Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Book Review: The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey

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The Getaway God (Sandman Slim, Book 6)
by Richard Kadrey
Harper Voyager
Release Date: August 26, 2014
$18.62 (Amazon, hardcover) | $17.81 (Amazon, Kindle)
Review copy from Edelweiss

Plot Description:

Sandman Slim must save himself-and the entire world-from the wrath of some enraged and vengeful ancient gods in this sixth high-octane adventure in the New York Times bestselling series

Being a half-human, half-angel nephilim with a bad rep and a worse attitude-not to mention temporarily playing Lucifer-James Stark aka Sandman Slim has made a few enemies. None, though, are as fearsome as the vindictive Angra Om Ya-the old gods. But their imminent invasion is only one of Stark’s problems right now. LA is descending into chaos, and a new evil-the Wildfire Ripper-is stalking the city.

No ordinary killer, The Ripper takes Stark deep into a conspiracy that stretches from Earth to Heaven and Hell. He’s also the only person alive who may know how to keep the world from going extinct. The trouble is, he’s also Stark’s worst enemy . . . the only man in existence Stark would enjoy killing twice.

Review:
Before I get into the meat of the review, I wanted to highlight that I love the cover art of this newest entry in the Sandman Slim series. It looks like a movie poster, which seems so appropriate as Kadrey’s books are like the old noir films of Hollywood but with a modern twist.

In Sandman Slim’s latest adventure, Stark is trying to stop the Angra Om Ya, the Old Gods, from devouring the world. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, as with most of the Sandman Slim books, it’s anything but simple. As he’s quick to remind us, the angel half of Stark cramps his usual style but it doesn’t figure in to the plot as much as it did in some of the previous volumes.

Kadrey does a good job balancing the present action and reminding the reader of key details from previous books. Fun fact about Stark’s lady friend, Candy: she likes wood prints of medieval monsters (which, I have to say, resemble aquatic sea creatures more than anything so they end up looking hilarious and weird instead of scary).

As with the previous volumes, the same dark and twisted humour is ever-present and skillfully doled out. I also loved Stark’s interactions with a centuries-old mummy, Ishiro, whose instant antagonism and dislike for Stark makes for some hilarious exchanges of barbs. But more than the trading insults, I liked that the mummy challenges Stark’s beliefs and ideologies and forces him to consider other beliefs. Ishiro is essentially brought in as a mystical monk to help Stark figure out how the god-killing weapon he has works (and ideally, how to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands. Or hands worse than Stark’s, at any rate).

As a side note, I pictured James Hong in my head when I was thinking of the Ishiro character and pictured him as looking something like this:

Actor James Hong

In addition to more face time with Munnin, the guy who Stark made the new Lucifer, we get to learn more about Candy, the Jade, Stark’s main squeeze and she has a higher profile role in this volume than she has had since her introduction.

Kadrey reminds us of the distinction between Hell and Tartarus. There’s also a new war in Heaven, with angels eating their own kind (which can’t be pretty). But the second, and more intense conflict, of the book comes from a character who reminds readers that, as with comic books (and now, it seems, every show on the CW network) the characters you think are dead should never be dismissed of as never making another appearance in the series. And that’s all I’ll leave it at. It makes for heightened tension to an already tense, stressed-out Sandman Slim and raises the stakes in ways that surprise even him.

Even after so many books in the series, Kadrey finds new ways of keeping his loyal readers entertained and interested in the exploits of Sandman Slim, and this volume is one of the most explosive ones of the series so far. It makes for riveting reading and an ending that promises for even more interesting things to come with the next volume.

Favourite quote: “What’s the deal with Skeletor here?” (about a mummy Stark is warned not to touch)

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Book Review: Bad Mojo by Shane Berryhill

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Bad Mojo
by Shane Berryhill
Ragnarok Publications
$3.95 (Kindle) | $12.56 (Paperback, Amazon)
Release Date: July 28, 2014
276 pages
Review copy purchased from the publisher

Plot Description:

Shane Berryhill’s first dark adult fantasy is the story of Zora Banks–a beautiful, Southern conjure woman of mixed race–as told through the eyes of her partner, Ash Owens, a pretty boy-redneck cursed with a monstrous alter ego.

When Tennessee State Representative Jack Walker hires Ash to find his missing, drug-addicted wife, Ash finds himself at odds with Chattanooga’s various underworld gangs–both the living and the unliving–as he and Zora become embroiled in a far-reaching occult organization’s grab for ultimate power.

Equal parts True Blood and Justified, BAD MOJO will prove a dark delight for fans of urban fantasy, Southern Gothics, paranormal romance, and hardboiled crime.

Review:

Our protagonist, Ash Owens, is a chip off the old block of Dean Winchester from Supernatural–a pretty boy who, even though it looks like he can’t do much damage, is anything but a pretty face and brings the fight to his enemies big time.

He’s sassy, brash, Southern, and doesn’t waste time getting to the point. He’s also unflinchingly honest to the reader, whether it’s about his feelings for conjure woman Zora, or whether it’s admitting that he’s a monumental jerk who doesn’t deserve her (which, to be fair, is mostly true.) Still, he’s a jerk that readers will like in spite of his garish behaviour.

He does, of course, have his redeeming qualities, otherwise the reader wouldn’t be able to get on board with him as the lead. He has a good, playful relationship with Zora’s daughter, and he’s generally on the side of good. But he’s also a “spook,” a vicious supernatural beast who has done some things in the past that continue to haunt him to this day.

Make no mistake–this isn’t a self-professed monster who feels sorry for himself. He struggles enormously to keep his inner beast at bay, which gets more difficult as the novel goes on, which came across as an authentic battle with himself, but he doesn’t get teary or mopey about it.

Now on to the conjure woman, Zora, whose name is indeed inspired by one of my favourite (and woefully under-read) authors, Zora Neale Hurston.

Berryhill’s Zora is a powerful conjure woman who works in hoodoo and doesn’t take any guff from anyone, especially not Ash. She’s also a woman who puts up a lot of walls around her and understandably so. She’s been hurt before, and doesn’t want anything bad to happen to her family. There’s an interesting backstory to why things are the way they are between Zora and Ash, and their history, but the author did a good job balancing this with the present narrative, as well.

Chattanooga, Tennessee is a refreshing change of paces from the Chicagos and Seattles that litter the urban fantasy landscape. Berryhill uses Chattanooga to its full potential here, and makes it spring to life on the page. I’m a huge fan of supernatural novels set in the South, and while Louisiana is at the top of that list, I’m glad that more urban fantasies set in the South are coming out that aren’t just the same retreads of New Orleans (Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities, set in Charleston, NC, is another good example that comes to mind).

The bad guys. So, vampires are “vipers” with a snake-like From Dusk Till Dawn vibe, which was also a nice change of pace. Another thing I enjoyed was that the author has done some research into hoodoo and shows respect for the tradition. It also helps that he doesn’t hit readers over the head with endless descriptions and rules of hoodoo, and huge points to him for not confusing the tradition with voodoo, or trying to suggest that they’re the same.

The dialect. Berryhill’s approach to dialect was refreshing and a good example of what more authors should follow–one of the most common mistakes with the Southern dialect in fiction is this business of apostrophes for tryin’, buyin’, lyin’, etc., which is downright irritating, so I was glad to see the author’s more natural approach.

Although I wasn’t too crazy about the plot aspects that involved the missing senator’s wife, the interactions he had with vipers and other foes as a result were what I found most compelling and interesting.

In sum, Bad Mojo is everything a die-hard urban fantasy fan could want out of a compelling, page-turning story: a tortured but cool protagonist the reader can get on board with, a unique setting that offers elements of things we haven’t seen before a million times, good world-building and rules, and an exciting plot with conspiracies afoot at every turn. I hope there will be more books in the series so readers can enjoy more of Ash and Zora’s adventures.

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Book Review: Damoren (Valducan, Book 1) by Seth Skorkowsky

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Damoren (Valducan Volume 1)
By Seth Skorkowsky
Ragnarok Publications
Release Date: April 16, 2014
380 pages
$11.51 (paperback) | $5.03 (Kindle)
Review copy purchased online

Plot Description:

Fourteen years ago a pack of wendigos killed Matt Hollis’ family and damned his soul. Now, Matt is a demon hunter armed with a holy revolver named Dämoren. After a violent series of murders leaves only fifty holy weapons in the world, Matt is recruited by the Valducans, an ancient order of demon hunters. Many of the knights do not trust him because he is possessed. When sabotage and assassinations begin, the Valducans know there is a spy in their ranks, and Matt becomes the core of their suspicions. Desperate to prove himself, and to protect Dämoren, Matt fights to gain their trust and discover the nature of the entity residing within him.

Review:
The best way I can describe Damoren, a new urban fantasy novel from Seth Skorkowsky, is to say it’s sort of a cross between The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher mixed with a healthy dose of Supernatural and a dash of Hellboy.

Things start off with a young boy, Matt Hollis, who witnesses a demonic attack on his family as well as a man who busts into his house and appears to be fighting the hellish creatures. Matt becomes something to worry about for the man, a hunter named Clay, who notices that Matt has a lot of traits of demons and yet he isn’t one. He turns to his weapon, Damoren, which is part gun and part sword, for guidance. It’s a special kind of weapon. With that, the first chapter ends with a momentous decision and a big bang (pun intended) that sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

Fast forward to when Matt is all grown up. He’s pursuing a lead somewhere in Calgary where he finds out there’s much more to his presence than the elusive aswang whose trail he’s been on. He finds a red envelope with his name and finds out that there are some very interesting people who wanted to get his attention. Those folks are Valducans, members of a society of demon hunters that has existed for centuries. Although they say they mean him no harm, Matt isn’t so easily persuaded, especially because Clay told him to steer clear of their order. We also discover that Clay has a history with them and that it didn’t end well, to say the least.

Matt finds out he’s by no means unique in the sense that he’s not the only demon hunter with a holy weapon that can do some serious damage. He finds himself in a house with the rest of the Valducans. Although most of them tolerate Matt, while a few in particular take a shine to him, notably a hunter named Luiza, others are not so welcoming. They don’t trust Matt because to them he is a demon or at least gives off enough demonic energy that he gives them cause for alarm. One of them, Malcolm, seems to despise Matt from the beginning, creating an uneasy tension between the two that makes their passages all the more interesting.

Aside from creating memorable characters with interesting backstories the reader can really get into, Skorkowsky’s real strength lies in his unique world-building. One of the most critical components to a compelling urban fantasy tale is in how intricate the world-building—the consistency of the rules of the world, and how the author blends everything together to create a satisfying reading experience. I can’t say enough good things about the fascinating aspects of the history of the holy weapons, the history of the order of the Valducans, the mysteries behind Matt’s “is he or isn’t he” demonic vibes that seem to give him leverage in battle (including the very cool ability to heal by touching the blood of a dead demons), and finding out why the conclave of these hunters is so important.

Too often we see urban fantasies that focus mostly on a big American city, or some Canadian ones more recently, some UK ones (I’m sure there are also Australian ones but not any that I can think of off the top of my head). That can get dull after a while. Needless to say, I’m always more intrigued when the action in any story shifts to Europe, so I was pleased with the European locales in this novel, including Italy, which was a nice change of pace.

Although there are a few werewolves and vampires that make sure the central characters have their hands full, there are enough eclectic, not-often-seen demons in the mix to freshen things up here, as well, including the aswang and the Oni, which is sort of like a troll but kind of like a dragon too, and just generally not the kind of demon to be trifled with.

Interspersed among the main narrative are snippets of historical entries from past members of the Valducans that contain information about ghouls or demons in the Old World vs. the New World. While I think some of them were more interesting or relevant than others, or may have been good material for a “bonus features” type of section at the back of the book, they were short enough and placed strategically enough that they added to the story.

Near the end of the book, the mysteries of why Matt is the way he is and why he has certain enhancements start to unravel and things become clearer, built up with subtle hints and cues. Things get progressively worse for the central characters and it leads to an all-out epic demon brawl to basically stop demons from running the show on Earth, with some bad-ass Mortal Kombat style action thrown in that leads to a satisfying conclusion.

Far from giving readers what now seems like the requisite “dun dun dun!” cliff-hanger ending, Skorkowsky wraps things up with Matt and sends him on his way, but at the end of this book there was a preview for Hounacier, which is another one of the holy weapons belonging to another hunter, Morgan. If the teaser included with Damoren is any indication, this second volume in the Valducan series is going to be just as thrilling and action-packed and I can’t wait to read it when it comes out.

Skorkowsky does a great job early on of establishing the parameters of his world-building, the rules under which his demons operate. In this universe, “demons” are more like an umbrella that includes everything from vampires, werewolves, wendigos, and other more eclectic creatures like the Arabic ifrit and the Asian aswang. Demon hunters must use holy weapons to destroy both the body and the soul of a demon, which, once the creature is dead, emits a different coloured glow depending on the type of demon.

So, to sum things up, as some other reviews have pointed out, if you’re a fan of Jim Butcher’s style of urban fantasy, you can’t get enough of Supernatural and you like original urban fantasy that places less emphasis on the romance (although there is an appropriate romantic subplot that’s far from filler, and far from being there for the sake of being there) and you like your world-building, but you especially like your demons, buy this book.

It’s been a long time since an urban fantasy novel has knocked my socks off—probably hasn’t happened since I read Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey a few years ago, which in case you haven’t read that, is also a must-read for die-hard urban fantasy fans.

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Blog Tour Post: Elysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson (Book Review)

Elysian Fields Button 300 x 225

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This book review is part of the New Orleans Reading Challenge 2013, hosted by Midnyte Reader, which you can read more about here.


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Elysian Fields (Book 3, Sentinels of New Orleans)
by Suzanne Johnson
$17.58 (hardcover, Amazon) | $15.79 (Amazon Kindle)
Tor Books
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Hardcover, 352 pages
Review copy received as part of the blog tour for Bewitching Book Tours. Don’t forget to enter the Goodreads giveaway that’s running until August 31, 2013.

Plot Description:

An undead serial killer comes for DJ in this thrilling third installment of Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans series.

The mer feud has been settled, but life in South Louisiana still has more twists and turns than the muddy Mississippi.

New Orleanians are under attack from a copycat killer mimicking the crimes of a 1918 serial murderer known as the Axeman of New Orleans. Thanks to a tip from the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, DJ Jaco knows the attacks aren’t random—an unknown necromancer has resurrected the original Axeman of New Orleans, and his ultimate target is a certain blonde wizard. Namely, DJ.

Combatting an undead serial killer as troubles pile up around her isn’t easy. Jake Warin’s loup-garou nature is spiraling downward, enigmatic neighbor Quince Randolph is acting weirder than ever, the Elders are insisting on lessons in elven magic from the world’s most annoying wizard, and former partner Alex Warin just turned up on DJ’s to-do list. Not to mention big maneuvers are afoot in the halls of preternatural power.

Suddenly, moving to the Beyond as Jean Lafitte’s pirate wench could be DJ’s best option.

Review:

To say that I was dying to read the next installment of Suzanne Johnson’s highly addictive Sentinels of New Orleans series would be a gross understatement. After the events of River Road (you can read my review here), I was really antsy to find out what happens next and this book more than delivered.

Our protagonist, DJ Jaco, starts off in the French Quarter with increasingly volatile and troubled loup-garou Jake. They’re investigating a crime scene as a series of murders has been happening in the city that resemble killings committed in 1918-1919 by a serial killer who was never identified, but the local media called him the Axeman of New Orleans.

Things have (understandably) cooled down a bit between DJ and Jake because of his changing nature. The shift to loup-garou has had many negative effects on his life and he’s lashing out more and more at those closest to him. Jake is even moodier this time around and everyone expects him to still be the same easygoing, flirtatious guy he was before, but he’s not and he is having a hard time accepting that. I won’t spoil what happens after a sour confrontation between the two, but suffice it to say it kicks DJ’s life into overdrive and makes life even more complicated for her, as if she needs any more complications.

She summons famed jazz musician Louis Armstrong to help her with any clues about the Axeman, and it becomes evident that he didn’t just show up for no reason in the present day. There’s a shady necromancer working some seriously evil magic to shuttle the murderer back and forth from the past to the present. Soon enough, DJ becomes one of the Axeman’s most important targets, which makes things even worse for her.

DJ’s suspicions toward her best friend Eugenie’s boyfriend, Quince Randoph, continue in this book and we finally get some more answers as to what he is, what he’s doing, and what he wants with DJ. He also shamelessly flirts with DJ at every opportunity, much to her chagrin, as DJ is more interested in her former partner Alex Warin. Things intensify between them and for those readers who have been waiting for more to happen in DJ’s love life, they won’t be disappointed.

In addition, the Wizards Congress sends one of their guys, Hoffman, to teach her more Elven magic. Trouble is, he doesn’t like DJ very much and may be hiding more than he lots on about where his true loyalties lie. Fan favourite Jean Laffite also returns, as charming as ever. He thinks he can help DJ with looking into the necromancer doing the summoning of the Axeman. There’s also a major vampire character we’re introduced to, Etienne, who we’re told is in cahoots with Jean as they go way back. Etienne used to be a necromancer, but as the plot unravels more and more, it’s not necessarily clear if he’s the one behind the Axeman’s killing spree, but the author casts enough doubt on him that the reader will not be sure if he’s guilty or innocent until the very end.

As the story continues, the body count rises, and the Axeman gets ever closer to DJ. The tension between DJ, Eugenie, and Quince Randolph also increases until it finally blows up, but the reader will get a lot of interesting answers from the fallout.

If you were waiting for more explanations and an exploration of DJ’s Elven heritage and connections, this installment in the series is going to be your favourite. Although I’ve previously said in other reviews that one doesn’t see much of Elves in urban fantasy fiction, I think we’re starting to see more of them, and although I wasn’t expecting to find them in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, it’s a nice treat, and the storyline absolutely works.

The further into the narrative the reader gets, the more irresistible and unputdownable this book will be. Eventually things come to a head with the true master of puppets coming out, but he lackey strings are incredibly tangled, which will make the inevitable books that follow this series even more addictive than this one. Things end on a more positive note although, as mentioned, there’s definitely potential for more books in the series. If you haven’t picked up this series yet and you’re a big urban fantasy fan, or even if you don’t normally read fantasy but love a good yarn involving the Crescent City, you should most definitely pick up the books in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, and so far, each one is better than the one that preceded it. Suzanne Johnson has become one of my absolute favourite fantasy writers–this lady knows how to spin a good yarn ;-)

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Book Review: River Road (Sentinels of New Orleans Book 2) by Suzanne Johnson

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This book review is part of the New Orleans Reading Challenge 2013, hosted by Midnyte Reader, which you can read more about here.


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River Road (Sentinels of New Orleans, Book 2)
by Suzanne Johnson
$11.53 (Amazon, paperback) | $12.40 (Amazon Kindle)
TOR Books
Release Date: November 13, 2012 (original hardcover)
Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Please note, if you haven’t read book one in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, River Road, you may wish to skip this review until you’re caught up because I will be discussing some plot elements and spoilers!

Plot Description:

Hurricane Katrina is long gone, but the preternatural storm rages on in New Orleans. New species from the Beyond moved into Louisiana after the hurricane destroyed the borders between worlds, and it falls to wizard sentinel Drusilla Jaco and her partner, Alex Warin, to keep the preternaturals peaceful and the humans unaware. But a war is brewing between two clans of Cajun merpeople in Plaquemines Parish, and down in the swamp, DJ learns, there’s more stirring than angry mermen and the threat of a were-gator.

Wizards are dying, and someone—or something—from the Beyond is poisoning the waters of the mighty Mississippi, threatening the humans who live and work along the river. DJ and Alex must figure out what unearthly source is contaminating the water and who—or what—is killing the wizards. Is it a malcontented merman, the naughty nymph, or some other critter altogether? After all, DJ’s undead suitor, the pirate Jean Lafitte, knows his way around a body or two.

It’s anything but smooth sailing on the bayou as the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series continues.

Review:
Before I start the review of River Road, I would like to commend the author for arranging for a percentage of the royalties from the book to go to the Greater New Orleans Foundation for its Gulf Coast oil spill fund as much of this book is set in Plaquemines Parish, which suffered tremendous damage during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Things kick off with our protagonist, DJ Jaco, at the historic Hotel Monteleone where notorious pirate Jean Lafitte, who we met in book one, is waiting for DJ. He’s staying in the Eudora Welty suite, but although he’s in the lap of luxury, he’s got problems, namely two feuding merpeople clans. Jean and DJ’s partner, Alex, still despise one another so DJ knows she’ll have to limit their interactions, making for tension in the plot and on a romantic level.

Jean Lafitte is more endearing in this book and as he grew on me, I think that he will grow on many readers with his charm. Although DJ is still vehemently opposed to liking Jean, she does have to go out on a date with him as per their agreement from the first book, and she spends much of River Road denying that she has feelings for Alex, a shifter, mostly because she’s gunning for Jake, who *spoiler alert* became a loup-garou at the end of book one. Let’s just say he’s not adapting particularly well. It takes her most of the book to realize that it’s not going to be easy to maintain any kind of a relationship with him, let alone a romantic one. Alex spends much of the book treating DJ like his property, which pushes her away, but he also sends mixed signals, which confuse her.

Although I enjoyed DJ’s romantic quandaries, it felt a bit odd to me to have Alex jealous of Jean Lafitte, with the implication being that he doesn’t trust the pirate (and with good reason) but also he’s threatened by the prospect of DJ choosing to be with Jean. But Alex doesn’t seem jealous of DJ’s interest in Jake, with whom she also has a date, and to further complicate matters, DJ has agreed to pose as Alex’s girlfriend for an upcoming family reunion, but he does have feelings for her even if he’s pretending not to. To be fair, at least Jake asks at one point whether there’s anything between her and Alex, which made a bit more sense.

The merpeople are Cajuns, which adds good flavour to the cast of characters. As well, they have Houma Native American heritage, which makes them even more awesome. There are two families that are feuding, the Villeres and the Delachaises. We venture into bayou and swampland territory where they find a corpse on the shore who died in a particularly gruesome way, and DJ detects a wizard signature from it. We soon learn that there’s more history between wizards and merpeople than initially revealed. I also liked that the loup-garou in this universe aren’t just your average werewolves. They’re larger and don’t join packs, not to mention oher werewolves are scared of them. They also live in the Beyond, Johnson’s alternate dimension where Old Orleans exists, as introduced in the first book. Loup-garous can also shift into their beast form in an instant.

There’s also some Greek mythology mixed in this time with a nymph, as well as the River Styx (as in the one in the Underworld), and also an Elven Synod who don’t like the fact that DJ, who is a wizard, can use Elf magic due to her heritage. They think the Elven staff she uses is one of four, belonging to the clan of the fire elves. No one else can claim or use the staff as long as DJ is alive, which seems to make the Elves even angrier. She even encounters one of the Elves, Mace Banyan, in the Beyond, and suffice it to say it’s not exactly the most pleasant meeting.

She works closely with both merpeople clans, but in particular with Rene Delachaise, with whom she has to form a special bond. Things come to a head as the murders of wizards and a woman who claimed to be human but DJ suspected wasn’t point increasingly in the direction of one person, and everything leads to an intense, suspenseful ending that makes me excited to devour the next book, Elysian Fields, as soon as I can.

If you want urban fantasy that incorporates New Orleans into the setting and makes it a character in and of itself in the book, you need to pick up a copy of River Road, and once you get to the ending, you won’t be able to resist picking up Elysian Fields, for which I am participating in the blog tour as part of Bewitching Book Tours (it releases on August 13, 2013).

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