Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review: Daughter of the Spellcaster by Maggie Shayne

This review was originally posted on Brazen Reads:

I loved this book. I figured I would like it. I really liked the first book in The Portal series, Mark of the Witch. But the second book in the series, Daughter of the Spellcaster was even better. Once I started it, I didn’t want to put it down for any reason at all. I was reading it on the plane while traveling on Thanksgiving morning. Once I reached my destination, even though I’d not seen my family in a while, I guiltily kind of wanted them to leave me alone until I could finish reading. (When the plane landed I was more than 80% into the story, so I only had a little bit left. I wouldn’t have been asking that much of them to leave me alone for a few more minutes.) I took my Kindle to the dinner table when we sat down for Thanksgiving dinner. I liked the book that much.

The story drew me in from the very beginning. The action starts right away, with Lena learning about the death of her former client, who was also the father of her former lover. The background information is revealed as needed in bits and pieces as the story progresses.

Lena was born a witch, was raised by her mother, who is a witch, and at an early age she saw visions of her true love, her prince, as she was certain he was. Her mother, thinking she was too young to see such a strong vision, brushed this off as being part of an overactive imagination – and the result of it being the summer Aladdin was released. But when, as an adult, Lena meets Ryan, she’s certain she’s found her prince.

But Ryan has no interest in being anyone’s prince. He watched his dad fall apart after his mom’s death and decided he would do everything possible to make sure he never cared about anyone so much that a loss would destroy him like that. However, he’s confused by his feelings when Lena disappears from his life without any explanation. He’s even more confused about what he wants when Lena shows up at his father’s funeral, eight months pregnant.

As much as Lena wants to win the heart of the man she feels she was destined to be with, she is determined to do so on her own terms. She’s not going to trap him into a relationship. She’s strong and independent, which is largely why Ryan is drawn to her. Well, that, and the fact that they were lovers in another lifetime a few thousand years ago.

I liked both of these characters so much and found myself feeling anxious about them working things out. There were times when the situation seemed so obvious to the reader, it was a little frustrating to see the characters still so hesitant to trust each other. Granted they were in some pretty stressful situations, so it wasn’t totally irrational that they would have doubts.

As if relationships aren’t complicated enough under normal circumstances, they’re also trying to figure out the significance of the magical tools left to each of them by Ryan’s father, as well as fight against a demon-like force who wants their baby. The story had hints of Rosemary’s Baby, but not in a bad way, more like a classic creepy sort of way. This book was very scary in parts, which is why I felt compelled to read it without stopping. I couldn’t set the book down and walk away when the characters were in such dangerous situations.

As was the case with Mark of the Witch, I very much enjoy the way Shayne writes about witchcraft. Her knowledge of the Craft gives the story power and makes it feel authentic. This book in particular though, it makes me want to believe in magic and true love that survives for centuries and withstands death.

Even though Daughter of the Spellcaster is the second book in Maggie Shayne’s The Portal series, I think it would read fine as a stand-alone. Having read the first book and prequel, Legacy of the Witch, I did have a fairly clear understanding as to what was happening – even before any of it made sense to the characters in the book. I recommend reading the entire series, because I think they’re great books, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Links to other reviews

Here are the links for some reviews I've posted on Brazen Reads:

Now You See It by Cait Donnelly: The main character is this book was so pathetic - I don't like stories about weak, dependent women.  And I got so tired of her going on and on about her evil ex-husband.  Okay, we get it, he was very bad, and yet you remained with him for six years.

Kissed by a Vampire by Caridad Pineiro - Vampire in South Beach.  This was okay.

Mark of the Witch by Maggie Shayne (I really liked this book, currently reading the second book in the series - Daughter of the Spellcaster, so there should be a review for that in a few days)

Starved for Love by Annie Nicholas - Another story about a woman completely dependent on the men in her life.  I guess this is a thing with romance stories.  But yuck, and then then the whole sister-wives aspect of it.  Not my thing at all.

Sole Possession by Bryn Donovan - Pretty good story about a haunted house, and it had its sexy moments.

Night Thief by Lissa Lessler - Really liked this, set in Paris, very strong female character, really to make it on her own, then she falls for a gorgeous Mayan god/shape shifter.  Nice, very nice.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: Now You See It by Cait Donnelly

I didn’t enjoy this book very much, and the further into the story I got, the less I liked it. I began to feel resentful, thinking of the other books I could have been reading when I was reading this instead.

Initially, I thought the concept sounded interesting. The characters have these special abilities. Brady can sense people’s feelings through touch and Gemma can make things disappear and reappear. I thought they were going to be these cool X-Men-like characters. I’m a huge fan of the X-Men. But their special abilities played a very minor role in this story. Brady isn’t able to sense feelings of guilt from sociopaths – because they don’t consider themselves to be guilty – so his abilities were almost useless in this case. And Gemma has no real control over her powers for most of the book. Also, she claims to be able to read a person’s “true self” the first time she sees someone – however, this hasn’t prevented her from making some extremely bad judgment calls regarding the people in her life.

Too much of the book is about how horrible Gemma’s soon to be ex-husband was. I got tired of reading about what a bad person he was and wanted the story to move on. The author wants to be sure that readers understand the husband was truly evil. He was cruel, he was manipulative, he belittled Gemma, he cut her off from her family, he had a sadistic sex addiction. He even played a practical joke on her that caused her to have a miscarriage. Even though he did all these horrible things, Gemma remained married to him for six years. Supposedly she came from a wonderful family, with no past history of abuse and was very close to her brother, so I was never clear as to why she felt she couldn’t leave this miserable situation.

The only explanation given is that the love of her life, her high school sweetheart, died shortly before they were to be married. She felt she could never love again, so she punished herself by marrying someone she didn’t love. I’m not quite sure why she felt obligated to get married at all. But it’s clear that she’s someone who needs a man to take care of her.

After she separates from her husband, she becomes completely dependent on her brother, who then hires his friend, Brady, to watch over her. Her brother and Brady are both former Navy SEALs, which is good because she needs people trained in dealing with exceptionally bad people. She seems to be surrounded by people like this. Now that her husband is dead, there’s someone out to harm her, someone connected to her husband, who is as, or more evil than was her husband.

I usually enjoy a good mystery, but I figured out the guilty person early in the book. To me it seemed obvious, so I found the rest of the book kind of boring as the characters struggled to figure out who was responsible for what was happening to them. And there are so many bad things happening to them and the people around them – vandalism, multiple murders, fires.

As for the romance, I understand that there is supposed to be something hot and intense between Gemma and Brady, but I didn’t feel it. Their attraction to each other didn’t seem to flow well with the rest of the story. They didn’t seem very convincing or genuine, and their sex scenes felt rushed and unsatisfying.

I found the situations to be too absurd and unrealistic. I’ll tolerate pretty much anything in a book if I like the characters, but I didn’t care much about these people. Gemma seemed so weak and unable to take care of herself and not very smart at all, I felt a strong dislike toward her. Brady’s life was so shrouded in mystery, I never felt I knew enough about him to have any sort of strong feelings toward him.

I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Review: Kissed by a Vampire by Caridad Pineiro

I found this book to be slow in the beginning. Maybe I had too much going on this week, but I had trouble getting into this book. Usually when I really like a book, I find time for it, regardless of what else is happening, but in the beginning, I had to keep forcing myself to go back to this. Once I finally got into it, I enjoyed the story.

One aspect that makes Caridad Piñeiro’s Kissed by the Vampire different from the vampire books I usually read is that the main character is a female vampire. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book in which a female vampire is the focus of the story. I’m sure the stories are out there, but I’ve not read them.

Stacia is described as a vampire with very strong elder powers, making her stronger than the typical vampire. She doesn’t need as much rest and doesn’t have to stay as hidden from the sun as other vampires. Most useful though are her elder powers that allow her to manipulate the thoughts and actions of those around her. She’s staying in a nice hotel in Miami, and her powers grant her the ability to buy anything she desires (she simply makes the cashier think they’ve already received payment) and bypass the long lines and easily walk into any crowded club she finds of interest.

I appreciated that, for the most part, Piñeiro sticks to standard vampire lore with regard to Stacia’s abilities. I tend to be a little bothered when writers change up vampires’ powers and traits so much that they no longer even resemble vampires.

Stacia has lived alone for 2,000 years, always keeping her distance, believing love was something that didn’t exist for her. Then one night, she sees Alex and feels an instant connection to him. It takes a while before both realize they’ve met before. (When I started reading this, I had no idea it was part of a series called, The Calling. After a little research, I discover there are at least eight books in this
series, and a few short stories. I believe the incident in which Alex and Stacia first met takes place in the first book in this series,Darkness Calls, but I’m not certain.)

Something about the way the story is written left me feeling distant from the characters. While I found their story interesting and enjoyable, I never felt especially close to Stacia and Alex. However, the writing takes on another level of intensity with the bedroom scenes. These two created quite a bit of steam once they finally got together.

There’s also a storyline here involving human trafficking, but while we know the investigation is taking place and see how it’s proceeding, it’s never revealed in enough detail to make this book seem like much of a crime story. But that’s okay. This is a romance novel, not a police procedural.

I liked the book, but I didn’t love it. After reading it, even though I’m a little curious about what happened in that first book when Stacia and Alex first met, I don’t feel strongly compelled to go seek out more books in this series. Not because I disliked the book, but rather because I’m already reading too many other series and it would take something outstanding to get me to add another one. This book reads fine as a stand alone.

If you’re wanting a sexy vampire story, heavy on the romance, without too much else in the story to detract from that, Kissed by a Vampire would work.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Review: Mark of the Witch by Maggie Shayne

I’ve always been drawn to witches. As a child, I never liked Dorothy because I thought she was rude to the Wicked Witch of the West who, in my opinion, seemed kind of awesome. I would get so angry when Dorothy threw the water on her, couldn’t stand to watch it.

So suffice it to say, I love stories about “good” witches: powerful, beautiful, magical witches with strong ties to the elements of nature, witches like the ones featured in Maggie Shayne’s Mark of the Witch.

After giving up on ever finding her soul mate, Indira stopped believing in magic and turned away from her faith in witchcraft. But she seeks out the assistance of her friend and high priestess, Lady Rayne, when she wakes with rope burns on her wrist after an especially vivid dream. What follows puts her in multiple situations that force her to question her beliefs, or rather lack of beliefs.

Father Tomas, also is at a point in his life in which he’s questioning his choices regarding his faith. And on a side note, I was quite amused by the reaction I had from people when they asked about the book I was reading, and I responded, “Oh, just a story about a witch and a priest falling in love.”
But this book is much more than a simple love story between a witch and priest. On a deeper level, this book is very much about faith and religion and the differences between the two, as well as the role people allow those to play in their lives. How does a person cope when dogma interferes with a deeper faith, and when love challenges everything in which a person once believed? Maggie Shayne clearly knows her facts about the craft, and this novel is heavy with details and rituals associated with this practice. That is part of what I felt makes this book such an enjoyable read. The story feels authentic, not merely a jumble of made up random traits assigned for entertainment purposes to people who practice magic.

I have mixed feelings about reincarnation stories, sometimes I think they’re just silly, but I liked the way the topic was handled in this story. This takes the idea of soul mates to a whole other level. These are two people who should want nothing to do with each other, should have nothing in common, but their attempts to fight against their feelings for each other are challenged by a powerful love that has existed for more than three thousand years.

While everything that happens ultimately leads to the love story, the characters have to endure quite a bit before they finally acknowledge their destiny. It’s going to take some convincing for Father Tomas to give up his collar for a witch, no matter how beautiful she is or how strong his feelings for her. Before they can be together, they’ve got to solve the mystery of Indira’s dreams, and figure out the truth behind a story about a demon that is going to emerge through a portal on Samhain Eve. They also need to deal with a fanatical priest, decipher some secret scrolls, and retrieve a missing amulet. This is not a light, quick, read. This is an action-packed story, with twists and surprises up until the last few pages.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit and am very much looking forward to reading the next book in The Portal trilogy.

Also – I very much recommend reading the prequel to this book, Legacy of the Witch. It provides quite a bit of background for this novel, and I think it’s available for free on most sites.