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: "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: "Rainbow Gap" by Lee Lynch

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

This sweeping novel follows Jaudon Vicker and Berry Garland's relationship over the course of 15 years. Set in Florida during the 1950's and 1960's, the book starts from their childhood when the classically girly girl Berry protects the boyish Jaudon from bullying classmates. We are along on their journey through college, Vietnam, even the budding LGBT community all while they stay bonded in a deep and powerful relationship.

You can feel in every word how much love was put into this book. The setting is real enough that you feel transported back in time and the level of detail becomes hypnotic. However, this book also gets bogged down in those details and the actual story slows to a crawl. When the plot moves, dear gods this book is beautiful. Otherwise, you feel every inch of those 342 pages. It's worth it though to get the full impact of Jaudon and Berry's journey. 3.9 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Conflict Management" by Rachel White

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

When Morgan's boss, Lawrence, makes a pass at him one too many time, Morgan tells him he will sue Law if he doesn't knock it off. Law obliges and Morgan can finally have normal workdays. That is until Law's brother ends up in the hospital after a suicide attempt, Morgan learns his boss is more than just a former creeper. As they get more friendly, Law's pet project - a merger with another company - has major problems and Morgan may have to be the whistle blower that costs Law his job.

Morgan and Law are so delightfully awkward, I found myself identifying with them right away. White doesn't make her characters overly perfect or overly evil; as evidenced my Morgan's ill-fated relationship with Harvey and the way Law's brother Christopher's schizophrenia is handled. Racism and mental illness can be tricky to include without being preachy or over-exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness. The realistic way the characters are presented made reading through this book enjoyable.

Since the romance takes its time, this is not a book peppered with sex scenes. The focus is more on Morgan and Law's feelings for each other and how the mess going on in the company impacts their professional and private relationships. The smut IS there so this book earns its 18+ status.

My only real gripe would be with Morgan's roommate, Anita. She's the only character who came off cartoonish to me. Luckily she isn't as distracting as a character like that can get. She says her spiel then the plot resumes.

Without blithering on further, I enjoyed the premise and the slow burn romance. I give it a solid 3.7 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: "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: "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: "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: "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: "A Kind of Honesty" by Lane Hayes

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

Tim Chalmers is a drummer for an up and coming band named Spiral. The stress of his new fame and recent tabloid fodder breakup with a supermodel sends him to a dive bar for what he thinks is a one night stand. Turns out the man; Carter Hamilton-Temple, is a friend of a friend and Tim runs into him at a birthday party. As one night turns into three then four, both men find themselves wanting more but the stress of Tim's fame and Carter's painful past dealings with bisexual men keep them from taking the next step.

First the good stuff. The writing starts off strong and sets a great scene. Despite it being from Tim's perspective, you can glean a lot of what Carter's feelings are just from Tim's observations; as they are detailed and well written. Tim is just the right amount of sassy and Carter has this reserved strength and power that makes him likable and fun.

The "bad" stuff. The band is TOO good. Dropping little bombs like breaking The Beatles records felt kinda silly; like Bella being the most beautiful girl in the world. Spiral could have easily been a hugely popular band without making them seem overly perfect.

As for the relationship, this is another case of the conflict persisting because the plot demands that the characters don't offer any reasonable explanation. I think Carter gave up too easily after it was made clear to him that Tim's ex-was a manipulative liar. Yes, Tim has other issues but I feel Carter jumped the gun and could have been as understanding as he was presented at the beginning.

Overall, not terrible but not great either. The writing was OK, the setup was OK, and eve the sex scenes were OK... All of it just OK. Nothing stood out to me as being particularly memorable but I did enjoy it so 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: "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: "Iron Goddess" by Dharma Kelleher

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

Reformed ex-con Shea Stevens has left a family history of crime behind her. Now the owner of Iron Goddess bike shop, Shea is content to build custom bikes, run her business, and enjoy her new relationship with her girlfriend. Things get complicated when not only is her shop robbed; an employee is shot, and her sister, Wendy, shows up after a decade of estrangement begging for help because her daughter has been kidnapped. Old ties come back to cause Shea much more trouble than just a couple stolen bikes.

I gotta say, this book was badass. There are straight, gay, and trans characters and they are people first. Their gender or sexuality are not used as tools to advance the plot, it is simply part of who they are as a complete character; not sterotypes at all.

Even though the motorcycle gangs were over the top with their racism, sexism, and at times an overt lack of logic, I'm not going to claim any knowledge of gang culture to call the book out on its portrayal of them. Overall, Shea was a believable character making the best of a shitty situation and everything works out as best she can manage without getting killed. A non-stop ride from start to finish, I give this book a 4 out of 5.

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

Lenni Reviews: "The Devouring God" by James Kendley

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

Ghost hunters Takuda, Mori, and Suzuki are sent to investigate some mysterious and disturbing calls made to a local mental health facility. As the case goes on, they notice the clues come to them way too easy. Bodies start piling up all leading to a mysterious and evil artifact.

This book does a great job setting an atmosphere of tension and mystery. The writing is competent enough to give you a real sense of Japan (in 1993). It was intriguing to see the characters change the longer they do this treacherous job; as if corrupted by the very evil they are hunting. Our three main characters work off of each other well in a delicate balance of annoyance and loyalty. Endo - the villain - talks like The Architect from The Matrix; pontificating in a way that even makes other characters snap at him to get to the point. I gotta say, Endo is MUCH less annoying and makes WAY more sense than The Architect so it wasn't completely painful to read his little speeches.

On the whole, this book is written well enough that I didn't feel I was missing information from the first book in this series. The ending is left quite obviously open for a new story so while the immediate problem was solved; you're left curiously unsatisfied. The over-arching evil is still out there. If I come across the next one, I'm intrigued enough to want to pick it up as this one was an enjoyable, supernatural horror. 4.5 out of 5.

For more reviews, check out Haunting Hypatia.

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: "Behave" by Andromeda Romano-Lax

"Behave" is a fictional biography of Rosalie Rayner Watson; the wife and assistant of John B. Watson. Together they carried out The Little Albert Experiment; which studied classical conditioning in human beings. The novel starts with her time at Vassar and goes through Rosalie meeting John, becoming involved with him, and the experiment itself.

Though lovingly written, it was difficult to get fully into this book. The feel of it is poetic and lush but the main character seems so distant and cold it's hard to relate to her. It is not the writing at all because some of the descriptions are very detailed; even beautiful at times. But yikes, it was hard to pick this book back up if I put it down. And if Rosalie was distant, John was flat out unpleasant. You don't have to love babies but his flippant attitude towards his test subjects was grating. Despite being a pair of smart, capable characters; reading about them experimenting on these kids was distressing. Or maybe that's just me, I'm not a fan of making babies cry.

Overall, if reading about what Rosalie may have been like interests you and you are a fan of good writing, this book will please you. It's a solid 4 out of 5 since I just couldn't get over my dislike of the two main characters. 

For more reviews and various hi-jinks, check out Lenni's blog at Haunting Hypatia.

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

Lenni Reviews: Song of Song by L. J. LaBarthe

Song of Song is a science fiction romance by L. J. LaBarthe. Set in the far future where humanity has expanded beyond Earth, this book stars Dex (short for Dex742A-GR23), a genetically engineered man called a Boxie, and his AI cat, Manx, fleeing their home in search of freedom. Dex has been created to serve one purpose and if he deviates from that purpose, he will be killed. Once he and his fellow Boxies have been ordered to turn in their AI companions, Dex is too attached to his friend and decides to flee. While in outer space, Chen Lau Song is a fugitive fleeing the oppressive government on a sentient and evolving ship called Fa'a. The government wants to use Fa'a as a weapon but as the genius who created her, Song decided to run with his ship to make sure she couldn't be used as a tool or a template for other warships. Dex and Song meet when Fa'a is damaged and Song commandeers the ship on which Dex is hiding. Their mutual desire for freedom is what brings them together just as the despot seeking control of Fa'a and the entire galaxy; Cory Lewis Atticus Melvile (you can tell he's bad because he's way over named...) plots and schemes - willing to go to any lengths to capture them.

The sci-fi world built in this novel is very well done even if the characters are a bit cliche. You have the eccentric genius in Song, the man who wants out of his slotted life in Dex, and the evil businessman in Cory. It really is the setting and the overarching plot that sets this book apart; making it more a sci-fi with romantic elements than the other way around. If you're looking for the emphasis to be all on the budding relationship between Song and Dex, you may be let down. But the story as a whole is very entertaining. Manx and Fa'a are adorable characters and the rest of the cast and crew are likable characters fleshed out just enough so you care about what happens to them. Except for Cory... He's a twit.

If this story could have been fleshed out some more, it would have been even more fun. The universe created here has so much potential and I hope LaBarthe has more planned for it. I mean, come on. You CANNOT have a character named Shafaquat: Sultana of Agony and Cleverness with no back story! I can see an entire book about just her, easily.

If you like your sci-fi with a sweet little M/M romance, Song of Song will live up to your expectations. While some adult situations are present, they're not overwhelming and I had a great time reading this book.