Secrets and Sorcery by Lori Whyte

When everything you believe in is wrong

Avery, a cat shifter, has grown up believing that her magic is rare and that she should hide it at any cost. When her brother is recruited by the so-called Dark Guards because of his strong gifted and inherited magic, Avery is forced out into the open, something which she’s always been terrified of. Can she keep her secrets, and her sanity?

Mike is initially drawn to Avery wanting to uncover what she’s hiding. But he doesn’t expect to be drawn to her in other ways, too. When Avery’s brother goes missing in a surprise attack, it takes some time for Avery to trust Mike, but before long, they’re not only sharing a mission, they’re sharing a bed.

The connection between Mike and Avery is sizzling! This story has a “Fated Mates” edge to it, which can be seen as the dynamic between the pair increases. Not that Avery really wants to believe, let alone have anything to do with that. She’s grown up as one of “Castor’s Kind”, aka “human”, and was always taught that she should never mingle with the rest of WaW (Witch and Warlock) society, as she would be caught and tortured.

But the true secrets come out, turning Avery’s world upside down. Because, as it turns out, she’s not the only shifter around…

What I also found great about this book was the glossary at the back. I bookmarked it, and referenced it several times. Even though the terms are explained as the story goes along, having a list of them all in one place definitely helps if you forget a little! The entire story is based in the modern world with elements of Greek mythology thrown in. Everyone in the WaW world is gifted a magic by one of the Greek gods, and inherits a second, weaker, magic from one of their parents. Quite an interesting concept!

Although I must admit the ending disappointed me. It was weaker than the rest of the story. I understood that it was a lead-in to the next book, but I wasn’t so enamoured on it. However, it will be interesting following the stories of the other characters, definitely, and this book was more than enough to want me to read further.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

The Time of Jacob’s Trouble by Donna VanLiere

Not what I was expecting

I would absolutely love to say that I wasn’t the intended audience for this book, but unfortunately I would be wrong. The author’s intent is that everyone reads it, no matter their background, to better understand Revelations and the end of times, and by so doing come to Christ…

As soon as I opened the first pages of the book, and saw which Bible each character was reading, I should have walked away right then. Seriously, being a non-Christian, I couldn’t care less! So it soon became obvious that it wasn’t what I hoped for – a literary exploration of some Biblical ideas. Why can’t someone write something like that without being religiously involved?!

I really tried to see the story amongst the pages, to appreciate the limited amount of actual storyline, trying to ignore the postscript telling you nearly every page to refer to the Biblical explanation of the events that were happening. Some of it did actually have me hooked, but some of the rest was droning, repetitive, and just uninteresting. For the rest, the truth is the overly pushy nature of all the Christian stuff just got to me.

Put it this way, the book actually ends at page 185/63%. The other 37% is entirely dedicated to explaining the Bible (and why am I nice enough to capitalise that word?!) and, oh, that’s where it’s revealed what the author’s true intentions were with this story. After the first couple of pages of the last part, I just skipped the rest. The story was done, there was a cliffhanger waiting for the next, and the rest was just uninteresting babble.

So, as I said, this book was entirely not for me. I’m not a Christian, I don’t want to be preached at. And for that reason, despite what could be good about this author’s works, their purely Evangelistic aim of this book has put me off reading anything else of theirs. Despite all that, well, I didn’t dislike it completely, which surprises me no end. Yet that is still not enough to encourage me to read the sequels. It would need to be far sturdier, and lose all the Biblical and preachy stuff, for me to even consider it.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Fangs For All by Laura Greenwood and Arizona Tape

Awesome ending

Ha! What a conclusion! Considering I’d been following the series from book one (which is best, as otherwise it’s impossible to keep up), there are certainly some things I didn’t see coming.

So, we learn more about the Blood Slave auctions and, of course, Lucy and her band are still hot on the tail to try to stop them, at any cost. Yet, what will it cost them? For Lucy, it costs her more than she would have wanted at the beginning of her journey into the dark side of vampire high society. Yet, when stepping into her inheritance appears to be the answer to almost all of her aims and questions, she finally does it, and with flourish.

Mika. Now, I wouldn’t have expected that to be the real background story! Yet, with all her strangeness, it does make perfect sense. Despite everything, she proves quite an ally.

But that damned cat! When will we finally understand what’s going on with him?!

And then there’s Lucy and her men… Not quite a complete HEA, yet things appear to definitely be working out for her! Not that her mother would approve, but hey – isn’t she one of the ones supporting keeping the Blood Slaves…?

With her grandmother somehow speaking from beyond her Sleep, all the clues have been right under Lucy’s nose the entire time.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Forgotten Gods: The Complete Series by Laura Greenwood

Ups and downs

This is a series based on Egyptian Gods coping with living in the modern world. Each book in this box set is reviewed individually below.

Book 1: Protectors of Poison
Serket has been hiding for years, pretending to be the human, Sera. She moves around a lot, so not to create suspicion on the fact that she ages extremely slowly. She’s quite happy to have left her old life behind, despite her waning power, but nothing lasts forever.

Serket just happens to be the God of Poisons, her animal form being a scorpion. She’s quite far away from her many scorpions, when it appears someone is not only trying to wipe her out, but has managed to use her scorpions to fix a crime onto her…

This, unfortunately, ended with no full conclusion. I was a bit stumped by the ending. The story itself was full of lots of promise, which didn’t pan out fully. I still enjoyed it overall, though, just not as much as if it were complete.

Rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Book 1.5: Priestess of Truth
I actually read and rated this book before, which can be found here. Unfortunately, the reread didn’t make me feel any better about the book.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

Book 2: Daughter of the Sun
Sekhmet is the Goddess of Vengeance. She has been cursed by her father, Sun God Ra, and has been trapped inside a sphinx for millennia. Yet, her father wants to find her again, not to apologise for the years she’s been trapped, but to gain her help in stopping the God of Chaos, Seth. Yet, her freedom has a caveat – no blood-blind vengeance…

She is encouraged, throughout the story, to embrace her alter-ego, Bastet. A surprise romance somehow manages to calm her fiery side, bringing her closer to peace than she’s been in many years.

And, of course, she finds out the truth about the curse and why she has been “disabled”…

Unfortunately, this is another story with no true progression or resolution. It was enjoyable, but the ending left me disappointed again.

Rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Book 3: Servant of Chaos
This story follows Rhodopis, one of Seth’s slaves. It is loosely based on the legend, which is a kind of Cinderella story (and, according to Wikipedia, the earliest known variant of this). She has some power within the household, yet is unable to escape – anyone caught escaping is brutally beaten, even killed. Anyone even daring to anger Seth in even the smallest way can be subject to this fate. As the God of Chaos he, of course, likes nothing better than upsetting people and causing mayhem. Yet Rhodopis tries to keep the peace as much as possible, encouraging the other slave girls to follow the rules and not stand out. Unfortunately, she cannot save them all…

Rhodopis herself is saved when she attracts the attention of one of the party of a visiting dignitary. Yet she knows that any brief moment of escape will only make the following years of torture worse.

This has a loose ending and no true resolution. Rhodopis knows she’ll never be free from Seth, so how is that an ending, trying to “pretend” that everything will be OK? Or, at least, that’s how it seemed.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

Conclusion:
What’s most annoying about these books is that they don’t actually follow on from each other. There are snippets that you believe should, with hints of things to come in the previous books, yet there’s no story arch at all! I had expected at least some reference between books two and three, at the most, considering this one defining factor is mentioned. Yet, there is nothing. It’s a real shame, as each story has such an incomplete ending, that it would have been so much better if the stories were linked in some way. I should be rating the series lower than the average of 3.5, but I’ll round it up as it was still good in places.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Valkyrie’s Choice by Arizona Tape

Resolution, but no resolution

Yes, we get a resolution to everything that happened in the previous book! The true characters all come out! Bryn finally stands up to her grandmother, in several ways, managing to impress her as much as piss her off! And Bryn finds out what she truly wants to be as well. But…

Yes, there’s always a “but”. The ending left me quite disappointed. We have here a slow-burn romance, which doesn’t fully resolve. Everything is building up to something that doesn’t quite happen. Maybe in the main series, we’ll get to see how that develops, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen here. I believe that that was the biggest let down of the two books, knowing that there could have been so much more.

What I liked most, however, was the deeper digging into the mythology, as Bryn travels through the afterlife on her own, discovering other lines in the mythology belonging to some of the other beings, which she in turns relates back to these other beings in the living world.

All in all, it isn’t bad. Bryn learning “BSL” (in this instance, Banshee Sign Language instead of British Sign Language) is an interesting one, along with why they use the sign language. Along with other little quirks, it makes it an interesting story.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Burn the Dark by S.A. Hunt

Poor Start to Near-Epic Finish

This book started off with a bunch of bad sayings, that made no sense whatsoever. Well, it was a review copy, so may have been updated by the time the book was released, but there is nothing more off putting (well, perhaps there is) than a bunch of author-created nonsensical sayings.

But, once I got into the book, despite the horror edge to the story, I actually quite enjoyed it. A few laughs, a few gory moments. A few excellent characters to top it off, with a few interweaving storylines.

The witches themselves are devious. And there is just something not right about that house… Yet Robin manages to go back to where she grew up and find out more about her past than she could have wished for, gaining a handful of trusty sidekicks along the way.

I might not understand much about the background or culture (typical Brit trying to watch US TV dramas and failing to get the context), but all in all it wasn’t bad at all.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Valkyrie’s Oath by Arizona Tape

Well…

My ambiguous title is due to my mixed impressions. I was so confused when I started the book that I hated the first couple of chapters. Well, hate might be a bit strong, but I disliked it. Even up to the point of the MC becoming attracted to a new teacher. Eurgh! It just wasn’t for me at that moment.

But then, something happened. I left it a day and, when I restarted, I just had to read further. I went from “dislike” to “intrigue”. I don’t believe that it had anything to do with the writing per se, just that I’d come from reading a book with a completely different style. Besides, I usually like this author’s works, so maybe coming back with a fresh head meant that I could actually invest myself in this story.

Although I do believe that the beginning didn’t help any. I haven’t read any of the sister series, although that shouldn’t have an effect, as the first book wasn’t published that long before this one. But it felt like being thrown into the deep end without a lifesaver ring, no explanations, surrounded by laughing, warring, teenagers.

So, as I said, maybe that was it – the complete change of pace and style from the book I’d just finished. Although I would have been happy with a few more explanations, once I did finally get into the book, everything was fine!

I should have expected that ending, really. A cliffhanger, but none of Bryn’s supposed “friends” really felt like friends, anyway, especially with their attitude. At least one felt more like a hanger on. Considering how she’s an heir, you can expect that she’d have a hoard of frenemies in place of real friends, those who pretend to look after her but are really just waiting for her to slip up.

Anyway, my complete turnaround meant that I was invested in the story by the end, quite happily so, which came as a real surprise to me. So soon on with the next it is!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

A Rose to the Torch by Bartholomew Lander

Incredible world building

I can completely understand why people have a “Marmite” reaction to this (i.e. they either love it or hate it): if I hadn’t read the prequel to this, All Bleeds Through (ABT), then I believe that I would have been somewhat confused, too.

ABT lays out the basics of the universe, with tales set inside it that eventually all link together. This brings nearly all of those loose threads together, and shows how much each individual and story really are connected. When I realised this, I had to go back and check, and I was wowed.

Not only that, the mythology is set up brilliantly. We not only have the Hemomancers and Humans, and how they are affected by events and each other, we also have a whole background of religious mythology with such amazing depth to it, that it’s completely believable that it could be our world and not just an alternate universe.

As for the story itself, here we have Coral, and Gavin, alongside other characters who were introduced to us in ABT. It is primarily Coral and Gavin’s histories which are revealed here as being important to the story as a whole, neither of whom actually truly knew about their background and the true meaning of it.

Coral goes from being a scared, ambivalent teenager, to a strong wildcard contender. She’s supposed to be a “nought”, one with the blood type O Negative, who has no control over the blood of others. Yet there is a huge fight over her blood; in the hunt to kill noughts over the years, Coral is now perhaps the only one left, the only one who can save an evil lord whose blood was poisoned years ago in order to end the slaughter.

But, this is where it gets complicated for Coral: who is the real monster in this story? The lord who has tried to control all other hemomancers for more than a century? Or those willing to sacrifice Coral for the greater good?

Can Coral not only prevail but find a way to fight back? It’s not until the very end that she finds out who are true friends are, but by that time, will it be too late?

I must admit, my rating hovered back and forth on this, mostly due to the characterisation. But it all came together wonderfully, as the characters and the story developed. Most of all, towards the end, it was possible to understand the characters and their reasonings better. The ending was a total shock, but shouldn’t have been so surprising, really. No one is safe and what can go wrong, will go wrong, etc. So, along with all of the above, I just have to rate it highly, just like the prequel.

The final lines leave hope, despite the devastation. A nice way to make way for the sequel.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Black Magic Voodoo by Nikki Landis

Needed to grow on me

In the beginning, this book didn’t interest me at all. I’ve no idea why. Maybe it was a book slump, maybe it was the writing, but something just didn’t hit with me. I was about a third of the way into the book, when things really started hitting off, that I started to have an interest in the story.

Cassie is getting ready for the month-long celebrations that lead up to Samhain, when her life starts to get turned on its head. Not only is there a dark presence targeting her, but she suddenly has three men there to protect her, whether she likes it or not.

Cassie has power enough on her own, but it takes the help of these three men, her family, and her ancestors to start to face off the dark evil. If only things were more straight forward and they could get on with their celebrations, like planned.

I guess it was the twists and turns that finally piqued my interest and got me “reading” the book instead of just “following along”. By the end, there was definitely enough to make me interested in reading the rest of the series.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Avoiding the Abyss by A.C. Ward

Too much abuse

This book starts straight off the bat with Aubrey getting a beating by her mother. It is given under the guise of “training”, because Aubrey is a bad fighter, but it is very clear that her mother detests her. Yet, Aubrey remains throughout her staunch defender.

Others amongst the rebels pity her, but do very little to defend her, because her mother is the “hero”, the one who rules the rebels and is renowned as the best fighter.

Everything is turned on its head when she is captured by government, yet not at all in the ways that she expects. She keeps on supporting her mother, even secretly, right up to the last. Even when she does find out the truth, can she keep supporting someone who her entire life has seen her as useless until it’s discovered she has powers?

The ending, or perhaps more late middle to end, were the only redeeming parts of this book. The way the abuse is treated just appalled me that I nearly stopped reading after the opening scene. The latter parts made the universe interesting, enough that I want to continue the series, but I can’t ignore that beginning.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK.

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*