Thursday, September 30, 2021

#Review - In the Company of Witches by Auralee Wallace #Mystery #Paranormal

Series: Evenfall Witches B&B Mystery (#1)
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Mystery / Supernatural

When a guest dies in the B&B she helps her aunts run, a young witch must rely on some good old-fashioned investigating to clear her aunt’s name in this magical and charming new cozy mystery.

For four hundred years, the Warren witches have used their magic to quietly help the citizens of the sleepy New England town of Evenfall thrive. There’s never been a problem they couldn’t handle. But then Constance Graves—a local known for being argumentative and demanding—dies while staying at the bed and breakfast Brynn Warren maintains with her aunts. At first, it seems like an accident…but it soon becomes clear that there’s something more sinister at work, and Aunt Nora is shaping up to be the prime suspect.

There’s nothing Brynn wants more than to prove Nora’s innocence, and it hurts her to know that even two years ago that might have been easier. Brynn, after all, is a witch of the dead—a witch who can commune with ghosts. Ghosts never remember much about their deaths, but Constance might remember something about her life that would help crack the case. But Brynn hasn’t used her powers since her husband died, and isn’t even sure she still can. Brynn will just have to hope that her aunts’ magic and her own investigative skills will lead her to answers—and maybe back to the gift she once thought herself ready to give up forever.

In the Company of Witches, by Auralee Wallace, is the first installment in the authors Evenfall Witches B&B series. The story is set in a sleepy little New England town called Evenfall where 31-year-old Brynn Warren runs Ivywood Hollow B&B with her aunts Nora and Izzy. Ever since Brynn lost her husband, she's withdrawn from the world. She's barely left her B&B, she no longer visits the bookstore that she loves so much, and her magic has gotten to the point where it going rogue. 
When Constance Graves, a visitor to the B&B, is found dead after hitting her head, the B&B, Brynn, Nora, and Izzy become suspects. Nora was overheard by a busy body neighbor saying she would love to kill that woman after all the nonsense Constance put the three women through. Nora, Izzy, and Brynn are all witches. Izzy is a kitchen witch, while Nora is a garden witch. Until the loss of her husband Adam, Brynn was a friend of the other side aka Witch of the Dead able to see and talk to the recently departed and hold departure ceremonies in their honor. Brynn's uncle Gideon can see both the past and the future but he also experienced horrifying losses that has kept him indoors.

With Constance dead, Brynn finds that avoiding magic comes with a cost of not knowing what Constance saw, or who she was killed by. Some spirits tend to carry what happened to them before passing it on to others. For 400 years, the Warren witches have used their magic to quietly help the citizens of the sleepy New England town of Evenfall thrive. There’s never been a problem they couldn’t handle. Until the Graves family starts asking too many questions, and the town begins to wonder if the three women are the cause of the towns recent problems including vandalism and flowers in the town dying.
There are some really curious characters secondary characters in this book from Mr. Henderson, the next door neighbor who has a key eye for the occult, to Nixie who claims to be a witch hunter, but loves Nora, to the entire discombobulated Graves clan itching to grab whatever Constance leaves behind. It is fair to say that anyone in this town could be responsible for the murder of Constance. If I were you, I would pay close attention to the characters and how righteous they get when Brynn begins to investigate outside of the police's own investigation in order to save her aunts from being found guilty.
Wallace has developed an incredibly charming cozy world, with a town that feels like Stars Hollow, aunts who have the delightful energy of the Spellman's, a mischievous crow familiar (named Dog!), and a protagonist with real emotional depth without being too heavy. Despite having magic at her disposal, Brynn will heavily rely on traditional mystery-solving methods, so this book will appeal to traditional cozy mystery readers; the emotional depth, great worldbuilding, and brilliant characters will draw in magic-loving readers as well.

Chapter 1

I’m going to kill her.“

The corner of my mouth twitched, but I kept my gaze on my book. I was very cozy curled up in the green velvet sofa by the fire. I did not want to encourage the tear my aunt was working herself up to.

”I never should have agreed to this,“ she went on, completely ignoring the fact that I was ignoring her. She was also ignoring the annoyed cat on the chaise lounge behind her, thumping his tail. He was trying to sleep. ”You know I can’t tolerate the vast majority of people for longer than a day or two-“

I would have said a couple of hours tops, but who was I to quibble?

”-but to let that woman stay for five days? Madness.“

I reached for my mug of Honeybush orange tea. It was very soothing. I probably should have made a pot to share. And I don’t know if I would call it madness. The woman in question was paying for her stay while her historic home was undergoing some much-needed renovations, and when you run a B&B you have to expect that on occasion you are going to have demanding guests. Although some guests really were more demanding than others.

Case in point, Constance Graves.

Constance had been staying with us at Ivywood Hollow the past week, and it hadn’t taken long for us to discover it was not going to be an easy stay. Evenfall, Connecticut, was a small town, so we knew Constance could be demanding, but we really hadn’t been concerned. After all, we had always been able to win over hard-to-please guests in the past-we were very good at what we did-but Constance turned out to be a special case.

To begin, she insisted there be no other guests staying at the B&B while she was there. It was a completely reasonable request given she was willing to pay for all the rooms, and it seemed like it would make our lives a whole lot easier. Less people, less work, right? Not so. Not. So.

Personally, I knew we were in for trouble when I showed her where she’d be staying. The Rosewater Room. It’s gorgeous. Four-poster bed. Floor-to-ceiling windows. Silk upholstered divan that was perfect for reclining when life became too much. What Constance saw, however, was the white Egyptian cotton sheets peeking out from under the damask comforter on her bed. They were too white. She was afraid of the glare they might give off in the morning sun. When I changed them to a lovely taupe, she found the shade a bit too muddy. I was able to get away with a blush-colored set, but I’m pretty sure that was only because she couldn’t think of an objection to throw at them quickly enough.

And it didn’t end there.

The meals were always too hot. Or too cold. Too spicy. Or too bland. And all these complaints usually came before she had even lifted her fork, if she lifted it at all. Oh! And her room temperature. We could never get that right. Seventy-four degrees at Ivywood Hollow Bed-and-

Breakfast did not feel like the seventy-four degrees she was used to in her house. My absolute favorite, though, was when she told me she found the antique blue inlay of the fireplace to be a little garish. I asked her if she’d like to change rooms, given she was paying for them all, but she told me with a drawn-out sigh that she’d suffer through.

I couldn’t help but feel for her though. She was obviously unhappy, and someone that unhappy deserved a little leeway.

”I could push her off the balconette.“

Or not.

I smiled at my aunt Nora. She couldn’t help herself. She was fiery by nature. Constance had just asked for the flower arrangement in her room to be replaced because the fresh-cut hydrangeas were a little much, and it was a miracle Nora hadn’t finished her off then and there. Most people had the good sense not to trifle with my aunt and her plants.

Nora, along with her sister Izzy and I, ran the B&B together, but she was the one who took care of the gardens and general ambiance of the bed-and-breakfast. It was amazing how she could take the simplest of places and transform it into something warm and welcoming, especially given the fact that warm and welcoming were probably two words that had never been used to describe her. When she walked down the street, usually dressed in black with her red hair flowing, you’d find at least two or three kids following behind. It was a game of bravery for them. Nora was a lot like a tiger in a rickety cage, beautiful to look at and dangerous. Those kids knew at any moment she might turn and lunge at them, giving them the thrill of a lifetime. Not that she ever really lunged. The turn was enough to send them off in peals of terrified laughter.

”I don’t think pushing anyone off of anything will be necessary, Nora,“ a voice came from the top of the stairs. ”I believe I finally have Constance settled for the night. She just needed a little help with the bath water.“

My aunt Izzy came down the stairs, tucking some wayward strawberry blond curls back up into the loose bun on her head. Izzy did the cooking and baking at Ivywood Hollow, and she was fabulous at it. She knew it too. Izzy could get anyone to do just about anything with her culinary creations. Thankfully, she was also just about the sweetest woman to have ever lived, given it wasn’t uncommon for guests to promise their firstborns for another bite of dessert. Izzy sat herself down beside me on the sofa and patted my leg companionably.

”Oh, you think you have her settled, do you? I’ll believe that when I hear it,“ Nora drawled. ”And by the way, I will never forgive you for giving that woman a bell.“

My smile widened. That’s right. Izzy had given Constance a bell. Our esteemed guest had found all the stairs of the house difficult to manage, and she felt she required a way to get ahold of us should she need anything. I didn’t really think the stairs were that much of an issue for her, but Constance needed a lot of things, so if she had to go up and down the stairs every time she needed one of those things, well, that would be a lot. For an Olympic athlete it would be a lot.

”Did you hear it ringing last night at 3:00 a.m.?“ Nora asked me. ”No, of course you didn’t. Tucked away in your little nest.“

I lived in the loft above the old carriage house, now garage, of the B&B, unlike my aunts whose rooms were in the house. The small loft certainly wasn’t as beautiful or as impressive as any of the spaces inside Ivywood Hollow, but it was cozy, and I had come to believe a little bit of privacy was good for the soul.

”She needed me to fluff her pillow. At three in the morning. Oh! I just realized I could have smothered her with it, and this would all be over.“

”Evanora,“ Izzy chided with a laugh. As the older sister, she was the only one permitted to use Nora’s full name. It wasn’t a harsh reprimand though. We both knew Nora was just being Nora. ”What a terrible thing to say. And, really, she’s a lovely woman. She just knows what she likes.“

”Don’t be ridiculous,“ Nora replied. ”She’s a horrible woman, and you know it. Brynn and I were just discussing how much we’d both like to strangle her.“

”What?“ I asked in the high-pitched voice of the falsely accused. I straightened up on the sofa, which wasn’t easy because it was ridiculously plush. ”We’d both like to strangle her?“ I was pretty sure Nora had had that particular conversation all by herself.

”She finally speaks.“ Nora collapsed dramatically back against the chaise lounge and draped her arm over her forehead. The cat resting above her peeked one eye open, probably trying to determine if my aunt was actually settling down or just resting momentarily before she worked herself up again. ”And yes, you might not have said the words, but I could tell you were thinking them.“

”I didn’t realize mind reading was one of your many talents.“ I took another sip of my tea.

”What else can I do? You’ve become so quiet. You’re practically a-“

Nora caught herself before she said the word out loud, but it was too late.


A softness came to her face as she met my eye. ”Brynn, I’m sorry. That was insensitive.“

”It’s okay. I know.“ I gave her a weak smile. How could I be upset? Maybe she shouldn’t have said it, but she wasn’t exactly wrong. I had changed a lot. My life had fallen apart over a year ago now, and I wasn’t the person I used to be.

”Let’s just enjoy what’s left of the evening, shall we?“ Izzy said, giving my knee a squeeze. ”It’s the perfect fall night to be snug inside by the fire.“

I smiled, grateful to let the subject drop. My aunts had been expressing more and more concern about my well-being lately, and I didn’t feel up to yet another discussion about how I was doing. Besides, this was very cozy, the three of us listening to the wind whistle outside while the firelight danced over the dark honeyed walls of the parlor. It was a nice moment.

”When was the last time you tried a little mascara?“

And the moment was over.

I slid my gaze over to Nora.

”What? You have such beautiful eyes. Do you think everybody has that shade of green? And what about your hair?“ She swirled a finger in the direction of the black braid that hung over my shoulder. ”Is this style permanent now?“

”Evanora, leave the girl alone,“ Izzy said. ”Now’s not the time. We’ve all had a long day.“

I shot her a thankful smile.


My smile dropped.

”Since the subject has been raised, we should discuss it. You know as well as I do, Sister, that this situation isn’t healthy. And we’re all pretending it isn’t happening. She doesn’t want to help. She doesn’t want to do that other job she used to go on about. All she wants to do is hide herself away here in the house doing chores. And, again, just look at her.“

I frowned.

”What? You look terrible.“

I didn’t look that terrible. Nora’s expectations for everyday fashion were child-beauty-pageant high.

”Soon enough she’ll be up in the attic with Gideon. Is that what you want?“

The cat behind Nora finally gave up on getting rest anywhere near my aunt. He dropped to the floor with a thud and padded over to the foot of the stairs.

”Oh, see now,“ Izzy scolded. ”You’ve upset Faustus.“

Faustus, the B&B’s resident Maine coon cat, was a lovely large beast. He was covered in black fur except for a faint frosting of gray across his face, which gave him quite the dignified look. We did lose some business from visitors with allergies, but that was the price of beauty I suppose.

”I’m sure his highness will survive,“ Nora said before shooting up to a seated position. ”You have got to be kidding me!“

A half second later a bell tinkled upstairs.

”That woman is insufferable!“

A loud crack sounded from the fireplace as flames surged up the chimney.

”Calm down. Calm down,“ Izzy said, getting to her feet. ”I forgot I said I’d bring her up some chamomile tea. I’ll go get it. You get the door. It’s almost nine o’clock. I wonder who it could be?“

Before the words had left Izzy’s mouth, the doorbell rang.

Nora swept to her feet as Izzy headed for the kitchen.

”I’ve finally got it,“ Nora said, pointing a finger in the air while reaching with the other hand for the door. ”I could shove that bell down Constance’s throat. Wouldn’t that be poetic? Oh, it’s you.“

”That’s a fine way to open the door. Who are you trying to kill now?“

I stifled a laugh as a cold little wind rushed through the door along with Williams, our neighbor from across the street.

Now, I really liked Williams. I found her to be super stylish, not unlike Nora, supremely intelligent, and incredibly interesting. She had moved in ten years ago when she started teaching music history at the university-although Nora still referred to her as the new neighbor-and since that time she had become a valued member of Evenfall’s town council. I knew Izzy felt the same way about our neighbor as I did, but the rapport between Nora and Williams was a touch more contentious. Like most neighbor relationships we did have the occasional issue to work out, and Nora, unfortunately, was willing to fight to the death over each and every one them. Once a branch from one of the B&B’s many trees was blocking light to Williams’s azaleas, and she requested we prune it back. Nora was horrified. They had argued about it in the street for nearly three straight hours before Izzy was able to negotiate a peace treaty. In all honesty, though, I think both women liked sparring.

That being said, Williams’s latest complaint was proving a touch more difficult to resolve.

”I’m sorry,“ Nora said, moving to shut the door, ”but we’re very busy discussing how to murder one of our guests right now, so if you’ve come to complain about Dog, we’ll have to discuss your murder at a later date.“

”Nora!“ Izzy said, sweeping in from the dining room with a silver tea platter. ”I can’t leave you alone for a second. Is that any way to greet a guest? Come in, Williams, please. The nights are getting chilly, aren’t they?“

Williams raised a finely sculpted eyebrow at Nora before stepping past her.

”What brings you by?“ Izzy asked. ”Not that it isn’t always a pleasure to see you.“

”Don’t lie, Izzy,“ Nora said before Williams could answer. ”It’s bad for the complexion.“

Izzy ignored her. ”I was just bringing up some tea for Constance Graves, but I could always pour you a cup if you’d like.“

Williams cringed a little at Constance’s name. Evenfall really was a small town. ”That explains somebody’s bad mood.“

”What mood?“ Nora asked, shooting up to her full height again. ”I can hardly be blamed for-what in the world is going on up there?"

Just then the bell from upstairs started ringing again and then a door slammed.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

#Review - Requiem for the Dead by Victor Alvarez #Mystery #Thriller

Series: CID Agent Jacqueline Sinclair # 1
Format: Kindle, 397 pages
Release Date: March 10, 2020
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Mystery / Thriller

When Helen Chapman, the beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter of Army Chief-of-Staff for the European Command in Germany, had gone missing, her father, Brigadier General Earl Chapman, assumed she sped off on yet another one of her adventures with her boyfriend. However, hours later the body of Helen Chapman’s boyfriend was discovered by German police on the side of the road; they found a ransom letter lying on the front seat of the young man’s car.

US Army CID criminal investigator, Special Agent Jacqueline Sinclair, and DIA Agent Tom Price are assigned to take the lead in the case by her chief on request of the Provost Marshal, Agent Sinclair’s father. She knows a SIR (Serious Incident Report) already filed through channels, will attract the close attention of higher command; they would watch Sinclair every step of the way. Later, Sinclair learns that they also kidnapped three other dependent children.

Their pursuit of the kidnappers will take them straight into the heart of the military establishment where conspiracy and intrigue are commonplace . . . and where truths are seldom spoken. Worse still they uncover a more sinister and diabolical plot—a plot to set off two nuclear Smart Bombs in Pyongyang—placing the North Korean Regime and the President of the Unites States, in its crosshairs.

They find themselves deep in enemy territory and the target of highly trained killers, tasked to threaten or even to shoot to kill—whatever it takes to conceal sensitive information. Bringing justice and staying alive becomes job number one as the duo finds their skills, and their courage tested under fire.

Requiem for the Dead is the first installment in author Victor Alvarez's CID Agent Jacqueline Sinclair series. Meet CID (Criminal Investigation Division) Agent Jacqueline Sinclair stationed in Germany. She received the Silver Star and Purple Heart for actions in Afghanistan, she has a black belt in Japanese karate since the age of fourteen, she's a close quarters combat expert, counter surveillance training, proficient in covert communications, jump qualified, expert in unarmed combat, expert in small arms and automatic weapons. And, she's about ready to face the real threat of World War III if she can't stop a rogue General from getting his revenge.
The story actually begins several years before when Jason Scott, son of Lt. General Thomas Scott, is captured, tortured, and left to die by the North Koreans. Forward 2 years, and Scott has assembled a private army for the intention of getting revenge on not only North Korea, but the American President. This is a group of both currently serving and former ranks of the U.S. military. Some of these men are pure evil, some have done terrible things, and some are in it for the pure pleasure of having the chance to kill someone for large amounts of money. All are highly trained and brutally efficient. Their first move is to kidnap (4) children of Generals of important statues. 
Standing in the way are Special Agent Jacqueline Sinclair and DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) Agent Tom Price who are tasked with getting to the bottom of the recent kidnapping. Then a second teenager is taken, and a third, and a fourth. The duo soon realizes that what happened to Helen Chapman wasn’t an isolated incident, and their investigation leads them into the dangerous and uncharted waters of international espionage. When the duo are targeted for assassination because they are getting too close to the truth, things take a twisted turn.
The theft of two nuclear weapons from the secure federal building raises the stake further. Also, disturbing Belle’s somber peace is a troubling attack on her father, Col. Richard Sinclair and the fact that fathers of the abducted victims seem to holding something back during their interviews. Belle and Price must do everything in their power to uncover the plot while keeping themselves alive. Alas, there is minor romance in this story as well as alternating points of view between a whole slew of characters outside of Belle and Price. Both Price and Belle’s working-outside-the-box style approach to their job makes the reader immediately take to them, while their undeniable chemistry and gradually burgeoning relationship add to the story’s intrigue.
I've been told that there is a sequel. I am looking forward to reading it soon. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

#Review - Crown of Cinders (Wings of Fury #2) by Emily R. King #Fantasy #Historical

Series: Wings of Fury (#2)
Format: Paperback, 272 pages
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Publisher: 47North
Source: Publisher
Genre: Historical / Fantasy

Going to battle against a Titan in the war of all wars, one woman is making history in an epic novel of ancient Greece by Emily R. King, author of the Hundredth Queen series.

May Gaea be with you…

Althea Lambros is growing into her power, wrestling with a burdensome heritage, and unwilling to concede to Cronus, the redoubtable God of Gods. For that, Cronus is making good on his promise. Calling upon the elder Titans, he’s bringing down his wrath on the world. Suffering quakes, tempests, fire, and hail, mortals are paying in blood for the war of the gods.

With the help of her friend Theo, Althea takes cover with her sisters, Bronte and Cleora. But they can’t hide forever. To mastermind the downfall of the evil king, Althea must recruit allies of her own before the aggrieved mortals surrender the sisters to Cronus in exchange for peace.

Is Althea formidable enough to win? It’ll take the help of her sisters and those willing to fight for the cause of the just. As the gods pick sides, Althea must divide heaven and earth to defeat the enemy and write the true history of the war to end all wars.

Crown of Cinders, by author Emily R. King, is the second book in the Wings of Fury series. It has been 6 months since Althea (Hera) learned that she, and her sisters Bronte (Demeter), and Cleora (Hestia) are daughters of Cronus and Rhea. Now, Cronus is whipping up the old guard in order to suppress the new Gods and Goddesses while focusing on Hera who worked with Zeus to send Cronus packing and into hiding. With a bit of help from Selene and others, Hera searches for her other brothers (Poseidon and Hades) hoping they will stand with her, Zeus, and her sisters against Cronus.

Hera and her lover Theo, formerly an officer with the First House's Army, and Half Titan himself, must deal with a plethora of hurdles including traveling to the Underworld to find another lost brother known better as Hades. Thanks to General Atlas, the new head of Cronus's army, there's a large bounty on their heads and every sell sword and mercenary is eager to collect. If Hera and her group are captured, the likelihood of them being sent to Tartarus is very good. 

Especially since Cronus loves sending his enemies, including Uranus, there for eternity. The first generation Titans (Pallas, Perses, Menoetius, Lelantos) have mostly aligned with Cronus, but there are a few exceptions. Hera, Theo, and Poseidon's adventure to the Underworld is well done. The author includes some of the biggest monsters of mythology who are more than they seem.  One of the biggest storylines of this series was the alleged prophecy that claims that Zeus is fated to defeat Cronus in battle. 

Books are supposed to evoke emotions. Welp, my emotions are telling me that I hate the very fabric of Zeus's existence for what he does and attempts to do in this book, especially towards Hera who is twice the warrior that Zeus is. No matter how many mythology books you read about Hera, or Zeus, etc, it pains me to believe these two ended up together or that Hera is thought to be evil. Zeus has been portrayed as hero yet the author makes it known that mythology is always who controls the narrative. 

Often times the losers are forgotten about. Zeus and his "relationships" wasn't sugar coated by the author which I respected. He was a total weasel and there's no sugar coating his sexual deviancy.  It's also curious that Hera became the Goddess of Marriage, Motherhood, and Familial Love after all of Zeus's shenanigans. Watching Hera come into both her name and her abilities, and her relationship with Theo was done well. 

I think one of the worst things historians have done over the centuries is to belittle the hard working women who stood on their own merits and didn't need men to help guide them. This includes Hera. She loves Theo, but there's so much else at stake to actually hope for a future together. I will keep an eye out for the next works by this author who, it seems, I seem to read everything she writes.

Monday, September 27, 2021

#Review - I'm with the Banned (Afterlife #2) by Marlene Perez #YA #Paranormal

Series: Afterlife # 2
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Paranormal

The bestselling author of the Dead Is series is back with another snarky, hilarious vampire romance tale just in time for the vampire genre’s resurgence!

Tansy’s just trying to stay alive, stay ahead of her enemies, and stay with her boyfriend, Vaughn. They’re hoping to make the whole vampire queen/vampire hunter thing work, but dating while deadly is harder than she thought, especially now that the Drainers are back. They may have changed their name and their brand of music (country western? Really?) but they’re still a vampire band, no matter what they’re wearing.

Add to that, Tansy’s long-lost mom—affectionately known within the vamp community as The Executioner—is now engaged to Vaughn’s dad, unless she and Vaughn can figure out a way to stop the wedding. Add a handful of cute designer dogs (actually hellhounds), a fight for Tansy’s crown, and the biggest jaw-dropping reveal of all, and it’s just another day in the life of everyone’s favorite rogue vampire queen.

I'm with the Banned, by author Marlene Perez, is the second installment in the authors Afterlife series. 17-year-old Tansy Mariotti has literally had her life turned upside down and sideways after saving her best friend Skylar Avrett, and killing the former Vampire King, thus becoming the Queen of the Vampires in California. The thing that makes Tansy different is that she was raised by her grandmother after her mother abandoned her. She's now considered to be a Strija Vie, which means she's a vampire/witch hybrid. 

Even though Tansy is Queen of the Vampires, she still can't get out of going to High School, or being protected by Rose and Thorn who work for (PAC) Paranormal Activities Committee. Tansy misses the sunshine. She has to literally use a parasol to protect her from the intense light while also drinking a mixture concocted by her Grandmother from actually drinking live blood from a human being. On top of trying to sort through the former Kings holdings, and keeping vampires like the former Drainers, who are now country music singers, in line, she's also missing Vaughn Sheridan who has been gone for months training to be a hunter.

When he returns, things really get twisted. Something happened to Vaughn while he was training in Texas and he doesn't want to tell Tansy. Tansy will soon learn the truth after werewolves turn up dead with their hearts missing and she meets a pack of werewolves including Skylar's ex Connor who believe vampires are responsible. Oh, and to make matters even more intriguing, Tansy's mother Vanessa, you know the person who abandoned her when she was born, and ran off to become known as the Executioner under the former Vampire King? Well, she's back in town, and so are a group of Hellcats who seem particularly interested in Tansy.

This is supposed to be a tongue and cheek attempt at poking fun at the Twilight claim to fame by having vampires and werewolves who don't exactly like each other with a bit of romance thrown in to make things interesting. The book has secrets, return of an enemy, weird relations, trust issues, betrayal and also explores new facts about the Supernatural World. There are literally too many surprises to mention without spoiling them so, let's not. I will say this; this book ends on a cliffhanger which you will have to wait until July 2022 (A Sucker for You) to find out what happens next.

Friday, September 24, 2021

#Review - Teaching the King (Witchling Academy, #1) by D.D. Chance #Fantasy #Romance

Series: Witchling Academy # 1
Format: Kindle
Release Date: September 29, 2021
Publisher: Elewyn Publishing
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Romance

How do you break a promise to the King of the Fae?
Yeah. Good luck with that.

For centuries, Hogan witches were bound in a trumped-up contract to teach magic to the High King of the Fae. Then, a hundred years ago, we escaped that prison sentence and never looked back.

Now there's a new king in town. Brutally gorgeous, mouthwateringly fierce—and seriously pissed.

He's coming for me, and he won't take no for an answer.

But I don't care how much Mr. Tall, Dark, and Deadly makes my heart pound and head spin, a ridiculously unwanted side effect of that goddess-forsaken contract. I've dedicated my life to creating a safe haven for those in need—whether they’re rogue witches escaping their persecutors or monsters desperate for somewhere to hide. If I leave my tavern unprotected, every last soul I’ve helped will be hunted down, recaptured. Killed.

Not gonna happen.

So I'll just have to find the contract that’s bound me to the most deviously sexy ruler across all the realms…and break it for good.

Before the High King of the Fae breaks me.

Teaching the King is the first installment in author D.D. Chance's Witchling Academy series. 25-year-old Belle Hogan first appeared in the authors finale of the Monster Academy series. Now, she gets her own series and her own problems and even more sexier and dangerous Fae who refuses to take no for an answer. Belle is the owner/operator of White Crane Tavern. She's a healer as well as a barkeep, and she keeps the lights on for those who most need safety and security. 

For 100 years, the Hogan's have run the White Crane Tavern in the middle of the richest, most elite neighborhood in Boston where both Twyst Academy and Monster Hunter Academy are located. It's a safe place for Witches and monsters alike. Belle is the last of her line. Her grandmother is gone, and so is her mother, and she has no intention of swallowing her pride and returning to the coven of the White Mountains who would be shocked if they knew that the Hogans were right under their noses.

Whenever a new Fae king was crowned, a Hogan witch is supposed to travel to him and teach him witchling magic. 100 years ago, Belle's great-grandmother Reagan broke contract with the Fae and returned home leaving the Fae without a teacher and magic that is slowly fading. After years of avoiding her duties, Belle's time comes up when Aiden, the new King of Fae arrives at the Tavern and demands that she complete the Hogan agreement by teaching him magic. Refusal is not an option.

"The will come for you with shackles of steel and an emerald crown, and when they are fixed upon you, there is nothing you won't do for them."
For Aiden, he is in the middle of a war with dangerous wraiths and the worst thing could happen. His magic fails. Reagan Hogan supposedly gifted his grandfather with enough embedded magic into several precious artifacts to magically protect the High Fae for thousands of years. Thanks to his own fathers negligence, Aiden must travel to the human world and demand that whatever Hogan witch is alive, doesn't get to slip out of her commitment of teaching him and his people magic.

As I am the first reviewer out of the box, this is where I will end the summary of the book. I will say that this story alternates each chapter between Belle and Aiden. The situation between the two gets hot and heavy quickly, but don't let Belle fool you. She has a reason for agreeing to help Aiden. She knows her family needs to find a way to complete the contract so that she can be free, and so can any offspring she might have in the future. Especially since there has no seen benefits to her family helping the High Fae with magic. 

My final statement is this, there is a guest appearance in this book of a character you will know if you've read the authors previous series Monster Hunter Academy. I will also say that the book has two distinct cliffhangers one for each Aiden, and for Belle. In this case, the cliffhangers are a good way for me to remember to watch our for the sequel since I must know what's going to happen next, and what other troubles are in store for the couple. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

#Review - Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson #YA #Fantasy

Series: Vespertine # 1
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Dark Fantasy

From the New York Times bestselling author of Sorcery of Thorns and An Enchantment of Ravens comes a thrilling new YA fantasy about a teen girl with mythic abilities who must defend her world against restless spirits of the dead.

The dead of Loraille do not rest.

Artemisia is training to be a Gray Sister, a nun who cleanses the bodies of the deceased so that their souls can pass on; otherwise, they will rise as spirits with a ravenous hunger for the living. She would rather deal with the dead than the living, who trade whispers about her scarred hands and troubled past.

When her convent is attacked by possessed soldiers, Artemisia defends it by awakening an ancient spirit bound to a saint’s relic. It is a revenant, a malevolent being that threatens to possess her the moment she drops her guard. Wielding its extraordinary power almost consumes her—but death has come to Loraille, and only a vespertine, a priestess trained to wield a high relic, has any chance of stopping it. With all knowledge of vespertines lost to time, Artemisia turns to the last remaining expert for help: the revenant itself.

As she unravels a sinister mystery of saints, secrets, and dark magic, her bond with the revenant grows. And when a hidden evil begins to surface, she discovers that facing this enemy might require her to betray everything she has been taught to believe—if the revenant doesn’t betray her first. 


"For the past three hundred years, the Gray sisters had carried out the sacred duty of tending to the dead. Souls that failed to received the necessary rites would eventually corrupt and rise as spirits instead of naturally passing on to the afterlife as they had done before the Sorrow."
Vespertine is the first installment in author Margaret Rogerson's Vespertine duology. This is a story that takes place in a place called Loraille. Artemisia of Naimes is training to be a Gray Sister, a nun who cleanses the bodies of the deceased so that their souls can pass on; otherwise, they will rise as spirits with a ravenous hunger for the living. She would rather deal with the dead than the living, who trade whispers about her scarred hands and troubled past. All Gray Sisters are required to go through Evaluation. 

This evaluation is done by Confessor Leander who sees something in Artemisia that makes her different from others. Another interesting dynamic; She has an upsetting history of trauma during her childhood when she was possessed by an Ashgrim spirit which is one of the Second Order spirits found below. When her convent is attacked by possessed soldiers, Artemisia defends it by awakening an ancient spirit bound to a saint’s relic. It is one of the Seven Revenants named Rathanael, a malevolent being that threatens to possess her the moment she drops her guard. 

Wielding its extraordinary power almost consumes her—but death has come to Loraille, and only a vespertine, a priestess trained to wield a high relic, has any chance of stopping it. With all knowledge of vespertines lost to time, Artemisia turns to the last remaining expert for help: the revenant itself. Vespertine’s haven’t been around for years. Artemisia must now fight to work with and not be possessed by the revenant while they search for and fight the dark forces plaguing Loraille.  

As she unravels a sinister mystery of saints, secrets, and dark magic, her bond with the revenant grows. Among politics and power-hungry people, war, and a threat that may consume her world, Artemisia and the Revenant, try to navigate into discovering who may be the true villain and that sometimes magic is not always bad or good. And holiness may hide a part of true villainy.

Artemisia is not described as beautiful, she's not skilled with a weapon, she doesn't have any special powers, except when combine with the Revenant. On the contrary, she's shy, traumatized by the sequels of childhood possession and abuse, socially anxious, physically scarred, and a recluse. She's basically lost everyone she's known, including the sisters of the convent when it is attacked and destroyed by possessed soldiers. Her banter with Rathanael is entertaining. He's as dangerous as any of his peers but not as malevolent, and he has the tongue of the most sarcastic and grumpy spirit you're going to find. 

The Hierarchy of Spirits:

First order: The order of the innocents. Shade, Wisp.

Second Order: Souls lost to the forces of nature. Gaunt- death by famine; Frostfain - death by exposure; Undine - death by drowning. Ashgrim - death by fire.  

Third Order: Souls lost to illness and disease. Feverling - death by fever; Witherking - death by wasting; Wretchling - death by flux; Blight Wraith - death by pestilence

Fourth Order: Souls lost to violence. Rivener- death by battle; Fury - death by murder; Penitent - death by execution; White Vicar - death of a slain cleric.

Fifth Order: The Seven Revenants:

Cimeliarch, the Bright

Architrave, the Dim

Cathethal, the Mad

Oremus, the Lost

Sarathiel, the Obscured

Malthas, the Hollow

Rathanael, the Scorned

I've been told that this is the first book in a duology, but I also felt like it did a fantastic job on standing on it's own. There are still threads left to be pulled on, but the conclusion is still a firm conclusion.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

#Review - Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Christina Henry #YA #Fantasy

Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Dark Fantasy / Retelling

In this atmospheric, terrifying novel that draws strongly from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the author of Alice and The Girl in Red works her trademark magic, spinning an engaging and frightening new story from a classic tale.

Everyone in Sleepy Hollow knows about the Horseman, but no one really believes in him. Not even Ben Van Brunt’s grandfather, Brom Bones, who was there when it was said the Horseman chased the upstart Crane out of town. Brom says that’s just legend, the village gossips talking.

Twenty years after those storied events, the village is a quiet place. Fourteen-year-old Ben loves to play “Sleepy Hollow boys,” reenacting the events Brom once lived through. But then Ben and a friend stumble across the headless body of a child in the woods near the village, and the sinister discovery makes Ben question everything the adults in Sleepy Hollow have ever said. Could the Horseman be real after all? Or does something even more sinister stalk the woods?

  "Sleepy Hollow believed in spirits and demons, because they lived side by side with those beings. The people of the town believed in magic. And why wouldn't they? Magic was woven into the fabric of the Hollow. It drifted in the air. It rode through the night on a fast horse."
Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by author Christina Henry is retelling of sorts that takes place between 20, and 30 years after the original story. I shouldn't call this a retelling. It's more of let's check in on Sleepy Hollow, New York 20 years after the orignal story and see how the town is faring. The story's main character is 14-year-old Bente (Ben) Van Brandt, granddaughter of Abraham and Katrina Van Brandt. When Ben starts questioning what she's been told about her parents' deaths and the legend of the horseman, things get a little twisted.
For the record, the book is broken up into three parts, with the final part taking place 10 years after the start of the book. Ben and his friend Sander grew up listening to the tales of the Horseman as well as Ichabod Crane who was allegedly run out of town by a head less Horseman. Her grandfather always gets a chuckle out of the tale, but her grandmother looks like she wants to swat her husband. There is something these two know, but will not tell the truth about what really happened that caused Icabod Crane to disappear. 
But when a boy their age is found without his head in the woods, the quite town is shaken. Soon thereafter, she finds a sheep without its head and the body count continues to grow. Could the Horseman have returned? Ben soon starts to hear voices in the woods that pretty much warn evil away from her by claiming her as its own. The Hollow is pretty much stuck inside a bubble. While they do get visitors, they don't stay for long, and residents don't wander past the place where the track ends. 
Ben hasn't exactly had the easiest of lives. She lost her mother to the plague, and her father disappeared into the woods, and was never seen again. Ben doesn't fit into the role of what we would call feminine. In fact, Ben rages against the machine and her grandmothers desire for her to act like a lady. Ben idolizes his grandfather and wishes that she could find a place to be what she wants to be. Ben chooses to walk her own path even though it makes her a target of bullies since she's so tall, and lanky.  
As it becomes apparent to Ben that the truth of her parents death has been kept from him, she begins to become aware that there are many aspects of his family history he had no knowledge of. Will Ben be able to survive the increasing dangers and horrors that are set to come his way?
Recommendation: With all this being said, Horseman didn’t completely work for me. It might for someone else, but I'm not going to jump over my own two feet to wave the hurrah flag.


Of course I knew about the Horseman, no matter how much Katrina tried to keep it from me. If ever anyone brought up the subject within my hearing, Katrina would shush that person immediately, her eyes slanting in my direction as if to say, “Don’t speak of it in front of the child.”

 I found out everything I wanted to know about the Horseman anyway, because children always hear and see more than adults think they doe part about the Horseman looking for a head because he didn’t have one. Then Sander told me all about the schoolmaster who looked like a crane and how he tried to court Katrina and how one night the Horseman took the schoolmaster away, never to be seen again.

 I always thought of my grandparents as Katrina and Brom though they were my grandmother and grandfather, because the legend of the Horseman and the crane and Katrina and Brom were part of the fabric of the Hollow, something woven into our hearts and minds. I never called them by their names, of course-Brom wouldn’t have minded, but Katrina would have been very annoyed had I referred to her as anything except “Oma.”

 Whenever someone mentioned the Horseman, Brom would get a funny glint in his eye and sometimes chuckle to himself, and this made Katrina even more annoyed about the subject. I always had the feeling that Brom knew more about the Horseman than he was letting on. Later I discovered that, like so many things, this was both true and not true.

On the day that Cristoffel van den Berg was found in the woods without his head, Sander and I were playing Sleepy Hollow Boys by the creek. This was a game that we played often. It would have been better if there were a large group but no one ever wanted to play with us.

“All right, I’ll be Brom Bones chasing the pig and you be Markus Baas and climb that tree when the pig gets close,” I said, pointing to a maple with low branches that Sander could easily reach.

 He was still shorter than me, a fact that never failed to irritate him. We were both fourteen and he thought that he should have started shooting up like some of the other boys in the Hollow.

 “Why are you always Brom Bones?” Sander asked, scrunching up his face. “I’m always the one getting chased up a tree or having ale dumped on my head.”

 “He’s my opa,” I said. “Why shouldn’t I play him?”

Sander kicked a rock off the bank and it tumbled into the stream, startling a small frog lurking just under the surface.

“It’s boring if I never get to be the hero,” Sander said.

I realized that he was always the one getting kicked around (because my opa could be a bit of a bully-I knew this even though I loved him more than anyone in the world-and our games were always about young Brom Bones and his gang). Since Sander was my only friend and I didn’t want to lose him, I decided to let him have his way-at least just this once. However, it was important that I maintain the upper hand (“a Van Brunt never bows his head for anyone,” as Brom always said), so I made a show of great reluctance.

“Well, I suppose,” I said. “But it’s a lot harder, you know. You have to run very fast and laugh at the same time and also pretend that you’re chasing a pig and you have to make the pig noises properly. And you have to laugh like my opa-that great big laugh that he has. Can you really do all that?”

 Sander’s blue eyes lit up. “I can, I really can!”

 “All right,” I said, making a great show of not believing him. “I’ll stand over here and you go a little ways in that direction and then come back, driving the pig.”

Sander obediently trotted in the direction of the village and turned around, puffing himself up so that he appeared larger.

Sander ran toward me, laughing as loud as he could. It was all right but he didn’t really sound like my opa. Nobody sounded like Brom, if truth be told. Brom’s laugh was a rumble of thunder that rolled closer and closer until it broke over you.

“Don’t forget to make the pig noises, too,” I said.

“Stop worrying about what I’m doing,” he said. “You’re supposed to be Markus Baas walking along without a clue, carrying all the meat for dinner in a basket for Arabella Visser.”

I turned my back on Sander and pretended to be carrying a basket, a simpering look on my face even though Sander couldn’t see my expression. Men courting women always looked like sheep to me, their dignity drifting away as they bowed and scraped. Markus Baas looked like a sheep anyway, with his broad blank face and no chin to speak of. Whenever he saw Brom he’d frown and try to look fierce. Brom always laughed at him, though, because Brom laughed at everything, and the idea of Markus Baas being fierce was too silly to contemplate.

Sander began to snort, but since his voice wasn’t too deep he didn’t really sound like a pig-more like a small dog whining in the parlor.

I turned around, ready to tell Sander off and demonstrate proper pig-snorting noises. That’s when I heard them.

Horses. Several of them, by the sound of it, and hurrying in our direction.

Sander obviously hadn’t heard them yet, for he was still galloping toward me, waving his arms before him and making his bad pig noises.

“Stop!” I said, holding my hands up.

He halted, looking dejected. “I wasn’t that bad, Ben.”

“That’s not it,” I said, indicating he should come closer. “Listen.”

“Horses,” he said. “Moving fast.”

“I wonder where they’re going in such a hurry,” I said. “Come on. Let’s get down onto the bank so they won’t see us from the trail.”


“Why?” Sander asked.


“So that they don’t see us, like I said.”


“But why don’t we want them to see us?”


“Because,” I said, impatiently waving at Sander to follow my lead. “If they see us they might tell us off for being in the woods. You know most of the villagers think the woods are haunted.”


“That’s stupid,” Sander said. “We’re out here all the time and we’ve never found anything haunted.”


“Exactly,” I said, though that wasn’t precisely true. I had heard something, once, and sometimes I felt someone watching us while we played. The watching someone never felt menacing, though.


“Though the Horseman lives in the forest, he doesn’t live anywhere near here,” Sander continued. “And of course there are witches and goblins, even though we’ve never seen them.”


“Yes, yes,” I said. “But not here, right? We’re perfectly safe here. So just get down on the bank unless you want our game ruined by some spoiling adult telling us off.”


I told Sander that we were hiding because we didn’t want to get in trouble, but really I wanted to know where the riders were going in such a hurry. I’d never find out if they caught sight of us. Adults had an annoying tendency to tell children to stay out of their business.


We hunkered into the place where the bank sloped down

toward the stream. I had to keep my legs tucked up under me or else my shoes would end up in the water, and Katrina would twist my ear if I came home with wet socks.


The stream where we liked to play ran roughly along the same path as the main track through the woods. The track was mostly used by hunters, and even on horseback they never went past a certain point where the trees got very thick. Beyond that place was the home of the witches and the goblins and the Horseman, so no one dared go farther. I knew that wherever the riders were headed couldn’t be much beyond a mile past where Sander and I peeked over the top of the bank.


A few moments after we slipped into place, the group of horses galloped past. There were about half a dozen men-among them, to my great surprise, Brom. Brom had so many duties around the farm that he generally left the daily business of the village to other men. Whatever was happening must be serious to take him away during harvest time.


Not one of them glanced left or right, so they didn’t notice the tops of our heads. They didn’t seem to notice anything. They all appeared grim, especially my opa, who never looked grim for anything.


“Let’s go,” I said, scrambling up over the top of the bank. I noticed then that there was mud all down the front of my jacket. Katrina would twist my ear for sure. “If we run we can catch up to them.”


“What for?” Sander asked. Sander was a little heavier than me and he didn’t like to run if he could help it.


“Didn’t you see them?” I said. “Something’s happened. That’s not a hunting party.”


“So?” Sander said, looking up at the sky. “It’s nearly dinnertime. We should go back.”


I could tell that now that his chance to play Brom Bones had been ruined, he was thinking about his midday meal and didn’t give a fig for what might be happening in the woods. I, on the other hand, was deeply curious about what might set a party of men off in such a hurry. It wasn’t as if exciting things happened in the Hollow every day. Most days the town was just as sleepy as its name. Despite this-or perhaps because of it-I was always curious about everything, and Katrina often reminded me that it wasn’t a virtue.


“Let’s just follow for a bit,” I said. “If they go too far we can turn back.”


Sander sighed. He really didn’t want to go, but I was his only friend the same as he was mine.


“Fine,” he said. “I’ll go a short way with you. But I’m getting hungry, and if nothing interesting happens soon I’m going home.”


“Very well,” I said, knowing that he wouldn’t go home until I did, and I didn’t plan on turning around until I’d discovered what the party of horsemen was chasing.


We stayed close to the stream, keeping our ears pricked for the sounds of men or horses. Whatever the adults were about, they surely wouldn’t want children nearby-it was always that way whenever anything interesting occurred-and so we’d have to keep our presence a secret.


“If you hear anyone approaching, just hide behind a tree,” I said.


“I know,” Sander said. He had mud all down the front of his jacket, too, and he hadn’t noticed it yet. His mother would tell him off over it for hours. Her temper was the stuff of legends in the Hollow.


We had only walked for about fifteen minutes when we heard the horses. They were snorting and whinnying low, and their hooves clopped on the ground like they were pawing and trying to get away from their masters.


“The horses are upset,” I whispered to Sander. We couldn’t see anything yet. I wondered what had bothered the animals so much.


“Shh,” Sander said. “They’ll hear us.”


“They won’t hear us over that noise,” I said.


“I thought you wanted to sneak up on them so they wouldn’t send us away?” he said.


I pressed my lips together and didn’t respond, which was what I always did when Sander was right about something.


The trees were huddled close together, chestnut and sugar maple and ash, their leaves just starting to curl at the edges and shift from their summer green to their autumn colors. The sky was covered in a patchwork of clouds shifting over the sun, casting strange shadows. Sander and I crept side by side, our shoulders touching, staying close to the tree trunks so we could hide behind them if we saw anyone ahead. Our steps were silent from long practice at sneaking about where we were not supposed to be.


I heard the murmur of men’s voices before I saw them, followed immediately by a smell that was something like a butchered deer, only worse. I covered my mouth and nose with my hand, breathing in the scent of earth instead of whatever half-rotten thing the men had discovered. My palms were covered in drying mud from the riverbank.


The men were standing on the track in a half circle, their backs to us. Brom was taller than any of them, and even though he was the oldest, his shoulders were the broadest, too. He still wore his hair in a queue like he had when he was young, and the only way to tell he wasn’t a young man were the streaks of gray in the black. I couldn’t make out the other five men with their faces turned away from us-they all wore green or brown wool coats and breeches and high leather boots, the same style as twenty years before. There were miniatures and sketches of Katrina and Brom in the house from when they were younger, and while their faces had changed, their fashions had not. Many things never changed in the Hollow, and clothing was one of them.


“I want to see what they’re looking at.” I whispered close to Sander’s ear and he batted at me like I was an annoying fly.


His nose was crumpled and he looked a little green. “I don’t. It smells terrible.”


“Fine,” I said, annoyed. Sander was my only friend but sometimes he lacked a sense of adventure. “You stay here.”


“Wait,” he said in a low whisper as I crept ahead of him. “Don’t go so close.”


I turned back and flapped my hand at him, indicating he should stay. Then I pointed up at one of the maples nearby. It was a big one, with a broad base and long branches that protruded almost over the track. I hooked my legs around the trunk and shimmied up until I could grab a nearby branch, then quickly climbed until I could see the tops of the men’s heads through the leaves. I still couldn’t quite see what they were looking at, though, so I draped over one of the branches and scooted along until I had a better look.


As soon as I saw it, I wished I’d stayed on the ground with Sander.


Just beyond the circle of men was a boy-or rather, what was left of a boy. He lay on his side, like a rag doll that’s been tossed in a corner by a careless child, one leg half-folded. A deep sadness welled up in me at the sight of him lying there, forgotten rubbish instead of a boy.