Friday, October 29, 2021

#Review - Eastside Hedge Witch by T.J. Deschamps #Fantasy #Paranormal

Series: Midlife Supernaturals # 1
Format: E-Galley, 362 pages
Release Date: October 31st 2021
Publisher: Independently Published
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Fantasy / Paranormal

Twenty years ago, I stole something that could win the war between Heaven and Hell. Don't get me wrong, I'm no do-gooder. I wanted to rule everything with the King of Hell. However, I have serious qualms with killing 8 billion people in order to get what I want. He didn't. Irreconcilable differences, right?

So, I did what any witch would do. I faked my death and hid out in the Seattle suburbs, living as a mundane. Stay at home moms are practically invisible here!

I had a good thing going until a hellhound showed up on my morning run. Guess you can't thwart the devil's machinations and get away with it forever. Time to come out of the supernatural closet and save the world. Again.

Eastside Hedge Witch is the first installment in author T.J. Deschamps Midlife Supernaturals series. 42-year-old Miriam Diaz is a lone witch who has lived as a suburban mom on Seattle’s Eastside for the past seventeen years. She serves on the parent teacher association, bakes for her daughter’s cheer squad, and is an all-around champion stay-at-home mom. Pretty average and totally boring, and Miriam likes it that way. A witch likes to keep her secrets after all. But what happens when those secrets become dangerous to keep?

You see, years ago, Miriam escaped from Lucifer. She faked her own death, stole a library filled with powerful grimoire's that could literally destroy worlds, found love with a man, Rafael, who was a Orisha God, has a daughter, Jada, who is half witch, and have goddess, and able to shift into a panther, and once was Lucifer's Harbinger of the Apocalypse. Raf changed her name, and registered her as latent before he died and ascended. She has no idea who her own father was since her mother gave her to Lucifer who used Miriam as a play toy, and much more. 

If her former coven finds out she's alive, they'll likely try to put her on trial and face possible execution. So you see, it's a good thing that Miriam kept her head down and pretended to be a normal. But when a hellhound shows up in her neighbor’s begonias, and Miriam banishes the stinky mutt back to where it came from, she receives unwanted attention from Gabriel who is the local archangel for the Angelic Anocracy. The Angelic Anocracy of the Pacific Northwest rules the supernatural community. This is a community of Nephilim, demi-gods, angels, fae, weres, and many more.

With Hell sending vampires and others to find Miriam, and Heaven at her doorstep, and a demon who helped her fake her own death telling her to run, Miriam must either flee the life she built or take a stand and come out of the supernatural closet. Enter Gabriel the Alpha male who has been on the outskirts of her life for a long time. He didn't intrude on her life when Raf was alive. Now that he's gone, Gabriel feels comfortable at pushing the limits in finding out if Miriam feels the same way.

Enter Phyr a Fae from her past who she forgotten but apparently grew up with and made a deal with. Phyr holds the keys to finding out who she really is, who her father is, and why there's a block on her memories. When he shows up, things really start to make sense, especially with the pixies in her garden acting like attendants and protecting her. Though most of the story takes place in the Pacific Northwest, there's part of the story that takes place in Fae where Miriam has to make choices whether to fully come out of the closet and tell the world who she is, or take her daughter and leave everyone behind.

This is the second book in a row that I've read where the character is in her 40's which is almost unheard of these days. I am appreciated that the author decided to write a book about Miriam's adventures. I would love to see what happens next, especially if Lucifer tries to regain control over Miriam, and whether or not her mother finds out what she's done. I'm not a huge fan of love triangles and hope that this issue resolves itself sooner, rather than later. Yes, you can fall in love with two people, but how much can your heart really take before it shatters and opens itself up to betrayal?

Thursday, October 28, 2021

#Review - Tomes Scones & Crones by Colleen Gleason #Paranormal

Series: Three Tomes Bookshop # 1
Format: E-Galley, 222 pages
Release Date:  October 12th 2021
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Paranormal / Fiction

At forty-eight, Jacqueline Finch has a nice, easy life with few responsibilities: she’s been a librarian in Chicago for twenty-five years, she doesn’t have a husband, children, or pets, and she’s just coasting along, enjoying her books and a small flower garden now that she’s over the hill.

That is, until the Universe (helped by three old crones) has other ideas.

All at once, Jacqueline’s staid (and boring) life is upended, and the next thing she knows, she’s heading off to Button Cove to start a new life as the owner of Three Tomes Bookshop.

The bookstore is a darling place, and Jacqueline is almost ready to be excited about this new opportunity…until Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Danvers show up. Somehow, the literary characters of Sherlock Holmes’s landlady and Rebecca deWinter’s creepy and sardonic housekeeper are living persons who work at the bookshop (when they aren’t bickering with each other). Not only does Jacqueline have to contend with them—and the idea that people regularly eat pastries while reading books in her store!—but the morning after she arrives, the body of a dead man is found on her property.

Things start to get even more strange after that: Jacqueline is befriended by three old women who bear a startling resemblance to the Witches Three from Macbeth, an actual witch shows up at her bookshop and accuses Jacqueline of killing her brother, and the two women who own businesses across the street seem determined to befriend Jacqueline.

And then there’s the police detective with the very definite hot-Viking vibe who shows up to investigate the dead body…

The next thing Jacqueline knows, her staid and simple life is no longer quiet and unassuming, and she’s got crones, curses, and crocodiles to deal with.

And when a new literary character appears on the scene…things start to get even more hairy and Jacqueline is suddenly faced with a horrible life and death situation that will totally push her out of her comfort zone…if she’s brave enough to let it.

After all, isn’t forty-eight too late for an old dog to learn new tricks?

Tomes Scones & Crones is the first installment in author Colleen Gleason's Three Tomes Bookshop series. They say once you turn 40, and you are unmarried, you are an old crone. Take it from me, they don't know what they're missing not being tied down. Well, 48 year old Jacqueline Finch isn't ready to retire and settle down just yet. She has no husband thanks to her fiance cheating on her. She has no children, or animals, and her alleged friends are backstabbing bitches or steered her in the wrong direction when it came to dating, etc.

For 20 years, she was the resource librarian for the Chicago Public Library system. Then one day, thanks to the interference of three witches straight out of Macbeth casting (Andromeda, Pietra, and Zwyla), she's told that she's out of a job, and only given 5 days severance pay. What's worse is that a nasty rumor her and a married man turns alleged friends against her, and Jacqueline's home is sold right out from under her without any prior notification. 

The only place she seems to have to go is a place called Button Cove, Michigan where she's inherited a bookshop called Three Tomes. The bookstore is a place where Jacqueline discovers characters like Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Danvers who seem to run the store, along with two insolent cats named Sebastian and Max who more than steal the show. Somehow, literary characters of Sherlock Holmes’s landlady and Rebecca deWinter’s creepy and sardonic housekeeper are living persons who work at the bookshop (when they aren’t bickering with each other). 

Not only does Jacqueline have to contend with them—and the idea that people regularly eat pastries while reading books in her store and drink tea, of all things! But the morning after she arrives, the body of a dead man is found on her property. Jacqueline soon meets the bearers of her bad and good fortune who bear a startling resemblance to the Witches Three from Macbeth. (Yes, my lovely followers, you will find out why they utterly destroyed Jacqueline's life in order to bring her to Button Cove.)

Later, an actual witch named Egala shows up at her bookshop and accuses Jacqueline of killing her brother Henbert, and the two women who own businesses across the street, Suzette Walley & Laura Clemson, seem determined to befriend Jacqueline. Jacqueline has to save her friends and the bookstore as well as help Mrs. Gulch, the misunderstood Wicked Witch of the book, not the movie, find revenge and get home. Let's not forget about the destined to be romantic inclination in Detective Miles who seems to be everywhere Jacqueline goes. 

I think that one of the underlying context's of this story is that no matter what your age is, you can definitely start over if you change your unwillingness to try new things. Jacqueline does a whole lot of soul searching while being pushed by the three crones into opening her eyes to her new reality and finally decides that she doesn't need her so called former friends who turned away from her when the rumors started instead of standing with her. I am hoping that Suzette and Laura will be true friends to Jacqueline since they are all about the same age.

The sequel to this book, Purses, Curses, and Hearses, releases in February 2022. I'll likely continue reading this series to see what other literary characters crawl out of books and makes Jacqueline's life challenging. 


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

#Review - Tempting the King by D.D. Chance #Fantasy #Romance

Series: Witchling Academy # 2
Format: Kindle, 257 pages
Release Date: October 27, 2021
Publisher: Elewyn Publishing
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Romance

What’s the only thing worse than fighting the king of the Fae? Pushing him too far.

I taught witchling magic to the High King of the Fae. I helped him defend his realm. And then in the fullness of his generosity, he set me free. Great story, right?

Only, like most things when it comes to the Fae, ditching a contract with these guys isn’t so easy.

Turns out the magic that binds me to the deeply sensual, fiercely proud, ridiculously hot High King is far more twisted than I realized. I’ve been marked for death…or something way worse.

Now I’m on the run, my home destroyed, being chased through a realm of myth and monsters by more enemies than I ever thought possible. To break free of this screwed-up Fae contract for good, I’ll have to unravel a scheme three hundred years in the making and convince the king—who’s been tricked into falling in love with me—that he’s been played for a fool.

This should go well. 

Tempting the King is the second installment in author D.D. Chance's Witching Academy Trilogy. This book begins where Teaching the King finished. As the story picks up, Belle Hogan is in a lot of trouble. The one thing she owns in the world has been attacked by her enemies which her mother and grandmother had been hiding from for years. Thankfully, a portal opened that sent Belle to a Monster realm known as Riven District. It appears as though those in charge are lizard like creatures with forked tongues and they may be into very dark, and dangerous magic. 
Riven district is apparently a place where outcasts, sleazeballs, and bad actors end up. Anyone who is sent to Riven has either been cursed, or decreed they be sent here. Belle has been cursed by witch magic. Belle discovers a woman named Celia who has been stuck in this world for the past 5 years. Who is Celia? Is she a witch? Is she a shifter? Is she trouble, or will she be Belle's ally against what's to come? Thanks to Aiden and his second in command Niall, Belle and Celia are brought back to Fae where Belle is to continue teaching at Witchling Academy. 
Belle has a contract, (which she hasn't yet had access to, but believes it may be held at the mountain Fae's Sakorn Castle), that states that she has to teach Aiden, the King of the Fae, and those in his line all about magic which has been fading away since her descendant Reagan Hogan found a way to escape Fae. With every day that passes, Belle's magic gets more powerful as does her connection to Aiden. But so doesn't Aiden's. The book also introduces readers to the Dwarves who live underground, just love to war on the Fae, and know all about Belle and her family.

To reiterate what has already happened, war is coming, and Belle is right in the middle of what's to come. The Fomorians have found a way back from their banishment, and have already started warring against Aiden's people which makes Aiden sit up and actually take notice that for far too long, the Mountain Fae, and others have been ignored by his family. If the Fae are to win, and survive, Aiden must stand up and be the king the Fae need desperately. That includes asking so called lesser Fae to stand with him and fight for their survival.
This is the second consecutive story that ends on a brutal cliffhanger ending. Thankfully, the author has promised the next installment sometime around Thanksgiving which isn't that far away. This series just happens to be the third in the authors Boston Magic Academy cycle following Twyst Academy and Monster Hunter Academy

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

#Review - Into the Dying Light by Katy Rose Pool #YA #Fantasy #Epic

Series: The Age of Darkness (#3)
Format: Hardcover, 512 pages
Release Date: September 21, 2021
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Epic

Six of Crows meets Graceling in this jaw-dropping conclusion to the swoon-worthy and action-packed Age of Darkness trilogy—hearts will shatter, cities will fall, and a god will rise from the ashes.

Following the destruction of the City of Mercy, an ancient god has been resurrected and sealed inside Beru's body. But both are at the mercy of the Prophet Pallas, who wields the god’s powers to subjugate the Six Prophetic Cities.

Meanwhile, far away from Pallas Athos, Anton learns to harness his full powers as a Prophet and discovers the truth about how the original Prophets created a weapon capable of killing a god. Along the way, the group’s tenuous alliance is threatened by mounting danger, impossible romances, and most of all by a secret that Anton is hiding: a way to destroy the god at the price of an unbearable sacrifice. But the cost of keeping that secret might be their lives—and the lives of everyone in the Six Prophetic Cities.


Into the Dying Light is the third and final installment in author Katy Rose Pool's The Age of Darkness trilogy. This story, as with the past two installments, revolves around (5) main characters: Beru who is now possessed by a God who was once banished by seven prophets; Prince Hassan, who lost his Kingdom to betrayal by his own flesh and blood and Pallos Athos; Ephyra, Beru's sister aka called the Pale Hand of Death who has been held prisoner for the past 2 months to keep Beru in line; Jude, who left his order behind to follow and protect Anton, aka the Last Prophet who has been training with the woman known as the Wanderer to find a way to defeat the God.

With the Age of Darkness on the horizon, and Beru slowly losing herself to the God who is angry at humanity and wants to destroy everything in sight, and the fight against the Hierophant going badly, unusual allies need to put away their hatred and their own issues and find a way to save the remaining cites named after the first prophets. What’s most interesting is none of the characters are perfect heroes. They’re very real and each have their own reasons that drive them to make the choices they make. 

Ephyra is very much a protector for Beru and is trying to do everything she can to help her - although she must learn that sometimes the best thing she can do is let go and allow Beru to make her own way. Ephyra's growth from the Pale Hand of Death to someone who can actually heal, and maybe, just maybe help save people, was impressive to read. Beru's inner conflict and turmoil with the god inside her as well as her bravery and willingness to sacrifice for others made her the most interesting character, as well as the final part of this story which, no, I won't spoil.

I have to feel a bit for Hassan. After being dethroned, and learning that he's not the final prophet, he only gets to really shine when he finally picks up the mantle and stands to help save his country. I have to say that I was not impressed with either Jude or Anton. Anton was hiding secrets about how to defeat the God, and what cost it would be on Jude, and Jude thought that if he sacrificed himself for Anton, that the world would be quite alright with whatever happens afterwords. The rest is filled with shenanigans.  

While attempting to take down the Hierophant, there are more than a few entanglements between characters. For instance, Ephyra and Illya have been dancing around each other for the past two books. Who is Illya you ask? Anton's brother who tormented him as a child. The couple hates each other, but are drawn to each other like a moth to a candle. Each burns bright, and both have made plenty of horrible mistakes. Ephyra's mistake is not trusting her own sister to find her own way without her around to protect her.

The second couple is Hassan and Khepri who we learn was also held captive by the Hierophant for months and nobody knew where she is. I respected the authors choice for what she did to this couple, and how things seem to play out even when danger is on the horizon. Khepri, like Hector, and Illya are important secondary characters not to be trifled with. The third couple, of course, is Anton and Jude. Jude is an oathbreaker having walked away from his duties. He did so because he found his heart belonged to Anton, and there's nothing in the entire world that will change that. 

But let's not forget about Beru and Hector. Hector has a way of calming Beru, and they are both angry at Ephyra for her actions in the previous installment which led to Beru being possessed. Will any of these couples survive to see their happy ending? Read the book!

Monday, October 25, 2021

#Review - The Bronzed Beasts by Roshani Chokshi #YA #Fantasy #Historical

Series: The Gilded Wolves # 3
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: September 21, 2021
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Historical

Returning to the dark and glamorous 19th century world of her New York Times instant bestseller, The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi dazzles us with the final riveting tale as full of mystery and danger as ever.

After Séverin's seeming betrayal, the crew is fractured. Armed with only a handful of hints, Enrique, Laila, Hypnos and Zofia must find their way through the snarled, haunted waterways of Venice, Italy to locate Séverin. Meanwhile, Séverin must balance the deranged whims of the Patriarch of the Fallen House and discover the location of a temple beneath a plague island where the Divine Lyre can be played and all that he desires will come to pass. With only ten days until Laila expires, the crew will face plague pits and deadly masquerades, unearthly songs and the shining steps of a temple whose powers might offer divinity itself...but at a price they may not be willing to pay.


The Bronzed Beasts is the third and final installment in author Roshani Chokshi's The Gilded Wolves trilogy. The Silvered Serpents ended on a cliffhanger and now we'll see Severin & crew face incredible odds in their fight to save Laila & keep their friendship from crumbling. Set in a beguiling and fog-filled Venice, Severin is faced with godhood, Laila is faced with her own mortality, and Enrique, Zoya, and Hypnos come to terms with their impossible mission: defeat Ruslan, save Laila, and overcome Séverin's betrayal.   

After leaving his friends behind, Séverin bides his time with Ruslan, Patriarch of Fallen House, trying to learn the location of the temple where the lyre can be played to make him a god.  Séverin has no idea that Laila has smashed the recording bug that he left behind telling his friends where to meet him and what really happened in Russia. When they don't show up as planned, Séverin fears that Ruslan figured out his game, and has done something to prevent the reunion. 

Séverin has always been the planner of the group, the one who's always leading them, the one who the group trust to fix everything. So, when the crew does things without him, it proves that these 5 characters are a force to reckon with. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew is dealing with the effects of Séverin's betrayal. Even after Hypnos reassures them that it was a ruse, Enrique has a hard time trusting him, especially after having lost an ear. 

Enrique, who is good at history, languages, myths and legends, is rethinking his own personal decisions and how he hasn't exactly made a mark on the world like he had planned. But he knows that with time running down for Laila he needs to put his anger behind him to save her. Laila's clock is ticking down to zero, and she's close to accepting the idea that there's no hope. Can she ever forgive Séverin's betrayal? Before meeting Séverin, Laila was treated as something different, something no altogether human. 

She's the mom of the group. She's the one who will bake cakes, and cookies just because. She's your favorite character because you want her to be successful and not succumb to time. Zofia carries a letter from her sister but refuses to open it fearing it might be the worst news possible. Zofia is brilliant but also likely has autism but on the high scale. She can function without much pushing, and she's remarkable in almost every aspect. She's able to create marvelous things and doesn't normally panic when things are looking gloomy. 

I think in many ways, the ending is damn near perfect. We see things that happen to each of these characters over the course of say, 100 years, and what comes of them, including Laila and whether or not Séverin gets his wish of becoming a God.

Zofia noticed that it was Laila he looked at last. It was a familiar pattern. In L'Eden, whenever Severin made plans, he always looked at Laila. To see him do it again made Zofia think of all their former patterns. It was like physics, the study of working mechanisms and the interplay of light. Laila was a fulcrum, the point around which all things in their group seemed to pivot. Severin was mass, the weight that changed their direction. Enrique gave them depth. Zofia hoped she offered light. She was not sure what Hypnos contributed to the group, but she could not imagine it without him. Perhaps that made him perspective.

Friday, October 22, 2021

#Review - Bluebird by Sharon Cameron #YA #Historical #Fiction

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Historical

In 1946, Eva leaves behind the rubble of Berlin for the streets of New York City, stepping from the fiery aftermath of one war into another, far colder one, where power is more important than principles, and lies are more plentiful than the truth. Eva holds the key to a deadly secret: Project Bluebird -- a horrific experiment of the concentration camps, capable of tipping the balance of world power. Both the Americans and the Soviets want Bluebird, and it is something that neither should ever be allowed to possess.

But Eva hasn't come to America for secrets or power. She hasn't even come for a new life. She has come to America for one thing: justice. And the Nazi that has escaped its net.


Sharon Cameron, author of the The Light in Hidden Places, which I recently read and reviewed, weaves a taut and affecting thriller ripe with intrigue and romance in this alternately chilling and poignant portrait of the personal betrayals, terrifying injustices, and deadly secrets that seethe beneath the surface in the aftermath of World War II. This story takes place alternatively between 1945, 1946, with a brief stop in 1947. Who is Anna Ptaszynska? 
Is she Eva Gerst who arrives in the US in August of 1946 along with Brigit Heidelman who suffered greatly at the hands of Russian soldiers? Eva has a dark secret and revenge on her mind and 27 names on her lips hoping to find the notorious Doctor Von Emmerich who experimented on thousands of prisoners in Sachsenhausen. Or, is she Inge Von Emmerich, daughter of Dr. Von Emmerich, the sole remaining member of the family who may be one of the good Doktor's experiments? 
When Eva arrives in America, Eva is ordered by the CIA to participate in project Bluebird – a plot to find a Nazi doctor who was working on developing mind control and is hiding in the US to avoid the Nuremberg trials. and want to know where her father is. That Nazi doctor turns out to be her own father, a brutal man who experiments on people of all ages. Eva wants revenge for the prisoners that were experimented on and for Brigit who was horribly assaulted by Russian soldiers. 
But she soon finds out that the CIA isn't the only ones who want to get their hands on Dr. Von Emmerich. The Soviets are patiently waiting for the CIA to screw up so that they can quickly grab the good doctor and force him back to the prison where he left thousands of innocents scared for life, or dead. Two for allies now enemies are eager to collect as many German scientists as they can before they disappear for good. Eva/Brigit's journey is uncomfortable at times. She starts off as member of a German Nazi group, and later realizes that everything she was told was propaganda to brainwash the masses. 
She was encouraged to hate Jews, and turn them in whenever she saw one. On her arrival in the US, she meets an assorted group of people from all walks of life and they are not the awful people she was taught to believe. She befriends a group of individuals at the Powell House and The American Friends Service Committee who have escaped from Europe and are hoping to find a better life in America. Here she meets Jake Katz who she has to eventually either trust, or get rid of for feat that he will be another casualty in a mixed up tug of war between two enemies. 
Props to Sharon Cameron for all the research and time and valuable sources she used to write this book. They are invaluable to someone like me who loves to read Historical fiction.   Project Bluebird was real, and may still be. Who can really trust what the CIA is doing, or what they're not doing? BLUEBIRD is the cryptonym for a CIA mind control program that ran from 1951 to 1953. Other mind control programs include ARTICHOKE, MKULTRA, and MKSEARCH. 

Fact: Sachsenhausen or Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg was a German Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. It mainly held political prisoners throughout World War II. The former Soviet Union took it over in May 1945.  26,000 Polish children were stolen from their families and integrated into Germany society by Nazi soldiers. This may be the most unreported fact of the entire aftermath of World War II. These children almost never found their way back home.

Powell House and The American Friends Service Committee are real, and did some wonderful work thanks to those involved. Their mission was peace and friendship. It's something we need in the US right now to bridge between hurdles, anger, and resentment of our own people.  Even though this is marked as Young Adult, I think, and I urge that those older pick up this book and read it. The more you know about he past, the less likely it will carry over into the next generations.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

#Review - Steelstriker (Skyhunter #2) by Marie Lu #YA #Dystopian

Series: Skyhunter # 2
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Dystopian

As a Striker, Talin was taught loyalty is life. Loyalty to the Shield who watches your back, to the Strikers who risk their lives on the battlefield, and most of all, to Mara, which was once the last nation free from the Karensa Federation’s tyranny.

But Mara has fallen. And its destruction has unleashed Talin’s worst nightmare.

With her friends scattered by combat and her mother held captive by the Premier, Talin is forced to betray her fellow Strikers and her adopted homeland. She has no choice but to become the Federation’s most deadly war machine as their newest Skyhunter.

Red is no stranger to the cruelty of the Federation or the torture within its Skyhunter labs, but he knows this isn’t the end for Mara – or Talin. The link between them may be weak, but it could be Talin and Red's only hope to salvage their past and safeguard their future.

While the fate of a broken world hangs in the balance, Talin and Red must reunite the Strikers and find their way back to each other in this smoldering sequel to Marie Lu’s Skyhunter

Steelstriker is the final installment in author Marie Lu's Skyhunter duology. It has been 6 months since Premiere Constantine conquered Mara, the last free nation not under the Federation's iron fist. Told in alternating perspectives from Talin Kanami and Red, we get an inside look at both the rebellion and the Premier's desperate hold on to the territories he has conquered before they rebel and declare independence. You definitely need to read Skyhunter first, otherwise you will have no clue as to what Talin gave up in order to become the Premier's newest weapon. 
Talin sacrificed her life in order to save her mother. She's been turned into a Skyhunter, and a monster. Her bones have been forged with steel and it makes her nearly indestructible. Especially when she opens her new wings. She also knows that if she strikes out at Constantine in any way, her mother will follow him to the grave. But that doesn't stop Constantine from hunting Red and the remaining Strikers who managed to survive the battle for Mara and the subsequent tearing apart or Mara piece by piece while looking for Early One's technology which could lead to Constantine's immortality.
Meanwhile, Talin learns that a rebellion is brewing. There are key members of Constantine's team who want him replaced at all costs. But, with Talin connected to Constantine like she's connected to Red, and her mother being moved from place to place to keep Talin from finding out where she's being kept under guard, what more is there for her to do? Rely on Red and her friends to do the hard and dirty work that's what. No, I am not being sarcastic. For almost the entire book, Talin isn't the girl who showed up in Skyhunter. She has no idea how to speak, since she can't speak, to others and let them know what's going on. The only people she can talk to are Red and her mother who know how to use sign language.
Red spends most of this story with Jeran, Adena, and Arman the last remaining Strikers. After they are caught in a trap, Adena and Arman are forced into facing off in a life or death game. If anyone survives, the winner will have to face off against Talin, Constantine's newest war machine. Red is no stranger to the cruelty of the Federation or the torture within its Skyhunter labs at the hands of Raina, the Chief Architect. But he knows this isn’t the end for Mara—or Talin. The link between them may be weak, but it could be their only hope to salvage their past and safeguard their future. The author explores part of Red's history as a soldier of the Federation and how he comes to bond with the Strikers who once thought he was going to betray them.
Would have liked this book more and rated it higher, but the best part of this book was the ending as well as Adena and Arman fighting in a dangerous maze like coliseum. There's little action from Talin, and most of what there is, it's from Red and Jeran as they attempt to save their remaining Strikers. There's a lot of fill in and dragging feet, and the author jumps the shark by personally adding in her personal political beliefs into the story by way of making Constantine represent the alleged person she apparently hates with a passion.  
I did like the fact that Talin's mother wasn't your atypical YA mother who disappears and she's never seen or heard from again. She's part of Talin's life from the day they were forced to flea their former homes, to Mara, to being held prisoner by Constantine. She's there when things don't look so good for Talin, and manages to stay by her side through thick and thin and comes to accept Red and Talin's connection. As I said, political views have no business in novels. You can respectfully disagree with me if you like. But we live in a world where everyone seems to hate everyone else no matter who they are and whether or not they are innocent or guilty of being on the opposite side. This has to stop of there's no point of keeping this country as 50 states.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

#Review - The Ice Coven (Jessica Niemi #2) by Max Seeck #Mysery #Suspense

Series: Jessica Niemi # 1
Format: Paperback, 464 pages
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Mystery / Occult & Supernatural

Investigator Jessica Niemi is in a race against time to find the link between a body with strange markings that has washed up on a frigid shore in Finland and two baffling disappearances in this terrifying new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Witch Hunter

Six months have passed since Jessica’s encounter with the mysterious serial-killing coven of witches and the death of her mentor. Her nightmares about her mother and the witchcraft that undid her have only gotten worse, but she’s doing what she can to stay focused. Her homicide squad, now under new leadership, has been given a murder case and a new series of disappearances to investigate. A young woman’s corpse has washed up on an icy beach, and two famous Instagram influencers have gone missing at the same time.

The missing influencers and the murdered woman all have ties to a sinister cult. Jessica finds an eerie painting—of a lighthouse on a remote island—as she investigates, and under the picture is a gruesome poem detailing a murder. The nightmares about her mother suddenly seem all too real, making Jessica wonder if the dead woman might be trying to tell her something about the killings. And as Jessica works frantically to solve her latest case, her horrific past comes roaring back and threatens to destroy her.

The Ice Coven, by author Max Seeck, is the second installment in author Jessica Niemi's series. Six months have passed since Jessica's encounter with the mysterious serial-killing coven of witches and the death of her mentor Erne who knew about Jessica's dark past. With her nightmares about her long dead mother and the witchcraft that undid her getting worse, she's trying hard to do what she can to stay focused. Her homicide squad, now under new leadership of Helena Lappi, who, I dare say hates Jessica, has been given a murder case and a new series of disappearances to investigate. 
A young woman's corpse has washed up on an icy beach, and two famous Instagram influencers have gone missing at the same time. The missing influencers and the murdered woman all have ties to a sinister cult. Jessica finds an eerie painting--of a lighthouse on a frigid island--as she investigates and under the picture is a gruesome poem detailing a murder. The nightmares about her dead mother have intensified and seem all too real, making Jessica wonder if the woman might be trying to tell her something about the killings. 
And as Jessica works frantically to solve her latest case with help from Yusuf, Rasmus, Nina, and new guy Jami Harjula, her horrific past comes roaring back and threatens to destroy her. Even though Jessica is on top of her game as an investigator, she still has to do the walk of shame for something she did with a co-worker who turned out to be part of the witch coven. So, while Jessica and her partner Yussef are running down answer to questions, she has to also deal with a Jami who is not only liked by Helena, but wants to prove that he's capable to handle the caseload and maybe get a promotion in the process. 
Jessica and her boss are constantly at odds, which makes some of Jessica's choices in the ending understandable. Helena even goes as far as to dig into parts of Jessica's past that was covered up and hidden by her former boss. The most curious part of Jessica's story is the warnings she's given that is likely to happen around Christmas. Jessica is also dealing with a body that will never be normal. Not after being the only survivor of a brutal car crash which shattered her spine and left her barely able to walk.
This book ends on a cliffhanger ending, and I have to wonder how much Jessica's sanity can remain in check with everything that's happening to her. What makes me coming back to this series is the unique setting of Finland, mostly Helsinki. It's nice to actually remove yourself from the same old same old, and read about something new and different. There's plenty of intrigue, mystery and a plethora of twists and turns with a wild and chilling plot and all of this never fails to keep you engaged and captivated throughout.



Lisa Yamamoto waits for the chrome doors to close, then releases the air trapped in her chest in a single prolonged breath. She slides her black Prada sunglasses off and eyes herself in the mirror on the rear wall. The concealer hides the stress and exhaustion, but it cannot summon joy to her eyes. There’s not a hint of the over-the-top exuberance an invitation to a drop party for Finland’s hottest rap artist-or any artist, for that matter-would have sparked a year or two ago. Now the predominant emotion is one of unpleasant suspense, and she regrets not having done something before leaving the house to boost her confidence-something stronger than champagne. But no doubt one of her fellow invitees will make sure her needs are attended to. Shoot the right person the right look, and she’d be strolling into the ladies’ with a bump that would guarantee a nice pick-me-up.


Lisa scans her body, sheathed in a beige Hervé Léger bandage dress: fit and just the right amount of curvy. At least her look is on point. Not that things aren’t fine or that she doesn’t have it all under control. The sole item on tonight’s agenda is getting a couple of good selfies with the man of the moment and maybe shooting a few video stories with other celebs. Considering whose release party it is, Helsinki’s most famous faces are sure to be out in force.


Lisa hears her phone vibrate in the side pocket of her purse. Probably Jason again. He’s already tried three times. Get a life. She shifts her gaze from the mirror to the digital number panel above. A red four. Five. Six.


A short melody plays, and a moment later the doors open. The elevator is flooded with pounding bass and loud chatter, accentuated by shouts and sporadic bursts of laughter.


Lisa looks down the red carpet toward the coat check, which is mobbed by guests bearing bouquets and bottles. Nobodies, nevers. Lucky I don’t have to introduce myself to them.


The bouncer, a guy named Sahib whom Lisa has known for years, gives her a discreet nod as she steps out of the elevator.


Lisa passes the floor-to-ceiling windows giving onto a panoramic view. Helsinki’s rooftops are slick from days of rainfall. The strikingly lit Torni Hotel rises in the distance, a miniature Empire State Building that dominates the city’s low-slung silhouette. The light from the streetlamps and windows sets the dark scene glistening. The city has yet to be brightened by a first snow.


“Hey, Lisa, nice to see you,” the black-blazered, white-T-shirted Sahib says as he helps her out of her dripping overcoat-artificial leather trimmed in fake fur. The couple in front of Lisa has stopped a few feet away to whisper, by all signs about her. There was a time she got off on the looks, the attention of complete strangers. Now they just make her uncomfortable. What the hell are they staring at?


“How’s it going?” Lisa asks the bald, muscle-bound Sahib as she lowers her purse and shoe bag to the counter. She steadies herself with one hand as she deftly slips off her black, white-striped Superstars with the other and slides her toes into a pair of patent beige heels that came equipped with an extra four inches.


“Party’s already bumping,” Sahib replies smoothly, carries Lisa’s coat and bagged sneakers over to the rack, and hands her a numbered tag creased by the sweaty fists of thousands of partyers.


Lisa feels her phone vibrate again along with the thump of the bass. Maybe it’s been ringing this whole time. She pulls it from her purse, glances at the screen, and silences the device. Shit.


“Thanks,” she says, flashing Sahib a quick smile.


“Be careful out there-a lot of bad boys on the loose tonight,” Sahib says with a wink. And although she can’t stand the bouncer’s patronizing flirtation, Lisa smiles and winks back.


The highway created by the red carpet cuts through the dark drapes and into the glare of the photographers’ flashes. The air is permeated by that distinctive nightclub odor-stale cologne, spilled alcohol, and cigarette smoke absorbed by the floor, carpets, and curtains over the years-a reek even a series of remodels hasn’t managed to eradicate. A female bouncer Lisa doesn’t recognize cracks the curtains, and Lisa steps into the club proper, a tall space packed with partyers showing off the latest trends. Hair dyed in flaming tints, off-the-wall makeup, plumped lips, custom-made suits and sport coats accentuating trained bodies, ironic hipster mustaches, trimmed beards. Lisa pauses to take in the photo wall, the size of a soccer goal, and the guests being brusquely manhandled toward it as if it were a medieval gallows.


“Yamamoto!” a female voice squeals. Lisa’s eyes strike on an overweight reporter with glasses whose name she can’t remember, despite having been interviewed by the other woman at some point.


Lisa gives the reporter a practiced smile that shows her white teeth. “Hi!”


“We’d love to do a little piece on you….”


Lisa glances at the photographer standing behind the reporter; he has a tabloid press card hanging around his neck. Probably legit, and good advertising for her blog.


“Let me go over and take my picture first.”


“Sure. We’ll be right here.”


“OK, great,” Lisa says as she leans in to hug a young English-speaking man she doesn’t remember ever meeting. Hi! Good to see you. Sure, talk to you soon!


After extricating herself from the stranger’s excessively eager and overpowering aftershave-drenched embrace, Lisa drifts to the photo wall, joins the short queue snaking up to it.


She scans the room bathed in low lighting, the sea of bodies surging there. Some faces are familiar, others aren’t; the majority are somewhere in between. Faded memories, distant flashes of Helsinki nightlife. CDKF. Chat, dance, kiss, fuck. Typically in that order, although Lisa remembers a few nights she skipped directly from the chatting to the fucking. And maybe one or two when she arrived at the same outcome without so much as a chat.


Over at the back, Lisa spies a knot of revelers corralled off from the main herd, camera flashes, men and women taking turns rubbing shoulders for the paparazzi. And at the eye of this storm, the top-hatted, sequin-tuxedoed guest of honor himself, Kex Mace, aka Tim Taussi, the twenty-six-year-old rap artist whose pop-influenced hip-hop album made Spotify history last year: it rose to the top of the streaming lists not only in Finland, but in the other Nordic countries and Germany too.


“You’re up, Lisa,” calls the woman with the telephoto lens. Purse in hand, Lisa steps up to the backdrop: an album cover illustrated with a huge spider. Kex Mace’s Spider’s Web. The flashes click briefly, annoyingly so. The photographers haven’t always let Lisa off the hook so easily. Just last year, she would see camera flashes in her sleep. Thanks! She is free to go. Great seeing you, Lisa! Have fun tonight! The smiles feel almost genuine, the words almost sincere, but the underlying chill does not go unnoticed by Lisa. She has an eye for social cues that has been honed by dozens of such events. No one is really interested in who you are, only what you look like and what you represent. Some people are interested solely in whether you’ll be available for an after-party blow job at five a.m., once the bottles have been emptied and the Ziploc bags vacuumed of every last gram.


The next item on the agenda is a glass of champagne; a server in a black shirt and yellow bow tie is conveniently carrying a tray of them in his gloved hand.


A promo girl in a tastelessly short skirt and a breast-baring top hands Lisa a program, winks, and says: “Don’t get tangled in the web.”


Don’t get tangled in the web. So damned pretentious and overproduced. Lisa has been inside for only a few minutes, but she already has the urge to spin right back around and get the hell out of here. She’s more desperate for a shot of courage than she realized. Snow White. Marching powder. Her gaze seeks out anyone who could offer relief. Teme, Sakke, Taleeb…Her usual guys are presumably present but obscured by the hundreds of faces.


And then Lisa feels her heart skip a beat. There he is again: standing, hands in his pockets, at the windows overlooking the city. His gaze, vaguely accusatory and penetrating, is exactly the same as last time. Lisa turns on her heels and heads for the bar.


But she knows the man won’t let her out of his sight.


Wednesday, November 27




The song blasting through the earbuds-En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind”-pauses as the running app provides its audio feedback. Despite being friendly and female, the voice exudes the stark soullessness of any recorded announcement: Distance five kilometers, average speed ten point two kilometers an hour. The music returns, and Jessica Niemi inhales the fresh air through her nostrils. It smells of morning after the first freeze of the year: of the frost on the leaves being swept away by the sun’s early rays; of melting puddles, their film of ice giving under the flexible soles of sneakers.


Jessica feels like she’s flying; her step is light. A few months ago, she started running to work again after a prolonged hiatus. It’s a form of exercise she has dropped more than once due to agonized protests from her broken body. Aching joints, nerve pain boring into her knees, shooting down her legs to her toes, and all of it immune to normal pain medications. But now her legs are moving, and the pain hasn’t returned. It will, of course; it always does. But until then, Jessica means to relish every footfall, every spurt that ends in a flood of endorphins. In retrospect, her taking up running again on a whim feels miraculous. After the funeral of her former boss Erne Mikson, Jessica spent weeks in a daze, sat at home brooding over everything that had happened. Until one day she pulled on her running shoes and lunged out into the mild spring air. Like Forrest Gump, her colleague Yusuf later joked.


The distance from her Tššlšnkatu flat to police headquarters in Pasila is about three and a half kilometers. The route hugs the bay, skirts the Winter Garden, then continues past the Stadium hill to Helsinki’s Central Park. In order to double the distance, Jessica frequently turns west-as she did today-at the Laakso equestrian center and crisscrosses the park’s rocky, spruce-sheltered paths all the way to the allotment gardens at Ruskeasuo.


Jessica passes the riding school and Helsinki’s mounted police just to the northeast. The sandy path is poorly lit along this stretch of track. The lampposts among the tall trees are few and far between, and the bright lights of the arena plunge instantly into forested gloom. A large bird prowls the treetops.


Hey! Did you hear me?


Jessica glances backward, but the path is deserted. It’s hard to say whether she truly heard the shout over the music blasting in her earbuds. Sometimes she hears things when she’s running: random words and cries. The voices have followed her for so long she doesn’t always pay attention to them.




This time the voice is too real. Jessica pulls the earbud from one ear and glances over her shoulder just in time to catch a glimpse of a male figure with outsized hands scrabbling at her windbreaker. The assailant throws his full weight against her, knocks her to the ground. Jessica can feel his mass on her back as her cheek digs into icy mud and damp leaves.


“Listen…,” the voice says.


Jessica reels from the stench of boozy breath. Thighs wrap around her glutes, the attacker planted on her lower back. Bare fingers reach around her neck as the mouth growls in her ears. The breath smells of salt-licorice schnapps. Then Jessica’s attacker flips her over, and she sees his face: a stranger’s. Alcohol-flushed, angular cheeks, heavy mustache. An unkempt, ethanol-rotted forty-year-old. Jessica remembers passing a bench at the side of the sawdust path a few minutes back; a creepy guy in a leather jacket sat there, swigging rotgut from a plastic bottle.


“Christmas Eve.” The voice isn’t much more than a whisper. “Christmas Eve.”


Jessica stares at him, bewildered. The guy is clearly out of it; Christmas Eve is a month away. The fingers of one hand squeeze her jaw as his other hand holds her left wrist down.


Jessica exerts every ounce of strength she can muster and knees him in the crotch, but her legs are locked under the asshole’s weight, and he must be too drunk to feel his balls.


Jessica hears her pulse pounding in her ears. She takes a deep breath. Rough gravel scrapes her cheek; she sees icy sand and decomposing leaves in her peripheral vision. She could scream for help, but she doesn’t remember seeing anyone else nearby. In the distance, someone calls after a barking dog.


“Christmas Eve.” Now the man is foaming at the mouth, teeth bared. “Christmas Eve.”


Jessica’s fingertips graze the tiny canister at the bottom of her pocket. It’s classified as a firearm under Finnish law, and these days she always carries it with her. A second later, the man takes a long squirt of pepper spray to the eyes. An instant of disbelief, and then his drunken ranting turns into screams of anguish. With her free hand, Jessica slams her attacker in the face over and over. The upper teeth break; blood spurts from the mouth to the sallow skin. He loses his grip. And then, with surprising agility, he hauls himself off Jessica and bolts into the woods.


Jessica gasps for breath and lurches laboriously to her feet.


The knuckles on her right hand are bleeding.


Jessica hears branches snapping in the underbrush, but there’s no sign of the man anymore.


She doesn’t lower her hand; she brandishes the pepper spray, vigilant against a repeat attack. She waits and listens to the noises carrying from the woods. But the man doesn’t return.


Jessica grabs her phone and dials the station switchboard. After giving a description of the attacker, she starts jogging in the direction she came from, this time on high alert.


Distance six kilometers, average speed nine point one kilometers an hour.




Jessica steps across the threshold and leans her hip against the doorjamb. The after-sweat brought on by the hot shower she took in the locker room has glued her dark blue dress shirt to her back, and she discreetly tugs it out from under her belt. Her right hand, the one she used to whale on her attacker’s jaw, hurts like hell; she should probably let occupational health x-ray it.