Cover Image: Touch of Smoke

Touch of Smoke

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Three years ago, Rikki Albemarle watched her best friend die at the hands of a supernatural evil. Certain she was slated to be the next victim, Rikki fled her small Smoky Mountain hometown, vowing to never come back. Plagued by nightmares and knowing she's the only one who believes Mina's death was no accident, Rikki returns with hopes of finding answers and holding the killer accountable. Rikki is convinced the key to unlocking the secret of Mina's death lies with Owen Amir, the alluring young army vet who once claimed her heart. But the deeper Rikki digs into Owen's past, the more she's torn between the urgings of her heart and her memories of him on the night Mina died. After falling further into the rabbit hole, Rikki lands at the feet of an ancient and powerful evil determined to finish what it started years before. To survive, she'll have to make a decision: believe Owen is the monster she always feared he might be or trust him enough to stay and fight for a second chance at love.
This was a pretty good book. It was a slow burn, but it kept me intrigued enough to keep going. The plot was a bit different enough to make it worth it. I look forward to the next book from this author.
**I voluntarily read and reviewed this book
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Touch of Smoke by Karissa Laurel had me totally torn in two. This is why it is a 2.5 read for me. I decided to give it a middle of the road rating to signify my torn feelings. I want to start out with the things I liked.

Touch of Smoke held my curiousity throughout the book. It was written from Rikki’s POV but alternated between the past and then three years later when she has come to confront her demons. I needed to know just what the issues were that sent Rikki away and I couldn’t put the book down, dying to know just what happened.

I loved Owen Amir. He was so in love with Rikki and he showed it in every way possible. He followed her lead in the relationship despite how desperately he wanted her acceptance and love in return. Luke and Mina were also great characters. I loved their relationship as well as their loyalty to their friends.

The surprise that pulls Rikki back into the world of the supernatural totally blew me away. I thought that particular character had a different purpose so when the truth came out, it was totally unexpected.

The back and forth between the past and present frustrated me. We would just get to the good stuff from the past that may answer questions, then you were taken back to the present where Rikki was trying to come to terms and straighten out in her head what happened. So the whole time I was reading the present scenes, I was just wishing we’d get back to the scenes from the past. It made it hard to understand just what Rikki’s problem was.

I also felt frustration with Rikki’s character. Her trust issues and the way she ran so hot and cold with Owen annoyed me. In a way, once I finished the book, I could understand that her issues made the relationship deeper and more meaningful. That made the incident even more heartbreaking for Rikki. But I still had a hard time forgiving her for her lack of faith in Owen to explain what she didn’t understand about that day.

My only other complaint was the ending. It had an HEA, I will say that. But it was not the HEA I wanted. If magic is going to be involved, there should have been some magic available that could have made this ending a little more satisfying for me.

As a whole, the story was a good one. The paranormal aspects were interesting and the story itself was written in a way that kept me reading to find out the whole tale. You are fed just enough pieces of the puzzle to keep you engaged. I’m sure the couple of things that bothered me are small enough that it shouldn’t keep others from enjoying the book. I did enjoy it, I just felt a lot of frustration but yet couldn’t seem to tear myself away either. That is what makes this book so hard to rate. It did evoke a lot of emotion for me, so that I felt strongly about things that happened, but not all those emotions were good.
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The book was good, but it didn't stirr big emotions in me. What I liked the most was the writing style, that was what you may expect from a good book. I also liked the fact that it just feels like a romance story at first, but starts to unfold in something twisted with paranormal fantasy.

Want to know: They way Karissa is keeping the big secret from you is really well done. It feels like something very heavy upon Rikki and I love how you don't really know anything. It starts to unfold slowly and that is a great job done. It kept me reading this book!
The age: Recently there are so many books where the main characters are like 16/18 years old but not in this book. Rikki is 20/23 and I found that very refreshing and nice to read once in a while.
Second half: The second half of the book is the best. The writing style just got so much better and there were no little errors anymore. Compared with the first half of the book, the second half was MUCH better. I think I'd even give it 4 stars if the first half of the book didn't get me annoyed a bit...
The plot: It's unique and great and big and everything you want from a good plot. Karissa Laurel does a great job at building up and then shoving you a great plot in the face.

Little things: I feel like such a nitpicker right now, but the first half of the book has so many little things that annoyed me af... For example, Owen is touching Rikki's curls 334092 times. I have curles myself and it doesn't happen like that in real life. Also the lip biting is way too much every time. Then there are some little things like someone on the phone is nodding... I was like; The other person can't see you. Then something like swimming in a pond with crystal clear water and then not being able to see someone...
I might come over as a huge nitpicker, but it did cost the book a star in my opinion and it made me feel like the first half of the book wasn't as good as the second half.
Easiness: Rikki is gone for 3 years. The way the things unfold and how easily she gets over the things that have happened. I felt like she could've just gone away for 6 months. It didn't feel like she really needed 3 years for the things that unfolded in the present.

I like how the book feels like a romance book layered with a big mystery and then unfolds into a story packed with paranormal fantasy. I like the fact that the main character is a bit older, that was refreshing as well. I do believe this book is enjoyable, I just had some little things that annoyed me.
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In spite of what some will consider a slow start, I really enjoyed this book. The plot focuses on character-building as we learn more about the intelligent and strong-willed protagonist, Rikki and the romance she had with Owen, an Army veteran. The plot has a unique premise that focuses on paranormal elements that aren't usually found in the paranormal novels currently being offered.  I love how the plot focuses on two incredibly intriguing characters, and I think the premise is intelligent and well-written. It's apparent that Laurel knows the lore of the paranormal/supernatural beings in the book, and her explanation of the lore is brilliant. I thought the transitions between Rikki's narrative of the past and the present were smooth, easy to follow, and the events from the past were relevant to Rikki's present.

Touch of Smoke is another amazing novel written by Laurel. If you are a hard-core paranormal/supernatural fan looking for something other than shifter or vampire novels, look no further!
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A paranormal romance, with developed characters and a interesting plot I enjoyed. What a epic ride, I am looking forward by more from this author. Slow build, but it was done so well. Mystery and twist and turns.
4 stars.
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Touch of Smoke was a fantastic read. I don’t give 5-star reviews easily. A book has to capture my attention and keep it. I have to form a connection with both the male and female lead. Touch of Smoke hit all those and then some.

Touch of Smoke has a dual plotline. One takes place in the past and the other in the present. Usually, I don’t like that type of plotlines. In my experience, this type of plotlines generally gets me confused. Which in turns makes me lose interest in the book. In this case, though, the author was obvious when she was switching from the past to the present/the present to the past. She also did not give away what happened in the past. There were hints, but nothing prepared me for what happened. She also did a fantastic job of merging the two storylines mid-book. It was flawless.

The main plotline of Touch of Smoke centers around Erika (or Rikki), Owen and what happened that night her best friend, Mina, was killed. Rikki came back to town to face her demons, which meant that she had to face Owen and his role in what happened that night. When an ancient evil arrives in Evansville, Rikki needs to make a choice. Will she trust Owen and help him? Or will Rikki stand aside and let that evil destroy him? If she does help him, what will be the price that she pays?

I loved Rikki. She was a tough cookie. She was also the hardest working character that I have come across in a while. This woman worked two jobs while going to a community college. She was an EMT, and she worked in stable, cleaning stalls. I did think she was silly for pushing Owen away. I wanted to reach through the book and shake her. Her actions at the end of the book were amazing. And selfless.

I fell in love with Owen every time he showed up in the book. Who wouldn’t? He was an Army veteran who fell head over heels with Rikki. I loved that he didn’t push her into doing anything that she didn’t want to do. He let her set the bar for their relationship. He did have his secrets, though. I liked how the author revealed them.

The romance angle of Touch of Smoke was terrific. I loved seeing Owen and Rikki’s relationship evolve. It wasn’t Instalove (far from it). The author chose to have Owen and Rikki date and go from there. The scene where Rikki decides to throw caution to the wind was poignant. Mainly because of what happened a few days (at least I think it was a few days) later.

The fantasy angle of Touch of Smoke was terrific also. I liked how the author took the jinn myth and made it her own. I had no issue believing that jinns weren’t like Genie from Aladdin. Instead, they were out for themselves. The story that Owen tells about the boy, the ring and the jinn explains everything.

The end of Touch of Smoke broke my freaking hearts into little bits. Like I mentioned above, what Rikki did was selfless. I was ugly crying in the chapter after that. Of course, I liked how the author had Owen explain everything to Rikki in a story, including what he did after. But still. Ugly Crying. In the middle of the day. Enough said!!
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I loved Rikki in this book. I am a big fan of paranormal books. The author did a great job with character development. I really enjoy this story line and I cannot wait to read more from this author. Thank you NetGalley for allowing me the chance to read this book.
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The book was a pleasant surprise for me. If you like a good storyline, a little magic and mix of romance, this book is for you. 
The book did not grab me from beginning, but by chapter three I was hooked! I read it fast and I would recommend it to all who love books with paranormal twist.
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At the end of the last series, I said that I would definitely be reading more by this author.  And here we are!

And so this book?  Yup. I loved pretty much everything about it.  I didn't even mind the flashback narrative style, which worked really well in the context of the story.

And as for the story itself - fresh and engrossing from start to finish.  Don't get me wrong - this is not some brand new genre that the author has invented - but the plot itself is handled in such a matter of fact way, that the reader is pulled along with it to the climactic scene.

The characters, the story arc, the relationship development- all of these things came together to produce an engrossing story.

Every page, 100% enjoyable.

What would you give up for love? (Don't ask me to give up books - please!)

I voluntarily reviewed an Advanced Reader Copy of this book.
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So, what did I like about it?
Karissa Laurel is a new-to-me author and I found her writing style easy to read, intelligent and well crafted. I loved the way she used the first chapter to set the scene; piquing our interest and introducing our heroine, Rikki Albemarle.

I really loved the folklore and mythology that Ms Laurel based her story on; it’s an area of world mythology that doesn’t appear very often in the books that I read and it was a refreshing change.

I think that Ms Laurel’s world building throughout this book was fantastic; the town of Evansville came alive in my imagination, the townsfolk that were introduced to us were well described and we got the chance to get to know them and immerse ourselves in their lives.

I liked the way we were kept taken back to the time leading up to the “incident” that’s in the book’s blurb; Ms Laurel ensures her readers aren’t lost by clearly stating at the start of the chapter whether we’re reading something that happened 3 years ago or now in the present.

So, ummm, was there anything I disliked about it?
As you can tell from my rating, there was a lot that didn’t work for me. I’m not going to list everything, however, I will highlight my main grumbles.

Firstly, I think it took too long to discover the details about the “murder” – at 29% into the book, I’d still not discovered what the “incident” was that Rikki kept referring to; if I hadn’t known about the murder from the blurb, I still would have been completely in the dark. Even knowing about it, we didn’t actually get to the event in question until the 70% mark. I’ve got to be honest and say that reading the blurb, I was expecting a murder thriller type paranormal romance story following Rikki on her dangerous quest to bring the ancient and powerful evil to justice while coming to terms with the supernatural aspect (whatever that turned out to be) of her ex-boyfriend, Owen and rekindling their love through a kickass adventure. This book isn’t like that and, OK, that’s down to my interpretation of the blurb.

However, my biggest gripe was with our heroine, Rikki. I crave leading female characters that are intelligent, resilient, resourceful and have plenty of gumption; Rikki fell very short of the mark for me. I could never understand why she reacted to the “death of her best friend” the way she did and I got very frustrated, with what I perceived as, her modus operandi – to run away. Nobody else in town ran away? In the end, I felt that Rikki, was a bit of a flake or drama queen and although she’s obviously suffering from a mental breakdown because of the way her best friend died, I felt that we were never really shown how it affected her (there is a sentence or town near the end that tells us how bad it got but too little, too late for me) or why she couldn’t cope, what was she thinking? Where was the inner dialogue that would help me to understand?

I don’t usually choose to read New Adult, Young Adult or teen novels because of all the angst, thought processes and actions of this age group; it all frustrates the hell out of me and my blood pressure doesn’t need that kind of stress from my “hobby”.

So, basically what I'm saying is...
Touch of Smoke isn’t my cup of tea. I am always reluctant to write reviews for books that I don’t enjoy reading and I must confess that this novel is too YA/New Adult-esque for my tastes; hence my 2 star rating – I thought it was OK, however, it has already received lots of 5 star ratings from happy readers.
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Touch of Smoke is a contemporary romance that has the most delicious paranormal twist to it. The entire story revolves around Rikki and Owen’s love affair and the deadly consequences of one nightmarish night. In order to truly understand everything that took place and the emotional impact, this story transitions between the past and the present and is told from Rikki’s point of view. The pacing of the story was quite steady and for me was slow to really claim my interest, at first, but only because I wanted to jump down the paranormal rabbit hole 😊. Initially, it was an introduction into a small town with a woman who had big dreams to leave and her chance encounter with a man who had her reconsidering her choices but there was also the ever-present desire to know what happened that night that had caused Rikki to leave everyone she loved behind.

The romance between Rikki and Owen was first love awareness and it was sweet, swoony and mysterious. Owen is an absolute heartthrob and the connection between him and Rikki was the kind that can be felt through the pages. It was palpable and powerful! Not only could I feel their connection but it was the same with all the characters in this story. They all felt very real and their connection with Rikki was tangible. As the story unfolded and the paranormal element was introduced and explained I was thrilled. It was quite an interesting take on one of my favorite paranormal types! I liked that Rikki struggled with accepting what she considered unbelievable, her reactions all felt authentic to me as did Owen’s feelings about his situation.

I definitely was torn between feeling for Rikki’s loss as well as feeling for Owen’s loss because it created a huge divide between them and it seemed like such a waste but sometimes there are things that just can’t be worked through in the moment. Sometimes it can take years and even that doesn’t help being willing to accept the unbelievable which is exactly what Rikki had to do. Though, once she opened up her mind to possibilities the story really took off and gripped me straight through until the end. The ending just had all the feels and I was just tearing up over everything but at the same time my little heart was beating with the hope of possibilities. Although it took me some time to really sink into, Touch of Smoke was one second chance romance that I would highly recommend!

This review is based on a complimentary book I received from NetGalley. It is an honest and voluntary review. The complimentary receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.
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Touch of Smoke, Karissa Laurel

Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews

Genre: Romance, Sci-fi and Fantasy.

I loved Karissa's Norse Chronicles, a really unusual supernatural series in a genre that's dominated by vampires and werewolves. I was hoping she'd put that same unique spin on this book, and wasn't disappointed. 

This story is told in a past/present format, with a three year gap between the two time periods. I really enjoyed the way the tension is built, that we know something supernatural is happening, but not what or why. 
I could see how Rikki felt that events were strange and yet like most of us, she dismissed her feelings as wrong. Well, who really believes in a supernatural answer, we're creatures who believe in the obvious answer, and not the spooky one that we can't really believe in. 
I loved the characters, from Rikki and Mina, Owen and Luke, diner owner Rose, and Rikki's mum who's the town sheriff. Rikki wasn't expecting to fall for Owen, being focused on escaping the town, but her friend Luke returns bringing Owen with him and they both seem set to settle in the town. That poses a problem for Rikki, who wants to do her training in a place four hours away....
And then the big mystery, huge events, Mina dies, Rikki can't quite believe what she saw, what terrified her, what gives her nightmares still. She finds it hard to believe Owen could do what she remembers, but now three years later she's ready – maybe - to face up to what she ran from, to seek answers. 

I love the way it all slowly falls into place, how once more Karissa has turned to a more unusual form of supernatural entity for her story. 
I loved Owen from the start, but could see how the secrets were wearing on Rikki, how she was struggling to convince herself about what she'd seen, whether it was real or her imagination, but those nightmares and Mina's death were certainly real. And scary! 
I enjoyed the way it wrapped up, it was a very satisfying ending. I hate when there are unanswered questions or solutions that come too easily and with supernatural stories I feel too often a slip of magic is used as answer and it feels too slick. I want my solutions to be hard won, to require energy, effort, sacrifice, not just a metaphorical wave of a hand.  This ending was perfect.

Stars: Five, another fabulous read from Karissa. 

Arc via Netgalley and publishers
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Wasn't able to download this particular copy but I did buy it. 
This story grabbed me from start to end, it was hard to put it down. I loved the author’s style of writing.
This book has everything. Layers of twists throughout the entire book. The mystery was so well crafted that I had no idea what was going on until it was finally revealed.

I might have found my next book boyfriend. Such a great read!
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Touch of Smoke is a charming yet strange romance story. The romance element is a bit convoluted, and I was lost many times. The whimsical magical element kind of feels out of place. It's just a bit off. The characters are engaging and complex. The story is written well and unfolds at a good pace. I didn't love it, but it's a matter of taste on my part. Fans of this type of read will enjoy it. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review.
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I   liked a lot about this story and there were elements I didn't. Owen was an   interesting character, a quiet hero and vet, seeking to set down roots and   live a quiet life, when he meets Rikki he wants her to be part of that life.   I had problems liking Rikki, the wishy, washy, back and forth about seeing   Owen went on so long that it became annoying. The story goes back and forth   from when Rikki and Owen met to the event that sends Rikki fleeing, to the   present when Rikki returns trying to kill her uncover a monster and free   herself from the monsters from her dreams. It takes almost the entire story   to find out what happened and why Owen is different. When these guys were   working as a couple I really liked their energy and connection but Rikki's   waffling kept feeling like a slap in the face. The supporting characters were   interesting and a great addition. I liked most of the story, it had   interesting twists and handled the transitions really well. I liked how she handled Owen's Arabic roots, and mythology. 

I received a copy   of this book from &NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I received a copy of this book directly from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Touch of Smoke by Karissa Laurel was a uniquely fantastic tale of a small town romance overshadowed by the danger and allure of old magic. The story was fast-paced, well written, and easy to sink into. I thoroughly enjoyed the small cast of characters – Especially Rikki.

My only complaint is that the narrative had a tendency to be a bit overly dramatic, especially in the beginning, and I really wish that the author had spent more time delving into the darker and more mysterious aspects of the plot.

That aside, it was an intriguing paranormal twist on the usual small-town contemporary romance, and I really enjoyed it. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary romance who is looking to delve into the paranormal genre – this was a nice blend of the two.
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A different paranormal with a mystery ,suspense,romance.
Rikki and Owen were a couple who started to fall in love but something tragic with a supernatural element happensand Rikki left town but came back to find out what happened that night Mina died.
Very slow in getting to the real story.
Voluntarily reviewed
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I really wanted to like this book more than I did.  All the elements were there.  An intriguing paranormal element, interesting setting, a strong male lead, second chance romance...  all of these things should lead me to love this book but it just didn't come together for me.

I think what let me down was the actual structure of the book.  It skips back and forth between past and present between the story of Rikki and Owen meeting and Rikki coming back to town years after what happened having abandoned everyone who cared for her.  Because of the back and forth nature of the book I never got attached to Rikki as the young, ambitious, hardworking woman she was before everything went to hell.  You're introduced to her as a woman who is frankly selfish (one of the first things you learn about her is that she basically ignored the woman who was essentially a mother to her having a major heart attack ) and I never quite connected with her from then on.  I think if the book had more of a linear format, breaking it into two parts I could have connected with younger Rikki first and really felt the impact of how the events that occurred changed her.

My recommendation - give the book a chance, there are some really strong elements to it.  And you may be able to see beyond Rikki's character flaws.  I really wanted too but couldn't in the end.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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This story grabbed me from start to end, it was hard to put it down to catch up with the real world every so often. The beginning was slow to build, but never tedious. The plot was constructed carefully and executed brilliantly, making everything completely believable. The characters were flawed and real, and well-developed.

What caught my attention first is the fact that I loved the author’s style of writing. I enjoyed reading every word. The words flowed well together, she used a lot of well-placed imagery, and she expertly led us from scene to scene, showing, rather than telling.

I loved Owen Amir, an ex-soldier with an intriguing and mysterious family history. And I suppose he just wanted to fit in and find love like everybody else. He was trying very hard to build a relationship with Rikki, without having to reveal his darker side. Rikki, however, was no slouch, and she quickly realized there is more to Owen than meets the eye. She struggled to trust her attraction to Owen, and the connection that had grown so rapidly. After a horrific incident, Rikki fled town, hoping to get away from everything. But she found out the hard way that you cannot outrun your demons, and lucky for us, she found her courage to return and find the answers to her questions.

The ending was very sweet, but I was sad to see them go. 

I would definitely recommend this book to paranormal/fantasy fans. But if you are a romance reader who is willing to take on a bit more than what every day life throws at us, then I’m sure you will get the same enjoyment out of this book.

I received an advanced copy of the book from Netgalley to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I really enjoyed being transported to the land of Islamic tales (some that I knew very little about)!  I knew that this book was paranormal, but I did not expect to encounter the legends and stories that I did!  I loved the combination of the lore with a modern day, Smoky Mountain setting- completely at odds with each other, but some how worked perfectly for this story!  The juxtaposition between present day and past left me wondering what was truly happening, and I was surprised when I finally discovered the truth.  I would have enjoyed a bit more interaction between the characters once the truth was discovered, but the story was still exciting and captivating.  I enjoyed this romance intertwined with Arabian tales and am so glad I got to go onto this journey into an unknown world!

*** A huge thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for gifting me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.  ****
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