Review: “The Sight (Devil’s Isle #2)” by Chloe Neill

A review by Amanda.

This review may contain spoilers for book one, The Veil. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book two picks up a few weeks after the events of book one. Claire has been dividing her time between running the Royal Mercantile, learning the bounty hunter trade with Liam, and getting lessons in using her magic from Malachi. The tension between Liam and Claire is heavy since Liam has made it clear that his honor won’t allow him to be with her romantically; if she is discovered as a Sensitive he would be the one to turn her in to live on Devil’s Isle, which would break both of their hearts. Claire’s single-minded goal of staying busy to keep her mind off of her non-existent love life gets a boost when someone starts murdering Paras without care for human casualties.

A magic-hating human has developed a following. Calling themselves Reveillon, this cultish group blames magic, Paras, and Sensitives for the Zone’s troubles. Their leader has convinced them that the answer to all of their problems is to eradicate all traces of magic by any means necessary. The violence escalates even further and Claire, alongside her friends and allies, must act quickly to save those who have been targeted by Reveillon.
The Sight moves at a slightly faster pace than the previous book and makes for a quick read. The plot is a bit predictable, but it still manages to be interesting. While Claire still does not stand out amongst all of the urban fantasy heroines (see my review of The Veil), the supporting characters gain more depth. The romantic tension kicks up a notch and things get nice and steamy. Claire continues to hold her own against whatever life throws at her, with one or two exceptions. I imagine book three, The Hunt, will challenge her ability to roll with the punches. This series is great for those readers looking for a fun, quick read, with a classic urban fantasy feel. Fans of Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series, Kim Harrison’s Peri Reed books, and Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series will likely enjoy these books. Make sure to pick up book one, The Veil, and look for book three, The Hunt, to be released on September 26th.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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Review: “The Veil (Devil’s Isle #1)” by Chloe Neill

A review by Amanda.

Claire Connolly lives in New Orleans, but it is not the New Orleans that we are familiar with. Years ago, a veil between worlds was forced open and magic-using beings from a parallel world, called Paranormals or Paras, came through to conquer Earth. A nasty war was fought and humans won, barely. New Orleans is still recovering from the damage and military forces are in charge. There is very little contact with anyone outside of the containment areas. Paras that survived the battles have been sent to live in Devil’s Isle, a heavily guarded community, for the safety of humans. Some humans were affected by the magic that came through the veil, gaining paranormal abilities that they didn’t have before. Called Sensitives, these people are regarded with suspicion and are also sent to live in Devil’s Isle, whether they want to or not. This is partly due to prejudices against any magic users, but also because Sensitives eventually become wraiths – frightening, zombie-like creatures who attack humans without mercy.

Claire has managed to keep her family’s antique store running by turning it into a general store. She has no family left but has close friends and a tight knit community that she is very connected to. Her recent discovery that she is a Sensitive has taken her by surprise and now she has to keep a huge secret from those closest to her. An unexpected encounter with wraiths brings her to the attention of bounty hunter Liam Quinn, whose motives are unclear. Will he spill her secret, or help her keep it? Equally important, can Claire avoid the fate that befalls all Sensitives?

This is the first book in a new series from Chloe Neill, author of the Chicagoland Vampires series. Claire is a nice character, but fairly typical. As of this first book, there is little about her that stands out from other heroines in the same genre. She loves her friends, misses her father, and feels a sense of responsibility to her community. Her biggest fear is turning into a wraith, followed closely by being discovered as a Sensitive and relocated to Devil’s Isle. When Liam offers to help her, she has to decide if he can be trusted. Her attraction to him certainly complicates things, but that takes a backseat to the danger they quickly find themselves in.

The description of a post-war New Orleans is stark and wonderfully done. Prejudice is a prevalent theme, well explored and thought-provoking. The world-building and magical concepts are where the book stands out, and what makes it worth reading. There is a lovely cast of supporting characters, all of whom I hope to meet again. Claire and Liam both have room to develop, especially since this is the first book.  I will read the next book, The Sight, with a hope that they will continue to grow into their own.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Colt Harper: Esteemed Vampire Cat” by Tyrolin Puxty

Review-

A review by Niraja.

An electronic version of this book was supplied to the reviewer by the author in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Colt Harper is a vampire cat whose mission in life is to avenge cats who have been wronged by humans.  Assigned community service as punishment for taking his mission a little too seriously, Colt finds himself a volunteer at a community theater.  As part of his assignment, he must not only tolerate but cooperate with a werewolf and a tickle monster, his fellow volunteers in punishment.  As if that wasn’t enough, the theater is run by a human woman who fosters stray cats, and for whom he seems to be developing a crush.  To top it all off the chasers, a.k.a. monster hunters, seem to have it in for his odd group of new… friends.  Colt must summon the will to go beyond saving his own skin to help his fellow monsters and the human girl without going too far and risking eternity in monster hell.

Colt Harper: Esteemed Vampire Cat is the first book in a new series by author Tyrolin Puxty. The series introduces some refreshing new concepts while staying true to the nature of urban fantasy.  The characters are not very deeply developed yet but have interesting personality traits and quirks that have the potential for growth and development in future books.  While the plot is simple overall, there are some interesting ideas and small twists that keep it engaging, and not completely predictable.  The book ends in a manner that allows the story to stand on its own, yet opens up possibilities for further installments.  So whether you want to read only this one story or continue with the series you won’t be left hanging.

As an avid reader of urban fantasy, I enjoyed both the new world concepts as well as the new types of supernatural creatures (or monsters) introduced.  The new world concepts were simple yet creative and introduced ideas I had not yet read, which was refreshing.  There was enough detail to create a basic understanding of concepts and potential to further flesh out details in future books.  In terms of characters, while I was not able to relate to the main character I found his cat nature amusing and on point.  I also appreciated that the character did have some moments of struggle and personal growth which change how he relates to the other characters and the world.  

Overall I enjoyed the book.  It was a quick and amusing read.  I believe that the story and characters could have had a bit more detail or deepness to them, but as a first book in a series, there is a lot of potential for growth and development.  If you like urban fantasy or cats and are looking for a quick light read, I think you will enjoy this book.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Bernie and the Putty (The Universe Builders #1)” by Steve LeBel

Review- Bernie and the Putty (The Universe Builders #1) by Steve LeBel

A review by Amanda.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for a fair and objective review.

Bernie is a teenager who holds the world in his hands, literally. He belongs to a race of self-described gods who create universes from scratch. Their entire society revolves around building multitudes of worlds, just because they can. Children learn the basics of building in school, leading to various specialties and supporting careers; not everyone has what it takes to become a Builder. Bernie has run into a few obstacles along the way, including a bully, his parents’ divorce, a chaotic cloud that follows him everywhere, and an unwillingness to follow certain directions that he disagrees with. Nonetheless, he has been given an opportunity to show his potential employers what he can do, if he can overcome the new obstacles being thrown his way.

The concept of this book is unique and compelling. The details for the universe creation process are thorough and logical, with some whimsy thrown in here and there for good measure. The story has plenty of heart and humor to keep readers entertained and invested in the characters. The world-building and the overall plot are enough to keep one reading despite the novel’s pitfalls.

Bernie is a likable character, if not an exceptional one. He is a misunderstood geek, an outcast with few friends. Although he is smart and talented, still comes across as a bumbling, absent-minded type. Many of his successes are due to luck and accidents, or because someone else has helped him in some way. The supporting characters feel one-dimensional, especially the female characters. The two women who contribute most to the plot and dialogue only exist as love interests. They do not appear to have any agency beyond that. Other women only appear as needed to help Bernie. Even his mother exists only as part of an explanation Bernie’s circumstances. Women are described as “unfathomable” and naturally manipulative, especially when trying to attract a guy, which plays into misogynistic stereotypes about women.

The writing style seems geared towards a younger, middle-grade audience. There is a lot of exposition and not a lot of room for readers to come to conclusions on their own. Readers are privy to the inner thoughts of almost every character, which can be helpful but feels unnecessary at times. A couple of minor plot points build up and then fizzle out, although there are more books in the series so those could be addressed later.

Fans of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan may enjoy this book.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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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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