Starlight by Chelsea M. Campbell

Welcome to Saturday Shorts where we review short stories and novellas.  Today, Kat Mandu is reviewing the stand-alone novella, Starlight.

22925258Title:  Starlight
Author:  Chelsea M. Campbell
Series: stand-alone
Publish Date:  September 2, 2014
Genre:  YA Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Adrienne Speck is the biggest loser in her high school, so she can hardly believe it when a magical boy falls from the heavens to grant her three wishes. He is cool, confident, and definitely popular-crowd material—everything Adrienne’s not. With his help, she has a chance to get everything she’s ever wanted: get kissed, get popular, and get a date for the upcoming dance.

But Adrienne discovers magic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the road to popularity is paved with humiliation. To make her dreams come true, not only will she have to get the lead in the school play, ask out the most popular guy in school, and stand up to the current queen of popularity, but also keep her personal genie from trashing her room, dressing like a nerd, and revealing to her mom that he’s living in their attic. For someone who’s supposed to be helping her, he couldn’t be making her life any worse. That is, until she starts to fall for him.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Kat_Mandu_100Kat Mandu says…

My thoughts on this are complicated.

The good – I loved the set up. A fallen star, coming down to earth to grant three wishes? That’s a great idea. The sugared aroma of Saiph is also interesting. I love Chelsea’s quirky little tidbits that are in all of her works and just give it that silly creativity. This novella was somewhat shorter than most and so I got through it fairly fast. The writing is spectacular as usual.

The so-so – I’m not a fan of continual teenage angst and although Adrienne gained some confidence near the end, she was mostly whiny and immature. I wasn’t very confident when I was growing up but damn, even I feel like I didn’t complain that much. I felt for the girl but I also wanted her to shut up and get a grip.

badge3v4I thought the romance was a bit forced though it was a sweet ending regardless. The dance scene was a bit rushed (I would have liked to have seen the outcome of her dumping Toby last second so he could go with Charlotte) and I wish I would have gotten more detail on Saiph’s real mission to earth – despite the story within the story.

Overall, not my favorite of the author’s work but I still liked it.

Arctic Dawn by Karissa Laurel

A solid follow-up to what may become a long running series bringing Norse mythology into the present; a Later Years concept for the gods and goddesses of old, given fresh perspective through a modern protagonist.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Title: Arctic Dawn
Author: Karissa Laurel
Series: Norse Chronicles Book 02
Publish Date: July 5th, 2016
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Provided by the Author

Publisher’s Description: Alone and exhausted after her month-long sojourn as a shooting star, Solina Mundy flees to southern California to lie low, recuperate, and plot a survival strategy. The one person she trusts to watch her back is her best friend, Skyla Ramirez. But Skyla has been missing for weeks.

The arrival of a dangerous stranger and the discovery of a legendary weapon of mass destruction forces Solina out of hiding and back into the fight for her life. Solina knows she won’t last long on her own. She must find out what happened to Skyla and unite her contentious allies if she hopes to track down this devastating weapon before her enemies use it to burn the world to ash.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Vagabond Vahn says…

Seeing old friends after a time away is always a pleasure.  They’ve changed, you’ve changed, but somehow your relationship hasn’t – at least not in the way that matters as you sit down with a drink to catch up.  It’s been a full year since I reviewed Midnight Burning – twelve full months since I last read of Solina Mundy and her Norse god friends.  We were due to sit down and catch up.

Solina went through a lot at the end of her last journey.  She changed figuratively and literally; she evolved into something more, but is still the Miss Mundy from North Carolina we met at the start.  She also happens to be on the run now, hiding out and working in a California bar – but she’s also making Southern sweet tea and promising banana pudding to her co-workers  The South hasn’t left her, despite all she’s been through.  Like friends you haven’t seen in years, everything has changed.  It also hasn’t.  Author Karissa Laurel captures that in Solina very well.

Despite what otherwise appears a respite from her troubles, there is never rest for those who make friends (or enemies) with ancient gods, nor is there rest when you take the essence of one into yourself.  It’s even worse when that essence is also the key to bringing about a new Ragnarok by her enemies.

The Good: Arctic Dawn picks up a few months after the first entry.  Enough time has passed for a bit of character progression, and it’s handled in a way that merits discussion.  We all change over time.  I expect the characters in my stories to change over time as well.  This progression is important to keep a sequel, and especially a series, from going stale.  Solina has changed an awful lot since the beginning of her tale, as has her friend Skyla.   Thorin and Val, however, are another story.  They’re still at each other’s throats like the Alpha males they are.  Val is still trying to seduce Solina at every opportunity, and Thorin is still conflicted over his emotions.  Thorin and Val lack an obvious progression of character that opposes the development of Solina and Skyla.  Yet I’m listing this in The Good section – why?   Throin and Val are immortal.  Time flows differently for them, and a few months – a couple of years even – is not necessarily an acceptable amount of time for them to leave behind centuries of perspective, habit, and manly insecurities.  That’s right, manly insecurities.  It sounds better than “the inability to share emotions because I am man, beat my chest and hear me roar”.  Or, it’s shorter to type – one of the two.  Looking back on it, I would find an equivalent in character progression for them in this amount of time to be more bothersome than the lack of it, and in the end appreciate this from the author.

The story itself is solid, and an appropriate follow-up in terms of scale.  There are a few more locations to explore, and a bit more history of the gods with whom Solina keeps company.  Where Midnight Burning was tightly focused both geographically and in literary scope, Arctic Dawn takes the next step with characters traversing multiple locations and the histories of Val, Thorin and others being explored.  Where the novel titles juxtapose a heated night with a freezing dawn, so too do we find ourselves in the deserts of Arizona and the snowy mountains of Thorin’s home away from home.   Loyalties are questioned and emotions challenged.  Karissa Laurel is moving forward with a series that requires her to step it up with each entry, and Arctic Dawn satisfies without introducing the worry that it’ll become hard to top moving forward.

The Bad:  On a personal level (I am a man after all), I would have enjoyed exploring Thorin and Val’s past in more depth.  Enough information was provided, but I find myself wanting more.  Whether this would have been detrimental to the story in the end is a question I’ve been wrestling with myself, and I remain conflicted.  I may not be the author’s target audience, but the genre is a mainstay for me.  I love a strong female protagonist, especially when they’re not so focused on their strengths that they refuse to show a weakness, but I can’t shake wanting more justification for the stubbornness over emotions these ancient gods display.  I discussed above that it makes sense they are still stubborn, in terms of how they view time and would evolve slower than a mortal – I just want to have a deeper understanding what has happened over the centuries that has caused them to still remain so closed.

Just enough happens with a variety of characters in this entry that I feel each of them could have easily filled another chapter or two.  Again, enough is present to handle the story from start to finish, but I wasn’t done with the Valkyries and their base before we moved on.  Helen, our enemy in book one and persisting through book two, kept mostly to the background here.  That’s fine, obviously we’ll be seeing more of her later, but everything still revolved around her.  This kept the satisfaction of an epic encounter with her dormant, and will obviously have to wait until the next entry.  It was odd, bringing her up and being reminded of her throughout, only to hit the end and realize we’ve never really had the showdown I was expecting.

badge4v4The Conclusion:  If you enjoyed Midnight Burning, please continue because Arctic Dawn delivers.  If you’ve not yet read book one, consider this my endorsement to do so.  I also rated it a 4 – Great, last July and awarded it the 2015 Standout Award at the end of the year.  I’m really looking forward to what is in store for these new friends of mine on the next step of their struggle to prevent the end of the world.  I rather like this world, and  would keep it around as long as possible.  While I’ll never tire of wizard detectives and private investigators, shaman cops or elemental assassins, the charm of Norse meets South is a satisfying addition the Urban Fantasy stories that occupy my mind.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Karissa Laurel as she delves into what looks to be Fantasy, based on the great cover displayed on her site for the upcoming Heir of Thunder (Book One of the Stormbourne Chronicles).

If you like this book…

…consider trying Midnight Burning, also by Karissa Laurel, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, or The Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Spellbound by Cate Tiernan

** spoiler alert ** Spellbound takes it to the next level for this series. The magick is more intense, the bond between Hunter and Morgan grows stronger, and Morgan witnesses the death of two people. Cal, her first love, who dies trying to save her – and the old Morgan who was naive, broken-hearted, and weak

333943Title:  Spellbound
Author:  Cate Tiernan
Series: Sweep Book 06
Publish Date:  March 22, 2007
Genre:  YA Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionMorgan knows that a great battle is to come. More immediately, she senses that someone is out to harm Hunter. Is it a human or a witch?

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Kat_Mandu_100Kat Mandu says…

The author explains how Morgan seems to mature in this book and readers find themselves rooting for the underdogs as Morgan finds herself face to face with a powerful and ruthless enemy. Gorgeous imagery (for the first half) and real emotion was really loaded into this book. And Spellbound brings both the end of things, and new beginnings. Morgan’s true battle against the dark has just begun.

The only thing I wasn’t a fan of in this is that it kind of takes this more…fantasy kind of turn where the characters and the action doesn’t seem nearly as realistic. And I know what some of you may be thinking. Naturally, magic isn’t real, yeah? But no matter what you believe, this series comes off as a very realistic kind of maturation for Morgan. She’s got real problems, real family, and she goes to high school, so there’s that. It’s almost contemporary, with Wiccan details snuck inside. This is the first book that kind of takes it out of that real feel by adding in some pretty powerful battle magick.

Have you ever seen a movie where the creatures are completely in graphics, but they look fake? That’s kind of the same visuals I was having. A lot of awkward filming.

badge5v4But regardless, I really enjoyed this one. Morgan is coming into her powers and although things might have calmed down for now, there’s still nine books left – and guess what? Things are about to go topsy turvy again.

Our reviews in this series (all coming soon)…

  • Book of Shadows, Book 01
  • The Coven, Book 02
  • Blood Witch, Book 03
  • Dark Magic, Book 04
  • Awakening, Book 05
  • Spellbound, Book 06
  • The Calling, Book 07
  • Changeling, Book 08
  • Strife, Book 09
  • Seeker, Book 10
  • Origins, Book 11
  • Eclipse, Book 12
  • Reckoning, Book 13
  • Full Circle, Book 14
  • Night’s Child, Book 15

M in the Demon Realm by Mark William Hammond

Emma’s world is about to get turned upside down when she discovers she’s a demon slayer. It doesn’t help that she’s injured badly in the process, has to deal with her boyfriend’s death, and has to train in time to defeat an ancient evil that’s going to consume the world.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

20713857Title:  M in the Demon Realm
Author:  Mark William Hammond
Series: M Series Book 01
Publish Date:  Jan 27, 2014
Genre:  Urban Fantasy
Source: Wordslinger

Publisher’s Description: Korean adoptee Emma Ricci has big plans. A graduate of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Emma dreams of starting her own fashion line and marrying her boyfriend, Adam. For now, she waits tables in a Korea Town restaurant.

When two masters of Chinese mysticism tell Emma she’s the last in a long line of demon hunters, she assumes she’s met two of New York City’s crazier inhabitants. Her opinion changes quickly when she and Adam are targeted by wendigos, flesh-eating Native American demons. Emma survives the attack. Adam doesn’t.

With the help of Chinese masters Li Bai and Zhan Ziquian, Emma discovers her heritage and past lives as a demon slayer. She also comes to the attention of Anthony DeAngelo, the NYPD detective assigned to the wendigo killings. DeAngelo obviously finds Emma attractive, but isn’t going to let his feelings interfere with his investigation.

As demonic activity increases, it becomes apparent someone-or something-plans to open a hell-gate in Lower Manhattan. Emma’s the only one capable of closing the door to the demon realm. Unfortunately, closing a gate kills the demon slayer.

Starting her own fashion line is beginning to look real unlikely…

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Luna_Lovebooks_100Luna Lovebooks says…

When I read the synopsis for this novel, I was fascinated. The story has an exciting premise and lots of potential! It pulled me in with the background story of M and the way the modern world is mixed with mysticism and end of the world doom. The characters are interesting and intriguing as well. This story gave me a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe but with the Chinese twist.

badge4v4Sadly the writing style prevents me from making this a five star review. There is no real narrative flow. It reads more like someone is dictating a movie. While the characters are intriguing they are often introduced quickly and then are gone just as quickly. There was some repetitiveness as well.

Despite the need to fix these issues, I still enjoyed this book and cannot wait for the next installment! I give it four stars.

Kat_Mandu_100Kat Mandu says…

Fashion designer Emma thinks her life is normal until the day she feels evil following her, and she and her boyfriend, Adam, are attacked and left for dead. When she heals, she meets two men who insist on telling her she’s their “only hope” of saving the world, that she’s from a long line of demon slayers through history, and that she’s got a twin.

This story is bloody and sometimes choppy, though it was told in a way that I could still understand. Yes, it jumped around, but I found I was able to follow without trouble. It was also told in a perspective I haven’t read in a very long time, so compared to the first person narratives I usually read, it’s a fresh change to read something that’s third person omniscient. The only downfall is that sometimes this unseen narrator knows too much and gives away just as much. I found it was becoming too predictable as the story progressed and things were revealed that I had yet to pick up on.

badge3v4My major problem with this story however, is the cliché. Sometimes chosen one stories get old and although I enjoyed the new take on this plot, I already knew the outcome. Girl gets attacked. Girl finds out she’s got these amazing powers. Girl now has to take down a bad enemy or save the world.

As creative as some bits were, it didn’t intrigue me enough to give it more than a three. I did however, enjoy it enough to give it said three, and would like to see where Emma “M’s” journey takes her in the following sequels.

If you like this book…

…you might try Far Shore by Traci L. Slatton, The Dark Horse Trilogy by Evette Davis, and The Holder’s Dominion by Genese Davis.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Nightshades by Melissa F. Olson

The world knows that vampires, or shades, exist, but not everyone really believes it. The agency created to police shades, the Bureau of Paranormal Investigations, is a joke. But Alex McKenna wants to change both those things, while keeping the world as safe as possible.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

NightshadesTitle:  Nightshades
Author:  Melissa F. Olson
Series: stand alone (for now)
Publish Date:  July 19, 2016
Genre:  Supernatural thriller
Source: NetGalley

Publisher’s DescriptionAlex McKenna is the new Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago office of the Bureau of Paranormal Investigations—the division tasked with investigating crimes involving shades.

Or vampires, as they’re more widely known.

Children have been going missing, and agents are routinely being slaughtered. It’s up to McKenna, and some unlikely allies, to get to the bottom of the problem, and find the kids before it’s too late.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

What drew me to this book: So far, I’ve liked everything I’ve read from Melissa F. Olson. Nightshades looks very different than her other series, but it is still paranormal and the description sounds intriguing.

Why I kept reading: Nightshades is a good novella. I’d call it more of a supernatural thriller than a true urban fantasy, though it will appeal to fans of both genres. The story is told third-person from the perspective of several characters, most of them involved in an FBI-like mission to solve teen kidnappings and stop it.

Nightshades feels like the introduction to a new series.  In it, we see Alex McKenna and his right-hand man, Chase Eddy, take over the Chicago office of the Bureau of Paranormal Investigations, an office whose staff has recenbadge4v4tly been slaughtered by shade activity.  Alex and Chase choose their team, including an unconventional “consultant,” and go after the shade that is kidnapping teens and killing citizens in the Chicago area.

After this “origin story” and introductory mission, I hope we get to see more of Alex and his Chicago-based team.

Why I recommend it: This is a great novella to pick up for a quick read.  It is a complete story in itself, and hints there might be more to come.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.:)

Nervous Nellie says…

This story is a mystery/thriller type supernatural read.  There isn’t a cliffhanger…not really.  The storyNervous_Nellie_100 is completed, but there is a seriously good lead in to hopefully the next book.  Please? Please? I’d love another book!! No sex, a little violence but nothing horrific.

Melissa Olson is a genius writer.  She has the flexibility to switch between series and the characters maintain their own individuality.  I have yet to read a book she’s written that I haven’t loved.

In this book, the protagonist that takes the lead is male where the author’s other series are female.  She does a good job writing for him and I can picture him as a suit and tie idealist. Typical Fed.  Less than Men in Black, but more than the Untouchables. The really cool thing is as she writes, she turns badge5v4him into an agent that actually might be worth his salt.  I got interested in him as an agent and then as a person. Sure, he’s looking for a promotion and the glory of the collar, but the author slowly has him evolve into an agent that’s willing to put his life on the line for everyone.

It’s interesting how the author introduces “shades” or vampires into the equation.  Shades are basically cast as a vampire. Kind of a Silence of the Lambs type of creature.  The author lured me into thinking they were all the same, but, just like humans, shades come in all shapes and sizes.  There are shade brown nosers that I’d like to squish under my shoe and then there are the psychopaths.  There are also those that just want to be left alone to live their life.  The zealots want humans as food and conservatives want to mainstream. Typical vampire propaganda.

The author takes the reader on a ride by feeding little bits of information and letting the reader’s mind run away with them.  When I think I’ve got it pegged, the author adds to the scenario and unbalances me again.  It’s an evolving story with a thriller aspect that is very hard to put down. Hats off, Ms. Olson.  You’ve done it again.

If you like this book…

…you might try the Harmony Black series by Craig Schaefer or 9mm Blues by Keith Melton.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


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