Book Review: Black Dog (Black Dog #1) by Rachel Neumeier

Book Review: Black Dog (Black Dog #1) by Rachel NeumeierBlack Dog by Rachel Neumeier
Series: Black Dog #1
Published by Strange Chemistry on February 6, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.

But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.

In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.

Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.

But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.

Today I have a twofer: a review of BLACK DOG by Rachel Neumeier and an interview with the author. Be sure to check out both posts, because I asked Rachel some questions about the book, including where the idea for BLACK DOG came from!

Book Review:

BLACK DOG is a werewolf book, albeit a very different type of werewolf book from the usual sort. Rachel Neumeier’s black dogs are more like hellhounds, the dog side constantly fighting the human side for control. Black dogs transform at will, whenever they need to fight, prove their dominance, or when emotions get too high. It takes great strength of will to control the black dog shadow. There also are the traditional werewolves that follow the call of the moon, but they aren’t as powerful as black dogs.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Alejandro, a black dog, and his sister, Natividad, a Pure, BLACK DOG is a book that unfolds slowly. Alejandro, Natividad, and her twin, Miguel, are Mexican, and it was great to see some diversity in a YA book. There are some Spanish words and phrases sprinkled throughout the book; most have context translations or are easy to figure out.

The siblings are on the run from a dangerous black dog, Vonhausel, who killed their parents and wants to kill them. Their only hope is the Dimilioc pack, the last remaining civilized group of black dogs. But with only Natividad being worth anything to the pack, Alejandro must prove his control of his black dog, and Miguel, a human, must also show he’s useful. When Vonhausel shows up and tries to wage war, the siblings must help Dimilioc, each in their own way, because the alternative is death. Or something worse than death, in some cases.

Some readers might be bothered by Natividad being fifteen and expected to mate with one of the black dogs. Natividad is Pure, able to wield magic that can calm the ferocity of the black dogs’ shadows. Usually I would have an issue with that sort of alpha behavior, but I thought the Master of the pack handled it very well — he said no one could touch Natividad until she turned sixteen, and she would have her choice. Natividad didn’t have an issue with it, either. So all the possible mates were respectful, and wanted to protect her. There’s not really any romance in BLACK DOG — Natividad’s future relationship is a side topic. I just wanted to mention it.

Like I said above, BLACK DOG is a slow book. It’s over 400 pages, and I do think it could have been shorter and tighter. There were a lot of phrases repeated in dialogue, over and over, such as “I think” or “you know,” and they did pull me out of the narrative. I’m picky about things like that, though.

In the author’s world, black dogs are known to the public, thanks to the disappearance of vampires and their mindclouding magic of anything supernatural. The vampires and their war with the black dogs happened before the book, and so is offstage, but does have some influence on the events of BLACK DOG. I had some questions that I would have liked answered, but they didn’t really affect my understanding of what was going on.

Aside from that, once I got into the book, I did enjoy piecing the story together and learning about the siblings’ pasts, Vonhausel, and Dimilioc. I really liked the pack dynamics, and watching the black dogs control their shadows. It was also interesting to see regular humans interact with the pack. Natividad’s interactions were the best of all, because she wasn’t afraid of any black dog, knowing they wouldn’t hurt her. So it was fun and different to see a fifteen-year-old be taken seriously, her opinion valued, by the much older pack master.

The end of BLACK DOG does neatly tie up the main story line. I’ll admit, when I got to what I thought was the end, I was like, “No! That’s it?!” But it wasn’t! It’s hard to say anything about the ending, because I don’t want to spoil it, but the real ending was good. Very insightful. And there will be a sequel to BLACK DOG, so the other things I wanted to see, such as who Natividad will choose, and what will happen to Dimilioc, will most likely be addressed in that.

About the author:

Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.

She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.
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– leeanna

Book Review: Night Owls (Night Owls #1) by Lauren M. Roy

Book Review: Night Owls (Night Owls #1) by Lauren M. RoyNight Owls by Lauren M. Roy
Series: Night Owls #1
Published by Ace on February 25, 2014
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
4 Stars
Night Owls book store is the one spot on campus open late enough to help out even the most practiced slacker. The employees’ penchant for fighting the evil creatures of the night is just a perk….

Valerie McTeague’s business model is simple: provide the students of Edgewood College with a late-night study haven and stay as far away from the underworld conflicts of her vampire brethren as possible. She’s lived that life, and the price she paid was far too high to ever want to return.

Elly Garrett hasn’t known any life except that of fighting the supernatural werewolf-like beings known as Creeps or Jackals. But she always had her mentor and foster father by her side—until he gave his life protecting a book that the Creeps desperately want to get their hands on.

When the book gets stashed at Night Owls for safe keeping, those Val holds nearest and dearest are put in mortal peril. Now Val and Elly will have to team up, along with a mismatched crew of humans, vampires, and lesbian succubi, to stop the Jackals from getting their claws on the book and unleashing unnamed horrors….

Book Review:

The idea behind NIGHT OWLS is genius. A vampire running a late-night book store for college students? Sign me up, because those are two things that go together perfectly.

NIGHT OWLS is the first in a new urban fantasy series. And it’s urban fantasy all the way — there are no swoony heroes to fall in love with. Or, in my case, want to slap — which is why I loved that the characters focused on kicking butt, taking names, and doing their thing.

Val, the owner of Night Owls book store, is a vampire who likes the quiet life. Elly is an orphan raised by the member of a secret brotherhood, and she likes nothing more than a good fight and killing Jackals. When their paths collide, Val is drawn back into a life she thought she’d put behind her, and Elly learns that trusting others isn’t such a bad thing.

One of the things I liked most about NIGHT OWLS was the worldbuilding/creature mythology. Roy’s vampires are real vampires: they can’t go out in sunlight, can’t eat or drink human food, and need blood to survive. No sparkling here. Val has a Renfield, Chaz, to do the things she can’t during the day, and to be her servant when the old world vamps show up. The Jackals are sort of like werewolves; they are creepy and disgusting. Add in warlock magic, secret brotherhoods of monster fighters, and two lesbian succubi, and you’ve got quite a combination.

NIGHT OWLS is a solid debut. When one of Val’s employees, innocent human Justin, gets something the Jackals want, Val does everything possible to keep him safe. In the process, there’s lots of action and danger. Characters get hurt. Creepy stuff happens. I wasn’t sure how Val and the others would get out of their predicament, and while I’m not going to spoil the ending, I will say that I am super pleased the author didn’t take any easy or predictable routes.

I did feel a bit disconnected from the book, because for some reason, I was expecting Val to be the only main character. Once I realized that Val and Elly are BOTH main characters, the book gelled for me. Aside from Val and Elly, there are a couple of other characters, but they were all developed enough to feel unique. I particularly enjoyed Sunny and Lia, and I’d sort of like a novella about the two of them.

If, like me, you’re tired of romance overtaking the buttkicking, I’d recommend NIGHT OWLS. I’m eager to see what the author has in store next for these characters.

Socialize with the author:

Lauren M. Roy:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Her Ladyship’s Curse (Disenchanted & Co. #1) by Lynn Viehl

Book Review: Her Ladyship’s Curse (Disenchanted & Co. #1) by Lynn ViehlHer Ladyship's Curse by Lynn Viehl
Series: Disenchanted & Co. #1
Published by Pocket Star on August 12, 2013
Genres: Adult, Alternate Universe, Romance, Steampunk, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 200
Format: ARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
In a steampunk version of America that lost the Revolutionary War, Charmian (Kit) Kittredge makes her living investigating magic crimes and exposing the frauds behind them. While Kit tries to avoid the nobs of high society, as the proprietor of Disenchanted & Co. she follows mysteries wherever they lead.

Lady Diana Walsh calls on Kit to investigate and dispel the curse she believes responsible for carving hateful words into her own flesh as she sleeps. While Kit doesn’t believe in magic herself, she can’t refuse to help a woman subjected nightly to such vicious assaults. As Kit investigates the Walsh family, she becomes convinced that the attacks on Diana are part of a larger, more ominous plot—one that may involve the lady’s obnoxious husband.

Sleuthing in the city of Rumsen is difficult enough, but soon Kit must also skirt the unwanted attentions of nefarious deathmage Lucien Dredmore and the unwelcome scrutiny of police Chief Inspector Thomas Doyle. Unwilling to surrender to either man’s passion for her, Kit struggles to remain independent as she draws closer to the heart of the mystery. Yet as she learns the truth behind her ladyship’s curse, Kit also uncovers a massive conspiracy that promises to ruin her life—and turn Rumsen into a supernatural battleground from which no one will escape alive.

My Review:
I tried logic. “I presume your husband’s first wife died before he married you?” When she nodded, I asked, “How is it that she would even know about you, much less cast a curse on you from the grave?” (p. 6-7)

Charmian Kittredge, aka Kit, doesn’t believe in magic. She’s based her business on that belief, “disenchanting” those who fall for parlor tricks and charismatic mages or tellers. Whenever someone comes to her and says they’re cursed, as Lady Diana Walsh does, Kit knows there’s a logical solution, and she investigates until she finds the truth.

But getting involved in Lady Walsh’s case brings Kit a world of trouble. Before she knows it, she’s almost arrested, attacked by snuffmages, drugged, and oh yeah, pursued by a deathmage.

The world Viehl has created for HER LADYSHIP’S CURSE is an interesting one, and probably one of my favorite parts of the book. It’s an alternate version of San Francisco, but in a world where the Crown still rules. There’s a lot of steampunk devices, from carris (steam-driven carriages) to a tube system that delivers items from building to building, that make life easier. Unfortunately, independence for women isn’t one of Rumsen’s advances, and Kit struggles to run a business and live her life the way she wants in a male-dominated world. And while the worldbuilding was one of the things I liked best about the book, there were a few times when I was confused about how the world had come to be. I think the short length of the book (more on that later) prevented me from learning as much as I would have liked.

I had a love-hate relationship with Kit. She’s pretty bold and brassy, and has to be in order to live as a single woman in Rumsen. There’s even a point where she dresses up like a native in order to get into an area only males can access. But whenever she encounters Lucien Dredmore, deathmage of Toriana, her personality totally changes. Kit HATES Lucien, and rightfully so — he’s not a nice guy. There was a time when he even gagged her and put his hands on her, without her consent, but when they kiss — still without her wanting to — she melts. I know some readers like that kind of thing, the Alpha male getting what he wants. But I’m not one of them, so I had a hard time with the attraction between them.

What I did like about HER LADYSHIP’S CURSE, other than the alternate America, was the mystery of Lady Walsh’s curse, Kit’s past, and Kit’s friends. While reading, I had no clue how the first two would conclude, and at the end of the book, I still don’t know. But it was a nicely twisty ride, with some clues that magic may be real after all. As for Kit’s friends — one’s a brothel owner and the other is the premiere dressmaker in the city. Just like Kit, they have colorful personalities, and I look forward to reading more about them.

I’m not sure why the publisher did this, but I believe HER LADYSHIP’S CURSE is the first half of a book. It’s about two hundred pages, so there’s not a ton of room for worldbuilding or relationship development. We get a whopping of a cliffhanger and then see “Read part 2 to find out what happens next!” If, like me, you’re not a fan of being left hanging, wait until October so you can read both parts of the book.

Socialize with the author:
Lynn Viehl:
Website

– leeanna

Book Review: Elysian Fields (Sentinels of New Orleans #3) by Suzanne Johnson

Book Review: Elysian Fields (Sentinels of New Orleans #3) by Suzanne JohnsonElysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #3
Published by Tor on August 13, 2013
Genres: Adult, Romance, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Blog Tour, NetGalley
Goodreads
4 Stars
An undead serial killer comes for DJ in this thrilling third installment of Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans series

The mer feud has been settled, but life in South Louisiana still has more twists and turns than the muddy Mississippi.

New Orleanians are under attack from a copycat killer mimicking the crimes of a 1918 serial murderer known as the Axeman of New Orleans. Thanks to a tip from the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, DJ Jaco knows the attacks aren’t random—an unknown necromancer has resurrected the original Axeman of New Orleans, and his ultimate target is a certain blonde wizard. Namely, DJ.

Combatting an undead serial killer as troubles pile up around her isn’t easy. Jake Warin’s loup-garou nature is spiraling downward, enigmatic neighbor Quince Randolph is acting weirder than ever, the Elders are insisting on lessons in elven magic from the world’s most annoying wizard, and former partner Alex Warin just turned up on DJ’s to-do list. Not to mention big maneuvers are afoot in the halls of preternatural power.

Suddenly, moving to the Beyond as Jean Lafitte’s pirate wench could be DJ’s best option.

Today I’m on the blog tour for ELYSIAN FIELDS by Suzanne Johnson. The tour is hosted by Bewitching Book Tours, and you can check out the rest of the stops here. The Sentinels of New Orleans is one I’ve enjoyed, so I was excited to be part of the promotion for it. Read on for my review and a tour-wide giveaway.

My Review:
The third book in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, ELYSIAN FIELDS picks up the story of DJ weeks after the events in book two, RIVER ROAD. Although I’d advise reading the series in order for the best experience, I think there’s enough backstory explained that you wouldn’t be entirely lost if you started with this book.

I’ve read all of the books in the series, and so far, ELYSIAN FIELDS is my favorite. That might be because elves and vampires are some of my favorite supernatural creature types, and both are featured in this book. Don’t worry — the vampires aren’t sparkly, and the elves are much bigger players. The elves aren’t your typical fantasy elves, either. They’re quite devious, underhanded, and heavily into politics.

ELYSIAN FIELDS starts off with DJ and Alex investigating a serial killer who murders his victims with an axe. The case is notorious because there was a series of unsolved murders in the past, and though normal humans think it’s a copycat, DJ figures out the truth: it’s the real Axeman, back for a fresh round of mayhem. The reason he’s able to come back is one of the coolest things in this series. Famous historical figures, like the Axeman or Jean Lafitte, pirate extraordinaire, are immortal because they’re remembered and still talked about. They spend most of their time in the Beyond, a sort of shadowy New Orleans, but can gather up enough strength to return to the real world and meddle. Or kill, as the case may be.

Creative idea, right?

The Axeman case is really just a small part of the book. Before I knew it, DJ was in over her head. The book set a rapid pace from the start, and I really liked that. In the previous books, I thought there were a few too many slow chapters, and I think the author has done a good job of balancing action, worldbuilding, character development, and relationships. There’s so much going on — in a good way! — that I can’t summarize without spoiling everything. What I will say is that ELYSIAN FIELDS is a book I didn’t want to put down. There were several times I tried to read ahead, because I had to know what would happen, and let me tell you, that’s not easy on an e-reader!

Let’s talk about it:
Romance in urban fantasy. Yay or nay?

Giveaway:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the author:
suzanne johnsonOn Aug. 28, 2005, Suzanne Johnson loaded two dogs, a cat, a friend, and her mom into a car and fled New Orleans in the hours before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

Four years later, she began weaving her experiences and love for her city into the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series, beginning with Royal Street (2012), continuing with River Road (2012), and now with Elysian Fields (August 2013).

She grew up in rural Alabama, halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace, and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years—which means she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.

She can be found online at her website or her daily blog, Preternatura. As Susannah Sandlin, she writes the best-selling Penton Vampire Legacy paranormal romance series and the recent standalone, Storm Force.
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– leeanna

Book Review: Blood Oranges by Kathleen Tierney

blood orangesInfo:
Title: Blood Oranges
Author: Kathleen Tierney
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Publisher: Roc Trade
Source: Library
Series? Siobhan Quinn #1
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Horror
Page Count: 253
Rating: [2/5 stars]

Summary:

My name’s Quinn.

If you buy into my reputation, I’m the most notorious demon hunter in New England. But rumors of my badassery have been slightly exaggerated. Instead of having kung-fu skills and a closet full of medieval weapons, I’m an ex-junkie with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time. Or the right place at the wrong time. Or…whatever.

Wanted for crimes against inhumanity I (mostly) didn’t commit, I was nearly a midnight snack for a werewolf until I was “saved” by a vampire calling itself the Bride of Quiet. Already cursed by a werewolf bite, the vamp took a pint out of me too.

So now…now, well, you wouldn’t think it could get worse, but you’d be dead wrong. (summary from goodreads)

My Review:
I think BLOOD ORANGES is one of those books you either love or dislike. I’m in the “meh” camp. There were a couple of things I liked about the book, but overall, it left me with a “what did I just read” feeling.

So, what did I like? Quinn is the epitome of unreliable narrator. You never know for sure if what she’s telling you is the truth. There are more than a few instances where Quinn tells you a long story full of violence and gore … and then says she lied. The first time I thought it was pretty cool. But when it kept happening, the technique soured for me (so I guess it’s more something I liked and disliked).

The author didn’t make her paranormal beings the gorgeous, glamorous types they usually are. (Dare I say most urban fantasy/paranormal beings have something sparkly about them?) Tierney’s vampires are ugly — downright hideous — and cruel. Her werewolves have a tendency to puke up their wolf meals, so when they turn back to human form, they’re surrounded by a pile of bone and clothing studded vomit. Yum. So that was nice, because that was different.

Third good thing: there’s no romance. YAY for Quinn not falling for some sex-on-a-stick vampire or werewolf bad boy.

But now we get to the bad stuff. There’s not much of a plot. Quinn gets turned into a half-vampire, half-werewolf hybrid by one of the meanest vampires around. Intended as a weapon, she gets entangled in everyone else’s fights, trying to find her way to the truth. The book whimpers to a close, even though there’s a big explosion, as well as lots of backstabbing and trust issues. Like I said at the start of this review, when I finished BLOOD ORANGES, I was highly disappointed, and left wondering, “what the heck *was* this book?”

I also got tired of Quinn. After a point, I just wanted to skim past every story from her past. If you can believe her (and I’m not sure I can), she ran away from home at twelve or thirteen, was a child prostitute, got on drugs, watched a ghoul kill her lover/friend, and oh, somehow became a monster hunter. It got ridiculous.

I think the author was trying to take all the urban fantasy tropes and turn them on their heads. But it just didn’t work for me. I like dark books, but BLOOD ORANGES left me rolling my eyes rather than feeling horrified.

I have one last gripe. Kathleen Tierney is the penname for Caitlin R. Kiernan. Yet in the author’s bio, it says this is her first novel. I get using different names for different genres, but don’t say it’s a first book when it’s not.

Let’s talk about it:
What do you think about writers using pseudonyms? Do you prefer if they openly admit, “hey this writer is also me,” or get annoyed if they try to keep it a secret?

Socialize with the author:
Website

– leeanna

Blog Tour Book Review: Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

Today I am the stop on the blog tour for The Sentinels of New Orleans by Suzanne Johnson. The tour is hosted by Bewitching Book Tours and you can visit the other stops here. My stop is up a little late because I haven’t had electric since yesterday … I could definitely go for some of the MREs DJ and Alex seem to live on in ROYAL STREET!

royal streetInfo:
Title: Royal Street
Author: Suzanne Johnson
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Publisher: Tor Books
Source: Blog tour
Series? The Sentinels of New Orleans #1: Royal Street
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Page Count: 336
Rating: [3/5 stars]

Summary:

As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ’s boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond.

Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters.

While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now, the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering the soldiers sent to help the city recover.

To make it worse, Gerry has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and for the serial killer turns personal when DJ learns the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies come from the unlikeliest places, and duty mixed with love creates one bitter gumbo. (summary from goodreads)

My Review:
The first in a new urban fantasy series, ROYAL STREET features a unique magic system, a delectable bad guy, and a memorable setting.

The book is set mostly post Hurricane Katrina, in a devastated New Orleans. The author eloquently describes the effects of the hurricane upon the city and its citizens, and I felt for them. The setting has one other purpose — the destruction of the city weakens the boundaries between Old and New Orleans, allowing supernatural creatures to more easily walk among the living.

Enter Drusilla Jaco, junior sentinel for New Orleans. She’s a Green Congress wizard, one of those responsible for sending the dead back where they belong. Famous figures like Jean Lafitte and Marie Laveau make appearances, Jean being the sexiest undead pirate I’ve ever read about. In the world the author created, such figures can be summoned from the Beyond, but of course they come back to wreck havoc.

The worldbuilding and magic system were my favorite parts of ROYAL STREET. Different “congresses” of wizards have different abilities. I’ll let DJ explain her speciality:

“Green Congress wizards were the geeks of the magical world, hell on rituals and potions but always last to get picked for wizard dodgeball, so to speak. I’d have to immobilize the vampire, saw off his fangs, and dissolve them in an herbal potion while muttering some obscure incantation. We had no flair (Chapter 2).”

In the author’s world, there are also vampires, fey, elves, shifters, weres, and zombies, but they didn’t make appearances. I hope more about the different factions and races shows up in future books in the series, since I want to see how they all fit in Old Orleans, New Orleans, and the Beyond. New Orleans was the perfect city to set ROYAL STREET, because it’s so rich in history and ghost stories; I felt like the city was a character in itself.

As a main character, DJ did get on my nerves a fair amount. It’s a peeve of mine when characters continually charge into danger, even when A) they know better, and B) everyone around them tells them not to. However, I could respect DJ’s desire to find out the truth about her mentor, and her need to rescue him after he disappeared. I just wish she had been a bit smarter about it.

The pacing of ROYAL STREET was slow at times, with the characters spending lots of time waiting and researching. I think it could have been a bit shorter, which would have tightened the various plotlines, which ranged from a voodoo-inspired serial killer running around New Orleans killing rescue workers to the hunt for Gerry, DJ’s mentor.

Even with the few things I’ve mentioned, ROYAL STREET was a good read. The author hooked me enough for me to want to continue the series. I think DJ will grow in the next book, because, as with all urban fantasy heroines, she discovers tons of secrets about her past throughout the course of ROYAL STREET. I’m also looking forward to seeing Alex again. Introduced at the start as DJ’s new partner and Co-Sentinel, Alex is a walking armory, big on guns and grenades instead of spells. He’s the epitome of the strong yet sensitive love interest, and though I didn’t feel the sparks between them, I could see their relationship change from the beginning to the end of the book.

About the author:
Suzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance from Auburn, Alabama, after a career in educational publishing that has spanned five states and six universities. She grew up halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.
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– leeanna

Blog Tour Book Review: Sparks by Laura Bickle

Welcome back! Today I have more on the blog tour for EMBERS and SPARKS by Laura Bickle. The tour is hosted by Bewitching Book Tours and you can view the rest of the stops here. Today’s post is a review of SPARKS. Yesterday I reviewed EMBERS.

sparksInfo:
Title: Sparks
Author: Laura Bickle
Release Date: August 2010
Publisher: Pocket Juno Books
Source: Blog tour
Series? Anya Kalinczyk #2
Series Reviews:
Anya Kalinczyk #1: Embers
Genre: Adult, Urban Fantasy
Page Count: 368
Rating: [4/5 stars]

Summary:

WITHOUT A TRACE

Anya Kalinczyk is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern, who holds down a day job as an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department—while working 24/7 to exterminate malicious spirits haunting a city plagued by unemployment and despair. Along with her inseparable salamander familiar, Sparky, Anya has seen, and even survived, all manner of fiery hell—but her newest case sparks suspicions of a bizarre phenomenon that no one but her eccentric team of ghost hunters might believe: spontaneous human combustion.

After fire consumes the home of elderly Jasper Bernard, Anya is stunned to discover his remains—or, more precisely, a lack of them; even the fiercest fires leave some trace of their victims—and she is sure this was no naturally occurring blaze. Soon she’s unearthed a connection to a celebrity psychic who preys on Detroit’s poor, promising miracles for money. But Hope Solomon wants more—she’s collecting spirits, and in a frantic race against time, Anya will face down an evil adversary who threatens her fragile relationship with her lover, her beloved Sparky’s freshly hatched newts, and the wandering souls of the entire city. (summary from goodreads)

My Review:
The second book in the Anya Kalinczyk series, SPARKS continues the adventures of Anya, Sparky, and the DAGR team. Anya is an arson investigator and a special type of medium that can see and devour ghosts. Sparky is her super protective salamander companion. DAGR is the Detroit Area Ghost Researchers, a team of amateur ghost hunters who usually erase the boundaries between Anya’s normal world and her paranormal one.

Though SPARKS is the second in a series, you don’t need to have read EMBERS to know what’s going on. The books are more like companion novels than a true series in my opinion, since the events of EMBERS aren’t really important for SPARKS. I like that aspect of these books, since it’s so nice to not have to remember everything that happened in book one!

Anya’s worlds — worlds she tries hard to keep separate — again collide when she realizes a series of mysterious, impossible deaths can be caused by only one thing: magic. Of course, she can’t exactly explain that to her boss or the fire department, but she can do her best to fight the villain using both legal and magickal methods.

I liked the mystery in the book (cases of supposed spontaneous combustion), and also liked how the author connected scientific methods and magickal methods of investigation and crime-fighting. It’s something I’ve noted in Laura Bickle’s other novels (she has another series as Alayna Williams), and something I’m happy to see again and again in her work.

The bad guy in SPARKS is actually a woman, Hope Solomon. Think of a Sunday morning TV evangelist, and you’ve got her. Although I wasn’t entirely sure of her motivations, I was definitely rooting for Anya to take her down … because Hope goes after one of my favorite animal characters ever, Sparky.

Sparky is even more adorable in this book than he was in EMBERS. Hopefully I’m not spoiling anything, but Sparky HAS BABIES. There’s a scene where Anya and Katie, her witch friend, go shopping for baby supplies. And let me tell you, you need a LOT of stuff when you’re expecting 51 baby newts. It had to be one of the more hilarious scenes I’ve read in a while.

SPARKS was a fast, good read, with lots of stuff for urban fantasy fans. I particularly liked Anya’s journey to the Underworld, as it was cool to see the author’s take on astral projection. There’s a lot more in SPARKS that I’m not mentioning, but I think it’s worth the time to read the book and find out all the surprises for yourself. :)

About the author:
Laura Bickle’s professional background is in criminal justice and library science. When she’s not patrolling the stacks at the public library, she can be found reaming up stories about the monsters under the stairs.

She has written several contemporary fantasy novels for adults, and THE HALLOWED ONES is her first young adult novel. Laura lives in Ohio with her husband and five mostly-reformed feral cats.
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– leeanna

Blog Tour Book Review: Embers by Laura Bickle

Today I am the stop on the blog tour for EMBERS and SPARKS by Laura Bickle. The tour is hosted by Bewitching Book Tours and you can view the rest of the stops here. Today I have a review of EMBERS; stop back tomorrow for a review of the next book, SPARKS. I was going to put up both reviews today, but I think spacing them out will encourage people to actually read the reviews instead of scrolling past :D

embersInfo:
Title: Embers
Author: Laura Bickle
Release Date: April 2010
Publisher: Pocket Juno Books
Source: Blog tour
Series? Anya Kalinczyk #1
Series Reviews:
Anya Kalinczyk #2: Sparks
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Adult
Page Count: 359
Rating: [3/5 stars]

Summary:

Truth burns. Unemployment, despair, anger—visible and invisible unrest feed the undercurrent of Detroit’s unease. A city increasingly invaded by phantoms now faces a malevolent force that further stokes fear and chaos throughout the city.

Anya Kalinczyk spends her days as an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department, and her nights pursuing malicious spirits with a team of eccentric ghost hunters. Anya—who is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern—suspects a supernatural arsonist is setting blazes to summon a fiery ancient entity that will leave the city in cinders. By Devil’s Night, the spell will be complete, unless Anya—with the help of her salamander familiar and the paranormal investigating team—can stop it.

Anya’s accustomed to danger and believes herself inured to loneliness and loss. But this time she’s risking everything: her city, her soul, and a man who sees and accepts her for everything she is. Keeping all three safe will be the biggest challenge she’s ever faced. (summary from goodreads)

My Review:
EMBERS is the first in a new urban fantasy series starring Anya Kalinczyk, arson investigator and Lantern. A Lantern is a type of medium that can devour ghosts and demons; Anya’s like a star, burning super hot inside to consume ghostly entities. Aided by her invisible sidekick Sparky, a fire elemental, Anya balances life between two worlds, the normal and the paranormal.

Of course, there wouldn’t be any book if those two didn’t collide, and collide they do in EMBERS. Stymied by a firebug whose blazes are getting increasingly dangerous, Anya puts herself in danger when she helps the Detroit Area Ghost Researchers (DAGR) remove a demon from a possessed girl. But when Anya fails to completely consume the demon, it starts to take over her. Worse yet, the demon has the same goal in mind as the firebug: they both want the mysterious Sirrush to come.

EMBERS is a good combination of police procedural and urban fantasy. This is something I’ve read before in the author’s work (Laura Bickle also writes as Alayna Williams), and it’s something I think she does well. A straight up crime story would bore me, but add ghosts, demons, and the like? I’m in. Plus it’s always interesting to see the two worlds mix. I mean, when you have a ghost as your main witness, it’s kind of hard to bring him to court to testify….

At first, Anya is a difficult character to get into. She’s somewhat anti-social and pushes everyone away, but once you learn what’s in her past, her behavior is understandable. And she does grow throughout EMBERS, overcoming her reluctance to rely on others. I wasn’t too into the romances, but they served their purpose of helping Anya grow. So do the other supporting characters, all of which I liked. From Katie the witch to Felicity the ghost librarian, the author is really good at fleshing out minor characters and making them stand out.

Sparky, Anya’s guardian fire salamander, is awesome. Hands down he was one of my favorite parts of EMBERS, and all without him saying a word. The author has a real gift for creating memorable and unique animal characters. Sparky is invisible to everyone but ghosts and Anya, has an appetite for electronics and body glitter, and sleeps with a Gloworm. He’s adorable yet protective — where can I find a guard lizard like him?

Overall, EMBERS is a quick, immersive read. The writing is easy to sink into, and Detroit comes through clearly as a setting. I was a bit disappointed by the climax — after all the build up, I expected more of an explosion (no pun intended). The mythology in the book makes Sirrush out to be a really bad beastie, and I enjoyed all of the creativity behind him. I just wanted more of a boom at the end.

But I will definitely read SPARKS, the next book in Anya’s story. EMBERS doesn’t leave any cliffhangers — yay! — and I’m curious to see what will happen next to Anya and Sparky.

About the author:
Laura Bickle’s professional background is in criminal justice and library science. When she’s not patrolling the stacks at the public library, she can be found reaming up stories about the monsters under the stairs.

She has written several contemporary fantasy novels for adults, and THE HALLOWED ONES is her first young adult novel. Laura lives in Ohio with her husband and five mostly-reformed feral cats.
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– leeanna

Blog Tour Book Review: Influential Magic by Deanna Chase

Today I am the stop for the INFLUENTIAL MAGIC blog tour. The tour is hosted by Bewitching Book Tours and you can find the rest of the stops here. Check below my review for an interview with the author, Deanna Chase.

influential magicInfo:
Title: Influential Magic
Author: Deanna Chase
Release Date: March 6, 2013
Publisher: Bayou Moon Press
Source: Author for blog tour
Series? Crescent City Fae #1
Genre: New Adult, Urban Fantasy
Page Count: 310
Rating: [4/5 stars]

Summary:

It’s tough being a faery in New Orleans, a city fraught with vampires… especially when their very existence drains your life-force.

Willow Rhoswen, owner of The Fated Cupcake and part-time vampire hunter for the Void is having a rough week. Four years after her twin brother’s mysterious death, Willow’s life is threatened and the director saddles her with a new partner—her ex-boyfriend, David. To her horror, he’s turned vamp, which causes her physical pain whenever she touches him… and any other specimen of the undead.

In order to save Willow’s life, David agrees to turn double agent against the most powerful vampire organization in New Orleans. Or so he says. And she’s convinced they know something about her brother’s death. Unsure where David’s loyalties lie, she turns to Talisen, her childhood crush, to help her solve the mystery.

Caught between two gorgeous men and a director who’ll stop at nothing to control Willow’s gifts, she’ll have to follow her instincts and learn who to trust. Otherwise, she risks losing more than just her life. (summary from goodreads)

My Review:
INFLUENTIAL MAGIC is a new adult, urban fantasy, a combination I’ve been trying to find for a while. Most new adult books are contemporary, which isn’t my cup of tea. I’m happy to say INFLUENTIAL MAGIC was worth the search!

Right from the start, the worldbuilding begins. Willow, the protagonist, is a faery, complete with wings that let her fly and an extreme sensitivity to metal. For her, spending several hours on a plane is more than just an annoyance: metal sucks away her energy. Which is not a good thing, because minutes after getting off the plane to New Orleans, she’s in a cemetery hunting a vampire. Cemeteries and vampires are two more deadly things to faeries like Willow.

I appreciated that the author didn’t do information dumps about the world, but gave information as it was needed. And what a world! In INFLUENTIAL MAGIC, faeries, vampires, and witches live amongst humans without hiding who they are. Willow runs a mega successful bake shop, selling magically enhanced goodies. I would love to get my hands on a Molten Muse cupcake, which sparks inspiration.

Aside from her bakery, Willow is also an agent for the Void, a government branch for supernatural dealings. So is her best friend and witch, Phoebe, as well as her aunt, Maude. It’s a big tangled deal, one Willow isn’t thrilled about being a part of. But she has a unique ability that is extremely helpful: she can track vampires.

There’s a LOT going on in INFLUENTIAL MAGIC. A lot in a good way. The action is fast, with barely a dull or down moment. There are tons of twists, and I really didn’t know how everything was going to tie together at the end. As someone who can usually figure out a book early on, I always like when a story is unpredictable. But at the same time, I had a small problem with so much action: I had trouble keeping track of the passage of time. Thinking back, it’s almost as if the whole story took place over the course of a very long day.

I also had some trouble with both of the men in Willow’s life. David, her ex-boyfriend, comes back into the picture as a vampire. He ended their relationship with a real jerk move — he sent her a text message. Willow has to deal with the feelings from that while trying to keep ahead of someone who wants to use her abilities. There’s also Talisen, the best friend of Willow’s deceased twin and a fellow fae. Talisen has become a sort of replacement brother for Willow, but she won’t go into boyfriend/girlfriend territory with him because he’s a playboy (play faery?). Though romance isn’t really a big focus, I didn’t know why Willow had dated David in the first place, since their relationship took place prior to the book. So their reconciliation or lack of one wasn’t important to me. And with Talisen, yeah he’s cute and cares for Willow, but I never felt the attraction between them.

Considering the entire book, though, those are two minor complaints. The writing in INFLUENTIAL MAGIC is strong, and the author easily drew me into the world, characters, and story. The main mysteries in this book are tied up at its end, but there are some open storylines leaving plenty of room for a sequel. I’d say the book is a steal at $3.99 for the Kindle version.

Oh goddess! I almost forgot to mention Link, Willow’s shapeshifter protector. If you like good animals characters, you’ll love Link. Sometimes he’s a Shih Tzu and sometimes he’s a wolf. He transforms with Willow’s moods and the situation, although there are some hilarious images of him in Shih Tzu form hanging from a bad dude’s butt by his teeth.


Interview:
1. I read on your blog that you feel the stigma of self-publishing even though you’ve been successful. Why did you decide to self-publish? 

I’ve been writing for about six years now and when I started, self-publishing was known as the kiss of death for writers wanting any type of career. The only way to be taken seriously was to submit to agents and publishers and pray someone, anywhere would like what you write and give you a chance. I did my time on the query merry-go-round with not much success.

Then one day I read an article on Amanda Hocking. Up until that point, I had no idea Kindle Direct Publishing, Pubit (now NOOKpress), or Smashwords even existed. I spent the next forty-eight hours scouring the internet to find out as much as I could about the viability of self-publishing. After my eyes were glazed over and my head was spinning, I got that nervous anticipation feeling in my gut and I knew what I was going to do.

I’d been running the glass business I share with my husband for six years by then. Since I’m used to being my own boss, self-publishing seemed like a no-brainer. I like being in charge of my business and holding my professional fate in my own hands. And I was right. Self-publishing turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I now have a writing career that I’m proud of.

As far as the stigma of self-publishing, I wrote that blog post back in September of last year. I was (and am still) very proud of my accomplishments, but there was a bit of self-doubt about how other writers might see my choices. But attitudes and the market are changing so fast these days, I no longer feel the way I did then. I’m very proud and comfortable with my decisions. I wouldn’t change them and really, I’m no longer bothered by what anyone else may think.

Bead-DeannaChase2. I checked out your glass beads (which are awesome!). How did you get into lampworking, and do you find yourself working on beads when you’re stuck with writing? 

Thank you!

In 1999 my husband and I were at a street fair and we saw a woman selling handmade glass beads and marbles that she made using a technique called lampworking (also known as flameworking). It’s called lampworking because in the past people used to melt glass over oil lamps. My husband (who at the time was a stained glass artist) decided he was going to learn to be a lampworker. He went home, bought a book and all the equipment, and three months later he was selling his work on eBay.

He did that as a hobby for three years. Then in 2003 my husband and I sold our house and moved into an RV to travel the country fulltime while working at campgrounds. It was a grand adventure that we both loved. Along the way, I started lampworking as well and in 2005 we started selling our glass beads and marbles fulltime. In 2007, when we decided we needed more studio space than our RV could handle, we settled into a house in southeast Louisiana. I started writing that year.

As far as lampworking when I get stuck writing, yes it helps. It helps a lot actually. The studio is a great place to work out plot issues.

Duncan-DeannaChase3. Where did the idea for INFLUENTIAL MAGIC come from? 
Hmm, tough question.  To tell you the truth, I don’t even know. I started writing Influential Magic back in early 2011 after I decided Haunted on Bourbon Street, my previous novel, wasn’t going to find a home with a publisher. But then I learned about self-publishing and went full speed ahead on publishing the Bourbon Street novels. I came back to Influential Magic late last year to finish it because that story was always in the back of my mind.

I will tell you that Link, Willow’s shih tzu is inspired my dog Duncan (full name Duncan Donut). He’s positive he’s a wolf and quite pleased he has a starring role in Influential Magic.

4. I’m thrilled there’s finally a new adult novel that *isn’t* contemporary. Did you decide consciously to write new adult, or did Willow just pop into your head? 

As I said earlier, I started writing this back in early 2011. I’m not even sure New Adult existed as a genre back then. So no, I didn’t consciously decide to write New Adult, but I think it does fit squarely in the genre given Willow’s age of twenty-four, the fact that she’s dealing with her childhood crush, and that she’s just now coming into her powers and what they mean for her life path.

5. When reading yourself, do you prefer e-books or physical books? 
Both. And audio books. Audio books are great for when I’m in the studio.

6. Favorite book or series you reread? If you reread.
JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, of course.
The Hollows series by Kim Harrison.
And let’s not forget the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.

7. Any tips for aspiring writers? 
To just write. If you have a story in you, get it out. Then worry about editing and story structure and all that good stuff. It’s wonderful to take workshops, find critique partners, and read books on how to write books. But until you have words down, you don’t have anything to work with. So if you want to write, then write.

Also, write from the heart. Don’t worry too much about what you think people want to read. Write what you want to read. If it means something to you, it’s likely the story will resonate with readers.


Giveaway:
Tour Wide Giveaway:
–One tote bag with a notebook, keychain and signed copy of Influential Magic
–One notebook, keychain and signed copy of Influential Magic
–3 keychains and signed copies of Influential Magic
–5 signed print copies of Influential Magic
–10 ebook copies of Influential Magic

Physical prizes open to US Shipping

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the author:
Deanna is a native Californian, transplanted to the slower paced lifestyle of southeastern Louisiana.

When she isn’t writing, she is often goofing off with her husband in New Orleans, playing with her two shih tzu dogs, making glass beads, or out hocking her wares at various bead shows across the country.

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– leeanna

Blog Tour Book Review: Rogue Oracle (Delphic Oracle #2) by Alayna Williams

Today I have two posts for you as part of the blog tour for the Delphic Oracle Series. by Alayna Williams. This is the second, a review of ROGUE ORACLE and a guest post by the author. The first post, a review of DARK ORACLE, is here. This tour is hosted by Bewitching Book Tours. You can check out the rest of the stops here.

rogue oracleInfo:
Title: Rogue Oracle
Author: Alayna Williams
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Publisher: Pocket Books
Source: Blog Tour
Series? Delphic Oracle #2
Series Reviews:
Delphic Oracle #1: Dark Oracle
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Thriller, Mystery
Page Count: 360
Rating: [3/5 stars]

Summary:

THE MORE YOU KNOW ABOUT THE FUTURE, THE MORE THERE MAY BE TO FEAR.

Tara Sheridan is the best criminal profiler around—and the most unconventional. Trained as a forensic psychologist, Tara also specializes in Tarot card reading. But she doesn’t need her divination skills to realize that the new assignment from her friend and sometime lover, Agent Harry Li, is a dangerous proposition in every way.

Former Cold War operatives, all linked to a top-secret operation tracking the disposal of nuclear weapons in Russia, are disappearing. There are no bodies, and no clues to their whereabouts. Harry suspects a conspiracy to sell arms to the highest bidder. The cards—and Tara’s increasingly ominous dreams—suggest something darker. Even as Tara sorts through her feelings for Harry and her fractured relationship with the mysterious order known as Delphi’s Daughters, a killer is growing more ruthless by the day. And a nightmare that began decades ago in Chernobyl will reach a terrifying endgame that not even Tara could have foreseen. . . (summary from goodreads)

My Review:

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOOK ONE, DARK ORACLE.

ROGUE ORACLE is the second book in the Delphic Oracle Series by Alayna Williams. It picks up a couple of months after the conclusion of DARK ORACLE. Mostly healed from the emotional wounds she suffered before the first book, Tara has returned to work as a profiler. She and Harry haven’t made much progress on their burgeoning relationship, and Tara’s main priority these days is protecting Cassie from the Pythia.

Tara is plunged right back into working for the government when Harry asks for help with a case. Tara’s not thrilled about being part of “The Little Shop of Horrors” again, but she is happy that she can try to do something for Harry. The case itself is intriguing — several ex Cold War intelligence operatives have gone missing. Their knowledge of uranium stockpiles is being sold, and there’s enough to lead to another Chernobyl.

There’s an interesting fusion of science and urban fantasy in ROGUE ORACLE. After reading it, I feel like I learned a lot about Chernobyl, and I liked that the author didn’t rely just on magic to flesh out her story. The bad guy in ROGUE ORACLE is a result of that blend of science and urban fantasy, and elements from both are used to catch him.

ROGUE ORACLE smooths out some of the rough spots I had with DARK ORACLE. The writing has matured. There’s not as many extraneous descriptions, and there’s less of a focus on the tarot card readings. As Tara relies on tarot cards to interpret events, they are a vital part. However, in the first book of the series, I felt like there was a lot of space devoted to describing each card and its significance. There isn’t as much of that in ROGUE ORACLE, yet the tarot cards remain just as important.

There are some scenes from Cassie’s viewpoint, which I really enjoyed. The scenes with Cassie and the Pythia expose more of the secret world of Delphi’s Daughters, and it’s a world I’d like to see even more of. There’s a moment near the end where I went, “Ohhh. That would be a big burden to handle.” Having characters that can see the future lets the reader consider if that future is set in stone, or if it can be changed. And if it can, should it be changed.

Yet again, there are some great characters in ROGUE ORACLE. My favorites this book were the Steves, a pair of federal marshals. They are quite the colorful duo, nicknamed the Kahuna and the Cowboy by Tara. They provide some comic relief, but they also shine in serious moments, and they help Cassie recover from a traumatic experience.

The main story of ROGUE ORACLE is tied up neatly at the end of the book. Currently, there isn’t a third book in the series, but I would like to read another.


Guest Post:
Writing Destiny and Free Will
By Alayna Williams

There’s something odd about writing about free will and destiny. When I’m building a story, I’m conscious that my characters really shouldn’t have much free will. After all, I’m the gal behind the curtain, directing a story and pulling the strings of my characters. They do what I want them to do…most of the time.

Sometimes, they surprise me. I think I know where I want to take them, and they rebel. They deliberately ignore the destiny I’ve scribbled down for them in my outline and decide to go on a road trip without me. Sometimes those scenes work, and sometimes they don’t. Trying to keep my characters harnessed to complete their mission is somewhat like herding cats. If I can get them from point A in chapter one to point Z in the final chapter, I feel like I’ve got things under control.

Weird things happen when I’m writing about characters who are grappling with destiny and free will in the plot line. It’s as if my internal processes become part of the external product. I have the sense that my characters are critters on an ant farm who have just become aware of a human tapping on the glass, and they’re not happy about being trapped and manipulated.

Tara Sheridan is the heroine of my ORACLE books. She’s a criminal profiler who uses Tarot cards to solve crimes, and also a former member of a secret society of mystics, Delphi’s Daughters. Delphi’s Daughters work behind the scenes to nudge world events, for good or ill, and Tara wants out of the game. When she’s teamed with her skeptical partner, federal agent Harry Li, Tara is forced to figure out where destiny ends in her world and free will begins.

It was an exciting concept to play with. Do Tara’s cards tell of possibilities, or a fixed destiny that can’t be changed? Is free will an illusion, and Tara and Harry are simply pawns in a larger pattern? Can they break free and restore order to their world?

These are questions my characters ask each other. Some of the answers are not what they want to hear. But they are questions the characters have muttered to me as I’m shoving them along their adventures with pen and paper…and it was a lot of fun to show the readers that process.

Socialize with the author:
Alayna Williams:
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– leeanna