Tag Archive | Blog Tour

Dying To Live by Michael Stanley (Orenda Books)

A few months ago, I read Deadly Harvest, the first Detective Kubu novel published by Orenda Books, and I loved it, a great crime novel set in Botswana. I was really excited to read another Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu crime story. 

In Dying To Live, Kubu is battling demons on a personal, as well as professional, level. Whilst a bushman, Heiseb, who appears older than you would assume is physically possible, is found murdered in the desert, Kubu’s adopted HIV positive daughter is fighting for her life, as her retrovirals start to fail. As in Deadly Harvest, muti, witch doctor potions, are heavily featured throughout the narrative. As Kubu and his colleague, Samantha Khama, try to find out who killed Heiseb, the disappearance of a prolific witch doctor seems too much of a coincidence.

As with Deadly Harvest, Dying to Live is a gripping crime novel, and while it is quite slow paced (mirroring the Botswanaian lifestyle), the plot is fascinating as it offers clues and red herrings throughout. The modern versus traditional lifestyle is juxtaposed beautifully and as even Kubu begins to wonder if muti could help his sick daughter. The writing duo, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollope, writing under the pseudonym Michael Stanley, have created a wonderful main protagonist in Kubu and a formidable sidekick in Khama, that the reader cannot help but want them to succeed. Restricted as they are by their location and the mindset of the traditionalist inhabitants, they always seem to get their answers one way or another.

A number of characters are introduced, both to inform and to confuse the reader into what these crimes are all about. The various characters are from a variety of backgrounds, traditional and modern, and the reader is left wondering just who the criminals are. 

Dying To Live is a fantastic novel, which is, of course, what we have come to expect from a book published by Orenda Books. Kubu is a really endearing character and there are times in this novel where I wanted to give him a big hug. These novels entice the reader with a beautifully written narrative and an engaging plot. I look forward to reading the next Michael Stanley collaboration.

Exquisite by Sarah Stovell (Orenda Books)

I’ll be honest, this review was almost not ready in time for my day on the Exquisite blog tour. I’ve spent the last two weeks knowing I needed to read it, really wanting to read it, but not finding the time in a busy two weeks of daily work, kids and general time-consuming life tasks. I needn’t have worried, though. In four and a half hours, I’ve devoured this psychological thriller and I’m comfortably writing this review at 2:45pm on Sunday 4th June, to be ready for my day on the blog tour on Monday 5th June. Phew!

Exquisite tells the story of Alice, a clever, aspiring writer who has had a troubled upbringing, and she has found herself in a rut with her artist-cum-layabout boyfriend, living in a hovel, and in her determination to revive her ambitions to be a writer, she submits a short story to try and gain a place on a writing course in Northumberland with revered, famous author, Bo Luxton. Bo reads Alice’s story and instantly feels a buzz about her potential protegé. When they meet, a relationship develops that throws both Bo and Alice into a turmoil. However, all is not as it seems.

Sarah Stovell writes with considerable artistry. The dual viewpoints of Bo and Alice enlightens the reader whilst adding another sense of mystery, as the reader does not know who to trust. The sporadic chapters written from Her Majesty’s Prison for Women, Yorkshire, written in italics, tells the reader that one of the women has done something so drastic that they have ended up in prison, but the reader is none the wiser as to which of the characters has turned to criminality.  The balance of the narrative is perfect to mislead the reader into changing their mind throughout as to who is speaking from prison.

The plot itself is quite simple but what Stovell does with it, how she builds it up and tells the story is nothing short of brilliant. I’m so glad I read this book in one sitting, because I know I would not have been able to put this down. Stovell has the reader gripped from the first chapter, one of the prison chapters. The novel holds such promise as a build up to some terrible event that has led to the apparent model prisoner committing a crime so terrible.

As is characteristic of novels published by Orenda Books, there is a great onus on the character development of the main protagonists in Exquisite. Bo and Alice are written with such precision, both with a harrowing back-story, both with their crosses to bear and both with a habit of making bad decisions. Stovell creates in the reader a sympathy with both characters and a confusion as to how one of these women could commit a crime so heinous that it leads to jail time. The prison chapters make the reader look for clues, but although they are there, Stovell still manages to distract the reader from the identity of the prisoner until it is revealed towards the end.

The beautiful Lake District backdrop to a considerable amount of the story feeds into the air of mystery, as the characters walk the fells and picnic in the stunningly atmospheric countryside. It’s used as  foreboding landscape, adding a sense of the unknown to the background, cleverly adding another layer of tension to the action without the reader fully being aware of it. Contrasted with Brighton, where Alice calls home, the Lake District is made to feel extremely attractive to the reader, particularly with its rich tapestry of literary history, but there’s an added feeling of vastness, which gives the narrative an interesting dynamic.

It is no surprise to me that this book is so brilliant. It has become so natural for Orenda Books to be synonymous with beautifully written, atmospheric, engaging and unique novels that it’s not so much an expectation, but a foregone conclusion that any novel released by Orenda will be exceptional to the point that you want to unread it and read it again with an unknowing mind. Exquisite is no exception. There is definitely scope for a sequel too. I don’t know if that is the intention, or whether this will be a stunning, stand-alone that leaves you to imagine what could happen next but what I do know is that I have enjoyed every twist and turn of this novel and I will, as always, be recommending this book wholeheartedly.

Exquisite Vis 3

Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski (Orenda Books)

Today I am honoured to be a stop on the blog tour for Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. I was really looking forward to reading this latest Orenda Books thriller, so was very excited when it dropped through my letterbox for me to read and review.

Six Stories is written around a series of podcasts by Scott King (a pseudonym), a podcaster who interviews his interviewees wearing a mask to maintain his anonymity. The Six Stories series looks into unsolved murders and interviews those involved to try to glean some truth about what actually happened. This Six Stories series is an investigation into the death of 15-year-old boy, Tom Jeffries, whose body was found on Scarclaw Fell, a foreboding and ominous fell, 12 months after he had been reported missing. As Scott King interviews the various main players in events leading up to Tom’s disappearance, the reader is drawn into the mystery to discover the real story about how and why Tom came to be partially buried on the fell, only to be found by Harry Saint Clement-Ramsay, son of the new landowner, and his friends.

The structure of this novel is a really unusual, but very effective concept in building up the tension throughout. Using the six podcasts as the main structure, with a side narration by Harry, as he too tries to get some answers by returning to the mysterious and dangerous landscape, we have a series of untrustworthy narrators, all of whom could be lying or at least omitting important information, which gives the reader a multitude of potential explanations as to how this young boy met his demise. The comments of Scott King as narrator of the podcasts, as he questions the stories told by these friends and witnesses to events leading up to Tom’s disappearance, feeds the reader with more questions too, so even when a story rings true, the reader can be thrown off course by the doubt that Scott King casts on their interviews, or provides validation to our own thoughts that may match those of Scott King.

The location of the events is foreboding in itself and appears to hold many secrets. Scarclaw Fell is created beautifully by Wesolowski and is undoubtedly an extra character, and suspect, in this story. In every scene, the fell looms as a secret-keeper. Indeed, as Harry is wandering the fell, this sense of potential answers being held within the landscape adds another layer of possibility for the reader, as its dark and dangerous presence is felt throughout.

There are contradictions in every story and every time it seems that you are getting nearer to the true story, another interviewee will cast doubt. Wesolowski creates the tension very effectively as each interview adds pieces to the puzzle, maybe. Scott King thinks the answers lie in the dynamics of the group of friends that Tom was with during the run up to his disappearance and as this is laid bare, Wesolowski cleverly creates the wonderful twists and turns that make up a fantastic thriller.

I absolutely loved this novel. Unusually, the danger to the individuals involved has passed, but even in investigating what happened to lead up to the tragic death of Tom Jeffries, the tension is palpable throughout. Wesolowski has taken a unique structure and used it to create a brilliantly written, enigmatic novel that draws the reader into the mystery of this story. Whilst Scott King focuses on the past, the inclusion of Harry returning to the fell weaved throughout, provides the reader with a multi-faceted narrative that keeps the reader fascinated. I loved the structure and what it brought to the mystery of this tale, bringing a modern twist to a traditional “whodunnit”. I will be happily recommending this novel to anyone who loves a good thriller.

Deadly Game (Orenda Books) by Matt Johnson

Today is the day that I get to post my review for the blog tour for a much awaited novel, ever since I had the fantastic honour of revealing the intriguing cover of Deadly Game by Matt Johnson last year. I have been a great supporter of Matt Johnson since his first book, Wicked Game, was my inspiration to start book reviewing, so I was particularly keen to get my hands on a copy of his book. Also, Orenda Books never disappoints, so when this book arrived, I started reading it straight away.

Robert Finlay is back and whilst he is struggling with the mental after-effects of the near-death experiences of himself and his wife, Jenny, he is trying his best to move on with his life. However, when he saves the life of the daughter of a Romanian publisher, Gheorghe Cristea, after an apparent chance encounter on a diving holiday, Finlay finds himself in danger yet again. Whilst investigating the murder of escaped slave trafficking victim, Relia Stanga, with his new team, Finlay finds himself questioning his judgement yet again, and as the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder take hold, Finlay’s marriage and his life is on the line. To add to Finlay’s misery, old ghosts seem to be raising their ugly heads and Finlay is struggling to work out what is genuine danger and what is just his paranoia getting the better of him.

Having suffered with PTSD himself, Johnson brings a real authenticity to Finlay’s suffering, as Finlay’s paranoia is another enemy that he has to try and outsmart. Finlay flits between vulnerable and heroic as he tries to manage his symptoms, whilst attempting to return to a sense of normality. Finlay doesn’t know who to trust, but nor does the reader, which adds to the mystery of who knows what and who is pulling the strings. Johnson writes Finlay so beautifully to generate the readers sympathy for this man who appreciates where his flaws are but who has such astute instincts that even when he is under pressure, he can still come out fighting and be able to weigh up a difficult situation and to know how to respond.

Johnson strategically manoeuvres Finlay through a world of spies, criminals and crime fighters, and as the authorities seem to all be at odds with each other, Finlay seems to be an almost impartial element who will follow his instincts more than he would follow the status quo. Where there should be a sense of protection from these various agencies, their motives are thrown into doubt throughout and Finlay is left to try and sift through the various viewpoints and game plans to try and work out what is true and what is staged for the greater good. Johnson provides enough authenticity to the roles and procedures of these various agencies that the reader is left to work out with Finlay who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and Finlay’s PTSD provides the reader with enough doubt in Finlay’s decision-making to generate lots of twists and turns and tension throughout.

Cleverly written, the intricate character building and changes in narrative voice has created a beautifully confusing plot as the reader doesn’t know who to trust. Also, the fear and worry of the one woman who knows Finlay better than anyone, his wife Jenny, further gives the reader a sense of doubt in their flawed hero. I made it clear in my review of Wicked Game that I loved the character of Jenny, and that hasn’t changed a bit. Although we don’t hear a lot from her in Deadly Game, she is undoubtedly the most important influence to Finlay and most in tune with his fluctuating emotions. Whilst I love Jenny and her input, it actually works to have her only in a few important scenes in the novel, as she is the key to determining just how much Finlay has a grip on things. These little hints are enough to confirm to the reader that Finlay is far from okay, but doesn’t completely obliterate the reader’s faith in Finlay by potentially giving too much information on just how much Jenny is concerned for her husband. Johnson’s care in building in each character up and revealing them just enough is key to how this book grips the reader and he gets it perfectly right.

Johnson has honed in on real issues which undoubtedly remind the reader of genuine atrocities that plague the U.K. The focus on human trafficking from Eastern Europe is not a fictitious problem and he takes great care to show how this occurs. He starts the book with Relia Stanga’s story, her belief that she is going to a better life, and the result of how this turns out for her is further explored throughout the book. Again, his extrapolation of real issues adds to the authenticity of his novel and definitely gives the reader plenty of food for thought. Johnson gives the reader an awareness of an issue perhaps not given a lot of thought to, which is a commendable thing to do in the writing of his book. Indeed, the promotional video issued by Johnson for Deadly Game focuses on the real problem of human trafficking more than the promotion of his novel.

Deadly Game does not disappoint at all. I loved reading this novel as much as I hoped I would. I love that the focus is more on Finlay’s state of mind rather than the action as we wind our way through the story. Again, awareness of an important issue, PTSD, is paramount for Johnson and this undoubtedly gives the novel a really interesting dimension. Rather than the main protagonist just doubting himself, he has a real issue that often prevents him from making sense of what is going on. Whilst the plot reaches a definite conclusion, Johnson leaves the reader with a sense of more to come. I am very much looking forward to Finlay’s next story, and would like to state my intention, here and now, that I would love to be on the blog tour for the next book too, please. In case there was any doubt… 🙂

The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas by David F.Ross

Way back in April 2015, my Book of the Month was the hilariously, yet poignantly brilliant The Last Days of Disco by David F.Ross. Since then, I’ve eagerly awaited Ross’s follow up novel, The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas. When it arrived in the post with a vinyl record of the Miraculous Vespas one-hit wonder and containing an interview with Max Mojo (voiced by Colin McCredie), band manager and one of the main protagonists of the book, I was beside myself with excitement. (I’m actively searching for someone who would be willing to offer their record player so I can actually listen to this wonderful blast from the past!)

The Rise of the Miraculous Vespas picks up where The Last Days of Disco leaves off, although a lot of the main characters from the first book are only bit parts in this next instalment, as the focus shifts to the criminal Kilmarnock underworld, with it’s rich, often-eccentric characters and tells the tale of how Max Mojo and his big ambitions for the Miraculous Vespas come to be part of a larger plan to protect the fragile Kilmarnock criminal status quo against the threat of the McLarty gang, who have previously been ousted from Kilmarnock but are planning a big comeback.

Like it’s predecessor, this book is incredibly funny and had me giggling to myself at regular intervals. Ross has a real flare for comedy and I knew this would be a really enjoyable read, purely based on his hilarious one-liners and amusing build up of farcical situations. There are two many brilliant one-liners to mention but a particular favourite of mine was:  “He now resembled a fine bottle of red, where before he had been a shook-up bottle of Vimto.”

Yet Ross hasn’t just written a book to make his readers laugh. As with The Last Days of Disco, there are a number of poignant moments throughout the book that seem to creep up on the reader when they least expect it. The narrative is so well balanced in terms of generating an array of emotions in the reader that even when Ross evokes an image of sadness, the reader knows that there will be a moment of hilarity just around the next page.

However, it is the characters that make this novel so brilliant. Max Mojo is a young man with a dream and serious mental health issues following a head trauma. He has moments of complete lucidity and other moments where he is battling with his inner voice telling him to lose control in any given situation. The other Miraculous Vespas band members are also intriguing for a variety of reasons; a complete bunch of misfits equally as individual as each other. In comparison to the Old Firm of criminals such as Washer Wishart (Max Mojo’s dad) and Fat Franny Duncan, it seems that confidence and individuality breeds success, which gives the reader a sense of hope that despite Max Mojo’s and his Vespas issues, they could just succeed. Ross’s characters complement each other so well and the picture he creates of 1980’s Kilmarnock life containing the nostalgic reminders of the news of the day, with musical markers along the way, makes for a really interesting and enjoyable read.

Like The Last Days of Disco, Ross takes the reader on a journey, but with the added perspective of a nostalgic Max Mojo, as he gives an interview alongside the narrative, giving his own perspective in his own, vulgar way. The interview sections are indicated by an italic font, making clear where the interview starts and stops. The interview, in full dialect, is a really funny vehicle to show that over the years, Max Mojo hasn’t really changed much. I am massive advocate for dialect in novels, particularly those that are trying to capture the essence of a locality, as the Disco Days novels do, and whilst it can take a little longer to read while the reader deciphers the meaning, it is generally not all that difficult to get the gist. Quite frankly, it adds an extra facet to the characters that gives the novel that extra spark of brilliance. Max Mojo’s interview links the chapters together nicely, giving a retrospective view of the events that make this story.

The overlap between The Last Days of Disco and The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas is to such a degree that you would not necessarily have to read one to understand the other. There are the odd character overlaps and general story-line links but The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas is a fine story in its own right. Ross gives us an update at the beginning of the novel to describe how one book links to the other, which is a great tactic for making sure the reader is up to speed.

The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas is a perfectly constructed sequel to The Last Days of Disco. The reader is not left with a big cliffhanger to wonder about, yet there is enough scope for further tales to be told. As there is apparently one more Disco Days book to come, there is more to look forward to, which I’m very glad about. Ross’s skill for balancing comedy with action and poignant moments is fantastic and I can’t imagine that he could write anything that I wouldn’t enjoy. There’s enough action to keep the story moving and with the multi-faceted characters and nostalgic reminders of times past, this is a truly brilliant narrative. I’ve genuinely been looking forward to this book for a long time and it didn’t disappoint one iota. I felt I had one more advantage in being able to picture Max Mojo in my mind. My four-year-old daughter is one of the biggest Woolly and Tig fans and has Woolly and Tig on constant replay on BBC iPlayer, so Colin McCredie, who is Tig’s dad (and the voice of Max Mojo on the record that I received with the book), is an image that I can recall with considerable ease. To imagine Tig’s dad in the interview, all belligerent and cocky as Max Mojo, is an image to behold! I can highly recommend watching an episode of Woolly and Tig before reading, so you too can have this added extra image in your head when you read this amazing book! If you don’t fancy watching five minutes of toddler’s drama, it certainly won’t lessen your experience of this wonderfully funny novel. Ross has done a mighty fine job of following up the brilliant The Last Days of Disco and I’m very much looking forward to reading the third and final Disco Days novel. I would recommend this book as strongly as I recommended reading The Last Days of Disco.

 

If you’d like an opportunity to win a copy of The Last Days of Disco and The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas, as well as read a fantastic short story, Waterloo Sunset, written by David F. Ross, drop by my Facebook Blogaversary Party on Friday 4th March. Segnalibro Blogaversary Facebook Event

A Gathering of Butterflies by Sean C. Wright Blog Tour Excerpt

Welcome to my tour stop for “A Gathering of Butterflies” by Sean C. Wright.  The tour runs from October 26-30 and the full tour schedule can be found here.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Tales of steely but vulnerable women of color will melt your heart while lifting your spirits… A fierce grandmother keeps her grandson from the clutches of Old Scratch in Devil Does Dallas. An alien abduction transforms a large, miserable woman in Hazel Hogan. A country girl meets a city girl on her birthday, and struggles to decide if the girl’s heart is dark or light in Bubble Bath Twelve. And methodical Genie forms an unlikely relationship in Heaven’s Halfway House while in a coma.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sean C. Wright is native to Dallas, TX, and earned a degree in English from University of North Texas. She is the author of the short story collection A Gathering of Butterflies, the novella Honey Riley. Actress Jessica Biel directed a short film based on her winning essay in 2010: Sodales (18 minutes). For more information about her writing skills and how she can assist you with yours–for business or consumer needs–visit http://www.iwrightaway.com/.

EXCERPT

Devil Does Dallas
One, two, three
The devil’s after me.
Four, five, six
He started throwing sticks.
Seven, eight, nine
He missed me every time.
Hallelujah, hallelujah.  Amen!
— Children’s song
             “It’s time again,” Lucifer said aloud, “to remind them that I’m still here. “
Pay It Forward with Kindness, Oprah’s Angel Network, Feed the Hungry, Save a Tree, Adopt a Child from a Third World Country, Live Greener.  And the Debauchery Report was pitiful.  Murder was down fifteen percent, lying twenty-five.  Adultery numbers plummeted a whopping forty percent.
Lucifer’s cloven feet clopped on the hot, stone floor as he strolled to the cages that held his three pet snakes — Slither, Hiss and Fangs.   
“Daddy’s going away for a little while, babies.  You be. . .bad.”
 Saddam Hussein caught sight of Lucifer walking out of Hell. 
“Where are you going, Boss?” 
“Up there to recruit,” Lucifer told him, “Keep the fires burning until I get back.”
Lucifer liked Saddam.  He reminded Lucifer of himself when he was expelled from Heaven.   Whenever Lucifer’s internal fires dimmed, he recalled the incident.  It helped him keep his venom.  
God frowned when Lucifer rolled around Heaven on roller skates.
God shook his head when Lucifer tie-dyed his white frock. 
God scowled when Lucifer got the rebel angels together and played what would later be labeled The Devil’s Music – Rock ‘n Roll and jazz.    Not everybody wanted to hear harps’ incessant plink, plink, plink.
“Lucifer,” God had said, pursing his lips, when he got called into the office, “It’s just not working out.”
“What?” he had asked.
“Souls are here for peace and serenity.  You and the other angels you associate with are disruptive.”
“But, God, not all people lived their earthly lives the same, so why should everyone live the afterlife the same?
“Son, please give me your wings,” God retorted, his voice keeping its even cadence.  His voice hadn’t wavered, but Lucifer saw God’s face had That Look.  It was the look He had when someone begged Him to help, but He couldn’t because the person’s prayers weren’t destiny.  Then God’s sad face became His omniscient one. 
“You think I’m trouble,” Lucifer had growled.
“I didn’t say that—“
“You didn’t have to, God.  I’ve known you an eternity!” 
And with that, he had removed his wings from his back, thrown them in God’s face, and stormed out of Heaven.  Lucifer had even scared himself with the sudden display of temper, but he felt happier and freer than he had ever felt in his afterlife.  But Lucifer hadn’t wanted to steal God’s glory.  He only wanted fun.
Lucifer treaded the murk to Earth’s portals, his scaly lips curling in annoyance.  Recruiting would be so much easier if it weren’t for the rules.  He could only stay on Earth each time in terms of 6 – 6 years, 6 months, and 6 days; 6 months, 6 days, and six hours, and so on.  Lucifer could not make anyone do anything.  He could only tempt, that is, dangle the bait and collect those souls that bit.   Once a person realized who he was, he had to leave Earth – even if his term of sixes had not been finished.
His anger had pushed aside his focus.  Where was Lucifer going on Earth?  Did it really matter?  Potential sinners were everywhere.  Here was as good a place as any.  Lucifer rose from the earth, taking gentle care to brush off the grub worms and beetles that clung to him; he had a soft spot for creepy, crawly things in decaying matter.  He scanned the sable of night until he found the pot of bubbling decadence.  A city.   Pin points of candy-colored lights, tall buildings, and the faint roar of car motors.   
He was so excited that he did not even take note of the sign:  WELCOME TO DALLAS.
Lucifer stood under a lamp post in the thick of downtown.  Sometimes a small child or a dog spotted him, but there was no chance of that here.    
Lucifer zeroed in on a Latina, waiting for the bus.   Esperanza.  She was twenty-eight.  Esperanza was the oldest of six children.  Growing up, her mother had given her slaps and ugly words when her younger siblings got into mischief or she burned the food.  A hole.  She had lost her father at seventeen.   The hole widened.  After her father’s death, Esperanza spent her adult life helping her thankless mother, who never learned to speak English.  When the lack of love and validation yielded self-loathing, she swallowed a whole bottle of pills at twenty-one.  Esperanza spent four months in a mental hospital.   When her mother had died of a stroke two years ago, she had thought, “Madre, may you eat a burnt dinner with el diablo every night.” She was single and worked as a maid cleaning warehouses in downtown Dallas. Esperanza did nothing more exciting than eat Hot Pockets and watch American Idol and Spanish soap operas at home. 
Lucifer could hardly wait to see what came next.   But just before he could get more information, Esperanza reached into the neck of her blouse, pulled out a rope of beads.   She fingered the charm on the end of the necklace absentmindedly.  Let it dangle, exposed.  Lucifer recoiled.  A crucifix.  Damn, Esperanza’s name meant hope and she had the faith! 
Her bus came.  Esperanza climbed on and it pulled away.  Lucifer looked after her, his beady eyes glazed with disgust. 
But the night was yet a baby. 

Cursed by Fire & Kissed by Fire (Books 1 & 2 in the Blood and Magic Series) by Danielle Annett

I recently signed up to the Blog Tour for the release of Kissed by Fire by Danielle Annett. However, I needed to read Cursed by Fire first. It was my intention to read each book and review them separately, but I was so intrigued by the first book, I had to read Kissed by Fire (a good sign for any reviewer) to see where Annett was going to take the tale, hence, this is a dual book review!

In Cursed by Fire, the reader is introduced to Aria Naveed, a mercenary and psyker – meaning she has pyrokinetic powers, bursting into flame, often at will, but sometimes it is out of her control, particularly when she is stressed. The opening to the book is quite a brutal one as Aria and her boss, Mike, find the body of a little boy, Daniel,  who they have been employed to find, murdered seemingly by a vampire. However, as it transpires that the Daniel was a shifter, someone who can transform into an animal, this act is seen as a potential spark to a war between the vampires and the shifters. In order to avoid a battle between the two groups, Aria is hired by the shifters to find out who killed Daniel. Helped by her best friend and shifter, James, Aria investigates Daniel’s murder, uncovering a plot to incite the war, but she is determined to find out who killed the little boy. All the while, Aria is being watched by a handsome stranger, who despite her resistance to him, feels an attraction towards him. However, Inarus is not who he seems and Aria is torn between her attraction for him and her innate defensive response.

Cursed by Fire gives the reader an idea of the hierarchy in this place where paranormals and humans live side by side, not necessarily harmoniously. The characters are intriguing, and the plot has a feel of Veronica Roth’s Divergent about it. Similarly, there are factions, in this case, shifters vs vampires vs humans/Psykers, who have lived alongside each other out of a desire to keep the peace but there are members among each group who wish to take control. Like many first books in a series, this book lays the groundwork for future books, but has plenty of action to draw the reader in.

Kissed by Fire flows a little better than Cursed by Fire, most likely because there are a lot of characters in the first book to get accustomed to and a societal dynamic to get a grasp of. Cursed by Fire ends with a 3rd person narrative in consideration of Declan Valkenaar, the Alpha of the Pacific Northwest Pack of shifters. The reader is given a hint that perhaps Declan feels more for Aria than has been previously displayed. In Kissed by Fire, we find out just how true this is. As Aria takes over at Sanborn Place, the mercenary firm she works for, she is keen to get back to work and takes a job at a farm where a being has been attacking the farmer’s animals. The farmer is convinced it is a creature only know as a myth, but when it turns out that there may be some truth to the myth, Declan’s hand is forced into completing an act that seals Aria’s fate. As Aria comes to terms with this turn of events, along with her mixed feelings for Inarus and the still-unsolved murder of Daniel, the reader is taken on a fast-paced journey.

I like to be able to feel a sense of realism in the books I read, something to relate to, and while this book is jam-packed with vampires, shifters and psykers, the battle of wills between each powering force is something that can be related to the politics of today’s society. The sense of tenuous compromises and living on a knife edge are all valid scenarios that we hear in the news each day. Aria is a great main protagonist, flawed but strong. She reminded me a little of Stephanie Plum, heroine of Janet Evanovich’s “Numbers” novels. These books aren’t remotely comedic like Evanovich’s novels but Aria always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and usually ends up coming off worst.  That said, she is strong, feisty and really likeable.

Annett has written two really good books and I have no doubt that there will be more to come from this series. They are not necessarily books I would have picked up to read, but they were entertaining nonetheless, and I think any issues I have with it are down to personal choice. I’m not completely sure I understand the Declan connection, although perhaps this will be explored in future books. I was a little disappointed that James is not the love interest, but I’m sure Annett has a plan for her characters and I am invested enough to want to know what happens next. Cursed by Fire and Kissed by Fire are action-packed, mystery-filled novels and will appeal to readers who like an adventure.