The Keeper of Crows by Casey Bond

I had the pleasure of meeting Casey Bond at Utopiacon. She spoke on a panel, and I was so impressed I wanted to read her books. The Keeper of the Crows was a unique, imaginative story. I enjoyed it, but there was something missing for me.

34644925.jpgCarmen Kennedy is a spoiled brat from Beverly Hills with a chip on her shoulder and a cocaine addiction to match. Using drugs to suppress reality, her life is more than she can stomach most days. All she wants is to disappear, and on one fateful night, her wish is granted.

There is a world that exists just beyond the fabric of our own. When Carmen is dragged there against her will, her hopelessness seems to disappear, replaced by a determination to survive. The Keeper of Crows is charged with guarding Carmen, but is safety a possibility in a world so desolate? Can love blossom when danger lies in wait? Together, they fight like hell, seeming to lose more ground than they gain with each battle against the dark enemy threatening to tear them apart. Can love keep her safe? Can it give her the strength she needs?

When the lines between life and death, reality and dream become blurred, who will save the souls trapped in the spaces between Heaven and Hell? Who will save Carmen’s only love, The Keeper of Crows?

I was drawn in with the very first line. From the moment Carmen calls her father the Antichrist for sending her to rehab, I was sold. She was a take-no-sh#t, abrasive protagonist. She was bad news and she knew it. Her character arc throughout the novel is what kept me reading. I liked her snarky attitude and I enjoyed watching her change and mature as she worked to overcome obstacles. She was a take charge kind of gal.

The story line and world-building was different from anything I had read before. It reminded me a bit of Angelfall by Susan Ee. I enjoyed the mind-reading banter and the crows. The biblical history with the veil was a nice touch. It was historical without being preachy. I enjoyed the author’s interpretation of heaven, hell and purgatory.

The one piece that was missing for me was the slow burn. The romantic relationship between Carmen and the Keeper moved a bit too quickly for my taste. I could tell the author was attempting to slowly build their relationship – the enemies-to-lovers feel – but it felt too much like insta-love. I’m not sure what it was but it felt rushed. Maybe it was the pacing? If the pacing didn’t feel so forced, I feel like the sacrifices they made for each other would have meant more. In addition, I didn’t really feel anything. I was a detached, third-party observer. I felt more for Gabriel than the keeper.

The story ends with an ominous feel and I want to see what happens next, but I’m not burning to get my hands on book two. Overall, I liked it but I would have liked to have seen more depth in the character development and relationships.

STARS: 3 out of 5

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Until It Fades by K.A. Tucker

Until If Fades by K.A. Tucker was a delightful surprise. It wasn’t what I expected at all.

31208654Twenty-four-year-old truck stop waitress and single mother Catherine Wright has simple goals: to give her five-year-old daughter a happy life and to never again be the talk of the town in Balsam, Pennsylvania: population two thousand outside of tourist season.

And then one foggy night, on a lonely road back from another failed attempt at a relationship, Catherine saves a man’s life. It isn’t until after the police have arrived that Catherine realizes exactly who it is she has saved: Brett Madden, hockey icon and media darling.

Catherine has already had her fifteen minutes of fame and the last thing she wants is to have her past dragged back into the spotlight, only this time on a national stage. So she hides her identity. It works.

For a time.

But when she finds the man she saved standing on her doorstep, desperate to thank her, all that changes. What begins as an immediate friendship quickly turns into something neither of them expected. Something that Catherine isn’t sure she can handle; something that Catherine is afraid to trust.

Because how long can an extraordinary man like Brett be interested in an ordinary woman like Catherine…before the spark fades?

I am a sucker for a hockey sports new adult romance. I eat those suckers up like candy. I mean, Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy, Toni Aleo…I can go on and on. There’s just something about hunky hockey guys and the girls who love them that’s the perfect formula for nighttime entertainment. So, I was super excited to hear that Tucker had written one. However, it’s not what I expected.

Tucker’s take on a New Adult Hockey romance is slower, more realistic in that she spends more time in the details than the typical formula. In fact, I was surprised how much of the book was the “before” they sparked a romance. There was a lot of background and character building. Even though it was about more of the mundane things in life, I never got bored or felt the pace slowed. I could have read about Catherine’s mundane life all day.

Even though this book is the typical trope-y Cinderella story, where poor girl meets handsome rich guy who solves all her problems with his wealth, the story had eccentric qualities that didn’t match the formula I was talking about earlier. For example, it didn’t have the pivotal “I love you” scene nor the expected sex scenes. This book was definitely more sweet and wholesome than the typical New Adult novel. It had unexpected depth that kept me reading late into the night.

Despite the unexpectedness, I didn’t miss anything that I expected to be present in the story. It left a big ole smile on my face and it’s a must read to anyone who’s a sucker for the classic boy meets girl, boy saves girl story.

STARS: 5 out of 5

Priceless by Shannon Mayer

Priceless by Shannon Mayer was a great start to a promising urban fantasy series.

18048164“My name is Rylee and I am a Tracker.” 

When children go missing, and the Humans have no leads, I’m the one they call. I am their last hope in bringing home the lost ones. I salvage what they cannot.

I’m on the FBI’s wanted list.

I have a werewolf for a pet, a Witch of a best friend, and have no need for anyone else in my life.

But when a salvage starts to spin out of control, help comes from a most unexpected direction. One that is dangerously dark, brooding, and doesn’t know a thing about the supernatural.

One whose kisses set me on fire.

I met Shannon Mayer at Utopiacon 2017 and she was so nice and encouraging. I listened to a reading and I knew I needed to read her stuff and I’m so glad I did.

Urban fantasy has a special place in my heart because it was my “gateway” drug from horror to fantasy fiction. There is just something about a badass heroine fighting crime or bad guys with kickass weapons and dangerous friends.

Priceless had everything you need for the perfect UF formula, but it had unique twists. I particularly enjoyed Mayer’s take on werewolves, where they are less hot alpha males and more man’s best friend. The main character, Rylee, was cool with awesome tracker skills. I loved that she was a bleeding heart, protecting her werewolf friend and working to find missing kids.

The most delightful surprise of Priceless was the blossoming relationship between Rylee and FBI agent O’shea. The tension between them was like electricity popping off the page. I’m a sucker for the forbidden relationship trope. Their relationship was built at a natural, believable pace and didn’t go all the way in one book. There is still plenty of growth and I’m glad that there is more room for the relationship to mature in the next book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. If you like Patricia Briggs or Kim Harrison, give Shannon Mayer a try. I’m definitely going to continue the series.

STARS: 4 out of 5

Mini-Reviews: Hidden Legacy Series, Trust, Cake and Breath of Fire

Hello world! I’m back after an unintentional hiatus.

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My sister got married. I got the flu. And, ya know, decided reading and watching TV was more fun than writing blog posts. But I’m back after a much needed pep talk.

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I’ve read so many books over the past month so I’ve decided to do some mini-reviews right out of the gate and do a little catching up. Here goes!

The Hidden Legacy Series by Ilona Andrews

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Woo! I’m still fanning myself after this scorcher of a romance. I devoured all three of these books back-to-back, and if you’re interested in reading them, I’d recommend you make time for all three because they are that addicting. I’m a huge fan of Ilona Andrews but I’d argue this series is her best yet. The magic. The mayhem. The hot as hell male lead Mad Rogan. Nevada is a kick ass heroine with a cool-as-hell family, including her badass grandmother. Just read it, people. If you like Urban Fantasy, you won’t regret it.

STARS: 5 out of 5

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Trust by Kylie Scott

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Kylie Scott is an auto-buy author for me. I LOVE her work, so when Trust came out and it didn’t meet my expectations, I was beyond disappointed. It had so much promise. The premise was intriguing, her main character showed love to curvy girls everywhere, and the love interest was a complex bad boy. Unfortunately, the story was a bit far-fetched and I didn’t buy it. The plot built but the climax never came. The story fell flat for me. I am so disappointed I didn’t like it more.

STARS: 3 out of 5

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Cake by J. Bengtsson

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I took a chance on Cake after reading rave reviews and downloaded the audiobook, because let’s face it, I’d never knowingly read a story named “Cake.” Granted, I did end up loving the inspiration for the title. This story was such a surprise. It was the sweetest most engaging love story. I hung on every word. However, this novel had a kryptonite, and it was pacing. At times, the story was perfect and I was enthralled swooning and smiling, and then the story would drag and I’d have to force myself through. And with it being an audiobook, it’s hard to force yourself to listen through the slow, boring parts. It took me way longer than normal to listen to this entire novel. However, it had enough good parts to outweigh the bad. I’m hoping this author pays more attention to pacing in her future novels, because her writing and story-crafting show promise.

STARS: 3.5 out of 5

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Breath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

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The Kingmaker Chronicles is a fantasy romance that shouldn’t be missed. Where has Amanda Bouchet been all my life? I devoured this sequel and was left squalling for the third and final book that won’t be out til 2018. Cat and Griffin are #relationshipgoals, and the magic and setting had me daydreaming about this world long after the last page had been read. It was exciting adventure that left my blood pumping in more ways than one.

STARS: 5 out of 5

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A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet is an intoxicating fantasy adventure. I haven’t felt so enchanted by magic since Harry Potter.

27015399.jpgCatalia “Cat” Fisa is a powerful clairvoyant known as the Kingmaker. This smart-mouthed soothsayer has no interest in her powers and would much rather fly under the radar, far from the clutches of her homicidal mother. But when an ambitious warlord captures her, she may not have a choice…

Griffin is intent on bringing peace to his newly conquered realm in the magic-deprived south. When he discovers Cat is the Kingmaker, he abducts her. But Cat will do everything in her power to avoid her dangerous destiny and battle her captor at every turn. Although up for the battle, Griffin would prefer for Cat to help his people willingly, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to coax her…even if that means falling in love with her.

A Promise of Fire wildly surpassed my expectations. Long after I turned the last page, I couldn’t get over how amazing it was. It left me in a fog, my mouth hung open in shock as I repeated “wow” over and over again. It was that good people. Here’s why.

Cat was an amazing heroine. She checked all the boxes of a badass fighter with her wicked knife skills, witty comebacks and impressive magic abilities. However, she was so amazing because she had this vulnerability to her. She was afraid. Her story was so heartbreaking and the juxtaposition between her arrogant confidence and fearful vulnerability was a delicate balance that made Cat such a relatable character.

Beta Sinta is one of the best male heroes I’ve come across in a while. He, too, was a badass fighter who’s deadly with a sword and always has a trick up his sleeve. However, who he is inside was so endearing and swoon worthy. He was sweet, honorable, loyal. I wanted more and more of him. He was the kind of alpha male that’s realistic because he fought for those he loved not for himself.

I fell in love with the world Bouchet built. The kingdoms, the caste systems, the battle for power, the magical ties to the gods. It was all so perfectly lovely and entertaining. I particularly liked all the run-in’s Cat had with a certain Sea God. The magic was mesmerizing. With every turn of the page, there was something new, glorious and dangerous to discover, devour and kill. Both Cat and Beta Sinta fight with no remorse once their loved ones are threatened.

I fell in love with this story. I drank it in with impatient gulps, like a man dying of thirst in the desert. It was so good. The romance had me swooning. The action had my blood pumping and the secrets (most of which have yet to be revealed) kept me flipping the pages.

If you like Fantasy and Romance, this is the book for you. Excuse me while I go devour book two.

STARS: 5 out of 5

The Fallen World Trilogy by Laura Thalassa

It’s been awhile since I’ve been sucked so wholly into a story, and The Fallen World Trilogy by Laura Thalassa was an addicting read.

21422225In the future, the world is at war.

For the last decade, King Lazuli of the Eastern Empire has systematically taken over the world. No one knows much about him other than a series of impossible facts: he cannot die, he has not aged since the conflict began, and he wants to rule the world.

All Serenity Freeman has known is bloodshed. War has taken away her mother, her home, her safety. As the future emissary of the Western United Nations, the last autonomous region of the globe, she is responsible for forging alliances where she can.

Surrender is on the horizon. The king can taste it; Serenity feels it deep within her bones. There is no other option. Now the two must come face to face. For Serenity, that means confronting the man who’s taken everything from her. For the king, it means meeting the one woman he can’t conquer. But when they meet, something happens. Cruelty finds redemption.

Only in war, everything comes with a price. Especially love.

Recommended by @Twinbookmarks, I decided to give it a try based on their gushing, and they were absolutely right. This book is a fast-paced, action-packed, hurts-so-good romance story. Half-way into the first book, I immediately purchased the rest of the series. Don’t let the covers fool you. This is a great read by an indie author.

Let’s start with Serenity and Montes’ relationship. Never have I read a more excruciatingly delicious, slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers trope. Their relationship was so toxic yet engulfing that I can only describe it as dying a slow death of arsenic poisoning, where it’s included in your favorite nightly tea. It’s both indulgent and destructive. The love and hate pull between them was dynamic, magnetic and most of all entrancing. I Could. Not. Stop. Reading.

This story isn’t all romance. In fact, there’s less sexy times with even less details than I usually expect from a romance novel. HOWEVER, the action in this story was relentless. Serenity is one badass chick. In every book, she’s taking down bad guys like it’s just another day in the life. Her targeted deadliness is balanced by her innate yearning for justice and peace. She’ll do anything to save her people. ANYTHING. That includes a bullet hole through the eyes with absolutely no remorse.

The author created a world with very high stakes. The post-apocalyptic world was both realistic and devastating. Every day is life or death. Every day one must sacrifice to help those in need. I’ve steered clear of post-apocalyptic novels as of late because I was tired of the same old, same old, but this world really stands apart – mainly that we get to see it from the dictator’s point of view. The cruelty of the King and the determination of Serenity drive this story forward like a high-speed car chase.

My favorite book of the three had to be the second book Queen of Traitors. The first book The Queen of All that Dies was a great introduction, but the depravity of both the King and Serenity is unleashed in book two. And the finale, The Queen of all the Lives, was a satisfying end to this whirlwind of a story.

If you like action-packed adventure in a post-apocalyptic world with badass heroines and a dark and twisted love interest, this book is for you.

STARS: 5 out of 5

Nine Minutes by Beth Flynn

Nine Minutes by Beth Flynn messed me up. It tore the flesh from my body and left me nothing but vital organs and bones. From the very first page, I was mesmerized by the writing. Flynn’s words left me hypnotized, so much so that by the end I felt like I too suffered from a third-person Stockholm syndrome. I don’t know who I loved or hated. I just felt so strongly – too strongly – about all the characters that I was left raw and vulnerable. It was so messed up – the lies, the secrets, the torn feelings. It was all too much. I still don’t know how to feel.

23253863On May 15, 1975, fifteen-year-old Ginny Lemon is abducted from a convenience store in Fort Lauderdale by a member of one of the most notorious and brutal motorcycle gangs in South Florida.

From that moment on, her life is forever changed. She gets a new name, a new identity and a new life in the midst of the gang’s base on the edge of the Florida Everglades—a frightening, rough and violent world much like the swamps themselves, where everyone has an alias and loyalty is tantamount to survival.

And at the center of it all is the gang’s leader, Grizz: massive, ruggedly handsome, terrifying and somehow, when it comes to Ginny, tender. She becomes his obsession and the one true love of his life.

So begins a tale of emotional obsession and manipulation, of a young woman ripped from everything she knows and forced to lean on the one person who provides attention, affection and care: her captor. Precocious and intelligent, but still very much a teenager, Ginny struggles to adapt to her existence, initially fighting and then coming to terms with her captivity.

Will she be rescued? Will she escape? Will she get out alive—or get out at all? Part psychological thriller, part coming-of-age novel, filled with mystery, romance and unexpected turns, Nine Minutes takes readers into the world of one motorcycle gang and inside the heart of a young girl, whose abduction brought about its fall.

I picked up this book because it had really good reviews. I normally hate books set in the recent past but I love a good biker book. Nine Minutes was like the worst side of The Sons of Anarchy, the tv show (which I miss dearly). It was the most non-romantic romance story I’ve ever read, yet it was still touching and heartfelt and physical. I don’t know how else to put it. I both loved and hated every single character. They made dumb decisions, committed evil acts, yet held this tiny molecule of redemption.

This book was like a puzzle. I struggled to put the pieces together and it wasn’t until the end, when the big picture was complete before me, that I realized it was a web of deceit that was so evil and brilliant, but yet to be completed.

The book had a strange ending. Some things were buttoned up but it left me with more questions and hope—a sick kind of hope where even the dead may be resurrected in the next book – dead that deserved to be dead ten times over. I don’t know how to rate this book. I’m still a little dazed. Flynn has a way of making you feel for evil characters in a way that I’ve never experienced, probably because no one admits to evil intentions and motives – leaving everything in a mucky spectrum of grey.