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    Review: Sleight

    Sleight: Book One of the AVRA-K by Jennifer Sommersby was released in the U.S. on March 25, 2011 and is currently available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in eBook format.

    Sleight is currently self-published in eBook format only.

    Goodreads description:

    Her mom is dead.
    Ghosts follow her around.
    Her best friend is an elephant.
    And she’s about to meet the biggest game changer of all: a boy. With a secret.

    When circus-dwelling Gemma Flannery learns she will be attending public school for the first time in her seventeen years, little does she know that fitting in with her 12th-grade classmates will be the least of her concerns.

    A pro at hiding her knack for seeing the dead (“shades”), Gemma is grieving the recent suicide of her mentally ill mother, a process eased by the introduction of her first real love interest, the charming and painfully handsome Henry Dmitri, who is harboring his own collection of dangerous secrets. Together, they will be presented with a frightening challenge: to assume their roles as heirs to a 3000-year-old magical text, the AVRAKEDAVRA, a book the über-rich, sleight-of-being master Lucian Dmitri would do anything to get his hands on.

    As each terrifying layer in her new reality melts away, Gemma unearths truths that her quiet, nomadic life with the Cinzio Traveling Players is not at all what she’d always cherished. Gemma and Henry must rely on each other to stop Lucian’s diabolical plotting that will bring the world to its tired, scab-riddled knees, and are sent on the flight of their young lives, to save themselves, their families, and the world from the darkest kind of destruction.

    Let the chase begin.

    ***

    Gemma Flannery is used to living a life on the road. Traveling with the Cinzio Traveling Players Company involved just that. Traveling. But for the first time in Gemma’s life the show has decided not to leave town.

    Staying in one place and attending a regular high school is enough of a hurdle to overcome. Being gawked at or labeled a freak by the locals is nothing new for circus performers. But if her secret ever got out that she had the ability to see the dead, she would become a freak on a whole new level. Always being on the go helped to keep her secret safe.

    And it also meant she never had to worry about losing her heart to someone. Moving from town to town, city to city, back and forth across the country, she never stayed long enough to fall in love. Until now.

    From the moment she saw Henry Dmitri, he caused her cheeks to flush and her heart to skip a beat. Not only was he drop-dead gorgeous, but he was the son of the richest man in town. The man who convinced the Cinzio’s to stay. But unlike with Ash, her childhood crush, Henry seemed interested in her.

    But when she discovers secrets about Henry and his family, Gemma doesn’t know what to believe. And when bad things start happening, not only is Gemma’s heart on the line but her life is, too.

    ***

    Sleight is a beautifully written and imaginative story brimming with dark secrets and powerful magic hidden away beneath the big top. The story flows easily as the mysteries behind the AVRAKEDAVRA and its long history are revealed.

    The story captivates from its first line, “The last funeral I went to was for a lion.” And readers will be drawn deeper into Gemma’s story with each turn of the page. The storyline is intricate, but not complicated, with plenty of room to delve further into the magical elements and learn more about the rich history of the AVRA-K in future books in this series.

    Sleight is suffused with wonderfully descriptive and gracefully written passages that will transport readers into the elaborate world the author created, only to be returned as it reaches its cliffhanger ending.

    While the story is longer than many in the genre, it doesn’t feel like it. The story moves along very smoothly and the end comes up very quickly.

    Author Jennifer Sommersby has written a story that is a must read for those looking for something truly different, but with all the aspects readers come to expect from their favorite paranormal/urban fantasy stories – action, adventure, romance, magic, evil, a damsel in stress and a hero.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=5]

    On a personal note:

    Yay for this new series!

    Sleight is one of those books that I wish I had time to read again. Sometimes I finish a book and just want to go back in to re-discover the characters and become completely submerged in the world once more. I know there were a million little details I missed on first pass and I so wished I had the time to re-read this book.

    I love the author’s writing. It flowed so beautifully and the passages were so descriptive, I was able to visualize everything as it was happening. I was at the circus with Gemma, Junie, Ash, Ted, Marlene and Irwin.

    I haven’t read many stories, if any, about old magic stemming from a powerful book, and in my lifetime only read one book about a circus, so these ideas were very new and different for me. And I’m glad that although the setting was in large part at a circus, it wasn’t the whole story. I didn’t feel like I was learning circus 101.

    I love Henry, although I’m still waiting for him to let me down. I just don’t trust those nice boys.

    The jury is still out on Ash, for me. He seems like a redeemable character that has just gone astray, but time will tell. I like that the good guys and bad guys, at least in this first book, are clearly identifiable. And that the bad guys are really, really, really bad guys.

    There is a great variety in personalities among the characters, which I also liked. And I feel like I got to know each of them really well, though I’m still trying to figure Gemma out. I think she may be trying to figure herself out. She’s that mix of confident and not, outgoing and shy, brave and in need of protection that makes it difficult to put a label on her – but I liked that about her. It’s very real. She’s very real.

    The action really picks up toward the end, and the ending is definitely a cliffhanger. Fortunately the wait isn’t too long as the next book is out this fall. But I was so sure that things would wrap up, or at least we’d just be left midway through their journey at a happy stopping point, so was totally caught off guard about that cliff. Didn’t see that ending coming!

    ***

    A partial excerpt from my favorite passage:

    I knew that within the sealed framework that was my heart, Henry would be my undoing, my last and only love until I exhaled my dying breath. I just hoped that when I finally did die, at the hands of Lucian or some other unseen entity, that Henry’s face would be the last I would see, that his lips would be the last I would taste, before moving onto the in-between.

    Stratagem: Book Two of the AVRA-K will be released this fall.

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    Review: Red Glove

    Red Glove is the second book in author Holly Black’s The Curse Workers series. It will be released in the U.S. in hardcover, eBook and audio formats on April 5, 2011. It is currently available online for pre-order in all formats at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

    Published by Margaret K. McElderry, a division of Simon & Schuster, the print edition is 336 pages.

    NOTE: The Goodreads description has spoilers for the first book in the series, White Cat. You may want to skip if you haven’t read.

    Goodreads description:

    Curses and cons. Magic and the mob. In Cassel Sharpe’s world, they go together. Cassel always thought he was an ordinary guy, until he realized his memories were being manipulated by his brothers. Now he knows the truth—he’s the most powerful curse worker around. A touch of his hand can transform anything—or anyone—into something else.

    That was how Lila, the girl he loved, became a white cat. Cassel was tricked into thinking he killed her, when actually he tried to save her. Now that she’s human again, he should be overjoyed. Trouble is, Lila’s been cursed to love him, a little gift from his emotion worker mom. And if Lila’s love is as phony as Cassel’s made-up memories, then he can’t believe anything she says or does.

    When Cassel’s oldest brother is murdered, the Feds recruit Cassel to help make sense of the only clue—crime-scene images of a woman in red gloves. But the mob is after Cassel too—they know how valuable he could be to them. Cassel is going to have to stay one step ahead of both sides just to survive. But where can he turn when he can’t trust anyone—least of all, himself?

    Love is a curse and the con is the only answer in a game too dangerous to lose.

    ***

    I thought that I could never betray my family, never work someone I loved, never kill anyone, never be like Philip, but I get more like him every day.

    After everything that went down last year, I can’t believe I’m back. That Wallingford is willing to take me back. That whole deal with the sleepwalking really freaked everyone out – it freaked me out. But all that’s water under the bridge.

    I’ve got this one last year to figure things out. The school’s supposed to be grooming me for something. I’m just not sure what that something is.

    I could always go into the family business. After all I am pretty skilled at the con. I’m used to working all the angles, trusting no one. But after spending the summer with Mom I’m really not sure I’m cut out for her kind of con. Just watching the marks get emotion worked turns my stomach.

    Then there’s the option to follow in Philip’s footsteps, getting my own set of keloid scars and working a pretty cush job for Zacharov. I’m sure I’ll go much farther than my brother. I’ve got much more to offer Lila’s Dad than he ever did.

    My decision won’t be easy, especially with everyone seeming to want a piece of what I’ve got. Mom, Barron, Zacharov, the Feds…

    Well, whatever I do choose, I know one thing for certain – curse working is in my blood. I may not have been completely responsible for what happened to Lila, but I am a murderer. I can feel it.

    ***

    When Cassel Sharpe returns to Wallingford he’s glad to finally have some distance from his curse worker mother. Although he’s happy she’s out of prison, he could never quite get comfortable with the way she so carelessly used her ability to emotion work someone.

    His return to Wallingford gets quickly disrupted when two Feds show up at the school to deliver some shocking news about his brother Philip. And if that wasn’t bad enough they are trying to use him to get information on a number of unsolved crimes. Crimes that seem terribly familiar to him.

    To complicate things even more, a new student shows up at the school, someone he never in a million years thought he would see at Wallingford. Someone with the potential to make his life a living hell.

    Red Glove is the to-die-for second book in The Curse Workers series. It takes place just a few months after White Cat ends and pulls you right back into the story and Cassel Sharpe’s world.

    There is no huge gap between the first story and this one and no need for lengthy explanations about what went on previously. Readers will immediately be able to just pick up where the story left off and tumble right back into Cassel’s life.

    As a sequel, this story continues to surprise and amaze. Cassel is presented with some very tempting and some not-so-tempting choices. Choices that will certainly cost someone. Tough choices that wouldn’t be easy for anyone, let alone someone Cassel’s age.

    There is a mystery that Cassel and his friends work to solve, while Cassel secretly tries to figure out what part he played. And the tension between workers and non-workers has definitely begun to escalate not so quietly in the background in this book.

    Once again, it’s difficult to pinpoint the bad guys. The lines are definitely blurred. Cassel Sharpe may even be one of them – he just feels dangerous. He may not consider himself a danger. He may think that he’s done a perfect job of blending in, but he’s not as clever as he thinks he is at disguising what lurks just under the surface.

    Red Glove is an absolute must read for those looking to solve a mystery, who prefer a story with characters living on the razor’s edge, battling not only their adversaries but their inner demons, and for those who aren’t afraid to take a walk on the dark side. For those readers this story and series are epic.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=6] Like In-N-Out Burger‘s infamous secret menu this one deserves my off-the-menu 6 star rating.

    This is the first ever series that I’ve given a back-to-back six star rating.

    On a personal note:

    I waited to read this book until closer to release date. What was I thinking? Oh, I wish I read it sooner because I might just have been able to read it a second time by now. This story is colossal. It’s brilliant. It’s amazing. And Cassel Sharpe just rocks.

    I think I love Cassel even more. I think he thinks we should all love him less, but that just makes me love him so much more.

    And contrary to his own belief, he is nothing like his mother or brothers. If he were, he would completely exploit all that he is. (I’ll say no more for fear of rambling and spoiling.)

    I didn’t think that this book could top the love I had for White Cat because this is a sequel. I already knew the world, knew the characters, but it did. There is another mystery. There is much more Cassel. And there is definitely something brewing with worker rights that I have a feeling will be seriously explosive in a future book.

    Cassel may have received the shock of a lifetime in book one, but things have not gotten any easier for him. (I keep forgetting that Cassel is only a high school senior.) He may have come from an upbringing where exploiting people for gain is everything but he’s managed to come out with a conscience.

    I’ve said it before, but this series is incredible and unique and I don’t want to have to wait until 2012 to read Black Heart.

    ***

    To read an excerpt of chapter one from Red Glove on the author’s blog, CLICK HERE.

    If you’d like to read my review for White Cat, the first book in the series, click here.

    From Simon & Schuster Videos, the mysteries behind Red Glove – “the cons get twistier and the stakes get higher”:

    Thank you to Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab program for providing me with the eARC for review.

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    Review: Blood Magic

    Blood Magic is the debut novel for author Tessa Gratton. It will be releasing in the U.S. on May 24, 2011 in hardcover, library binding and eBook formats.

    It is currently available for pre-order online at Amazon in all formats and at Barnes & Noble in hardcover and library binding formats only.

    Published by Random House Books for Young Readers the hardcover edition is 416 pages.

    Blood Magic is one of the books that can be chosen for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge hosted by Kristi at TheStorySiren.com.

    Goodreads description:

    This page-turning debut novel will entice fans who like their paranormal romances dark and disturbing. It’s a natural next-read for fans of Stephanie Meyer, Carrie Jones, and Becca Fitzpatrick. But instead of mythical creatures, blood magic has everything to do with primal human desires like power, wealth, and immortality.

    Everywhere Silla Kennicott turns she sees blood. She can’t stop thinking about her parents alleged murder-suicide. She is consumed by a book filled with spells that arrives mysteriously in the mail. The spells share one common ingredient: blood, and Silla is more than willing to cast a few. What’s a little spilled blood if she can uncover the truth?

    And then there’s Nick—the new guy at school who makes her pulse race. He has a few secrets of his own and is all too familiar with the lure of blood magic. Drawn together by a combination of fate and chemistry, Silla and Nick must find out who else in their small Missouri town knows their secret and will do anything to take the book and magic from Silla.

    ***

    If she hadn’t opened that journal everything that transpired would never have been and she wouldn’t feel the pain of loss as deeply as she now feels it.

    But if she hadn’t opened the journal she might never have met Nicholas Pardee who knows the girl she is behind the masks she wears.

    And if she hadn’t opened that journal she might have never been able to find answers to the questions about her father’s last few moments. Those moments when her world was shattered – where she was shattered when he supposedly took her mother’s life and his own.

    But she never really believed in his guilt. That he would leave her and her brother Reese alone.

    So, if the journal was right, the only price she would have to pay to get her answers, the only sacrifice she would have to make in order to tap into the magic within, is a small about of blood.

    To be able to feel the tingle of the magic coursing through her and to see what just a little blood and a few words can bring to life makes this price inconsequential. The pain of a cut is nothing compared to the pain and emptiness that come with losing someone.

    But what the journal doesn’t mention is that there may be a larger price to pay. When dealing with a magic so powerful, there just may be someone who wants that magic for themself.

    ***

    Blood Magic is a truly one-of-a-kind, mesmerizing and superbly written debut novel by author Tessa Gratton. For a novel with such a dark premise there is just such beauty in the words that flow across the page.

    The writing is so mellifluous it is easy to get lost within the magic of the story only to be reminded by the author that this is not a joyous tale of innocence and love and sunshine and rainbows, but one of dark magic, sacrifice, pain and heartbreak. And it is not a story for the squeamish – the blood, in all its inky blackness or vivid redness, does flow.

    But Blood Magic is absolute poetry. The story is dark and troubling and beautiful and gruesome and will hypnotize you from the very first line.

    I am Josephine Darly and I intend to live forever.

    Silla Kennicot is a troubled young girl who is just trying to survive the loss of both parents, from a brutal murder-suicide, when she meets Nicholas Pardee, who is also suffering and who has been uprooted from his life in Chicago to move to the home his grandfather left to him in Yaleylah, Missouri.

    Silla has coped by seeking escape through her acting and by putting on her masks to protect herself from the outside world. But when she receives a journal from a mysterious man who calls himself “the Deacon” that appears to be written by her father, she is immediately curious to test the spells within in an attempt to find answers and to reconnect with her dad.

    Nicholas Pardee is also looking for answers. He wants to find out what made his mother abandon him and wants to know just what happened to him when he and his mother were staying at his grandfather’s during his childhood – a fuzzy time that he can’t seem to remember.

    He is a witness to Silla’s first attempt with the blood magic in the cemetery where her parents are buried, and feels drawn to her and somehow connected to the magic. And when they meet, Nicholas is able to see right through her disguise and really see her, his cemetery girl.

    Blood Magic is told from both Silla and Nick’s perspectives, interspersed with the journal entries from Josephine Darly. As the story unfolds we learn who she is, how her story relates to that of Silla and Nick, and how the blood magic connects them all.

    This story is an absolute must read – unless you are really and truly terrified by bloodletting – and if you are, just read really quickly over those passages. This is one you do not want to miss.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=6]. Like In-N-Out Burger‘s infamous secret menu this one deserves my off-the-menu 6 star rating.

    On a personal note:

    I finished reading Blood Magic and I am still spellbound. This book was just so dark and so unexpected that I’ve been at a loss for words and it’s taken me far longer than normal to write up my review.

    This review was supposed to be up last night and I should have been reading something from my reading pile, but I just couldn’t. This story has still got a hold of my brain and refuses to let go.

    It’s just so freaking awesome. Stunning. Beautiful. Violent. Creepy. Gorgeous. Disturbing.

    And I already miss Silla and Nick. And I have so many more questions (which I can’t post here or it would completely spoil everything).

    I haven’t really read any books which focus on blood magic like this one does, so have little to compare it to. This is not a horror story, although there are touches of the macabre throughout. The magic is sometimes light and sometimes dark and our two main characters have only begun to explore its depths.

    I’m glad to hear of a companion novel as there is just so much more I want to know. But I look forward to reading anything this author has to offer! Super cool.

    There are too many beautiful passages so I’m just picking the very first one:

    Dusk washed the cemetery of shadows, lending it a quality of between-ness: neither day nor night, but a gray, teary moment.

    ***

    The companion novel to Blood Magic entitled The Blood Keeper will be released in summer 2012.

    To read an excerpt from the publisher’s website, click here.

    This early review is based upon an ARC I received through a trade.

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    Review: White Cat

    White Cat by Holly Black is the first book in The Curse Workers series. It was released in hardcover, eBook and audio formats on May 4, 2010 and it will be available in paperback format on February 8, 2011 in the U.S.

    It is currently available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as from other online booksellers and in stores. Published by Margaret K. McElderry, the hardcover is 320 pages.

    Goodreads description:

    Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn’t got the magic touch, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

    Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

    Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic where a single touch can bring love — or death — and your dreams might be more real than your memories.

    It all started with a dream of a white cat. The cat that led me up onto the roof at Wallingford, the boarding school that I attend. A roof that I woke up on needing rescue where I had apparently sleepwalked following that darn cat.

    Actually, no. It started with a murder. One that happened years ago. My best friend Lila was killed when I was fourteen. She was the daughter of the head of the Zacharov family. A family that controlled everything and had death workers, like my grandfather, on their payroll. She was also my brother’s girlfriend.

    Oh, yeah. And did I forget to mention it? I was the one who killed her.

    My name is Cassel Sharpe and I am the only non curse worker in a family of workers. My mother, an emotional worker – one who by a simple touch can alter anyone’s emotions – taught me early on how pull a con. And I thought I was pretty good at it.

    I had a nice thing going at school. I managed to stay out of too much trouble while earning money as a bookie. But once I was caught sleepwalking it all fell apart. Wallingford was not too keen on betting on the odds that I wouldn’t sleepwalk again and injure myself in the process. And so for the time being I was O.U.T.

    Why did I start sleepwalking again? And what exactly was that white cat trying to tell me in the dream? Was I cursed?

    Ahhh…if it weren’t for that white cat. But, you know what they say, once the genie is out of the bottle…

    ***

    White Cat is such an incredibly creative and utterly unique story. The whole premise of the curse workers being these magical and yet feared people that are aligned with criminals and con artists gives this story a dark undercurrent. And the political element adds another dimension that will likely continue in future books.

    Author Holly Black is such an inventive writer. She has once again created a world that mimics reality with just a few tweaks. Instead of faeries we now have these characters who, with just the slightest touch of their finger, can bring luck, erase memory, transform or even kill. But not without consequence.

    In White Cat we follow Cassel Sharpe as he tries to figure out why he has begun sleepwalking again and what his dreams are trying to tell him. And when moving back into the house his parents used to live in only creates more questions, Cassel must use what skills he has for the con in order to get answers and get his life back.

    Cassel Sharpe is very likable, off-beat enough to be interesting, flawed enough to be relatable and sweet, but sarcastic enough to be a very appealing character.

    This story is a must read for, well, everyone. It has mystery, backstabbing, plotting, secrets, betrayals and a little bit of love.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=6] Like In-N-Out Burger‘s infamous secret menu this one deserves my off-the-menu 6 star rating.

    On a personal note:

    I am a huge fan of Holly Black’s writing, so my opinion may be slightly skewed in her favor. But, even if I hadn’t known that she was the author I would have loved this book. It is probably the coolest, twistiest story I’ve read. In fact, I loved it so much that I actually had a difficult time writing this review. It was one of those “reviewer feeling too daunted to write something that will do the story justice” moments.

    I could have blathered on endlessly and accidentally revealed the entire plot, which not be good at all.

    So, I can’t say too much here without revealing key details for the story. But I can say that I was rooting for Cassel the entire book, always believing in him and hoping everything would work out as it should. I will also say, “I knew it!” (No, I won’t say what I knew, but I did know it!)

    I am so super excited about reading Red Glove. It’s not a typical cliffhanger-type ending, but there are so many directions this story can go and I, for one, cannot wait to find out.

    How I “discovered” this book:

    White Cat is a “Just Discovered” just got a chance to read book.

    I bought this book a couple months after release date, right around the time I finished reading the author’s Tithe, Valiant and Ironside series. (And yes, I read the series out of sequence! Those of you who have read the series will know why.) I’ve been hoping to hold off reading this book until right before release of Red Glove so I don’t have any waiting time in between and I can just go from one book to the next, but as there is so much talk about book two, I caved.

    I had to know what happened, even if it means I’ll have to re-read it in April just before Red Glove‘s release to have it fresh in my mind. Regardless, re-reading anything by Holly Black is never a bad thing.

    ***

    An excerpt of chapter one of White Cat is available to read on the author’s website.

    The second book in the series, Red Glove, comes out in hardcover and eBook formats on April 5, 2011 and it is currently available for pre-order in both formats from Amazon and as a hardcover from Barnes & Noble.

    Check out Holly Black’s blog on LiveJournal for a few excerpt teasers from Red Glove.

    Book trailer for White Cat:

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    Review: Hexbound

    Hexbound is the second book in the Dark Elite series by Chloe Neill. It was released on January 4, 2011 in the U.S. in paperback and eBook formats. Published by Signet, the paperback edition is 256 pages.

    Hexbound is available to purchase in both formats from Amazon and Barnes & Noble and is available from other booksellers online or in stores.

    Goodreads description:

    They say absolute power corrupts absolutely. Turns out, even a little magic can turn you to the dark side. That’s why Lily has to learn how to control her newly discovered paranormal abilities, on top of avoiding the snobs who think they run her school, nursing a crush on a cute sophomore with a big, werewolf-y secret, and fighting the good fight with her best friend Scout as they take on Chicago’s nastiest nightlife—including the tainted magic users known as Reapers.

    Then Lily’s invited to a private meeting with Sebastian. He’s hot, powerful, and offering to help her harness the magic flowing in her veins in a way no one else can. He’s also a Reaper. Lily can’t hide her suspicions. But she’ll soon find out that the line between good and evil isn’t always clear…

    There’s never a dull moment at St. Sophia’s. Ever since Lily Parker arrived at the Chicago boarding school she has been going nonstop.

    From discovering her suite-mate Scout’s secret about being an Adept, one who fights against the Dark Elite to keep the people of Chicago safe, to finding out that she is also an Adept with the power to wield firespell, her arrival in Chicago has been anything but boring.

    Only weeks since rescuing Scout from the Reapers, a new threat has arisen. This one comes in the form of hideous creatures with fangs and claws that have been leaving slime trails in the tunnels leading to St. Sophia’s.

    Still no closer to discovering the truth about Lily’s parents and what they’re really working on, she, Scout and the other Adepts in Enclave Three manage to get caught in the middle of vampire territorial wars as they try to uncover the source of these slimy new beings.

    To top it all off, Sebastian Born, the Reaper who activated Lily’s firespell, is following her.

    And let’s not forget Veronica and her brat pack who just can’t seem to mind their own business.

    With Scout still recovering from her abduction by the Reapers and Lily still not in control of her firespell power, will they be able to figure out and defeat whoever is behind this?

    With the help of some new friends from Enclave Two and a few surprising allies, it may just be possible.

    ***

    Hexbound is the second book in the Dark Elite series and picks up the story just weeks after the events that occurred in Firespell. Lily Parker is still working with the other Adepts to ensure that the Reapers do not harm the innocent by taking their life force to sustain themselves, when she, Scout, Jason and Michael encounter some never-before-seen creatures in the tunnels connecting to St. Sophia’s.

    In their attempt to get more information about what these disgusting and slimy beings are, who created them and why they are trying to get into the school, they will have to turn enemies into allies and put their trust in someone who should not be trusted.

    Hexbound, like Firespell, is another delightful and quick read. The banter between Lily and Scout makes this story. If anything, Lily is even more sarcastic and clever in this book than in the first and her humorous interactions with Scout continue to entertain throughout the story.

    Author Chloe Neill has introduced a few new characters with some different powers, of which Detroit, the petite, blond, punk, techie machinist from Enclave Two, is the most interesting. The author has also made the vampires of Chicago a major player in this story, adding in yet another element to this world.

    In Hexbound, we do see less of the Reapers, however, aside from Sebastian Born. And, although Veronica and her snooty friends make an appearance, there is less of a focus on them, too.

    This second book in the series moves the plot forward and the ending wraps up nicely, although there are plenty of questions that still remain open from the first book and a few new questions that have been introduced in Hexbound.

    Another book in the series is planned which will hopefully explore these answers further.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=4]

    On a personal note:

    I absolutely loved Firespell and I love this one, but just a little bit less when compared to the first book in the series. In book one we got to meet the characters, learn about all their powers and explore the world of the Adepts and Dark Elite. The different powers that each of the characters had, and especially Lily’s firespell were so interesting to learn about, and although used in this book, they didn’t seem to take center stage.

    There were also a number of questions that I was dying for answers on (ones I won’t share as they are completely spoiler-y), but only a few were touched upon in this installment. And of course I would have liked to find out more about Lily’s parents and why everything is so hush-hush.

    I’m sure as the series progresses all will be answered, but I had hoped certain portions of the plot would have moved forward a bit more to begin to address these questions.

    I would have also loved to see more of Sebastian Born, John Creed and the Reapers in general. Not that I didn’t like the vamps, but I kind of missed those evil Reapers!

    I remain a huge fan of this series and am looking forward to book three.

    ***

    Click here to read an excerpt of chapter one from the author’s website.

    If you haven’t yet read Firespell, the first book in the series, and would like to check out my review, click here.

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    Review: Nightshade

    Nightshade, the first book in a new series by Andrea Cremer was released in the U.S. on October 19, 2010. It is currently available in hardcover, audio and eBook editions. The print edition is 528 pages and is published by Penguin (Philomel).

    Nightshade is the author’s debut novel.

    Description from the Nightshade website:

    Nightshade: The Hunt Begins

    Calla Tor has always known her destiny: After graduating from the Mountain School, she’ll be the mate of sexy alpha wolf Ren Laroche and fight with him, side by side, ruling their pack and guarding sacred sites for the Keepers.

    But when she violates her masters’ laws by saving a beautiful human boy out for a hike, Calla begins to question her fate, her existence, and the very essence of the world she has known. By following her heart, she might lose everything – including her own life. Is forbidden love worth the ultimate sacrifice?

    The Guardians, beings who can shape-shift from human form to wolf and back, have always been protectors for the Keepers. It has been their role to make sure that the Searchers do not discover the secrets in the sacred Haldis caves. They have served their masters as is their duty and are well-taken care of in exchange.

    But their lives and futures are not their own. While their needs are provided for – education, food, shelter and a few luxuries – they do not get to choose their mates, nor do they get to decide their future. Those that question receive a swift and terrible justice.

    When Calla, alpha female of the Nightshade pack, breaks the rules by saving a human boy from a bear attack, she puts her loyalty to her masters and to her pack on the line.

    When that boy, Shay Doran, turns out to be the nephew of a very important Keeper, her actions put her at even greater risk. Only if Shay is willing to keep her secret will she be safe.

    The very need she had to protect him in the first place draws her to him, jeopardizing the arranged match she is to have with the Bane pack alpha, Ren Laroche, on Samhain that will bond the two packs and make them stronger protectors.

    As Calla’s feelings for Shay grow, will she abandon her pack, her masters and her future mate in order to have the freedom to love who she chooses? Or will the secrets that she learns about Shay change everything.

    ***

    Nightshade is a book that starts off running and does not stop. From the moment Calla Tor saves Shay Doran from the bear to the very last sentence of the book with its dramatic cliffhanger ending, the story just keeps moving.

    Each of the main characters has such a distinct personality. Calla is fiercely independent, even in a situation in which she has little control over the direction of her life. Ren, while a typical alpha male – cocky, charming, with a long list of girls pining for him – shows a hint of his vulnerability when it comes to Calla, his “Lily.” And there’s Shay, in his near perfection aside from his secret addiction to comic books, with his good looks, intelligence and his ability to do almost anything.

    Author Andrea Cremer’s writing is smart and creative. This is not another werewolf story or one of sorcery and magic. The wolves are most definitely wolves. Even when they’re in human form all the younger members of the two packs display their animal natures, whether by bowing to the hierarchy of the pack, scenting the air for danger or to track, or whether they are nervous or quick to anger as any wild creature might be.

    The story moved forward quickly but is not hurried and is detailed but not overly so. It is a surprise that the book is over five hundred pages for the print edition, as it doesn’t feel like such a lengthy story. Every moment was germane to the plot and was exciting, suspenseful, humorous, tormenting or heart-breaking.

    For a debut novel this was absolutely brilliant. The journey with the characters in this story really felt as if you were following along with a wolf pack.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=6]. Like In-N-Out Burger‘s infamous secret menu this one deserves my off-the-menu 6 star rating.

    On a personal note:

    Why didn’t I read this book sooner? I so wish I had. I cannot tell you how perfect this book was for me. You know how sometimes you connect with a book and there isn’t any one reason you can pinpoint? This was one of those for me.

    Even though the book was over five hundred pages, I wanted the story to keep going. It took me until, I’d say, the two minute mark for me to figure out that this was going to be one of those books. (It also took me a minute or two to actually get an idea of what the story was about.) The whole concept of Guardians and Keepers is really so cool.

    I don’t think there is one single thing I didn’t like about this book. It had tons of action, humor, some really wolfish behavior, a very tormenting love triangle, all sorts of different supernatural creatures, magic and spells, secrets and mysteries. And with a really cliffhanger-y ending this book this book checked all the boxes. Plus, it had two of my most favorite character names – Shay and Dax.

    When I realized that the book had reached the end I literally “growled” as I cannot wait for Wolfsbane.

    ***

    How I “discovered” this book:

    Nightshade is a “Just Discovered” just got a chance to read book.

    I actually bought this book in November, shortly after release date. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was about, but it came up everywhere – on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, blogs – so I thought I’d buy it knowing nothing about it. From the cover I assumed that it had to do with witches and magic, not typically the genre of book I read, but it was so prevalent I thought I’d give it a go.

    There were so many new books that were released in October and November that it kept getting moved further back on my Kindle, but it was never forgotten. I decided to participate in a book challenge on Goodreads and I had to choose books that I wanted to read this January, and after searching my TBR pile Nightshade was one of the ones I selected. So then I had to wait for January, but as it’s officially the new year it was my first book of choice.

    As I always try to refrain from reading any reviews or detailed descriptions about a book before I read – unless I am unsure as to whether I want to buy it – I had no idea what this book was about until I was a few pages into it. It was so worth the read, I only wish I had read this ages ago!

    ***

    To read an excerpt of Nightshade click here.

    Wolfsbane, the next book in the series, will be out on July 26, 2011 and is available for pre-order in hardcover and audio formats. The hardcover is listed as 400 pages. To read an excerpt of Wolfsbane click here.

    There is also a third book, Bloodrose, due out in spring 2012, along with an untitled companion novel due out in fall 2012.

    The cover for Wolfsbane is amazing so I thought I’d pop it in here. Click it and it’ll take you to Amazon.com for more info or to buy.

    Book trailer for Nightshade:

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    Review: Firespell (Dark Elite book 1)

    Firespell, the first novel in the Dark Elite series by Chloe Neill was released on January 5, 2010. The second book in the series, Hexbound will be released on January 4, 2011 in paperback and eBook formats.

    Description from the author’s website:

    As the new girl at the elite St. Sophia’s boarding school, Lily Parker thinks her classmates are the most monstrous things she’ll have to face…

    When Lily’s guardians decided to send her away to a fancy boarding school in Chicago, she was shocked. So was St. Sophia’s. Lily’s ultra-rich brat pack classmates think Lily should be the punchline to every joke, and on top of that, she’s hearing strange noises and seeing bizarre things in the shadows of the creepy building.

    The only thing keeping her sane is her roommate, Scout, but even Scout’s a little weird—she keeps disappearing late at night and won’t tell Lily where she’s been. But when a prank leaves Lily trapped in the catacombs beneath the school, Lily finds Scout running from a real monster.

    Scout’s a member of a splinter group of rebel teens with unique magical talents, who’ve sworn to protect the city against demons, vampires, and Reapers, magic users who’ve been corrupted by their power. And when Lily finds herself in the line of firespell, Scout tells her the truth about her secret life, even though Lily has no powers of her own—at least none that she’s discovered yet…

    Beneath the streets of Chicago a group of people meet in secret with the sole purpose of protecting the innocent. They are an exclusive group of young individuals with powers beyond the norm.

    They are the Dark Elite and they have the ability to wield magic. Some are spellbinders, some can create firespell, but there are others who are much darker. They aren’t willing to give up their powers before the magic will rot their souls.

    They haven’t made the promise to relinquish their power to the universe when they are 25. Instead they choose to keep their powers…at any cost. The price is that they must use Reapers to suck souls in order to sustain themselves. This is the Chicago Lily Parker walked into. But is she “ready to take on evil in the Second City”?

    ***

    Firespell is the first book in a new young adult series by author Chloe Neill. It centers around the main character, Lily Parker who is sent to boarding school in Chicago when her parents get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go on an academic sabbatical at a university in Germany. What she thinks will just be two years of a boring, elitist learning environment turns out to be more than she bargained for.

    Her suite-mate Scout is more than just a little unusual, she is in fact an Adept – someone gifted with magical abilities who promises to give them up before they corrupt the body and soul. Lily opens the door to this secret world when she follows Scout on one of her mysterious disappearances. She learns the hard way, by getting hit with firespell, just how very dangerous things can get for those in the Dark Elite.

    Although it takes a little awhile for the action to pick up, the beginning is anything but boring. Ms. Neill created a framework for this story that can hold for subsequent books in the series. There are plenty of questions that were presented early on – some more subtle than others – that remain unanswered at stories’ end, leaving a world of possibility for the direction of future books and for many adventures to come.

    Both Lily and Scout are characters that readers can relate to, having been abandoned by their parents and shipped off to a school where they don’t quite fit in. And while it took some time to warm up to and connect with Lily, Scout was likable from the very first. Her mischievous and acerbic personality offered a nice contrast to Lily’s more even-tempered one.

    Firespell is a very fast read with a few surprise twists throw in – especially as pertains to the “tall, dark, and handsome” Reaper, Sebastian Born, whom readers will definitely see in books to come. This book and series should definitely be added to readers “to-read” lists.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=5]

    On a personal note:

    I bought this book soon after release in early 2010 but it managed to get lost in the shuffle of the many eBooks I had purchased at the time. I wasn’t too familiar with what this book was about, but the lead-in, “A Novel of the Dark Elite,” was intriguing. And as it was the first book in the series by author Chloe Neill I went ahead with the purchase. (It was actually the author’s adult series, Chicagoland Vampires, that was recommended by Amazon due to my interest in the Sookie Stackhouse series, but I opted for the YA version as it was a new series and no catch-up reading was necessary.)

    Then, just a few weeks ago, on a lazy Saturday, I noticed it on my Kindle and decided to read it. And I breezed through it in one sitting. It may not have had the most original premise – teenagers in boarding school, pranks, magic, danger – and was certainly not a weighty book, but it was definitely imaginative with a number of unique elements that made it stand out, and overall was a really nice, fun read and I am so glad that I “discovered” it in my eReader. (And I absolutely loved the irony in the author’s naming of the character Jason Shepherd!)

    It sets up well for the next book which I already have on pre-order, and I will not be letting this one linger in my to-reads.

    To read chapter one from the author’s website, click here.

    To read the first chapter of the upcoming Hexbound, click here. Check back in January for the review.

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