Review: “At First Blush” by Beth Ellyn Summer

Review:

A review by Amanda.

At seventeen, Lacey Robbins has her future all planned out. She has spent years developing LaceyBlushes, her makeup tutorial channel on YouTube, although her romantic life has suffered a bit because of it. Her dedication has earned Lacey a coveted summer internship at On Trend, an online magazine. The internship could help Lacey reach her goals of finding sponsors for her channel and landing a contract with Glass Cube, a marketing and talent management company for YouTube. Life is looking bright for Lacey as well as her best friend Cynth who has the chance to intern for a late night show across the street. In a bid to help Lacey let some romance into her life, Cynth makes a bargain with her – she will accept the internship with the late night show if Lacey will flirt with hot guys at On Trend. Lacey reluctantly agrees, if only to ensure that Cynth takes the job. Little does Lacey know, the hottest guy at On Trend turns out to be their surprise guest editor and cover feature, musician Tyler Lance, whose reputation as a narcissistic party boy does not impress her. Add in a sponsorship from a subpar makeup company, family stress, and the struggle to keep her fans happy, and Lacey may have to reevaluate her life plan.

At first glance, this book may appear to be superficial and silly, like just another frilly story about a teenage girl falling for the cute boy. By the end of chapter one, however, Lacey has shown her potential to be a fully realized, multidimensional character. Her passion for makeup is not borne from a desire to simply look pretty; she has a natural eye and a deep appreciation for presentation and aesthetics. Lacey has found a way to turn her love of beauty into a profitable career, and she has sacrificed other aspects of a well-rounded life to make it happen. She has a genuine enjoyment of the process as well, from choosing the tutorials, to staging the background, filming, and interacting with her subscribers. While many adults consider teenaged girls to be silly and inconsequential, Lacey showcases the reality that girls can have ambition and goals beyond dating and boys. While there is romance in this story, it doesn’t dominate the plot. It is balanced nicely with both obstacles and pleasant surprises, and serves more as a metaphor for unexpected disruptions to even the best laid plans. The supporting characters have a realistic vibe and provide both drama and relief in Lacey’s life. There are some very minor cliché aspects, mostly regarding the romantic drama, and this is not a book that is full of dramatic plot twists but that does not take away from the enjoyment of the story. This is the first book from author Beth Ellyn Summer, and I will happily read future books.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Final Girls” by Mira Grant

Review- Final Girls by Mira Grant

A review by Amanda.

I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Doctor Jennifer Webb has invented a new therapeutic treatment, which utilizes proprietary virtual reality technology to help people heal psychological injuries. Clients are placed in special pods, induced to deep sleep, and given carefully monitored injections. Technicians run a dream-like scenario through the VR program, which the client experiences as reality. Each scenario is tailored to the client, to help resolve their specific issues.

Esther Hoffman is a journalist who has made her career by debunking pseudo-science. Due to tragic circumstances in her own past, involving fraudulent regression therapy, Esther is out to prove that Doctor Webb’s work is phony at best; at worst it could be dangerous. Jennifer is determined to prove the safety and viability of her therapy and Esther reluctantly agrees to go through the process, to experience it firsthand. Things do not exactly go as planned, in either reality.

This is a novella written by Mira Grant, which is the pseudonym of best-selling author Seanan Maguire. It’s length does not diminish the horror aspects, thankfully. Readers get just enough insight into the main characters to care about their fates. Industrial espionage, murder, and supernatural elements mingle to make a perfectly horrifying tale. The science behind the therapy is explained in a way that feels natural and easy to understand, which is not always the case in science fiction. There are several delightful twists, and the ending is unexpected perfection. Seanan Maguire has also written the Newsflesh trilogy, a horror series, under the Mira Grant pseudonym.

My rating: 5/5 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: “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: “A Mad and Mindless Night” by Elizabeth Cole

Review: “A Mad and Mindless Night” by Elizabeth Cole

A review by Vanessa.

I was offered a review copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. This book is set in an already existing series, but I was assured they were stand alones and you do not have to read previous books in order to enjoy others.

Elanora Morrison has a gift that has gotten her into a lot of trouble. She remembers everything. Her infallible memory and perfect recall, combined with her skill for scientific research, seemed like blessings when she met her husband Albert Morrison. But now they are the curse that keeps her under lock and key. Nora’s skills along with her husband’s innovation led them to create a highly valuable new form of communication. Their intent was to test it and sell the results to the government of England to aid them in their endeavors against their enemy, France. There is just one problem: Albert Morrison isn’t Albert Morrison anymore, and only Nora knows it. But he has told everyone that she is mad, and they believe it because he is a man. She has lost hope for escape, until one day an official from the government arrives to check on the progress of the project. Can Nora slip out of the confines of her locked attic room, and convince him to help her?

Ashley Allander is no government official. He is a scorned second son with a terrible reputation for torrid affairs and for ruining women; though many of the rumors are not true. He has no desire to play at being a spy, but when his older brother Bruce Allander, Lord Forrester, deigns to ask for his help he agrees. Bruce is a member of a highly secret organization of spies working for England, known as The Zodiac. Something has gone awry with Morrison’s project, and Bruce needs Ash to investigate. Ash would never admit it, but the role of hero is a tempting one. When he arrives at the estate and sees a woman standing on the roof near the window to an attic room, he is intrigued. Especially when he awakes to find the odd lady has snuck into his room, and begs him not to reveal that he even knows she exists. Are her wild stories true? Is something much more sinister brewing under the facade that is Albert Morrison? Perhaps together they can find out.

I totally enjoyed reading this book, and I will admit that I intend to seek out the rest of the Zodiac series because I believe they will be very fun reads. I was a bit worried at first that this novel would slip into the cliched and well worn story arc that can sometimes plague the historical romance genre, but the author definitely threw in enough twists to keep my interest. The character of Nora is very engaging, and not boringly typical at all. She is no wilting female ready to throw herself at the mercy of her savior. She is strong, incredibly clever, determined, and self-reliant. Though Ashley Allander does fit the mold of your typically misunderstood handsome rogue, the addition of his backstory is a very interesting twist on the “ruined woman” only with the gender roles turned upside down. In addition the romantic aspect was refreshing. There was no shy waif giving in to her desires for the man pursuing her. It was a determined and curious woman chasing her desire, and a handsome more experienced man giving in to his desire for her. Surrounded by a cast of engaging characters, who I only wish we could have learned more about, this was a very fun read.

My rating: 4/5 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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