Lenni Reviews: "Barren" by Peter V. Brett

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

In this novella set in a world where demons come out at night, Selia, a 69-year-old Speaker in her village, is instrumental in protecting everyone by leading the charge to keep the demons at bay. With every kill, Selia is imbued with some of their magic and she is gifted with youth and vitality. As jealousy and anger come to a head in Tibbet's Brook, it appears the demons are devising a new play which may wipe their town and everyone in it off the map.

There may be some things I'm not getting since this is a novella set in a five book series' universe, but I felt there was enough here for me to chew on. Selia is a badass and her need to just do right by her neighbors without having to hide who she is comes off as noble and real, not pandering at all. It's been awhile since I read some good high fantasy and this fast-paced, well-written novella absolutely fits the bill. Since I feel as if I would have gotten more out of this with the rest of the series in mind, I give this a 4.7 out of 5 and I will check out the rest of the series when I get a chance.

This novella will be released 9/25/2018.

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: "Bettie Page" Vol. 1 by David Avallone

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

In this collection of "secret diaries," we follow our femme fetale, Bettie Page, as she dodges the cops, secret agents, and cult members all while trying to make a living as a model and movie star of B movies with aliens... All while helping beat the bad guys.

This book is a whole lot of cheese and I kinda love it for that. I am an absolute sucker for pin-up art and all the guest art and the comic itself is lovely to look at; even with the batshit crazy ideas. However, there's this sensation of being in a glitter bomb; shiny, pretty, but confusing in all it's bright colors and movement. At the end, I had to re-read it all because I didn't remember what exactly happened. Gotta give it a 3 out of 5 for that but it sure is pretty.

Lenni Reviews: "Taproot" by Keezy Young

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

Hamal works at a flower shop but the owner and customers think he's crazy because he can hear, see, and speak to ghosts. This ability is bitter sweet as the ghost, Blue is his best friend and Blue is in love with Hamal. But lately, Blue has been unexpectedly vanishing and all the ghosts are afraid of what's going on.

I am such a fan of all these calm, multi-cultural, creative, and beautiful graphic novels I'm seeing these days. The cool, soft color palette and relaxed writing make this story about an accidental necromancer an amazing and wonderful read. Even when dealing with death, reapers, and ghosts, Taproot never takes itself too seriously; remaining sweet and grounded the entire time. I was a little confused because the terms 'necromancer' and 'ghost hunter' are used interchangeably when I'd always believed them to be very different things. Perhaps if given more time to develop, we could get Hamal's powers clearly defined, learn where they came from, and get some backstory on the other ghosts around him. As it stands, this book was an overall pleasure. 4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Tea Dragon Society" by Katie O'Neil

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

When she finds an injured tea dragon in the marketplace, young Greta - who is a blacksmith's apprentice - returns the magical creature to its owner and learns the nearly forgotten art of crafting tea from the delicate leaves growing from the tea dragon's bodies.

I found this to be the most refreshing fantasy comic I have read in a long time. The story Greta through 4 seasons as she meets Minette; a seer who has lost her memory, Hesekiel; one of the last remaining tea masters, and his partner Erik; a former adventurer who is now a paraplegic.

There are no grand adventures, no epic battles; just a little girl who finds a dragon and makes some friends. A delightfully progressive slice of life story with simple and beautiful art, about the only thing I can legitimately complain about is there isn't enough of this. If this was a webcomic or a series, I would be reading it all the time. It's very rare for me to find something so lighthearted yet well done and I find it perfect. 5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Great Divide" by Ben Fisher and Adam Markiewicz

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

A fragmented human race struggles to live because a mysterious condition has made it so any skin to skin contact will cause one of those people to die an agonizing death. Whoever survives the encounter absorbs the memories of the dead person. While fumbling a heist, Maria and Paul stumble first upon each other then later upon a possible cure.

This comic is a mix of Walking Dead, Crossed, and Y the Last Man (without what made me so uncomfortable about Crossed). It has a unique take on an apocalyptic world with all the darkness that entails while still managing to maintain some humor. I'm glad it's not zombies for once...

The characters and world building here are well thought out and some really original implications of whatever sort of virus like this can do or be used are played with. Thankfully the cast members we're following around play off each other well despite the fact Paul's jokes can get tiresome. I give this a 4 out of 5 for being blessedly original in a genre that sorely needs it.

 

Lenni Reviews: "More Things in Heaven and Earth" by Paul Comeau

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

Danny Crawford's religious father decided to stop him from being gay by dumping the boy into conversion therapy. Desperate to escape the abuse in his home at the hands of his homophobic father, Danny is willing to die. While in the hospital recovering from his botched suicide attempt, his plight moves Damien; a vampire pretending to be a priest in order to feed on terminal patients. Damien decides to take the boy in but Danny's father is determined to fix the 'embarrassment' that is his son.

I had such high hopes for this given the premise but my overall impression is that of reading a textbook. The POV will switch, the prose seems to talk AT you, and the whole thing comes off as a methodical checklist of what a gay paranormal romance is supposed to contain without the heart other stories have. Damien switches back and forth between contemporary vampire and old world vampire in his language and that knocked me right out of the book. I couldn't get fully immersed.

This book feels like a missed opportunity. It could have been a really touching, beautiful story that brought up the very real horrors of conversion therapy but I feel like I got a particularly detailed wiki entry. It isn't even very smutty as the sex scenes are all fade to black. I have to give this a 2 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Cross My Heart" by Catt Ford

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

Daniel Hunter sees Lana Renault pass him in the streets and is immediately smitten by this beautiful, elegant, and classy Parisian woman. But Lana is Roland Reynolds; who feels more comfortable living as Lana and wearing women's clothing without judgment. Having had painful and violent reactions in the past, Lana has resigned herself to a life of loneliness. Daniel's gentle and romantic pursuit of her is very tempting but Lana is terrified of how Daniel may react to the truth.

This book reminds me of those old black and white romance movies with some deliciously smutty bits thrown in. At times it does fall into the trap of being too perfect but this is a book for hopeless romantics who believe in happily ever after - which I am not. But, with Ford's writing, I almost believe it. Starting off a bit slow but touching my heart, I give this book a 3.7 out of 5. 

Lenni Reviews: "Tartarus" by Eric Andrews-Katz

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

The Titan, Echidna, has escaped from her underworld prison and vows vengeance on the Olympians who put her there. But the power of the old gods now resides in their descendants. Twins Adrian and Annelise have been unaware of their godly lineage until Echidna attacks them and an artist named Zack reveals himself to be another descendant of the gods. They must defeat Echidna before she destroys them and takes back the world under her rule.

While an interesting concept, the beginning felt so slow, I had trouble getting into it. I also had issues believing these characters were in their late 40's. The way they speak, you would think they were in their late 20's or early 30's. And this applies to all three of our main characters. If you want a believable set of older characters, Deadlight Jack is a perfect example. When I am reminded of their age in this book, they all seem terribly immature.

The best parts of this book for me were how the mythology is intertwined with real life. I have always been a huge fan of Greek Mythology so seeing the legends brought to life was cool. As for the romance elements, they are an afterthought. Zack and Adrian have this love/hate relationship with these random moments of intimacy as if to say "B.T. Dubz, they're in love now."

All in all, it was cool to see the mythic creatures and characters again but the rest is oddly framed. 3 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.

Dolphins and Sharks (Review)

 

Written By Justin D Williams

Last night I attended a play by Labyrinth Theater Company entitled “Dolphins and Sharks.” The play stars Tina Fabrique, Flor De Liz Perez, Ceasar J. Rosado, Chinaza Uche and Pernell Walker. The played is directed by Charlotte Brathwaite.

Story -  Yusuf studies philosophy. Xiomara is ambitious. Isabel keeps it real. These are the employees of Harlem Office, a neighborhood copy shop, where promotions are rare and raises are even rarer. But when one employee is given the chance to move up, friendships are tested and loyalty turns out to be less valuable than cold hard cash. Soon cutbacks and office politics have everyone fighting to keep their jobs and their sanity in this searing new play about clocking in, clocking out and rising up.

After leaving Dolphins and Sharks I was honestly amazed on how good and realistic the story is. The story follows a very simple premise of four co-workers Xiomara Yepez played by Flor De Liz Perez, Danilo Martinez played by Ceasar J. Rosado, Yusuf Nwachukwu by Chinaza Uche and Isabel Peters by Pernell Walker. Each co-worker has their own situations in life to deal with. Xiomara is trying to move up the corporate ladder at Harlem Office and become a manager. Danilo is trying to find a better job to provide better for his wife and incoming newborn baby. Yusuf is a recent college graduate but can’t find work in his field. Finally there is Isabel who is just  trying to stay above water. She is a character that is doing what she must to provide for her three kids and help her husband. The great thing about having such a small ensemble cast is there is plenty of room for character development. Dolphins and Sharks story does well in this department. Each character gets enough time for the audience to connect with their backstory and really invest in their situations. For the sake of spoilers I won’t go deeper into the plot or backstories. Dolphins and Sharks tackles a lot of issues many of us face today such as, working at job that pays you less than your worth. Dealing with stereotypes, dealing with a friend becoming more successful than you. However one of the underlining themes I took from this play is survival. When you look at each character and how they make their decisions it’s not based on any ill will towards each other. The decisions made by the characters are purely based on survival. Each circumstance that the characters face will have them choosing what is best for them over the relationship and loyalty of a co-worker. This premise left an engaging dynamic as I try to figure out which character was truly in the wrong or were their actions justify. This dynamic is mostly shown with Xiomara as she is put in position where it’s business over friendship. Xiomara is driven and is not going to let anyone or anything stop her from reaching her goals. Sometimes Xiomara has to make tough decisions that is not the most popular even if it means losing relationships. I love how Dolphins and Sharks paints the picture of confliction. I have to do this to survive but on the other side of the spectrum my decision effects everyone. The narrative is well done and by the end of the show you feel a touch of realism and critical thinking to the situations which every single person can relate too. The story has some very deep moments especially during the transitions where the character Amenze Amen played Tina Fabrique gives some really powerful dialogue and songs. My favorite transition scene was the rendition of a very underrated song from Nas. I won’t spoil it but when I heard those lyrics I couldn’t help but smile. Overall the story is solid and very grounded that anyone can relate to at least one of these characters. There is a meaning for the title of the play and you have to listen to Amenze dialogue to really get the deeper meaning of Dolphins and Sharks. It’s a story worth seeing.

Acting -  No play will ever succeed without the chemistry of the actors. The actors are  amazing and they all have great chemistry with each other. The way the characters interact with each other is so genuine you really do get immersed with the story. Xiomara and Isabel have a great relationship when we’re introduce to them. Flor De Liz Perez and Pernell Walker are awesome together as they play off each other very well. You really get this sense of sisterhood between their respective characters. Chinaza Uche as Yusuf was awesome to see. He played the by the book employee we all know so well. Watching Yusuf I couldn’t help just shake my head because of how by the book he was. That really put me more into the story is because how well the actors presented their characters.  Ceasar J. Rosado and Tina Fabrique also light up the stage with Danilo and Amenze. Amenze I like to think as the moral compass of the play as she tries to instill wisdom into the young folks working at Harlem Office. Ceasar’s Danilo had the audience laughing when he came on. His character is very witty and when the time came for him to get serious you really felt his passion when the conflict came with Xiomara. This is one talented cast who have great chemistry together and you can see the bond through their performances.

Final Thoughts: Dolphins and Sharks is a beautiful play with some terrific acting, great stage and production. The story has a very realistic tone tackling social issues without beating you over the head with one main perspective.  If you’re in NYC this is a play you need to check out. 

Dolphins and Sharks is running at the Bank Theater from February 9th to March 19th. For more information visit http://labtheater.org/events/dolphins-and-sharks/

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: "Whiskey Business" by Avon Gale

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

In order to get his hometown some much-needed money, Ryder Waites is selling his family's whiskey recipe to a company named Bluegrass Bourbon. To seal the deal, he has to convince a hard-assed representative from the company; Adam Keller. Keller is out to prove he can get by on his own merits and not rely on his rich family's money and reputation. As the stuffy Adam audits the distillery, their attraction grows. But Adam doesn't want to get attached as this is supposed to be a quick business trip and nothing more.

At 17% I had snorted laughter out loud at the sentence "That sort of dislike-to-lovers thing only happened in Harry/Draco fanfic." I have read way more of those than I care to admit before I grew out of that to... Well, books like these.

The story generally follows that formula, though. Couple meets, instant attraction, hot smexy times, misunderstanding, reunion and resolution. What sets this story apart is the setting. The town of Gallows Grove feels like the real star here with its fun residents and pun laden business names. The writing gives this place real heart and makes it come alive around our two very likable leads. A perfectly serviceable romance with a fun setting, I give this a 4 out of 5. 

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: "Oria’s Gambit" by Jeffe Kennedy

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

With her kingdom, Bara, captured by the Destrye, Oria gambles on a marriage with the conquering leader; Lonen. Since Bara is ruled by magic, the highly powerful and sensitive Oria takes a huge risk in marrying Lonen since he cannot use magic and Bara has never had a non-magic using ruler. The main reason for this gamble is Oria's cruel and despotic brother, Yar; who may likely begin another war despite the peace her kingdom has just attained.

Having not read the first part, there is enough here to make you understand there was a brutal war and that our main pair would like to spare their respective kingdoms any further bloodshed. Oria and Lonen are well developed enough and the writing is competent enough for you to get emotionally invested enough to want them to succeed. But the book does spend a great deal of time meandering around Lonen and Oria's obvious attraction to one another and their hope to overcome Oria's inability to even touch Lonen without her magic causing her pain. The pacing lost it's sense of urgency when the book spends so much time on the romance. The love story didn't distract from the major fantasy elements but once Yar came back into the picture, I felt the characters should have spent less time making gooily eyes and more time getting ready.

Don't get me wrong; Lonen and Oria have good chemistry and the overall story kept me interested enough to not only finish it but to want to know what happens in the next installment. If you like fantasy in your romance, this isn't a bad offering despite being pretty short and ending on a cliffhanger. 3.7 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: "Timing" by Mary Calmes

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

Stefan Joss has been invited to be in his best friend's wedding. Not only does his boss take this as a chance to take on a sales deal to the trip to Texas, Stefan has to deal with his friend's brother, Rand Holloway; who has made no effort to restrain his hatred of Stefan. With the chaos of the wedding and meeting with his client, Stefan learns there is more to Rand's feelings than hatred and his business deal ends up risking his life.

While meant as a romantic mystery kind of story like Mystery of Nevermore, the mystery in this book took far back seat to the romance. Not a criticism, just something I noticed. I can see either adding more of the mystery or taking it out entirely and just having the wedding be the backdrop that brings Stephan and Rand together.

Anyways, Rand as a hard-ass cowboy coming to terms with how he fucked up and will do his part to fix it and Stefan putting in effort too worked for me. I liked them both and I wanted to see them together. The smexy times are prevalent and positively indulgent so if you want a healthy dose of manluvin, this book is more than happy to dole it out along with some romantic sappiness.

When it came to the action/mystery parts, I kinda got whiplash. You're crusin along in this lovey dovey romance and WHAM! Rape! Murder! Guns!

"Well... That took an uncomfortable turn..."

"Well... That took an uncomfortable turn..."

Even so, I enjoyed this book. You can feel the love all over; even aside for our main pair. The details in describing ranch life (Rand owns a ranch) were written well enough to get a real feel for the setting and I ended this book with a cheesy grin because it was so damn sweet. 4 out of 5.