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: “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: “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: “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: “Scrappy Little Nobody” by Anna Kendrick

A review by Amanda.

Scrappy Little Nobody is Anna Kendrick’s first foray as a published author. Readers may recognize Kendrick from her roles in movies such as Pitch Perfect, Up In The Air, Trolls, the Twilight Saga, and so much more. She’s famous for her forthright manner and acerbic wit, in interviews and on social media alike. Her autobiography is a collection of unique experiences, amusing and awkward anecdotes, and sprinkled with pertinent life advice from which many young ladies could benefit. She includes childhood memories, the struggles of an aspiring actress new to Los Angeles, hilarity on film sets (complete with some light name dropping), and everything in between. Her stories are poignant, humorous, and mildly self-deprecating.

Kendrick’s writing highlights her vibrant personality. The stories flow well, beginning in her childhood, introducing us to her family and showing readers what life was like growing up in Portland, Maine. Love and respect for her family, and gratitude for their support and sacrifices are featured throughout. This keeps the book feeling grounded in reality amongst tales of her celebrity encounters and the surreal experience of attending the Oscars. Readers will find Kendrick relatable and open. Her honesty about her faults could easily have felt forced or sanctimonious but is instead completely genuine.

Full disclosure: I was fortunate enough to catch Kendrick’s book tour in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I received a copy of her book with my paid ticket to the event, as did everyone who attended. While I have been an admirer of her work in film for a few years, I did not know what to expect from her as an author. Her writing drew me in with her humor and approachability. I especially appreciated her candor about her love life and the serious advice that she imparts as a result of one such experience. Her frank talk about her anxiety and insecurities is invigorating and relatable. The timeline flows smoothly, with occasional jumps back to the present or an aside to the reader. She expertly tantalizes readers with a bit of celebrity gossip but handles it with great respect for those she names, and usually places herself in the more embarrassing light. I would recommend this book to anyone who is familiar with Kendrick from her movies or social media, and to those who are looking for an entertaining non-fiction read. Kendrick does not hold back in terms of strong language and does talk about some sexual encounters, although not explicitly. Mature teenagers should handle the content just fine.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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