Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review & Giveaway: What's a Witch to Do?

I love it when worlds combine. No sooner did I sign up for this years Withcraft Reading Challenge than I got chance to review a brand new witchy offering. What a treat!

From our on-going Bewitching Books blog tour, here's a truly bewitching novel to add to your list. Welcome Jennifer.Harlow and the first book in her Midnight Magic Mystery series, What's a Witch To Do?  OH, and stay tuned (to the end of the blog) for a Rafflecopter giveaway!

What's a witch to do? Mona McGregor is the high priestess of her coven. She is also the manager of the Midnight Magic Shop, in Goodnight Virginia. It's a small town and the coven, while the largest in the eastern US, doesn't have a lot of hot political buttons. Mona inherited her position, without the allowed opposition, after her mother and grandmother died
Mona keeps track of her busy life—teaching spells and potions classes, troubleshooting novice potion makers, raising two pre-teen nieces, planning a wedding for her younger sister, and meeting with leaders of the other preternatural groups—with her ubiquitous to-do lists. So, how did “find out who is trying to kill me” get on her lists?

Mona is a likeable, down-to-earth character. Her to-do lists are not much different than ours, except that they are as well-ordered as a potions recipe. She is not by any means the prettiest girl in town and describes herself as “pudgy. No fat.” Her friends and nieces don't see her that way, though, and are thrilled when she decides to take part in the Founder's Day bachelorette auction.
There are two men in Mona's life. The movie-star handsome Dr. Guy Sutcliffe is quite taken with her and is the catalyst for her entering the bachelorette auction. There is also Adam. Adam Blue is the Beta werewolf who arrives on her doorstep, badly wounded, slow to heal, and bringing the news of the hit put on her by another witch.

I don't know if there is a place in the real world called Goodnight, Virgnia, but it seems like the kind of small town that I've been in. Not full of preternaturals as far as I know, but how would I? In this world the witches, weres and vampires have their won police force. iI's a world where wraiths go on rampages and the heads of the groups get together for Christmas. There are no hunters in the world, so far. All the threats are coming from inside, and I like that. It makes their world little different from ours in a good way. Waht keeps the book from being just an ordinary story with preternaturals, though, is the nature of the threat and the actions of others that complicate the problem. I won't tell what the first is, and can't tell the second without spoiling the story.

I can say that one reason I read speculative fiction is that it does a particular service when it is well done. I learn about how to be special. Living in the world with special needs, whichever end of a spectrum they might fall --creates a kind of separation between those with the needs and gifts and those without. In this story, Mona has to negotiate her world of giftedness while raising two young girls. Cora is 6 but her sister, Sophie is ten and keeps her eyes wide open. When Adam stays around to help Mona find out who is trying to kill her, Cora is quite charmed by him. It's Sophie who keeps her arms crossed and challenges him all the time. She has her cap set for the doctor as a new addition to the family and distrusts Adam's charm.

What is a witch to do?

There is a definite romantic element to this novel, but it is so well integrated into the outcome of the story that even when Mona questions the circumstances, her feelings and actions with regard to the two men who hav become suddenly so prominent in her life, I didn't feel put off. In fact, I felt badly for her. Too much drama! I loved how the two girls were portrayed. I looked forward to every incident when they appeared, often smiling. I was torn between rooting for Cora and rooting for Sophie. The question of who is trying to kill Mona and how it is carried out turns and twists. No sooner than I thinki I've got it figured out than I get knocked back to figuring. Lots of questions along the way and satisfaction until the very end. I didn't see it coming. Maybe I was distracted. But isn't that good magic?

For the pleasure and distraction of this story, I am happy to recommend it.Without further ado, here's an excerpt.  Enjoy!   

 What’s a Witch to Do

Judging from the twenty voicemails, and house phone ringing off the hook, I’d say the demon woke up the whole town. Every witch he came within fifty feet of felt him. I know this because it’s in the book right in front of me Auntie Sara brought over. I sit at the kitchen table with Cora curled up in my lap as I scan the pages. She hasn’t let me go since I retrieved them from the office. Sophie was throwing ingredients into the cauldron as Cora watched. I think it was a protection spell. I just grabbed them and brought them downstairs with me into the kitchen where we’ve set up camp.
Adam hands Auntie Sara a cup of coffee, which she takes with shaky hands. Sophie sits across from me staring at her sister, face made of stone. Adam plops down in the empty chair beside me, sliding a coffee cup over. “Thank you,” I say.
He nods. “So…a demon. I thought they were just myths.”
“Says the werewolf,” I say with a crooked smile. It’s all I can muster right now.
“I cannot believe you lied to me,” Auntie Sara says to me.
I had no choice but to tell her everything. “I’m sorry.”
“What do you know about demons?” Adam asks me.
“Not a whole lot. It’s not something I ever thought would come up. They’re rare, at least the kind I think this one is.”
“There’s more than one type?” Adam asks.
“There’s the kind you summon and the kind that just sneaks through the dimensional cracks,” Auntie Sara instructs. “With the latter you get your basic demonic possession. They’re too weak, so they need a host body. The summoned kind is a specific demon. They have specific traits and powers, depending on who was called.”
“What do they look like?” Adam asks.
“Human,” Sophie says. All eyes dart to her in surprise. “He’ll look like whoever gave the blood for the ritual.” Auntie Sara, Adam, and I all share a concerned look, and Cora grasps me harder. “The murder of something innocent, usually an animal, helps open the doorway. It comes out of the portal, looking like a demon. It’s…” She shakes her head and winces. I get a chill. “It’s unnatural. It doesn’t belong here and can’t survive, so the witch gives her blood and it takes human form.” She looks down at the table away from our stares. “Um, it’ll look, sound, act, even bleed like us. I guess it sort of is us. Just…a little more. And powerful.”
“So it can be killed,” Adam says.
“It’s not as simple as that,” I say. “It’s like a psychic on steroids. If she summoned the demon in charge of fire it can make you spontaneously combust from twenty yards away. If it can read in its dimension, it can invade your mind and trap your consciousness inside yourself.”
“And it’s strong,” Sophie adds. “Probably as strong as you. And it heals fast too.”
My stomach clenches again. “What—what else do you know about them, honey?”
“People can’t tell what they are, but we can because we’re from here and they’re from there. They don’t like us because of it. And they don’t like it that they have to listen to the person who brought them here. But they only have to do one thing, and they’re free. We can trap them, though, with sigils and spells. They can’t hurt us then. Not even with their brains. And they don’t like certain smells, and silver hurts them real bad.”
“An—anything else, honey?” I ask, trying to keep my voice steady.
She just shrugs.
I clear my throat. “Okay um, girls why don’t you go in the living room and pop in a movie?”
Cora burrows deeper into my chest. “No, I don’t want to leave you,” she cries.
“I’ll be in here. I’ll be able to see you the whole time, okay?”
“Come on,” Sophie says as she stands. “We’ll watch Toy Story 3.”
I manage to extract the child from my body and get her to her feet. A stoic Sophie takes her hand and leads her into the living room. Oh hell, what on earth am I going to do? “Mona, how did she know all of that?” Auntie Sara asks. “You don’t think—”
“Auntie Sara, that is a not now question, okay?” The telephone starts ringing again, sending splinters into my already throbbing temples. “Can you just field calls for me?”
“And what am I supposed to tell them?”
“The truth?” My brain is swimming. I rub my temples to focus. “Tell them we’re having an emergency meeting in the morning, time and location in an e-mail to follow.”
“Okay,” Auntie Sara says as she stands. She grabs the portable phone and walks out.
I glance at the girls sitting on the couch, then at Adam. He plays with his cup but his weary eyes stay on me. “Are you okay?” he asks.
I don’t know what it is about those words, or maybe it’s his gentle expression, but I almost burst into tears. Tentatively, he places his hand over mine, squeezing it. No, not now. I gasp and cover my mouth but a few tears make it to my eyes. I shut them. Using all my willpower, I push them away. If I break now I won’t be able to pull myself together again, so I do what I do best. I swallow my emotions so deep an archeologist couldn’t find them. I pull my hand away and wipe the stray tears off my face. Problem. Fix the problem first. “Um, what did you find out from Cheyenne? What time did she get to the bar?”
“She was there when I got there at 10:30. We talked until about 12:30, when I walked her to her car. We woke at 4:30, so she had plenty of time to summon it.”
“What did she say?”
“About you? Not a lot. She thinks you’re prissy, unimaginative, and holier than thou. Her words, not mine.”
“I don’t give a shit what she thinks about my character flaws! In between the make-out sessions did she give you any indication she hates me enough to do all this?”
“I don’t know. I couldn’t get much out of her, I’m sorry.”
I stand, practically making the chair fall back. “Well, I can’t do much with sorry, can I?”
I can’t breathe in here. I need to breathe so I can think. I stalk into the backyard, taking in huge gulps of air. Instantly, I feel like a jerk. I can’t keep doing that. He is in no way, shape, or form deserving of mu ire.
Even still, a second later he steps outside to check on me. “Mona?”
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to speak to you like that, I really don’t. I’m not normally like this, I swear.”
“I know.”
“I have no idea what I’m doing, Adam. A killer? Now a demon too? What the hell am I going to do?”
“We’ll figure it out.”
“How? I can’t think. I can’t…” Shit, the tears are trying the damndest to get out. I take a ragged breath. “I am so scared.”
“I know.” He steps toward me, and the next thing I know his arms are around me, pulling me into his warm body. Dear goddess does this feel wonderful. He’s so solid and even smells good, like hyssop and soap. “I know,” he whispers. He simply holds me, my head on his shoulder and hand against his racing heart. I just want to melt into him. For a fleeting instant all the world fades except for me and him, and I can actually believe everything will be okay as long as he never lets me go.
But only for an instant. I’m too realistic for false hope. Lust, be gone. I pull away, my back straightening to gain some respectability back. “Thank you. That helped.”
“Happy to oblige,” he says, for some reason unable to look at me.
I step away and turn my back to him. Okay, I can think now. This is good. “So, um, I have a request to make of you.”
I knew he’d say that. “I need you to take the girls away from here. Take them to Jason’s or your house or wherever, and keep them safe for me.”
“That’s not a good idea.”
I spin around. “The hell it isn’t! There is a fucking demon here to kill me!”
“Then you come with us.”
“I can’t! I can’t leave everyone here with a demon on the loose. Just take them and go!”
“I am not leaving you alone here!” he says with enough force to punch through a wall.
“This isn’t your fight.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“The game has changed. It’s far too dangerous around me now. Just take them and go! Please!”
“No. I made a promise and I take promises very seriously.”
I throw my arms up. “I absolve you! Take them and go!”
“No!” Sophie shouts from the door. I turn around as she leads her sister toward us. “If you send us away, we’ll just come right back! We will!” she says, voice shaking. “I can protect you! I can! I know what to do! Please!” She looks at Adam, eyes wild. “Don’t take us away. Please, don’t take us away.”
“Sophie—” I say, my voice breaking along with my heart.
“We are not going anywhere,” Adam says to Sophie. “I promise.”
“You can’t—” I say.
He grabs my arm and yanks me away from the girls, all but dragging me to the other side of the yard. “Now, you listen to me,” he says in a low voice. “You are letting your fear cloud your judgment, and you are scaring the hell out of those girls there. More than even the demon is. Is that what you want?”
“No, but—”
“We are not leaving, do you hear me? Do not mention it again.” He takes a deep breath to regain his composure. “Look, I know you’re used to doing everything on your own, but you cannot do this alone. You can’t. So, I am here to protect you and those girls so you don’t have to. But to do that, we all need to be here. Together. A cohesive unit working together. A pack, okay? And since you aren’t thinking clearly right now, I’ll do it for you. If you die, who will take care of them? They need to be near you, a strong you. If they go away, and you die, they will never ever recover. They have lost too damn much already.”
“It could kill them to get to me,” I whisper.
“Mona, if that thing wants them, and is as powerful as you say it is, it won’t matter where they are. It will find them and use them anyway. At least here they have you, and me, and an entire army of witches in this town to go through first. And I will die before I let anything happen to any of you. Do you believe me?”
I absolutely do. I shake my head.
“Good. Then trust me on this. Then we’re sticking together. We will be cautious, but we will not let fear rule our lives. We stick to the plan. We fortify this place and ourselves as best we can, we find who summoned this thing, and stop her. Together. You…and me. I am not going anywhere. I swear it to you.”
I have the strongest urge to hug him again, among other things I won’t admit to. He’s so sincere I can’t help but feel…relief. At least that’s what I think it is. It’s a new sensation. Take me awhile to get used to it. “Okay,” I whisper. “Okay.”
“Then let’s get started.” He turns away from me and walks over to the girls, picking up Cora as if it was the most natural thing and holding his hand out for Sophie. She looks at it, but after a second of indecision, puts her hand in his. He leads them inside, off to find a way to save my life.
This time I let the tears flow. Because I can.

Jennifer Harlow
Genre: Paranormal Mystery/Romance
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Date of Publication: March 2013
ISBN: 9780738735146
Number of pages: 336

Barnes and  Noble    Amazon    Indiebound    Amazon Canada     Amazon.UK

Book Description:

Mona McGregor’s To Do List:
• Make 20 13 potions/spells/charms
• Put girls to bed
• Help with Debbie’s wedding
• Lose 30 pounds before bachelorette auction
• Deal with the bleeding werewolf on doorstep
• Find out who wants me dead
• Prepare for supernatural summit
• Have a nervous breakdown
• Slay a damn demon
• Fall in love

With her to-do lists growing longer each day, the last thing Mona McGregor—High Priestess and owner of the Midnight Magic shop in Goodnight, Virginia—needs is a bleeding werewolf at her front door. Between raising her two nieces and leading a large coven of witches, Mona barely has time for anything else. Not even Guy, the handsome doctor who’s taken an interest in her.

But now there’s Adam Blue, the sexy beta werewolf of the Eastern Pack who’s been badly hurt, warning Mona that someone wants her dead. Hell’s bells! A demon is stalking her, and Mona starts to suspect her coven members and even her own family could be responsible for it. With two attractive men and a determined demon after her, Mona teams up with Adam to find out who really wants her dead.

.. . and who really wants her.

About the Author:

Jennifer Harlow spent her restless childhood fighting with her three brothers and scaring the heck out of herself with horror movies and books. She grew up to earn a degree at the University of Virginia which she put to use as a radio DJ, crisis hotline volunteer, bookseller, lab assistant, wedding coordinator, and government investigator. Currently she calls Northern Virginia home but that restless itch is ever present. In her free time, she continues to scare the beejepers out of herself watching scary movies and opening her credit card bills.
Tales From the Darkside Blog 


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Magic Appreciation Tour's Spring Equinox Fantasy Book Sale

Add a Little Magic to Your Reading Experience with the Magic Appreciation Tour's Spectacular Spring Equinox Fantasy Sale!

I thought this was a good occasion to talk about a wonderful fantasy fiction website I've actively been a part of during the past year.

To celebrate the Spring Equinox, the site having a fantastic sale on over 36 magical fantasy books priced at < $5.00. 

Also, and just as great, are the amazing giveaways the participating authors have provided. 

Don't wait--both the sale and giveaways end today!

But there is a lot more going on at the Magic Appreciation site to talk about for both readers and authors.

For readers:

The term "fantasy" covers a lot of ground these days. You know this if you have ever had to wade through hundreds of books trying to find the ones that include the magical elements you crave. In contrast, the Magic Appreciation Tour is focused strictly on magical fantasy. Also, most retail and feed-based sites give you very limited access to information about books and authors. It can be a challenge to learn more about the author and even the book sometimes. This site offers links to the author's blog, the book web site, and other resources.

For authors:

The authors who participate in the Magic Appreciation Tour network with each other as part of their membership. If you have ever heard of a virtual book tour, that's basically what we are talking about. By touring each other's blogs, the authors give you the chance to get to know them better through interviews and guest posts.

In addition to listing your books for readers to find them on the site, Magic Appreciation Blog Tours provides a free blog tour system that facilitates the exchange of blog posts between our members. I've been both a host and author on tour through this program many times and have found it to be a wonderful promotional service.

The heart of the system is a simple email list. When a member goes on tour, we send out a tour notice to all MABT subscribers. Subscribers who are interested in hosting the touring author respond to the notice and sign up for a tour date. There's no obligation to host. If you aren't able to offer space on your blog during the requested time period, you just delete the email.

~ ~ ~
Marsha A. Moore is a writer of fantasy romance. The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing. Read her ENCHANTED BOOKSTORE LEGENDS for adventurous epic fantasy romance: Book One, SEEKING A SCRIBE, Book Two, HERITAGE AVENGED, and Book Three, LOST VOLUMES. She has also authored the Ciel's Legacy series, with fast action mermaid/pirate storylines: TEARS ON A TRANQUIL LAKE and TORTUGA TREASURE.  For a FREE ebook download, read her historic fantasy, LE CIRQUE DE MAGIE, available at Amazon and Smashwords.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Doodling the Night Away

 I thought I’d fool around and take a break.  For me that means taking pencil in hand and doodling.  I find it very relaxing.  My mind goes elsewhere…la la land.
 But, this time I went for the charcoal to do some rough sketching.  I figured I’d sketch one of my characters, especially since she’s been changing a lot.  She’s the main character in my wip. 

What’s her name you ask?  Well, that’s changed too. It seems it's the name game here at the salon this week.  Anyway,  I gave my main character the name of Usha in the beginning.  It means dawn in Sanskrit and the name of the Hindu Goddess of the Dawn and she is considered a daughter of heaven.  I thought it was perfect for my YA character. 
So, why did I change her name?  The character is half-Chinese, but that’s not the reason.  I was worried that the name wouldn’t resonate with the teen reader.  Would the reader like or dislike the name?  What do you think?
So I began my search for a new name.  I went from the cute to the sublime and everything in between.  This is what I ended up with:  Cici, taking it from the English it means blind.   It has no meaning as an Italian name. The other name is Dao-ming, which means shinning path. 

Those don't do anything for me which means I’m back to the name search. If only I could doodle a name.
Anyway, here’s my quick sketch of Usha.

 Till next time,



Friday, March 15, 2013

My Own Fantasy Name

After reading Marsha post about fantasy character names, I went searching the web for a name generator based off of a name entered (ie my own).

My Fantasy Female Name:                                                               My fantasy name is Sadhbba Gloomterror
Princess of the Poison Storms

My Fantasy Neutral Name:
My fantasy name is Cori Gloomterror
Hex of the Poison Storms

My Fantasy Male Name:
My fantasy name is Maxim Gloomterror
Prince of the Poison Storms

Get your own fantasy name from the fantasy name generator!

I see the theme and I'm not sure if I agree or not. What do you think? And what the name generator say about your name?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Witchcraft 101

Doing this Witchcraft reading challenge feels like I'm back at school.  If I was going to teach a survey class in witchcraft this is exactly how I would do it.  There is such variety in how witches are portrayed in the books I have read so far. 
If I had a questionnaire for a witch coming to speak to the class, what are some questions I would want to ask?
Where do you live?  What is it like to be a witch in that city?  Cincinnati versus Boston.  Big city versus small town? How did you train?  Do you consider what you do a talent or a skill?  How did you learn it if it's a skill?  School? Family? If it's a talent, how did you find out? 

What kinds of friends do you have?  What do you call them?  Normals?  Folks? Humans? Are there other kinds of "special" people in your world?  Vampires? Werewolves?  Pixies?  Do you all get along?  Do you work together or do you just live alongside each other?  How to you keep your powers from taking over your life? 

Do you hide your skills and powers?  Why?  What or whom are you afraid of? Are there witch hunters in your world? 

So many questions that can be answered through the reading.  The variety of main characters, craft practitioners, and the contexts they practice in are enough to suggest a second level class.  Oh, wait. That's what the authors do in creating their characters and the worlds they live in. 

Now that I am (almost) finished paperwork, I will get to do some revealing, answer some of these questions.  OH, and I will have a couple of non-fiction books to share so we all can play along.  Meanwhile, what do you think?  Is a charm a learned skill or something you are born with?  What does it mean to be "charming"?  Are you?  Have you been?

Be happy and well!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Review of Mary Buckham's "Invisible Prison"

Today, I have the pleasure of reviewing Mary Buckham's novella, "Invisible Prison".

INVISIBLE PRISON, the Alex Noziak Novella that starts off the Invisible Recruit series is now available!

Magic is the last gift Alex Noziak wants but she must embrace it to gain her freedom. Alex Noziak, part-witch, part-shaman is dumped into the middle of four hostile non-human females and expected to train with them as a team to protect humans from preternatural threats. Prison never looked so good in comparison.

 Worldbuilding: As the market is saturated with pretty much every single different type of world or the idea has already been done, Miss Buckham found a way of putting a unique spin on the world. In Invisible Prison, the paranormal beings hide their abilities and powers from those of the humans. There are witches, vampires, shifters, psychics, people that disappear and pretty much any variation that you can think of with paranormal characters. In this story, the government is putting together a task force of paranormals with different powers to protect the humans and their own from other paranormals. This worldbuilding was wonderfully well-thought out and done.

Characters: The heroine is Alex Noziak, a witch that has been dumped in jail after using her magic to save her shape shifting brother and incidentally causing the death of another shape shifter. Instead of blowing the whistle on the paranormal world, she eats her secret and goes to jail where she doesn't make friends and nearly winds up dead. Alex is a spunky, tough, sarcastic character that does show sympathy and empathy for the underdog. I loved the tone and spunk of her voice. The secondary characters are also a nice background to uncover more of the worldbuilding and Alex. I especially loved Vaughn Munro and her princess-type, but tough as nails personality. There are lots of great story options for future books involving other point-of-views if Miss Buckham opts to go that direction.

Pros & Cons: This was only a teaser, just a novella to get readers interested in the series to get into Book One, Invisible Magic Book. It was a fast and very entertaining read with high stakes and just generally great writing. Pros, are pretty much everything. I loved the book and will definitely be picking up the next in the series. As for cons, I can't really think of anything. Everything was great, although me being a romance junkie, I missed the romance thread. The story is Urban Fantasy, so romance wasn't involved, but still a great read.

Fresh Factor: The concept was very fresh and very interesting. Miss Buckham uses the standard paranormals - vampires, witches, shifters, but also creates some of her own paranormal variety, people that can disappear. She also added a negative when the powers were used, which I liked and made it more realistic.

Overall: Overall, I loved this book and it has whet my appetite to read the next book, a full-length story to get more of Alex Noziak and the gang. I would give this story five stars *****. It has everything that a UF has to offer with a lot of grit and punch. I would recommend this story to anyone and pick up the first book.


She has nothing to lose, except her life.
Hidden from a world unaware of magic, a recently and only partially trained group of operatives known as the Invisible Recruits are the only ones willing to stand between mankind and those powerful preternatural factions seeking to change the balance of power and gain world domination.
To save the innocent, Alex must call upon her untested abilities, but at what cost?

Thanks for reading and please, if you have a book to recommend, let me know as my Kindle is always looking for more stories!


Friday, March 8, 2013

Naming Fantasy Characters

I’ve been hard at work during the past three weeks finishing the fourth book in my Enchanted Bookstore Legends series, Staurolite. Creating names for characters is not my favorite part of the writing process. It usually means endless searching instead of writing. Usually, when I create my outline for the book, I create a bank of names that feel right for the particular fantasy world. I consider the sound of names important in world-building.

While in the flow of writing, I dislike stopping my rhythm to search for a name. But there are pesky characters who jump up and demand a bigger role than I had originally allotted, and expect a more unique moniker than one from my preselected bank. 

Either way, through the years, I’ve located a few useful websites to help me create fantasy character names. Listed below are my favorites. These sites have helped me name many characters. I especially like the two fantasy name generators and the elvin name generator.

Fantasy Name Generator:

Downloadable Fantasy Name Generator from Fantasy Factor

Elvin Name Generator:

Elfin Names:

Dragon Names:

Fairy Names and Meanings:

Wolf Names:

Celtic Mythology Names:

Celtic Pet Names:

Magic Names for Cats:

Do you have any good sources for fantasy character names to add to my list?
~ ~ ~
Marsha A. Moore is a writer of fantasy romance. The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing. Read her ENCHANTED BOOKSTORE LEGENDS for adventurous epic fantasy romance: Book One, SEEKING A SCRIBE, Book Two, HERITAGE AVENGED, and Book Three, LOST VOLUMES.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I finally got around to reading and reviewing Ms. Stiefvater’s book.  I’m pleased that I did because this book is a gem. 
“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die. 
Even under the brightest sun, the frigid autumn sea is all the colors of the night: dark blue and black and brown.  I watch the ever-changing patterns in the sand as it’s pummeled by countless hooves.
They run the horses on the beach, a pale road between the black water and the chalk cliffs.  It is never safe, but it’s never so dangerous as today, race day.”
The first line reeled me in, the next two paragraphs spun me around, and I was caught in Stiefvater’s net.  You would think the story is about the races, horses running on the beach, but that is only an event.  I admit it’s a big event, but it’s only the backdrop to the real story.
The main story centers around the love of family, friends and budding young love, relationships that are beginning, or ending or long gone, and the passion of dreams.  But, pulling all of that together is the willingness to sacrifice all, for love, whether it be for man or beast.
Lordy, lordy, tears came when I didn’t expect it to and this book and it’s characters will stay with me for a long while. 
Stiefvater created a world colored in grey, highlighted by the colors of gold, rust and brown.  The small island of Thisby where the horse races take place has a timeless and weathered feeling to it.  For me, it was a place to visit but I don’t think I would want to stay.
Puck is Kate’s nickname and I wondered about that. When I think of Puck, I think of Midsummer’s Night Dream and the mischievous Puck in the play.  I didn’t see Kate as roguish, more on the lines as straightforward, courageous and outspoken.  I thought that the nickname could be a metaphor for the hard disk played in hockey and her racing in the dangerous Scorpio races with her small horse surrounded by the big, wild, blood lusting seahorses.
Sean the young man in the story, is not the usual heart throbs found in teen stories, nevertheless he stole my heart.  Here’s Puck’s description of him:
“And then I see him.  A dark-haired boy who is made of all corners.  He is standing next in line by the counter, silent and still in his blue-black jacket, his arms folded across his chest.  He looks out of place and wild in here: expression sharp, collar turned up against the back of his neck, hair still windblown from the beach.  He is not looking at anyone or away from anyone; he’s just standing there looking at the ground, his mind obviously far, far away from the butcher’s.  Everyone else is being crowded and jostled, but no one crowds or jostles him, though they don’t seem to avoid him either.  It’s like he’s just not in the same place as the rest of us.”
I want to mention, Corr, the red-haired seahorse as a character.  He is driven by a natural passion to want to return to the sea but is pulled back because of his love for Sean.  This is a relationship built on trust, respect and a common love for the sea.  
Overall excellent writing, plot and characters.
The pacing was a bit slow while Stiefvater builds your relationship with the characters.  I think that’s only a problem if you are use to very fast pacing.  I found it refreshing and enjoyed it.  I believe it shaped the phenomenal impact at the end. 
I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t mind characters staying with them long after finishing the story. 
Till next time,

Monday, March 4, 2013

Urban Fantasy Review: Vicious Circle by Linda Robertson

Vicious Circle by Linda Robertson: Adult Urban Fantasy, 1st in a series

A girl's got to do what a girl's got to do....
Being a witch doesn't pay the bills, but Persephone Alcmedi gets by between reading Tarot cards, writing her syndicated newspaper column, and kenneling werewolves in the basement when the moon is full -- even if witches aren't supposed to mingle with wolves. 

She really reaches the end of her leash, though, when her grandmother gets kicked out of the nursing home and Seph finds herself in the doghouse about some things she's written. Then her werewolf friend Lorrie is murdered...and the high priestess of an important coven offers Seph big money to destroy the killer, a powerful vampire named Goliath Kline. Seph is a tough girl, but this time she bites off more than she can chew. 

She needs a little help from her friends -- werewolf friends. One of those friends, Johnny, the motorcycle-riding lead singer for the techno-metal-Goth band Lycanthropia, has a crush on her. And while Seph has always been on edge around this 6'2" leather-clad hunk, she's starting to realize that although their attraction may be dangerous, nothing could be as lethal as the showdown that awaits them.

World: This is a UF where the greater world is aware of the supernatural beings, which is always fun. The only ones that make an appearance in Vicious Circle are vampires, werewolves and witches (fairies are mentioned), and all seem to follow the standard rules of their type in the genre, with just a few minor tweaks. The protagonist, Persephone "Seph" Alcmedi, knows next to nothing about these creatures, and even seems to have a sub-par education regarding her own kind, the witches, so we learn about them along with her. The explanations feel forced at times, and I wish we got to experience these revelations as the action unfolds with more exposure to the general populace. There's a great scene where we see a couple of cops react to learning that an injured woman is a werewolf, and how they treat her in response is far more effective than any recitation of facts. That said, the history and politics of this world are intriguing and definitely worth exploring more.

Characters: I liked Seph and her POV was easy to relate to. She also gets extra points for being a columnist instead of the typical tough-girl jobs (cop, assassin, P.I., etc.) of so many UF heroines. However, she does represent several of the cliche UF tropes, including the absentee/dead parents, being "The Chosen One", and becoming the object of everyone's desires, especially to her two supernatural suitors (yes, I see another love triangle forming). But Seph is a good, caring person, smart, not overly snarky, and a brave protector with room to grow as a character. Some of the secondary characters are unmemorable, but the standout is definitely Seph's Nana, who manages to play both mentor and comic relief. Then there's the 'vampire-wizard' aspect, which is something I haven't seen before and could be really cool in the series.

Pros & Cons: My favorite aspect of the book was the invented mythology, rooted in ancient Africa, the Middle East and Europe, that is unique to this world and the witches in particular. The disappointing part for me was the general lack of diversity regarding both characters and location. We're stuck in Seph's rural house for way too much of the story, and there isn't a single POC or alternative lifestyle represented (except the generic supernatural variety, of course). Seph herself is of Greek and (apparently) Egyptian descent, but judging by the cover art and what description is provided, that heritage is largely ignored as far as her looks and behavior are concerned. The novel is set in Cleveland, which could be a super fresh urban environment for the genre, but it's a missed opportunity.

Fresh Factor: I really loved the attention to detail where Seph's magic was concerned. It was based on Wiccan practices and seemed very genuine (although I'm no expert, but I'd bet the author either has first-hand experience or did a lot of research). The rituals and spells flowed easily and it almost feels like you're involved as it progresses. Very cool.

Overall: Vicious Circle is a solid debut urban fantasy novel, and I give it 3.5 stars. It's not especially dark or gory, and while the plot is entertaining, it's also kind of thin, making it a quick, light read. For my tastes it could have used more action and had more of an edge. I'll be interested in reading further titles in the series to see how Seph breaks out of her shell to transform into a strong, confident witch and leader in the supernatural community.

If anyone would like to recommend more 'witchy' titles for me to read for the Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge, list them in the comments.

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