Lenni Reviews: "Sinless" by Sarah Tarkoff

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

Grace lives in a world where your sins are physically manifest on your body. Pretty people are good and bad people have been punished with physical deformities and are ostracised from society until they earn forgiveness. When she encounters a boy seemingly immune to Punishment, it starts a chain of events forcing her to face some rather ugly truths about the world she lives it.

While an awesome concept, it feels immature in execution. About halfway through the book, Grace comes off to me as stumbling over the line between "flawed character" and "spoiled brat" so I found her hard to relate to; even as a YA novel. As things go on, (spoiler maybe??) she turns into the Queen of Being Kidnapped as this happens WAY too often in order to get her to the next plot point. 

It's a good thing this is essentially told by an older character because I am way more interested in adult Grace than teenage Grace. I almost want to read the next one with that want in mind. Despite not being thrilled with the protagonist, I still wanted to know what happened next enough to read through to the end. 2.7 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: "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: "Pathogen" by Jessica L. Webb

 

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

In this second entry into the Kate Morrison Mystery Series, Dr. Morrison is tapped to solve a mystery surrounding a deadly viral outbreak in a rich little town called Hidden Valley. Working with her girlfriend; Sargent Andy Wyles, Kate scrambles to simultaneously treat her patients, find out how to stop the virus, deal with demanding rich people, and navigate her new relationship with Andy.

This is not the type of book I usually pick up as medical thrillers just aren't my thing but this time I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. I found the collection of smart, capable people to be a relief. There are ill meaning characters and a pretty annoying bully but nobody working to solve this problem is grossly incompetent. Sometimes a stupid character will be used for plot purposes but not here.

Andy and Kate are a true power couple; quick thinking, intuitive, and well-developed but I do feel I would have needed to read the first book to get the full impact of what happens between them. This is especially evident in the ending (which I will not spoil) where the combined events and stresses of both books impact the ending. And as this is an LGBT novel, there is a little smut but the soul of this book is the medical mystery. It may not be my usual fare but I enjoyed it nonetheless. 3.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Lost Boys" vol 1 by Tim Seeley

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is best for mature audiences

In the follow up to the 1987 movie, we meet the Emmerson Brothers Sam and Michael. After defeating the vampire monster, Max and his buddied, the brothers thought their lives would go back to normal. But a coven of female vampires calling themselves the Blood Belles targets them for revenge and their lives are once again overturned with blood and violence.

Before we get into it, I have to admit I was not the biggest fan of the original movie. I didn't dislike it but I didn't feel the need to watch it more than once; which always shocks people who learn I write vampire fiction. After refreshing my memory, I found this book enjoyable. It picks up right where the movie left off, ups the stakes (no pun intended) and tells an entertaining story. The color palette and art are perfect for this genre to keep the mood haunting and dark. The character Believer had me rolling my eyes with his over the top speeches but otherwise, this book is cool. If you like vampires and love the movie, I think this is worth the read. I give it a solid 3.8 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Wounded Pride" by Remmy Duchene and B.L. Morticia

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

Brian Daystar is celebrating the opening of his youth center for at-risk kids but notices a considerable lack of support from his country music star boyfriend, Corey. When Corey finally bothers to call Brian, he's drunk and not alone. Deciding to end it, Brian takes a vacation to New York to face Corey while staying with Renford Kline; a retired attorney considering becoming a law professor. Brian is attracted to Renford but Ren's experience with men has never gone beyond college experimenting. Both are attracted but Brian's past traumas and Ren's reluctance to get feelings involved may keep them from the happily ever after they have been wishing for.

First off? Ren, 39 isn't 'old man' territory. I could see if he was pushing 55 (seeing as he's retiring) but, no.

This is one of those romances where you think there would be more time spent on building the relationship between the main pair before they hop into bed but nope. Not really a criticism on my part; just saying the writing and tone made me expect that. As is, the flaw in this standard romance cycle is I feel some of the character elements could have been explored more; like Brian's pretty dark past and Redford's previous attraction to women. It doesn't make the book bad at all. In fact, I find it sweet and the smutty bits are written well. But those deep personal issues could have used more attention. A fun romp even if I was left a bit wanting; 3.7 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: "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: "Cross My Heart" by Catt Ford

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

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

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

Lenni Reviews: "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.

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: "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: "Oria’s Gambit" by Jeffe Kennedy

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

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

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

Don't get me wrong; Lonen and Oria have good chemistry and the overall story kept me interested enough to not only finish it but to want to know what happens in the next installment. If you like fantasy in your romance, this isn't a bad offering despite being pretty short and ending on a cliffhanger. 3.7 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Goodnight Batcave" by Dave Croatto and Tom Richmond

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

In this parody of Goodnight Moon, Batman is lounging in his cave when some bad guys show up. He beats them up, then goes to bed. The whole rogue's gallery is there and the character design calls back to the Batman: The Animated Series character designs.

This book is clever and funny. The joke works better if you're familiar with Goodnight moon and I read this to my kid (who loves comics) and she laughed and did want a copy of her own.

For a book put out by MAD Magazine, it's pretty kid friendly. The art is in their typical style but there's nothing in it I would feel hesitant to show a kid who is already familiar with comics. There's a justifiable amount of violence (superheroes don't tend to cuddle the villains to jail) and I think this will give both kids and adults a few good chuckles. I read this on my Kindle but I think this is worth a hardcover purchase if you love Batman and love MAD. 4.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "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.