Category: Magic/Paranormal

Absolved by Marnee Blake

Absolved by Marnee BlakeAbsolved by Marnee Blake
Series: Altered #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on December 11th 2017
Pages: 174
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Since a brain-altering drug killed most of Luke Kincaid’s town—including his father—and left him telekinetic, he’s determined to stop the fanatic who stole the drug to create his own super-powered army. That means working with scientist Dr. Beth Jenkins, whose graphic tees and beautiful smile are some of Luke’s biggest distractions.

A science prodigy, Beth works with the FBI and solves the toughest crimes, but she can’t figure out what caused her mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The drug that ravaged Luke’s town is volatile, and the mortality rate is still high, yet Beth is convinced it holds the key to saving her mother, even if sexy and tortured Luke doesn’t believe it should be adapted for commercial use.

When bodies start to pile up, though, the two loners must decide if the goals that tie them together are greater the fears that would tear them apart.

Plunging into ‘Absolved’ felt like being hurled into the deep end of the pond and swallowing mouthfuls of pond water while trying to stay afloat, despite having read the first 2 books of Marnee Blake’s Altered series. The break between books meant that it was difficult to catch up on (and remember) what had happened during an apocalypse-like situation where a drug kills half the population and infuses the other half with telekinetic/mind-reading superpowers.

What I could figure out early on was that there were baddies to fight—bad guys with the notion that the drug responsible for the fall of the human race can help create a new world order—with a ragtag band of people to fight them, as was the growing push-pull tension between a scientist prodigy and a tortured computer guy trying to atone for his misdeeds woven into the whole story.

A prologue perhaps, or some insertion of context would have made ‘Absolved’ a lot easier to get into especially for first time readers; placing the scene or working out the back story out was an exercise in frustration because it was difficult to get to a point where pieces had to fall into place before I could get lost in the narrative without needing to re-read the first 2 books. That said, though it took a while for me to get into it, to sort out the details of what really happened before I could actually sit back and enjoy the story, ‘Absolved’ by and large, took off as soon as I fought my way through the bits that needed time to fall into place.

Clearly then, this isn’t a standalone, and as a YA/NA-type book, the sexual situations never quite went all the way, so to speak (as with all the books in this series) because the romance took a back seat to the rush to make the ruined world right again. Beth and Luke, like all the other pairings in the rest of the series, become the ‘heroes’ when hit by the drug, in contrast to the few who become villains because of it, but it was a pairing I couldn’t exactly get into.

Apart from the conflict that kept both Luke and Beth on opposing sides of the argument for most of the story, I found myself preferring ‘old’ Beth more before she was hit by the drug somehow—the problematic definition of what it meant to be heroic came into play for me here, though it’s probably nitpicking on my part or my rooting for the underdog—and was vaguely disappointed that she could suddenly achieve what she did and get past Luke’s feelings only when she had super-enhanced senses, which felt almost like a cop-out for the solution to her problems. Would a ‘normal’ person then, not be able to do what she did and help save the world, by this implication? Along with the change, the ‘new’ Beth became someone I couldn’t recognise and was frustrated with when it often seemed to be on Luke to fight that uphill battle to get back into her graces when it was clear he had demons of his own to fight—when she could seem to do no wrong in contrast.

Unfortunately, while I really liked Blake’s 2 previous books, I think ‘Absolved’ fell somewhat flat at all for those reasons above. I just wished I’d liked this one a lot more, but there just wasn’t enough for me to cheer for, not least the characters who went from push-pull to a rushed HEA that was hard to swallow.

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett

Bitter Spirits by Jenn BennettBitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett
Series: Roaring Twenties #1
Published by Berkley Sensation on January 7th 2014
Pages: 317
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three-stars

It’s the roaring twenties, and San Francisco is a hotbed of illegal boozing, raw lust, and black magic. The fog-covered Bay Area can be an intoxicating scene, particularly when you specialize in spirits…

Aida Palmer performs a spirit medium show onstage at Chinatown’s illustrious Gris-Gris speakeasy. However, her ability to summon (and expel) the dead is more than just an act.

Winter Magnusson is a notorious bootlegger who’s more comfortable with guns than ghosts—unfortunately for him, he’s the recent target of a malevolent hex that renders him a magnet for hauntings. After Aida’s supernatural assistance is enlisted to banish the ghosts, her spirit-chilled aura heats up as the charming bootlegger casts a different sort of spell on her.

On the hunt for the curseworker responsible for the hex, Aida and Winter become drunk on passion. And the closer they become, the more they realize they have ghosts of their own to exorcise…

‘Bitter Spirits’ is a huge departure from the type of books I normally go for in this genre. But having had this on my to-read list for a long time, I’m somewhat glad I made that plunge into San Francisco’s bootlegging Prohibition era that’s seemingly riddled with Chinese mystics, ghosts that waft through the alleys as strongly as the odours of Chinatown and shady characters who look for séances and exorcism exercises. The atmosphere and the whole set-up with more than a tinge of the paranormal in the beginning pages drew me in, as did the climatic ending that I thought fell a little too easily into a HEA when I was itching for Winter to be on his knees.

I loved Aida Palmer from the start—as I always do when it comes to the independent, spunky woman who has always made her way in life alone despite it all, enchanted by what she does and how she does it for a living. But if I liked how Jenn Bennett wrote Aida, her handling of Winter somehow put me off him.

In fact, the biggest problem I had here was with Winter himself, who blew hot and cold so easily (he resembled the kind of mood-swing-ridden ‘hero’ from Victorian or Regency romances of old) and I’d wished Aida had taken the fight to him more directly instead of caving to his ‘handsomeness’ and his big body and his apparently bountiful erections, particularly when he’d said awful things to her and pretty much behaved in a manner that warranted more than a grovelling apology—which he never gave. That she had to face his old sexual liaisons was gag-worthy for me at least and that did actually down my own impression of his character.

The pacing did lag a bit in the middle, as did their roundabout search for the curse placed on Winter, not helped by the bloated number of scenes that seemed to catalogue how often  they took in each other’s bodies—sometimes at the most inopportune times—and detracted from the issues that both Aida and Winter needed to talk out between them—which again, did not happen. The long and short is, my excitement fizzled out somewhat after the impressive opening pages and I’m going on to the next book with a bit more caution.

three-stars

Love on the Edge of Time by Julie A. Richman

Love on the Edge of Time by Julie A. RichmanLove on the Edge of Time by Julie A. Richman
Published by Julie A. Richman on November 13th 2017
Pages: 264
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two-stars

He likes whiskey and wild womenShe likes Ben & Jerry’sHe’s about to get kicked out of his own bandShe ate her way off the Miss America pageant circuit

What could these two possibly have in common?

A psychiatrist A lot of unresolved issuesA whole bunch of shared lifetimesAnd a love that is never-ending

As bad boy rocker, Jesse Winslow, and former pageant queen, Kylie Martin, each fight the demons screwing up their lives, the one person who holds the key to healing their ills and reuniting two souls that have searched for one another, lifetime after lifetime, is the only one who knows the whole truth.

And keeping that truth from them may just be in preeminent psychiatrist Dr. Claire Stoddard’s best interests.

Claire has committed the ultimate sin in the medical world. She’s fallen for the one man she’s forbidden to love.

Her patient, Jesse Winslow.

And she’s not about to lose him to Kylie Martin... Again.

Truthfully, I don’t quite know quite how to write this review, only that I picked up this book because it felt as though there was an interesting and fairly unusual premise to it.  Julie A. Richman’s writing reminded me of the early days delving into historical/paranormal romances with stories like Jude Deveraux’s Remembrance coming to mind (damn, has it been that long?!) and the background definitely intrigued me.

The idea that 2 lives are entwined throughout history typically lends a sense of the inevitability of a star-crossed pairing of 2 people destined to find each other but always pulled apart for some reason. It’s a deeply romantic notion, heightened probably by bittersweet tragedy that comes each time the separation occurs, though objectively, you can probably extrapolate that the story happening in the present is simply a cog in the larger turning wheel of time, yet another version of the pairing at this point in time and bound to repeat some time in the future. The nebulous addition of a third person makes it less so, however.

What I hadn’t expected was a growing fascination with the idea of past lives emerging through a psychiatrist, who in part played a role in this growing love triangle, or that I couldn’t quite shake my dislike of or have any sympathy for the overindulged, narcissistically entitled and hypocritical rocker (who dared call out his girlfriend on cheating when he’d done it himself too many times) who did things without any thought about the consequences. I’m guessing that my inability to like the modern-day iterations of the protagonists—it was difficult to get past Jesse’s flakiness and Kylie’s unexpected vicious streak along—diminished the magnitude of the ‘fated-across-time’ romance along with the head-hopping that happened throughout, which got disorienting at times.

The historical parts however, kept me engrossed, so I do find myself torn between the loving the grand idea of having star-crossed lovers fated throughout (along with the strong message sent out about body image and identity) and not really liking the contemporary version of this pairing, along with the ’triangle’ and the other woman scenario.  That alone, quite clearly places me in the minority here. If anything, ‘Love on the edge of time’ is an unconventional one and even if I’m on the fence about it, it’s not to say other wouldn’t (because they do, judging from the other glowing reviews) love this read.

two-stars

Pawn by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Pawn by Mimi Jean PamfiloffPawn by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: Mr. Rook's Island #2
Published by Mimi Boutique on October 30th 2017
Pages: 266
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three-stars

SHE KNOWS HE'S BAD. THE QUESTION IS, HOW BAD?Stephanie Fitzgerald is nobody's pawn. Determined to discover the truth about a missing loved one, she lands a job at the world's most exclusive resort, working for the only man with the answers--Mr. Rook. He's shockingly handsome, thoroughly intimidating, and completely off-limits.

But the truth she seeks isn't black and white, and Mr. Rook is a far more dangerous temptation than she ever knew.

Will Stephanie resist her desires, or will she be lured into Mr. Rook's world of hidden sins?

I think Mimi Jean Pamfiloff’s Mr Rook’s Island series is one of the more bizarre reads I’ve ever come across in the romance genre at least. Like a mix of the old tv series Fantasy Island (whose protagonist’s name even resembles Mr. Rook), Survivor and Stephen King’s horror stuff with some gothic elements thrown in, ‘Pawn’ pretty much continues in the vein of the female protagonist who pokes around an island that promises every fantasy come to life.

And that’s where the fun and doubts start, because nothing is as it ever seems, period.

Written wholly in Stephanie’s POV, the reader, in the same boat as Stephanie, falls down the rabbit hole into places that take on a life of their own and with people who never quite tell the truth, though it’s unclear when and what they’re lying about. In the centre of the maelstrom itself is the mysterious enigmatic James Rook, with whom Stephanie feels a strange connection yet can’t fully trust. Dreams and nightmares start to meld into reality and you, like Stephanie, start wondering how loopy things can get before it starts to break down.

I’d initially thought that the first book was merely suspense, but ‘Pawn’ makes it clear that there is a strong paranormal element that runs through this series. There are certainly some questions answered—questions that I had from the very start—though even more remain, with several loose plot ends that the cliffhanger ending quite annoyingly leaves hanging.

As with the first book, I’m not entirely certain how to rate this one. There’re the combinations of the sacred and the profane running throughout here, so perhaps this step into the forbidden (in so many ways) and the weird paranormal is what makes the the book a hard one to put down. At the same time, it’s hard to really ‘like’ the pairing with a distrustful and flaky female lead by the time ‘Pawn’ ends and Rook’s lack of transparency, just when you think they’ve kind of found their HEA. So maybe this 3-starred rating is an arbitrary one (I’ve honestly never quite done this before), just because Pamfiloff is managing to keep me so off-centre with this.

three-stars

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Wildfire by Ilona AndrewsWildfire by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #3
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 391
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four-stars

Just when Nevada Baylor has finally come to accept the depths of her magical powers, she also realizes she’s fallen in love. Connor “Mad” Rogan is in many ways her equal when it comes to magic, but she’s completely out of her elements when it comes to her feelings for him. To make matters more complicated, an old flame comes back into Rogan’s life…

Rogan knows there’s nothing between him and his ex-fiance, Rynda Sherwood. But as Nevada begins to learn more about her past, her power, and her potential future, he knows she will be faced with choices she never dreamed of and the promise of a life spent without him.

As Nevada and Rogan race to discover the whereabouts of Rynda’s kidnapped husband and are forced to confront Nevada’s grandmother, who may or may not have evil motives, these two people must decide if they can trust in each other or allow everything to go up in smoke.

‘Wildfire’ is a return to the rollicky, zany fun that I had in the first book, complete with otherworldly creatures, deadpan, quip-filled humour and crazy feats of magic that, on an alternate earth, would send mortals running each time a window gets the slightest hairline crack. This mad magical universe is really what makes this series so irresistible: larger than life, yet still so steeped in a contemporary reality (or rather, downtown Houston) we can sort of relate to and understand.

A huge part of me still longed for the Nevada Baylor of the first book—the woman who kept her powers hidden as she relied on her wits and gun skills instead of playing with the big boys—rather than the newly-minted Prime taking her place in a complex and archaic House system full of backstabbing politics, where the constant game of keeping one’s head above water prevents everything from staying simple. I still cringed every time she used her powers—whether these occasions were justified were still up in the air for me—but this was merely a trade-off it seemed, for Nevada’s rise in magical society and the inevitable ‘revelation’ of her unique ‘gift’.

As much the story was still written in her POV here, Nevada and Connor were by now, an established couple, finding their way around this new relationship and how their magic abilities worked into it, so there wasn’t too much of the tension that we got in the first 2 books.

But I didn’t mind it too much, absorbed as I was in the story’s secondary characters, which were really the best I’ve ever read in a long, long time. For once, Andrews’s secondary characters—who were as multifaceted as the protagonists—kept me riveted, even sometimes taking focus away from the main couple despite the story being related in Nevada’s POV and I didn’t mind a whit.

The bottom-line is, it all went from loopy to loopier and although quite cookie-cutter in the way the authors handled its protagonists’ growth trajectories, ‘Wildfire’ is still a riotous fast-paced read that already hints at more to come.

four-stars

White Hot by Ilona Andrews

White Hot by Ilona AndrewsWhite Hot by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #2
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Pages: 389
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three-stars

Nevada Baylor has a unique and secret skill—she knows when people are lying—and she's used that magic (along with plain, hard work) to keep her colorful and close-knit family's detective agency afloat. But her new case pits her against the shadowy forces that almost destroyed the city of Houston once before, bringing Nevada back into contact with Connor "Mad" Rogan.

Rogan is a billionaire Prime—the highest rank of magic user—and as unreadable as ever, despite Nevada’s “talent.” But there’s no hiding the sparks between them. Now that the stakes are even higher, both professionally and personally, and their foes are unimaginably powerful, Rogan and Nevada will find that nothing burns like ice …

After the exhilarating read of ‘Burn for Me’, ‘White Hot’ took the development of Nevada and Rogan in a direction I can’t exactly say I liked.

There were parts that overwhelmed me: the visceral depictions of the brutality that exists when a magical realm is inserted into this alternate world were breathtaking (the feeling’s akin to reading Harry Potter for the first time), as was the soft spot I’d developed for secondary characters like Bug, Cornelius and his animals.

But there were also parts that didn’t—a lot of those had to do with the ‘heroic’ shaping of the protagonists—,which oddly disappointed me because I’d expected Ilona Andrews to eschew the archetypes of fantasy somehow, after the refreshing take on Nevada in the first book. The premium placed on character growth is evident, with Nevada taking on responsibilities (as unwanted as they are) that come with her unleashed power, her learning to play that game while manoeuvring the complexities of the magical families in the process and redefining what lines of morality she’d draw. Yet as enamoured as I was of Nevada in the first book—the underdog who’d been content to be that PI, relying on her sharp shooting instead of her hidden magic—I somehow wished that we hadn’t seen the typical journey of the fantasy hero/heroine growing in power until her skills matched those in the great standing Houses, her own methods of manipulation and mind-violation seemingly justified by the rationale to protect her family as she struggles to live with the magnitude of her skills.

Yet the old Nevada stood out more than the new, reforged one. I found myself constantly missing the cocksure, rough diamond of a woman who relied on her wits, leaned on her compassion and nothing more but the support of her family—that made her greater to me, rather than this new, untouchable truthseeker with powers that suddenly seemed to put her way beyond any mage, who always teetered on the slippery slope to ruthlessness.

On the other hand, Mad Rogan as always, remained frustratingly out of reach (the numerous cock-blocking moments notwithstanding) as every supposed step towards their long, drawn out sexual tension with Nevada was interrupted quite timely with an explosion or an urgent phone call. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the kind of hero he could be since he still seemed alarmingly inclined towards destroying first, negotiating later, if at all. While a small revelation of what made him that way did unravel Rogan a little, he felt cardboard flimsy next to the more multifaceted Nevada, which might be the only minus of the book being wholly written in Nevada’s POV.

At the risk of this entire review sounding like a rant, I’m going to say right now that it isn’t…really. My enthusiasm might have dimmed somewhat for the protagonists, but there’s enough driving force behind the secondary characters whom I like enough to want to carry on. Here’s to hoping ‘Wild Fire’ might bring something back to the fervour I had for the first book.

three-stars

Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews

Burn For Me by Ilona AndrewsBurn for Me by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #1
Published by Avon on October 28th 2014
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

‘Burn For Me’ is my first Ilona Andrews read and I can only say I wished I got into this sooner…this being what feels like a grand urban fantasy that slips between the Harry Potter and X-Men universe as a lone woman stands within a maelstrom about to break open.

It’s a solid adventure from start to finish, thoroughly enjoyable only because of a heroine who’s funny, compassionate, protective and thankfully, resistant to the heavy, magic-induced charms of an anti-hero up to the very end. But this being the first in the series, there’s more tension than romance, more action than scorching times between the sheets, particularly when characters are too busy cutting each other down and trying to lay waste to the city.

Despite ‘Burn For Me’ being the first book, the story that Andrews has taken up here seems like a one-and-done episode (even though the narrative arc is clearly unfinished) and it does feel like an establishing novel by way of the characters at least. Connor Rogan hasn’t convinced me yet of his hero status – it feels as though he still needs to undertake that ‘redemptive’ journey so to speak, to add empathy to his character as Nevada has correctly pointed out for him to be worthy of the pairing. The latter, on the other hand, just seems to be ‘destined’ for greater things, though I’m hoping that Andrews will surprise me with the growth trajectory of the archetypical hero/heroine here.

But I’m extrapolating, perhaps. What I am however, is very, very curious about the rest of the series and especially thankful that I can go through all of them at once without needing to wait for the end.

Bring it on.

four-stars