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.

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: ★★★★

Book Review: Taste, by Kate Evangelista

Taste, by Kate Evangelista
Crescent Moon Press, April 2012

At Barinkoff Academy, there’s only one rule: no students on campus after curfew. Phoenix McKay soon finds out why when she is left behind at sunset. A group calling themselves night students threaten to taste her flesh until she is saved by a mysterious, alluring boy. With his pale skin, dark eyes, and mesmerizing voice, Demitri is both irresistible and impenetrable. He warns her to stay away from his dangerous world of flesh eaters. Unfortunately, the gorgeous and playful Luka has other plans.

When Phoenix is caught between her physical and her emotional attraction, she becomes the keeper of a deadly secret that will rock the foundations of an ancient civilization living beneath Barinkoff Academy. Phoenix doesn’t realize until it is too late that the closer she gets to both Demitri and Luka the more she is plunging them all into a centuries old feud.


The clang of a bell wakes Phoenix McKay from a nap. Before the second clang, she is on her feet and racing for a door that weighs a metric ton (or, might as well, given her penchant for slacking off in gym class). She slips. A third clang. She manages to open it just enough to slip through. A fourth clang follows, then a fifth. She’s late…unforgivably late…for the only appointment of her day that really matters. She stands outside as the sixth and final bell clangs, staring at an undisturbed blanket of show across Barinkoff Academy’s parking lot. The school had one rule, inflexibly enforced: no students on campus after curfew. The last bus back to the dormitories left ninety minutes earlier.

It’s cold, dark, and the dorms are miles away. She figures that if she’s going to get expelled anyway, she might as well try to find a janitor or someone to give her a ride. But the people she finds in the hall aren’t Barinkoff staff. They’re freakishly beautiful, guys and girls alike, and dressed in clothes from another century. One gleefully informs her that they are the “Night Students.” He casually mentions wanting to taste her. She doesn’t know what that means, but the look in his eyes leads her to believe he might mean it literally. Just as she thinks running might be a good idea, she finds herself behind a Mr. Tall-Dark-Handsome. His name is Demetri and he clearly intimidates the others. First, he asks the young man if he heard him correctly. Did the word taste cross his lips? He then commands all of his classmates to say nothing about Phoenix to anyone before taking her away, an order that shocks them all.

Demetri leads her straight away to a secret passage that connects the library to the chemistry lab. After introducing her to a young mad scientist reminiscent of Topher Brink (Dollhouse), her savior ingests a half-dollar size pill and then he drives Phoenix home. He promises that the Headmaster needn’t know about her breaking curfew if she promises to never miss curfew again. In doing so, he unknowingly breaks the first rule of Phoenix…never tell her what not to do.

If I could fill out an order form for the perfect novel, the result would be Taste. Kate Evangelista had me hooked from the very first sentence. She begins with a flawed first-person narrator in an acute, undesirable situation before immediately turning up the danger factor. Through Phoenix, she reveals to the reader a parallel world that is subtly sinister on the surface, with a separate cast of players that arrives and departs with the sun. From there peels back the layers on this world that lies behind and beneath Barinkoff Academy as if they were the petals of a flower. The pacing is like a choreographed dance between Phoenix, Demetri, and two other Night Students named Dray and Luka. The dialog is precisely to my liking; saying just what it needs to, at the right time and in the right way.

From the very first word, the details build into a steady crescendo of tension, along the main plot, the romantic arcs, and underlying subplots. When the climax hits, the strings start popping one by one, dropping the story by degrees, as if it were a weight suspended from them.

Through it all, Evangelista’s cast never drops character. Demetri is stoic, duty bound and passion driven, and keeps his priorities straight to a fault. Luka, his diametrically opposed frenemy, is carefree, careless, and manages to be deep and shallow at the same time. Phoenix’s wealth and privilege aside, she is sad, confused, curious, and intimately aware of how unfair life can be. The author’s voice is pitch-perfect.

I would recommend Taste to fans of Beth Revis’s Around the Universe, (along with anyone 15 and older who reads), with a word of caution: Hold onto something, or this book may well blow you away.

Taste Book Trailer and Excerpt Reveal

Taste
by Kate Evangelista

At Barinkoff Academy, there’s only one rule: no students on campus after curfew. Phoenix McKay soon finds out why when she is left behind at sunset. A group calling themselves night students threaten to taste her flesh until she is saved by a mysterious, alluring boy. With his pale skin, dark eyes, and mesmerizing voice, Demitri is both irresistible and impenetrable. He warns her to stay away from his dangerous world of flesh eaters. Unfortunately, the gorgeous and playful Luka has other plans.

When Phoenix is caught between her physical and her emotional attraction, she becomes the keeper of a deadly secret that will rock the foundations of an ancient civilization living beneath Barinkoff Academy. Phoenix doesn’t realize until it is too late that the closer she gets to both Demitri and Luka the more she is plunging them all into a centuries old feud.


Before you read the excerpt below, be on the lookout for a hidden link somewhere on this page to a super EXCLUSIVE bonus excerpt.


Excerpt of Taste:

I sat up and followed Calixta’s gaze upward. I rubbed my eyes. I didn’t know what I was seeing at first. A statue?—My brain refused to snap together coherent thoughts. I didn’t realize I’d fallen so close to one of the garden benches until I stared up at the boy that sat on one. He was strikingly beautiful. His tumble of blonde hair curled just above his sculpted cheekbones. He wore a silk shirt and a loosened cravat, like he’d become bored while dressing and decided to leave himself in disarray. His ivory skin and frozen position was what had me mistaking him for something carved from marble by Michelangelo. Then he sighed—a lonely, breathy proof of life. If I had to imagine what Lucifer looked like before he fell from heaven, the boy on the bench would certainly fulfill that image. My brain told me I had to look away, but I couldn’t.

“Luka,” Calixta said again, her voice unsure, almost nervous. It no longer contained the steel and bite she had threatened me with, which made me wonder who the boy was.

He leaned on his hands and crossed his legs, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on the night sky. His movements spoke of elegance and control. I’d encountered many people with breeding before, but his took on the air of arrogance and self-assuredness of someone used to getting what he wanted when he wanted it.

I only realized I’d been holding my breath when my lungs protested. I exhaled. My heart sputtered and restarted with a vengeance. Luka tore his gaze away from the stars and settled it on me. I’d expected pitch-black irises, like the other Night Students, but blue ice stared back at me.

“Human,” he whispered.

He reached out, and with a finger, followed an invisible trail down my cheek. I stiffened. His touch, cooler than Demitri’s, caused warm sparks to blossom on my face. He lifted his finger to his lips and licked its tip. He might as well have licked me from the way my body shivered.

Luka’s curious gaze held mine. “Leave us,” he said, but not to me.

“But—” Calixta protested like a spoiled child.

He spoke in a language I hadn’t heard before, remaining calm yet firm. The words had a rolling cadence I couldn’t quite follow, like rumbling thunder in the distance. They contained a harsh sensuality. The consonants were hard and the vowels were long and lilting.

Footsteps retreated behind me.

Luka reached out again.

It took me a minute to realize he wanted to help me up. I hesitated. He smiled. I smiled back timidly and took his hand, completely dazzled. Even with my uniform soaked from melted snow, I didn’t feel cold—all my attention was on him and the way his callused hand felt on mine. Without moving much from his seated position, he helped me stand.

“What’s your name?” he asked. He had a voice like a familiar lullaby. It filled my heart to the brim with comfort.

I swallowed and tried to stop gawking. “Phoenix.”

“The bird that rose from the ashes.” Luka bent his head and kissed the back of my hand. “It’s a pleasure meeting you.”

My cheeks warmed. My head reeled, not knowing what to think. I couldn’t understand why I felt drawn to him. And the strange connection frightened me.

From behind, someone gripped my arms and yanked me away before I could sort out the feelings Luka inspired in me. I found myself behind a towering figure yet again. Recognizing the blue-black silk for hair tied at the nape, relief washed over me. Calixta hadn’t come back to finish me off.

Demitri’s large hand wrapped around my wrist. Unlike the night before, no calm existed in his demeanor. He trembled like a junky in need of a fix. The coiled power in his tense muscles vibrated into me.

“What are you doing here?” Demitri asked.

I didn’t know he’d spoken to me until I saw his expressionless profile. I sighed.

“Phoenix.”

I flinched. The ruthless way he said my name punched all the air out of me. “You owe me answers,” I said with as much bravado as I could muster.

“I owe you nothing.” He glared. “In fact, you owe me your life.”

“I don’t think so.”

Ignoring my indignation, he faced Luka, who’d remained seated on the bench during my exchange with Demitri. “Why is she with you, Luka?”

“I wasn’t going to taste her, if that’s what you’re implying,” Luka said. “Although, she is simply delicious. I wouldn’t mind if you left us alone.”

There it was again. Taste. The word that kept coming up between these Night Students and I was connected to it in an increasingly uncomfortable way. To taste meant to sample, but what? My flesh? They had to be joking because the alternative wasn’t funny.

“The sins of the father …” Demitri left his sentence unfinished.

Luka’s smile shifted into a snarl. “Obey my command.” His chin lifted. “Kneel.”

Demitri’s stance went rigid. His grip tightened around my wrist.

Okay, weird just got weirder. Why would Luka want Demitri to kneel before him? I thought back to Eli and the others bowing to Demitri when he questioned them, but they didn’t kneel. Seriously? Were they all living on a different planet or something?

“Kneel.” Luka’s detestable smirk made his features sinister rather than angelic. The real Lucifer: a fallen angel.

Without letting go of my wrist, Demitri knelt down on one knee and bowed his head, his free hand flat at the center of his chest. “Your command has been obeyed,” he said formally.

Luka nodded once.

Demitri stood up and pulled me toward the school without telling me where we were going. Not having the time to thank Luka for saving me from Calixta, I risked a glance back. Luka smiled at me. His smile spoke of whispers, secrets, and promises to be shared on a later date.


When Kate Evangelista was told she had a knack for writing stories, she did the next best thing: entered medical school. After realizing she wasn’t going to be the next Doogie Howser, M.D., Kate wandered into the Literature department of her university and never looked back. Today, she is in possession of a piece of paper that says to the world she owns a Literature degree. To make matters worse, she took Master’s courses in creative writing. In the end, she realized to be a writer, none of what she had mattered. What really mattered? Writing. Plain and simple, honest to God, sitting in front of her computer, writing. Today, she has four completed Young Adult novels.

Author Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Crescent Moon Press

Book Review: The Curse of Gremdon, by Ciara Knight

The Curse of Gremdon, by Ciara Knight
Crescent Moon Press, December 18, 2011

In a world where marriage is forbidden, sex is only granted to male warriors, and the outer realm is full of murderous creatures, Arianna fights to protect the life of her only living relative, her brother.

Tardon, an elite warrior, is granted anything he desires by the Elders, but finds little joy in the voluptuous women presented to him. Born for the bloodlust found only in battle, complicated emotions emerge when he discovers his equal in the alluring warrior, Arianna.

Charged by the Elders with saving the castle from attack, Tardon and Arianna risk the curse when they traverse the vast outer realm to retrieve serum from the Tree of Life. If successful, the Elders have promised Tardon the right to marry and Arianna the cure for her brother’s death fever. Will their love carry them through or will the discovery of a great deception be their ultimate demise?


“A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.”

Those words were spoken two centuries ago by American founding father, Thomas Jefferson. (Or Benjamin Franklin. Depends on who you ask.) It popped into my head several times as I read The Curse of Gremdon. The first time was when Tardon, a celebrated warrior, was condemned to burn at the stake for a small carnal act. The Elders allow him moments of release, but this wasn’t a designated time and Arianna was never intended to be a “gift.” In fact, the female warriors aren’t permitted sex at all. He claims responsibility for the incident, as he was the one who initiated, but the people believe that she bewitched him. Tardon stares down his fellow warriors as a vicious mob demands that Arianna burn as well, and he tells them, “These are the people we fight for.”

The question implied in his statement is clear: Are these people worthy of the risks they take? The answer is not so clear.

The kingdom depicted in The Curse of Gremdon is a harsh, cold place. Fog covers their skies most days. There are no small animals or abundance of plant life. Sex is forbidden to all but the male warriors, who earn these gifts by performing well in battle. Marriage is an exceedingly rare privilege. There are no children. The people have few choices. They may train to earn status among the warriors that guard the walls. They may provide a function for society, such as keeping shops or healing the sick. They may please deserving warriors. If they cannot, or will not, do one of these things, they starve in the streets of the inner court. Some rot in the dungeon. Others are tossed in fire pits. Every breath of their lives is spied by a council of Elders, who have laid down inflexible laws that are strictly enforced. As most of the citizens were children when their families sought refuge within the walls, they grew up grateful to the mysterious Elders and repay their debt with obedience.

What laws would you break to protect your family? To be with your lover? To save his/her life? What would you sacrifice to cure your sibling’s illness? To protect your heart from breaking? What would you risk to defend your people from a terror that lurks beyond your borders? What if those people didn’t deserve it?

These are just some of the questions that the author asks her leads to answer. Arianna and Tardon are two disciplined warriors who demonstrate a willingness to burn before lying, to die so the other may live. Naturally, the Elders find their devotion to each other threatening. And useful.

At its heart, Gremdon revolves around the illicit romance between Arianna and Tardon, but it’s built on a complex skeleton of illusion, lies, and pent-up lust. Nothing in the story is what it seems, from the very first scene, when Tardon discretely throws a sword fight, letting Arianna (and the Elder who was judging her) believe that she beat him. From then on, there were only two things that I was certain of as I read the book.

One, Arianna so loves Tardon that if he were mortally wounded, she would cut her heart out of her chest and shove it into his if there was a .1% chance the gesture would save his life.

Two, the Elders were bad guys. They may have saved the people of the kingdom, sheltered them in their castle, and kept them alive all those years, but nothing benevolent asks for so much simply because they can. And as the story progresses, the Elders’ price goes up.

The Curse of Gremdon is a tense, frustrating, heart wrenching romance, set in a fully realized world whose barriers against a zombie-apocalypse are weakening. In a world where hopeless people are surviving on instinct, Arianna and Tardon are bright, rebellious stars, with the strength and temerity to fight for their freedom, and everyone else’s too…whether or not their service is truly appreciated.

Ciara, please tell me there’s a sequel.

Rating: ★★★★★