Lenni Reviews: "Runner" by Parker Williams and Patrick Zeller (Narrator)

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

Matt Bowers has made every effort to isolate himself from the world after he was assaulted as a teenager. He lives on a large piece of land, has everything he needs delivered, and lives off of a sizable settlement account. All that changes when a man comes jogging across his property. Since the stranger isn't doing anything illegal, Matt cannot get his officer brother to do anything about the man encroaching on his safe space. Faced with no other option than to accept him, Matt gradually learns to tolerate the man's presence and even get to know him.

This is a sweet story about a traumatized guy learning to love again. It is a quintessential hurt/comfort story with realistic leads who follow a very natural progression as their relationship grows. Matt and Charlie do become an overtly saccharine couple, though Charlie seems almost too perfect in dealing with Matt's OCD and agoraphobia. Charlie is positively saint like in his acceptance of it and that made him seem less believable in his own right. I mean, he barely blinks at some of the limitations he suddenly has to deal with where as I believe any normal person would at least express some sort of resistance to their life taking a complete 180 in terms of their freedom to do as they please.

I did enjoy listening to this book. Zeller is a great narrator who has a great range to make each character distinct to your ears. While the story kept me entertained overall, I did struggle to remember a lot of things when I sat down to write this review. Cute and romantic but not much staying power. 3.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: “Broken Mirror” by Cody Sisco

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

After the death of his grandfather, Victor is convinced he was murdered. But nobody believes him due to his diagnosis of mirror resonance syndrome, which causes blackouts, nightmares, hallucinations, and a lack of control over strong emotions. Determined to discover the truth, Victor no longer knows who to trust as not only his condition worsens but a dangerous conspiracy involving a possible cure and a plot to lock up any broken mirror whether they're a threat or not.

This is a great cyberpunk thriller. Set in a dystopian, 1990's, you get this futuristic feel and the stakes make it tense but there are moments that drag as the next twist is set up. I really felt for Victor and I think you'll find yourself rooting for him the entire book, as I did. The world around him is built perfectly within the narrative making the entire story engrossing and engaging. An awesome novel worth checking out. 4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Wounded Pride" by Remmy Duchene and B.L. Morticia

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

Brian Daystar is celebrating the opening of his youth center for at-risk kids but notices a considerable lack of support from his country music star boyfriend, Corey. When Corey finally bothers to call Brian, he's drunk and not alone. Deciding to end it, Brian takes a vacation to New York to face Corey while staying with Renford Kline; a retired attorney considering becoming a law professor. Brian is attracted to Renford but Ren's experience with men has never gone beyond college experimenting. Both are attracted but Brian's past traumas and Ren's reluctance to get feelings involved may keep them from the happily ever after they have been wishing for.

First off? Ren, 39 isn't 'old man' territory. I could see if he was pushing 55 (seeing as he's retiring) but, no.

This is one of those romances where you think there would be more time spent on building the relationship between the main pair before they hop into bed but nope. Not really a criticism on my part; just saying the writing and tone made me expect that. As is, the flaw in this standard romance cycle is I feel some of the character elements could have been explored more; like Brian's pretty dark past and Redford's previous attraction to women. It doesn't make the book bad at all. In fact, I find it sweet and the smutty bits are written well. But those deep personal issues could have used more attention. A fun romp even if I was left a bit wanting; 3.7 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "MAD About Trump: A Brilliant Look at Our Brainless President" by Various

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

This is a collection of satirical cartoons about the election of 2016 and the president himself. In true MAD Magazine style, some are one page and some are several page long comics. Some jokes land, some jokes miss, and some are kinda gross - also MAD Magazine's style - but humor can be very subjective. I personally wasn't too keen on some of the art styles but that's cause I didn't find them pleasant to look at; not because they were poorly done.

If you're an overly sensitive person and will trash this just because it's making fun of Trump, feel free to skip this. MAD Magazine is not a publication for people who can't take a joke and they to NOT hold back. I found that absolutely refreshing but others may not.

All the parodies are here; Beauty and the Beast, La La Land, Suicide Squad, Civil War, and while I may not have laughed out loud, I did chuckle at the cleverness of a lot of them and the publication as a whole is a welcome bit of levity among the absolute mess American politics has become. I'll have to give it 2 or 3 more reads to catch all the little jokes (seriously, some of them are like those Highlights Magazine hidden picture pages but for adults) but I had fun reading this. 4 out of 5 for it's unabashed and scathing honesty.

Lenni Reviews: "Drakon Book I: The Sieve" by C.A. Caskabel

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

Da-Ren appears on the doorstep of Castel Monastery demanding the monks redeem the lives of his wife and daughter. Despite being a barbarian, a pagan, and infidel in their eyes, the monks let him on the island where they are tasked with transcribing the warrior's story.

This book is the story of Da-Ren's first trials of training in a gauntlet his tribe calls The Sieve; a series of grueling life or death tests that had me legit wondering if this tribe just runs out of kids at some point. But my stupid jokes aside, this is the type of dark fantasy that's depressing but written in such a visceral and lyrical manner that it's almost hypnotic. It's written in the style of most sweeping epics, so it's not dumbed down or flinch from the gore. You can't help but get invested in Da-Ren and his world and though the book only covers the first part of his training and you know more is to home, the cliffhanger doesn't feel jarring enough to not seek out the next installment; which I will definitely be doing. If you like dark fantasy, this is a fantastic installment. A welcome 4.7 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "The Edge of the Blade" by Jeffe Kennedy

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

Elite warrior, scout, and spy Jepp is lethal with her blades and her tongue so when she is selected for a diplomatic mission as an ambassador to a country where women are wives or sex slaves, she finds remaining docile and subservient more challenging than anything she's faced before. But she must gather information on how big of a threat this foreign king may be and return alive without starting a war. Oh, and she's sleeping with the king's son; Prince Kral... Who has a wife.

Jepp is a cool character. You get a great sense of who she is from the smart writing and enjoy the story from her perspective. She's smart, tough, and funny; you could see yourself chilling at the bar with her despite the fact she would drink you under the table.

While containing romantic and erotic elements, the way this book is structured made them feel like a legitimate part of the story instead of the plot grinding to a halt so the main characters can bone. There is genuine peril and intrigue with high stakes in a well written and constructed fantasy world. I haven't read the first book (it may have given me some deeper context into some character relationships but it's not necessary) but the story is so interesting, I'd be excited to follow to the next book. It's obvious Jepp and the Uncharted Realms world have plenty more stories to tell. 4.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Windsinger" by A. F. E. Smith

Mirrorvale has long stood in a precarious 'truce' with the surrounding kingdoms; held together with the fear of the changers. Now not only overload but a mother, Ayla Nightshade attempts to broker a formal peace treaty with an ambassador from the neighboring kingdom of Sol Kardis. After one day of hard negotiations, the ambassador is found dead. Suspected of murder, the race in on to prove Ayla's innocence and prevent all out war.

Across the the three books (this is the third Darkhaven novel) the writing quality, world building, and character depth has been consistently entertaining and well executed. The build up is slow to a rip-roaring climax; leaving plenty of time to be intrigued and entertained. The characters are especially interesting in this outing, with even the side characters having story arcs ramping up several times to push them to the limit and end up with some great development. It can seem a little trivial in the grander scheme of things but it was good to get to know them.

I do hesitate to give away too much and end up spoiling some pretty major plot points. Suffice it to say I am loving this series and hope to see more. 4.7 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Counting to Zero" by A. J. Quinn

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

The NSA orders Dr. Emma Thorpe to put together a team of hackers - off the books - in order to help the US government fight cyber terrorism. One of the people tapped is Paxton James, currently in an Indonesian jail because she was set up for a crime she didn't commit. Paxton is willing to deal as long as it gets her out of jail and it doesn't hurt that Emma is hot. But trust won't come easy to the betrayed Pax or the hardened agent Thorpe and they must learn to deal with their mounting attraction and fight a cyber criminal with ties to Pax's criminal past.

If you like your romances a little slow, this is a good example of the main couple having an instant attraction but not the insta-love so many romance novels tend to use as a trope. The situation these characters are in gives them some real issues to deal with so the real focus of this novel is the cyber crime. Quinn has created some smart, interesting, and fun characters who are a pleasure to get to know but somehow, it all comes off a little rushed. Granted, they're chasing a cyber-criminal trying to kill people so it's not like they have time to sit around and have tea to discuss their feelings. There is enough here to enjoy a quick, romantic thriller with some strong female characters. If I had one real gripe, it's that Pax must be part terminator because every ten seconds she's getting injured and recovers unrealistically fast. 3.8 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Jackass Flats" by Julia Talbot

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

Tate is a 30 something cowboy who believes the best days of his life are behind him.He spends his nights getting hammered in bars and one night a young soldier named Dave helps Tate bumble back to his apartment. The two become close and form a relationship but Dave's military life poses a threat to their relationship.

Mild spoilers so skip this paragraph if you wanna avoid them but around 30% in, sudden gay married friend is sudden! I mean, geez what an asshole...

Anyway, other than the out of nowhere dickweed friend, the story felt well paced and very realistic. Dave and Tate take things slow at Tate's request and the patient way they come together is refreshing to see. Their chemistry goes beyond a 'hookup-turned- relationship,' their feelings come through the pages. Yes, of course there are some steamy scenes but just having Tate and Dave interact with each other left me with a happy feeling when the story was done and I wouldn't mind reading more in this series or by this author. 3.9 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Rebel Genius" by Michael Dante DiMartino

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

When I was poking around and saw this book was written by co-creator of the animated shows Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, I clicked it immediately, not even realizing it was a YA book meant for kids 8-12 years old. But much like those shows, this book can absolutely be enjoyed by adults.

They story centers around Giacomo, a young orphan who lives in a world where artists have entities much like familiars called a Genius which can not only inspire them but turn their art into magic. A tyrant named Nerezza has hunted down all the artists she could find and appointed herself Supreme Creator. After an accident, Giacomo finds himself with his own Genius and is discovered by other children who have been hiding from Nerezza's threat. They embark on a journey to find these artifacts called The Creators Tools what may help them overthrow Nerezza and bring art back to the ruined nation.

I love how there are sketches in the book and the way they are included, it's implied Giacomo is the one drawing them. It added extra charm to an already fascinating story. It's also worth noting that even though this story is labeled YA, it doesn't shy away from some pretty dark stuff. There's a real sense of danger and urgency to the mission and you do wonder if all the characters will make it or even succeed at all. But towards the end after the big twist, it got into some predictable plot points but hey, I'm a voracious consumer of fiction so it's not a major drawback to the story overall. I'm just much more likely to catch tropes, however, I can see it surprising a kid who's reading this.

You can absolutely feel the creative energy and love from the Avatar series in this book. The concept of art manifesting as physical magic is compelling, the adventure is tense and action-packed, and the characters are unique and fun. I am super curious to find out what happens next in what could very well be a rollercoaster of a series. 4.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Deadlight Jack" by Mark Onspaugh

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Jimmy Kalmaku and George Watters may seem like any other old retirees, but they are both supernatural heroes who saved the world. When George’s grandson vanishes while on vacation in the Louisiana bayou, both men must use their abilities to the utmost in order to defeat the terrifying Deadlight Jack.

This book is like Murder She Wrote or Columbo except with demons and old men using magic. George and Jimmy's rapport is a pleasure to read. You can tell they're old friends and are just the best. About 10% George says the line: "The only pickups I'm gonna be making are of pretty girls who like jazz and want to go dancing with the area's black Astaire."

"Too cute!!"

"Too cute!!"

I found myself chuckling and smiling whenever they talked. I did find it amusing how people kept mistaking them for a gay couple (especially considering how much gay smut romance I read...) and that joke is thankfully not overused. It would have been really easy to use that gag to DEATH but Onspaugh kept it at the level such things should be in real life; not that big a deal.

Deadlight Jack is legitimately horrifying; so when the actual plot gets going it's tense and exciting. The humor is still there but you feel that impending danger. The ending may have been a little deus ex machina but you're having so much fun, it's acceptable. I can tell so much love was put in this book. This is George and Jimmy's second adventure (I plan to read the first just for fun) and the epilogue makes noise about a possible third. I sure hope that's true because I am totally on board. 4.7 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Goodnight Batcave" by Dave Croatto and Tom Richmond

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

In this parody of Goodnight Moon, Batman is lounging in his cave when some bad guys show up. He beats them up, then goes to bed. The whole rogue's gallery is there and the character design calls back to the Batman: The Animated Series character designs.

This book is clever and funny. The joke works better if you're familiar with Goodnight moon and I read this to my kid (who loves comics) and she laughed and did want a copy of her own.

For a book put out by MAD Magazine, it's pretty kid friendly. The art is in their typical style but there's nothing in it I would feel hesitant to show a kid who is already familiar with comics. There's a justifiable amount of violence (superheroes don't tend to cuddle the villains to jail) and I think this will give both kids and adults a few good chuckles. I read this on my Kindle but I think this is worth a hardcover purchase if you love Batman and love MAD. 4.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "The Mystery of Nevermore" by C. S. Poe

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

Ever walk into work and find a pig heart under a dislodged floorboard? Me neither but Sebastian Snow has. Now he's caught up in a mystery involving the works of Edgar Allen Poe and falling for the lead detective on the case - Calvin Winter - despite being in a rocky relationship with another cop, Neil Millett. More important than his now complicated relationships, Sebastian can't resist being nosy and may very well end up the next victim.

First off, it was interesting having the main character; Sebastian, have achromatopsia. I didn't know that was a thing and learning about it through our main character didn't slow down the pacing of the book.

As for the rest, the mystery itself was compelling and I'm not a fan of mysteries. To be fair, it's likely because I'm a literature geek and it was based around Poe's work. Sadly, I have to take a point off for (er, spoilers, kinda?) damaging a rare book. I'm a bibliophile and a librarian. You just don't hurt books.

But seriously, this book was a fast, fun, and naughty read. Sebastian and Calvin are characters you can empathize with and have a decent amount of chemistry. The mystery itself I can't really comment on as I don't have much experience in this genre but I found it interesting. I would consider reading more in this series in the future. 4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: “Ten Count” volume 2 by Rihito Takarai

*This volume was sent to me in exchange for an honest review and is intended for 18+.

Even after agreeing to keep his distance, Kurose still has feelings for Shirotani. Shirotani however, has virtually shut down after Kurose insisted on not seeing him anymore. With the help of his co-worker, Mikami, Shirotani finally agrees to meet up with Kurose; who confesses he wanted to stay away because it was not appropriate for a counselor to be in love with his patient. Not only that but Kurose wants to touch Shirotani; whose condition makes him sick at the thought of being contaminated. Shirotani finds that while his germaphobia still affects him, Kurose's touch also makes him excited.

And WHOA does it ever make him excited! Remember in the last review when I said there was no smut but a good build with the characters? This volume earns its M rating. Kurose and Shirotani go from tentative interaction to touching naughty bits. But as sensual as they get, there is still something traumatic in Shirotani's past that's only being hinted at in quick flashbacks. Shirotani "endures" very intimate touches but something simple like Kurose ruffling his hair sets him off. We'll have to wait to find out what happened but I give this volume a 4 out of 5.

This volume will be released November 8th, 2016.

For more of Lenni's writing and reviews, head over to Haunting Hypatia.

Lenni Reviews: "The Deadbringer" by E. M. Markoff

Kira Vidal is a Deadbringer, possessing the ability to summon souls and raise the dead. Likely the last of his kind, this fifteen year old boy hides his abilities while living with his uncle. In order to live in peace, he has to keep out of reach of the Ascendancy and their elite soldiers called the Sanctifiers; who are charged with the mission of killing all Deadbringers. When a stranger shows up at their door asking for help, Kira's secret is exposed and he must protect his uncle while learning the truth behind his powers.

The world-building done in this novel is accomplished by dumping you in and wishing you luck yet at the same time it's immersive enough for you to get lost in it. There are a lot of interesting and distinct characters and while some may fall into typical fantasy tropes (like the mysterious counsel of evil hidden in shadow, climactic battle at a wall with ground troops, horned people, etc...), they all managed to get into my head clearly so I stayed interested throughout the entire book. At times the conversations lagged or got bogged down in WAY more complicated words than necessary; the narrative meandered off on occasion but once the story centered on Kira and his journey, this novel shined. Even with the cliffhanger ending (Arrgh! Where's the next one!!!), I ended this book feeling like I had a good time. As a fan of dark fantasy, I give this story a 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: The Deepest Poison by Beth Cato

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The Deepest Poison is a short story and introduction to the novel Clockwork Crown by Beth Cato (which I have reviewed here). Since I've already reviewed the novel, this review will focus on the shorter story.

This story covers some history of Miss Percival; Miss Leander's mentor. Percival recognized and nurtured Leander's healing abilities and this story showcases them while in the field stationed at a camp called Cantonment Five as they try to puzzle out the mystery of why wounded soldiers thought to recover were dying. It was nice to see some back story as reasoning behind Percival's actions in the Clockwork Crown. It is written in the same style as the novel but much more succinct and inside Percival's head and it was cool to see the healers in action. 

If you liked the first novel, Deepest Poison has a sample of Clockwork Crown to whet your appetite for the full novel. At $0.99 on Amazon, it's a worthwhile bit of steampunk fun.

Lenni Reviews: The Clockwork Crown by Beth Cato

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In this steampunk adventure, Octavia Leander and Alonzo Garrett are fleeing a recent assassination attempt and a quest to solve the mystery behind Octavia's every growing healing powers. Hoping to find answers at the Lady's Tree - the source of a healer's power - the two must travel through lands where many are hunting them and brave a coming war as the Tree is a power in a hostile land called the Waste, whose inhabitants are fighting to retain independence from the Empire.

Confused? I was, as well. Clockwork Crown is the second in the Clockwork Dagger Novels series. Although this novel can reasonably stand on it's own, there are many moments where the emotional impact of events would be deeper felt if I had read the first book (The Clockwork Dagger). This is not to say Clockwork Crown is not enjoyable. Octavia is a strong, relatable character who is a joy to read about and her friend and compatriot, Alonzo isn't just a tagalong. He is a heroic and capable partner you want to root for.

The physical steampunk and fantasy elements are well told and fit excellently in the world Cato has created. The technology and magic jostle in the same world with precision. You do get the sense, again, that the majority of the world-building took place in the first book but the pacing of the novel and the nearly non-stop action don't give you much time to get lost. Giant airships, and gremlins, AND magic? Sign me up for another heaping helping of this guilty pleasure please! This book will be released on June 9th, 2015 and I am already primed for more of this world - despite the book having a satisfying ending. I hope Cato decides to create more with this series.

Lenni Reviews: Tides of Maritinia by Warren Hammond

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In this surprising space adventure, Jakob Bryce is sent on a covert mission to infiltrate and dismantle the power of the newly freed Maritinia; a planet on the far reaches of The Empire that rules the system. Despite the small size of this world and the limited role of their single export - kelp - to the economy, the Empire is stretched thin defending their control. If one small planet can successfully rebel, it may inspire others and it's Jakob's job to make sure that doesn't happen.

Jakob is a newbie to this job so his loyalty is truly tested as he's thrown into this odd mix of idealists and madmen and forced to maintain a cover with some really shoddy intel. For an all powerful Empire, they send this guy on his first mission not knowing a great deal; like who is the father of the woman his target is in a relationship with. In this reader's opinion, I was already losing faith in the Empire way before Jakob did. To keep Jakob in line, there is an artificial intelligence implanted in his brain named Pol, who keeps Jakob from being able to deviate from the mission. This poses a problem because Jakob's loyalties are tested, emotions are toyed with, and he has to decide if the will of the Empire is worth the cost of the people of Maritinia.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. At first I was confused by the typo filled journal entries at the beginning of each chapter but the why's and how's of that are revealed later in the book. The world building is detailed and exacting. You really feel like you're in a waterlogged boat the whole ride. As the story progresses, Jakob's character gets better and better. You will be cheering for him by the end of it. While this can easily be a standalone novel, I do hope we hear more of Maritinia from Warren Hammond. It's a cool spy adventure in space that will leave you wanting more.

(For more of Lenni's writing, click here)