Review: “The Smoke Thief” by Shana Abé

Review: “The Smoke Thief” by Shana Abé

A review by Vanessa.

This book was one from my personal library of favorites purchased some time ago. Always nice to go back and read a favorite.

Rue is a very good thief. She moves with impunity throughout 18th century London, because of course, no one would suspect a woman of being able to pull off such daring jewel heists as have been attributed to the infamous “Smoke Thief.” What the world at large does not know about the thief or the lady, is that she is something even more than anyone could suspect… she is drakon. They are a race unto themselves, hiding in the world of man as aristocracy, able to Turn to a form of smoke and mist, and then to their true dragon form at will. But Rue was not born into the welcoming embrace of the full-blooded family. She was born Clarissa Rue Hawthorne, a dark haired half-blood outsider within the world of her fair-haired and inhumanly beautiful tribe, including the dashingly handsome young heir. On the morning of her 17th birthday, Rue took her own fate into her hands and faked her death so that she could leave her tribe behind and make her own life.

Christoff, the Marquess of Langford, is the Alpha. He was a bored young rake, but now he is a blindingly handsome and commanding man with his father’s title; and a real problem on his hands. The Smoke Thief is gadding about London, presenting a threat of exposure leaving stories about a thief who can transform to smoke. So he lures the thief out with a display of the Langford diamond and to his surprise he finds… Rue. A female. One who can Turn, as no other female has been able to for the last four generations. Her ability makes her the female Alpha, and by the laws of their tribe they are mates, but it’s her strength and beauty that make Kit want her for his own; before someone else can claim her. Rue doesn’t want a forced marriage of obligation based on tribe law. The Langford diamond has been taken by someone, and she knows who, so she works a plan to stay free of Lord Langford in exchange for helping to find it. But Kit has a plan of his own, and he is not above seducing Rue into his way of thinking. Can the famed Smoke Thief escape with her heart?

This book and series are one of my favorites, and I’m quite happy to have a reason to re-read. Not only because the storyline is fantastic, and the world building is impressive, but Shana Abé’s writing is just beautiful as well. Even the prologue is poetically and starkly beautiful, right from the beginning.  Her word choice and the flow of her prose is just masterful, and a great pleasure to read. Add to that her strength in creating dramatic, multi-faceted characters and you will see why I couldn’t put the book down. This series is an interesting mix of historical, and fantastical, where a race of dragons live their lives in 18th century London. The ancient history of their people comes into play as well within this book and throughout the series, and it never disappoints. Abé is amazing at weaving together all the best aspects of a great historical romantic fiction with the specific fascination that fantastic, magical, and legendary creatures bring to any story. I would highly recommend this book and the entire series to any readers. The romance is the main focus of the stories, but it is one among many great aspects, and it is utterly seductive in all the best ways. Worth the read, and the re-read.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “Bannerless” by Carrie Vaughn

A review by Amanda.

I read this book for free as part of the Prime First program, offered to those with Amazon Prime memberships.

Bannerless is a post-apocalyptic tale, set along the west coast one hundred years after the Fall of civilization as we know it. Communities have been formed, run by committees, and populated with people who know the value of hard work and family. Several family units live together in households, working together to make their household prosperous. Every household works for the good of the community, with quotas to fill. Intentionally surpassing quotas and hoarding goods is illegal. Most technology has been forgotten, in favor of a precious few that would make rebuilding easier. One such item was the birth control implant. Households must earn banners to show that they can provide for a child. If someone has a child without a banner, they and their entire household will face grave consequences.

Enid is a twenty seven year old woman who has just started a household with three others. She works as an investigator, traveling to different communities as needed to settle disputes and investigate reports of bannerless pregnancies and suspicious deaths. Investigators also assign punishments as they see fit, and are looked upon with fear and wariness. Nevertheless, Enid is proud of her position and enjoys the travel as much as enforcing the laws, ensuring that everything is fair and just. When she and her partner, Tomas, get a message regarding a suspicious death in a nearby town, she is eager to get down to business. Upon arrival, however, things are clearly not what they seem and Enid’s job may be harder than she had imagined.

The idea of a post-apocalyptic world is not a new one but this author brought interesting elements into an established genre and made it feel new. The idea of earning the right to have children is also not a new idea but it is intriguing when combined with other aspects of the world building. Enid is a solid character, devout in her beliefs. She believes strongly in doing whatever needs to be done to keep things fair and balanced for everyone. The book goes back and forth between the present and Enid’s past, leading to the mystery that starts the story.

Although this book had potential, it was a bit of a disappointing read. Enid, who is our protagonist and narrator, is not a deep character. She is predictable, even during exciting moments. The majority of the supporting characters are even more shallow and less interesting. The plot is mediocre, with the mystery being the only thing propelling it forward. There are a few surprises that may keep a reader interested, and world the author has built is worth more exploration, but the overall story is mediocre.

The author has an urban fantasy series, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, which I greatly enjoy. She also has several fantasy standalones, including Steel, Voices of Dragons, and Discord’s Apple, which I highly recommend.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “The Gender Game” by Bella Forrest

Review: “The Gender Game” by Bella Forrest

A review by Vanessa.

I purchased this book from Amazon after an advertisement linked me to it and the synopsis seemed interesting.

In a world where your gender rules your fate, Violet Bates is happy being a woman born in Matrus, where the females rule the government. Violet doesn’t know what exactly caused the great war that brought such destruction upon them, but everyone knows why the surviving populace living in the only fertile mountainous area left, split into two different ruling factions. Men had proven to be monstrous, and violent, and had already brought about the eradication of their previous way of life. Women thought it was time for females to lead. The men disagreed, and the majority of the women left, with those men who agreed, to form a separate government in the flat lands beyond the toxic river. Peace reigns in Matrus; power and masculinity reigns in Patrus.

Even though 19-year-old Violet committed a crime that put her in jail until her upcoming 21st birthday, she was better off than in Patrus where women were no more than property. Still, when her brother was marked at an early age as unfit to reside in Matrus, she loved him too much to see him condemned and tried to smuggle him across the river. She failed, and he was taken away. Now all she wants is to get through the rest of her sentence without trouble. But fate has other plans when Violet’s scuffle with another prisoner ends in womanslaughter. The Queen has made Violet an offer: help with a secret mission to recover something that was stolen, or face death as punishment. The mission comes with a heavy price. Namely, marriage to the Queen’s spy in Patrus. If she succeeds, she might just get the chance to see her brother again. But first she must survive having no rights, and no bodily autonomy. Still, it’s not all bad. Violet has always loved the thrill of physical combat, which is outlawed in Matrus. But in Patrus she is drawn to a lean handsome fighter who serves as a warden for the government her new scientist husband works for. Things just aren’t what they seemed to her before, and she finds herself torn between her mission and her heart.

The classic futuristic dystopian genre gets an interesting twist in this book. Focusing on the gender dichotomy as the source of the main conflict is an all too familiarly painful, and eerily possible, future. The turns the story takes are expertly executed, and will definitely keep the reader engaged. Violet, the main character, is a highly relatable lead to the story. Her personal journey is particularly captivating, as she discovers more about the world outside of her own experience. A rather large flaw in the world building, however, is the complete lack of acknowledgment of what happens to those who would be transgendered, non-gendered, or outside of the societal expectations for sexual orientation. Considering that this world is supposed to be the future fate of our own world, it is insanely disappointing that such a large part of humanity is simply not addressed. I have to hope that the great potential for what could have been a fascinating conflict within this world will be covered in future books. That being said, it has been a very long time since a book has actually kept me up all night to finish it. And though the prose could be just a little bit stiff at times, it flowed just right in all the places that mattered the most; the first moments of Violet’s real self-discovery, the height of the romantic tension, and the shocking twist of the story’s climax. I will definitely continue on in this series.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Ride the Storm (Cassandra Palmer #8)” by Karen Chance

Review:

A review by Amanda.

This review contains spoilers from the previous books in this series.

Ride the Storm picks up right where the last book ended. Cassie is still chasing after Pritkin’s soul with Rosier, hoping to counter the deadly curse that has been cast on the rugged war mage. Cassie’s court had just been attacked, and losses and injuries are everywhere. Betrayal from those she has been trying to help has affected Cassie’s usual good spirits. Even vampire master Mircea is struggling to recover from the recent events. Cassie is yanked back and forth in time, shifting from Arthurian times, where they have tracked down a young Pritkin and are awaiting the arrival of his soul, to present day at Dante’s, where the attacks keep coming from all sides. Exhausting both the Pythia power and her personal energy takes its toll, with devastating consequences. An unexpected revelation from a trusted person in her small circle of allies has Cassie (and readers) questioning everything that has happened since the events set in motion in the very first book.

This book is an absolute whirlwind of action and exposition. The first half of the story is nonstop action, with a few too many back-and-forth shifts, making it difficult to follow. No rest for our protagonist means no rest for readers. It feels as though the author tried to fit two books’ worth of plot into one book. Thankfully, the story slows down a bit and the pace evens out by the second half. Long-awaited answers to burning questions come to light, and the romantic entanglement that Cassie has found herself in might finally be unraveling. While some long-standing issues get wrapped up, others, frustratingly, do not. Cassie heroically maintains her snarky and irreverent sense of humor despite the adversity. There are a couple of steamy sex scenes, although these are somewhat mild compared to previous books. I, for one, am looking forward to the next book with the great hope that we won’t be strung along for too much longer (at least in certain areas). While the convolution of the first half of this book did affect my overall rating, the second half still makes it worth reading.

If you would like to start this series from the beginning, book one is Touch the Dark. Karen Chance also has a crossover series, featuring characters we know and love (or hate), and exciting new ones. The first book is Midnight’s Daughter.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Silence Fallen” by Patricia Briggs

Review of Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

A review by Niraja.

After a nearly fatal accident, Mercy finds herself kidnapped by a powerful vampire who sought to use her in a plot against the Tri-cities.  Mercy escapes in her coyote form, only to discover she is alone in Europe without money, clothing, or a passport. Unable to rely on her mate or pack bonds to contact Adam and the pack, Mercy must use her wits to discover who she can trust as allies and who are the enemies she must fight, while simultaneously trying to prevent outright war between vampires and werewolves.  As if that wasn’t enough to handle, ghosts stir and an old power awakens in the heart of Prague…

Silence Fallen is the 11th book in the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs.  I awaited it’s release with baited breath and am pleased to report I was not disappointed.  Yet again, Patty delivered​ an exciting plot and well developed believable characters that we love (or love to hate).

Mercy shines as our heroine as she uses her wit and resourcefulness to get herself out of, and back into, sticky situations.  True to form Mercedes faces her situation with inner strength and determination.  As a result she is both impressing and bewildering werewolves and vampires alike as they find her more than what she appears to be.  Once again Patty weaves elements from past books into Silence Fallen.  I appreciate this element of her writing because not only does this strengthen the continuity of her stories, it also makes her characters feel real.  As in her other books, Silence fallen had moments where I was cheering the characters on, feeling sympathy, getting anxious, laughing out loud, and happily feeling warm and content.  

This book differs from previous books in the series as it has several chapters from Adam’s point of view as he struggles with factors surrounding Mercy’s kidnapping and as he plots to recover her.  I enjoyed these chapters immensely as they not only grant insight to Adam’s emotions and thought processes but also show some of our favorite supporting characters from a different perspective.  Patty also throws in a small surprise twist at the end to which there are cleverly subtle clues, discoverable in hindsight (and a thorough reread of certain scenes).

Overall the book felt comfortingly familiar and yet held refreshing changes.  I was engaged in the story and felt connected to the characters.  If you are a fan of the Mercy Thompson series, Silence Fallen will not disappoint.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J Maas

A review by Amanda.

Nineteen year old Feyre is the sole provider for her family. Her father is unable to work after losing the family’s fortune and his merchant business in a risky venture. Feyre’s two older sisters seem content to live off of what meager rations and coins her hunting brings in, while giving only bitterness and indifference in return. Feyre is accustomed to burying her hurt and anger under a mask of ice and is marking time until her sisters can be married off to become someone else’s burden. She longs to be free of her responsibilities but a vow made to her dying mother keeps her stuck in place.

Everything changes when Feyre hunts too close to the border between her human village and Prythian, a land of myth and magic ruled by faeries. Retribution comes in the form of Tamlin, a powerful faerie lord with a cold, secretive demeanor who gives Feyre a choice between death or captivity. She chooses to become his prisoner to live out her life in Prythian in hopes that escape might someday be an option. She does not expect to enjoy the beauty of Tamlin’s estate,nor to develop friendships with the faeries who reside there. She does not expect that the real danger of Prythian may be one that isn’t from the legends with which she is familiar.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is a beautiful reimagining of the classic Beauty and the Beast story. The inspiration is clear while reading, but Feyre’s story is uniquely her own. Feyre is a wonderful protagonist. She is rough around the edges, distrusting of everyone and everything, and incredibly stubborn. Her strengths and weaknesses are rounded out, making her into a whole person. At no point is she a damsel in distress, although she is put into dangerous situations, some of which require help from others for her to survive.

Romance has a natural progression in this story, and is given enough weight to feel real, but not so much that it overshadows everything else. The world-building is seamless and beautiful. The plot is character-driven, and perfectly paced. Supporting characters are well-rounded and given plenty of agency, although there is a lack of diversity in both ethnicity and sexual orientation. Future books may address this issue. There is some violence in this story but nothing terribly graphic. There are a couple of consensual sexual encounters, as well as some non-consensual touching and kissing (again, not too graphic), but without compromising the integrity of the story or the characters. Fans of the author’s other series Throne of Glass and fans of authors Cinda Williams Chima, Marissa Meyer, and Cassandra Clare may enjoy this book. Book two, A Court of Mist and Fury has been released in hardcover. The third book, A Court of Wind and Ruin, will be released on May 2nd.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “The Mediator Book 1: Shadowland” by Meg Cabot

Review: “The Mediator Book 1: Shadowland” by Meg Cabot

A review by Vanessa.

Susannah Simon has a special gift. Well, she wouldn’t call it a gift, really, because it certainly comes with its obligations. Namely, the requirement that she speak to and help out all of the dead people whom she can see. As much as she would prefer to ignore them and be a normal high school sophomore, their reasons for hanging around sometimes interfere with her life; and her life has enough interference already. Her mother has married a really nice guy named Andy, and although Suze approves of him for her mom she’s not so happy about the moving from New York to Carmel, CA. Or being stuck with three new annoying stepbrothers, and changing schools, and leaving her one and only friend behind. What’s worse is that her new home has an unwanted guest residing in her bedroom. His name is Jesse, and he was so obviously young, handsome, with six-pack abs, lovely dark eyes, and gorgeous hair when he died. Suze doesn’t like having him as a distraction when she is trying to adjust to all the changes. But he is not the only distraction she finds.

Suze is startled to find several surprises waiting for her at her new high school. There is Heather, the very angry and dangerous dead girl haunting her locker. Then there is Father Dominic, the school’s principal, who it turns out is a mediator just like her! Suze doesn’t know what to think about meeting someone like her for the first time ever, and fitting in with other kids at the school. It seems like things might be ok in her new life. But Heather has some very dark revenge to enact and Suze is just getting in her way. Plus her youngest new stepbrother, a sweet and super smart kid who Suze actually likes, seems to know way more than he is saying. She’s always taken care of things all on her own, but this time it might be too much for her. Can she stop Heather, and protect the people in her life that she is really starting to care about?

As always, Meg Cabot delivers a wonderfully well told story of young life, but this time with a supernatural twist. Her famous Princess Diaries series may have put her on the map as an author but this series showcases her ability write in the paranormal genre as well. Her characters are totally engaging, and utterly realistic. The supporting characters fit right into all the expected tropes, but at the same time each of them holds their own interest for the reader. They might be typical, but they are so great to read it just doesn’t matter. Suze is both a “typical high school girl” and a very unique character. She struggles with school, friends, boys, raging hormones, and annoying brothers. She thinks about fashion and clothes, and what it would be like to be kissed.  But in between all that she struggles with suppressing her own emotions to accommodate the happiness of her mother, the ever present influence of death, the moral implications of forcing a ghost to cross over unwillingly, and the guilt that comes with being forced to lie to her family and friends for their own good. She also harbors a quick temper and some violent tendencies that make her an ever more interesting character. The only drawback to this book would be that some of the stereotypes might be embraced a bit too willingly. But even then, the characters cannot be described as boring or one dimensional. I love this series, and I would recommend it to young, and adult readers alike.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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