Book Review: The Catalain Book of Secrets by Jessica Lourey

The Catalain Book of Secrets
Jessica Lourey
Toadhouse Books, December 2014
ISBN: 978-0-9908342-1-2
Trade Paperback

The Catalain women share more than a bloodline. Each woman, whether the eldest, now a great-grandmother, or the youngest, a teenager not yet understanding her inborn powers, has a particular magic. Sometimes it seems as small as an overdose of charming sexuality, sometimes a capability to see the future, and sometimes, as we see as the story opens, it is the power of persuasion strong enough to cause murder. The problem is, the one murdered won’t stay dead. And the twelve-year-old murderer, though innocent in intent (remember the power of persuasion aspect) has lived almost her whole life consumed by guilt.

Each woman in this story has her own chapters, so readers are brought into the plot with varying viewpoints. First is Velda, where the story begins, then Ursula, who is central to the murder. Next comes Ursula’s daughters. Jasmine, who, due to a traumatic incident in her childhood totally refutes her magic, and Katrine, who ran all the way to England to escape it. Lastly in this story, although certainly not the least, is Tara, Jasmine’s daughter.

Danger gathers around these women as a swarm of serpents awakens in an earthen hideout and prepares to take over the city to complete a twenty-five year cycle. It will take all the Catalain women and their collective powers to finally put the murder to rest  and save their family.

Well-written, with intriguing characters, I think you’ll find this a fine story to while away an evening or two.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

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Book Reviews: Hearts & Other Body Parts by Ira Bloom and P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

Hearts & Other Body Parts
Ira Bloom
Scholastic Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-03073-0
Hardcover

Fast-paced and fabulously fun, Hearts & Other Body Parts is a freaky fusion of folklore that completely rocks my socks.  Fantasy, science-fiction and a bit of magic combine to capture, then carry you along the remarkable ride.  With the emphasis on “science”, some of this fiction feels frighteningly plausible.

The three sisters that center the story are quintessential siblings in the best ways possible.  Unique enough for interesting exchanges, their common ground allows them to create a formidable front when needed.  Norman, the new kid (whose full name is spectacularly perfect) is a gentle giant—in the most literal sense—but, his size is the least shocking attribute of his appearance.

Generally, students in small town schools divide into two groups when a new kid arrives: instant fans seeking something different or rowdy ruffians refusing change.  Not so when Norman enters the picture.  All eyes focus on him, the same expression on every face.  Mouths hang open in wonder, revulsion and fear.  When Esme joins Norman at the lunch table on his first day, he knew things would be different here; but even his peculiar past could not have prepared him for what was coming.

Zack erases Norman’s new-kid status and creates a fandom in the student body.  Girls surround Zack like fog, floating on his every word. Intelligent as well as wise, Norman is not captivated by Zack’s charms; instead he is suspicious.  Reports of missing girls convince Norman that Esme and her sisters, who have absolutely abandoned him to hover around Zack, are in imminent danger.  Norman can’t face Zack alone, but the bullies that once taunted him may not be much back-up…..even with the reluctant aid of a demon cat.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2017.

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P.S. I Like You
Kasie West
Point, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85097-1
Hardcover

This is such a sweet story—not so your teeth hurt–it’s perfectly sweet.  First and foremost:  I love the Abbott family.  I want to dive into their home and be submersed in the fresh, awesome, oddness.  Each quirky, yet quintessential, sibling provides poignant texture, interacting individually and collectively with Lily.  Her competition-loving, compassionate parents are perfectly embarrassing and absolutely adorable.  Also, there is a rescued “pet” rabbit.

I adore Lily.  She’s who I wanted to be as a teenager.  Her most awkward teen-aged moment is exponentially cooler than any of mine.  It is effortless to relate to, empathize with and understand her.  She is “learning lessons” that I learned, but sometimes forget.  The reminders are welcome and appreciated.

There is also the something-different-that-I-totally-dig-aspect:  putting a pencil to your desktop, jotting a note or song lyric to maintain sanity and/or a state of semi-awareness during class, only to be stunned when another student responds in kind.  I remember trading notes via the top of my desk with an anonymous person in my 8th grade Literature class (sorry, Mr. Leach).  So, no surprise, I’m stupidly delighted and charmed to find a book basing a pretty groovy relationship on such a simple start.  Particularly impressive, Ms. West presents a spot-on, classic-yet-credible, way of communicating without feeling the need to mute or explain away today’s textmania.

This was a one-sitting-read that I really enjoyed.  The mini-mystery to determine who Lily’s pen pal is warranted a close look and careful consideration of the characters.  Although cute and quick, this isn’t the cotton candy of reading—there is a Mean Girl and her role is not gratuitous and the importance of being a good friend cannot be overstated.  My copy is going to my 13-year-old niece and I’m sure I’ll donate another copy to my Middle Grader’s classroom library.  I really like this book for the Middle-Grade reader looking for a love story.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.

Book Review: Firebrand by Gillian Philip—and a Giveaway!

FirebrandFirebrand
Rebel Angels Book One
Gillian Philip
Tor, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-7653-3322-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

At the end of the sixteenth century, religious upheaval brings fear, superstition, and doubt to the lives of mortals. Yet unbeknownst to them, another world lies just beyond the Veil: the realm of the Sithe, a fierce and beautiful people for whom a full-mortal life is but the blink of an eye. The Veil protects and hides their world…but it is fraying at the edges, and not all think it should be repaired. 

 

Discarded by his mother and ignored by his father, sixteen-year-old Seth MacGregor has grown up half wild in his father’s fortress, with only his idolized older brother, Conal, for family. When Conal quarrels with the Sithe queen and is forced into exile in the full-mortal world, Seth volunteers to go with him.

 

But life beyond the Veil is even more dangerous than they expected, and Seth and Conal soon find themselves embroiled in a witch-hunt—in which they are the quarry. Trapped between the queen’s machinations at home and the superstitious violence of the otherworld, Seth must act before both of them are fed to the witch-hunters’ fires…

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There are times when I’m completely surprised and blown away by a book that bends and breaks all my expectations and, when that happens, I feel as though I’ve discovered something that will stick with me for a very long time. Such a book is Firebrand. I have to admit I’ve gotten a little tired of dark faerie themes but I haven’t quite given up yet and I’m so glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to enjoy this one.

I won’t say a lot about the story since many other reviewers have already done so but I do want to say that the 16th-century Scottish setting is a real enhancement, actually a character in itself. I like otherworldly settings but I think Ms. Philip’s choice of a place and time the reader can recognize is part of what makes this so special (and I’m probably influenced by the fact that I’ve visited Scotland and loved it).

Ms. Philip’s characterization is also top-notch and I particularly appreciated the introduction of the Sithe into the human world rather than the reverse which is the usual theme. As fierce as they are, the Sithe are still a peaceful folk and are not prepared for the harshness of the human environs when their own queen forces them into it. Brothers Seth and Conal find themselves exiled beyond the Veil and are driven to return and take back what belongs to them but they are not prepared for the violence brought on by the humans’ superstitions, especially when they realize they are the quarry of the witch-hunters. I loved Queen Kate, not because I approve of her but because she is so finely drawn and so deliciously power-hungry. Seth and Conal, on the other hand, represent the best of the Sithe world and also a future tainted by human influences, and a girl named Catriona will have a lasting effect.

Is Firebrand geared towards the young adult reader? Technically, I’d say no, but it’s certainly age-appropriate for older teens and I know they will enjoy this as much as adults will. Personally, I’m already yearning for the next book, Bloodstone.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2013.

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Leave a comment below and you’ll be entered in the drawing

for a print copy of Firebrand by Gillian Philip. The winning name

will be drawn on the evening of Friday, April 12th.

Open to residents of the US and Canada.

It’s All About Spellbound

 

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Nikki JeffordAUTHOR BIO
Nikki Jefford:

Nikki Jefford is a third generation Alaskan who loves fictional bad boys and heroines who kick butt. She writes edgy teen fiction, including the Spellbound Trilogy and Aurora Sky: Vampire Hunter.

Nikki married Sébastien, the love of her life, while working as a teaching assistant in France. They now reside in the not-so-tropical San Juan Islands, 70 miles northeast of Forks, Washington.

Author Links:

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Book Review: Entangled by Nikki Jefford

EntangledEntangled
Spellbound Book 1
Nikki Jefford
Nikki Jefford, February 2012
Ebook
Amazon
| Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Goodreads

From the author—

Two months after dying, seventeen-year-old witch Graylee Perez wakes up in her twin sister Charlene’s body.

Until Gray finds a way back inside her own body, she’s stuck being Charlene every twenty-hour hours. Her sister has left precise instructions on how Gray should dress and behave. Looking like a prep isn’t half as bad as hanging out with Charlene’s snotty friends and gropey boyfriend.

 The “normals” of McKinley High might be quick to write her behavior off as post-traumatic stress, but warlock Raj McKenna is the only person who suspects Gray has returned from the dead.

Now Gray has to solve the mystery of her death and resurrection while working out a way to disentangle herself from Charlene’s body before she disappears for good.

I suspect one of the hardest things an author has to do—or should do—is make a familiar theme fresh, different from the pack, and I admire those who pull it off. I have to give credit to Nikki Jefford because she did indeed come up with a new idea. Maybe I should say it was a new idea to me but I suspect many readers have had the same feeling.

Stories about twins aren’t unusual, even stories in which the twins dislike each other, but I don’t know of any other stories in which one twin dies and then wakes up in the other’s body. Kat Zhang’s book, What’s Left of Me, features two sisters occupying the same body but it isn’t because one died and came back in the sister’s body. What Ms. Jefford has done is very imaginative and I found myself really engaged with Graylee while she learns how to cope with “living with” the sister she doesn’t much like. I especially enjoyed watching Gray having to re-make herself in Charlene’s image every other day.

That in itself, the every other day part, is one of Ms. Jefford‘s ideas that sets Entangled apart. Imagine being yourself in manner, dress, friendships, food likes, etc., on Monday, Wednesday and Friday but someone else entirely who just happens to look like you physically on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The trouble that can cause is self-evident but, in the author’s hands, it also becomes a comedy routine and I found myself smiling and chuckling a lot.

Then again, there are some serious problems here, such as the fact that a teen died for no apparent reason, she has been resurrected by magic, and the local witch coven has issues with the whole situation. Throw in a potential romance with a guy who has his own problems—but thank you so much, Ms. Jefford, for not dropping them into the dreaded insta-love—and you’ve got an entertaining tale.

The third book in the trilogy is coming out in April and I haven’t read the second book yet. I guess I’ve got some catching up to do before spring.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.


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Excerpt from Duplicity by Nikki Jefford

DuplicityDuplicity
Spellbound Book 2
Nikki Jefford
Nikki Jefford, May 2012
Ebook
Amazon
| Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Goodreads

From the author—

If Graylee Perez thought sharing a body with her twin sister was bad, dealing with a duplicate of herself is two times worse. Gray the second doesn’t seem to get that Lee’s boyfriend, Raj McKenna, is off limits. Then there’s the problem of Adrian Montez. He expects one of the Grays to be his.

Nearly a year later, the council is onto them for past misdeeds; Lee, along with the rest of the coven, has lost control of her powers; and Gray is being stalked by what looks like the Grim Reaper.

If they work together, they may stand a chance of setting things right and making it out alive.

Two Grays Are Better Than None (Duplicity, Spellbound #2)

IN THIS SCENE: Gray and her duplicate must abstract blood from the avenging warlock Adrian in order to remove his powers. Adrian isn’t aware that Gray is back in town or that there are two of her. Gray walks into his shop invisible, and the other Gray (“Lee”) enters in her new *supermodel* body.

Time to go. Gray had ignored the voice at Gathering. She wasn’t making the same mistake twice. Gray caught up to Lee and tugged at her arm, but Lee yanked it from her grasp and took one of her giant steps forward.

“I don’t know who you think you are, Adrian, but I have zero interest in you. And to answer your earlier question—yes, I do have a boyfriend!”

Adrian whipped around, grinning. “Adrian? Have we met before?”

Lee, realizing her mistake, attempted to shrug. “I’ve heard of you.”

Adrian grabbed her arm so quickly, Lee had no time to react, but Gray did. She snatched Lee’s other arm as Adrian snarled, “From whom?” His expression changed when Lee was yanked away from him, but Gray hadn’t pulled hard enough to free Lee fully from his grasp. Adrian’s grip tightened and they played tug-of-war for several seconds. “Who’s with you?” Adrian demanded.

Gray leaned backwards, pulling Lee with her.

“Show yourself,” Adrian said. “SHOW YOURSELF.”

Yeah, right, freak. Gray pulled Lee out of Adrian’s grasp while he was shouting and pushed her forward toward the door. The girls made a run for it, but Gray, being behind, felt fingers grasp at her blouse and pull her back. She screamed when a second hand dove down the front of her shirt.

Adrian screeched and retracted his hand. Blood trailed down his arm where Gray had bitten him. Gray looked at the blood wistfully, but it was time to make her escape. The bell above the door had already signaled Lee’s departure.

She never expected Adrian to make such a quick recovery. He lurched forward and got hold of her—sight unseen—threw her to the ground, and straddled her from above. She felt him grope around for her arms and pin them above her head. At least he couldn’t see the terror on her face. She tried to squirm and kick him, but he had her pinned down between his thighs.

“Who do we have here?” Adrian said. His breath emerged hot and heavy over Gray’s face. “Feels like a woman.” He leaned down. “Smells like a woman. Does she taste like a… ah… ack!” Adrian’s hands shot up to his head and he began madly scratching his scalp.

Maybe not as impressive as being able to fling someone halfway across the room using their mind, but the itchy spell still came in handy.

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Coming in April 2013—Enchantment by Nikki Jefford

EnchantmentEnchantment
Spellbound Book 3

Nikki Jefford
Nikki Jefford, April 2013
Ebook
Add it at Goodreads
| Sign up for a Release Day Alert (Don’t miss out on the release day promo price, one time deal.)

From the author—

In the third and final installment of the Spellbound series, Graylee Perez (the duplicate), goes to Spain for a summer of escape. There she meets new friends and comes face to face with her old adversary, Adrian Montez.

When Gray tries to setup a spell that will banish Adrian from her life, she inadvertently falls under a love spell instead.

Charlene returns, having hijacked a new body, for one final battle between the twins.

Make The Girl Love You (Enchantment, Spellbound #3)

IN THIS SCENE: Adrian’s grandmother returns in book three, accompanying him on his magic tour in Europe.

“This food no good.”

Adrian’s Nan glared down at the plate of paella the waiter had set before her.

They were seated at an antique marble table attached to legs made of curly cast-iron supports. It was only noon, which made Adrian and his Nan the first lunch customers of the day. The Spaniards wouldn’t be out for their mid-day meal till closer to two.

Adrian was already three bites into his dish. “There’s nothing wrong with the food, Nan.”

“Food better in Paris.”

“Spanish food is fine. You just miss the pastries.”

“What wrong with pastries?”

Adrian grinned. “Come on, you have to admit it’s good to get out of the apartment.”

Nan scowled in answer.

His Nan had barely stepped foot outside since arriving in Barcelona two weeks prior.

“Why we come to Spain?”

“I told you. I had an opportunity to perform.”

“Perform!” Nan spat on the ground then tossed up her arms. “You perform plenty in Paris. I know why we come to Spain. The girl.”

Nan missed the look of warning on Adrian’s face.

“You almost kill yourself for this girl and still I no meet.”

“I did not almost kill myself for her. It doesn’t matter, anyway. She hates me.” She probably hated him even more after last night. It was of little consequence. Adrian had not expected to see Graylee Perez again, at least not this soon. Her mother had forbidden it. He smirked at the thought. No one forbade Adrian Montez anything.

Nan huffed. “Love. Hate. Doesn’t matter. You powerful warlock. Make girl love you.”

Adrian wasn’t above manipulation or the use of magic to get what he wanted, but in this instance the mere thought of it made him physically recoil. “I am Adrian Hedrick Montez. I will have a woman’s sincere love or I won’t have it at all.”

Nan huffed again.

Adrian smiled slowly. “Besides, I already have the love of a good woman.”

Nan came the closest to a giggle as Adrian had ever heard. Her lips puckered into a brief smile and she actually took a bite of her food. But as soon as she’d swallowed, she leaned forward and asked, “When we return to Paris?”

It was like dealing with a four-year-old.

How does it all end?

Find out Spring of 13!

 

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Book Review: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

I Shall Wear MidnightI Shall Wear Midnight
Terry Pratchett
Doubleday UK, 2010
ISBN 978-0-385-61107-7
Hardcover

‘Look’, I said, ‘I’m not interested in reading about weirdos in cloaks running about casting spells and looking all moody’.  The look on my friend’s face was of sheer horror and so it should have been. Book prejudice is a terrible thing, dear reader, and yes, I confess it was one I was guilty of when it came to the genre of fantasy. Up until that point I was convinced that fantasy was for teenage boys who couldn’t get a girlfriend. To appease my friend (a grown man by the way who I’m sure could get a girlfriend if he really, really wanted to) and also to stop him nagging me, I read Eric one summer’s day. What started was a magnificent love affair, one that would have had my husband filing for divorce had it not involved a fictional world full of witches, wizards and long suffering police officers. 40 books later and you can well guess how my house is coming down with Discworld books.

In this particular title we return to the story of Tiffany Aching, a young witch in training with power and talent aplenty. I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth title in the Tiffany Aching story arc and it is a particular favourite of mine. In this, we see Tiffany face her deadliest foe yet, helped along the way by natural stubbornness, witch’s pride and of course, a handsome young man and the morally challenged Nac MacFeegles. Tiffany’s power attracts an old evil in the form of the Cunning Man and slowly she starts to see everyone around her turn against her. Suddenly the old prejudices against witches rears up and she finds herself locked in the dungeons with only the Nac MacFeegles and a goat to console her. She has to travel to Ankh Morpork and while there she runs into city witches, discovers the home of Boffo and witnesses the Kings Neck become the Kings Back. But it is on her own home turf that she faces her fears. Will her witch pride see her through? Or maybe her cleverness? Maybe the Nac MacFeegles will absolutely not help her just like she told them not to. After all, this is hags business.

This book contains lots of elements that are appealing to readers young and old. Blossoming love, danger, silliness and little blue men in kilts shouting ‘Crivens’ are just a few I could mention. The story introduces characters old and new and weaves them together in typical Pratchett fashion. It’s wonderful to see Tiffany develop in not only age but also maturity. But what’s clever about Pratchett is his ability to include valuable life lessons within beautiful stories and never does it come across as preaching. His use of puns, jokes and hiding knowledge within names is marvelous and for younger readers, his style and prose is engaging. You will laugh out loud (tears optional), cheer with glee and dearly wish to see a hare run through the fire on a summer’s day. I Shall Wear Midnight is a great books for all ages and I hope that it’s not the last we see of Tiffany Aching. Just beware the tappin’ o’ the feet. Oh waily, waily, waily.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, September 2012.

Book Review: The Forever Girl by Rebecca Hamilton

The Forever Girl: Sophia’s Journey
Rebecca Hamilton
Immortal Ink Publishing, January 2012
ISBN 978-0-9850818-1-2
Ebook
Also available in print

Recent college graduate Sophia has come back to her small hometown in Colorado and is living in the house left to her by her grandfather while she works at a diner, unable to find a job teaching history despite a degree. Observers might think her life is pretty humdrum but that would be because they are not Wiccan and having to deal with an extremely religious cult (including her own mother) who not only want to drive the demons out of her but want to take possession of her house, voluntarily or by force. In addition to those annoyances, Sophia has been hearing a sort of jumble of sounds in  her head for years and doesn’t know how to get rid of them. Having townspeople whisper about her being a witch—with no understanding of what Wicca really is—doesn’t help.

Fortunately, Sophia has a few friends but can they help her when she starts seeing people in hooded cloaks apparently watching her or when she stumbles across some animals that have been violently killed? Is there a connection between all these issues and her family’s history which apparently includes a woman executed during the Salem Witch Trials?

Then, when a friend takes her out to a strange place called Club Flesh, Sophia meets an entrancing man named Charles and all bets are off.

As a fan of dark fantasy and mystery, I’m always looking for something a little different and The Forever Girl fits the bill quite nicely. There are a few minor failings—for instance, I wonder why any 22-year-old college graduate would not have her own computer—but I chalk them up to this being Ms. Hamilton‘s debut. I also wish there had been a bit more worldbuilding, especially in explaining why Belle Meadow and its environs would attract so many supernaturals, but perhaps that will come in future volumes of the series.

What sets this story apart from so many vampire-centric books is the introduction of “elementals”, whereby supernaturals are identified by the four more common elements of earth, water, air and fire and, in some cases, spirit. I was quite happy to spend a little time with all sorts of otherworldly beings and their various activities, not to mention an eventful side trip to Damascus, and will look forward to the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2012.