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.

Liebster Award

So, a while back on a Six Sentence Sunday post, I mentioned a snag with the publication of January Black. Well, that snag may have been sorted out with the help of Melissa Robitille, a writer/freelance editor. (You can follow her on Twitter.) I’m all sorts of amazed by her, not least of all by the fact that she gave me an award. The Liebster Award. For blogging. Which, if it weren’t for SSS, I’d be totally failing at.

Liebster is an award bloggers give to introduce blogs you might not have found already that we think are completely awesome. Here’s how it works. You post the picture of the award to your blog:

Liebster Award

You give 11 random facts about yourself and answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you. Then you think up 11 new questions and nominate 11 new blogs – and you can’t nominate the blogger who nominated you.

Eleven Random Facts About Wendy S. Russo

  1. I was a premie. I was born 8 weeks early in an air force hospital and spent 11 days in an incubator. As the story goes, there were three pre-term babies born that week at that hospital, but I was the only one who went home.
  2. I love sarcasm, but it’s sometimes lost on me.
  3. I’m fascinated by machinery. I once picked up a cam shaft from a friend’s dining table and said, “It’s so pretty.” Half-a-dozen people looked at me like I had two heads.
  4. It took me 2 1/2 years to read Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum,” the first time. The second read took 10 days. (The secret is accepting that most of the details are important to world, but not the plot.)
  5. My husband and I were THIS close to naming our son “Hiro Protagonist.” We thought his English teachers would get a kick out of it. But, Hiro Russo is hard to say.
  6. I can engage myself in a repetitive task for months on end. My boss doesn’t get it but seems to appreciate it.
  7. I don’t understand “cute shoes” or “cute bags.” My husband picks out my outfits because I’m that fashion impaired.
  8. I do get “mean cars,” though. I’m partial to American muscle cars, particularly ’60’s Camaros.
  9. I’m bad at math, but I rock at Geometry proofs…which I’ve found practically useless in my adult life. Go figure.
  10. My favorite way to eat mashed potatoes is fried.
  11. I can’t golf. At all.

Answers to Melissa’s Questions

  1. What motivates you to write when you don’t really feel like writing?
    Music. For example, NIN “The Hand that Feeds” invokes a pretty, slender girl in a muay thai-esque street fight. (That WIP was shelved.) Skid Row’s “Breakin’ Down” gave birth to a scene where a young boy is pleading with a father figure not to leave. (A scene from that WIP became January Black.)
  2. Do you prefer being alone, in a group of people you know, or anonymous in a crowd?
    I don’t like being the center of attention. I like being in small groups, or anonymous in crowds. And I do alright alone.
  3. Do you ‘people watch’, and if so what’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen other people do?
    I think the thing that grabs my attention is when people wear something that defies explanation. Like…who wears flesh colored spandex pants to the mall? Who wears sparkly letters across the seat of their yoga pants? I’m not a fashionista, or even qualified to judge most outfits, but there’s some surprising stuff out there.
  4. How many books (a rough estimate, don’t go count them) do you have in your house, and what kind of books are they (yes, eBooks count as books)?
    A few hundred, I guess.
  5. What are your hobbies?
    Baking, jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, gardening (none of which I’m particularly good at.)
  6. What are your three favorite songs?
    Queensryche “Someone Else”, Lee Ann Womack “I Hope You Dance”, and Tori Amos “Winter.”
  7. What’s the biggest, best, and shiniest dream you have for your writing career?
    I got published! Everything after January Black’s release is a bonus.
  8. If you could take someone’s place for a day (modern or in history), who would you be and why?
    I would like to be Joseph Smith on a particular afternoon in April 1820.
  9. If you could have a re-do of some point in your life, what would it be and what would you do or say differently?
    I am where I am today because of life as it’s been. I wouldn’t change a thing.
  10. Which family member has been most supportive of your writing and in what way?
    My husband. I respect his opinion so much, I’m almost too embarrassed to let him read anything. *facepalm*
  11. What part of the writing process (writing, editing, querying, submissions, etc.) is the hardest for you?
    Blurbs. OMG, I hate writing blurbs.

And My 11 Questions

  1. What is your oldest memory?
  2. What did you want to be when you grew up? (Assuming that you ever actually did.)
  3. What’s the image on your computer desktop?
  4. Do you exercise?
  5. Which actor is ‘James Bond’ to you?
  6. Who was your favorite teacher in high school and why?
  7. Do you prefer books, or ebooks?
  8. White walls? Or do you need color on your walls?
  9. What character do you think you are most like?
  10. Which character would you like to be more like?
  11. How long did it take you to put together this blog post?

For the Liebster Award, I am nominating:

Soul Reborn is a Year Old!

Join Author Jean Murray in celebrating her 1-Year Anniversary of Soul Reborn, her debut paranormal romance novel.

TO CELEBRATE: Soul Reborn from Crescent Moon Press on sale for $0.99 (original price $6.99) at All Romance eBooks for a limited time only (July 1-15, 2012)

THE HUMAN REALM, HIS BATTLEFIELD.

Asar, the Egyptian God of the Underworld, has been tortured and left soulless by a malevolent goddess, relegating him to consume the very thing he was commissioned to protect. Human souls. Now an empty shell of hatred, Asar vows to kill the goddess and anyone involved in her release, but fate crosses his path with a beautiful blonde huntress who has a soul too sweet to ignore.

DEADLY SECRETS BETTER LEFT UNEARTHED.

Lilly, fearless commander of the Nehebkau huntresses, is the only thing standing in the way of the goddess’ undead army unleashing hell on earth. But Lilly has a secret—one she is willing to sell her soul to keep. If the Underworld god discovers her role in the dig that released the goddess, she will lose everything, including his heart.

Book Review: Soul Reborn, by Jean Murray

Soul Reborn Cover

Soul Reborn, by Jean Murray
Crescent Moon Press, 2011

THE HUMAN REALM, HIS BATTLEFIELD.

Asar, the Egyptian God of the Underworld, has been tortured and left soulless by a malevolent goddess, relegating him to consume the very thing he was commissioned to protect. Human souls. Now an empty shell of hatred, Asar vows to kill the goddess and anyone involved in her release, but fate crosses his path with a beautiful blonde huntress who has a soul too sweet to ignore.

DEADLY SECRETS BETTER LEFT UNEARTHED.

Lilly, fearless commander of the Nehebkau huntresses, is the only thing standing in the way of the goddess’ undead army unleashing hell on earth. But Lilly has a secret-one she is willing to sell her soul to keep. If the Underworld god discovers her role in the dig that released the goddess, she will lose everything, including his heart.

“Only the strongest love can unlock the souls of the Underworld.”

Asar races through the dark streets of New York City. Nearby, three undead revens pursue a curfew-breaking human with intent to feast on flesh. Asar intends to intercept their prey before their party gets started. His craving is for souls; the human they are hunting has a particularly sweet one, and he has no intention of letting such a meal go to waste on lowly cannibals. But when the cursed death-dealer of the Underworld turns a corner, he is surprised to find the revens decapitated. He recognizes the work as that of a skilled swordsman. A hunter. The desire to feed on the soul becomes greater with anticipation of a fight.

He is surprised then to find that the hunter is a woman. A very beautiful and feisty woman. Her every move and word entices him further. In the end, she retracts her blades from the superficial wounds they’ve cut into his chest. Asar allows her to flee into the dawn, catching one floating strand of gold hair she leaves behind. Shortly after, Asar’s brother suggests that he admires the woman, but Asar denies it. She’s only human, after all, and he’s a god. In truth, though, everything about the woman seems more than human. Hunger becomes intrigue and he wants to know more about her.

I, personally, would go so far as to say that Asar is smitten at first sight. When one considers that Asar is living without both his heart and soul, the fact that the man feels anything for her should tell him that something big revolves around her. He might even see it quicker than he does were he not so preoccupied with punishing Kepi, a sorry excuse for a goddess who literally stole his heart, soul, the physical key to the Underworld, and his son.

An aside…his son isn’t a kidnapped child. Asar’s family–him, his brother, and his son—plays a critically important role in the balance of power among both Pantheons of Egyptian gods. Asar has kept Bakari’s absence a secret from nearly everyone because the knowledge that he’s not around will have devastating consequences for the gods and humans alike. This is a testament to Asar’s character, considering once again that he doesn’t have a heart or a soul. He can’t do his job without them, but he clings to the man he used to be and that keeps him from being the animal he easily could have become.

The huntress, Lilith “Lilly” Carrington, is one of three daughters abandoned young by their mother. Five years ago, while on a South American dig, Lilly and her archeologist father uncovered a tomb with Egyptian hieroglyphs and artifacts. Not long after, an undead plague swept the face of the Earth, condemning mankind to live under strict daylight curfews or risk becoming infected. Lilly, her sister Kit, and a number of other women submit to a painful Egyptian spell to have black asps embedded in their backs. They become Nehebkau, an army of assassins to destroy the undead. Still the numbers of the reven continue to grow.

Asar comes to believe that Lilly’s youngest sister, Kendra, and her PhD in Egyptology, may be able to help find his stolen key to the Underworld. Lilly exchanges promises with Asar…her servitude in return for his word that no harm will come to her sisters. The cursed god does admire her strength and her love for her sisters. To show her that life will not be horrible, Asar takes Lilly to Aaru. There, she falls in love with her future master, and Asar unwitting awakes something within her that has been sleeping since her birth. When her power begins to manifest, the layers of the Kepi situation began to peel away, revealing to the gods…all of them…that they have far bigger problems than Asar being unable to do his job.

Soul Reborn is a story about honor and loyalty, about owning fault and accepting the consequences, and about knowing when to hold on and when to let go. Asar is a man who ignored wise counsel, and when Kepi betrayed him, he blamed her, blamed the humans that released her from her sarcophagus, and promised vengeance on everyone involved. He never stopped to consider his own fault in the situation. At the opposite extreme, Lilly blamed herself for the curse on her father which then spread to mankind. She puts herself in extreme danger in an attempt to atone, one reven at a time, for her curiosity. When Asar and Lilly come together to confront Kepi’s threat, they must both let go…he of anger to which he’s not truly entitled, and she of guilt that was never hers to carry.

I do have one complaint about the novel. When Asar does accept his responsibility, it comes in the form of an abrupt about-face. His trusted counsel says, “I told you so” and he accepts that as true. And just like that, he absolves Lilly of her role. I would have preferred Asar to wrestle with his conscience, because by this point in the story, he does have one. I would have liked the guilt and remorse to settle steadily upon on him until the weight became unbearable. However, the subsequent scenes were satisfying enough to smooth that wrinkle out for me.

I believe fans of Lynn Rush, or of Paranormal romance in general, will enjoy Soul Reborn. Two sequels are coming, and I’m very much looking forward to Asar and Lilly’s next adventure.

Rating: ★★★★

Guest Blogger Alert: Author Sean Poindexter at Wicked Romance

Sean Pointdexter, author of The Shadow of Tiamat, is guest blogging at Wicked Romance today. The post goes live at 8 am. Seriously, check him out!

While you’re at it, you should stop in on his blog, too. Every so often, Thor commandeers the blog to talk about a movie. Here’s the cat’s opinion of Conan the Barbarian.