Dark Designs

Dark Designs

Dark Designs by Stefanie Spangler (Urban Fantasy)

I have to admit, the first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. The second was the description – being a twin is always fun to think about when you’re not a twin, and I’d be okay with having some magic powers now and then.

Being urban fantasy, the story veers away from reality, which is what I expected, and that part was fine. The girls being twins, however, was never explored. They’re fraternal, not identical, which we don’t know early on because no description is given, even though the simple fact that Ivy is a redhead and Violet a brunette would have sufficed. We know Ivy is more reserved than Violet, but I never felt that I got to know either one very well, and there was no indication that their psychological connection was any different than my connection with either of my sisters. So much for the significance of twinness.

Each has magical powers to some degree, but they learn about their powers off-stage. We don’t know how they react to finding out they are different from their peers or how (or if) they hone their skills. Instead, the story abruptly jumps from the girls being clueless eight-year-olds to the day that Ivy comes home from college, back to the family farm that Violet now manages. We’ve had no opportunity to get to know them, to watch them grow in any way, and now they are adults about to be thrown into a magical dilemma.

Considering that this is a short novel, some fleshing out of the characters could have been done. Instead, we have the immediate jump into action with danger entering their lives, but since I hadn’t really become invested in the girls as people, it left me feeling detached. The author is in everyone’s head – both the good guys and the bad guys – so there is little opportunity to experience a whole lot of emotion with any one character or to learn more about someone through the eyes of a single person.

The story itself is entertaining; one always wants to know how the main characters are going to get out of a predicament. For the YA urban fantasy reader, this book delivers the good guys and the very scary bad guy, some magic, and a little budding romance. There are the young witches embarrassed by their unusual skills, the suspicious neighbors, and the disbelieving cops. There is some tension, some danger, and a creepy monster to give the reader the willies. And, for some reason, there is the angst of the missing mother who abandoned her twins in infancy without explanation. It does little to move the story along, however, and I have to wonder why it’s even in there, since no one actually makes any attempts to find out more and nothing changes regarding Mom.

One final point: the time jump from eight years old to college graduate would have made more immediate sense to the reader if Chapter One had been called a prologue. It sets the stage for the rest of the book and occurred more than a decade before the rest of the story. Ironically, the book does have an epilogue which didn’t feel significantly different enough to be an epilogue and could have simply been the final chapter. Unless, of course, it’s meant to portend Book Two.

Bella gives Dark Designs three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Raven Bride (Short Story)

The Raven Bride

The Raven Bride by Sean Fesko (Short Story, Historical Fiction/Paranormal)

We agreed to review The Raven Bride after being approached by the author, even though we don’t normally do short stories. The era and setting is that of the Salem witch trials, a topic that interested us. The description asks the question, “What do you do when the ones that should save you are the ones that accuse you?” As you might guess, you can’t do much.

The year is 1692, and sixteen-year-old Victoria Crowe lives with her mother and little sister just north of Salem, Massachusetts. Her father passed away earlier in the year, leaving the women to survive on their own. The church helps out when it can, but then, one night while their mother is out of the house, the local deputies come to arrest Victoria and her little sister as witches. Will Victoria be able to convince the town that they are not evil?

While Mr. Fesko characterized this as paranormal fiction, I found it to be more along the lines of historical fiction in that it does a good job of entering the mind of an innocent accused of witchcraft in a turbulent time in Colonial history. On the other hand, everything happens so quickly, there is little time to contemplate the fate of Victoria and her family, leaving me feeling somewhat cheated out of what could have been a longer, more intense experience if he had simply turned it into a novella. The paranormal part comes later, and I won’t attempt to explain it here in order to avoid spoilers.

The writing is well done to a point, but there are jarring inconsistencies of language and word usage that took me right out of the story. Victoria is the narrator, and while most of the time she speaks in a somewhat inaccurate, but obviously intended to be, Olde English style, she occasionally throws in modern phrases like “Good job!” or “I lost it” meaning she lost control of her emotions. A few “haths” or “thous” do not Olde English make, and that aspect of the storytelling could have been done much better.

This is a quick read, and it leaves one thinking about good and evil and their origins.

Grandma gives The Raven Bride three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of the book from the author in return for an honest review.

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Tail & Trouble

Tail & Trouble

Tail & Trouble by Victor Catano (Science Fiction/Fantasy)

I’m not usually a fantasy kind of girl, but I did enjoy this story of psychic dogs, covens, wannabe witches, and a nasty wizard. Sheila is a good and powerful witch, and she has gone missing. Sheila’s boyfriend, Gabriel, and Orson, the bulldog who is her familiar, have gone looking for her. She’s out on coven business that her fellow witches won’t reveal, so Orson and Gabriel are on their own. Along the way they meet new magical types, and most are not so nice.

Gabriel tells the story, and he is a guy with attitude. He makes it fun to read. Orson has attitude of his own, and between the two of them, it is pretty entertaining. I never did get to know or care a lot about Sheila herself, which did make the story a little less interesting. I know that Gabriel and Orson love her, and she’s a good person who’s had a rough life. But it wasn’t quite enough for me.

There’s action and problems to solve, and so it kept my interest because I wanted to know how they would fix it all. It’s the kind of book where you know the ending is going to be happy, so the question is, “how do they do it?”

Bella gives Tail & Trouble four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC in return for an honest review.

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