Lenni Reviews: "Beastars" vol 1 by Paru Itagaki

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

In this comic, the high school is divided into predators and prey and one student among them is selected to be a 'Beastar' - essentially their version of valedictorian as they exemplify the best of both predator and prey. But when a prey student is found dead, tensions are high and loner wolf, Legoshi - a friend of the murdered student - is struggling with his control with so much fear around him.

As I was reading this very sketchy drawn book, I didn't think I would like it. I was concerned it would be to "on the nose" with the predator/prey aspect only to find it more nuanced than I'd assumed. This is one of the more original manga outings I've read in a long time. While the art style may feel strange at first, the characters draw you in. An impressive first volume and I do hope to continue this series.

And yup, totally got the Bella Legosi reference.

4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "The Obsidian Temple" (Desert Rising 2) by Kelley Grant

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

In the sequel to Desert Rising, Sulis travels to the Obsidian Temple to fulfill her destiny as part of a group charged with rejoining the gods with The One. Along with her friend Ava, she must learn the complicated moves and energy work to perform the ritual. Meanwhile, her twin brother, Kadar, is drawn up in a revolution as the Forsaken cast is fed up with being treated like slaves or worse. But the gods are not willing to let the Forsaken go or give up their power and are willing to wage war to keep what's theirs.

Sulis continues to be a strong character but to be honest, this book spent too much time on the training parts only to get to the good stuff towards the ending. I understand this was meant to be a trilogy and plot-wise, it is more realistic for the chosen ones to need to practice rather than to just be perfect from the beginning; but it made for a slow read. The inter-cutting of the Forsaken rebellion did bring up the pace, however.

Overall a great read. I'm ready to jump right into the next one. 4 out of 5. 

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: "Witch Creek" by Laura Bickle

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

Petra's husband, Gabriel, has gone missing and despite her body being currently ravaged by chemotherapy and cancer, she devotes her remaining days to finding him by any means necessary, even going so far as to adventure into the underworld.

There is a lot going on in this book. Aside for Petra, there's a coverup about Gabriel's disappearance, wolf clans, a mermaid seeking revenge for her imprisonment, a long lost son, a whole bunch of stuff. But it is cool stuff. We have a diverse cast of characters who meet up by chance, fun action, and interesting magic. I had a good time reading this but it didn't leave much of an impact after it was done. 3.8 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: "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: "Angel Fever" by May Ridge

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

Malachi is the most talented male angel healer in a generation but despite his inflated ego about his talents, one thing still bothers him. Mal is an orphan and he's on the search for his mother. He returns to his childhood orphanage and the current priest working there, Tobias, tells him that despite it not being exactly within the rules, he will let Mal look at his records. However, it seems this mother's name is missing. As they dig deeper, Mal and Tobias discover a dark secret hidden among the priests which will put both their lives in danger.  

The whole thing could have been an interesting longer book but as a short story; it feels rushed. If given more time, the world could have had more time to build and thusly would have been better understood. The relationship between Mal and Tobias would have had more time to develop so they have real chemistry instead of just a line drop about how they've been working together for two months. A concept with potential but not enough room to grow, I give this a 3 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: "City of Dreams" by Sydney Blackburn

 

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

Marcus Allegro travels to the City of Dreams to study art under Sebastian Moreaux; a master painter and well known to bed any willing student he comes across, shunning any sort of commitment. When he sets his sights on Marcus, Sebastian is baffled when the young man absolutely refuses to add his name to Sebastian's long list of forgotten conquests. This makes Sebastian want him even more but Marcus is looking for true love, which Sebastian takes great pains to avoid.

I feel if given more space to grow, this story would have more of an impact. I would have had a better understanding of how magic fits in this world, how artists have The Eye, how Sebastian came to be so guarded, how Marcus came to be such a romantic, and gotten to know them both more; I would be more invested in their romance and in their world. Coming in at a scant 59 pages as it is, this story is more like a sweet breeze; enjoyable but gone too fast. 3 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.

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: "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: "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: "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: "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: "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: "Elixir: A Changeling P.I. Novel" by Ruth Vincent

Mabily Jones is an intern for a private eye after being tricked into human form by the Fairy Queen. Obadiah Savage sells bootleg Elixir to humans looking to get high. Thrown together when they are accused of a crime they didn't commit, the pair must travel to the Fairy realm to clear their names.

This book was pretty fun. Mab is as capable as she can be as a human with no powers against fairies. The romance between her and Obadiah is predicable but the way the story plays out between Mabily and the Fairy Queen was creative and unexpected. Mabily is a relatable character and while I enjoyed her, the while book seemed very light and simple. If you're looking for fantasy with fairies that doesn't get too dark, this is a good example of it. This felt more like a YA novel; teasing at the darkness but playing it safe. As I'm used to darker fantasy, it left me wanting but the story is fun and interesting; leaving me wanting to know what could happen next. 3.7 out of 5.

For more of Lenni's reviews, check out Haunting Hypatia.

Lenni Reviews: "Uneasy Dreams: Dreamlands #3" by Felicitas Ivey

The siege on Nippon continues as the Trust has allied with the Egyptians and the lords of Nippon must band together to take back their lands. With the conflict intensifying, Mason tries to find a place under Tamazusa's protection and Keno struggles against the brutal nature of his ancestor as battle brings it seeping to the surface.

In this book, Keno and Samojiro are headed into "annoying couple" territory. This is a personal pet peeve of mine and I'm sure people won't agree with me; I have read many a series where the couple you've wanted to get together for the entire time keep sending the narrative to a screeching halt so they can bone as much as possible. This is not to say it ruins the book but I found myself skipping over their love scenes to get back to the war going on.

Other than that, I love how this book is not perfectly wrapped up for the next installment. As I received this series in a 4 book bundle (and reviewed one at a time so it didn't take forever to get these books reviewed for you guys), I was wondering if each book would have a self-contained antagonist or an overarching one. All these little threads of manipulation carry through all three books and their effects don't just disappear. Out of the three, this one is the most tense and ends with characters injured, separated, and floundering as to what to do next. The writing level and style carry through seamlessly and seeing all these different cultures in the Dreamlands is very cool! Very interesting overall. 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.