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Black Spark by Al K. Line

Black Spark introduces us to Faz Pound—called “Spark” since he is the Black Spark—an enforcer for the Dark Council, an interspecies group that ensures practitioners and magic beings follow the rules, particularly the one about not letting the Regulars know that magic exists. Faz has just broken that rule, killing a Regular in public. Bystanders filmed it, and YouTubers are eating it up. But Faz wasn’t exactly himself when he murdered the Regular with magic. Now he has twenty-four hours to erase the incident from the collective memory and figure out why he made such a horrible, horrible mistake.

Title: Black Spark
Author: Al K. Line
Series: Dark Magic Enforcer, Book 01
Publish Date: February 7, 2017 by Tantor Media
Genre: Urban fantasy
Narrator: Gildart Jackson
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: I watched in horror as dark magic sprang from my hand faster than an imp after your socks. I didn’t know my name, let alone that I had such power. The man was dead. I panicked. I ran.

How was I to know I was a dark magic enforcer, tasked with keeping magic hidden from the world? Yeah, total noob move, I know.

But my memory is returning, and the Hidden have given me twenty-four hours to make amends. Cover it up. Finish the job I was given, or else. Failure isn’t an option. Well, it is, but I like me, and I like being alive.

Time is running out as I battle to make things right and exact revenge on those that took so much from me. Easier said than done as I deal with angry mages, bitey zombies, oversexed imps, creepy necromancers, and grumpy trolls—and those are just my friends!—all while trying to stop myself falling in love with my best friend, Kate, who just so happens to be a hot vampire.

I’m Faz Pound, a.k.a. Black Spark, Dark Magic Enforcer, and time is running out.

At least I have my looks. For now.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Invested Ivana says…

“The rain had stopped, making the new paving gleam like a polished crystal ball as the sun made a risky move. It dared to shine for a few brief moments, before a concerted attack by the Welsh cloud gang took back their territory. The victorious clouds celebrated with a downpour so sudden and fierce the street emptied in seconds.”

Black Spark delivers a fun urban fantasy adventure, interesting world-building that turns some of the normal tropes on their heads, a thoughtful system of magic, and some fun and lovable characters. Kate, Grandma, and the imp Intus, are probably my favorites. There are some jewels of writing, such as the “Welsh cloud gang” quote above, that really tickled my fancy. And I love that Gildart Jackson is the narrator. Jackson is also the narrator of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka, of which I am very fond. He does an excellent job.

The book is written as if Faz is talking directly to the reader. So the fourth wall gets broken a lot; the narrative switches between past and present tense, depending on whether Faz is describing something that Is (in his imaginary present state) or Was part of the story he’s telling; and the character’s voice is much closer to the informal way someone would talk rather than the more formal way someone would write. These appear to be deliberate choices by the author that make the book feel very chatty and fun, appropriate for an urban fantasy.

However, there are some less-polished aspects of the writing that I noticed, being a fiction editor myself. It often feels as if Faz is rambling. His sentences can get very long and go off in a multitude of directions. At times, the narrative tense changes from past to present when it probably shouldn’t. There are also parts of the narrative that feel a bit repetitive. None of these things really impacted my enjoyment of the story; I just happened to notice them.

I do have to say, though, that I’m very glad I chose to listen to the audio version. I happened to open the Kindle version, thinking I could get some reading done at a time when I couldn’t listen to the audio. Attempting to actually read the book was a very different experience because of a noticeable lack of editing or proofreading. I’m sure I’m more sensitive to issues of grammar and punctuation because of my job as a line editor, so not all readers may be as affected as I was by this lack. But I’m not sure I could have finished the book had I tried to read it. I have to give Gildart Jackson triple kudos for translating that raw text into a great performance.

That being said, I am not reviewing the text version of this book, but the audio. I give the audiobook four stars. I liked the characters and world-building, and I enjoyed the story. I’m sure I will pick up more audios in the series and check out Line’s other series as well. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that, since Black Spark was published in 2016, Line has discovered the benefits of a good editor.

Other recommendations…

Gildart Jackson also narrates the Alex Verus series, which I adore. You might also check out James Hunter’s Yancy Lazarus series and anything by J.A. Cipriano.

War of the Staffs by Steve Stephenson and K.M. Tedrick

High fantasy mixed with vampires and adventure? What’s not to love?

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

War of staffsTitle: War of the Staffs
Author: Steve Stephenson, K.M. Tedrick
Series: War of the Staffs #1
Publish Date: July 6th 2016, Black Rose Writing
Genre: High Fantasy
Source: Provided by Publisher

Publisher’s DescriptionThe goddess Adois brings a powerful vampire warlock named Taza through the void to turn Muiria into a planet of evil using her powerful staff. Needing an army, he turns a race of dark elves into vampires, but Prince Tarquin is born to fulfill a prophecy to stop Taza.

The prince cannot do it alone. The Wizard Celedant sends him to the Borderers, an elite group of dwarves to learn how to fight, while the wizard begins his search for the Staff of Adaman, the only thing capable of thwarting Taza and Adois’ Staff.

War of the Staffs is the search for two pieces of the ancient Staff of Adaman to counter Adois’ plans. The darkness is rising and using the black power of the Staff of Adois and his army of dark elves, giants, and orcs, Taza will begin a reign of terror the planet will not soon forget.

Luna Lovebooks says…Luna_Lovebooks_100

While most of the book was centered on classic fantasy elements such as wizards, elves, heroes, prophecies, and good versus evil, there are a few elements that make it original. I don’t think of vampires as a fantasy element but they play a central role in this novel. So does the alternate planes of existence and other planets. These elements put a unique spin on this novel.

I really enjoyed the young Prince Tarquin’s storyline. I like that he must prove himself in the Dwarven army and gains their respect. Along with Tarquin is the Wizard Celedant who must thwart attack after attack from the Warlock Taza and get Tarquin where he needs to be. Although the vicious attacks can get a little repetitive.


There were parts in this novel that were easy to read and I could make it through. However, there were parts that were slow and I struggled to get through. I had to set it aside a couple of times and come back to it. For this reason, I give this novel 3 dark elves. I am not sure if I am up for reading the second installment, but if it sounds like something up your alley then go for it!

Other recommendations…

Check out these other great fantasy reads!  The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh, Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Savage Prophet (audio) by James A. Hunter

To listen or not to listen – there is no question about it. The audio of Savage Prophet is definitely one to listen.

Title: Savage Prophet
Author: James A. Hunter
Series: Yancy Lazarus, Book 04
Publish Date: September 19, 2017
Genre: Urban fantasy
Narrator: Charlie Kevin
Cover: Lou Harper Designs
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Legions of murderous undead, Haitian voodoo, and a 5,000-year-old serpent god.

Yeah, ’cause that’s exactly what Yancy Lazarus needs in his life: more complications. As if being the Hand of Fate and the newly appointed guardian over one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse wasn’t headache enough.

All Yancy wants is an easy life on the open road – chock-full of ribs, beer, cigarettes, and smoky bars blaring with gritty blues music – but that just isn’t in the cards. Nope, not anymore. He’s been charged with saving the world, and now that he’s got a no-shit demon riding shotgun in his head, he’s sorta committed to the cause.

If Yancy can’t sort through this colossal heap of bullshit, he’s coffin bound. But, he’s not dead yet. In fact, he even has a lead.

Turns out one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse – the pale Rider, Death – is slumming around in one of Yancy’s old haunts. In order to corner this new threat, though, Yancy’s gonna have to face some deadly supernatural nightmares from his distant past. And, to make matters worse, he’s not the only one trailing the Pale Rider. A powerful new mage with some serious magical chops is also aiming to find the Fourth Seal and he’ll do whatever it takes to win. Even if it means hurting those closest to Yancy…like FBI Agent Nicole Ferraro.

Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel. In other words…spoilers.  *BEWARE*

Nervous_Nellie_100Nervous Nellie says…

“He could rot in that damn hole until the world imploded or mankind was finally eradicated by an army of tyrannical, laser-wielding monkeys riding cyborg dinosaurs. Or whatever. Though personally, I’ve got my money on the crazy monkey-dinosaur apocalypse thing.”

This book has graphic violence (to those who deserve it-except Yancy of course), no sex, a little bit of a cliffhanger (not bad), and a fabulous narrator.

Sometimes when I buy an audiobook I really hope that the narrator is invested in the characters enough to make the book come to life. I’ve listened to books where the accent the narrator uses to portray some characters muddies the listening experience so much that the dialogue is not understandable. This narrator does no such thing. As a matter of fact, if I listened closely (which I did) I figured out the identity of the person behind the secret brown robe. Charlie Kevin did such an amazing job of portraying Yancy Lazarus that I now hear Charlie’s voice in my head when I read Yancy’s words. That normally doesn’t happen unless the voice of the narrator and the character mesh.

James A. Hunter does an especially great job of writing…again. This series is a series that I can’t wait for the next release. Most of the time the heroes are threatened to be harmed but in the nick of time gets out of the jam. Not Yancy. Mr. Hunter, I think, enjoys putting Yancy through his paces and most of the time gets the raw end of the deal. Now, don’t get me wrong, Yancy does get his share of breaks but more often than not the danger outweighs any sort of a break he gets.

In this story, I felt like there is not one more thing that Yancy could possibly handle before he has a total breakdown. I totally understood his baser instinct of self-preservation and the idea of ‘just walking away’. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Yancy stuck with his destiny even though he knew it may be his final end. Oh – <spoiler> it’s not his final end yet. Thank goodness Brimstone Blues is released so I could move on to the next book without too much anxiety. I will really hate to see the end of this series.

Mr. Hunter is in negotiation for the audio of Brimstone Blues and it’ll possibly be released after the new year. Woot!!

Our reviews in this series…

Other recommendations…

If you like cranky urban fantasy detectives, check out the Dresden Files, Sandman Slim, or Alex Rains.

Strange Magic by James A. Hunter

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Strange MagicTitle: Strange Magic
Author: James A. Hunter
Series: Yancy Lazarus Book 1
Publish Date: January 16, 2015
Publisher: James A. Hunter
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Provided by the author

Publisher’s Description: Yancy is a bluesman, a rambler, a gambler, but not much more. Sure, he can do a little magic—maybe even more than just a little magic—but he knows enough to keep his head down and stay clear of freaky-deaky hoodoo like this business in LA.

Somehow though, he’s been set up to take a real bad fall—the kind of very permanent fall that leaves a guy with a toe tag. Unless, of course, he can find out who is responsible for the gangland murders, make peace in the midst of the gang feud, and take out said magical ass-hat before he hexes Yancy into an early retirement. Easy right?

Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel (or, in other words, SPOILERS).

What did you think of the wizard dual in Strange Magic?

Well, for an old guy, Yancy did pretty darn good. I especially liked it when he just popped Arjun in the face. Wizards don’t expect physical resistance. That was very Indiana Jones. I was surprised that Yancy kept fighting as long as he did.  Kind of like the energizer bunny, really. I enjoy wizard fights. It’s interesting to see how they change their strategy on the fly. I don’t think I’d be a very good fighter. I can’t think of what would stop someone cold like the actions in this book. I would very much like to read the next book. I’d like to see where Yancy is going… and if he’s really a bad of a guy as he says he is. If he’s helping people, he can’t be all that bad, right?

Yancy’ll be back this summer, according to the author. Did you know the book is self-published? Pretty cool cover for a self-published book.

Go self-publishers! I don’t know what all goes into self-publishing, but after reading Yancy’s story, I’m glad it’s an option because I really did love this story. I cracked up so many times over the things that came out of Yancy’s mouth. He’s got my sense of humor. He’s hilarious. I agree that cover is awesome! That cover is what drew me in as I was searching for a new read. I hate to admit it, but I am one of those people who judge books by their covers. I know the authors work really hard on their stories, and one look at the cover should not decide if they get a reader or not. *shrug* That’s how I am. I have to say that I expected more errors in a self-published book. I’m impressed with the quality. What’d you think?

I caught a few mistakes, but not so many or so bad to be distracting. I thought the story was entertaining. Yancy sure is a master of snark! I love all the names he comes up with, like McGoon and Rent-A-Thug.

I know! If I had used a real highlighter in a real book instead of my the electronic version that comes with my kindle, I probably would have run out of ink. I don’t think I’ve found so many good quotes in one book. I had so many favorites that it would be tough to pick my favorite. So, ‘Vana, what do you suppose happened between Yancy & the guild that put Yancy so far out of favor?

He probably called the leader an ass-hat in front of his ass-hat friends. That would tweak any Merlin’s beard.

I don’t think ass-hat was quite the description. More like…”Bunch of tightwad, hypocritical, self- righteous, self- serving, bathrobe- wearing geezers.” That’s what he said, straight out of the book! That leads me to believe he got the raw end on some sort of political deal. I think we’ve all experienced that at one point in our lives.

Yeah. But for us, it’s just another day at the office.


“Mr. H & R was the Sith Lord of Mafioso bureaucrats.”

Nervous Nellie says …

Main characters: ♥♥♥♥ Yancy was great. He’s labeled “The Fixer.” We only hear about that name in passing and no real evidence is given to say why or how he’s come by that nickname. He’s a 65-year-old man that looks 40. Finally, a character that has some age and experience that is believable. This was another story that caters to the guys’ love of cars and guns. He describes his car with reverence and his guns with admiration. Yancy has a high tolerance for pain and even more stamina. I don’t think a 20-year-old could have kept up with him in this story. It was fantastic!

Other characters: ♥♥♥ Greg Chandler was okay. I think I would have like to have gotten deeper into Yancy and Greg’s relationship. I know they were in Vietnam together, but it felt weird that Greg would just call Yancy up out of the blue with a problem when they hadn’t seen each other for so long. Gavin Morse and Cesar Yraeta were the bad guys that were being played against one another. Yancy must have a heck of a reputation, but then Morse and Yraeta are surprised at what he can do. Weird. I would have liked to known Arjun Dhaliwal a little better. He’s on the run from The Guild just like Yancy. What is up with this Guild? Who are they and what do they do? Better yet, if Arjun and Yancy are both on the run, the Guild’s police can’t be all that good, right? I mean, two very powerful wizards just popping around causing all sorts of havoc? Huh.

World: ♥♥♥♥ I liked the world. I liked how the author described it and how the whole story played out. I noticed that the author didn’t stray into any places that were really unrealistic… well, except maybe the Hub and Harold the Mange’s house. That was pretty interesting.

Story: ♥♥♥♥ The story was pretty simple. I loved that Yancy was destructible and that he wasn’t sure about his own ability in carrying off mayhem and destruction when it was forced upon him. I loved his snark and his whole attitude. He carries guilt like we all do, and in the upcoming stories may confront those feelings and actually do something about them. I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of Arjun and the Rakshasa… and the other enemies that Yancy comes across. Case in point: “…claws, fangs, or gooey tentacle thingies…” Thingies? Is that a technical term? Hilarious is what I call it.

Overall: ♥♥♥♥ For a first shot book, self-published at that, I think it was great. Hats off, Mr. Hunter. You did good. I enjoyed it and I will be looking for the next book.

“I didn’t want to throw him in any ol’ piranha tank, I wanted to throw him into a tank filled with genetically modified super-piranhas carrying tasers and bullwhips…”

Takeaway: “…sometimes, bad choices are the only ones available.” AND “Sometimes no decision is the worst decision you can make.”

Invested Ivana says …

Main character: ♥♥♥ Yancy Lazarus has a lot of internal monologues, so the reader gets to know him pretty well over the course of this book. He wants to see himself as a drifter with no attachments, just taking in the music and ambiance where he finds it. But really, he’s kind of a softie and certainly a wise-ass. The reader gets a few interesting hints about Yancy’s past, but not much more. Yancy has a lot of awesome snark… but maybe a bit too much.

Other characters: ♥♥ The other characters in the book aren’t as well fleshed out, but they aren’t bad. There’s no real back-story on the villain, which I think is essential for a really engaging story. We know he’s trying to “save the world” in his own twisted way, but we don’t learn much more about his motivations. We learn that the rival gang leaders – reluctant allies of Yancy’s – are really loyal family men, but not what they are like as crime bosses or what their main goals are. The character we learn most about is Yancy’s longtime friend and ally, Greg, who gets him into the whole mess to start with. We know that relationship is deep, and we see a bit about Yancy and Greg’s past.

World: ♥♥♥♥ Yancy lives in a modern world with magic. Hunter gives us a decent look at the way magic works, at least for Yancy. The mage dual toward the end of the book is pretty neat, describing how the mages manipulate energy into shapes and effects that work with the laws of physics to produce the desired result. I really liked that part.

Story: ♥♥♥ This is an “investigate and terminate” story told by a snarky mage who can’t help but get involved even as he curses himself for doing it. There is a lot of action and a lot of exposition both, but not a lot of rationale for the events of the story because the villain and side characters are shallow on backstory.

Overall: ♥♥♥ I think this was a fun story with several laugh-out-loud moments. It could use some refinement and more depth, but for the first novel in a series, it’s a decent read. 

Stand Out Award Badge2Our reviews in this series:

If You Like This Book …

Stay tuned for more Yancy coming this summer, according to the author’s website.  Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series would be the obvious choice for a recommendation, but you might also try J. F. Lewis’s Void City novels and James Tuck’s Deacon Chalk novels.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

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