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: “Stillhouse Lake (Stillhouse Lake #1)” by Rachel Caine

Review- Stillhouse Lake (Stillhouse Lake #1) by Rachel Caine

A review by Amanda.

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

Gwen Proctor, new resident of Norton, Tennessee, used to be Gina Royal. Gwen’s former life ended the day she, and the rest of the world, discovered that her husband was a serial killer. An accident revealed the truth about Melvin Royal and everything turned upside down for Gwen and her two children. Not everyone was satisfied with the outcome of his trial; many people believe that Gwen knew about her husband’s heinous activities, or that she was his accomplice. Vile threats against Gwen and her children prompted her to run and hide with them, changing identities as needed.

In the four years since the discovery, Gwen has trusted no one. She has taken precautions against potential threats and only accepts help when absolutely necessary. Her first and only priority is making sure her children are safe even when it causes friction. When she realizes that her paranoia is causing more problems than it solves, Gwen considers putting down roots and trusting a few people. But then a woman is murdered in a fashion eerily similar to her ex-husband’s M.O., she discovers that she can’t protect them from everything, and that sometimes it pays to stay vigilant.

This book was thrilling in the truest sense of the word. The author offered a unique twist in a classic thriller trope, and raised several excellent questions that aren’t typically considered in the mystery genre. The perspective from the family of a serial killer is a complex one full of horror, rage, betrayal, guilt, and plenty of doubt. The story is told exclusively from Gwen’s point of view in present tense. This added a sense of urgency that complemented the fast pace and made it impossible to stop turning pages. The story is character-driven, with the mystery acting as a catalyst rather than the main focus. Readers will be immediately drawn into Gwen’s life. She is intelligent, fierce, driven, and very human. She doubts her decisions, questions her parenting abilities, and makes mistakes. She appears cold at times but doesn’t apologize for it. Her kids, Lanny and Connor, are balanced precariously between childlike and adult attitudes tipping back and forth throughout the book. The other supporting characters are richly developed. Even those who appear sparingly give a feeling of being actual people with histories that extend beyond the pages of the book.

There are several fairly graphic descriptions of violence and death throughout the book, as well as mentions of torture and rape, but nothing that seems gratuitous.

Rachel Caine is also the author of the young adult series The Morganville Vampires, as well as The Great Library series, the Weather Warden series, and several others. Stillhouse Lake will be released on July 1st, 2017.

My rating: 5/5 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: “The Butterfly Project” by Emma Scott

Review- The Butterfly Project by Emma Scott

A review by Amanda.

Zelda Rossi is a mess. She has come to New York to meet with publishers about her graphic novel, Mother May I, but things are not going the way she had hoped. She is at her wit’s end when she stops in at Giovanni’s Italian restaurant for a last minute dinner. There, she meets Beckett Copeland, a busboy at the restaurant, who might be as much of a mess as she is. He also might be able to help her where no one else can. Both Zelda and Beckett have tragedies in their pasts. Zelda is trying to run from hers, while Beckett punishes himself, but perhaps they can help each other find some normalcy.

This is a story with an abundance of heart. Zelda is a talented artist who uses her art to heal. She has a prickly exterior that keeps everyone at a distance, but it hides a generous spirit and loving heart. She does her best to push past the fear and guilt that she’s lived with for ten years, not realizing that all she’s actually doing is making things worse. Beckett also lives with guilt and anguish over a tragic mistake, which he believes can never be forgiven. He works hard and looks out for his friends, avoiding any deeper connections. These two souls are drawn together in a serendipitous moment that could change both if their lives if they’ll let it.

The characters are well-rounded, fully developed people, including supporting characters. They have faults and virtues, they make mistakes, they freak out. The plot is well paced throughout and relies on the strength of the characters to keep readers interested, rather than fast-paced action or surprise twists. There are examples of Zelda’s art sprinkled here and there, and it adds another dimension to the story. This is a contemporary NA romance, with some salty language and steamy sex scenes. There is also some talk of drug use and criminal activity, light descriptions of traumatic events, and realistic depictions of panic attacks.

The author has several other books, which I will definitely be checking out, including the Full Tilt duet.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review of “The Truth About Happily Ever After” by Karole Cozzo

Review of The Truth About Happily Ever After by Karole Cozzo

A review by Amanda.

Alyssa is a walking, talking stereotype. Tall, blonde, and gorgeous, the twenty year old sorority sister spends her summers working as a princess character for a popular theme park (think Disney); and not just any princess, but the most admired and beloved – Cinderella​. Alyssa loves her seasonal job. She thinks of it more as a calling; she lives and breathes princess life. The friends that she’s made while working at the park, and the smiles on children’s’ faces, make the rigorous physical standards worth it. Princesses must meet certain aesthetic requirements and have appointments (called look-overs) every two weeks to make sure they are at an appropriate weight and have a clear complexion, among other things. Alyssa holds herself to the highest standards in both her looks and her mannerisms, even when she’s off-duty. To cap it all off she’s found her fairy tale romance with Jake, a park medic, including the sweetest storybook meet cute the previous summer. They’ve struggled to make things work long-distance, and Alyssa is giddy to have the entire summer together. Only, things do not exactly go as planned, and Alyssa’s perfect princess life might be turned upside down.

This story is light and fun, with very few surprises thrown in. It is definitely a quick read. The conflicts that arise are predictable, but Alyssa’s growth throughout the book makes it worth reading. Alyssa starts out appearing sweet but shallow. As her story progresses, readers get to know her on a deeper level. She isn’t as shallow as she appears, and her kindness is generally sincere. She tends to ignore things that might stress her out, pretending that problems don’t exist until they blow up in her face. The first half of the story might be a struggle, as Alyssa is annoyingly upbeat (and that’s coming from a bubbly optimist). As readers learn more about her family history and what draws her to the princess life, they might sympathize. And as she grows as a person and figures out what she really wants, the story balances out quite nicely.

This is a contemporary YA romance with some swearing and some very light sexual talk/activity.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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BOOK TOUR PROMO: “Domme Experience: Power Exchange and the Making of a Dominatrix (Experiences Book 8)” by Simone Freier

BOOK TOUR PROMO:

Excerpt:

I finished going through my e-mail and was turning off the computer when Kelly came down to my office in the playroom. We were planning to go out to the French restaurant tonight, and it looked like Kelly was ready: She wore an emerald color sweater that contrasted nicely with her auburn hair.

“We have a slight change in plans,” Kelly bounced into the room and plopped down on one of the chairs in front of the desk. I awaited the details.

“I spoke to Linda, and it turns out that she and Matt were also planning on going to the French restaurant, tonight. So we decided to make it a Valentine double date.”

That was a surprise, but a nice one. I came around the desk, pulled Kelly up, and kissed her passionately. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

She smiled and waved her hand. “We don’t have to celebrate every holiday, and certainly not commercial ones. As far as I’m concerned, every day is ‘Valentine’s Day’.” I nodded, and kissed her again. Then, I went upstairs to get dressed for dinner.

We met Linda at the restaurant, and she introduced us to Matt. He was handsome and stylishly dressed. Linda told us that he had both legal and accounting degrees, and worked for a law firm in town, specializing in tax structuring – exactly what we needed!

Throughout the dinner, I kept thinking of questions to ask, and Kelly kicked me under the table each time I turned the conversation back to business. My shin was starting to hurt. Finally, Linda suggested that they come over for a while tonight. “Kelly and I can go in the sauna, while you and Matt work on business.”

It didn’t have to be binary – one or the other; I just wanted to give Matt an introduction, and find out whether he would be interested and able to help us. We could easily do that in the sauna.

Linda and Matt followed us back to the house, and we went down to the playroom, where I offered everyone after dinner drinks. Kelly decided to make coffee, and I took out the bottle of Kahlua, in case anyone wanted Mexican coffee.

We sat around the coffee table, and I couldn’t help but remember some of the experiences Kelly, her friends, and I had had here. As Linda’s eyes scanned the room, there was the hint of a smile that betrayed her thoughts of our past experiences, also.

Linda turned to Matt, “Sam is quite the techie. He has a huge video screen, computer-controlled lighting, and multi-channel surround sound.” Fortunately, she didn’t mention the video cameras or the ‘gadgets’ that I built.

I asked Matt, “Has Linda told you about our company, KS Biotech?”

Matt nodded, “Basically, although I don’t really understand the technology. Are you going to sell the hardware? Or license other companies? Or, develop drugs yourselves?”

I answered, “We’ve considered all those options, but it turns out that a Japanese company is interested in acquiring us. And we’ve already negotiated letters of intent with three mid-sized pharma companies to license the technology to them for their specific markets.

“It’s all based on Kelly’s technology, which could revolutionize the drug development process, especially targeting diseases which are ‘vector-borne’ – carried by or caused by other organisms.” Matt nodded, thoughtfully.

I got to the key point. “So we’re pretty close to getting paid a lot of money, and our main challenge now is minimizing the tax impact.”

Matt smiled, “That’s my specialty.”

Now, I smiled, “Yes, I’d heard that. So maybe we could hire you to help out?”

Matt shrugged, “It would have to be through the law firm that I work for. We’d probably want to have an upside in addition to our basic fee. How much money are we talking about?”

I shook my head, “As it stands now, if we can close at the valuation the Japanese have offered, it would be roughly one point three billion dollars.”

Matt choked on his coffee and sat forward on the edge of the couch, “Did you say billion dollars?” I nodded and smiled. He turned to Linda, whose mouth was hanging open.

At that point, Kelly walked in, wearing her ‘Superwoman’ robe, and sat on the loveseat, her legs folded under her. “Did I miss anything?”

Linda put her coffee down and turned to Kelly. “Are you guys really saying that you might sell the company for more than a billion dollars?” Kelly and I nodded slowly. We could see Linda trying to catch her breath.

“And I have half a percent of the company?”

Matt swung his head to her, “So you might be worth six million dollars.” He raised his brows, “Less the taxes you’ll have to pay. If it’s capital gains, you might have to pay more than a million dollars in taxes.” Linda was shaking her head in disbelief.

I summarized, “So that’s the problem. We need some good advice on how to best structure the deal.”

Kelly chimed in, “I can’t even imagine having to pay two hundred million dollars in taxes!”

Matt smiled, “Let’s meet next week. I’ll present the opportunity to the partners. I think they’ll be very interested in working with you.”

Kelly finished her coffee, “Can we please go in the sauna, now? It’s Valentine’s Day, and this discussion isn’t very romantic.”

As we got up and headed to the sauna, Linda quipped, “Well, Kelly, I think learning that I may get five million dollars is pretty romantic.”

We knew she was kidding, but there was something to it. You couldn’t equate money with happiness, but an unexpected windfall was always nice, and could be a turn-on.

About The Author

DOMME EXPERIENCE is an intimate exploration of kinks and fetishes by an unlikely couple, with thoughtful and philosophical discussion by the characters, and graphic descriptions of their erotic adventures.
Kelly takes the upper hand – in a manner of speaking – exhibiting her dominant side, and impressing her parents and Sam, as roles are reversed. Her formal training as a dominatrix leads to new and unexpected experiences for Sam. Kelly and Sam explore new cultures, and enjoy further adventures with friends, as their world travels continue. Kelly demonstrates her technical and business prowess, and the company that she and Sam founded takes off, changing their lives forever. There are a billion reasons why they should be happy. But they are unaware that a storm is brewing on the horizon.
The Experiences series is an epic love story of erotic relationships and sexual desires. Written in a ‘literary realism’ style, the series introduces Sam in the prequel, and the blossoming of his intimate relationship with Kelly as the series progresses. Fantasies and real-world adventures coalesce to mold a unique bond between unlikely lovers. Where needs are mutually satisfied in an open, creative and trusting environment. Where physical and mental boundaries are pushed. Where the concepts of love and sex are never confused, but sometimes confusing. Where openness is required and intimacy is expected. And where fair-is-fair, regarding the punishment of transgressions.
Contemporary erotic romance: Suitable for mature readers, aged 18+ years. Experiences: Book 8 is 187,000 words, 18 chapters, 621 print pages
Acclaim for Simone Freier and the EXPERIENCES series: “Fun, intense, sexually erotic” “One of my favorite series in recent memory” “Simone Freier is a sexually charged and inspired writer” “It is quite a tale and a very good read that explores an intimate topic” “The writing is well-done, engaging, and erotic” “The characters are rich & believable, while the eroticism is thick & lush” “Freier writes some incredibly powerful scenes” “I have enjoyed this whole series and don’t want it to end” “Freier holds poignant insight into the complexities of interpersonal communications and behavior” “The desire crawls out of the pages and into my mind” “The writing style is relaxed, even playful, and always fresh” “Steams up the pages – very sensual and erotic” “Simone Freier entertains her readers with a story of love, trust, respect and exploration” “Unexpectedly thoughtful and intensely passionate” “Simone Freier has an intoxicating way with words” “Fifty shades greyer in this deep look at sexual explorations” “Freier’s attention to detail in her books is awe-inspiring!” “I have enjoyed this whole series and don’t want it to end” “Fine writing from an author who knows her genre” “If you love erotica, then you’ll love this series” “Definitely a five-star series!”

WARNING! This work contains mature content, including graphic sexual descriptions and scenes, and is provided for adults only. The Experiences series contains scenes of psychological and physical submission, discipline, and medical fetish. The characters explore various fetishes, which evolve throughout the series. ALL CHARACTERS IN THE BOOK ARE 21 YEARS OLD OR OLDER, and all activities are consensual.

About The Author
Simone FreierAn adventuress and traveler, Simone is a sensual being who loves to read stories that excite her. She takes exception to authors who promote their works as ‘dirty’, ‘filthy’, or ‘smutty’: She believes that sex is wonderful in all of its incarnations, and doesn’t shy away from graphic descriptions of realistic sexual experiences, no matter how messy. Her writing is mainly in the ‘literary realism’ style – i.e., it is wild (even outrageous) … but could really happen to you! She values openness in relationships and demonstrates this through her characters.

Prior to becoming an author, Simone was a nurse. One of her pet peeves is reading erotica that gets simple anatomy wrong! She is continually bewildered by women who haven’t explored their own bodies. Another pet peeve is the mostly hung-up Victorian society prevalent in the U.S. and U.K., and she tries to do her part to change that by introducing people to new sexual and sensual experiences through her erotic writing. The activities in Simone’s books are quite realistic, as she has participated in most of these in ‘real life’, as surreal as it may seem.

Simone is currently completing the Experiences series, which will run an estimated 1,000,000 words! That is why she refers to it as an ‘epic’ romance, although each volume is intended to stand on its own, with a ‘happy for now’ ending. Experiences combine literary style and philosophical discussion by the characters with a graphic portrayal of sex in all of its kinks and fetishes. You may not like all of the things Simone’s characters do … but neither do they. Their exploration of new experiences will hopefully motivate some readers to explore their own sexuality to a greater extent.
Simone loves to hear from her readers, so feel free to contact her. In fact, she hopes you will feel ‘free’ sexually and spiritually, as well. Please follow her on social media and her blog. On her website, you may interact directly with the main characters in her books, including asking them questions in order to understand their perspectives in more depth.

You can sign up to her mailing list to learn about new releases, and take advantage of promotions. All readers on the mailing list will be sent an excerpt from each of her next novels, prior to publication.

Visit Simone’s website.
Friend Simone on her Facebook page.
Or, tweet Simone on Twitter!

Links:
Amazon

Promotional picture Domme Experience—Power Exchange and the Making of a Dominatrix (Experiences Book 8) by Simone Freier

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