Nothing gets me hooked faster than a fully envisioned urban fantasy world with a societal structure outside the human norm. J.P. Jackson’s soon-to-be-published novel SUMMONED has just that. SUMMONED is slated to be published on Monday, April 19th by NineStar Press and we were lucky enough to grab ourselves an ARC while we could.

SUMMONED follows the magical awakening of one Devid Khandelwal, a frankly exhausted university student who is just weeks away from graduation. Devid, Dev for short, is obsessed with the occult and the Shadow Realm. His only wish in his world is to be a part of the Shadow Realm. He has spent thousands of his hard-earned wages working for his parents on crystals, tarot cards, and the like. Dev though has had his eye on a Desire summoning board for quite some time until the start of the story when he finally has saved up enough for it. After performing the summoning spell with his best friend Cam, Dev will soon begin to realize just how in over his head he truly is when witches, werewolves, and Fae alike come a-knocking.

Add in a full cast of extremely attractive men, great worldbuilding, and well fleshed out characters and you’ve got a great M/M paranormal romance novel.

From start to finish this book delivers exactly what it promises to; a great urban fantasy story and a lot of great erotica and lust. If this is your genre, it’s definitely worth picking up. It’s an enjoyable read that after the first chapter or two is extremely well-paced to the point you could plow through about 60 pages without really noticing. Just one chapter does not happen here so I caution all to not read it before bed. In bed yes, before, not so much.

The first two chapters are a little shaky with pacing while trying to establish the main character and best friend and it would have honestly, in my opinion, been better with one last revision aimed at just those first two chapters but even without it, the rest of the book completely makes up for the slow start. Even so, the beginning like the rest of the book is an extremely easy read. The language is witty but still accessible. It read like it knew exactly the type of book it was. The explanations of the world were simple yet fascinating enough that even exhausted I did not miss any information being thrown at me. Not too common that a book can say that when it’s not the third or more book in a series.

Jackson does a great job of interweaving all the supernatural races that are introduced and present in this world. All are straight from myth but have great and interesting twists that are strictly from the mind of Jackson himself that really keeps a reader going. It’s a rich and well-thought-out world, one of the better ones I’ve come across in recent years. If you find no love for any of the characters there is still a good chance you’ll devour this book just to learn about the world of the Shadow Realm.

That being said, we should talk about the characters. From the start, each character stands solidly on their own. The interactions are extremely fluid all except for a few instances. When Dev interacts with his family, it’s a bit too much for me. I get that he’s supposed to be at the end of his rope with them for various believable reasons but as a reader and having that happen extremely early, it feels sort of sudden and over the top. Other than that though, I loved almost every character within this book but that being said, I would have liked to see a bit more of a rounded outcast. Almost every character is of the same make, an extremely attractive Bear. It works for the story but I feel like the world would have felt more whole with a few characters dropped in that weren’t of the same variety. For the characters present, no complaints, and maybe, if Jackson wanted to, he could write a sequel of sorts and explore this world in even more depth. I for one would not be angry at a sequel like that.

When it comes to the romance and erotica aspect of this book, it hits just right for those that love Bears of all kinds. For those of us who don’t share in the love of Bears, it’s still very enjoyable. Well-written consensual sex is always welcomed here. None of the sex scenes felt forced in, having just remembered that it’s supposed to also be erotica nor are there any ‘porn just for porn sake’ sort of scenes. This book is equal parts urban fantasy and erotica.

Overall, a great read and definitely worth the price of the eBook. We’d probably rate this a rounded up 4/5. Jackson, you can have your other points if you promise to write a sequel.

You can pre-order SUMMONED now from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and more.

Nubia: Real One by written by L.L. McKinney, illustrated by Robyn Smith, and colored by Brie Henderson, is the next book you have to add to your already overpacked bookshelf.

Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Since Wonder Woman, Princess Diana of Themyscira, first appeared in DCs All Star Comics #8 in October 1941 there have been countless stories, movies, and more about this well-loved character but did you know Wonder Woman had a sister? A long-lost twin sister even. Nubia, DC Comics’ first Black superhero character, was first introduced in Wonder Woman #204, January 1973 and has been popping in and out of the Wonder Woman stories since.

In the 40+ years since her introduction, her relation to Diana has varied from a fellow Amazon, a parallel universe version of Diana, as well as having inherited the mantle in a future timeline. When I was first introduced to her at the age of 11/12, she was Diana’s twin.

There was this hole-in-the-wall comic book shop a few blocks down from my middle school that I would walk to from time to time when the weather was nice. I used to go in there and browser to my heart’s content, the owner more than happy to indulge me. It was there that I first found Lady Death, Evil Ernie, Fables, and a slew of lesser-known comics. It was also where I caught up on Marvel and DC stories, starting my large comic collection off right.

I remember buying only a few Wonder Woman comics, never really satisfied with her character and stories until recently. If I was in the mood for a kickass heroine, I usually just bought a She-Hulk comic since she had a little bit more personality at the time. One of the few comics I did have had Nubia. It’s been a bit of time and I honestly don’t remember if I had any reaction to her introduction other than ‘oh, she’s cool’ before moving on. I was a ravenous reader and all except a few titles and characters never got too attached as I read. It was easier just because of the speed I devoured a multitude of stories at.

Sadly, Nubia overall was barely in the Wonder Woman comics which I only learned in the last few years, and was never really given the spotlight but she was well-loved by many diehard fans of color. McKinney, after being a fan of Nubia from childhood, pitched the idea to DC and they approved.

A little more than two weeks ago, Nubia: Real One was released. My Twitter feed blew up with it and I instantly had to order a copy.

Best book buy of the year.

Nubia: Real One is set in modern-day starting at the end of her junior year of high school. She’s seventeen and hiding her powers as best as any teenager could. Her two moms, one is an ex-Amazon herself, keep Nubia in the dark as to her true lineage and try to raise her like a normal American teen. The problem is Nubia is Black in a country that hates people who look like her.

This story beautifully blends the trials of being a teenager; crushes, parties, and parental nagging with real-life conflicts of today; racism, police brutality, and school shootings. Neither side is heavy-handed, neither is downplayed. They just go hand in hand for Nubia and her friends. The realness makes the story fly by, compelling the reader to just keep going, turning page after page.

McKinney does a great job with modernizing Nubia. In her appearances in Wonder Woman, she’s been the definition of the media’s portrayal of a Strong Black Woman. McKinney takes that and builds off it, molding Nubia into a believable character. She balances Nubia’s strength and vulnerability, keeping in mind that she’s just a seventeen-year-old girl trying to get through high school.

This was a character I would have loved to read about as a kid. A woman with a personality and flaws and one that just felt real. Yes, she can bench press a Buick but even with that, it felt like she was any girl of color in any American high school. One with overbearing parents, nosy friends, and maybe even a crush on a classmate. I love this.

Diana does show up in this book like one would expect, to give some backstory why she’s a full-fledged adult and Nubia is still a teen. I won’t spoil the details, promise. It’s short and probably for the best since having her around longer would derail the rest of the story and take away from Nubia’s identity struggles. I hope, in future books, that they do have more time to interact and form a real bond.

From start to finish, Nubia: Real One does its job and does it well. It blends modernization with the feel of classical superhero stories. It is thought-provoking, comical, and endearing. Once the pandemic is over and I can see people in person again I will be throwing this book into every one of my friend’s hands with a simple ‘you have to read this.’

Now, the big question. When’s book 2 coming out?

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I’m just going to put this out there from the start. I hate zombies. I find it a dry and overdone trope. I try to avoid anything with zombies as a rule because it just makes my eyes cross. They neither scare nor intrigue me. I just am not a fan of zombies. 

That being said every rule has its exceptions. MY LIFE AS A WHITE TRASH ZOMBIE is now one of those exceptions.

This is the first book in a series by Diane Rowland that came out a few years ago. I picked it up on a whim since I’ve been in the mood for good stories with an undertone of comical absurdity. I’ve been finding some really good series that match this. Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series has now been added to the list.

The main character Angel Crawford is a grade-A loser from the swamps of southern Louisiana with a pill habit, a criminal record, and a deadbeat alcoholic father. After waking up from an apparent overdose Angel’s life gets turned around by a mysterious note that promises a job. A job she can’t mess up for a month or else she’ll be sent to jail.

So the job is as a van driver for the parish morgue, anyone surprised? She also assists with autopsies which put her in direct contact with brains. Human brains that for some reason now smell simply amazing to Angel. Add in a serial killer who dispatches their victims by cutting off their heads, conveniently the best method of killing a zombie.

It’s pretty obvious early on what Angel has been turned into even without the title as the dead give away but Angel herself does take a while to get with the program. As a reader, I was rolling my eyes at her obtuse theories but to be honest not many would jump straight into ‘Oh god! I’m a brain-eating Zombie! With a capital Z!’ Also, they added to her character well and rounded her out a good deal but the whole figuring it out gets dragged out a tad too long for my liking but overall it could have been worse. 

Not to say she’s the dumb (fake) blonde everyone thinks she is. Angel picks up on things most others don’t. Rowland writes her as a perfect mix of smart and spacy. She has an eye for detail which helps with all the recent suspicious deaths in the parish. Rowland makes these observations sit somewhere between blatantly obvious that you wonder how all the cops on the scene even tied their own laces and Sherlock level connection. It’s a nice balance.

As for the serial killer terrorizing their small Louisanna town, Rowland does a great job of leaving the reader guessing. The reveal at the end is a great surprise even to those that figured out who the killer was beforehand. I love me some supernatural serial killer plotlines and I was very happy about this one.

Angel’s also an extremely likable character while displaying her flaws. From the beginning, Angel feels like a real person, or as real a person as one would find in a zombie novel. 

Rowland’s does a great job of flipping the zombie script on its head in two different ways. The first is having the zombie as the main character. A few stories and movies have done this before like Warm Bodies, but I can’t think of any that has done it in this manner. Zombies in her world operate the same way a vampire or werewolf does. They are turned and can with regular meals of human brains can be a functioning part of society. Without those brains, they become feral similar to a vampire or werewolf except that’s the only time a zombie starts to rot. Flesh off bones and all that fun stuff. The second way she flips the script is that the main character and only main character of this zombie story is female. There must be some out there but I can’t think of any in pop culture. It’s good to see.

Overall the pace of the story is a bit on the slow side until you hit about 2/3rds of the way in. It wasn’t so slow that I threw this book in my donate pile but not fast enough that I devoured it from start to finish. Most first books in urban fantasy series, I’ve noticed, tend to be like this. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s because of the whole world-building within the world we know thing that does it. It’s something I try to remember when starting a new series.

The characters were interesting enough. Especially the two background character cops that I did constantly mix up which might have been a me thing. There was also a good dose of reality checks from one of Angel’s co-workers Nick who hated her for getting the job without so much as trying. Nick can be a bit much at times, well, most of the time but he’s a good way to ground the story back to reality. Characters in stories like this never second guess why something just kind of fell into the main character’s lap. A lot of urban fantasies, especially from the mid-2000s, have a bad habit of building their interpersonal relationships around the main character.

There is a tiny bit of a romance in this book with Angel and a Detective Marcus Ivanov. Rowland does a great job throughout most of the book to leave you guessing whether Detective Ivanov is actually on Angel’s side or will out to get her. I would have loved more interaction with the attractive detective she starts crushing on but I feel like if I keep reading the series I’ll get what I want. Meaning, I think he will be Angel’s love interest. 

I do have to label this book with a few trigger warnings besides the pill-popping and alcohol abuse. There is a heavy scene where her father gets violent with her. There are also flashbacks of her mother physically abusing her when she was younger. They are detailed but do only last a few pages total.

Overall I wasn’t completely in love and obsessed with this story from the beginning but was pleasantly surprised by how much I did enjoy it. It had a weird pace but an interesting main character as well as side characters. It wasn’t as comically absurd as I was hoping but was still funny and witty at times. Solid three stars out of five and worth continuing the series. 

Definitely a good book to pair with DISAPPEARING NIGHTLY by Laura Resnick. We’ll be reviewing that next week. Stay tuned.

Nicole Peeler, an urban fantasy author and current professor at Seton Hill University, is one to add to your ‘Instant Pre-order’ lists if she isn’t already on it.

Back in the early 2010s, I found her Jane True series, having picked it up because the first book’s cover is gorgeous and because the main character has the same name as one of a family friend and ex-babysitter of mine. So partially ‘oh pretty’ and partially happy nostalgia.

I remember standing in the fantasy aisle at Barnes and Noble, holding this book and just staring at the cover. It sounded like it could be a great series. It sounded like it was exactly the type of book I should enjoy, that I should devour but like any new unknown book I picked, I at least hoped it was baseline good. It is not uncommon for me to be taken in by a pretty cover or a witty title. As someone with ADHD, I have no focus left in my day for reading the synopsis of a book. I go off visuals. This has backfired in my face many times but still, I do it.

So yes, I stood there hoping a moment before saying ‘screw it’ and just buying it. TEMPEST RISING, the first in that series did not disappoint. Neither did the second book, TRACKING THE TEMPEST.

The main character was great and the world was beyond interesting. There was only one thing I wasn’t the biggest fan of; the love interest. He was not for me and was the reason it took me a year to pick up the third book in the series but I am beyond happy that I did. The love interest was downgraded to a close friend, which looking back was a really good element of the story considering Jane is supposed to grow from a newbie supernatural to a powerhouse. It made sense to have her outgrow some relationships. From there I blew through the series, realizing I didn’t dislike the character Ryu, the first love interest, just the lag it brought to her character.
So, I already knew that Nicole Peeler could pull off great, well-balanced stories. That fact is even more evident in her book, JINN AND JUICE.

JINN AND JUICE introduced Lyla; a belly dancing, kickass heroine who is also a Jinn. Originally born a human in ancient Persia, Lyla made a deal with a very powerful Jinn, Kouros, to help her escape an arranged marriage. In exchange, she was turned into a Jinn for a thousand years. After a thousand years, if she is Unbound at the time, Lyla will turn human once more. If she was Bound, she’d stay a Jinn for another thousand years and Lyla was very decidedly against that.

In this world, Jinn can be Bound by any human Magi that finds or Calls them. Free will is only ever temporary for them.

Also, turning Lyla into a powerful cosmic being like Kouros did get himself imprisoned for all of time by his own kind somewhere very, very far into the Sideways. The Sideways is what Peeler calls another dimension. It’s where a lot of the supernatural beings are from and live. Think the Feywild, if you play D&D or a magically oversaturated Narnia.

Enter Oz, a Magi who only recently learned about the supernatural side of the world, being only half Magi and he needs help. Specifically the help of a Bound Jinn in finding a kidnapped girl, Tamina from a Magi tribe he spent time with. Thus he finds Lyla and binds her. She is royally pissed because, at the time of Oz binding her, the curse is only days away from being broken.

Now they have to fight against her curse’s clock to find Tamina. Then Oz says he’ll free her but all her masters beforehand were horrible, why would he be any different.
If you’ve read paranormal romance before, you know how this one is going to turn out but the book is still well worth reading.

First, I want to say that it was a simple read with great action and an even easier to follow but immensely enjoyable storyline. This is the exact type of book one needs to get through a pandemic. They are the perfect read to keep a happy streak going. It’s light-hearted in parts and never takes itself terribly seriously. Not every book, especially fantasy books, has to have a great big dark plot with sinister creatures lurking at every turn. Some books and this is a wild idea, can just be fun.

Peeler has a great imagination of taking mythical creatures and making them human, likable, and still very interesting. Lyla and Jinn in general are perfect examples of that. Also, all of Lyla’s supernatural friends are great examples of this as well with one even being a Willow the Wisp which one does not often see in urban fantasy. This book is a great example of giving the main character some great friends with even greater personalities. Lyla is not the only character that can stand on their own.

I just want to say just how interesting her side characters are. Each one is either a very imaginative supernatural creature or has a background that just begs to be revisited, like Charlie. I want a book just about Charlie. Charlie is a side character that you learn very early on was once human as well like Lyla but now, well it’s complicated. It’s a great example of bringing a point home without hammering it into your reader’s head. Look at these two crazy, old, and supernaturally screwed kids. Watch as they get on in the human world. When Lyla is unable to give us added perspective about the duality Charlie is there to take it on without dragging the plot or pace down.

Peeler has a great gift for writing extremely vivid character(s?). None fall into the wet cardboard category. A lot of urban fantasy, I’ve noticed in recent years, relies on the one-dimensional side characters to stroke the main character’s ego or be a cheerleader. Lyla’s friends are just as fleshed out as herself. Peeler put a lot of thought into each one before starting the book. Or maybe it comes naturally.

I loved Jinn and Juice dearly but to be honest, it wasn’t quite as good as her Jane True series. My opinion might be getting colored by the fact that it’s only a standalone book and I really, really want to know more about Lyla, Charlie, and the rest of them. If expanded into a full series I would be pre-ordering the sequels the minute the link went live.

Overall, it’s a great read and a great palate cleanser when dealing with the world at large. It’s enjoyable beginning, middle, and end.