Thursday, October 6, 2016

Review: Magic Shifts (Kate Daniels #8)

An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece...

Magic Shifts, by Ilona Andrews, is the eighth novel in the Kate Daniels series. Magic comes in unpredictable waves in post-shift Atlanta. Kate Daniels and former Beast Lord Curran have officially separated from the Pack. Kate has claimed Atlanta. Her father has become a scary being in the flesh that lurks in the background ready to intrude at any moment's notice. In the meantime, the couple are adjusting to a new life with a different pace. Though the Pack politics may become a distant memory, Kate is still determined, resourceful and assertive as ever to protect her family and carve a new chapter in her life.

While the couple are thrilled with the change of scenery (living in their own home with Julie), Curran misses the constant challenges of leading a pack of shape-shifters. A new opportunity arises when the Pack offers Curran its stake in the Mercenary Guild--who wants nothing to do with Kate or the Beast Lord. As a veteran merc, Kate takes over the Guild's unfinished jobs in order to build the reputation of her independent investigation agency. But what Kate and Curran don't realize is the Mercenary Guild is far from stable. Between fighting ghouls and searching for a missing shifter, a powerful ancient adversary appears and it is nothing like Kate has ever fought. It plans to destroy not only the Guild but the short break that Kate and Curran have built as well. This challenge forces Kate to face her own innermost fears before it devours her soul.

The Andrews delivered another spectacular addition to the Kate Daniels series. They find new ways to stimulate readers with the otherworld-building and new challenges that makes Kate both stronger and wiser in the end. It marks as a transition of sorts--Kate and Curran have left the Pack. In this hovel, readers are introduced to ghouls, who are persons caught between the living and the dead. They have rational thought but still rely on human flesh to survive. The use of Arabic mythology was also intriguing to say the least. There was a moment during the final battle that I did not think Kate was going to survive as usual--I was on the edge wondering how will Kate overcome this monstrosity. As usual, I enjoyed the humor and spontaneity that Kate portrays even when she constantly faces life-or-death situations. I will continue to root for Kate and Curran because they make the best urban fantasy couple. I highly recommend this book.

Stay tuned for the next novel in the Kate Daniels series, Magic Binds.
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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Review: The Hanged Man (2015, Her Majesty's Psychic Service #1)

The Hanged Man, by P.N. Elrod, is the first book in the new gaslight paranormal fantasy series that takes place in Victorian London. The novel begins on a cold and dreary Christmas Eve in 1879. A forensic psychic is summoned from her home to the scene of a questionable death at a house on Baker Street. A man has hung himself, but by using her abilities to pick up on emotional traces left behind, Alex is able to rule out a suicide. Alexandrina (Alex) Victoria Pendlebury (named after her godmother--Victoria, Queen of England) is confident that the death in question is a magically compromised murder and not a suicide, as the police had assumed. they find the evidence that someone broke into the house, drugged the hapless victim and strung him up to make it look like he killed himself. What’s even more disturbing to Alex is the lack of emotional signature from the perpetrator. Whoever (or whatever) committed this murder, they did it without feeling anything at all.

Then the identity of the hanged man is revealed and Alex’s world comes crashing down around her. This opens up a whole new set of questions, deeply personal ones that fill her with doubt as she struggles to keep her mind on the investigation. Her superiors remove her from the case, but Alex is determined to follow up on leads even if it means setting out on her own. Luckily, she’s not completely alone; newly recruited Lieutenant Brooks maybe new to magic but he is supportive of Alex in this investigation. Then there is the mysterious and enigmatic Lord Richard Desmond who seems to know more a lot of detail about Alex's background. There are assassins and dark magic afoot, and both Scotland Yard and the Psychic Service are going to need all the help they can get. Alex must uncover the deeper issues at stake, before more bodies turn up.

P.N. Elrod is back in action! After I read the entire Vampire Files and Jonathan Barret: Gentleman Vampire series in my undergraduate years, I learned about this new surprising series from her website. It is different from her other book series but I am starting to like the gaslight fantasy genre. Elrod is a great, meticulous writer who can take her readers into the time period that she is writing (whether it's 1930s Chicago or 1870s London, she has done her homework on the culture of the characters and background setting!) I truly felt the mystery and magic unfold in this plot---I was constantly on the edge of my seat throughout the story (from carriage-racing horses to family betrayal and loss). Alex and Lieutenant Brooks have a promising working (and romantic) relationship together. I love how Alex is a brave and smart protagonist who can defend herself in an era where the cult of true womanhood was at its height. Alex skips the domestic sphere and creates a professional career that employs her empathic skills to good use--investigating unsolved mysteries with magical element in the streets of London. I want to know more about the secrets and organization of the Her Majesty's Psychic Service, the difference between seers and precogs, and the occult organization that Alex stumbles upon in solving the mysterious murder. With its blend of mystery, historical, romance, and fantasy, this novel will delight fans and newcomers to the world of Elrod. Watch out Sherlock Holmes, there is a new investigator in town with an empathic touch. I can't wait to read the next novel in this delightful series.

Stay tuned for future updates on this great addition to the gaslight fantasy genre. I know I’m often bemoaning that all books these days seem to be part of a series, but in this case I’m actually hoping there will be more installments. The Hanged Man reads perfectly well as a standalone, but there’s still a lot left to ponder. Just what kind of secrets are the top men at Her Majesty’s Psychic Service hiding? I’d also love to get more background on the organization and its people. It appears that Alex and her Reader skills are just the beginning, seeing as the Service also employs Seers and Precogs and what sounds to me like a considerable R&D department. With all this supernatural talent flying around, I imagine there’s quite a bit of potential for future novels. And last but not least, I think Alex and Lieutenant Brooks have a good thing here going, and it would be interesting to watch their romance (which is just in the first stages of blooming here) develop into something more. I anticipated that I would really like The Hanged Man, I just didn’t know it would be this much. A blend of Urban Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mystery and Romance all rolled into one, it’s sure to appeal to readers with a palate for bold twists and magical intrigue. The writing is simply wonderful, with P.N. Elrod’s prose bringing the period to life in a very expressive and authentic way. The story and characters are very well developed, and if I ever get the chance to catch up with Alex, Brooks, James and the other people in this world again, I know I won’t hesitate
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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Review: The Selection, The Elite, and The One (Books #1-3)

This is a review of the first books in the dystopian young adult series, The Selection by Kiera Cass. First premiering in 2012, these books on the budding romance between America Singer (17 years old), a gifted if temperamental level five commoner from Carolina, and Maxon Scheave (19 years old), prince of Illea.

35 girls. 1 crown. The competition of a lifetime.
The Selection is the first novel in the Selection series. In a far out future, the United States no longer exist. After gaining independence from a foreign nation, North America has been renamed as Illea, after its founder who established a monarchy as the form of government. People are born into a status (Levels 1-8) -- the higher the number, wider of career options (and wealth). Level 1 is the royalty (Illea's descendants). Levels 2-3 are the upper class. Levels 4-5 are the middle class. Families in levels 6-7 tend to be servants ("working poor") to the higher classes. Level 8 are the outcasts living in poverty. Some people do not like the current status system, which is why rebellions have occurred more frequently and violently.

When the prince enters adulthood, the palace hosts a televised contest called the Selection (think the Bachelor for teens) where 35 girls selected from a pool of candidates have the opportunity to escape a life laid out to them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks. Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself--and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

35 girls came to the palace. Only six remain.
The Elite is the second novel in the Selection series. The Selection began with 35 girls. Now the group has narrowed down to the six Elite, and the competition to win Prince Maxon's heart is fiercer than ever. America Singer has grown accustomed to the palace, but she still struggles over the decision on where her heart truly lies. Is it with Maxon, who could make her life a fairy tale? Or with her first love, Aspen? While America feels conflicted, the rest of the Elite know exactly what they want. America's chance to choose is about to slip away.

35 girls entered the Selection. Only one can win.
The One is the third novel in the Selection series. The time has come for one winner to be crowned. When America Singer was chosen to compete in the Selection, America never dreamed she would find herself anywhere close to the crown—or to Prince Maxon's heart. But as the end of the competition approaches, and the threats outside the palace walls grow more vicious, America realizes just how much she stands to lose—and how hard she'll have to fight for the future she wants.

I stumbled upon this book series while I was browsing my local Barnes and Noble Booksellers store. I had never heard of this author but I saw positive reviews for this young adult series. Curiosity won over, and I rented the book from my local library. I was deeply engrossed in these books! I love the protagonist, America Singer. She symbolically represents a true American Girl: kind, humble, altruistic, intelligent, creative, attentive, confident, brave, witty, and visionary. She spoke from the heart and followed her intuition. The color of the covers also hint the colors of the American flag (blue, red and white). I cheered for America even though her fear to let go of her past and embrace a once-in-a-lifetime future was daunting to read! I wanted her to make up her mind and admit her true feelings. It is so easy for teen girls to not want to take risks they may regret later but America Singer finally became forthright when she had nothing left to lose. America knew from hear heart whom she loved more. I am so happy that she found her happiness because she deserved it based on her actions during the Selection. I also learned from this series to be strong and courageous in the face of uncertainty. I enjoyed reading this series so far that I purchased the companion, Happily Ever After, which contains all the novellas!

Stay tuned for the next book in the Selection series, The Heir.
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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Review: Dark Debt and Midnight Marked (Chicagoland Vampires #11-12)

A vampire never gets old. But neither do his enemies.

Dark Debt, by Chloe Neill, is the eleventh novel in the Chicagoland Vampires series. Cadogan House has officially become independent of the Greenwich Council and established a new vampire organization in North America--the American Association of Vampires. Merit, Sentinel of Cadogan House, has her hands full making society appearances and protecting the House Master and lover, Ethan Sullivan. However, when an old friend from Ethan's dark past reappears in a provocative debut in Chicago, she does not know whether to treat this mysterious vampire, Balthasar--Ethan's Maker, as a friend or foe.

But the trouble doesn't end there. Morgan Greer, House Master of Navarre House, needs help with paying a serious debt. Worse, this debt is tied to The Triad, a Chicago crime syndicate with grand ambitions for power and control--both human and supernatural. The Triad's connections run deeper than anything Merit experienced. Both Merit and Ethan must race against the clock to figure out what Balthasar is plotting before they lose each other forever.

A vampire's grudges don't stay dead long...

Midnight Marked, by Chloe Neill, is the twelfth novel in the Chicagoland Vampires series. The Triad has grown restless and more powerful. Merit made an enemy with the Chicago crime syndicate who will stop at nothing to defeat her. When their last plan is thwarted, the Triad has declared war on Cadogan House. Ethan has alerted the other Houses to stay on high alert, but their enemy won't stop at nothing until it gets what it wants.

In this deadly game of cat and mouse, the stakes are life or death. Even family are not safe in this war. Merit and Ethan must determine who is the mastermind behind the Triad before the Windy City goes under its evil supernatural influence.

Chloe Neill scores with these back-to-back, action-packed novels. Merit and Ethan face powerful enemies from the past and present to protect Cadogan and Chicago from the brink of destruction. Merit has grown extremely well into her role as Sentinel of Cadogan House. Readers would forget that just a year ago she was a 28-year-old doctoral student in English Literature at the University of Chicago. Her transformation into a fiery, sword-wielding guardian is amazing in its own way. I continue to love this series even when I no longer live in Chicago (the Northeast is currently my residence). It is enjoyable to relive the Chicago references in my imagination. Merit is a character that has grown on me--even given me determination and confidence. I have become a warrior fighting injustice in my own way. For that reason, I cannot wait to read the next Chicagoland Vampire novel.

Stay tuned for the next novel in the Chicagoland Vampires series, Blade Bound.
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sailor Moon Crystal Instrumental Music

The third season of Sailor Moon Crystal (2016) concluded last month. I have been a major Sailor Moon fan since its first debut in the 1990s. I loved the magic girl element, good vs. evil plot, and romance. I must say the original soundtrack has exceeded my expectations, especially the first album. I love the instrumental selections -- they fit the mood (tragedy, determination, and the power of love) of Princess Serenity and Prince Endymion very well. In the meantime, I want to share my favorite soundtrack music from the first three seasons. A review of Sailor Moon Crystal is forthcoming.

Love Happens Again ~Ai no Futataki~

A Prayer to the Moon ~Tsuki no Inori wo~

Eternal Eternity (Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus / Ending Song)

Only Eternity Ties Us Together (Tuxedo Mask / Ending Song) Click here to read the rest of this post...