Review: “Souljacker: A Lily Bound Novel” by Yasmine Galenorn

A review by Amanda.

Lily O’Connell is a Fae woman living in Seattle’s Blood Night District. The Fae, along with Weres and vampires, revealed their existence to humans several decades ago, mostly to everyone’s benefit. Lily’s closest friends are a witch named Dani and a human called Nate, as well as her cat Whisky who isn’t exactly what he seems. She runs a private salon called Lily Bound that allows her to feed her succubus appetite without killing anyone. When a prominent, married, Were-client is murdered in her home, which is also her place of business, the trouble has only just begun. Now she must contend with the wrath of a grieving widow, as well as the shock of discovering that the killer is not finished yet – and Lily and her friends may be on his list of future targets. Is teaming up with a private investigator, who also happens to be a chaos demon, a good idea or a recipe for disaster?

This was the first book in the Lily Bound series. The most interesting aspect of this story, without giving spoilers, was the circumstances surrounding the murders. The world-building of human and non-human society was well done and made sense. The characters were very superficial; what you see is what you get, with perhaps one exception. There were no hidden agendas or suspicious motives anywhere, which was a bit disappointing. Since this was the first in a series that, of course, may change in later books. The overall plot was predictable for anyone who has read an urban fantasy series. Fans of Yasmine Galenorn’s Otherworld and Indigo Court series may enjoy Souljacker, as well as those who like Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series, and Seanan Maguire’s October Daye series.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “Windsinger: A Darkhaven Novel” by A.F.E. Smith

Review: “Windsinger: A Darkhaven Novel” by A.F.E. Smith

A review by Vanessa.

Again I would like to thank the author for the opportunity to review this series. This is the third installment of the Darkhaven series, the first of which I reviewed in July 2015, and the second in Jan 2016.

Ayla Nightshade is the overlord of Darkhaven, the ruler of the city of Arkannen and all of Mirrorvale, mother of three small children, and wife to her captain of the Helm, Tomas Caraway. It is a lot to balance, especially when she is the only known Changer left in Mirrorvale, and her enemies are many. But she hopes to have one less enemy, that of the neighboring kingdom who has been the most recent trouble for her, Sol Kardis. After fending off attacks by their assassins a few years earlier, all Ayla really wants is to find a peace treaty with them and move on with living her life and helping her people. She wants to make Arkannen a thriving center for trade and commerce and give all of her people the chance at peaceful and prosperous lives. Indeed, Arkannen will be receiving a marvel of new technology from their neighboring kingdom of Parovia. The Windsinger is a giant airship which Ayla hopes will inspire her people in their own technological advances.

Tomas Caraway is happy to be the father of Ayla’s two small daughters and their adopted son Marlon. Though he still finds doubt in his ability to lead the Helm, he has been successful at recruiting some of the best and most loyal to aid him in protecting Ayla and his family. And he will need them the most when the emissary sent by Sol Kardis dies at the hands of a poison that seems like it could only have come from Ayla herself. Ree, Penn, and Zander have been serving in Arkannen since the events of several years past. Ree is a respected female member of the Helm. Despite his family’s hatred of Captain Caraway, Penn has proven to be a loyal Helmsman as well. But Zander, discovered as the son of a prominent Sol Kardis councilor, didn’t make it into the inner circle of trust or the Helm. But he serves as a fifth ring weapons master, and he has no desire to go home. With the death of the emissary from Sol Kardis, all of these loyal friends will have their own part to play in keeping Ayla and her young family safe, and protecting their home of Mirrorvale. Meanwhile, Tomas has some plans of his own and a spy that might help him along the way. There is treachery within the very halls of Darkhaven, maybe closer than even Tomas realizes. Can they avert war and disaster and find the real culprit in time?

Masterful world building abounds in this third installment to the Darkhaven series. The characters as always are multifaceted and engaging. Ayla’s strength and leadership is not at all hampered by her decision to marry Tomas Caraway. They are as always a team, where he is happy to support her as a ruler and she relies on his support and wisdom as any wise ruler would. Her physical abilities as a Changer make her the bigger, stronger, and more imposing character, but that is not a detriment to Tomas or any other character in the story. Tomas is a wonderfully flawed but lovable strength in Ayla’s life. Ree as the first and best female Helmsman has her struggles. As readers we get to admire her determination and independence as someone who is simply human and makes the best of the life she has made for herself. Even Penn and Zander get their perspective in the story, and we get to learn more about them. Penn is struggling with his separation from his family, and Zander’s experiences as essentially an immigrant in Mirrorvale are as relevant to our own world as any in the book. All of these weave together in a wonderfully fantastic read that does not disappoint.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “Mask of Shadows” by Linsey Miller

Review: “Mask of Shadows” by Linsey Miller

A review by Amanda.

Sallot Leon is a gender-fluid teen who has survived by fighting for money and robbing nobles. A chance encounter with a noble lady leads Sal to an exciting and dangerous new life. While robbing the intriguing Lady Elise, Sal discovers a poster advertising auditions for a position with the Queen’s Left Hand – her elite team of guards and assassins. Anyone may try to join the auditioners; they need only bring proof of their skills.  This may be the only way for Sal to exact vengeance on the Lords and Ladies responsible for the destruction of Sal’s homeland.

The main character Sal was clever, sneaky, and incredibly self-aware. The gender-fluidity was written with care and grace. The story was entirely told from Sal’s perspective, and Sal instructed inquiring minds to address them based on their appearance – “she” and “her” when she was dressed in feminine attire, “he” and “him” when he was wearing masculine clothes, and “they” and “them” when their clothes were neutral. This may seem confusing, but the character was written in such a way that gender truly did not matter. Gender fluidity was regarded as an oddity in this book, and Sal does express frustration with bigoted behaviors, but most of the characters accepted Sal as-is after a simple explanation about preferred pronouns. Readers got to know Sal as just “Sal”; an intelligent and shy person with a morbid sense of humor, who got flustered when romance was involved. Sal was quite likable, if stubbornly single-minded, and readers will find themselves emotionally invested.

The supporting characters were varied and had their own agendas and agency, although several could benefit from more definition. The plot moved at a quick and steady pace, with a lot of action nicely balanced with drama and romance. The world-building was fairly simplistic which was not a detriment to the story, but more details would have been welcome.  Fans of Sarah J Maas’s Throne of Glass series, or Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series may enjoy this book.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “One Piece: Skypiea vol. 31-33” by Eiichiro Oda

Review:

A review by Hannah.

One Piece was started in 1997 and is continuing today. There are 81 volumes to date, which is why this series of reviews will be broken up into three volume books. From now on there will be spoilers for what happens in the rest of the series. You have been warned…

Eneru is trying to destroy the Sky Islands, in search of the endless Vearth. Vearth is what the Sky Islanders call earth or as we call “dirt.” There is only one person who can stop him and that is Luffy. Eneru has the power of lightning and mantra. Luffy is made of rubber and is a bit of an air head. Eneru never really had a chance.

There is a flashback about why the Shandians are fighting the Sky Islanders. Basically, they come from the island Jaya. The Knock Up Stream sent the Shandians into the air, ringing a giant golden bell all the way. The bell alerted the Sky Islanders, and they found the biggest collections of Vearth anyone on the Cloud Sea had ever seen. The Kami at the time quickly took over the island, kicked the altitude sickened Shandians out, and turned the former Jaya Island into Upper Yard. There has been war ever since.

The crew leaves Skypeia while running away from the natives in true pirate fashion. They had retrieved a bunch of gold from the ruins and thought that the natives would be angry with them for this. That’s not true, the natives haven’t assigned a worth to gold. It’s just shiny and yellow, apparently.

The Straw Hats land back in the Blue Sea. They meet another pirate crew and take part in the Davy Back Fight. This fight takes place in three rounds. A boat race, a ball game of sorts, and a brawl between the captains. The winner of each round gets to take a crew member of the opposing crew as their new crew. Cheating abounds and the crew lose Chopper in the first round. But they get him back in the second. Volume 33 leaves off with Luffy facing the other captain in a boxing match, declaring that he will win even if it kills him.

Overall I have always found the Skypiea arc to be kind of pointless and too coincidental for my taste. They only show up because Luffy is self centered and wanted to go up there. Then they just so happen to arrive at the same time that Eneru is putting the finishing touches on his “destroy everything” plan, and the civil war that has been raging for 200 years happens to kindof involve this guy they met a few days ago. Most of the other story arcs are entwined with the crew in a way that makes the what happens seem very important. This arc is more about setting things up for the future.

This is my last review of the One Piece arcs. If I haven’t convinced you of the great and wonderful adventure that is One Piece, then you are losing out. If you feel that it is too intimidating (it’s been around for twenty years), all I can say is that the effort is worth it. Watching these characters grow stronger and closer over the years has been a true delight.

A few things that you will miss if you do not continue the story: Robin’s secret and terrible past, Luffy’s family, a cyborg, a living skeleton, zombies,the crew gets separated, Amazons, the biggest war between marines and pirates that the world has ever seen, Zoro cutting a ship in half, Sanji flying, Nami manipulating weather, Ussop using killer plants, Chopper’s monster form, Robin summoning giant legs to crush everything in her path, and Luffy changing gears.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Overall series rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “Heartless” by Marissa Meyer

A review by Amanda.

Lady Catherine Pinkerton is the only child of the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove in the kingdom of Hearts. At seventeen years old, Cath know exactly what she wants to do with her life: open a bakery with her friend Mary Ann, where she can showcase her baking talents and indulge her love of creating delectable desserts. Unfortunately, the Marchioness has a much loftier goal in mind for her daughter. Cath has caught the eye of the king of Hearts and could be the next queen if she plays her cards right…

Strange things are afoot in Hearts, with attacks from a legendary creature frightening the citizens. The king is a short, pleasant fellow, if prone to giggles and lacking decisiveness. The king’s new fool, Jest, is handsome and mysterious and Cath finds herself drawn to him, much to her consternation. Cath must decide if she can risk everything her parents want for her in order to follow her own path.

Heartless was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland and it absolutely did it justice. The tone was as whimsical as the original, with familiar characters popping up in unexpected ways. It was meant to be an homage to Carroll’s Wonderland and the respect and admiration shine through clearly. Cath was clever, ambitious, and occasionally naive and single-minded. She is both relatable and likable. She was torn between wanting to please her parents and living the life of her dreams. While she was drawn to Jest immediately there wasn’t a feeling of instant love, which can cause some readers to lose interest in a story. The recognizable characters felt true to their original counterparts while adding more depth and history. Fans of fairy tale retellings will enjoy this story, as well as Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Cycle series and short stories. Heartless appears to be a standalone, although there is room for Cath’s story to continue.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “Review of Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (Charley Davidson #11) by Darynda Jones”

Review of Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (Charley Davidson #11) by Darynda Jones

A review by Amanda.

This book is the eleventh in the Charley Davidson series, and contains spoilers from previous books. I received this ebook for free from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

New and shocking information about both Charley’s and Reyes’ origins came to light in book ten, The Curse of the Tenth Grave. But our snarky, caffeine-addicted heroine is still as plucky as ever. She is quick with the quips and sarcastic remarks, immensely loyal to her closest friends and family, and determined to save the world in her own, stubborn way. One of Reyes’ godly brothers has been trapped in the god glass, but that leaves one on the loose to hunt them down. With her infant daughter safely hidden away, Charley is free to focus on defeating her enemies, investigate for her PI clients, and sidestep the limitations her husband tries to place on her, for her safety. Oh, and dodge the angels sent to watch her after she threatened Jehovah.

With every new discovery regarding Charley’s distant past, I half expect that her personality will do an about-face. It is always a pleasant surprise when she retains everything that makes her Charley – her sassy, hilarious remarks, unwavering commitment to her loved ones, passion for Reyes, and her willingness to risk her own life to do what has to be done. That she manages to stay true to herself while also continuing to grow is a testament to the author’s talent in developing her characters in a realistic manner. The series is very much character driven, meaning readers will read book after book because of Charley herself, no matter what cases she is working on, or what is happening in the supernatural parts of her life. The supporting characters are just as integral, and exhibit just almost as much growth.

As much as I enjoyed this story, there was one aspect that disappointed. The main men in Charley’s life, namely Reyes and Ubie, continue to issue orders, even resorting to manipulation on occasion. They both hide their reasons for their demands, ostensibly for her safety, and get frustrated when she doesn’t listen. Aside from the fact that neither of these men seem to trust Charley with relevant information, it seems unlikely that two people who have known Charley for her entire life would actually expect her to comply without question. Reyes and Ubie should both know better, especially so late in the series. Reyes has fallen under the “protective male protagonist” stereotype several times before, as has Ubie, and it never works in their favor. This might be a more upsetting trend, were it not for Charley’s habit of calling them out on their behavior and her tendency to do what she wants anyway. This could be an intentional character flaw, especially for Reyes, since he is otherwise pretty close to perfect. Their banter and head-butting disagreements are still entertaining. Hopefully he will eventually grow past the need to protect Charley in this particular way.

I enjoyed this book just as much as the rest of the series and look forward to continuing with book twelve!

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “One Piece: Skypiea vol. 28-30” by Eiichiro Oda

One Piece: Skypiea vol. 28-30

A review by Hannah.

One Piece was started in 1997 and is continuing today. There are 81 volumes to date, which is why this series of reviews will be broken up into three volume books. From now on there will be spoilers for what happens in the rest of the series. You have been warned…

The battle for Upper Yard has started. There are 54 warriors (including himself) in the Kami Eneru’s army; there are 20 Shandian warriors and 7 Strawhats. How many will be standing in three hours? According to Eneru, who has the power of Mantra, there will be five warriors.

Luffy, Zoro, Chopper, and Robin are headed for the legendary city of El Dorado, which used to be part of Jaya. Sanji, Usopp, and Nami are sailing the Going Merry out of Upper Yard with the injured Ganfor. Luffy gets swallowed by a giant snake.

After meeting with the Going Merry, Conis learns of Eneru’s ultimate plan for Sky Island. She must warn the citizens and the Shandian to evacuate. No one wants to believe her, but with the help of the White Berets, the people start to leave.

These volumes honestly make a better anime than manga. There is a lot of fighting with a lot of different characters. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who is fighting who and how. It looks amazing, but it can get a little confusing.

My biggest pet peeve with these volumes is that Robin is not as big of a badass as she could be. When she was Ms. All Sunday, she incapacitated the Straw Hat crew single-handedly without moving. She was a partner to Sir Crocodile, a former Shichibukai. She reads a language that has been outlawed for goodness sake. Now, she can’t win a fight without taking a ton of damage. Admittedly that is the Straw Hat way, but I really wish her opponent was more impressive.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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