Hex Appeal

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Jazz Tremaine is having nightmares, terrible nightmares. These are the kind of night terrors where you wake up sweaty and scared, remembering every detail and still able to feel every touch, every blow, hours after the fact. Her first one is so real, so physical, with the only other person in the dream being her boyfriend, that she accuses Nick Gregory of actually attacking her. Mistake #1!

Never mind the fact that as she roars awake, Nick is solidly asleep beside her. It takes hours for Jazz to convince herself that the attack was not real and she makes the appropriate apologies to Nick. However, she doesn’t give him the details behind her initial accusation. Mistake #2!

Trying to chalk the nightmare up to spicy food and graphic videos just before bed, Jazz attempts to get on about her daily routine. Unfortunately, this is not meant to be as Jazz’s wards are accused of the disappearance and apparent murder of a local carnival worker. She secrets the wards away but does not start her investigation into the charges immediately. Mistake #3!

Fortunately for the two wards, Jazz and Nick are not your typical couple. Jazz is a powerful witch, over 700 years old, and Nick is centuries older than that and a vampire. Because of her heritage and her potential, Jazz has suffered innumerable indignities and tragedies even at the hands of her own kind. And Nick has been an Enforcer with the vampire Protectorate for longer than Jazz has been alive. Self-employed, Jazz uses her skills to eliminate curses and spells put upon others and Nick has his own PI business, supposedly retired from Protectorate service.

And currently, someone wants Jazz, and probably Nick, dishonored, disenfranchised, destroyed mentally and physically, and ashes-to-ashes dead. Jazz and Nick don’t know it yet, but we, as readers, are informed early on that that is the case. We just don’t know who or why. Thus, as we read, every scene involving the dreams, the feeling Jazz has of a malevolent presence close enough to touch but not see, and even the framing of the wards is colored by our omniscience. Needless to say, we are faced with hundreds of pages of ever-ratcheting tension.

 This is not a standalone novel. In this 2nd entry in the series, Linda Wisdom makes repeated references to incidents that occurred in the 1st novel, without any synopsis or adequate background. Therefore, I strongly suggest that you read that entry first, or if it has been awhile since you read it, go back and quickly review the action. There is a definite correlation between what was and what now is.

Another tack that Linda Wisdom has taken with this book is to make our main protagonist, Jazz, an obnoxious “witch.” And I mean that both literally and figuratively. In the first novel, as we obtain her backstory, we can somewhat understand her emotional state. But in this novel, Wisdom has taken her character over the top, past snark and quick-wittedness, to an in-your-fact offensiveness that grates like fingernails scraping across a board.

Jazz’s anger is always at the tip of her tongue and at the tips of her fingers, ready to unleash her acid words or her witchflame at the slightest provocation. It is no wonder so many supernatural creatures despise her and that she has so few friends. And those same characteristics that make the others think her troubles couldn’t happen to a better witch – her belligerence, her sarcasm, her aggressiveness, and her self-absorption – make it difficult for the reader to empathize with her, also. Even Nick loses his patience and compares her to a five-year-old. After 700 years, you would think that Jazz would have learned the difference between honey and vinegar and the decided advantage of think first, speak and act later. But that is not how Wisdom chooses to write the character and I found myself skimming past the snit fits.

So even as annoying as Linda Wisdom paints Jazz, even as inscrutable as she writes Nick, even as you scream for the characters to “just communicate already,” the mysteries involved are well worth the reading time. Childishness aside, you just can’t help but want to know who is trying to take down Jazz Tremaine this time. And while there is no cliffhanger, there are a lot of little hooks, details not cleaned up in this entry, which just might provide fodder for future novels.

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Vampire Sun

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As our story opens, Samantha Moon has two major problems, one professional and one personal. The professional problem ensues from being hired by a distraught husband whose wife disappeared three weeks prior. Now, spousal disappearances are relatively common compared to other potential tragedies, but this woman disappeared from a Starbucks. She went in, she ordered, she headed toward the bathroom and then was never seen again. The surveillance tape clearly shows her entering the store but it never shows her leaving, not by any entrance or window. The woman has fine and truly disappeared, as in “Beam me up, Scotty” disappeared.

The personal problem is far nastier, however. The demon inside Sam, the entity that makes her a vampire, is getting stronger every day. The demon’s thoughts are coming through more often and it is getting harder for Sam to distinguish between her own ideas and those of the demon. Sam is beginning to enjoy the taste of the animal blood she used to despise. She finds herself evaluating people as potential straight-from-the-vein sources of nutrition. And she no longer abhors the sight of death. In fact, she’s beginning to think that violent death is normal.

Sam knows that she has to retrieve the Diamond Medallion soon. She knows that she is only one slip-up, one crack in the armor, from losing her soul completely to the demon. Activating the medallion will force the demon from her body, will negate the need for drinking blood, and yet will allow Sam to retain all her other vampire skills and her immortality. And Sam has learned that Fang is the only person who knows where the medallion is located. Oh, joy!

J. R. Rain stated earlier this year that “Vampire Sun” would be the final entry in the Samantha Moon series. He has since rescinded that decision, with several more entries now in the works. However, had this actually been the final book, it would have been a fine last hurrah. This novella brings together all the major themes from previous times – her work, her resident demon, the four medallions, her guardian angel, the Librarian, Fang, and Talos (the bat creature). Her children are still struggling with their grief over the recent murder of their father. Her son’s super-human strength is still growing. And then there’s Kingsley.

Each of these plot lines is resolved satisfactorily, if not perfectly, by the end of the story. As stated previously, Rain intended it to be the last. But apparently, those imperfections provided Rain with a jumping-off point for yet another story arc. And, of course, as long as there is life, there is always another tale to tell.

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Dark Side of the Moon

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It has been a little over a month since the conclusion of “Moon River.” Samantha finds herself alone, truly alone. Her kids are away at camp. Sam’s sister is still recovering psychologically from her kidnapping and doesn’t want Sam around too much at this time. Danny is dead and Fang is both physically and emotionally distant, no longer sharing a mind link with Sam.

So Sam decides to summon the bat creature and go for a night flight – to the moon. And for the first time, she is able to communicate with the creature. Then again, it’s the first time she’s tried. As they fly higher, together in mind and body, Sam questions the creature about his life, his plane of existence and his relationship to her.

In a little over 30 pages, J.R. Rain uses Sam and Talos to explore the concept of a soul, its creation and its life force. He also uses their communication to explore the difference between true limitations and perceived limitations. And for Sam, with the power of positive thinking, “Fly Me to the Moon” becomes more than the title of an old song.

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How To Seduce A Vampire (Without Really Trying)

How To Seduce A Vampire_KerrelynSparks_18891499



You know those books that, from the minute you read the very first page, you just can’t put down? Well, this isn’t one of them! When a book from a 1990’s series that I’d never started, written by an author that I’d never read before, came in from the public library, I looked from that old worn paperback to my iPad, back to the paperback and temporarily shelved the iPad – and with it “How to Seduce…” That’s just how ordinary and boring this 15th book by Kerrelyn Sparks struck me.

The storyline begins with Zoltan Czakvar, Coven Master of Europe, reminiscing about his 800-year-long search for the murderer of his father. His only clue is a strangely engraved arrow that he pulled from his father’s body. While engaged in this gruesome trip down memory lane – memories of strangely clad warriors, monsters, fire, the execution of his mother and the assassination of his father – Russell comes to Zoltan’s castle for his bi-weekly supply of blood and weapons. Zoltan sees an arrow in Russell’s pack that is virtually a duplicate of the one that killed his father.

And at this point, what could have been an exciting paranormal suspense slides right into oblivion. What we get instead is the formulaic Amazon-type women living in the formulaic hidden valley in the Himalayas, meshed with the formulaic cult-type Queen who has browbeat her immortal kin and followers into believing the formulaic notion that no man can be trusted and all men who enter their valley must die. Now add to that the age-old plotlines of the Black Widow Syndrome and the Fountain of Youth and you’ve got the general idea of the tripe you’re going to read in this book.

To add to the situation, it is not even well written tripe. The dialog and internal monologues of the two protagonists are repetitive, almost verbatim, from one scene to the next. The writing itself feels flat and is basically declarative summations of what has happened, not descriptive sentences of what is happening. For example, three separate skirmishes with Lord Liao’s men are described in less than two pages of space – on a Kindle app with enlarged font!

What does fill the majority of the pages is the excessive repetition of the main characters’ internal monologues, the continual and repetitive rantings of the Queen and the erotic descriptions of each of the “ten positions and ten climaxes” that Zoltan promises the warrior woman, Neona. And for the first time in this series, I did not feel the connection between the hero and the heroine. Their relationship basically feels surface bright and shiny, a lot of words expended but unable to express any depth of emotion.

In fact, the whole book feels superficial. It seems as if, after 14 previous paranormal suspense novels in this series, the author was scrambling for a new main storyline and got too close to her deadline for comfort. Thus, it seems she grabbed up a few “oldies-but-goodies” in the way of plotlines, wrote a basic outline, expanded the outline by a few paragraphs, repeated everything at least five times, threw in a little action in the last 20% and phoned it in to her editor.

Based on the attrition and reappearances of characters as well as the addition of a new race of shifters, there seems to be at least two more novels in the “Master Han” sub-plotline. Whether or not I purchase those novels or wait to get them from the library is very much in question. In fact, considering that this book is significantly below the caliber that I have come to expect from Kerrelyn Sparks, I many not read the next one at all.

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The Vampire With The Dragon Tattoo

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In this 14th novel of the Love At Stake series, Kerrelyn Sparks centers the story on Dougal Kincaid. A 300-plus year old Scottish vampire, Dougal, has been a major supporting character in most of the previous novels, losing a hand some four years earlier in a battle with the Malcontents. He has spent these last years learning to wield a sword with his left hand and learning to use his new prosthetic right hand.

Over these same few years, a Chinese vamp, Master Han, and the demon Darafer have created an army of killing machines, all human-vampire hybrids. And Romatech has just hired a new doctor, Leah Chin, a former child prodigy specializing in genetics, to research and hopefully reverse the mutations that create these hybrids.

In their haste to solve the problem that is Master Han, the Romatech doctors introduce Leah into the world of vampires, shifters and demons a tad too quickly. She goes into total panic and they wipe her mind of the incident. Trying again a few days later, the situation does not go much better, particularly when she sees several vampires levitate.

The moment Dougal sees Leah Chin on the security camera his mind seems to recognize her physique and her mannerisms. As he continues to observe her in the lab, his dragon tattoo, a tattoo that snakes across his back, over his right shoulder and across his chest to breathe flames over his heart, begins to burn. And in that instant, Dougal realizes that Leah Chin may very well contain the soul of the woman he loved, and failed to save from death, some 300 years ago.

Upon seeing and hearing Leah panic in the lab, knowing that a mind wipe is imminent, Dougal intervenes. He may not have saved his Li Lei all those years ago, but he will redeem himself by protecting Leah Chin now. And thus begins a morality tale intensely focused on the concepts of free will, fate, reincarnation and evil.

When I started this book, I expected it to be in the same vein as the previous thirteen in the series – a paranormal, romantic, action adventure. I was wrong. While it is still in the paranormal genre with a romance as the main focus, the action aspect was under-utilized and a religious aspect was added.

This series originally started out with vampires and mortals only. Shifters were added several books later. Over the last few novels, the main villains changed from rogue vampires to hybrids controlled by a demon called from Hell. With the addition of the demon came an earth-bound angel and a Healing Angel. With this novel, Sparks adds in a Guardian Angel and Warrior Angels. But something else gets added in – a Heavenly Father, a god with a capital G. While the theology expressed by our characters, especially the angels, is not identified with any particular religion, it is clearly the theology of a God that is most definitely Christian.

This series has always been built around a world in which the vampire retains his or her personality and morality after conversion from mortal to undead. This world has always contended that a vampire has a soul and is not harmed by religious artifacts. But this world building has never concentrated on the concept of evil so strongly as it does in this book.

And in conjunction with its treatise on evil, this novel is heavy handed in its foray into the moral and theological concept of free will. A major aspect of Dougal’s story is about him being kidnapped and sold into slavery as a teen, a clear violation of free will – and his escape. Leah’s story speaks to the intellectual slavery, the loss of her free will, which was forced upon her as a child by her over-achieving parents – and her escape. The plot line continues with the concept of willingly selling one’s soul to a demon and then moves to the ramifications associated with a demon usurping a mortal’s free will and forcing that mortal to engage in evil deeds.

While I personally agree with the concepts regarding free will that Kerrelyn Sparks weaves into this story, I feel that she was too intense in her approach. I read for enjoyment and escapism. I do not want to come away from a book feeling that I have been preached at and pounded on, particularly in regards to spiritual beliefs. If I wanted that, I would be picking a book from the self-help aisle, not reaching for a vampire novel.

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Spell Bound

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By the end of the second novel, and before we begin this final book in the series, we know several things. First, Lara Casnoff and her sister, the headmistress of Hex Hall, are the villains. Second, we know that they have convinced the Council that Sophie and her father are double-traitors. Third, we know that the Council has pronounced the sentence of Removal against both Sophie and her father, that the procedure has already been completed on the father and that a binding spell has been placed on Sophie’s power pending the procedure.

Next, we know that Archer has been captured and sentenced for execution. We also know that the Eye has attacked Thorne Abbey and it is burning to the ground with Archer and Sophie’s father trapped in a cell inside. And finally, we know that Cal has gone back inside the burning mansion after sending Sophie through a travel portal to find her mother.

Seventeen days after Sophie steps into the portal, the third book begins. The portal finally spits Sophie out and she finds herself at the Brannick compound, the base of another enemy to the Prodigium. The binding spell is still in place but she can feel her powers beneath it. Unfortunately, without her powers, her only strengths are her intelligence and her defense training.

Sophie does find her mother at the compound, only to learn that Grace Mercer, her mother, is really Grace Brannick, a woman exiled from the demon-hunting clan because she gave birth to a demon child. And the final lie of omission is exposed with Sophie learning that real reason they have never lived in one place for very long – they were on the run from not only the Eye but the Brannicks, too.

Now, for the remaining pages of the book, we will follow Sophie as she embarks on a journey to get her powers back and as she plots to defeat the Casnoffs. It is a journey that is hard-fought for both Sophie and the reader. This may be a paranormal romantic suspense based in the YA genre, but it is hardly a cutesy piece of fluff. This book actually leans more toward a psychological thriller with bits of Stephen King horror thrown in.

Hawkins has created an urban fantasy world with depth and backbone. There are rules and reasons behind the behaviors and rules surrounding the magic. And there is no suspension of disbelief required beyond believing that such a world can exist in the first place.

Because it is a realistic fantasy world that Hawkins creates, there is bound to be some real pain mixed in with the happy. The very nature of this genre predicts that Sophie will succeed. But, as you read Chapter 32, that misty feeling behind your eyes will not be tears of joy. In fact, I will probably never hear the phrase “It’s okay” again without remembering. Even writing about it makes me cry.

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Hex Hall

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What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You!


Sophie Mercer is 16 years old and a witch, a member of a paranormal race called the Prodigium. On Prom Night, at her human high school, she tries to help out a distraught acquaintance by casting a love spell. Unfortunately, the spell goes more wrong than right and she was seen casting the spell. Amidst the destruction she caused, Sophie is publically accused of being a witch. Soon she finds herself shipped off to Hecate Hall, a paranormal juvenile facility run by the Prodigium’s Council 

Upon arriving at Hex Hall, Sophie finds herself essentially a pariah. She knows she has limited skills as a witch. She knows that she has a limited knowledge of her race compared to her schoolmates. And she knows she has been assigned as the roommate of Jenna Talbot, a vampire student suspected in the death of another student six months prior. But all of this added up cannot account for the level of spitefulness directed at her.

Then, two weeks into her two-year sentence, at her first Defense course session, the instructor orders Archer Cross to demonstrate a specific skill on Sophie. Archer refuses, as the maneuver is not really meant to defend but to incapacitate. When the instructor turns to demonstrate it herself, Archer steps in and executes the maneuver, hurting Sophie but stopping short of breaking her ribs, a task he know the instructor meant to do.

Sophie now demands to know why everyone, student and faculty alike, hate her. Archer, after a few succinct questions, discovers that Sophie’s mother has hidden her away from the Prodigium all her life. And then he lays the reason for all the hate at her feet. Her father, James Atherton, a man she has never met, is the head of the Prodigium’s Council and is directly responsible for everyone – student, faculty, and especially the Defense instructor – being sentenced to Hecate.

With Atherton’s permission, the headmistress explains to Sophie her paternal history, including the torture and murder of her great-grandmother and her grandmother at the hand of The Eye, an international witch-hunting cabal. Still reeling from all that has been hidden from her, she meets what she thinks is her great-grandmother’s ghost and she finds another student drained of blood almost to the point of death.

At this point, the author does not turn Sophie into a paranormal sleuth trying to catch the murderer. For the rest of the book, which covers about three months in time, Hawkins writes Sophie as a teenager trying to fit in, trying to protect her vampire roommate from harassment, trying to improve her spell casting skills with the help of her great-grandmother’s ghost, and trying to control her crush on Archer Cross, currently the boyfriend of her worst enemy. The fact that she does determine the identity of the murder, and dispatches that murderer unto death, is more a consequence of the author writing her character as intelligent, observant and caring.

Hawkins writes a crisp and logical tale. Her use of sarcasm and snark on the part of the teenagers is appropriately placed, not overdone, and quite humorous. Her grasp of high school social dynamics, including cliques and bullying, is spot on. And she does not leave an obvious trail of breadcrumbs leading to the identity of the murderer. However, she blindsides you with a twist that has nothing to do with the murder and then she sets the hook for the next book in the series without using a cliffhanger.

This is a good entry in the YA Paranormal genre and can be easily enjoyed by readers of all age groups. The characters may be paranormal as part of their nature but they are not superheroes, nor are they imbued with a manner or a wisdom that exceeds their age level. The only suspension of disbelief needed here is that of accepting that a paranormal world such as this might and could exist.

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