Lenni Reviews: “Markswoman” by Rati Mehrotra

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

After her first mark, newly initiated Markswoman Kyra lives to avenge the death of her clan. But her duties to the order of Kali take precedence as she tragically loses her mentor to what is obviously murder. Kyra embarks on a quest to expose the traitor in her order and bring them to justice.

I am honestly shocked this is marketed as YA but I loved reading this book. Kyra manages to be both determined but inexperienced without pandering or getting annoying. The fantasy world building is tight without a bunch of info dumps and the action is badass. I especially liked that Kyra’s journey is chosen instead of forced. She elects to go; not cast out.

The ending kinda felt a little bit of a copout as well as a cliffhanger but I am SO down for the sequel. 3.9 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: "Fire" (The Ninth Circle #1) by C.A. Harland

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

This book follows the adventures of Tala and Aiva Morgenstern as they search for their missing sister, Hartley, in a world filled with magic and demons.

The way this flows is just like episodes of a TV show; absolutely riffing off Buffy, Angel, or Supernatural. If you like those shows and want some fastpaced urban fantasy, this isn't half bad. I don't wanna give away too much since there's a lot going on. Sometimes the writing felt forced; trying too hard to be badass but overall, it's a fun read. A bit gory but hey, there's demon killing happening so that's to be expected. 3.4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief" by Lisa Tuttle

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

Finding herself in desperate need of a new job and place to live, Mill Lane happens upon an advertisement for a brave assistant with a good memory. After inquiring, Lane becomes the partner of Mr. Jasper Jesperson, a detective. Pickings are slim at first until a sleepwalker and the disappearances of several local psychics both fall into their laps. Now, it is up to Jasper and Lane to solve these seemingly unrelated cases.

This book is just good fun. Jasper is the sort of detective character who is smart, clever, and charismatic yet a bit irresponsible. Lane is also intelligent yet charmingly self-depreciating and together they make a formidable pair you will enjoy following though the story as it unfolds.

Although this genre is not my expertise, I think I can safely call this a cozy mystery and I has a lot of fun reading it. I was on the edge of my seat and I would love to read the next one when I get my hands on it. 4 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: "Crossing in Time" by D.L. Orton and Micah McDonald

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

Geneticist Isabel is given a once in a lifetime chance; to go back in time and get a second chance with her lover, Diego. But this is for much more than just love as their relationship may hold the key to saving humanity from mass extinction.

Now, I know one would think that knowing me and my other reviews; a "time travel, dystopian romance" would not only have my eyes rolling out of my head but send me into Serena's Plight levels of anger. Neither of these happened. I LOVED this book.

Isabel and Diego are both whip-smart, strong brave characters and there were precious few moments in the plot where I doubted they were anything else. And while their relationship takes center stage, supporting characters like Matt are quick witted, kind, and funny. All of them have such chemistry I didn't want to leave them (and I will be getting the next books in the series).

The time travel bits can get confusing and part of me doesn't want to believe anyone could accidentally set off a nuke (but with how things are with a president who tweets unintelligible typos, it seems sadly likely) but overall, this story had even a cynic like me believing that one relationship could mean saving the world. 4.7 out of 5.

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: "Fenced-In Felix" by Cheyenne Blue

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

Felix Jameson has been working on turning her family's land into a hospitality business including cabins, campgrounds, and trail rides with her own horses. As she's doing errands and distributing some promotional materials around her small Australian town, she meets Josie, a drifter currently bar tending at the local watering hole. Felix tries to avoid getting involved but Josie also needs a place to board her horse; Flame. But Flame looks eerily like a recently stolen racehorse, leading Felix to wonder what this woman she has fallen for may be involved in.

This book is in a series called "Girl Meets Girl" but it functions perfectly fine as a standalone story.

I got a real good sense of the Australian outback and Felix and Josie as characters. I love how the mystery surrounding the horses moves their relationship and while that initial event brings them together; it follows along with them in a very real way. As the mystery deepens, so does Felix and Josie's connection. It's also comforting for everything to be wrapped up in a realistic way so we avoid an unrealistically neat ending.

If I were to nitpick, I would say that the ending needed an epilogue for some of the unanswered questions as to the fate of the horse after the investigation (I am trying to avoid spoilers). Also, it kinda bugged me in the beginning when Felix kept saying Josie wasn't beautiful. And I don't mean "she wasn't beautiful; she was - insert descriptive term like 'compelling'-". It it was just eh, not pretty. Ok then, what are you attracted to? Just her butt? I got over it but it raised my eyebrow... Overall? 4 out of 5. A very sweet and saucy lesbian romance.

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: "Better with Bacon" by Matthew Lang

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

David, Patrick, and Li Ling have been a trio for years; with Patrick and Li Ling dating since high school. Two weeks before Valentine's Day, Li Ling dumps Patrick and ends up in David's bed. But Li Ling calls the next morning and she's pregnant. Assuming Patrick will go back to her, David takes a job assignment out of town to drown his sorrows in work and random hookups. Will these friends turned lovers come together or is all hope lost?

What's great about this book is having a collection of decent people. It is such a trope to have randomly bitchy or manipulative people in order to make the main characters look even better but here, the characters act SO rational, I almost didn't believe it at times. I think I have gotten too used to massive irrationality in my love stories...

It's also great to see a more multicultural cast. More stories need more non-white characters.

Now, I will freely admit I requested this title to review because, bacon. Bacon is amazing. So, my biggest gripe is that bacon wasn't shamelessly crammed into the plot as much as possible. But that's just because I'm silly. Other than that, my only other gripe is how some characters are too rational in some areas and not rational enough in others. David runs off without talking to Patrick AT ALL. He could have waited 10-20 minutes but then again, the rest of the book wouldn't have happened.

All in all, this was a cute read! I enjoyed it and give it a 3.5 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: "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: "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: "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: "Twisted Dreams: Dreamlands #4) by Felicitas Ivey

After the craziness of Unquiet Dreams, Keno is now a 'guest' of the wizard Kheper in the Egyptian lands and was forced to give in to the violent nature of his ancestor in order to save Mason's life and his own. As the unknown Darkness spreads through the Dreamlands, Samojirou takes Mason, Wolf, and Tholf to rescue Keno while Keno and Kheper investigate the Darkness. But will Keno want to be rescued after taking a life?

Keno's internal struggle about having to kill is the major part of his character development in this book. His ancestor was discussed in such hushed, ominous tones, Keno never wanted to be anything like him. There isn't time to dwell or escape his pain for long as he works with Kheper; who turns out to be a pretty cool magician and a man of honor - not at all as creepy as he seemed in the previous book. 

With two teams coming at the Darkness from two different directions, we get some really detailed and rich writing. You get a sense of realness to a very unreal world. But darnit, if it doesn't end on a cliffhanger! Man, do I wanna see the Dreamlands come together to beat the Darkness. I'm sure other cultures along with the Japanese and Egyptians will come into play. More of the Vikings would be cool! It would be such an epic showdown. 4.5 out of 5.

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: Choices: Golden Collar Book 1 by Grace R. Duncan

Teman and his best friend Jasim are thieves for hire in the 11th century; living a life of relative freedom. When they're caught after a job goes wrong, they are given a choice: dungeons or place pleasure slave. Iron collar or gold. Vowing to escape, the pair chooses pleasure slave and end up serving the royal court and their guests.

Bathasar is a reluctant prince uninterested in the throne. When Teman saves Bathasar's life and in return is publically abused by Bathasar's brother, Mukesh, Bathasar becomes infatuated with Teman. When Mukesh's sadism threatens war with another nation, Bathasar must step up to save his country. However, rising to rule would give him the power to release Teman from slavery and Bathasar must decide if he can let Teman go.

Despite how trippy it is for me to read an audiobook, narrated in my edition by Joel Leslie, this book is long, decadent, and very heavy on the sex scenes. You're pretty deep into the book (around chapter 10) before the story between Bathasar and Teman kicks off. This is not the book for you if you don't like a slow build to your romance or massive amounts of man on man sex (since you get several full chapters on the 'training'). But if you like a well developed, smutty, and beautifully written (and spoken, in this case) romance in a historically based setting, 'Choices' is an amazing book. I'd give it a 4.5 out of 5 for being nearly perfect; as I tended to zone out during some of the sex scenes waiting for the plot to keep going.

For more reivews: check me out at Haunting Hypatia at literaryloon.com

Lenni Reviews: Beauty and the Clockwork Beast by Nancy Campbell Allen

In this book, we meet the intelligent and strong-willed Lucy Pickett and the brooding, enigmatic Lord Blackwell. As this story is set within the classic framework of Beauty and the Beast, our two main characters fulfill their intended roles. Where the creativity lies in this book is the steampunk and fantasy elements Allen has woven into the narrative; introducing classic steampunk tropes as goggles and airships as well as werewolves and vampires. 

Lucy and Blackwell meet because Lucy's cousin has fallen ill and Lucy refuses to leave her side until she discovers the truth. As she is a researcher and familiar with plant-based remedies, Lucy stays with her cousin at Blackwell's manor. Meanwhile, Lord Blackwell is hiding a secret from the world and someone is  attempting to blackmail him; and rumors surrounding the mysterious deaths of his wife and sister put him in a dangerous position. As the mystery unfolds, the pair predictably fall in love, but as predictable as it is - this is a romance novel, after all - Lucy is an interesting character to read about and Lord Blackwell's reasons for being curt and brash are grounded in reality. He's not angsty for angst's sake and his transformation from 'beast' into a man Lucy can love is believable. 

The steampunk and fantasy elements are a good portion of the story, so while the elements of a historical romance are there if you're not into the paranormal or steampunk, those parts of the story may put you off. They do fit seamlessly into the world building and make a generic romance that much more exciting. Of course, it really helps that none of the women are simpering debutantes and the men aren't empty, emo sacks of angst in frock coats. They are all well rounded with solid motivations despite the fantastical setting. If you like your romances sweet, non-smutty, and with some interesting tech, Allen's book is a treat! Alas, you shall have to wait until August 2nd, 2016 to get your little hands on it.

Lenni Reviews: "Evac" by Michael Murphy

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"Evac" is the story of a war veteran named Benjamin - Benji for short. While on assignment in Afghanistan, Benji loses his entire unit; including his partner, Blade. While his body mended, his mind is fractured; as he suffers from debilitating PTSD flashbacks. Finding it nearly impossible to reconnect as a civilian, Benji claws for any sort of release from his mental pain; participating in ever more dangerous activities until finally ending up on a bridge ready to end it all. It is here where he meets Nick, a young man on the same bridge for the same reason. The two men find common ground and give each other hope for a better future.

"Evac" is a quick but powerful story. Even at under 200 pages, I found myself both empathizing with Benji and enraged at the utter incompetence of the people around him. With such tragedy, it is very gratifying for him and Nick to get together with their much deserved happy ending. But what a ride getting there! Random sexual encounters, a brief stint at a BDSM club, picking bar fights; Benji hits all the self-destructive marks before  he meets Nick and is set on a more balanced path. Yup, I said BDSM club. And Michael Murphy doesn't flinch a bit in his depictions of the lifestyle and all the smutty encounters, so count this among the "mature audiences only" books.

And in case you're all wondering: "Lenni? What's with all the naughty LGBT books!?" Well, to be perfectly honest, I think more of these books should be reviewed on sites like ours and - I freely admit - I made myself a complete pest at the Dreamspinner Press booth at BEA this year. I have a LOT of books from them and I'm hell bent on reviewing as many as possible. Expect more of these in the future.

To get back on point, "Evac" packs a quick emotional punch with good pacing and development in a small package. Benji's unflinching honestly and pain to tug at your heart even if the book hits all the sorta cliche romantic tropes. But, they're cliche for a reason; it's how romances work. If you're looking for a quick and smutty romance with a happily ever after, "Evac" will do ya well.

Lenni Reviews: 'Into the Darkness' by A. M. Rycroft

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Aeryne Ravane, a sword for hire, has been on a mission to discover the treasures of the deceased hero Tynan Selvantyr. Having been raised on his tales, Aeryne is excited to explore The Black Caverns and learn her hero's secrets; but the treasures contained therein are so much more than gold as she discovers even heroes have their deadly secrets.

This book is more about the journey than the result, in my opinion. Aeryne meets a young thief, the ghost of her hero, a vampire, and magic priests on her quest to defeat evil and come to terms with her past. Clocking in at 467 pages, the final climactic battle is around the 400 page mark. I did enjoy watching the main party of this sword and sorcery novel come together and grow as a group, the settings are well described and fun (or scary when applicable) to read; but there were points that had me muttering the dreaded "are we there yet" because I wanted the bad guy to get what was coming to him. It began to drag towards the middle there, but it picked up and it was worth reading through to the end.

All in all, Into the Darkness is a pretty cool book with some interesting characters. Everyone is fallible and real, and the story is overall fun if you enjoy these types of fantasy novels.