Book Review: Moth, by Sean Poindexter


Moth, by Sean Poindexter
Ellysian Press
August 5. 2014
Dark Paranormal Fantasy

Social Worker Max Hollingsworth is no stranger to the otherworldly. But when he’s called upon to investigate a missing child protective services worker, he stumbles upon a deeper mystery.

Children are vanishing and no one, not even their parents, remembers them. Suspicion turns to Neo-Nazi vampires and humans running a child slavery ring, but the truth is far more sinister than even Max is prepared to handle. For help he turns to friends, old and new, but even they might not be enough…forcing him to turn to the least likely ally of all: an enemy who’s cruelty and evil was almost his end…and haunts him still.

He’ll be lucky if he makes it out of this one alive.

Think about a moth for a moment. He and his more popular cousin, the butterfly, both begin their lives as caterpillars, munching their way across the landscape until they’ve grown fat and happy enough to curl into a ball and go to sleep. And when they wake up, they are different animals. They are no longer forced crawl along on their bellies, as they now have great wings upon which they can seek out their hearts content in the air.

The princely butterfly pursues pretty colors and sweet tastes. The moth, geekier by design, prefers hanging out in the dark, which makes the bright lights it believes to be the moon easier to find.

Sufism has many poems about moths, one of which became a popular metaphor in western culture. A succession of moths dance around a flame, each getting closer and closer before returning to the others to tell what they learned. Each one is told by the eldest of them that they have no more, or no greater knowledge than the moth before him. That is, until the last thrusts himself bodily into the flame, allowing it to consume him. He, the eldest tells the others, is the only one among them who understood the gift of the flame.

In Poindexter’s novel, Moth, Max Hollingsworth’s reluctantly supportive girlfriend recognizes her lover for what he is: a moth to the flame, one obsessed with his job and compelled to pursue his cases even to his own destruction. The title is more than a nod to Sadie, however. From the first page to the last, and focused on the meth/child sex trade that flourishes along the US Interstate highway system, this novel is driven by needs, wants and sicknesses which become cocoons where character defining transformations take place. Just like in nature, the moths outnumber the butterflies 100 to one.

Sadie’s relationship with Max provides pockets of sweetness in an otherwise bitter plot. Outwardly, she is Goth, complete with piercings, tattoos, heavy make-up and attitude to match, which altogether makes her a odd surrogate for normal society, but that’s precisely what she is. Sadie’s primary role is to provide the one ounce of self-preservation that Max has, but she also anchors the reader in a place just outside of the action. What Max is experiencing is beyond normal. What he is doing is beyond his call of duty. What he has borne witness to is beyond belief for a rational human being. The most brilliant part of Sadie is that the author never uses her POV. She reacts to Max, and other characters, in a way that is powerful enough to keep her, him, and the reader from acclimating to the bizarre world in which Max spends most of his time.

Vampires are the primary creatures in this dark paranormal fantasy, but as far as vile antagonists go, they might just be physically harder to kill than their human counterparts. As an agent of Child Protective Services in Joplin, Missouri, Max meets people on a daily basis who are perhaps more heinous than bloodsuckers. At the very least when a vampire enslaves a child for food and sex, he can wipe his abuses clean. Not out of mercy, of course, but to simply cover his tracks and to remain below human radar. Human pedophiles brainwash their victims for the same ends, but in ways far crueler. I won’t spoil the details of how the author illustrated this, but I will say that he doesn’t pull punches.

Moth pushed every boundary of my reading comfort level and I would not recommend this book to just anyone. It’s inappropriate for young adults and I would give seriously caution to readers who are sensitive to child abuse. This novel is chock full for profanity, vulgarity, blood, violence, and scattered sex scenes (but only between willing individuals.) If any of that bothers you, none of this author’s books are for you, but especially not this one. While I typically avoid books described as this one is, I became enamored with Sean Poindexter’s voice while reading his the Dragon’s Blood Chronicles, and that gave me the confidence to trust him to take me into this story. I’m very glad that I did, firstly for the delightful cameo by quick humored dragon Garrett Terago, but also for the brutal honesty and raw emotion that bleeds on every page as Max survives his challenges only because he is too busy to stop for death.

About My Book Reviews

I believe in this book so much, I’ve posted this review four times.

Originally published on August 23, 2013, for Crescent Moon Press publication.
Republished September 28, 2013, for Ambrosia Arts publication.
Republished March 19, 2014, for Self-Publication by Author.
Republished July 31, 2014, for Ellysian Press publication.


ARC Review: Summoned (#1), by Rainy Kaye

Immortal Ink Publishing
Release Date: March, 2014
Dark Paranormal

Twenty-three year old Dimitri has to do what he is told—literally. Controlled by a paranormal bond, he is forced to use his wits to fulfill unlimited deadly wishes made by multimillionaire Karl Walker.

Dimitri has no idea how his family line became trapped in the genie bond. He just knows resisting has never ended well. When he meets Syd—assertive, sexy, intelligent Syd—he becomes determined to make her his own. Except Karl has ensured Dimitri can’t tell anyone about the bond, and Syd isn’t the type to tolerate secrets.

Then Karl starts sending him away on back-to-back wishes. Unable to balance love and lies, Dimitri sets out to uncover Karl’s ultimate plan and put it to an end. But doing so forces him to confront the one wish he never saw coming—the wish that will destroy him.

A dark twist on the genie folklore, SUMMONED follows a reluctant criminal as he unravels the mystery of the paranormal bond controlling him.

SUMMONED is represented by Rossano Trentin of TZLA.

Note: SUMMONED contains strong language, naughty scenes, mature content, terrible wishes, mystery, violence, discomfort, explosions, and an apple.

Summoned opens with the kidnapping. Dimitri dislikes kidnappings. Murders are easier for him. He gets in, does the job, and goes home to wait for his next assignment. On this afternoon, he has a precocious nine year old and her stuffed bunny shackled in his back seat. He doesn’t know why his boss wants her, but tells himself that it’s for ransom and she’ll be home before bedtime. He never sees anyone that he brings to Karl’s desert mansion after security drags them from his car, which is why he goes immediately to a bar to forget the afternoon ever happened. While there, he meets Sydney, a sexy blond who’s supposed to meet a friend until she gets stood up. Easy hook-up. No strings attached. At least, that’s the idea at the time.

Dimitri Hayes is an astonishingly complex antihero. He’s a child, a monster, a victim, a sex-fiend, and a bad man’s puppet. His entire reason for existing is to fulfill Karl Walker’s violent wishes. Because the act of being summoned physically moves him, without warning, from wherever he is to a special room in Karl’s house, Dimitri’s life outside of work is incredibly limited. He can’t have a part-time job, make friends. His sex-life consists of one-night-stands that he rudely kicks out in the morning to ensure they don’t call back. He doesn’t like it, doesn’t want to do what he does, but he literally has no choice. The magical bond that tethers him to his master is cruel when challenged. As it stands, there’s nothing in his life worth the trouble. So he lies to himself about who his victims are to make them worthy of the fate he brings to their door.

Syd, a “rock star” he meets by chance, was supposed to help him forget his troubles for a few hours and get lost. Getting rid of her, and her insatiable sexual appetite, proves to be impossible. Despite Dimitri being a complete jerk to her, she keeps calling, texting, and showing up at his house, until she becomes something he can’t live with or without.

I was delighted by the evolution of Dimitri’s character over the course of story. We are introduced to a deviant, who is somewhat weak-minded and apathetic, and he grows into someone with a moral compass that finds its true North and holds onto it for dear life. (And not just his own.)

But don’t get me wrong, Summoned is not a romance. In fact, I was neither surprised nor disappointed by the blood bath at the end. (No, that’s not a spoiler. Surely you can guess by now that people die, and I’m not telling whom.)

If you’ve seen me around the Internet, you might have read four things about me. I like a) organic scenes, b) inquisitive characters, c) slow reveals, and d) snowballing climaxes. In Summoned, Rainy Kaye solidly hits a, c, and d, which makes it a story pretty much written just for me. Even throws in a puzzle and Pre-Muslim Arabia at total bonuses.

Still, the author gave me an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review, and the book is not perfect.  Some things are errors that I fully expect to be cleaned up before publication, because Immortal Ink cares about stuff like that. I also found details that I personally would have chosen to do differently, but Ms. Kaye didn’t actually write it just for me. It would suck of me to hold those against her, and I try hard not to suck.

I give Summoned 4.5 stars, and I round up. I recommend it to fans of dark paranormal that don’t mind mature content with their felonies and apples.

About My Book Reviews

Book Review: Phantom Touch, by Jessica Hawke

phantomTouchCrescent Moon Press
Release Date: November 2013
YA Paranormal

Bridget White just wants to be an average girl, but the car accident that killed her sister took away everything normal in Bridget’s life. Now she spends her days talking to unhappy ghosts and helping them move on to the afterlife. But dealing with death on a daily basis is too much for one girl to handle, so when she finds a way to get rid of her supernatural sight, she jumps at the chance.

There’s just one more job standing between her and normal. When a missing local girl turns up as a freshly murdered ghost, Bridget realizes she’s the only one who can find the killer. Worse still, he’s not done killing. Now Bridget may have to sacrifice her only chance at being normal to stop him from taking another innocent life.

Bridget helps the wrongfully dead pass on to the hereafter. It’s not something she wants to do, but if it earns her a shot at a normal life, she’s up for it. In the opening chapter, while she prepares to send off the ghost of a middle aged woman, her sister Val sits irreverently on a headstone and keeps her company. Bridget has researched the woman, and after she’s shown pictures of her children and grandchildren, and the ghost moves along. Bridget has one week left until she can perform a ceremony that will shut off this strange ability. She’s anxious to get rid of it, but she’s also dreading it a little. First she has to let go of Val, who died two years earlier in a car accident.

On the way home, Bridget sees a missing person’s poster for Natalie Fullmer. She gets a very strange feeling when she sees it. The girl’s mother believes she’s run away again and has washed her hands of the mess. Natalie’s totally hot little brother, Michael, is holding out hope, and that brings him and Bridget together. Of course, things get complicated when Natalie attacks Bridget from beyond her shallow grave. Because Natalie doesn’t want Michael to know she’s dead, Bridget has to pretend to be looking for her when she’s actually looking for the killer.

Also in Bridget’s life is an annoying little brother who plays video games at jet engine volume; a divorced mother who works as hard to forget she had an older daughter as she does to put food on the table; and a best friend who is in dire need of a spanking.

Phantom Touch is a young adult paranormal story, told in a very believable teen voice, which focuses more on the complications of Bridget’s personal life than the boy who’s walked into it. That’s right. Even though Bridget has a crush, and it would appear that Michael likes her, too, both kids are too preoccupied with the sisters that are lost to them to start much of a relationship with each other. The two (living) girls in the story have conversations about parents, and concerts, and classmates, making Phantom Touch one of the most realistic teen stories I’ve read in the YA paranormal genre. At the same time, the serial killer arc brings attention to the dangers and the seeming innocent things that can make someone vulnerable to the evil that lurks below the surface of society.

I very much enjoyed seeing how Bridget’s story unfolded. It appears to be a standalone novel, but like the pilot of a television show, the ending left open the possibility of a long-running series. The novel includes some violence and a serial killer that target problem teen girls. I don’t recall coarse language and there are no touchy/feely scenes. She did, however, make me cry, so that has been taken into account in my 5-star rating.

I was given an e-book copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.

About My Book Reviews

Book Review: Ascendant, by Rebecca Taylor

ascendantCrescent Moon Press
Release Date: June 2013
YA Paranormal

When I was twelve, my mother disappeared. I was the first person to never find her.
I’m sixteen now and she has never been found, alive or dead.
I’m not the girl I should have been.

When Charlotte Stevens, bright but failing, is sent to stay at her mother’s childhood home in Somerset England her life is changed forever. While exploring the lavish family manor, Gaersum Aern, Charlotte discovers a stone puzzle box that contains a pentagram necklace and a note from her mother—clues to her family’s strange past and her mother’s disappearance. Charlotte must try to solve the puzzle box, decipher her mother’s old journals, and figure out who is working to derail her efforts—and why. The family manor contains many secrets and hidden histories, keys to the elegant mystery Charlotte called mom and hopefully, a trail to finding her.

Charlotte Stephens is an orphan. Sort of. Her mother’s been missing since she was twelve, and because her father, Simon Stevens, is a best-selling author 17 times over, Elizabeth’s disappearance was a tabloid-worthy mystery. Four years later, Charlotte plagiarizes a final paper on Richard II, a play she’s read four times, because she just doesn’t care. This sets into motion a chain of events a teenager wouldn’t anticipate. Her principal notifies Charlotte’s emergency contact, her father’s literary agent, that Simon has shown up to a disciplinary meeting sloppy drunk. Twenty-four hours later, Charlotte is on plane for England to stay with an uncle she’s never met while her father dries out at a detox facility.

There, Charlotte is met at the airport by Gaersum Aern’s caretaker’s children. Caleb is seventeen, and she vaguely recalls him as the boy she kissed behind the dining room curtains when she was seven. Along for the ride is fifteen-year-old, Sophie, a “material girl” who’s recently gotten the pair’s Internet privileges revoked.

Caleb is still in love with Charlotte nine years later, an infatuation that she reciprocates easily once they reconnect in Gaersum Aern’s library. Unfortunately for him, another boy has his sights set on Charlotte. Hayden Wriothesley is sixteen and a second cousin of the king of England. He’s filthy rich, absurdly gorgeous, and very accustomed to getting everything he wants from everyone. He’s arrogant and chauvinistic, and Charlotte despises him. Here she is torn in three directions. Her heart wants Caleb. Her mind wants to figure out her mother’s mysteries. And, her body responds to Hayden’s advances, making it very hard to say no when she should.

I suppose now is a good time to mention that’s she’s stumbled ass-over-teakettle into a conflict between orders of Freemasons. By the time she realizes the role she plays, it’s far too late to turn tail and run.

Ascendant is a wonderful YA paranormal tale set in the tapestry of rural England, among old wealth estates, and includes ancient symbols, secret societies. It is driven by naiveté and teen angst on the surface, ancient tradition beneath, and between the two, the consequences of one family’s choice to save face at the expense of an illegitimate child ripple across decades, leaving tragedy in their wake.

Ascendant would fit at home on a shelf with Rebecca Hamilton’s The Forever Girl series, Rebecca Trogner’s The Last Keeper’s Daughter. There are some sexual situations, including kissing and partial nudity. I would recommend it readers over the age of 13 who are fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, and/or the YA Paranormal Romance.

I was given an e-book copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.

About My Book Reviews

ARC Review: Savor (Vicious Feast Book 1), by Kate Evangelista

savor_1600Savor (Vicious Feast #1), by Kate Evangelista
Crescent Moon Press
December 2013
Paranormal Fantasy
Mature and explicit content. Not recommended for readers below 18-years-old. Yup, you’ve got to be that old to read my story. Consider yourself warned.
I’m Dakota Collins, a tough talking, eye patch wearing, workaholic photography student. Why am I important? Well, maybe because I get to spend an entire month with Vicious, only the sickest indie rock band out there.You see, I needed a subject for my Spring Showcase introspective in order to graduate. During a chance encounter at a club I’d been sent to cover for the Daily Gossip, our ironically named college paper, the features writer I usually teamed up with introduced me to the band—by accident, I might add. It involved a run in with a scary, bald bodyguard. Anyway, long story short, I signed a contract to take pictures of Vicious.

I should have known their handsome yet way too serious for his own good bassist, Luka Visraya, wouldn’t be able to keep his hands to himself. He’s gorgeous and all, but the way he smiles spelled trouble with a capital L. I’m in for a long month with him around.

Crazy shit happens and then some. So, if you want the skinny on Vicious and the events revolving around my stay at Lunar Manor, read my story.

Again, refer to the warning above.

In Kate Evangelista’s YA paranormal romance, “Taste,” sixteen-year-old Phoenix McCay falls asleep in her school library, misses curfew, and finds herself in the beautiful, and frightening world of Barinkoff Academy’s “night students.” There she becomes the unwitting subject of a science experiment, the obsession of dueling princes, and the catalyst for a long-simmering revolution.

SAVOR brings along the principle characters of the parent novel, personalities and social status included. Phoenix is beautiful and caring, but somewhat trapped in herself. Luka still calls the shots, while Demitri maintains the upper hand in a very delicate dance of mutual love and hate with his cousin. Demetri’s younger brother Dray is geeky and adorable. Luka’s sister, Yana is stylish, savvy, but with her wings clipped by her brother’s tight control. But SAVOR gives these characters a few twists. For starters, former Night Students are no longer bound to their underworld kingdom, burdened by the facts of their very existence. In fact, Evangelista left the world of “Taste” mostly in the Young Adult aisle when she turned her focus to a new heroine.

Dakota Collins is a college senior, whose strength, determination, and independence is plain as day to anyone with eyes. Her depth perception is crippled by an injury that compels her to wear an eye patch, yet she pursues a career as a photographer. She’s talented, driven, and professional. She is amazed that Luka Visraya, the hottest bass player on the planet, would entertain the idea of being the subject of her spring project, but he invites her to spend a month at his house, with unfettered access to the entire band, on condition of a non-disclosure agreement. The only rule seems to not ask questions people don’t want to answer.

Here, Ms. Evangelista gives us “Almost Famous,” set in the Beast’s mansion, with Morpheus at the front gates offering Belle red and blue pills. The world of Vicious, Luka’s band, surpasses her expectations before she even gets to their house. It’s opulent, frenzied, isolating, and at times, mad.

Incapable of taking a bad picture, Luka is a battered doll beneath the skin. He is twenty-something going on fifty under the weight of his father’s expectations, from which his band has been his one relief. There is a trend among celebrities who stop getting told “No.” Michael Jackson and Britney Spears are prime examples, and Luka has all the ingredients in his life to self-destruct. He’s got more money than God and has the privilege to what he wants. He’s overworked, under pressure, depressed, has an alcohol problem, and people cower under his rage.

Dakota shares a lot with Luka in that she is also a battered doll. Horribly scarred, she maintains her self-esteem by pushing everything she has into photography and saying “screw it” to the rest of the world. Unlike Luka, to whom the word “no” would be defiance of his authority, to Dakota “No” is just simply a word. It looms over her with 50-50 odds of being the answer to any question she asks. Thus, she has an advantage over the other occupants of Luka’s household in that she doesn’t have to put up with his crap. He never says as much, but it is clear in their scenes together that Luka loves having someone unafraid to put him in his place. It’s a good thing, too, because the boy needs sensitivity and sexual harassment training.

SAVOR is a fun, sexy introduction to what I anticipate to be a mind-blowing series. It is intended for adults, contains mature (sometimes erotic) subject matter. I would recommend it to fans of NA Paranormal Romance.

***I was given an ARC by the author in return for my honest opinion.***

About My Book Reviews

Son of a Mermaid, by Katie O’Sullivan – Interview and Review

photo-3Son of a Mermaid, by Katie O’Sullivan
May 15, 2013
Crescent Moon Press

Shea MacNamara’s life just got complicated.

After a freak tornado devastates his Oklahoma farm, the fifteen-year-old orphan is whisked away to Cape Cod. Struggling to make sense of his new surroundings, he’s trying hard to deal with feelings of abandonment… and the emotions stirred by a girl he meets along the shore.

Kae belongs to an undersea world hidden from drylanders. The daughter of royal servants, she knows the planned marriage of her Princess to the foreign King should put an end to the war between the clans. But two things stand in the way of lasting peace: the ambitions of the foreign King’s regent, and rumors of the Princess’s bastard child.

Sparks fly when she meets Shea, but could the cute drylander really be the Son of a Mermaid?

Today, I have Katie O’Sullivan with me to talk about her brand new baby, Son of a Mermaid. Stick around after the interview for a link to a Rafflecopter with cool prizes AND my review of the book.

WSR: Katie, your book is a young adult paranormal fantasy featuring mermaids. Could you tell us a little more about that?

KO: The story is set in the present on Cape Cod, where the main character is a 15-year-old boy who’s just moved to town to live with his grandmother. He’s trying to make sense of the changes in his life after the death of his father. He doesn’t know how to swim and has never even seen the ocean before, but something about the crashing waves calls to him. He befriends a girl on the beach one morning, who tells him her family visits the Cape every summer. What she doesn’t tell him is that her home is at the bottom of Nantucket Sound. And that she’s a mermaid. When Shea falls off a dock and develops gills behind his ears, the girl reveals her secret… and offers to take him to meet the mother who was forced to leave him when he was only a baby.

WSR: Who did Shea live with before his grandmother?

KO: Shea grew up on a farm in Oklahoma, far from either coast. He lived with his dad, Thomas MacNamara. Shea assumed his mom had split long ago because he was an unwanted baby – he never even realized his parents had been married! After a tornado ripped through leaving only death and destruction in its wake, his grandmother showed up out of the blue and took him back to Cape Cod with her.

WSR: Poor kid. Hopefully life is about to start looking up. Paranormal is such a vast playground. Why mermaids?

KO: I’ve always been fascinated by all things mermaid, in books, movies, artwork… and they are definitely a paranormal element that hasn’t been overdone, lol.

Living along the shore there’s always the idea of what if mermaids were real? I loved it last year when NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) felt it necessary to release an official statement that mermaids don’t exist. Doesn’t that make you wonder… why release a definitive statement of the negative… unless you’re hiding something 😉

WSR: Hmm, very good point! So, what is your favorite mermaid book/movie/artwork?

130410_mexico 027KO: The original Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson was a book I reread many times as a kid. Part of me was glad Disney revised the ending to be a happy one – the original story was so sad. (But I still read it over and over.) My favorite mermaid movie is Splash, with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah (although Aquamarine is a runner up.) In terms of artwork, there are beautiful classical images of mermaids, and wonderful fanciful modern images as well. But. After my trip to Mexico last month, I’m kind of digging these Day of the Dead mermaids, and brought a few home…

WSR: I seriously have a friend who might squee herself to death over those mermaids! How did your family react to your publishing contract news?

KO: They’ve all been great and very supportive. My middle child has promised me a book trailer, since he recently took a music tech class and learned how to do stuff like that… but he’s 15 so I’m still waiting, lol. My daughter made my blog tour badge for me – isn’t it great how kids are so naturally tech savvy these days?

WSR: Oh, gosh. My son’s been Apple literate since he was two! It’s kind of freaky how fast they pick it up! You have kids. Plural. When do you write?

KO: We got the Microsoft Easy-Ball mouse when our oldest was 18 months old. I only just got the first iPad in our house recently and I’m not sharing, lol.

I have three teens, each very active in sports, music and drama. They’re all out of the house by 7:30 in the morning, so I have time to write and edit during the day, until school gets out at 2pm and activities start up. It’s easier (and a little scary) now that my oldest drives because he has the most after school activities, but the other two are catching up. This spring all three of them are in different sports (and the oldest is doing both track and spring soccer. Crazy!)

The house is also currently being renovated (euphemism for half-torn-down-crazy-mess) so the dogs have me up and out to walk the beach by 5 am at the latest (kind of like my character Shea – I’ve been thinking of him as I watch the sunrise each morning.)

WSR: I think Shea and my character, Matty, would get along. Both really smart. Both long to return to the farm. Both kind of socially awkward. Was Shae inspired by someone?

KO: Shea is his own character, but there are elements of both of my boys in him. He’s smart and sweet and strong and loyal… and at the same time insecure about who he is and his role in the world… I think authors who are mothers probably do this a lot, infuse their kids into characters. …And you’re right. Shea and Matty would probably get along great. I loved the shyness and insecurity Matty showed when trying to ask Iris out the first few times. Confident in what he knows. Not confident in what he feels. What your character based on someone specific?

WSR: Actually, Matty is me. Well, he’s smarter and wittier than me, but I am socially awkward. I have very few close friends. Still, I have healthy self-esteem. I imagine that a lot of kids are.

I’ve just met Kae. I love how both Shae and Kae are concerned with authority figures, yet pushing their boundaries. It feels very 15. What were you like at their age?

KO: Up until 15, I was a total rule follower. Straight arrow, athlete, honor student, all that, all through high school. Somewhere in their mid-teens, I think all kids start questioning authority and the world around them. Pushing at the edges of the envelope to see how far it will stretch. It’s part of growing up and becoming an individual. A parent’s job then becomes to let them go. And catch them if they fall.

WSR: Is Son of a Mermaid stand alone? Or is a series in the works?

KO: I’ve already signed the contract (with Crescent Moon Press) for a second book, which starts a few weeks after the end of the first book. I can envision more books about Shea and his friends as they enter the University at Atlantis, and visit some of the other oceans on the planet.

WSR: Ooh, I have to imagine there’s a lot of trouble to get into there. *wink*

Win a Transmutare beach stone necklace!

My Review

In Oklahoma, kids become accustomed to storm drills. Having lived there all his life, Shea MacNamara should be used to them. Still, the strange anxiety he has during the drill remains after its over, despite the blue skies overhead. He and his best friend, John, talk about seeing a baseball game in St. Louis. Two girls fawn over the richest kid in school. From the outside, everything seems normal, even as something potent within him insists that something is very wrong. That intuition is proven correct, unfortunately, when he is pulled out of class. It wasn’t a storm drill that afternoon. A tornado did touch down nearby, and it obliterated his farm. His father was unaccounted for and presumed dead. Abandoned by his mother as a baby, fifteen-year-old Shea is now an orphan, which is how he ends up in Massachusetts with a grandmother he’s never before met.

The title of the book, Son of a Mermaid, is clue enough that Shea is no ordinary kid. He is blessed with a photographic memory, which he hides by intentionally under-scoring on tests, and he has an empathy for animals. While not exactly popular in Oklahoma, he is charming and makes friends easily. He demonstrates talent for leadership, but at the same time, he portrays natural self-consciousness. He cannot swim, but he feels drawn to the ocean. He is concerned with the authority of his elders, with rules and laws, while at the same time pushing at those same boundaries. Shae is a teenage boy…curious, impetuous, with a big heart that he gives of graciously.

Kae (pronounced Kay-ee) is very much a mirror of Shea. She is an only child of a couple who serves a mer royal family, and herself a handmaid of Princess Brynneliana. Her people have been at war for years with the Adluos, the clan from of the Southern Atlantic. The two sides have agreed to settle their differences with a good old-fashioned arranged marriage, between Princess Bryneliana, and her six-year old cousin, King Theo. Of course, where there is a political marriage, there’s bound to be plain old dirty politics, and there are shenanigans aplenty. Kae, for reasons she doesn’t understand, is told to leave Shea alone. Don’t talk to him. Don’t look at him. Forget she ever saw him. But, like Shae, she’s fifteen and prone to push at the boundaries her elders set.

Son of a Mermaid is a solid YA paranormal fantasy, with a little bit of romance, a little bit of political intrigue, and a whole lot of teenagers being teenagers. Older teens may find parts of the book predictable, but I think it will appeal greatly to middle school grades.

Content: Ocean-slang cursing. Mild kissing. Mild violence.

About My Book Reviews

Book Review: Soul Awakened, by Jean Murray

266196_508596702507155_238880954_oSoul Awakened (Key to the Cursed #2)
By Jean Murray
Crescent Moon Press, January 2013

Love for Blood or Honor

Kendra, and Egyptologist and demi-god in waiting, is the key to unlocking Bakari, the Egyptian God of Death, from his cursed slumber. Desperate to free him, she inadvertently binds herself to the god with a spell that only death will undo. To save Bakari from himself, she may have to sacrifice her innocence, and possibly her soul, before he becomes his family’s worst enemy.

Haunted by Sins of the Past

Bakari awakens to a world at war and a beautiful woman who has tethered his soul to hers. In the wake of his self-destruction, Kendra is his only hope of salvation, but another has vowed to keep Bakari from the one thing he craves most—his Parvana. His butterfly.

Soul Awakened opens with a black scorpion in the desert. It is night, so the little assassin blends into his surroundings as he waits patiently for an opportunity to strike.

The scorpion is the mark of Bakari, the God of Death, missing five long years from his post at the gates of the Underworld. Tortured by a sadist and left for long stretches confined in the dark, Bakari is little more than a wounded animal when Kendra Carrigan releases him from his sarcophagus. He cannot tell what is real from what is nightmare, and he still retains the power to suck the life out of anyone in his vicinity. It’s a lethal combination that costs three of Aaru’s guardians their lives and leads Bakari’s family to keep him confined in a cell until they can figure out what to do with him.

Kendra, a gentle-hearted Egyptologist, finds the treatment of Bakari appalling. She believes that he’s been confined in the dark, so keeping him locked in the basement seems cruel. If that had been the extent of his torture, he’d probably have been all right. Over the years, however, he was periodically released to eat, a ritual that entailed the goddess Kepi raping him before feeding him her own rotten blood.

Jean Murray tells Bakari’s captivity story in flashes, followed by episodes of disgust and guilt often experienced by sexual assault victims. Bakari hates the woman who tortured him, but he also feels it’s justice of sorts for the deeds of his previously decadent life. He desire for death is kept at bay only by a sense of obligation to Kendra, whose live became blood-bound to his during the spell she performed to free him. His father, Asar, forgives but doesn’t miss an opportunity for tough love and tosses Bakari into the warrior village under the command of his brother, Bomari, who would get along fabulously with the likes of XO Tigh from Battlestar Galactica and the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. The guy has been jealous of his pampered brother for millennia. Bomari’s attempts to humiliate Bakari by assigning menial tasks, like polishing ALL of the garrison’s weapons, backfires when Bakari actually enjoys the tasks. It gives him time to think about how much his life sucks.

Having freed Bakari, Kendra has to find something else to occupy her time, so she turns to crime solving. There is a traitor in Aaru, a third party to Bakari’s kidnapping and the assassination attempt on Asar’s life (from Book 1), and she’s determined to figure out who it is. (Remember the scorpion metaphor from the prologue.) Doing so means asking Bakari exactly how the armed and dangerous God of Death was subdued and taken from his post at the gates of the Underworld. Talking to Bakari means going to the warrior village and defying Bomari’s orders to stay away from his unstable, self-centered brother for her own good. Of course, Kendra’s disobeyed Bomari’s instructions before, which is how Bakari got out of his sarcophagus in the first place.

Murray delicately executes Bakari’s catharsis and weaves it into the role reversal that slowly takes place between him and his brother. Into this, she also stitches—in both detail and timing—an awkward romance between Kendra, a sexually frustrated virgin, and the feuding brothers, both of whom want her but know they don’t deserve her.

I enjoyed Soul Awakened. It is a confident step forward Soul Reborn, the opening story of Key to the Cursed, which I felt was weighed down a bit by the necessary reven story arc. Soul Awakened is a much narrower story, which allowed Murry more pages for her characters to develop and interact. I am very much looking forward to the continuation of Bomari’s story in Soul Unbound, (Key to the Cursed #3).

Stars: ★★★★★

I was given an advance copy of the book by the author.

Book Review: Denied, by Kinley Baker

Denied, by Kinley Baker
Crescent Moon Press, July 1, 2012

When invaders brutally massacred the women and children of the Varner, Caleb witnessed loss and destruction on a scale few can comprehend. As the leader of a race on the brink of extinction, his only hope for survival is gaining acceptance into the Shadow Shifter Kingdom. Struggling with new customs, he meets Tabitha, a woman who challenges his limits.

Refused the right to join the king’s guard because of her gender, Tabitha must be stronger than the men to prove she deserves to be the first accepted female Warrior in the kingdom. She believes Caleb will help improve her abilities, until she learns her goals conflict with the foundation of his culture.

When the realm is attacked, Tabitha and Caleb must come together not only to fight, but to find the strength to win against an evil with the potential to destroy everything they revere most–including each other.

Denied opens with Caleb, the leader of the alien tribe that is currently squatting near the Shadow Shifter’s castle, meeting with King Valerian. Caleb wishes for his displaced warriors to be accepted among the Shadow Shifters, but there’s a snag. The Varner warriors are the only people to attack the kingdom. Ever. So, Caleb’s offer to help protect the Vale’s kingdom from invasion falls a little flat. Vale is a man who thinks several steps ahead. His gut tells him that Caleb is trustworthy. At the same time, he knows his people’s collective gut will not unless Vale can say, 100% convinced, that the Varner have been accepted by their Ancestors. So, after Caleb assures the king that the Varner men will not be kidnapping village women, Vale gives the Varner warriors a good faith task to complete.

Caleb breaks his promise to Vale almost immediately when he comes upon a woman practicing with sword. He feels a change within him that he’s been waiting for all of his life. The Shadow Shifter woman is his aroha, and she is dropping her left arm. He steps in to correct her form. When he tells her that he will never allow her to see battle, she takes his words as supreme arrogance. She tells him her name only to keep him from kissing her.

Three days later, Caleb stands in a town recently abandoned by the kingdom’s neighbors, the Gaspar. All that remains is a body being picked apart by birds and a Varner sword lying nearby. Needing Vale’s trust, Caleb decides to take the body and blade back to the Shadow Shifters’ king, even while knowing that telling the truth could ruin everything he’s working for if Vale doesn’t believe him.

Author Kinley Baker played with cultural taboo in her Shadowed Love series’ first novel Ruined, when she put reluctant King Vale under the spell of a woman his people considered a disastrous match. In Denied, she sets ambition and desire at odds, gives both a pistol, and orders them to start walking. The reader has about twenty paces to guess which of our fated lovers—Tabitha or Caleb—has the faster draw. The answer may surprise.

Souls in the Shadow Shifter kingdom are born with one of four gifts by their Ancestor gods: warrior, healer, seer, or sensitive. Tabitha was born with a warrior spirit, but being a woman, social mores demand that she ignore her calling. Her father set up a fruit stand to give her a feminine occupation. She is expected to marry and have children. Tabitha rejects being swaddled and stuffed into that box. She wants to serve on the king’s guard. Her best friend Max is not the best of swordsmen, but he helps her prepare for the day she’ll fight to earn her place.

Caleb is an open-minded guy. Although he clings to the traditions of a dying race, he is willing to make sacrifices for the bigger picture. A series of unfortunate events revealed that the Varner can successfully mate with Shadow Shifter women. Caleb prays to the “gods in the sky” because his men are at the mercy of King Vale’s superstition and judgment. With Tabitha, he beats down the voice inside that says she shouldn’t handle weapons because he knows she will not accept him as her mate unless he accepts that much about her. And still she denies him.

A common trait of sentient beings, be they mortals, Varner, Shadow Shifters, is a tendency to paint our opinions—informed by our upbringing and experiences—over whatever scene lies before us. This is a huge factor in Denied. It fills in the shadows of every level of the novel, but it wreaks havoc on Tabitha and Caleb’s relationship. Her continued rejection of Caleb’s claim to her is bolstered by her father holding her back, by the teasing of fellow villagers, by her gut reaction to men who recognize her skill yet still dismiss her for being a woman. Caleb is different, which is part of why she loves him, but his words and actions accidentally offend her chafed self-esteem. At times, he seems to view her as fragile, and at others, property, all without consulting her about what exactly what they are to each other.

Tabitha frustrates Caleb because she doesn’t respond the way a Varner woman would to his claim. She should be happy to have found her one true mate. Having lost every woman and child of his race, he sees her ability to protect herself as a bonus, because maybe if the Varner had taught their women to fight, their people would be on the brink of extinction. She should be grateful to lay down her weapons, to let him care for her like the precious gift that she is to him. But, Tabitha insists that someday she will fight in battle along with the Shadow Shifter guards. He doesn’t understand why she would want to. He doesn’t mean to be possessive, but she’s the only woman for him. When he says he won’t let her fight in battle, what he means to say is that he can’t risk losing her.

Perhaps, if the two had sat down and given the other long enough to explain their positions, they would have sorted things out way sooner than they did…but, what fun would that have been?

Readers who liked Ruined will love Denied. I would also recommend the novel to fans of paranormal romance.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book Review: Desperate Choices, by Hildie McQueen

Desperate Choices, by Hildie McQueen
Crescent Moon Press, April 2012

When an Immortal demon slayer saves Rachel Andrews from certain death, her life changes forever. An unbreakable bond with the handsome Protector, drags her into a world she never believed existed and has no desire to be part of.

The actions of one night drastically alter the course of his long existence. Torn between his feelings for Rachel and his life’s calling, Roderick Cronan comes face to face with the fact that he is losing both.

Rachel Andrews’ mother warned her not to pick up hitchhikers. Also, there are such things as demons. Both occur to Rachel as she’s pulled bodily between the front seats of her car into the back. Not strong enough to fend off the monster sucking on her jugular, Rachel regrets not having stopped into talk to her mother. But just as she’s losing consciousness, the demon becomes a puff of blue smoke. Hovering above Rachel was a man she believed to be the Angel of Death.

When Rachel wakes up once more, she’s lying in a four-poster bed. She gets a second look at her angel. He’s naked, frustrated at having misplaced his shorts, and when his towel slips, she gets an eyeful. She blurts out her appreciation, alerting him to fact that she’s awake. He then explains to her that she was attacked by a demon, which he killed, and she’s been out for three days because she lost so much blood.

In Hildie McQueen’s Atlanta, there are Protectors and demons. Three castes of the latter, in fact, walking around looking very human and most up to no good. Roderick Cronan, like his Protector brothers-in-arms, was born human, but he suffered a change in his early twenties that subjected him to nightmares and a brutal growth spurt. As a result, he is a walking Greek statue–Spartan, in his case—beautiful, massive, and ageless. The Protectors are permitted marriage only by arrangement by the leader of their order, “The Roman” named Julian, and they are usually unable to father children. (And “usually” is important here.)

These men exist to stand between mankind and the threat of evil. Period.

Roderick is also a medical doctor; saving Rachel’s life is a no brainer for him. He is short on time and resources, so when she needs a blood transfusion, he doesn’t think twice about using his own. That’s when things get complicated for Rachel, Roderick, and Julian.

Desperate Choices is a charming and sexy lead-in to Hildie McQueen’s full-length novel Desperate Betrayal. The novella doesn’t waste much time on the demon scene in Atlanta, but instead focuses on Roderick’s relationships with Rachel, his roommate Cynden Fraser, and his boss, Julian. I felt that McQueen did a particularly good job with Julian, a tough-love type who is way more father than friend to the men who serve him. Julian knows when to keep his head, when to blow his cool, and never changes his mind once a decision is made because he doesn’t abide weakness. Roderick’s roommate, Cynden, is similarly rounded out as a Scot whose lost his brogue after centuries away from the Highlands. He’s in only a few scenes, but he’s got a lot of personality.

With three enigmatic male characters in this novella, it might seem difficult for a female to grab the spotlight, but Rachel’s a solid character and she holds her own.

Desperate Choices is Book 0.5 of The Protectors series. It is stand-alone; it doesn’t have to be read before Desperate Betrayal, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt as Rachel and Julian appear in both. It’s also a clean, smooth read that I was able to polish off while my husband watched Ferris Bueller. I would call The Protectors a paranormal romance series to watch closely. I would recommend it to fans of Lynn Rush’s Wasteland series, Jean Murray’s Soul Reborn, and to SyFy’s Lost Girl audience.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book Review: Breathless, by Cole Gibsen

Breathless cover

Breathless, by Cole Gibsen
Crescent Moon Press, March 2012

Obituary-reading emo girl Edith Small is broken – the end result of forcing herself inside a mold that doesn’t fit. All she wants is to conform to her strict sergeant stepfather’s rules long enough to make it to graduation day.

But a boat accident threatens to unravel the life Edith has worked so hard to keep. After waking up in a hospital with a lacerated shoulder, Edith fakes amnesia. Because admitting she received her injuries from a blue-haired girl who breathes underwater is all the reason Sir needs to send Edith on the first bus to military school.

Safe at home, Edith struggles to put the nightmare behind her. But the mysterious creatures that live in the ocean aren’t about to let her forget.

After meeting Bastin – a strange boy with silver hair and black eyes – on a secluded dock, Edith learns about the war raging undersea to end human existence. A war that Edith, unwittingly, has become the key to winning.

In a world where death is an ever-present shadow and motives are as dark as the bottom of the ocean, Edith must decide if her life is worth risking for a love that can’t survive past the shore.

Edith Small is on a boat with a trio of obnoxious, spoiled rich kids, one of whom is intent on getting into her bathing suit, and she’s counting minutes until her feet are back on solid ground and walking away from the losers. Well past the watching eyes of the Coast Guard, Gabrielle, a bitch of a cheerleader, pulls out her boyfriend’s pot and the other kids light up. The irony is not lost on Edith. She is only on this boat because her uber-strict drill sergeant father finds her habit of keeping to herself and reading obituaries deviant, and he insisted that she make friends at her new school. Friends like this kids who are on this boat…the outwardly clean-cut children of Air Force personnel, athletes, cheerleaders…kids about which Edith now knows her step-father is very much mistaken. The three kids are annoyed that her prudish behavior is ruining their boat ride. They pressure her to drink and smoke so she’ll lighten up. Edith doesn’t, knowing everything happening on that boat will earn a one-way trip to military school.

When a bigger boat comes along side, this one driven by a richer kid and carrying more athletes and cheerleaders, the drivers decide to race. Gabrielle decides to dance on the edge of their boat, Edith fears the girl’s boyfriend, Russell, is too drunk and driving too fast to control the boat when it turns. She tries to pull Gabrielle down and is rewarded with a kick in the face. Gabrielle goes overboard. In shock, Russell takes his hands off the wheel. Their boat plows into larger vessel and all of the kids are thrown into the ocean.

Edith sees Gabrielle’s twisted body hanging on the buoy. She hears someone yell “sharks.” She’s pulled under, but not by a fish. A woman with blue hair and black eyes claws at her, cutting up her chest and breaking her collarbone. She wakes up on land and is barely conscious while overhearing an argument between a man named Bastin and a woman he calls Luna. The woman wants to kill Edith, but Bastin won’t allow it. When Edith next awakes, she is in the hospital. Her cold-fish step-dad demands to know what happened on the boat. When he informs her that the other kids died, she pretends to not remember.

Breathless is a sweet young adult romance between a psychologically broken teen girl and a mer prince with whom she has very much in common. They are both disappointments to their fathers. They both want things they cannot have. This latter point becomes a central theme of the book as they are prevented from having a relationship that ventures far from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. He cannot walk on land during daylight hours. Despite Edith begging him to take her home with him, Bastin knows that she would be only be trading her soul-crushing home life for the actual crushing depths of the ocean. His love for her is such that he would break both of their hears before condemning her to centuries of excruciating pain.

Edith and Bastin enjoy a weeks or so of discovering each other and falling in love in the other’s arms. Her time with him on a weathered dock in the bayou near her family’s rented home is a reprieve from her daily routine. Before the boat accident, she was living for the day when she’d go to college and finally be free to be her own person. But with Bastin, she lives for the first time since her younger brother died. She’s a girl with a handsome boy’s attention. He touches her, holds her, kisses her, and in all makes her feel special.

For Bastin, she learns later, things are a little more complicated. He doesn’t have her hang-ups regarding affection and intimacy. Coming from a world that has not concept of modesty, where reproduction is no more special than farming, Bastin’s attraction to her is born of curiosity. His desire is for the experience. Over time, this changes, and his interest evolves into true feelings for specifically her, something that his mermaid companion Luna finds wholly disgusting.

Out of the water, Edith is tormented by kids who believe she caused the accident that killed her classmate. She’s hounded by the step-father who is eagerly waiting for an excuse to send her away. She has one friend, a spirited lesbian named Morgan, whose father is the base commander. Between her nightly rendezvous with Bastin and her skipping school with Morgan, Edith’s enrollment in military school is simply a matter of when.

Breathless is a beautiful novel written with great attention to small details. Edith is a girl surviving on her ability to be small, keep to herself, and quietly bide her time. The atmosphere of around Edith…in her home, at school, with Bastin and Morgan…it’s palpable.

Edith’s loneliness is something that I can relate to as a formerly awkward teen. Her attraction to charming, funny, gorgeous Bastin is not at all surprising. Understanding the obstacle between them is governed by the laws of physics, my heart broke on every page.

I’d recommend Breathless to every teen girl who thinks they can’t live without the boy they love right this minute. You can. You will.

Rating: ★★★★★