blind. Your evidence is virtually non‑existent, isn’t it?”

“We have a recording of your girlfriend committing a murder, Merleyn.”

“Something that would hold up in court? That would unmistakably show my lover, a respectable and successful businesswoman, without a criminal record or even a parking ticket to her name, stab someone to death despite having an aversion to blood?”

The silence in the room became oppressive. Merleyn leaned forward and said, “You know what I’d do? I’d swallow my pride and apologise to her before she’ll make you eat your mistake in court.”

About the Author:

Martyn V. Halm lives in Amsterdam with two children, two cats, two rats, and countless imaginary characters vying for attention.

Writing realistic crime fiction is hard work, especially when you’re a stickler for verisimilitude. When your protagonist is a seasoned killer, research can take you right up to Nietzsche’s abyss. Luckily, things get easier after the first few killings…

Apart from being an accomplished prevaricator, Martyn already possessed an eclectic variety of skills that qualified him to write the Amsterdam Assassin Series. Skills he shares with his deadly fictional characters…

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GO6VQ8O/

Read Martyn’s thoughts on his blog: http://amsterdamassassin.wordpress.com/

And his website http://tao-of-violence.weebly.com/

 

Cat

Book Review: Operation Badger by Tabitha Ormiston Smith

Today, I’m glad to bring another book by the wonderful Tabitha Ormiston Smith. I’ve reviewed three of her books in the past (Dance of Chaos, Operation Camilla, and Once Upon a Dragon). Now, I’ve got Operation Badger, her latest “cat mystery”.

Operation Badger

Detective Senior Constable Ben Jackson is handsome, kind, diligent, dedicated and a total mensch. He’s also as thick as two planks.
His girlfriend, Tammy, is clever as anything, but sillier than a wet hen.
And then there is Tom. Tom is a cat.
Follow this unlikely crime-busting trio as they bucket from one disaster to another.

Cat

My Review: 4 Stars

I loved how quintessentially Australian this book was! The latest in the “Operation Tomcat” novels was as quirky and off-the-wall as I was hoping for. It wasn’t quite as funny or utterly over-the-top outrageous as the previous one, but it was still highly entertaining. Short, sweet, and a humorous read overall—just what I was expecting from the book.

I received it in exchange for an honest review, and I always smile when reading Tabitha’s books.

Here’s a Taste:

A wide, happy smile rose to Ben’s face as he stepped out of the bakery, the flat box carefully balanced. It was a new week, he was on afternoons, his favourite shift, the sun was shining and he had on a brand-new suit. He was on his way to work at a job he loved, and later he would go home to the most beautiful woman in the world. Everything in Ben’s life was just about perfect, he reckoned, and so on this perfect day he had detoured to the bakery on his way back from court for a box of fancy doughnuts to treat his mates in the squadroom.

Ben’s shoulders squared and his chin lifted as he stepped onto the wide pavement. Look at all those citizens going about their business. He was their protector, one link in the Thin Blue Line that separated the good people from the Bad Guys. Ever since he could remember, Ben had always wanted to be a policeman; it was his life’s dream come true. He was Living His Dream. Not bad for twenty-seven.

A klaxon shrieked and he almost dropped the box. Hell! It was the bank down the street. Two men ran out and piled into a rusty old vehicle, roaring away in a cloud of smoke. Shit! A robbery! Heart pounding, Ben raced to his car and fumbled to get the key in. The suspect vehicle was turning the corner at the Carrington Street intersection. If he got right after them.…

And then it happened. The keys dropped from his fingers, and as he grabbed for them his hand just grazed them, knocking them away, and as time slowed he seemed to watch in horror for an eternity as they sailed gracefully away towards the kerb.

Towards the stormwater drain.

As Ben launched himself in a flying tackle, right arm extended vainly grasping for his keys, he had an instant in which to reflect that he must look just like Superman flying through the air, and then he was down on his belly in the gutter, trying to suck in air against his winded diaphragm, watching as the keys slid slowly, but inexorably, out of sight.

About the Author:

Tabitha Ormiston-Smith has spent her life in the pursuit of a good laugh. This quest has taken her through financial reporting, Information Technology, the military, commercial recovery and degrees in Computer Science, Philosophy and Law. Still on the hunt, now Tabitha shares her kills with her readers.

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Operation-Badger-Tomcat-Book-ebook/dp/B071HGP7T5

Read Tabitha’s thoughts on her website: http://tormistonsmith.wix.com/tabitha

Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OrmistonSmith/

Tweet at her: @OrmistonSmith

 

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Book Review: Darkstorm by ML Spencer

For today’s Book Review Wednesday, I’ve got a dark fantasy treat by the awesome ML Spencer. This is the first book of hers I’ve read, and I have to say it was a pleasure to read. While not perfect, it was a solid read and a great addition to the dark fantasy genre.

Darkstorm

Faced with an imminent cataclysm that will destroy the magical heritage of their people, a secret conspiracy of mages has resorted to harnessing the powers of Hell to save their legacy. The only mages who can oppose them are Braden and Quin Reis: two brothers with a turbulent past and a caustic relationship. But both Braden and Quin are compromised, harboring terrible and tragic secrets.

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Will Braden and Quin be able to prevent the unsealing of the Well of Tears? Or will they fall victim to the darkmages’ sinister manipulations and join their conspiracy?

My Review: 4 Stars

There were a lot of things I loved about this book. There was one particular scene earlier on that beautifully showed the callous brutality of the characters and the world in which the book was set. The story was engaging, well-paced, and pulled me along from start to finish. The ending of the book was beautifully satisfactory and yet surprised me at the same time.

I found a few issues: one part of the story seemed to meander in a certain direction for no apparent reason. I believe it was meant to delve into the backstory of the character/s, but it just felt out of place among the rest. Also, the romance between two of the characters was hard to swallow. They went from opposites to lovers in too short a time without proper development of their relationship.

However, overall it was a great book and one I’d recommend to lovers of dark fantasy.

Here’s a Taste:

The room they entered was just as dark and wet as the rest of the warren of passageways they had traversed. On one side of the floor was a large slab of granite, waist-high. It had the look of a table or altar, hewn from a single slab of rock. A foul, dark liquid oozed down its sides, congealing on its surface.

To the other side of the chamber was a circular well made of staggered granite blocks.

It was toward the stone table that Braden moved first. He paused beside it, eyes contemplating the rough surface. Slowly, he extended his hand and dipped a finger into the dark liquid pooled on its surface. His finger came away coated with thick, coagulated blood.

Sephana recoiled with a gasp. The sheer amount of blood was appalling. It collected on the surface of the table, running in thick rivulets to the floor. She was standing in it. The blood had mixed with the water at her feet, rendering it impossible to tell how much there actually was.

She shook her head and whispered, “Animal sacrifice? To what purpose?”

“No.”

Braden’s voice was empty and hollow, completely drained of all emotion. The sound of it chilled her heart. He lifted something from the floor next to the slab of rock. It took Sephana a moment to recognize the object in his hand: a thick iron shackle anchored by a heavy chain to the side of the granite block.

Human,” she whispered.

She covered her mouth with her hand as Braden cast the chain away from him, repulsed. The iron shackle slapped hard against the slab with a sharp ring of metal.

Sephana flinched at the harsh sound. Braden hardly seemed to care if anyone heard. With a grimace of contempt, he wrenched himself back away from the altar, swinging around to face the well. He stalked across the floor toward it, kneeling down beside the granite ring. His hand rose, tracing over a series of vile-looking markings that were carved into the well’s rim. They looked more like claw marks raked into the stone by some ghastly creature than any language Sephana knew.

She crept up beside him and observed Braden’s study of the gruesome marks.

“I want to go,” she insisted, voice quavering.

But he didn’t act as though he even heard her. He was kneeling beside the well, inching his way slowly around its circumference, eyes and fingers exploring the hideous markings all around the rim.

At last, Braden finished his scrutiny of the well’s texture and pushed himself to his feet. His gaze remained fixed on the sinister markings, stare narrowed in thought. He brought his hand up to his face, absently stroking his thumb over the whiskers on his chin. He rested his other hand on the well’s cover, a thick slab of granite stone.

“This is a portal,” he said finally. His voice was cold and dispassionate. Utterly flat. He didn’t look up at her; his eyes remained captured by the cruel markings of the well’s rim. “They’re boring a gateway to the Netherworld. And they’re using human sacrifice to finish the job.”

Sephana could only stare vacantly ahead, mouth agape.

“They call it the Well of Tears,” Braden continued impassively, indicating an inscription set into the very base of the well itself. “If they succeed—if this gateway is ever opened—then more than just Aerysius will be in danger. They will unleash the powers of Chaos across the world.”

The sound of a loud, metallic crash rang out across the chamber. And then another noise: a distant thundering sound, low and throbbing, echoing up from the depths.

“They know we’re here,” Sephana gasped.

About the Author:

M.L. Spencer was born in Southern California and grew up on the works of Steven R. Donaldson, Stephen King and Frank Herbert. She wrote her first novel-length manuscript at thirteen.

By day she works as a biology teacher; by night she sweats over a beaten-up keyboard. Her novel Darkmage won the Indie-Reader  Discovery Award for Fantasy.

Her favorite authors are Robert Jordan, C.S. Friedman,  George R.R. Martin, David Eddings, Patrick Rothfuss, and Terry Goodkind.

M.L. Spencer won 1st Place Prose in the San Bernardino County Writing Celebration and the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Award for Fantasy.

Find the book on Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Darkstorm-Rhenwars-Saga-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01MT77SK9

Tweet at her: twitter.com/MLSpencer1

Connect on Facebook: facebook.com/MLSpencerAuthor

 

The Sun God's Heir, Book 2

Book Review: Sun God’s Heir Book 2 by Elliot Baker

For today’s Book Review Wednesday, I’m bringing you the Part 2 to the Sun God’s Heir series (see my review of Book 1 here). I enjoyed the first part quite a bit (4-star review), and I found the next book in the series a worthy continuation of a great story.

The Sun God’s Heir: Rebirth

Set during the wave tossed years of white slavery and Barbary pirates, this is the epic story of René Gilbert, a journey that defies time as he must draw on a larger awareness earned in previous lifetimes.

The Sun God's Heir, Book 2

The plague’s dark fingers curl around Bordeaux. René must return home to save those he loves. But first he has to escape a Moroccan sultan’s clutches. In Bordeaux, an enemy waits, filled with a hatred three thousand years old. Only René can defeat this dark power, and only if he reclaims his own ancient past. In this arena, death is but the least of failure’s penalties.

My Review: 4.5 Stars

I was glad to receive this book in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed the first part (minus a few flaws) immensely and looked forward to reading this one.

The book had none of the flaws that detracted from my enjoyment of the first book. The plot was steady, the climaxes were pretty well-written, and I found myself drawn into the story. Even though I had limited reading time, I always found an excuse to pull out my iPad just so I could keep reading this story to find out what happened next.

The story continued the development of the main character and gave us insight into some of the accompanying characters as well (especially the female romantic interest). It didn’t have any of the “Book 2 lag” that would stop me from wanting to continue reading. All in all, I can hardly wait until Book 3 comes out!

Here’s a Taste:

The medina of Casablanca was a warren of narrow winding streets filled with stalls of all shapes and sizes. René followed Akeefa and Abdul-Karim as they entered through a constricted archway and left behind the blinding sunlight. René stopped to take it all in. A thousand sights and sounds assaulted him at once. An intense level of energy and human striving filled the air. The sounds and smells were strident, immediate. A cacophony reverberated from the walls as metalworkers hammered on copper and brass and iron. Jewelers, leather workers, and weaponsmiths all contributed to the din of men and animals pursuing their desires. The enticing smells of food and coffee pervaded the space. Booth after booth of delicacies was on display along with the occasional goat carcass that hung from the canopy poles waiting for the butcher’s cleaver.

“This is overwhelming.” René sucked in a deep breath. “Something smells good. Perhaps we might sit and have a coffee while I try to make sense of this incredible place.”

“That is an excellent idea.” Abdul-Karim grinned. “I know just the place and ’tis not far from here.”

“More food,” Akeefa said with some exasperation. “You promised I would be able to shop and you know I cannot go off on my own. Some stupid man would say or do something and after I had killed him, we would spend the morning yelling or fighting or both. With you two, I will at least have some measure of freedom.”

René gazed sideways at Akeefa. He knew her well enough not to doubt the possibility of her statement, but he hoped she spoke in jest.

Abdul-Karim grimaced like he had bitten into a lemon. He turned to René. “You must trust my experience in this. Given the amount of walking and waiting we face, you will definitely need nourishment.”

René laughed. “Perhaps we might feed Abdul-Karim so we may better attack this shopping from a position of strength.”

“Oh, all right.” Akeefa rolled her eyes. “My master taught me when to make a strategic retreat and this is clearly one of those times. I will want, however, to see that stamina later. Understood?” She glared at Abdul-Karim.

Her effort was wasted on her older brother. Abdul-Karim’s demeanor changed to one of joyful expectation. “I know just the place. Best pastries in Morocco. This way.”

René glanced around. Even over the din and chaotic movement of the medina, he had the sensation they were being watched. The fact that he was a Frenchman was immaterial. There were many different nationalities present within the medina. Non, he, René Gilbert, was being observed.

“Do you believe they will attack again so soon?” asked René.

“The Hashashin that attacked us on the quay in Larache were paid by the sultan’s younger brother Ismail. I do not sense that level of organization. There are many bands of robbers and slavers within Morocco. It can be a difficult place to live,” said Abdul-Karim. “And there are those in Rabat who will not allow our victory over their brethren go unrevenged, regardless of the sultan’s orders.”

Both men loosened their blades while Akeefa huffed at the conventions that prevented her from carrying a sword. Still, an attacker would find her armed.

“Let us sit at that tavern.” Abdul-Karim pointed across the lane. “It has good sight lines and there are avenues of escape if necessary.”

Once seated, Abdul-Karim ordered coffee and an assortment of cakes.

Akeefa pursed her lips.

“What? We might as well eat something while we wait.”

The square had grown quieter as people found their business called them elsewhere. Men collected in small groups. So far, the numbers of their enemies were not overwhelming and René was content to wait. He glanced at Abdul-Karim. The smile on his face evidenced a gleeful anticipation at the prospect of combat. His friend genuinely liked to fight.

“It appears someone is willing to invest a great deal of money in our removal. As much as I would like to engage in this contest—” Abdul-Karim glanced over at his sister. “And we have them outmanned, father would advise us to retreat and gather reinforcements.”

Abdul-Karim inclined his head. They stood as groups of men moved to block the exits.

“We may not be offered that opportunity.” Akeefa slipped her hand beneath her burka.

“Let us make our way toward the medina’s entrance. If we reach the confines of the arch, we gain a slight advantage in the number of our enemy able to come against us.” René’s rapier was in his hand.

The scimitar Abdul-Karim pulled from his sash reflected sunlight along its razor sharp edge. A wicked looking dagger appeared in Akeefa’s hand. René eased left of Akeefa leaving a sword length between them as Abdul-Karim stepped to her right.

The square was now empty except for the growing number of armed men drawing their swords. René studied the upper stories of the souk. No musket barrels protruded from those windows.

René counted thirty men circling them and moving closer. “Akeefa, move to the front and make first contact. A moment’s confusion having you walk before us will be useful. It is not that unusual for a woman to carry a dagger. Perhaps you might hold it a little less respectfully.”

“I will do my clumsy best.” Akeefa managed to move to the front, intentionally tripping on her burka.

The number of men waiting before the medina’s arch had increased to ten. Smug smiles played on their faces. Apparently they found humor in two men so cowardly as to hope a woman would protect them. One eager young mercenary swaggered out to meet Akeefa.

“Throw down your weapons and your deaths will be easier,” said the man as he waved his scimitar toward Akeefa. He ignored the dagger that shook in her trembling hand.

“D…do you intend to kill us all?” Akeefa stuttered in a high-pitched voice.

The fool preened, sticking his chest out. “Drop your weapons.”

About the Author:

Award winning novelist and international playwright Elliott Baker grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. With four musicals and one play published and produced in the United States, New Zealand, Portugal, England, and Canada, Elliott is pleased to release his first novels.

Elliott Baker Photo

The Sun God’s Heir: Return, book one of the trilogy, was released this past January, and book two, Rebirth will come out on April 18th, followed in July by the third and final book of the series, Redemption. A member of the Authors Guild and the Dramatists Guild, Elliott lives in New Hampshire with his wife Sally Ann.

Find the book on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2mklqLB

 

Visit Elliot’s Website: http://elliottbaker.com

Connect on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ElliottBakerAuthor/

Tweet at him: https://twitter.com/ElliottBaker?lang=en

Sanyare The Heir Apparent Cover

Book Review: Sanyare: The Heir Apparent

Today, I’ve got something awesome: the Book 2 in a dark fantasy series I immensely enjoyed (read my review of Book 1). This was definitely a great read and I can’t wait until I get Book 3!

Sanyare: The Heir Apparent

Her secret is unraveling. One dangerous quest could end it all…

Rie thought she was an ordinary human. After she’s named heir to Sanyaro, the truthseeker and mediator of all nine realms, life becomes a lot more complicated. As she struggles to control her magics, Rie nearly falls prey to a brutal assassination attempt during a public ceremony.

Sanyare The Heir Apparent Cover

Blamed for the chaos, Rie’s escort, Prince Daenor, is taken prisoner. While Sanyaro tempers the political flames, Rie must once again chase after the truth. As if the threat of another great war and the impending death of her lover weren’t enough, Rie uncovers a dark secret that threatens to crack the very foundations of the faerie realms. When allies fall, can Rie overcome the odds… and the opposition?

My Review: 5 Stars

While the Book 1 was a bit more slow-moving, I found the faster pace of Book 2 much more exciting. I received this book in exchange for an honest review and I can honestly say I enjoyed it very much. The characters (Rie, Greg/Garamaen, and the accompanying supporting cast) were all a thrill to read, and I loved the exploration of the various realms in the world.

Wait until you hit the last few chapters: you’ll love the plot twist there! It totally caught me by surprise—not an easy thing to do.

All in all, an excellent Book 2 that makes me want to find out what the heck happens in Book 3 to bring the story to a close.

Here’s a Taste:

Rie expected three old hags and a giant loom. What she saw, was anything but.

Three women sat behind individual desks arranged in a giant semicircle. The dark-haired women appeared relatively young, maybe in their thirties by human standards, but all of them had to be far older even than Greg. Their fingers sped across computer terminals, and they shouted instructions into headsets as they worked.

“Lachesis, I need a new soul. Male, deserving of good parents. Headed to low nobles in the Summer Court,” the central woman said, her gaze focused on the computer screen in front of her.

“Got it.” The woman to Rie’s right repeated the request into her headset. “A third life is being pulled and prepped. Delivery in five.”

“Fatal accident in the Human Realm. Fifteen dead,” the central woman said. Her voice remained calm, as if the accident were expected.

“Reaper 5-2-6 was there and ready,” the woman to Rie’s left said. “Souls headed to the gates now.”

“Ahem,” the snake-woman interrupted. “Your ladyships have a visitor.”

The central woman glanced up from her terminal and smiled. “Ah, yes,” she said. “Apprentice Sanyare. We’ve been expecting you!” She paused, glancing back at her screen. “Accidental death due in the Winter Court. Avalanche will catch an unprepared ice gnome in twenty.”

“Reaper 2-2-2 head out.”

“Sorry about that,” the central woman said again. “Unfortunately, fate waits for no man or woman. Even us. Now where was I?”

“I believe you were about to introduce yourself.”

“Yes, of course. I am Clotho, to my left is my sister, Lachesis, and to my right my other sister, Atropos.”

“Why am I always the other sister? Why can’t I go first for once?” Atropos said, bitterness underlying the teasing tone.

“Birth comes before death, dear. It only makes sense.”

“Then why doesn’t Lachesis handle the introductions?”

“Do we really have to argue about this again, in front of our guest? Do we have reapers standing by for the airline crash this afternoon?”

“Of course. My reapers know their jobs.”

“I was just checking to make sure I had relayed the accident. The engine will fail any moment.”

“We have it covered.”

“Talk about wackadoo,” Niinka whispered. “These ladies need a break!”

Rie ignored her.

“Wonderful. Back to our guest. You’ve come about the broken threads,” Clotho stated. There was no question. She knew exactly why Rie was there and where she needed to go.

“You’ve noticed the deaths?” Rie asked.

“Of course! At first we thought it was just a system glitch. They happen occasionally when the computers don’t synch up properly,” Clotho said.

“I can’t believe you use computers,” Rie said.

“You think we’re too old?” Clotho replied, a teasing twinkle lighting her eyes. “No, when the humans invented computers, we were thrilled! The weaving had become so complicated, we were losing track of threads. Now, we write code. Much easier to manage a database than a giant loom. Trust me.”

Rie tilted her head to the side and smiled. “I do.”

Atropos took up the story. “Anyway, when my reapers went to the Shadow Realm to clean up the mess, the souls were gone.”

“The Shadow Realm?”

“There have been other realms involved, but it started there,” Clotho said.

“The reapers believe that girl was responsible. Meddling fool,” Atropos added.

“Who?” Rie asked.

“Faerleithril.”

“Why we gave that girl the ability to sever souls…” Lachesis drifted off with a shake of her head. She seemed to simultaneously pay attention to the conversation and lose herself in her own thoughts.

“Even so, she should never have had the ability to steal a soul’s life force,” Clotho said. “We didn’t give her that much power.”

“If you didn’t give her the ability, how did she get it?” Rie asked.

“We don’t know. She’s a clever girl, though. Don’t underestimate her,” Clotho said.

“Live and learn. Now, only summerland souls can be borne to the long-lived elves,” Lachesis added.

“She’s been exiled from the Shadow Realm,” Rie said, trying to get back on track.

“Yes, we know,” Clotho replied, her gaze focused on her screen. “Damn, another earthquake in Asia. It’s a mess down there.”

“Natural disaster squad eighteen, you’re up,” Atropos said into her headset.

Rie let out a frustrated breath. This was getting nowhere. “I need to know about the three deaths. The assassins Faerleithril severed in the high court. Lord Garamaen thought you could tell us what happened.”

“That boy. He thinks he commands the fates? Bah,” Atropos said.

“We gave him the power. He has the right,” Lachesis said, speaking for the first time. “I remember spinning his soul.” She sighed, a wistful expression smoothing her expression as she gazed into the distance. “He’s an original, you know. My first golden thread.”

“And you gave him too much power. We’ve all agreed,” Atropos said.

“You agreed, dear sister, not me. I’ve always thought his was a strong and worthy soul.” Lachesis returned to her computer, typing out more commands. “The next batch of souls for the Human Realm are queued up and ready for distribution, Clotho.”

“Just in time, I’m on my last five hundred.”

“I’ll get to work on the next set.”

“But what about the Upper Realm assassins?” Rie tried again.

“Faerleithril severed their threads. Find her, and you find your answers,” Atropos said. “I had nothing to do with it.”

“She’s a menace. She needs to be found and stopped.” Clotho’s gaze narrowed. “Take care of her, and we will owe you.”

“What about your Guardians?”

“We’re running a little short right now,” Lachesis said. “There are issues that must be handled in the summerlands.”

“Issues?”

“Souls have been disappearing —“

“It’s nothing you need concern yourself with right now,” Clotho interrupted. “Just take care of Faerleithril. It will be good practice, anyway. Maybe help you gain control of your abilities.”

Rie blushed, but let the comment slide. Of course, Clotho knew of her failures. She was the weaver of fate. She probably knew everything about everyone.

“Where is she?” Rie asked, returning to the question of Faerleithril’s involvement with the assassins.

“If we knew that, we wouldn’t need you,” Atropos snapped, gaze never leaving her screen.

Clotho rolled her eyes and gave Rie a knowing smile, as if to say ignore her. “We don’t know exactly where she is, but we do know where threads have been snapping prematurely. Start in the Summer Court. That’s where the most recent activity, other than your assassins, has occurred.”

“What about the three assassins? What happened to their souls?”

Clotho looked over at Atropos, her gaze asking a silent question. Atropos nodded. Clotho met Rie’s gaze with an intense stare. “They’re gone. We don’t know what happened, exactly, but the souls disappeared from the database. Deleted. Like they never existed at all. We believe Faerleithril has absorbed their life force, somehow, but we’ve never seen the like.”

“They didn’t deserve it,” Lachesis sobbed, tears trickling from her eyes. “Never to be reborn, never have a second life.” She covered her face with her hands, her shoulders shaking.

Clotho rubbed her sister’s back, her expression solemn.

“But you’re the Moirai. Don’t you control destiny?”

Clotho’s mouth turned up in a sardonic smile. “We’re not puppet masters. There are far too many souls to manage with any level of detail. All we do is set a soul on its path, watch the patterns in the cloth, and reap the soul when it’s time.”

“But —“

“The Greeks were wrong. At least, in part. A soul chooses its own destiny in its every-day decisions. We’re just the watchers and caretakers,” Atropos interrupted.

Clotho tapped her headset. “Ssierra,” she hissed into the microphone, “please have Judith meet Rie at the desk. She’ll need an escort back to the portal.”

Turning back to Rie, she continued. “Talk to the fire king and find Faerleithril. If you can manage that, you might be able to save your man from King Othin’s pit of despair.”

About the Author:

MeganHaskellAuthorMegan Haskell is the author of the dark fantasy adventure series, The Sanyare Chronicles, and Program Director for O.C. Writers, A Network of Published and Aspiring Authors. She lives in Orange County, California with her husband, two young daughters, and one ridiculously energetic dog.

 

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sanyare-Heir-Apparent-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B01LYJ0G78/

Find her on her website: www.MeganHaskell.com

Connect via the OC Writers Nectwork: www.OCWriters.Network

Facebook: www.facebook.com/meganhaskellauthor

Tweet at her: www.twitter.com/meganphaskell

 

Cloak Cover

Book Review: Cloak of the Two Winds by Jack Massa

It’s Book Review Wednesday, and today I’m going back to my roots with a fantasy novel that feels like something with a bit more of an “old school” feel. The flavors of sword and sorcery are always a treat for me!

Cloak of the Two Winds

Pirates, sorcerers, and witches battle for an ancient magical treasure

To the Iruk people of the South Polar Sea, the crew of a hunting boat is sacred—a band of men and women warriors bound by oath and a group soul. But when Lonn leads his crew away from the hunt to pursue his dream of a treasure ship, they find more than an easy bit of piracy.

Cloak Cover

The ship belongs to the witch Amlina, and after the Iruks carry off her possessions, they are robbed in turn. Worse, one of their band is also taken—Glyssa, the woman Lonn loves.

To rescue her, the Iruks must join forces with Amlina on a perilous voyage far from the seas they know. To Lonn and his mates, nothing matters but saving Glyssa. But Amlina knows much more is at stake. Among her possessions is an object of ancient power. In the wrong hands, the Cloak of the Two Winds can unravel the age-old magic that keeps the world from chaos.

My Review: 4 Stars

I was given this book in exchange for an honest review, and I must say that I found it a well-crafted story with interesting, well-developed characters. I LOVED the “Inuit” flavor of the protagonists, as it was something rarely seen in other novels. Everything from their long-distance ice-skating to their ice boats was original and enjoyable.

If I liked the book so much, why did I give it four stars? I had to dock a star because I had a hard time reading it. The book didn’t draw me in and hold me spellbound. It was a well-written story, but I had to force myself to keep reading through to the end.

However, I have to say that it was an interesting book that is worth the read. With the fresh take on fantasy worlds and the old school “sword and sorcery” feel, it was a book I’d highly recommend.

Here’s a Taste:

The freezewind had blown in the morning, changing the sea to ice. Under an overcast sky the ice stretched in all directions, gleaming with a light of its own—a pearly light born of witchery. So all the seas had gleamed for an age on the world of Glimnodd.

Two of the Iruks had climbed from the hunting boat and were skating around on the ice. Two others could be seen on board the open, forty-foot craft, at the helm and atop the mast. The Iruks wore garments of deerskin and fur, with leather harnesses and hooded capes. Curved hunting swords and long knives hung at their sides. The skaters moved on ivory blades cunningly strapped to their sea boots.

Leaning on the massive bone tiller, the one called Lonn glanced at the two skaters from time to time. Otherwise his squinting gaze stayed fixed on the north, where a low dark ridge marked the Cape of Dekyll, the only visible land in all the bright emptiness of ice and sky. The Iruks had been lying off the cape for two days now, waiting. They had sailed to this spot because Lonn had dreamed that a merchant ship would pass this way, unarmed and laden with treasure.

“I don’t believe that ship is coming,” Karrol declared. The taller and brawnier of the skaters, she had glided up alongside the stern and stopped, looking pointedly at Lonn.

“I still believe it will,” Lonn said. “Didn’t the freezewind blow this morning? Haven’t I said all along that in my dream we captured this galleon on ice?”

“Yes,” Karrol said, “the freezewind blew this morning. And because we were lying at anchor the boat got frozen in, and it took us half the day to chop free. The freezewind often blows this time of year. That is why Tathian merchants don’t sail in this season. Their galleons are slow and too easily caught in the ice.”

Lonn made no answer, but continued staring toward the Cape of Dekyll. He was starting to regret convincing the others to follow his dream.

But the dream had seemed so vivid, the opportunity so rare and vast. The Iruk people believed in dreams, especially ones that came during a hunt. And as leader of the klarn, the hunting band, if Lonn had not argued forcefully to follow such a dream…Well, what kind of a leader would he be?

“This is senseless,” Karrol said. “One day we are hunting yulugg with twenty other boats, chasing a good-sized herd. Then Lonn happens to dream of a ship. Now we lie off an empty point of land, alone, and nothing happens. I’d rather Lonn had dreamed of yulugg.”

“Perhaps Lonn will dream of yulugg,” Eben called from the masthead, “when the season comes for hunting ships.”

Karrol snorted, and out on the ice Draven chuckled. Lonn clenched his jaw and glared at the north. He was beginning to wish he haddreamed of yulugg.

There were six in Lonn’s klarn, three women and three men, all of them young, none older than twenty, though all were full-fledged warriors. At the start of the season they had taken a sacred oath, to sail and hunt and fight together, share warmth, food, and shelter. A klarn might last for many years, or it might be ritually dissolved at the end of any hunt. The way things were going, Lonn thought gloomily, he’d be lucky if this crew lasted the season—a sorry outlook indeed for his first voyage as a klarn leader.

Karrol hoisted herself over the rail and sat down heavily in the stern. “I think we should go back to the hunt. I’m going to call a meeting.”

“We’ve had a meeting on this already,” Lonn said.

“Yes.” Karrol was unstrapping her skate blades. “We agreed to come here and wait for the ship. So we’ve waited two days, and the ship hasn’t shown. I say it’s time to reconsider.”

Laying the skates aside, she rose in a graceful movement and stalked toward the forward end of the boat.

Sliding by on the ice, Draven threw out his arms in a shrug, then let them drop, slapping his sides as he showed Lonn an amused smile. Draven never seemed to lose his sense of humor.

Lonn shook his head. Pointlessly, he glanced at the windbringer, a four-foot fern-like creature that stood near him in a bucket of seawater. The windbringer looked back at Lonn through its single green eye. Though capable of understanding and making human speech, windbringers seldom had much to say to people.

Karrol stopped in front of the mast and lifted the flap of a low tent of white and gray hides. “Brinda, Glyssa. Wake up! Eben, come down from there.”

“I can hear you plainly from here,” Eben answered. “And one of us keep lookout, in case Lonn’s dream comes true.”

Brinda and Glyssa had kept the late watch until sunrise, then worked all morning to help chop the boat free of the ice. Still, they scrambled from the tent immediately, tightening loose garments. Their hoods were back, revealing typical Iruk faces—tawny complexions, high cheekbones, slitted eyes accustomed to squinting.

Brinda, lean and muscular, was Karrol’s older sister. “Why did you wake us?” she demanded, looking around sleepily.

“I want to have a meeting.” Karrol said. “To decide if we should stay here or go back and hunt yulugg.”

“You could have waited till we’d finished sleeping,” said Glyssa with irritation. She was smaller, delicate for an Iruk woman.

“We’ve wasted enough time here already,” Karrol said.

“We can hunt yulugg any time,” Glyssa said.

“You can sleep any time,” Karrol answered.

Not if you keep waking us up!” Glyssa said.

“Your argument just became pointless,” Eben called from above. “The ship of Lonn’s dream is rounding the cape from the east.”

About the Author

Jack Massa grew up in New Jersey and attended college in Florida and Massachusetts, earning an MFA in creative writing. His Master’s thesis was a science fantasy novel, Mooncrow, which was published by Berkley Books in 1979.

Jack spent the next 30 years in Atlanta, Georgia, learning and practicing the magical skills of the digital age. Bits of his fiction and poetry also surfaced from time to time. His science fiction story, “PrayerWare,” was published in the first Bantam Books Full Spectrum Anthology in 1988, and was later selected for a British Best-of-the-Year collection.

In 2013, Jack returned to Florida, where he lives with his magical wife, wonderful son, and a pet orange tree named Grover. He continues to practice technical prestidigitation while also focusing on writing stories.

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Cloak-Two-Winds-Jack-Massa-ebook/dp/B01GD9X3XC
Connect with Jack on his website: www.triskelionbooks.com
Chat with him on FaceBook: www.facebook.com/AuthorJackMassa/
Tweet at him: @JackMassa2

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