Lenni Reviews: “Orbit” by Leigh Hellman

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

Committed troublemaker Ciaan Gennet runs afoul of the law one too many times and ends up sentenced to probation at a spaceship port facility. He blonde hair makes her a target for bullies so she hopes to keep her head down and serve her time without incident. But when a captain with obviously suspicious cargo docks his ship, Ciaan gets caught up in a multiplanet conspiracy that puts her life in great danger.

Perhaps a little slow going until Ciaan ends up on the spacecraft but it’s still interesting. Great characters, awesome worldbuilding, and a great spin on some dystopian concepts. We have a smart woman of color as our main lead and I love reading about a motley crew of space rebels. Very cool book. 4.9 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Fourth Generation Head: Tatsuyuki Oyamato" by Scarlet Beriko

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+

Tatsuyuki Oyamato may be 4th generation heir to a yakuza family but all he cares about is partying and getting girls. Until he finds himself attracted to a man. After a drunken hookup, he wakes up with someone who proves to be more than just a random dude as he knows Oyamato and his infamous family.

Hooooo boy, this is a dark one. The guy Oyamato sleeps with - mild spoilers - turns out to be Nozomi Koga; the son of a man who once owed money to the yakuza. When Koga was a kid, the yakuza came to collect and found his father had been sexually abusing him. Oyamato was also a child and thought Koga was a girl because of his long hair and the creepy way his dad dressed him.

This book is rife with sexual assault; which is offputting (of course) when it attempts to combine it with the romance forming between Koga and Oyamato. I don't want to spoil too much but yeah, major rape trigger warnings here. It feels almost wrong to say I like it. The art is well done and I adore the main pair. They make the hardest parts of this book worth it for me. 4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Sinless" by Sarah Tarkoff

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

Grace lives in a world where your sins are physically manifest on your body. Pretty people are good and bad people have been punished with physical deformities and are ostracised from society until they earn forgiveness. When she encounters a boy seemingly immune to Punishment, it starts a chain of events forcing her to face some rather ugly truths about the world she lives it.

While an awesome concept, it feels immature in execution. About halfway through the book, Grace comes off to me as stumbling over the line between "flawed character" and "spoiled brat" so I found her hard to relate to; even as a YA novel. As things go on, (spoiler maybe??) she turns into the Queen of Being Kidnapped as this happens WAY too often in order to get her to the next plot point. 

It's a good thing this is essentially told by an older character because I am way more interested in adult Grace than teenage Grace. I almost want to read the next one with that want in mind. Despite not being thrilled with the protagonist, I still wanted to know what happened next enough to read through to the end. 2.7 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Cat Zero" by Jennifer L. Rohn

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review and is recommended for mature readers.

Artemis "Artie" Marshall is a genius scientist studying feline viruses in a stuffy university. As she struggles to be taken seriously by many of her peers, a mysterious and virulent new virus surfaces; a virus so strong, it kills both cats and humans in a matter of days. It's a race against time to find a treatment or cure even if it risks her own life in the face of a deeper conspiracy.

The best parts of this book are when Artemis and her team are actively working on the disease. Outside of her intellectual pursuits, Artemis comes off as too perfect. She's just the prettiest, everyone wants to be her friend, no man can resist her charms, blah, blah, blah... Those scenes made me want there to be more dire circumstances around the virus so there would be no time for the side stories. I thought this would be a Contagion-like medical thriller but it all just fizzled out. More attention was paid to Artie's anxiety about being alone - good character development, yes, but it didn't play into the medical parts of the plot enough for me to feel like my time reading about it was invested wisely. In the end, I felt cheated despite how compelling the blurb and the premise are. 3 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Scorpio Hates Virgo" by Anyta Sunday

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+.

After his aunt passes away, Percy Friedman moves into her home. Even though she left it to him, Percy is intent on selling it not only because it makes him miss his aunt so much, but it is also located in the same cul-de-sac as his childhood nemesis, Callagahan Glover. But, As Percy settles back into the tight-knit community and gets to know Callagahan all over again, he wonders if running away is the best plan.

I enjoyed this "enemies" to lovers story. There is no real malice between Percy and Cal so when their relationship forms, it feels real and relatable. Their sarcastic barbs are funny, the main leads are charming, and even the side characters have plenty of personality without derailing the main focus. It's a nearly perfect bit of fluff but since there's no closure regarding Percy's relative, Frank, I felt as if that bit was incomplete. Other than that, a great sweet and sexy romance. 3.9 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "The Thousand Year Beach" by Tobi Hirotaka - Translated by Matt Treyvaud

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and it suggested for mature readers.

When mysterious spiders attack their small beach town, the remaining surviving AI's must battle to save what little that remains.

If I were to sum this up, I would describe this as if the minds behind Black Mirror re-wrote the ending to Wreck it Ralph.  The book has you thinking about the nature of what an AI really is and what they are forced to do at the hands of human users.

The characters may be just in-game characters, but they have all the personality and depth, I got sucked into the world right away. I had so much fun reading this and I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes original cyberpunk stories. The action starts right up and doesn't let up very often; making this book hard to put down. Beautifully written and tense, this was a great read. 4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Blood Borne" by Archer Kay Leah

*This review was given to me in exchange for an honest review.

Ress is cornered between two opposing factions while all he wants is a quiet life with his family. Arden is trapped by duty to the Shar-denn and the orders to hunt down Ress for betraying them yet Arden finds the growing feelings for Ress may outweigh the task.

Setting aside how fucking confusing the pronouns for a nonbinary/gender queer character (Arden) are without knowing them before you start this book and think they are typos, it is the characters that make this book. The writing makes them come alive but the rest? I sadly found it tiresome. Boring isn't quite the word because I made it through the book without my mind fogging and my eyes glazing over but if what made the impact is the new pronouns making me feel like an out of touch old geezer, then something is missing. Not bad, took a chance with a character like Arden which needs to happen more, but ultimately a 3.5.

Lenni Reviews: "Sovereign" by April Daniels

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review.

In this sequel to Dreadnought, Danielle is working hard as the new hero in town but between kicking butt and maintaining her reputation with the press; and without even being fully licensed due to her age, she is feeling the strain. But Dreadnought is needed now more than ever as a worldwide threat lingers on the horizon.

I can't quite put my foot on what it is but this is not as enjoyable as the first book. Don't get me wrong, this is still a well-written superhero story with high stakes and plenty of thrilling action; by no means a bad book. A teenager dealing with the harsh realities of being a superhero AND transgender AND some topical threats to humanity deserves this darker tone. But in comparison to the first, the darkness is unpleasant instead of intriguing or compelling. I want to like this more than I do. If you ware interested in following Dreadnought's next steps as she develops as a hero, this entry is just ok. 3.5 out of 5.

 

Lenni Reviews: "Ashes to Fire" by Emily B. Martin

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

In an attempt to bring peace, Queen Mona agrees to meet with the man who cost her her kingdom and many of her friends, King Celeno. But instead of diplomacy, Queen Mona ends up on the run after her ship is blown up and she is kidnapped along with Celeno's wife, Queen Gemma.

Despite being the second book in a series, enough details are filled in so you understand why things are the way they are and Martin includes these details well, without getting bogged down in clunky exposition. The cast of varied personalities all play off each other and the plot twists and turns like spinning poi (a reference you will understand when you read the book, which you should) making this a page-turning adventure. I can't speak to how well this fits in with the first book in the series but I can say I am absolutely looking forward to the next one! 3.8 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Sweet Lullaby" 1-4 by Al Scherkenback and J. Briscoe Allison

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review.


Lullaby is an assassin working for an organization run by her father. To get to their targets, they go deep undercover; calling the operations 'dreams.' Lullaby is swift and precise but also in love. She wonders if a normal life is even possible and is torn between her loyalty to her father and the possibility of a civilian life.

The story is told by jumping back and forth between Lullaby's childhood and her present day assignments. We get to see why she decided to become a killer, how she works, and what her usual targets are like. The entire organization uses sleep terms as monikers (Catnap, Z, Forty Winks, and the like), which I'm still on the fence about if that's clever or silly. But it wasn't enough to be distracting to the story. As for the art style, it kinda reminded me of Gen 13 in style and the lines, color, and lettering are well done and fun to look at.

The way the narrative is structured, I found it hard to really sink into the story. The moment I felt engaged, the timeline switched again. Not to say the story is bad at all. Interesting if a bit scattered; I give this a 3.5 out of 5.

Press Release: "Windsinger" by A. F. E. Smith

Having  read and reviewed the first two in this series, I am super excited for the next installment! :D Here's the summary from the author:

"Ayla Nightshade prepares to meet with the Kardise ambassador to sign a treaty between Mirrorvale and Sol Kardis. However, negotiations are halted as the ambassador is discovered dead in his chambers, poisoned by the same bottle of taransey he and Ayla had shared the night before.

Ayla has been framed for murder and the peace between two kingdoms is at stake. Tomas Caraway and his Helmsmen must rush to prove her innocence before war destroys all they have fought for.

Along the way they discover the plans for a Parovian airship, the Windsinger, which reveal a chamber designed for a special cargo: a living one.

Together Ayla and Tomas set out to uncover their real enemies – a search that will lead them closer to home than they ever anticipated."

I am starting this book today and with the power of friendship I hope to have a review up for you guys before then! :D

Lenni Reviews: "Spell Cat" by Tara Lain

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+

Professor Killian Barth teaches the history of witchcraft and has a unique perspective on the matter considering he is indeed a witch. He is the most powerful male witch to come along in generations.  Keeping his identity a secret from regular humans, he catches the eye of the quantum physics professor; Blane Genneau. Their attraction is instant but Killian is being forced to marry another witch, Lavender, in order to save the witch race by pumping out magical children. But not only is Killian gay, Lavender is in love with someone else, and Killian finds the magnetism between him and Blane is too strong to resist. There's also the added rub that if a witch sleeps with a human, it will drain the witch's power away. Can Killian find a way to not only be with the one he loves but overcome prejudice against humans, find a way to save his race, and convince a man of science to believe magic is real?

First off, I have to point out that Lain made Lavender a likable character. It's so easy to fall into that trope of one of the people in the forced marriage being a complete horror to make the main character look even more put upon. But Lavender is a kind, sweet person and even tries to help Killian whenever she can. That was very refreshing.

While this book was decently written and cute, sometimes it felt a little contrived. It has this fanfiction like quality to it where everyone is too perfect, too pretty, and sex literally tears the skies apart it's so good. I mean, geez, nobody even had an interesting mole or tattoo... I also would have liked to see the fantasy elements explored more. I know that they're technically supposed to take a back seat to the romance but there are some interesting concepts here that I felt were glossed over to get the couple where they needed to be. But I do give this book credit for turning a couple tropes on their heads, having some fun characters and steamy romance scenes. 3 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Syndicates Pawns" by Davila LeBlanc

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

The crew of the Jinxed Thirteenth is sent on a rescue mission to retrieve the only survivor of an abandoned space station. What they find is Jessie Madison in cryo-sleep; and she has been there for several millennia. Awakening to a world that's completely unknown to her, Jessie struggles to learn new languages and face the loss of her husband. Meanwhile, a crew criminals lead by Domiant, sets out to capture the ship and Jessie as valuable cargo. Captain Morwyn and his crew must beat back Domiant and his dangerous underlings in order to protect Jessie and her unborn child from being sold or worse.

This book is like a combination of Event Horizon and Firefly in that the story takes place mostly on one ship and the crews on both sides are made up of very different species with all sorts of different abilities and specialties that struggle to get along and work together. They work well together and the world building and action sequences are written very well, there are so many characters with not enough development to properly tell them apart. I found myself getting confused as to who was who very easily. Except for Jessie; who stood out really well but mostly because she is truly a fish out of water. While this book is the second in a series, it stands well enough on it's own. For muddled characterization but an exciting story, I give this a 3.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Like Heaven on Earth" by Jaime Samms

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+.

Cobolt Winslow is involved in an unhealthy, long-distance relationship with Calvin Denvers. Calvin infected Cobolt with HIV, which cost Cobolt his dancing career in their ballet company as his body became too weak to put up with such strenuous activity. The only stable person Cobolt has come to rely on Malory Preston; a driver who works for Cobolt's brother, Azure. As his health takes a turn for the better, Calvin comes back into the picture and Cobolt is faced with choosing between dancing and his growing attraction to Preston.

I cannot go any further without mentioning the naming conventions in this book. Yes, they are a little odd (at least for me) because it was like reading characters from a fantasy novel but this isn't fantasy. I did get used to it as the book went on.

The relationship between Cobolt and Preston works and makes sense the way those characters are written; even if there are times where I felt Cobolt needed a swat of sense on the back of his head. If a character can frustrate you, he/she is well written.

Other than that, this book is short, sweet, sultry when it needs to be, but standard. Cobolt and Calvin's HIV status is handled with maturity and not used as a crutch or a lame gimmick to make the characters act a certain way. The dancing was immersively written and the subtle nuances of stage culture were there but not as dark as something like Black Swan. I enjoyed it and by the end I was cheering for Cobolt but - and it's likely my personal bias here - the attempts to make Calvin a sympathetic character failed miserably. It would take MUCH more than 204 pages for an abusive cheater to redeem himself in my eyes but this is certainly not the book's fault. I'm betting since this is the third in the "Dance, Love, Live" series (and yes, this novel can totally stand on it's own), I'm sure Calvin has or will get an entire book to himself to work out his issues. As for this book, a happy 3.5 out of 5.

 

Lenni Reviews: "Don't Be Cruel" vol 1 by Yonezou Nekota

Facing the possibility of losing his scholarship, Takashi Negugasa cracks under the pressure and cheats during a test. Unfortunately for him, school delinquent and known playboy, Kideyuki Maya, catches him in the act. In exchange for keeping it secret, Maya blackmails Negugasa into sleeping with him.

As this is a 2 in 1 volume, we see Maya's interfering cousin, Akira, and the obvious feelings Maya has for Negugasa despite Negugasa's obliviousness. It's that "I really like you but I can't say it" scenario. Once I got passed the coercion (yeah, it's a little close to straight up non-con) the pair to make a cute couple. As soon as they get out of their own way, that is.

This may be a typical sort of boys love story but its well drawn and the main characters are likable enough to endure the will they/won't they back and forth (which thankfully doesn't last all that long). I found it a little odd for Maya to turn around and say Negugasa was manipulating him when Maya was doing the blackmailing in the first place (what an odd character flip...) but hey, at first neither man would admit any feelings at all and I'm a  mush. I'll admit I like the happy ending. 4.5 out of 5 and I would love to read the next one!

Like Lenni's writing? This review and more are also posted at literaryloon.com

Lenni Reviews: "Back to the Dream: Dreamlands #2" by Felicitas Ivey

Continuing some time after the first book, Keno and Samojirou are firmly in their relationship and Keno is more comfortable living under his persona as Sakura - a female consort - in order to hide his identity; as Keno is the incarnation of Samojirou's former lover who imprisoned Samojirou in the dreamlands in the first place. In addition, different players in the Dreamlands are hatching plans with the Trust for total control of the Dreamlands; sending Mason, Wolf, and McGann there again with the mission to form an alliance. It's all a lie, of course, and the three humans are stuck in a land under siege.

I'm glad we get to learn more about the Dreamlands and how they work in this book. Ivey has a real talent for world building so the setting is compelling. Tamazusa is an awesome character and I liked hearing from her. She is the one who tells the majority of the story and takes focus off os Keno and Samojirou's relationship. It's there, complete with smutty details so grownups only for this book, but the focus really is on the impending war and how they all will deal with it. Even though the book drags a little in some places - usually because the characters themselves are stuck - and there are a lot of unanswered questions when the book is over. I'm assuming it's because these answers will be in the following book and it is more interesting (in my opinion) if not every book in a series has a nicely wrapped up ending. 

If you're expecting more of the male/male romantic elements and less fantasy, I can see why you may be disappointed here. Two other relationships are introduced, but the crux of the novel really is the deceptions, the battles, and whatever overall plans the Trust has for the Dreamlands. Otherwise, this book had me hooked and I look forward to seeing what happens next. 4 out of 5 for me.

For more reviews and writing, check out Lenni's blog.

Lenni Reviews: "Behave" by Andromeda Romano-Lax

"Behave" is a fictional biography of Rosalie Rayner Watson; the wife and assistant of John B. Watson. Together they carried out The Little Albert Experiment; which studied classical conditioning in human beings. The novel starts with her time at Vassar and goes through Rosalie meeting John, becoming involved with him, and the experiment itself.

Though lovingly written, it was difficult to get fully into this book. The feel of it is poetic and lush but the main character seems so distant and cold it's hard to relate to her. It is not the writing at all because some of the descriptions are very detailed; even beautiful at times. But yikes, it was hard to pick this book back up if I put it down. And if Rosalie was distant, John was flat out unpleasant. You don't have to love babies but his flippant attitude towards his test subjects was grating. Despite being a pair of smart, capable characters; reading about them experimenting on these kids was distressing. Or maybe that's just me, I'm not a fan of making babies cry.

Overall, if reading about what Rosalie may have been like interests you and you are a fan of good writing, this book will please you. It's a solid 4 out of 5 since I just couldn't get over my dislike of the two main characters. 

For more reviews and various hi-jinks, check out Lenni's blog at Haunting Hypatia.

Lenni Reviews: Song of Song by L. J. LaBarthe

Song of Song is a science fiction romance by L. J. LaBarthe. Set in the far future where humanity has expanded beyond Earth, this book stars Dex (short for Dex742A-GR23), a genetically engineered man called a Boxie, and his AI cat, Manx, fleeing their home in search of freedom. Dex has been created to serve one purpose and if he deviates from that purpose, he will be killed. Once he and his fellow Boxies have been ordered to turn in their AI companions, Dex is too attached to his friend and decides to flee. While in outer space, Chen Lau Song is a fugitive fleeing the oppressive government on a sentient and evolving ship called Fa'a. The government wants to use Fa'a as a weapon but as the genius who created her, Song decided to run with his ship to make sure she couldn't be used as a tool or a template for other warships. Dex and Song meet when Fa'a is damaged and Song commandeers the ship on which Dex is hiding. Their mutual desire for freedom is what brings them together just as the despot seeking control of Fa'a and the entire galaxy; Cory Lewis Atticus Melvile (you can tell he's bad because he's way over named...) plots and schemes - willing to go to any lengths to capture them.

The sci-fi world built in this novel is very well done even if the characters are a bit cliche. You have the eccentric genius in Song, the man who wants out of his slotted life in Dex, and the evil businessman in Cory. It really is the setting and the overarching plot that sets this book apart; making it more a sci-fi with romantic elements than the other way around. If you're looking for the emphasis to be all on the budding relationship between Song and Dex, you may be let down. But the story as a whole is very entertaining. Manx and Fa'a are adorable characters and the rest of the cast and crew are likable characters fleshed out just enough so you care about what happens to them. Except for Cory... He's a twit.

If this story could have been fleshed out some more, it would have been even more fun. The universe created here has so much potential and I hope LaBarthe has more planned for it. I mean, come on. You CANNOT have a character named Shafaquat: Sultana of Agony and Cleverness with no back story! I can see an entire book about just her, easily.

If you like your sci-fi with a sweet little M/M romance, Song of Song will live up to your expectations. While some adult situations are present, they're not overwhelming and I had a great time reading this book.

Lenni Reviews: Three Days in April by Edward Ashton

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Have you ever wondered what would happen if someone rewrote The Happening and made it... Well, all around better and cool? Then welcome to the technothriller Three Days in April.

In this world, there Augmented people, non-Augmented people, AI's that can run your house, and NatSec watching through every connected device in the net as well as cameras everywhere. Augmented people can connect and download information right into their heads,  have increased speed and agility, or strength. Then one morning in April, most of the people in Hagerstown keel over and die. Then the town is turned into a smoking crater. Our main protagonist is Anders, a down and out Augmented who is perfectly happy in his mundane teaching job when his friend Doug asks him to decrypt some documents he "found" suddenly Anders is involved in a massive conspiracy against all of humanity; genetically modified or not.

When I tell you this is The Happening and Ghost in the Shell, I am not kidding. While not suicides, a bunch of people all of a sudden drop dead in a painful way and everybody understandably scrambles around like crazy people. But then we THANKFULLY flee from any Shyamalan-ian mistakes for some cyberpunk, government conspiracy goodness! Having read (and LOVED) the Avery Cates series, this novel is a tense ride that won't let you go, with an ending ripe for a continuation should Ashton decide to write one. The characters are dynamic, real, and fun in this fantastical setting. I'm glad I gave this book a read and if you like cyberpunk, I think you will too.

Three Days in April is available now as an ebook and in paperback on October 13, 2015.

Lenni Reviews: Clashing Tempest by Brandon Witt

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This book by Brandon Witt may be superficially marketed as 'gay fiction,' it is more like a sprawling fantasy where some of the characters just happen to be gay. This is also the third in a series called Men of Myth.

If you are coming to this book looking for some man-love fluff piece, you will be disappointed. Prepare to get invested in the fantasy of this world. There are merpeople, werewolves, vampires, and witches; which all have a unique take on the mythos of each species. Since I haven't read the first two, I cannot tell you how the story arcs connect from them but I can tell you that the arcs built up in this book are lovingly and fantastically done and carried to the end with enjoyable creativity. Witt's writing will immerse you in this world to the point where you will feel damp swimming with mers or in deep trouble with the vampires. 

The characters can get a tad whiny sometimes and on a personal note I found myself skipping the smutty scenes to get back to the main conflict of the story (yes, be aware there's hot stuff in this book). But that's just me. I found the fantasy riveting enough. However, if you do want an interesting LGBT fantasy that doesn't drive the plot with smut, Witt does a great job. Totally worth 450 pages.

 

Cant get enough of Lenni's writing? Check out her site At The Quills Mercy.