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March 6, 2015

Shelley Liked It: Death Marked by Leah Cypess

Series: Death Sworn 2
Format: E-Book, 400 pages
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Source: Edelweiss/Publisher
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
A young sorceress’s entire life has been shaped to destroy the empire controlling her world. But if everything she knows is a lie, will she even want to fulfill her destiny? The sequel to Death Sworn is just as full of magic and surprising revelations, and will thrill fans of Leigh Bardugo and Robin LaFevers.

At seventeen, Ileni lost her magical power and was exiled to the hidden caves of the assassins. She never thought she would survive long. But she discovered she was always meant to end up, powerless, in the caves as part of an elder sorcerer’s plan to destroy the evil Empire they'd battled so long. Except that Ileni is not an assassin, and she doesn't want to be a weapon. And, after everything, she’s not even sure she knows the truth. Now, at the very heart of the Empire—its academy for sorcerers—the truth is what she seeks. What she finds challenges every belief she holds dear—and it threatens her fledgling romance with the young master of assassins.

Leah Cypess spins an intricate and beautiful conclusion to Ileni's story. In the end, it may not be the epic decisions that bring down an empire, but the small ones that pierce the heart.
Probably 3.5 Cauldrons 

DEATH MARKED is the sequel & conclusion to the Death Sworn duology. A journey that has seen 17-year old Ileni exiled from her Renegai home, to landing among assassins who desire to take down the Empire, to entering the hive of the Empire itself searching for a way to destroy their power source. Things haven't exactly been easy for Ileni since the beginning. She lost her magic, was sent off to die, faced lies and betrayal, found love, and was forced to kill someone in order to save her life. 

DEATH MARKED picks up 3 days after Ileni left the assassins cave. Ileni is soon caught by Imperial Sorceress Karyn (who we met in Death Sworn), and brought to the Academy of Sorcery. Ileni finds that there are a whole lot of questions to answer, choices to be made, and new characters to be meet. Ileni has no power of her own anymore, but finds that if she draws on lodestones, she's just as powerful as other more advanced sorcerers. For Ileni, she must find out how to destroy the Empires source of power, but ends up finding out more than she expected. 

DEATH MARKED shows that Ileni faces a whole slew of choices that aren't necessarily easy. Will she choose to become the weapon necessary to defeat the Empire? Will she turn her back on Sorin, who she may love but doesn't necessarily trust, and join the Empire who has been depicted as the big bad wolf ready to gobble up little boys and girls for lunch? Who can she really trust when all she's found so far is hurt, misery, and heart break? Will she accept how the Empire takes its power, or will she find another avenue to a higher purpose? 

Ileni’s struggles with she believes in and is really tested in DEATH MARKED. Why would anyone want to put their life on the line for the Empire or the Assassins who won't stop killing people no matter what the cost is? As I was reading this book, I was kind of shaking my head over Ileni's actions, but considering how her life has changed since losing her magic, I can't fault her entirely. Thus, we find a very indecisive character who doesn't really have anyone to help her make tough decisions.

The world that Cypess leaves us with, is not entirely black or white, or even gray. It's not entirely good, or entirely bad. There's more to it than meets the eyes, which leaves Ileni utterly confused and struggling with what has happened to her since being banished and sent off to die. There is too much at stake for Ileni just to flip a coin and say, that's what my choice is and I'm sticking to it. One could say that this is what free choice is really about. The freedom to choose our own paths without anyone else telling us how to eat, what to wear, or who to love, or to make a choice between two forces that have their own baggage to deal with. 

I loved Evin and his brother Girad who we meet at the Academy. Evin is a powerful sorcerer, and his brother is cute as a little puppy. I didn't mind all that much that Sorin was basically a bit player instead of a key ingredient like he was in Death Sworn. I have heard other people saying that there is a bit of a love triangle involved in this story. Don't believe everything you read. It's just not true. While Ileni has had her share of love interests, Tellis, Sorin, and perhaps Evin in the near future, they don't happen while she is with anyone else.     

Perhaps one should temper their expectations at a happy ending and that everything will be wrapped up in a nice little basket with plenty of pretty bunnies to go along with it. The ending leaves room and possibilities for another book should Cypess decide to return to this world. I have said this before, I shall say this again to the moaning of those reading this review, I don't like open ended endings. I think it's the lazy way to cut and move onto something else. I like to see my characters ride off into the sunset. I don't really mind if an author chooses to write important characters off by killing them. At least I know what happens next, and can move on.  

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March 5, 2015

A Shot of YA: Little Peach by Peggy Kern

Series: Stand-alone
Format: eGalley
Release Date: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult
What do you do if you're in trouble?

When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York City, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: she is alone and out of options.

Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels.

But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution where he becomes her “Daddy” and she his “Little Peach.” It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition.

This hauntingly vivid story illustrates the human spirit’s indomitable search for home, and one girl’s struggle to survive.

Don't be fooled! LITTLE PEACH might have a cute title, an attractive cover, and what appears to be a short novel running at only 208 pages. It's FAR from being an easy read though. LITTLE PEACH will challenge you emotionally and it is most definitely a trying book to read. Why? Because the theme is about child prostitution, drug use, and sexual assault among other things.

Michelle left home when she was 14 because her mother is an addict and couldn't care less about her welfare. Meanwhile her mother's boyfriend has ill intentions towards her and instead of protecting her daughter, she instead told Michelle to stay away from her yucky druggie boyfriend. Michelle then set out for New York, hoping to be reunited with her friend and leave her old life behind. Unfortunately Michelle's friend only gave her half an address and they never met. With no means to locate her friend, Michelle befriended a nice stranger who offered her food, clothing and shelter. Turns out, her "savior" is a pimp, and soon enough Michelle find herself drugged, raped, drunk, and carted off to some place as a prostitute.

It's a frustrating situation to say the least. Here is a girl who only wanted something better for herself and instead of being rewarded for managing to escape a horrid life; having the sense that she's WORTH more and DESERVES more and going after it instead of waiting for some savior; she found herself in worse sitation. I am so enraged by the injustice, and yet the saddest part is Michelle's story is one of many. 

Despite her unfortunate circumstace I liked that Michelle wasn't painted as a victim even if she obviously was. Desperate, yes, but she never lost her fire, innocence, light, and drive throughout this phase in her life. And though the theme is harrowing and will definitely force anybody to grow up and harden beyond their years, Peggy Kern managed to keep Michelle's teenage voice. I love that paradox because it gave me a small sense of hope that Michelle will get out of this situation alive and will have a chance at something better for herself. Well barely.

I had to stop and digest some of the scenes that PKern wrote in LITTLE PEACH. Not because its graphic, but because of its raw intensity. Though the horrors of Michelle's life were implied instead of presented in detail, I was still unable to escape the imagery and the feelings this novel imparted. LITTLE PEACH is a very haunting novel, it has an open ending but it didn't diminish the power of Michelle's story. It's provocative and will get any reader thinking, and even doing something impactful to change the current system. 

Thank you, Peggy Kern, for shedding a much needed light to a broken system and an ongoing tragedy. Hopefully your novel will strike a match and change at least one Michelle out there.

March 4, 2015

Loved It: A Curse Unbroken by Cecy Robson + Giveaway

Series: Weird Girls 5
Format: eGalley
Release Date: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Loveswept
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Urban Fantasy | Paranormal Romance
Fans of Keri Arthur will love the Weird Girls, four sisters cursed with supernatural powers. In Cecy Robson’s latest urban fantasy romance, the search is on for an unholy grail, while evil is licking its wounds—and looking for revenge.

The preternatural world is changing. After a massive magical throwdown tore apart the established order, the dark elements are rebuilding their ranks unopposed. Celia Wird’s world is changing, too. She’s the mate of the pureblood were Aric, and his Warriors are honor-bound to protect her family as she and her sisters recover from unimaginable horrors.

Celia hesitates to reveal the true extent of the Weird sisters’ trauma, but they aren’t the only ones keeping secrets: Aric and the werewolf Elders are tracking a stone that grants limitless power. So is a tough coven of witches. Then Misha, a master vampire with his own plans for the stone, sends Celia after it. Can she and the vamps beat both the weres and the witches to the treasure before it falls into the wrong hands?

Fearing for Celia’s safety, Aric begs her to stay out of the hunt. What they don’t realize is that they’re the ones being hunted. But Celia’s ready to prove that she’s not easy prey.

A CURSED UNBROKEN is a strong follow up considering how epic A Cursed Bloodline was. This marks the end of Celia's arc with the next book being Taran's, which I'm very excited for. 

Once again, Cecy Robson started the novel with a considerable body count combined with another lethal curse. And as if this wasn't enough, Celia, Aric, and the rest of their preternatural posse went on a mission to retrieve and rather precocious crystal called, Shah. Yet another epic adventure the Wird sisters can add to their memoir. Per usual, A CURSE UNBROKEN was fast-paced, heart pounding, and littered with emotional turmoil from all fronts. 

One would think that Aric and Celia have been through enough. Sorry to burst your bubble, but CRobson is not quite done torturing these two. I know there's a point to yet another test, however IMHO, these two have experienced the pinnacle of relationship trials and to see them go through another one was frustrating and not fun anymore. On a lighter note, I love Loopy Celia, she had a moment of whimsy here and I wish to see more of it come out. Moving forward I hope they move forward with normal couple stuff because more of the same intensity would just be overkill (IMHO). Ultimately they got their HEA. I saw Shah's significance in their relationship from afar, and though I expected it, I'm happy that it happened. After all, there's that tiny thing called the prophecy that these two must fulfill.

Taran and Gemini doesn't seem like they're in a great place either. I'm sure the next one will be angst-filled and most likely, it'll make me want to pull my hair out. Grrrr! I need to look for some sort of a Kevlar vest to protect me from the upcoming feels Taran's book has in store for me.

After the last book I was unsure where the story is gonna go, A Cursed Bloodline is a tough act to follow. I'm happy with this follow up, it's not as intense but it's packed with the good stuff just the same. I love Mrs. Mancuso the best, the old bat never fails to bring in the funnies albeit unintentional. A CURSE UNBROKEN is a good mini-ending/introduction. I look forward to seeing where the series is head with potty mouth Taran leading the pack.

Cecy (pronounced Sessy) Robson is an author with Penguin's SIGNET ECLIPSE. She attributes her passion for story-telling back to the rough New Jersey neighborhood she was raised in. As a child, she was rarely allowed to leave the safety of her house and passed her time fantasizing about flying, fairies, and things that go bump in the night. Her dad unwittingly encouraged Cecy's creativity by kissing her goodnight wearing vampire fangs. Gifted and cursed with an overactive imagination, she began writing her Urban Fantasy Romance Series, Weird Girls, in May 2009. THE WEIRD GIRLS: A Novella, debuts December 4, 2012 followed by SEALED WITH A CURSE, December 31, 2012, and A CURSE EMBRACED, July 2, 2013.

Stalk her!

March 3, 2015

Liked It: Rising Fire by Terri Brisbin

Series: Stone Circle 1
Format: Paperback
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Signet Eclipse
Source: Publisher
Genre: Historical Paranormal Romance
What if the standing stones and stone circles across the old Celtic world had a secret origin and use? What if some opened into another world? What if the goddess of fire was trapped beneath one?

Lovely and innocent, Brienne of Yester has always been able to manipulate fire, but when her powers suddenly surge, the simple life she once knew explodes.

Handsome, fearless, and commanding, William de Brus has been summoned by the king to investigate a nobleman rumored to have powers linked to the fabled fire goddess. When he chances upon Brienne, his desire for her is immediate. But as his mystical quest unfolds, William realizes that she is at the center of it — for Brienne possesses the very power he has been sent to vanquish....

As their attraction deepens, William attempts to free Brienne from the dark force beginning to control her — even when his duty demands that he treat her as an enemy. With emotions flaring, fire rising, and evil threatening at every turn, can the two lovers survive the coming battle and save all of humanity?

On paper, I love everything Terri Brisbin's RISING FIRE has to offer. An ancient curse unraveling, a prophecy about to be realized, unexpected heroes, vicious gods, Scotland in the dark ages. What's NOT to get excited over, right? 

RISING FIRE has an epic feel to it, and it's the first thing that drew me to the series. A kingdom appears to be the prize in this impending war that nobody knows is about to commence much less, prepared for. As the first book in a new series, RISING FIRE has the responsibility of making the proper introductions and establishing precedent for the series arc and conflict. 

Stone Circles is off to a great start. I always love it when the heroes are the underdogs, gives them a lot of room to improve and have stunning character developments. In RISING FIRE the heroes are the bastards of the King and the villain, Brienne and William, but it's not a forbidden love kind of thing. After all, nobody really cared for bastards back in the day, right? There's not much to tell about them at this point except for being naive, loyal, and obedient to their role and cause in the story. And because this situation caught them off guard, Brienne and William together with their friends, were on the offense, and theirs were knee-jerk reactions.

She [Chaela] is the destructor. She is chaos. She is fire. Very simply, her escape will be the end of the world as we know it. Death and fire will rule over man and reason.

Aside from the plot arc, I love the villain even better. Lord Hugh is vicious, greedy, a bully, and an autocrat while the slumbering goddess, Chaela, is evil incarnate. What I struggled with are the lack of build-up between intense scenes. Some parts went from zero-to-sixty in a blink of an eye so it felt jumpy or choppy on certain parts. Still RISING FIRE was a good read, the war is far from over and now that Brienne and William are better armed and more knowledgeable of their situation, hopefully the next battle will be par for par.