Jackaby by William Ritter

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It is winter 1892. Abigail Rook has just landed at New Fiddleham in New England. Although a proper young English woman, she has absconded with her school tuition money to go adventuring and heads straight to America. There, she’s penniless, wearing a scrubby dress, and looking for employment. Fortunately, she stops at an inn where the landlord lets her stay the night in exchange for kitchen labor.

The next day, after many inquiries, she finds questionable work with Detective Jackaby, who speaks of mystical creatures that abound in the everyday world. Since she needs this job, Detective Jackaby can say whatever he wants. Her job is to assist him in whatever investigative endeavors he is involved in, and she plans on being irreplaceable. Their first challenge is a murder scene. Abigail is quick to get started and begins asking questions and searching for clues. Jackaby discovers she is quite handy at drawing attention to herself, with a feminine swoon, as he accomplishes sneaky business to avoid the police.

Abigail has found her niche and nothing is going to take it away. She is a stubborn young lady, who has always yearned for adventure and has certainly found it with Jackaby. Although the book is not a cliffhanger, I was ready to go to the next one immediately. Myth and mystery collide nicely in the story, and as Abigail got comfortable, so did I. It would have been disappointing if the two had not been a large part of this story. The reader is introduced to a rather possessive ghost, a duck with a pond on the third floor, and a frog with amazingly noxious fumes.

This story is entertaining and full of strange and interesting happenings. It runs full tilt to the very end, no confusion, even though there is a lot of action. There are a few other interesting characters that are the meat, while a frog, a duck, and a ghost are the potatoes.

I love a book that doesn’t disappoint, so be prepared to like this one, as I recommend it for those with inquiring minds looking for entertainment.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading ages – I’m going to mix two genres by saying this is mystery/fantasy. I think adults and older teens will enjoy this.
  • Level of sexuality – None or very low, depending on what you consider sexual.
  • Is there graphic language? None.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No, but I smiled a few times.
  • Is this part of a series? Yes, thankfully, this is book one of the Jackaby series.
  • Level of character development – What you see is what you get. Jackaby is a strange and interesting man, and Abigail insists on adventure in her life and receives it. She shows a lot of maturity just by doggedly chasing her dream.

I give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

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The Collar & Cavvarach by Annie Douglass Lima – Krillonian Chronicles Book 1

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The collar around Bensin’s neck announces to all that he is a lowly slave, downtrodden, abused by owners, and sold as those owners see fit. There is no going out in public without a Pass from the owner. Clothing, used or very used, is at the discretion of the owner. Meals are also dictated by them. There are almost more rules than one can count. In fact, there is even a rule book on slaves for these owners.

Bensin’s sister, Ellie, is only five years old. They have always been together and he can’t imagine a life without her. They are purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Creghorn. Bensin works the yard, runs errands, and does housework. Young Ellie babysits their infant, which she is very good at, keeping Baby Creghorn happy most of the time.

When their mother died, Bensin promised her that he would obtain freedom for Ellie. Slaves are expensive to purchase and it will take years to buy her freedom. So, Bensin hatches a plan to set her free, even though he will still remain a slave. One night, they sneak out of the house, walk a long while, hiding behind cars and in alleys. Still, they are caught by the Watch officers. They’re hustled to a station, where punishment is meted out: thirty lashes for being a runaway. At fourteen, Bensin is used to being beaten by Mr. Creghorn, who is as short-tempered as a person can get. On top of his thirty lashes, he knows he will get more by his owner once he returns. Bensin realizes life is about to get even harder, but he knows he can take it if it means freeing Ellie from slavery.

Soon, Bensin discovers that the Cleghorns are selling him and he will no longer see his sister. They are both devastated at the thought, but his owners have run out of patience, dealing with a runaway, and want him gone. He is sold to Steene Mayvins, who coaches cavvara shil skills. Since he has been trained in this sport, Bensin hopes to make money for his new owner by winning matches. This is just the tip of the iceberg in the tale of Bensin and Ellie.

This story caught my interest immediately. Bensin is an engaging character with a strong personality, which must be hidden to survive in this life of slavery. Just when I thought he is an adult in disguise with all the answers, he does some ‘kid’ thing and I was reminded of his age and the strong spirit within. There is a lot that goes on in each chapter; never was I left with a ho-hum moment. I did find Ellie to be a little overly mature for her age; I have some difficulty seeing a five-year-old carrying an infant or managing to get him into his crib. Also, for being a slave, I thought she was rather unaware of the danger they were in when they tried to make a run for it.

This book is about a youngster learning a life lesson: be patient, persevere, work through your fear, and do your best. Bevin has some struggles, but he always returns to his goal of freeing his sister. Once he is owned by Steene, he becomes even stronger through the adult guidance he receives. As he is coached to physically prepare for competitions and mentally prepare for his adversaries, he becomes an admirable boy that I took pleasure watching become a mature athlete who sometimes made the right choice, and occasionally the wrong. I believe most readers will enjoy this book.

The rating:

  • Genre & general reading age – YA fantasy, but readers of all ages will appreciate it.
  • Level of sexuality: None.
  • Is there graphic language: Very little.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? The Krillonian Chronicles book one.
  • Level of character development – I enjoyed all of the characters, even the ones I thought of as ‘bad’. They were very well presented.

I give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

The Brothers Three by Layton Green

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New Orleans, Louisiana

Will works evenings at Medieval Nights, a joust-themed dinner theater. A few nights a week, to help his finances, he engages in staged battles with a group of fellow under-achieving twenty-somethings. To Will’s disappointment, he knows this is as close to Middle Earth as he will ever get. His brother, Caleb, is a bartender at the House of Spirits, and Val is the oldest brother and a corporate lawyer. Will’s routine includes two drinks at the House of Spirits, a little online gaming, then asleep by midnight, so he can get to his day job as a general contractor’s assistant.

Will’s unfortunate tendency towards severe panic attacks precludes him from any career with danger or stress. Because of this, the closest he gets to excitement is with Lance Wesson, his high school friend, who is a police officer. One evening during Will’s ride-along, they receive a call about a dog howling in the cemetery. Thinking this could be interesting, even Will gets out of the car. As they move through the headstones the howling dog can be heard and is suddenly directly in front of Will, leaping on him with chomping teeth. Lance fires his pistol and the monster runs. The young men give chase and see it disappear in the direction of the nearest home, a huge two-story with a wrap-around porch. At first, it seems to be abandoned, until a man opens the door, dressed as an eighteenth-century French aristocrat, reminding Will of a costume party. During their conversation they learn absolutely nothing, other than the fact that this situation is starting to creep Will out.

The next night, having nothing to occupy his mind, Will decides to spy on the freaky guy in the mansion. Climbing a tree and using his binoculars, he sees the man in a room lined with shelves, crammed with books and the occasional skull. Two people enter, dressed in white, and begin dusting and sweeping. Only they’re not people dressed in white; they are skeletons busily cleaning. Suddenly, one turns towards the window and Will can sense that he’s been noticed. The man jumps to his feet and rushes to the window, just as Will’s branch gives way with a loud crack.

Charles Zalinkski, a friend of the brothers’ father, calls Will and requests a meeting with all the Blackwood brothers, which Will finds odd, but lately there seems to be a lot of weird things going around. Upon meeting with Charles, they are shocked and disbelieving when he explains he is a member of an organization that studies magic. Also, he has promised their father to watch over them if there came a time that the boys needed to know more of their circumstances, and just perhaps some of their talents. Charles explains their father was a wizard and from another world. As Charles tries to tell them more about their father, the back door of the bar is flung open, as the man from the cemetery comes striding into the parking lot carrying a bag of bones.

Thus begins the adventure of a lifetime.

This is an intriguing story with lots of action. One thing with fantasy is that the author can take the story almost anywhere, stretching the reader’s imagination. It’s a long story at three-hundred and thirty-three pages, but it never drags. I enjoyed the interaction between the characters and, of course, Will’s mental health issue is a real attention grabber. Naturally, they will visit another world and that is total entertainment, as they adjust to being Beginners in the arena of magic. This is a great read and I think most of us will enjoy this book.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – This is YA fantasy. Both adults and teens will appreciate it.
  • Level of sexuality – Low.
  • Is there graphic language? Very little.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? Sometimes.
  • Is this part of a series? Yes, this is book one of the Blackwood Saga.
  • Level of character development – I found them to be fairly well-developed and obviously some of the main characters will be embellished in the sequel.

I gladly give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

Shine with Me by S.J. Pierce

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Some reviews are easy to write. Some are a joy. Then there are the ones that feel impossible. That is the case here. Bear with me as I try to put my thoughts down in such a way that you feel less lost than I am.

This is book three in the series. Many books have clues that tie back to the previous ones; that way a new reader can still jump in and enjoy the last book. This is not one of those. It begins with a journal and a character, whose name I didn’t even learn for several chapters, but there is absolutely no back story. What is this super-important journal? How did they come to possess this journal of evil? This is the way of the entire book. My face held a perpetually confused expression. These magical teenagers were tied to trees in another book, which is highly intriguing, but why? There is no explanation, but the memory is called upon more than once. Some of them were sacrificed for someone else to have immortality. Were these baddies originally human? Were they devil worshippers or just witches? It seems that everyone else is demon or angel or the most-common-type-of-being, hybrid of something with something else. There are numerous evil sisters, but I don’t even know how many or what happened to them. The entire story supposedly revolves around Kat and this evil woman’s, Lilliana’s, need to do something to her, but I don’t know what or why. Kat is very powerful, though I didn’t see it here, so is the villain going to use that or just torture and kill her? There are a lot of buts. This is a series that must be read in order or you will be utterly lost and frustrated.

Usually I like to discuss the characters, but since there was no history they felt empty. They were not described physically or personality-wise. Not even Gabe, her soul mate, is given any detail. The only sense I got from this first-person narrative is that she cannot live without him and that he is a healer. Kat herself is a mystery. If I was forced to describe her, which I guess I kind of am, I couldn’t. My thought is that all of that information is given in the first book and, therefore, it all relies on what was previously read and what those readers bring with them.

War is coming. I don’t know why, but there is a lot of hatred and fear. The first sixty percent is basically internal musings about this impending battle and how much Lilliana has tortured them and now she’s coming back to finish the job in this description-less dimension. I had no clue where they were or how they got there or why they were there. The only details given were that one of the elders could control the weather, there were trees, and they lived in cabins. Later it is stated that they are permanent residents, but this is a magical place. Who knows what can happen when the supernatural is involved, including The Creator and possibly Lucifer himself.

Warning: Some might find this paragraph a spoiler, but it really isn’t at all. Finally, some action! It was exciting and I was more than ready for it. Then it was cut in half. It’s a very popular writing tool. The actual action is not lived. The main character is knocked out or killed or goes somewhere else or what-have-you, but the reader doesn’t get to experience it. It is all relayed to the reader via other characters explaining how it all went down. With this tactic, not only does our main character miss it, but so do we. The battle was off to a great start, after I’d flipped through pages of teenage lust for vengeance, only to leave me hanging. The ending was long and drawn-out, perhaps to make up for the extensive build-up that led to a few pages of excitement. The so-called return to “normal” was exceptionally long. The overall balance of the book was off, especially considering the many confusing references to thrilling moments from the previous ones. They sounded like non-stop action, so I kept waiting for that here, only to finish empty-handed.

My review is based on what I read, which is only the final book, and my personal experience. Keep that in mind, as I highly suggest everyone read the first book. The premise sounds interesting and I wish I’d been able to start with Captivate Me. That being said, for a new reader it was anticlimactic and a whole lot of “Huh?” Nothing is explained, because it was all done beforehand, so it was a long haul, reading in the dark. There were brief moments of emotion, sadness or anger, but they were miniscule, since I didn’t know the characters. There were a lot of them, too. Due to the dozens of characters in the story or those that were referenced to, it is not surprising that I couldn’t get a good feel for anyone.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – Fantasy for teens.
  • Level of sexuality – They do the deed several times, but it’s blissfully glossed over. That was a major plus.
  • Is there graphic language? Surprisingly, yes. It is very obvious that the story is YA, but they swore more than once and right off the bat. Even an angel cursed proudly and Kat thought that was pretty cool.
  • Did I cry? Nope. Not even when people died. The mourning period was frighteningly brief and the characters continually mentioned life returning to normal. For the people who survived, and they’re all immortal so the memories will stay with them forever, there is no return to normal. It’s called accepting and moving on and scars you for life. Only they have far more than seventy or eighty years, which sucks for them. So, the term “return to normal” didn’t really fit. Although, it was quoted as such after several weeks of healing and the reader is led to believe that most of the people are fine. If only real life were that sweet. In actuality, a new norm is what happens.
  • Did I laugh? Not once, but I believe there were a few moments that were supposed to be funny. The book is very serious, though, so it struck me as out-of-place.
  • Level of character development – I just didn’t see any. The characters are barely touched upon. They are in the story, or at least mentioned, but there is no hint of their past behaviors and emotions. There was nothing for a new reader to build upon and they never changed. I couldn’t come up with a decent way to describe our heroine and even her lover remained simple and perfect, not really a part of the story until the end. The dozens of others were a mish-mash of super hero abilities.

This book was hollow for me, but I went into it completely unprepared. Many times I can pick up in the middle of a series and quickly figure things out. Not here. My review is based solely on my experience. It is obvious that the author put a lot of effort into the book and there were hardly any typos. The repetitive thoughts about Lilliana and how much Kat wanted to kill her could have been cut in half and made it flow smoother, but for someone who has read the first two I’m sure it’s a decent ride. Normally, I would rate my experience a two, but since I was at a severe disadvantage I’ll give this ⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars. My suggestion is that all readers of fantasy and those who love characters with numerous and fantastical magic powers should grab book one and dive right in.

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Blood Dragons by Rosemary A. Johns

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I’m not a fan of vampire novels. Twilight created an influx of vampire stories and, while each is special in its own way, I’ve grown tired of blood-suckers. This book is completely different. It stands next to Anne Rice, all-time writer of vampire fiction, and holds its own.

The story is written as a letter to the woman he loves, talking about the present and the past. After decades together, Light has watched the all-too-human love of his life wither and grow old. Her dementia adds a devastating aspect to the story, but is far from the only soul wrenching part of the book.

A large portion of the story is dedicated to his life with his Author, in other words maker, Ruby, the red-haired devil. She introduces him to Blood Life when he is on the way out from his First Life. Immediately drawn in by the connection of creator and creation, he cannot separate himself from her and they spend over a hundred years together, wreaking havoc and killing indiscriminately. It isn’t until the late 1960’s that he sees another side to Ruby. She is controlling and punishing, then she forces him to live with their “family”, brothers from the same vampire lineage. This change alters everything about their lives. No longer is she his angel and savior; she becomes the one who holds him back.

In walks the incredible Kathy. From the get-go she is a strong, hard-headed character who is easy to love. She’s a perfect counterpoint to Light, our hero who continually comments on his lack of hero status, all the while performing acts that require bravery. By the time the story begins, he is a man looking to live a life in harmony with humans, not as a selfish vampire who believes he is worthy of worship. I fell in love with him right away. He’s entertaining and brutally honest. His insight into human nature is astounding and forced me to open my eyes and honestly look at our ideas and behaviors. Overall, the book is a tremendous observation of humanity. This is why Kathy is so important to Light. She stands for all that is good with humans: honesty, loyalty, independence, strength, and the basic need for love. She accepts and loves Light for all that he is, even though he has committed atrocious acts. That is why they were able to make a happy life together, even though she grew old while he remained eternally young.

The story has a vocabulary all its own. The novel originates from the UK and has a thick accent, but the unique vernacular creates a fantastic setting that is unlike anything else I have ever read. It took a few chapters to fall into the groove, but before I knew it I was reading it with the accent flowing smoothly in my imagination. For the majority, I do not care for stories that fluctuate constantly in time, but this book handled it flawlessly. At times I could not wait to return to the era that I had just been diving into, but it was so fast-paced that I was back to the 1960’s before I knew it, a hundred years passing in less than half an hour. This is the first story in a very long time that strikes me as perfect. At no point did I find myself floundering or distracted.

For the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – Fantasy for adults and possibly older teens.
  • Level of sexuality – There are references to it, in some new and exciting verbage, but it is light and the deed is never spoken of in detail.
  • Is there graphic language? Not that I noticed.
  • Did I cry? I didn’t, but there were many moments that made my heart hurt.
  • Did I laugh? Not really, but Light is extremely entertaining and a joy to read.
  • Is this part of a series? Yes, it is book one of the Rebel Vampire Series.
  • Level of character development – The characters are amazingly well-written. It is easy to fall into the arms of Light with his open and endearing storytelling. Ruby is an evil being that you love to hate. Kathy is the heart-warming bridge to the human world for Light. Even the other vampires are so well-done that they are easily envisioned and each forms a tight emotional tie to the reader.

This is one of the finest vampire novels I have ever read. The pages flew by and I cannot wait until I can delve into book two. I suggest this to readers of all genres; this is not just a vampire tale. This is a real look at human nature and the first-person view of a man’s honest introspection into his life as a vampire and his desire to be part of the human world. I am thrilled to give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ shiny stars.

Available here on Amazon