Destiny: Absent Shadows Trilogy, Book 1 by S. M. Spencer

Destiny

Absent Shadows Trilogy, Book 1

by S. M. Spencer

Genre: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Vampires

Four Stars

Lili McIntyre just ended a difficult relationship and is now on a much-needed summer vacation to Melbourne, Australia for a few months. Her aunt Debs welcomes her Down Under and provides her with a chance to clear her head. On the plane, Lili meets Claire, and that new friendship introduces her to more than she dreamed of. Though Claire doesn’t know it, her new boyfriend, Tom, has an enormous secret. The oblivious Claire introduces Lili to Sam, Tom’s close friend. As a natural double-date, Sam and Lili find themselves thrown together and soon discover a growing attraction.

Soon, Lili discovers why Sam and Tom behave so strangely. They are vampires! Suddenly a world of the supernatural opens up to Lili and her heart will lead her to help Sam keep his secret identity and defend the city from conflicts begun in ages past.

Destiny is an enjoyable book with a fun take on the vampire genre, full of characters created with affection and care. Lili’s struggle to determine her future and the pressures from home struck a chord with me. She feels the urgency to decide her future and move forward, although the hugeness of the decision overwhelms her.

The American/Australian crossover made me wonder through the tale about the author’s origins, but I think I know. Some telling word choice clued me in. I loved hearing about life in Melbourne and all the interesting trips the characters took nearby. Though some of Melbourne’s history appears in the book, I would have like to learn more.

I appreciated the potential for the tale to discuss the subject of abuse. I think that young women, especially, need reinforcement that abuse is real, encouragement that they don’t have to endure it, and illustrations of what it really looks like. Plenty of speakers and nonfiction writers share about abuse, but tales of people enduring and overcoming it reach us in a different, sometimes more personal way.

Lili wonders through the tale why she isn’t scared that Sam is a vampire. I know why: it’s because none of the vampires in this book are the slightest bit scary. Romance and good looks trump blood-drinking. Any slip of the teeth is slight and polite to the extent that Claire never once discovers their identity. Even the scenes that should be thrilling and terrifying lose their teeth because of the detached and passive way the author describes them. My take is that the trouble lies in the author’s unwillingness to make the characters suffer. She loves them too much. Any problem is short and quickly resolved without the pain that blood-drinking romantic interests should pose.

Aside from the pressured calm of the tale, I enjoyed the book and look forward to the second book in the trilogy to find the answers to the problems that Lili hasn’t solved yet.

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Ariel’s Dream by Tahlia Newland

Ariel’s Dream

by Tahlia Newland

Genre: Short Story, Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult

Five stars

Fifteen-year-old Ariel has a nightmare that somehow keeps intruding on her waking life; a shadow being that won’t seem to disappear even after she wakes. A simple trip to the beach with friends becomes a mind-stretching experience, and the monster seems to strengthen with her fear. How can she defeat it?

Tahlia Newland’s short story delivers her fantastic supernatural realism, but with an added chill factor of a tighter blend with reality. Ariel’s scary dream pushed into real life is just the sort of thing that everyone fears a little. The story’s added message of facing up to life’s fears reinforces the themes of her Diamond Peak series and connects it to Don’t Shatter Me. Ariel’s Dream is a quick, fun read with a little added story to fill in the series. Is that Nick we saw there with the six pack abs and the golden glow?

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The Secret Eater by Ros Jackson

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The Secret Eater

 by Ros Jackson

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban

Five stars

Kenssie is a demon who eats secrets. Her mission in life is to creep into humans’ minds and devour the energy from their secrets. Her other missions include: pleasing her Master, Rakmanon, stirring up humiliation for him to feed on, and figuring out what is happening to her power. She is growing weaker and she doesn’t know why. The Demon Council offers no help, instead poking fun at her and kicking her out of their chambers. Her Master can’t seem to help her either.

But a part-demon witch named Permilia may have the answer to her problem. Should she risk angering the Council by stealing a magical tome from them or should she just accept her waning power and all the danger that comes with it?

Ros makes it easy to suspend disbelief with her quick fanciful story. Normally I don’t want to root for the success and wellbeing of demons, but Kenssie was such a relatable character. The tale proceeded from just her perspective and I found it easy to sympathize. She must try to complete difficult and dangerous tasks under the authority of unreasonable and downright evil authorities. She has to figure out how to think for herself and do the best she can with very little support or information. I can relate to that. While I read Kenssie’s adventures and hoped for her success, I kept remembering, “Oh, yeah. She’s a demon who feeds off of humanity.” I reflected a lot on the ability to see from someone else’s perspective. It also gave me a little sense of pleasant danger through the tale.

I would have liked to know more about the mechanics of the world Ros created. Kenssie didn’t seem entirely evil and I wondered how that fit into the story. Most of the demons seemed less than fully evil and mostly concerned with themselves and their pet obsession. Part of the reason the story appealed to me is that I’m highly interested in intelligent perspectives on evil and good, the afterlife, and the supernatural. Ros’ world fascinated me but left me with a lot of questions.

The short and sweet tale seemed to set the stage for possible future volumes. I wanted to know about Kenssie’s relationship with Rakmanon, how that started, and what he really had in mind. He is a demon, but she is too. Does he care about her? What is the deal about her incomplete information about whether she is full demon or not?

Please write more, Ros! I really like Kenssie the secret-eating demon. (Did I really just write that?)

I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

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War of Odds by Linell Jeppsen

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War of Odds

by Linell Jeppsen

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Mythology

ThreeStars

Sara has just moved twice because of her father’s job, and ended up in a tiny mining town in Eastern Washington. Since the death of her mother, she and her father hit emotional hard times. Now it feels like things are finally looking up for them. Though she feels like she may have seen a few strange, unexplainable things, it doesn’t dampen her hope. Sara even makes two new friends at school in Nate and Chloe. They give her immediate acceptance, something she hasn’t met with lately.

When the strange things Chloe sees turn out to be real, Sara must call upon her new friends to help her. An earthquake signals the beginning of a war between the Human world and the Magic world. A Sprite, and a talking cat inform her that she is a healing witch. They introduce her to a wood nymph named Muriel who confirms.  Sickened and possessed, the Unseelie King, Timaron needs the healing gift of her human magic to bring him to his right mind and call off the war. The success or failure of her mission will determine the fates of both kingdoms and the Earth itself. Can they succeed?

Linell Jeppsen has crafted a lovely mix of imaginary and real in a sweet adventure tale. Adventure, high fantasy, romance, and a message of natural conservation carry the reader through a touching tale. Her characters are sweet and likable with some youthful doubt tossed in from time to time. Their guilt and desire to redeem their evils drives them toward a battle for peace and into your heart.

I felt that the voice of the story wavered a bit between a desire to be contemporary and an old fairy-tale voice. It would have been more consistent and smooth to stick to one or the other. At times, telling about a scene over showing through dialogue stole some of the drama. There were many times I would have liked to read more about what the character thought or felt about during the tale, but their emotions were left a mystery, taking away from the emotional impact of the scene.

Linell doled out some of the characters’ quirks and personal descriptions in a somewhat haphazard way. She treated the reader to big personality revelations in a sentence or two during a scene in which I felt they didn’t really fit. I would have liked to see her main characters struggle a little more with the upturn of their reality at the beginning of the story too. They seemed to reflect a little and then accept all manner of supernatural creatures.

Linell’s story withstood the few challenges and I really enjoyed her imaginative tale. Her characters’ relationships gripped the reader like real relationships, peppered with guilt, doubt, self-consciousness, yearning, and hope. I loved the variety and description of her characters and places, not too much and not too little. War of Odds is a lovely read!

I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

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The Bone Road by Mary Holland

Bone Road

 

The Bone Road

By Mary Holland

Genre: Fantasy

Four Stars

Rhona the midwife and divvy has just lost her mother. A sudden stroke overtook her on the road and now she lies in the ground, becoming a part of the Bone Road. What survives is her mission. Rhona must carry out her mother’s last wish and travel to meet someone she doesn’t know to carry out a mysterious favor. Her journey begins the strange and wonderful journey of The Bone Road. Through the lives of her son and Selena, the woman she must aid, we learn the culture and fierce dignity of the Deo, from Wid and Zeosil, Shun, Landers, and Nobile. What will this final chore cost Rhona? How will young Jak choose to carry on his life after the choices she has made? Can Selena face the terrible Markus after what he has done to her son, and what will she do when her desperate plan results in a life she never knew she could have?

I enjoyed this story thoroughly. Mary spun a tale rich with culture, tradition, mystery, and adventure. The details sparkled and I felt like I joined them in the rich world of Deo. Part of my sadness at ending the story was about leaving Mary’s lovely world.

The people she created and their world fascinated me with their meaning and depth. Rhona, Jak, and Selena enchanted me with their fierce courage and honor. I cared about them like friends and felt great relief when they evaded danger. Markus the villain fulfilled the creepy, evil role with flair. I loved the emotional touch she achieved through the Deom traditions and taboos, and the ways the characters broke them for all the right reasons.

Though the mantle of main character transfers unexpectedly midway through the book, it really fits with the increasing strangeness of the tale. Events transpire that just one character couldn’t experience. The split perspective resolves at the end of the action when they unite against the villain.

Mary’s creativity shone in this tale through her rich characters, vivid and gorgeous settings, and wonderful, sometimes beautifully awful, surprises throughout the tale. I approve this story for Awesome Indies.  http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani

thorn

 

Thorn

by Intisar Khanani

Genre: Fantasy, Folk Tale

Five stars

The King from the neighboring land of Menaiya pays a visit to the humbler land of Adania. Princess Alyrra assumes they visit for trade reasons, but soon the naïve and reclusive princess understands that the king’s visit to her widowed mother is for the purposes of marriage negotiation. She will marry prince Kestrin and there is no argument she can make. Is this her escape from the troubles of her life or a trade-in for even greater problems? Alyrra doesn’t feel equal to the  increase in importance and responsibility.

Magic intrudes, first in the appearance of a mysterious mage one night in Alyrra’s room. He has but a moment to speak to her before his malevolent enemy, The Lady, appears with terrible and vague threats to her or to the Menayan prince.

All her fears turn on their heads on the journey to Menaiya and marriage, when her lady companion, Valka, appears in the forest with The Lady, who steals her identity. Switching bodies with the princess, Valka enters Menaiya as the bride. Alyrra must endure her displeasure as the superior power and is sent off to tend the geese. Now living as the Goose Girl called Thorn, is this the escape Alyrra longed for or is it condemnation for the people of Menayia? Can she ignore her duty as princess, or must she face the dangers together with Prince Kestrin?

Intisar has written a thoroughly enjoyable, beautiful story. Retelling the classic tale of The Goose Girl, she broadens the horizons of the story and adds depth to places one might not expect it. I especially liked Alyrra’s struggle with the relief of casting off an oppressive identity versus the responsibilities it still holds over her heart. I also loved the exploration of The Lady, her motivations and grievances, and how Alyrra appeals to her for mercy.

I read the same tale re-told in “The Goose Girl” by Shannon Hale, but it was entirely different. I truly believe that each author will write a completely different tale even if given the same plot as a basis. Thorn demonstrates just that.

The ending expanded the heart of the tale, in my opinion. The character of Alyrra was forced to wrestle with her yearning of a simple, peaceful life of obscurity, and the great need of the helpless people around her for someone to stand for them. A terrified, reclusive girl becomes a true princess and hero. Her heroism grew from her strength of heart and her compassion, and I really love that. Thorn is a truly enjoyable, rich read, both entertaining and challenging. I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

GoodReads: goodreads.com/book/show/14059999-thorn

Buy on Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/Thorn-ebook/dp/B00869SADQ/

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/thorn-intisar-khanani/1111104034?ean=2940016184708

Apple iStore: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/thorn/id562695485

Silent Symmetry by J.B. Dutton

Silent Symmetry cover lo-res

Silent Symmetry

by J.B. Dutton

Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance

Five stars

A tragic car accident in their hometown in Wisconsin took away Kari’s father when she was very small. Kari arrives in New York ready for a new life. She is excited to support her mom in a new job and maybe a little romance.

A scholarship at the exclusive Chelsea Prep for Kari turns out to be one of the job perks of Mom’s new job as an IT at the Temple of Truth. The secretive organization intrigues Kari and she can’t help but snoop into its secrets. Even their apartment contains strange connections to the organization. The mysterious connection two cute boys in her class, Noon and Cruz, have to the ToT doesn’t make nosiness any less irresistible.

The deeper she delves into the ToT’s secrets, the stranger and more mysterious things get. When she discovers her part in the organization and its goals, life and existence turn out to be way more complicated than she ever imagined.

This book was my most interesting pick out of my long, long, read-and-review list. The title and the synopsis grabbed my attention from the start and I chose Silent Symmetry to read first for the summer. This book didn’t disappoint!

I felt engaged by Kari and her sad past, but also by her eager desire to care for her Mom and her positive attitude. The story began with many questions. When some of those questions were answered, I somehow found myself with more. I loved the natural way J.B. wove the tale, interlaced with questions resolving and mysteries uncovered. Even the ending left questions begging for a sequel.

Silent Symmetry was an entertaining and fast read that well deserved the first read of the Summer. I approve this title for Awesome Indies.

I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

Silent Symmetry is available as an ebook here:
bit.ly/SilentSymmetry (Amazon.com)
bit.ly/SilentSymmetryUK (Amazon.co.uk)

Available in paperback here:
bit.ly/SilentSymmetryPB (Amazon.com)
bit.ly/SilentSymmetryPBUK (Amazon.co.uk)