Lenni Reviews: "In the Midnight Room" by Laura McBride

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

Book-ended with the life of June Stein, this novel dives into Las Vegas in the 1950's and a casino called 'The Midnight Room.'

This book feels a lot like the times where I went into a real casino in Vegas and Atlantic City; glitz, glamour, sadness, and desperation. Including June, the lives of four very different women collide together over the course of a lifetime in this book and we follow some hauntingly poetic stories. I'm not really one for historical fiction and this book managed to suck me in and I had trouble putting the book down.

I do have to say some of the point of view changed had me confused but the story managed to sort itself out in a few paragraphs; particularly in the end when it's suddenly all from June's perspective but as it's her life that frames the entire narrative, it's forgivable. An excellent period piece and I recommend. 3.9 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Bones and Bourbon" by Dorian Graves

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

Retz is tasked with bringing some escaped exhibits for Lady Delight, a lamia who runs a menagerie of captured supernatural creatures. Lady Delight is a former acquaintance of Nalem, an entity who shares Retz's body and mind so he agrees to the mission not knowing his Retz's brother, Jarrod, has been hired by the escaped funaribi to protect them from Lady Delight. Retz and Jarrod have been estranged for 10 years and their reunion occurs under the pall of their conflicting missions as well as a horde of homicidal unicorns.

With all the stuff going on, this book is difficult to pin down. I get some Supernatural vibes (I haven't watched more than a couple episodes of that but even I could see the similarities) but it is a superficial connection that didn't take away from the story as a whole.

The characters are lively, well written, and have some great chemistry; particularly Retz and Nalem. The dynamics of having to share a body with some ageless entity of dubious morals is conveyed very well. Jarrod and his boyfriend Ferris have a great relationship and Jarrod is a great character who happens to be transgender instead of being transgender being the entire focus of this existence; as it should be. And with a relentless army of killer unicorns in the mix, this is a cool dark urban fantasy. I really enjoyed it. 3.9 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: “Imitatore” by A. Rose

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

Born with multiple magical abilities, Sophie knows she is destined to do great things. But when she meets Oliver, an Imitatore who has the gift to use her powers and amplify them, her destiny rushes headlong at her, upending her life and leaving her with few she can trust and the future of the world at stake.

This book encapsulates every trope of YA fiction: Very tell, don’t show, simple sentences, and a wayward protagonist. By ‘wayward’ I mean the plot seems to blow her along; not leaving her to make many decisions. I do appreciate the diverse cast; a dark-skinned main character and non-gendered costar. There’s some cool world building but this is absolutely geared for someone younger than myself. I still had fun reading it, though. 3 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Sheets" by Brenna Thummler

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

After her mother's death, Marjorie is holding down the family laundromat all by herself and raising her little brother as her father is still mired in his grief. She has typical outsider problems at school but she also has to deal with the conniving Nigel; who is after the laundromat to demolish the building and replace it with a resort. Feeling disconnected and helpless, things change for Marjorie when a ghost named Wendell sneaks into her shop.

This is a beautiful story about a young woman dealing with loss the best way she can. The laundromat is a perfect setting after such a deep shock since, after the death of a loved one, you do feel like you're spinning and being tossed about beyond your control; feeling transparent and lost, just floating through life.

Not too much time is spent on the "mean girls" schtick, as that can get old real fast. The idea of ghosts being actual sheets could be stupid if not for the amazing art. The whole book is in such a soothing palate, it's a pleasure to the eyes. Wendell and his friends are delightful as well but if I had to nitpick (and of course I do) this is another of those awesome graphic novels that feels like it ended too soon. I wanted to know more about everyone; even that dipshit Nigel: He of the Punchable Face.

Also, and this is spoiler territory here, something about the ending didn't quite sit right with me. SPOILERSSS!!!

Marjorie starts using Ghosturizer - basically ghost detergent/stain remover - to save her failing business, which seems a bit exploitive to me. I get that do misadventures it was Wendell's fault in part that Marjorie got into some extra trouble but unfettered access to otherworldly cleaning products? Seems highly suspect.

Other than that, awesome book. It's meant for kids but I recommend to anyone who needs a daily dose of DAWWWW!! 4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "That Blue Sky Feeling" Vol. 1 by Okura and Coma Hashii

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

High school student, Noshiro, is the outgoing type determined to get along with everyone. When he notices his classmate, Sanada, all by himself, Noshiro immediately tries to fix that; much to the stoic Sanada's dismay. But rumors of Sanada being gay have Noshiro's classmates telling him to stay away from Sanada. Undaunted, Noshiro makes it his mission to befriend Sanada, get their classmates to come around, understand his sexual preference, and possibly learn a little more about himself.

This manga is too damn cute. Despite the fact if you've read any manga ever you can see what's coming in the plot a mile away, Noshiro is so lovable and Sanada is so relatable, it's not so bad traveling down this road again and I can't wait for more. 4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Same Love" by Tony Correia

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

Upon finding out their son is gay, Adam's parents ship him off to a Christian camp and warn him they won't tolerate having a gay son. But while there, he falls for Paul and both teens must reconcile their faith with love in order to find happiness.

First off I gotta say, I'm Pagan and even I wish there were nicer Christians in this. From the parents to Randall, they're almost cartoonishly evil. Boys can't go shopping together? That means they're gay? How do you get clothes then?

Anyway, this is a quick story; which makes sense considering it takes place over a short period of time. It has the innocence and charm of a summer camp story without it feeling too much like a typical coming of age plot. I empathize with Paul's struggle and it's portrayed in a realistic way that doesn't overstay it's welcome. Despite being brief, the story does feel complete instead of rushed like some short stories can be. I can see a teen reading this and liking it and for me, it's a nice change from the quickie smut. 3 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Escape Velocity" Jason M. Hough

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

After the destruction of their ships, Captains Skyler Luiken and Gloria Tsandi with their crews are stranded within enemy compounds, scattered and separated with no escape and surrounded by the Scipio; having survived a huge attack, and now must find a way to find their comrades, defeat an armada, and get out alive.

Despite the flurry of characters, this is an interesting space opera with some high handed concepts that feel bigger than they really are. Other than my personal curiosity about the previous books in this series, this one stands alone just fine. It's enjoyable, the characters and writing kept me interested but not enough to get truly lost in it and I found myself easily distracted instead of engaged. It comes in, does its thing, then it leaves fulfilling its task. Not bad, though. 3 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "The Ghost, The Owl" by Franco and Sara Richard

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

One night, an owl spies the ghost of a young girl skipping across the swamp and goes to investigate. Despite the advice of his fellow owls, he decides to help the lost ghost figure out why she is lost and the mystery of how she died.

Despite being predictable, this is a beautifully drawn, sweet story. The art is a treat for the eyes; soft and flowing when it needs to be and crisp and scary when it needs to be. The detail is fantastic so, even though this is a pretty standard 'find out why the ghost died so they can move on' story, it's so pretty, it should be seen. 

The ending is a bit abrupt and I would say this is too dark for very young kids but I enjoyed it and give it a 3.9 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: "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: "Capsicum Head" by L.J. LaBarthe

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

This book follows the efforts of Pete and his lover Jon as they try to make their band Capsicum Head a success. Since their first gig was a failure, they are hesitant to try again.

And... That's pretty much all the conflict here. There's no battle of the bands type thing, no rangling owners to give them a chance just the two gigs and Pete and Jon being together. This is very much a slice of life story but a little too much; meaning it all comes off as too mundane. Jon and Pete are likable enough and obviously are hot for each other, the premise of a multi-racial gay couple is very interesting but it all came off as humdrum. I felt I was consistently waiting for something big to happen. Sadly left me unsatisfied despite the decent writing. 2.7 out of 5.

 

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: "Leo Loves Aries" by Anyta Sunday

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

Twins Theo and Leone have both lost their significant others to each other. Theo's girlfriend and Leone's boyfriend paired off and the twins decide to lick their wounds with school work and junk food; until their wedding invitation arrives in the mail. They both agree to show they've moved on by not only attending the wedding but choosing dates for each other. When Jamie Cooper applies to be their roommate, Theo thinks he's perfect for his sister but finds Jamie so infuriatingly amusing that their friendship deepens to something more.

As far as "gay for you" romances go, this one does it right. I've read too many of these where the straight guy has all these icky feelings about another man's naughty bits and has to get over that because he's attracted to a specific man. Here, Theo had dated only women in the past and considered himself hetero but Jamie as a person, sparks his interest. Theo doesn't stress about his orientation or how he can't understand being sexually attracted to another male; all he knows is he adores Jamie. This makes their pairing all the more genuine and it was easy to get invested in what's happening to them.

As for the rest of our cast of characters, they are all written very well so they feel real; flaws and all. The steamier scenes are placed perfectly within the narrative, despite the short courtship. You don't get the sense Theo and Jamie tumble around randomly just because there hasn't been a sex scene in a while. They make an adorable couple to follow on their journey and the ending is sweet and satisfying.

If I had a gripe, it would be some unexplored bits like Theo's fear of water and you don't get to know the ex's very well. I thought the water would come into play in the climax of the story and other than Theo's ex - Sam - being thoughtless, they don't get much back story. Those are VERY minor criticisms and didn't take away from my enjoyment of this book.

If "gay for you" is your thing and you want a fairly lighthearted M/M romance, I recommend this. Theo and Jamie are just all around fun to read. 4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "The Haunting of Timber Manor" by F. E. Feeley Jr.

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

Daniel Donnelly has sadly lost his parents in a terrible accident. He gets a phone call from his estranged aunt who tells him he is now heir to a fortune and a house called Timber Manor. On the way there, Daniel has to pull over in a huge storm and Sherriff Hale Davis - a native of the town near Timber Manor - helps him out. But the manor holds a dark and powerful secret that puts Daniel's life in great peril

While Daniel and Hale make a good couple and you're rooting for them, the novel makes a great ghost story. The tone is perfect for curling up in a blanket and reading this on a stormy night.It was good to have the story switch perspectives to get everyone's thoughts on what's happening but I feel the supernatural story development had more care put to it than the romantic development. Daniel and Hale have that insta-love thing going on that will bug you if that's an aspect of romances that bug you.

And can Francine get a spin-off series!? PLEASE!!

Giving this a 3.7 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: "Octavia Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation" by Damian Duffy and John Jennings

In this adaptation of Octavia Butler's groundbreaking story of a young Black woman thrust back in time to see her slave ancestors, you get a gripping and harrowing view of this tale.

Having not read the original, I can say that this is a hard story to get through. Butler's depiction of the life of slaves on a plantation in antebellum South is raw, unfiltered, and heartbreaking. And as our main character grapples with being treated like garbage by the same man who is intrinsic to her existence so she has to protect him? Yikes...

The art style is sketchy and raw; it really is perfect for this story. You feel every punch, every whip crack, every pejorative word. By the end you're almost relieved because it's so hard to deal with so much raw evil but it's part of our history and it's more important now than ever to be reminded so as not to head down the same path. I think Octavia Butler would be proud of this adaptation. 4.5 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: "Ten Count" volume 1 by Rihito Takarai

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tadaomi Shirotani works as a secretary for a CEO while suffering from germophobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. One day, his boss is nearly hit by a truck and a young man named Riku Kurose; who is a therapist, saves the man from being killed. Kurose notices Shirotani's condition and offers to help him work through it. Kurose has Shirotani make a list of 10 things to get over in order of discomfort from least to most. Shirotani is only able to come up with 9. They make a deal to meet regularly to work through the list then Shirotani will come up with that 10th item, but he finds he develops more than just a friendly attraction to Kurose.

Unlike a lot of yaoi manga with an M rating, this first volume is very innocent. Our two main characters meet, get to know each other, and slowly build what will likely be a deeper relationship. There's an author's note in the back expressing concern that readers will be disappointed with the leisurely pace but I like it. The art is beautiful, the writing on point, and I think I would like to see Shirotani and Kurose take their time so I can enjoy their story. 4.5 out of 5.

For more of Lenni's writing and reviews, head over to 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: Goldenfire by A. F. E. Smith

**Warning: This review may contain spoilers for book one; "Darkhaven" reviewed here.**

In this sequel to "Darkhaven," Ayla Nightshade is adjusting to being the new overlord of Mirrorvale, and being able to freely transform into her changer self; a fire-winged alicorn. She also has settled into her relationship with Tomas Caraway; the infamous Breakblade who is now a hero for saving Ayla's life in the first book. The conflict here is an assassin has been sent to kill Ayla and the secret that pistols can harm changers has managed to leak from the walls of Mirrorvale. Since Tomas is currently accepting new recruits into the Helm, the assassin could be among them.

Like the first book, this story revolves around the hunt for the true identity of a killer. Despite the repeated theme, the tension, character development, and pacing are well worth the read. In this second installment, we learn more about the cities surrounding Mirrorvale, the nature of changers, and the impact of guns being introduced into a fantastical, steampunkish (because there's airships and airships = steampunk, apparently). In addition, many books in a series get sappy and annoying when the romantic interests finally pair off but not here. The relationship between Ayla and Tomas is there but it doesn't take over or drag down the plot. It was refreshing to see the couple still retain their individuality, face conflict in their relationship, yet still remain a united force.

When the assassin is revealed and everything is wrapped up, it feels satisfying for the journey is took to get there. Each character's weaknesses and strengths are faced with grace in a well-built fantasy world and the concepts brought forth - such as the use of alchemy - leave the potential for interesting story avenues in the future. If there is a third novel in this series; I look forward to reading it.

If you like detailed world-building, fantasy creatures, and intriguing assassination plots, you will enjoy this book.

Check out Lenni’s site at atthequillsmercy.com