Into the Hourglass by Kelly Marino is one of those unexpected gems it’s a thrill to discover. It’s a fabulous story in the paranormal genre and fortunately just the first of a trilogy. It’s feisty, bright, organized Franny’s nineteenth birthday and she gets a present she didn’t foresee from her parents – the news that she’s not their child. That explains some of her strange qualities, and also the reason that she faints and enters into another realm with two strangers, a young man, Mike, and a young pregnant woman, Abigail, who is not what she seems at all. Oh yes, and it’s 1693 too. That’s a lot to handle but Franny is made of stern stuff – very stern, immortal stuff and is well able to join in the fight against Yorvik, a merciless killer with a long-lived, anti-immortal grudge, and do her bit to ensure humanity remains a viable species.

It’s a book that’s gritty and gripping, tender and terrifying, romantic and horrific, but above all fresh and incredibly well written. It’s all so plausible and persuasive, paranormal as it is. Marino has an amazing way with words and creates some truly exciting situations and likeable characters. Franny has enough attitude to make her interesting but not obnoxious, and although she’s courageous, she’s scared too and makes mistakes. She’s a good person. There’s a lot of goodness in this book, which is a refreshing change. It’s not soppy, it’s an affirmation of what’s good about humans to make them worth protecting, even if history may have to change a little. I can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Find it here on Smashwords.

Out of the Ashes by Lori Dillon is a wonderful combination of romance and history with a dash of the paranormal for good measure. It’s one of those books you can’t put down. It’s a simple yet clever story of love through time. Due to Marsha and Hershel, two bungling yet likeable angels who enjoy bingo, Male 2028 and Female 5293 don’t get to enjoy the loving life together they’re meant to have. Their first reincarnations are as Dacian the gladiator and Sabina the well-born politician’s niece in Pompeii in AD79. Ironically the erupting volcano both frees the pair of them from their restricted lifestyles, yet entombs them in each other’s arms. Nothing daunted,  the angels try again but there are other slip-ups. They have a final chance in war torn Italy in 1943 with Serafina the archaeologist, and David Corbin, working for the Allies. Surely they’ll get it right this time, won’t they? Shadows of the past play a helping hand.

This is a delightfully fresh yet poignant tale. The characters are so real and alive. Nothing seems contrived. The action unfolds at a good pace, with pauses at the sadder moments. Division becomes a strong motif in the book. People are divided from each other by social class, nationality, circumstance and politics. The world is divided by wars. Yet there is a way the divisions can be overcome, but it’s not easy, even if Senior Guardian Angel Smithers is on the case!

Demon Soul by Christine Ashworth isn’t run-of-the-mill paranormal. Ashworth has taken the genre and given it refreshingly original treatment. We have Rose Walters, who has made a bit of a mess of  her life so far and nearly died, being given a chance to come back so she can save Gabriel Caine. Gabriel and his brother Justin are suspicious of her at first as they can sense that she is more than human now. So is Gabriel. He and Justin are tribreds, a mixture of human, demon and fae. Throw in Gabriel’s ex, Satine, who has taken something he desperately needs back, and you have a very interesting story as Rose and Gabriel join forces to solve the very dangerous problem that faces him.

It’s a gritty story. Rose is no angel with a history of drug abuse. But she’s courageous and likeable and very determined. She learns what family love can be like and that’s very heartwarming. All the characters have depth that makes them fascinating. They’re all flawed which makes them all the more human and sympathetic. You get drawn into their conflicts and really care what happens to them. And it helps that some of them are rather sexy too! The plot is far from predictable in this battle of good versus evil. The book is confidently and persuasively written. It’s no problem to suspend your disbelief and accept the paranormal as completely normal. There are more books to come in this series which is seriously good news.

Pic from Elizabeth's site http://www.vampyrekisses.com/

Werewolf Descent by Elizabeth Jean Kolodziej is the second in the Last Witch series, following on from Vampyre Kisses. Faith, the last witch in the world, and Trent, her loving Irish vampire boyfriend, have moved to live near New York for peace and quiet after their last exciting adventure. But along comes Vincent, the psychic vampire. Instead of feeding on blood, he feeds on auras, on energy. This is a very original twist to the paranormal genre and one that works extremely well. Vincent is also after Faith’s heart, in the nice way, although that’s not nice for the loyal Trent. Faith is altogether too quick to find the newcomer attractive. It has to be said she’s not the most likeable character at times, although she’s always lively and fascinating. A love triangle develops. Elsewhere, werewolves are being kidnapped and their prince, Zou Tai, comes to ask for help. An alchemist is involved somewhere too. There is action of all sorts in this book.

This is a constantly snaking story, twisting and turning and never predictable. It is narrated by three different characters, Faith, Trent and Zou Tai. This works very well and lends interest to the story with the insights we gain into these three people and how they perceive each other. There are many fascinating characters in the book, Oran the cat being just one example. Another clever touch is the weaving in of Greek mythology with the paranormal. It’s an entertaining and confidently written book, and we’re left impatient to know what happens next.

Visit the author’s website at http://www.vampyrekisses.com/

The Vampire’s Quest by Damian Serbu injects originality into paranormal fiction. St Michel appears to vampire Xavier and sends him on a quest. Xavier’s emotionally turbulent lover and fellow vampire, Thomas, is uneasy about this, and rightly so. Xavier encounters his dying friend Anne who has supernatural powers. She is dying and beseeches Xavier to free her enslaved grandson. As Thomas says, Xavier is ‘the vampire that cared about the world and the people in it’. He will do anything for his friend, even though this particular action is against the vampire ethic. The ethic means vampires can feed off evil humans, but can’t otherwise interfere in human events. Transgressing vampires ace the ire and punishment of the Vampire Council if they disobey. Thomas fears for Xavier and so gets Anthony to help him, another vampire and friend. Can they keep Xavier from facing the terrifying consequences of his loyal actions.

Damian Serbu himself describes his writing as gay horror. There is darkness and violence in the novel, certainly, but it’s not too disturbing. This is writing that’s hard to categorise. This is a modern novel, although it’s set in the last century. The author’s love of history adds an extra dimension to it too. It’s brutal but also tender. I hope the gay element won’t put off any readers since the love between Xavier and Thomas is moving and powerful and always sensitively described. The relationship is strongly in the background but the focus in this book is on friendships – those between Xavier and Anne, between Anthony and Thomas – and also on the sibling love betwen Xavier and Catherine. Loyalty is tested. There are many layers in this absorbing and richly constructed book.