Wednesday, October 17, 2018

#Review - Roar of Sky by Beth Cato #Fantasy #Historical

Series: Blood of Earth # 3
Format: E-Galley, 448 pages
Release Date: October 23, 2018
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Source: Edelweiss
Genre: Fantasy / Historical

In this stunning conclusion to the acclaimed Blood of Earth trilogy—a thrilling alternate history laced with earth magic, fantastic creatures, and steampunk elements—the young geomancer Ingrid must find a way to use her extraordinary abilities to save her world from the woman hellbent on engineering a war that would rip it to pieces.

Thanks to her geomantic magic, Ingrid has successfully eluded Ambassador Blum, the evil genius behind the plan to achieve world domination for the United Pacific. But using her powers has taken its toll: Ingrid’s body has been left severely weakened, and once again she is on the run with her friends Cy and Fenris.

Hoping to learn more about her magical roots and the strength her bloodline carries, Ingrid makes her way across the Pacific to Hawaii, home to the ancient earth goddess Madame Pele. What she discovers in this paradise is not at all what she expects—but perhaps exactly what she needs to find the strength to face Blum.

But Ambassador Blum comes from the same world of old magic. She is a kitsune with near-mythic power. And if Ingrid cannot defeat her once and for all, she knows Blum will use that power to take the lives of everyone she holds dear before igniting a war that will bring the entire world to its knees.

Roar of Sky is the final installment in author Beth Cato’s Blood of Earth trilogy. The best way to describe this series is Alternative history & fiction mixed with reality. Roar of Sky picks up shortly after the end of Call of Fire. In an alternate world 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China which has been left utterly devastated.  

Protagonist Ingrid Carmichael has seen more in one month, than you or I will see in a lifetime. No hyperbole. This series actually started with Ingrid surviving the San Francisco Earthquake along with her mentor & father figure Mr. Sakaguchi. In the process, she learned that she is an exceptionally powerful Geomancer with the ability to hold energy; the only woman in history to be able to do so. The problem is that Ingrid is not only a woman, but also a woman of color with a mix ancestry of Mexican, Indian, and Filipino.

Ingrid's adventures began in earnest after she met pacifist Cypress Jennings and his partner Fenris Braun who own a steam driven airship called the Palmetto Bug. Cato twists her story to include one Theodore Roosevelt as one of the 12 powerful Unified Pacific Ambassadors. In case your history teacher failed to mention it, Roosevelt was the leader of the Rough Riders, the 26th President of the USA, and oh by the way, the driving force behind the Progressive Era in the US.

Ingrid is suffering from the high costs of staying hidden from Ambassador Blum who has put a rather high bounty on the capture of Ingrid. Blum is a cunning kitsune and dangerous bureaucrat who wants to use Ingrid’s formidable powers to help the Unified Pacific achieve world domination. To stop them, Ingrid must learn more about the god-like magic she inherited from her estranged father. The man who set off the quake that obliterated San Francisco. 

Hawaii is where we find our trio, as well as a large group of Sylphs who just love to eat all sorts of goodies. (By the way, I adore the Sylphs, and if you read the series itself, you will too!) Hawaii is where Ingrid meets her Grandmother the Goddess Pele. But, it is not where the story ends. Nope. Cato takes her group of characters on a action packed adventure across the country. From Los Angeles, even to Phoenix, Arizona where the trio attempts to stop Blum and her new war machine named Excalibur. Will there be a reunion between Ingrid and Lee Fong who was last seen with Mr. Sakaguchi? Or, will Blum catch up first and ruin the reunion?

Ingrid is a wonderful character who is not only powerful, but now has some physical restraints that really hinder her movements. But, if you think the limitations will slow her down, forget about it. She can also recognize fantastics, which are beings like sylph's, fairies, and Qilin. The qilin or kirin is a mythical hooved chimerical creature known in Chinese and other East Asian cultures. With help from Cy, a brilliant inventor, and Fenris, a MacGyver like character who can fix nearly anything, the adventure is anything but boring.

Cato’s characters are richly diverse, and are underdogs fighting social injustice and prejudice. Cato doesn't hesitate to use sexism and racism to tell her story. Something that is actually a breath of fresh air and accurate for this era, especially towards the Chinese and women. The  Blood of Earth trilogy is ideal reading for both historical fiction and alternate history/fantasy fans. It also has the coming-of-age elements YA readers love.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

#Review - Vengeful (Villains #2) by V.E. Schwab #Fantasy

Series: Villains (#2)
Format: Hardcover 480 pages
Release Date: September 25, 2018
Publisher: Tor Books
Source: Library
Genre: Fiction / Superheroes

Eli Ever and Victor Vale were only medical students when their mutual discovery that near-death experiences can, under the right conditions, manifest extraordinary abilities.

They were best friends, and rivals, and then enemies. They were dead, then alive, and then---Eli killed Victor, once and for all.

Or so he thought---but Sydney Clarke felt otherwise, and used her own superpower to tip the scales. Now, a trio hides in the shadows, while another takes advantages of post-death life to take over the city of Merit.

If there can be life after death—will there be calm after vengeance, or will chaos rule?

Vengeful is the second installment in author V.E. Schwab's Villains series. Magneto and Professor X. Superman and Lex Luthor. Victor Vale and Eli Ever. Sydney and Serena Clarke—great partnerships, now soured on the vine. Sydney once had Serena—beloved sister, betrayed enemy, powerful ally. But now she is alone, except for her thrice-dead dog, Dol, and then there’s Victor, who thinks Sydney doesn’t know about his most recent acts of vengeance.

Until she meets a very unique character named June who can change her appearance quicker than the Flash can run the mile. June is a character who is best described as an assassin who you can't hurt. When she accidentally bumps into Victor, she finds herself drawn to him, and follows him to Sydney who despite the fact that she turns 18, still doesn't look a day older than she did when she died. So, while June kills people for a living, Sydney finds a way to bring back the dead. A curious relationship to say the least.

Victor is trying to say under the radar. Being buried and re-animated by Sydney can strike concern even if one has superhuman powers. But despite his own worries, his anger remains. And Eli Ever still has yet to pay for the evil he has done. But, before he metes out revenge on Eli, Victor has a huge problem. His problem is that he keeps dying over and over and over again. He tries to find ways to fix what is happening to him. But, in the end ends up becoming an avenging devil to keep people from knowing that he has risen from the grave. On the personal side, Victor’s relationships with Sydney, Mitch, & Dominic, slowly come unglued in direct correlation to Victor's issues of dying and his burning desire for revenge.

Marcella Riggins needs no one. Flush from her brush with death, she’s finally gained the control she’s always sought—and will use her new-found power to bring the city of Merit to its knees. At a touch, Marcella can incinerate anyone, and anything to ashes. Now that her husband is out of the way, Marcella will do whatever it takes, including collecting her own sidekicks like June, and leveraging the two most infamous EOs, Victor Vale and Eli Ever, against each other once more.

Eli Evers is was captured, and imprisoned by a new group known as Extra-Ordinary Observation and Neutralization. EON's end goal is to capture all dangerous EON's and even those who aren't necessarily dangerous. But, certain people within EON have gone a bit too far. Eli spends part of this book being tortured to death over and over again to see how he ticks. If EON can find a way to remove the person's gifts, they are one step away from bringing an end to all EO's no matter how innocent they may be. Eli's backstory is one in which you will either love him, or loath him.

No holding back. This book was as strange as it comes. First, the author takes individual characters like Victor, June, Marcella, Sydney, and Eli, and alternates their stories from 5 years to, to even further back in time for Eli. For Marcella, who we are just meeting, this makes sense. We, as readers, can see how the character progresses from the time she dies, to the time she meets the two most powerful EO's in the world.

Villains really was more or less the story of Victor and Eli. You can't doubt that at all. While Sydney and Selena played their parts in the first installment, they weren't the reason for the story itself. With Vengeful, this story takes a definite step in the direction of making the women the stars of the show. First with Marcella who has been treated as though she was a prized object to have, instead of someone with a brain. Sydney has her own issues and that's really because she just doesn't age at all. So, while she may be 18, she really looks 5 years younger. June, oh June, what shall I say about you that won't spoil things? Hmm..I know! She's a human voodoo doll. I can't say much more than that. 

The thing I love about this author is that she never once tried to lighten Victor and make him a hero. He is a villain. He does things that are regrettable, and would be frowned on in normal society. But, that's who he is. That is how his life has decided to take him. While he does have feelings for Dom and especially Sydney, he still is a person who warrants the hatred addressed towards him. Same with Eli. Eli is a killer who not once regretted his actions. Not once. When he finds out that Victor is alive, despite everything that he did in the first installment, he becomes guided in his desire to find a way to end this feud between the two former friends.

I am one who takes copious notes while reading, so, when the author chose to alternative time lines each break, I am glad that I was able to keep up with that she was trying to do. I would recommend that you play close attention to the timelines because they do tend to change quickly. One can't possibly end a series the way the author ended this story. You really can't expect readers to just walk away knowing that things have been left unresolved, especially between Victor and his people, most especially Sydney. 

Whereas readers get a glimpse into Eli's past, we ever get to see what Victor's childhood was, or what led him to meeting Eli.  June is also a mystery to readers. We get hints that there is more to her than meets the eye, but the author never once reveals who she really is, or what happened to her. I know that there was a 5 year wait between books, but I do hope that the author finds a way to either write faster, or admit that this was the final installment in her series.

Monday, October 15, 2018

#Review - Bone Driven by Hailey Edwards (Urban Fantasy)

Series: Foundling # 2
Format: Kindle, 352 pages
Release Date: May 31, 2018
Publisher: Piatkus
Source: Amazon
Genre: Urban Fantasy

The bayou is burning, the battle is just beginning - and Luce Boudreau is smack in the middle of no-man's land . . .

Life as a cop in Canton Town, Mississippi, is never dull - particularly when hiding deep within you is a demon bent on the apocalypse. Luce is doing her best to pretend her two worlds aren't crashing into each other, but what should be a routine arson investigation takes a shocking turn when Luce discovers a link between the suspects and her own dark secrets. There's no turning back, even though her search for the truth threatens to burn her old life down around her.

Lines are being drawn in a war Luce barely understands, and she just might be on the wrong side of them. Now she must embrace her powerful destiny, or the ones she loves most will pay the ultimate price.

Bone Driven is the second installment in author Hailey Edwards' Foundling series. Picking up shortly after the ending of Bayou Born, Luce Boudreau has only a few weeks left as a Canton Police Officer after agreeing to join the National Security Branch of the FBI. In a strange way, Luce is stuck between two worlds; the world where she worked her ass off in order to become a decent police officer despite all the rumors, innuendos, and secrecy of her origins, and her real identity as one of the four horsewomen (since they are all women) of the apocalypse. 

Now, a new character arrives to shake things up. This character is Adam Wu, who when all is said and done, will apparently be Luce's new partner when she joins the FBI. Luce has so much on her plate. The attack on her father, and her best friend, the revelation of who she is, as well as the fact that she hasn't told anyone that she intends to leave the PD and join the FBI. But,  before Luce can move on to her new career, a bizarre set of murders takes place. 

These mysteries are so bizarre and shocking in nature, that she and her partner Detective Rixton must attempt to put the pieces together while Luce is being dogged by Adam who has his own agenda and way of doing things that conflict with Luce's very nature. While that is happening, her relationship with her coterie (Cole, Miller, Thomas, Portia, & Santiago) has grown. As her relationship with her coterie is growing, her partnership with Rixton slowly flames out due to secrets that Luce refuses to explain for fear of putting his family in harm's way. Too many people have already been hurt. 

The best word to describe this story and the events that takes place is complicated. There is nothing easy. Not with her family. Not with Rixton and his, not with Adam, and especially not with Luce's feelings for Cole. There are so many questions still unanswered. How and why did Luce become? While her other sisters seem to be following her to this planet and maintain who they were, how did Luce not retain her original form? What happen when Luce opened the door to this world that made her so different from Famine, and especially War? And, when will Death make her grand entrance? I still want answers about Ezra, and now that Adam is here, there are so, so many more questions about him and what he truly is and what his obsession with Luce really means.

Friday, October 12, 2018

#Review - The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Iskari # 2
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: September 25, 2018
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy
The second book in Kristen Ciccarelli’s lush Iskari series.

Lavish, romantic, and dotted with magic, The Caged Queen is a new story in the world of The Last Namsara—one that fans of the first book will flock to.

Once there were two sisters born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. When they were angry, mirrors shattered, and when they were happy, flowers bloomed. It was a magic they cherished—until the day a terrible accident took Essie’s life and trapped her soul in this world.

Dax—the heir to Firgaard’s throne—was responsible for the accident. Roa swore to hate him forever. But eight years later he returned, begging for her help. He was determined to dethrone his cruel father, under whose oppressive reign Roa’s people had suffered. Roa made him a deal: she’d give him the army he needed if he made her queen.

Together with Dax and his sister, Asha, Roa and her people waged war and deposed a tyrant. But now Asha is on the run, hiding from the price on her head. And Roa is an outlander queen, far from home and married to her enemy. Worst of all: Dax’s promises go unfulfilled. Roa’s people continue to suffer.

Then a chance to right every wrong arises—an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Reliquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa can reclaim her sister for good.

All she has to do is kill the king.

The Caged Queen is the second installment in author Kristen Ciccarelli's Iskari series. Let the record show that this has been called everything from the sequel to The Last Namsura, to a companion novel. This novel focuses on Roa, and what happens after the events of The Last Namsura. I am sure you have heard me say this dozens of times, but I absolutely believe in keeping the series together by reading one book at a time and not skipping over one book, to get to its sequel.

Hopefully, readers will remember who Roa is since she's the outlander who married Dax and helped defeat the former Dragon King sending Asha into exile in the process. Roa has tried to get concessions from Dax and his people to make life better for the outlanders who have suffered for years under the brutal dictatorship of the Dragon King. Roa and Dax are a story upon themselves, that is why the author decided to spend so much time in the past. 

Roa was a girl who had a twin sister Essie and they were nearly inseparable. Dax was a young boy, the son of a King, who spent a whole lot of time playing games with the sisters, especially Roa. While the synopsis does say that an accident happens, it really doesn't allow the reader to understand the bitterness, and the angry that Roa felt for the boy she came to like. So, it's curious when, 8 years later, it is Roa who approaches Dax, who is preparing to overthrow his father, to suggest that they marry in order to strengthen their alliance and free her people.

Meanwhile, Dax's sister, Asha, who we met in the first installment, in on the run with a high price on her head. Both Asha and make appearances in this book, but it is more or less tertiary in nature. While I totally understood Roa's anger, and her desire to pay back Dax for her belief in his responsibility, there are other things that happen in the book that really need to be addressed without spoiling them for you.  I am not a fan of any type of triangle. So, it kind of brought my rating down from 4 Gizmos.

The story is deep in politics, as Roa must now become the Queen who may change the course of her people's history, or die trying since Dax's people don't trust her motives. Meanwhile, don't overlook Dax. Dax is a curious character who you will be surprised and shocked to learn that he was trained very well by three women in his live; Asha, Safire, and of course, Roa. 

One of the most interesting mysteries in this entire book is the white bird that is always by Roa's side and how it got there in the first place. You will have to read the book to find out what it means, and why it is so important. Obviously, the synopsis does lay things out fairly well, but you should still make plans to read this book, especially if you've already read the Last Namsura. Upon reading the last page of this book, I had to ask myself what would a third book actually resolve? Will it dive deeper into the lives of Safire, Asha, and Torwin. Or, will another character be featured? We shall see.

#Review - A Sorrow Fierce and Falling by Jessica Cluess #YALit #Fantasy

Series: KINGDOM ON FIRE (#3)
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: October 16, 2018
Publisher: RH Books for Young Readers
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

It’s time for war.

After suffering terrible losses, Henrietta and Lord Blackwood have led their warriors to Sorrow-Fell, a vast estate where only those invited by a Blackwood may enter—and the ideal place to plan a final assault against the Ancients.

It’s time for a wedding.

Henrietta nervously awaits her marriage to Blackwood, but when the ritual to become his bride reveals a dark secret, she realizes that Sorrow-Fell is not a safe haven; it’s a trap. Convincing the sorcerers of this, however, is not easy. So with Maria, the true chosen one, and Magnus, the young man who once stole her heart, at her side, Henrietta plots a dangerous journey straight into the enemy’s lair. Some will live. Some will die. All will be tested.

In this stunning conclusion to the Kingdom on Fire series, Henrietta must choose between the love from her past, the love from her present, and a love that could define her future. While battles rage, the fate of the kingdom rests on her decision: Will she fall or rise up to become the woman who saves the realm?

It’s time for Henrietta to make her stand.

A Sorrow Fierce and Falling is the third and final installment in author Jessica Cluess' Kingdom on Fire trilogy. This story picks up where A Poison Dark and Drowning left off. 17-year old protagonist Henrietta (Nettie) Howel finds herself days from marrying Lord George Blackwood at Sorrow-Fell his ancestral home after escaping a disastrous loss to the Ancients. Meanwhile, Nettie hasn't told anyone that she has found the so called chosen one, or that she was bitten by Rook or what that could mean for her future.

Nettie will soon learn all she needs to know about the deepest secrets about Sorrow-Fell, what it means to her, and what she is expected to do now that she is to take on the title of Countess Blackwood. Some of these secrets really put a strain on her relationship with Blackwood. If that weren't enough to worry about, only a few people know who R'hlem really is, and why he is so angry and why destroying England is at the top of his list of things to accomplish.

This book definitely does not lack action, adventure, twists, turns, shocks, emotional scenes, romance, and an ending that will leave you with all sorts of conflicting emotions. I won't hesitate to say that there are a whole lot of conflicts between Nettie and Blackwood which could have been avoided had Blackwood actually took a step back and saw what she was trying to do. I will also say that it is expected that you would have read the first two books in this series before reaching this point so that you can avoid any and all spoilers from your fellow reviewers, including me!

Nettie is a great character who was born a Magician, but trained as a Sorceress. She is surrounded by friends like Magnus, Maria, Lilly, Lambe, Valens, Dee, Wolff, hell, even Queen Victoria seems to be on her side when it comes to dealing with the Ancients. The most impressive part of this story is to leave her friends behind in order to find a coalition of the willing. Willing Magicians, Witches, and even Magicians in order to fight and send the Ancients home where they belong. When you read this book, be prepared to be a bundle of emotions and nerves. Things will hit you in the mouth, and they don't stop until the final page of the story is finished.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

#Review/Excerpt - Wildcard by Marie Lu #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Warcross (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: September 18, 2018
Publisher: GP Putnam Sons
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

Return to the immersive, action-packed world of Warcross in this thrilling sequel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu

Emika Chen barely made it out of the Warcross Championships alive. Now that she knows the truth behind Hideo’s new NeuroLink algorithm, she can no longer trust the one person she’s always looked up to, who she once thought was on her side.

Determined to put a stop to Hideo’s grim plans, Emika and the Phoenix Riders band together, only to find a new threat lurking on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Someone’s put a bounty on Emika’s head, and her sole chance for survival lies with Zero and the Blackcoats, his ruthless crew. But Emika soon learns that Zero isn’t all that he seems—and his protection comes at a price.

Caught in a web of betrayal, with the future of free will at risk, just how far will Emika go to take down the man she loves?

In this explosive sequel to the New York Times bestselling Warcross, Marie Lu delivers an addictive finale that will hold you captive till the very last page.

“That's the difference between the real and the virtual. Reality is where you can lose the ones you love. Reality is the place where you can feel the cracks in your heart.” 

Wildcard is the second part of Marie Lu's Warcross Duology. The story pics up right where the previous book ended. Wildcard ups the ante with tons of adrenaline as Emika Chen is drawn deeper into the dark world of the Blackcoats, all the while torn between her attraction to Hideo Tanaka and her desire to take him down. Filled with twists that will keep readers guessing at every turn, this gripping finale drops us back onto the neon-lit streets of Tokyo as Emika races against the clock to stop Hideo’s plans.

Emika survived the Warcross tournament, but ended up getting kicked from her team the Phoenix Riders. If you haven't read the first book, you definitely MUST read it before jumping in feet first with this story. Every single thing is connected. Emika's teammate's (Asher, Hammie, & Roshan) haven't turned their back on her. In fact, I dare say they are thick as thieves and are with her almost every step of the way. That goes for Tremaine from the Demon Brigade and a bounty hunter just like Emika.

While Emika is still trying to close up loose ends in regards to Hideo's Neurolink, she is drawn into Zero's orbit. Even though Zero nearly destroyed Emika and her team, they have one thing in common. Stopping Hideo's Neurolink from taking over the world completely. I'm not going to be bashful when I say this was the turning point for the entire series for me as well as the biggest mistake she has made to this point. Emika knows that if she doesn't find a way to stop the Neurolink upgrade in 8 days, all will be lost, including her own free will. 

As the story progresses, Emika must put her trust in some people who call themselves Blackcoats. This means she gets to meet Zero for the first time, while being saved by a trained assassin (Jax Taylor) who is probably the most interesting character in the entire book. That would include Emika due to the fact that she, Jax, holds a whole lot of information to fill in the blanks. Emika life is anything but boring, especially when she learns of a huge bounty posted on the Dark Web. One of my negatives is how ultimately bland Emika tends to be in this story. 

She doesn't react quickly enough to situations, and later has to rely on others which she truly hates to do. There is the lack of excitement that I had for the first novel knowing we were actually going to have a protagonist be part of a world wide phenomenon called WarCross which brings the best VR players in the world to one place. Even though there is a rematch between the teams that met in the finals, there was nothing that involved Emika since she is no longer on the team. 

You could honestly say that the author is sending a message to readers about how dangerous technology can be if there is no oversight. Kind of like Google in helping the Chinese government suppress those living in China from having access to information that we, in the US, take for granted. The question has become how far will Google go to help China with its dissenters? I won't get political, but the same has come out about Google silencing former employees who expressed free speech.

For those wondering, nope, you will never guess the ending. Not in a million years would I have seen how the author would wrap up her series. Mind blown.
Best Quote of the Entire Book:

“Every problem has a solution. But after every solution, there's a new problem to tackle, some new challenge to take on. You don't stop after you solve one thing You keep going, you find a new way and a new path, try to do better and create better. tearing something down isn't the end; doing something great, or better, something right, is. Or maybe there isn't such a thing as an end goal at all. You accomplish something, and then you shift, ready to accomplish the next. You keep solving one problem after another until you change the world.” 


Eight Days until the Warcross Closing Ceremony 

Someone is watching me.
I can feel it—the eerie sensation of being followed, an invisible gaze locked on my back. It prickles my skin, and as I make my way through Tokyo’s rain-soaked streets to meet up with the Phoenix Riders, I keep looking over my shoulder. People hurry by in a steady stream of colorful umbrellas and business suits, heels and oversize coats. I can’t stop imagining their downcast faces all turned in my direction, no matter which way I go.
Maybe it’s the paranoia that comes with years of being a bounty hunter. You’re on a crowded street, I tell myself. No one’s following you.
It’s been three days since Hideo’s algorithm was triggered. Technically, the world should now be the safest it’s ever been. Every single person who has used the new Henka Games contact lenses—even just once—should now be completely under Hideo’s control, rendered unable to break the law or harm another person.
Only the few who still use the beta lenses, like me, are unaffected.
So, in theory, I shouldn’t be worried about someone following me. The algorithm won’t let them do anything to hurt me.
But even as I think this, I slow down to stare at the long line wrapping around a local police station. There must be hundreds of people. They’re all turning themselves in to the authorities for anything and everything unlawful they’ve ever done, from unpaid parking tickets to petty theft—even murder. It’s been like this for the past three days.
My attention shifts to a police barricade at the end of the street. They’re directing us to detour down a different block. Ambulance lights flash against the walls, illuminating a covered gurney being lifted into the vehicle. I only need to catch a glimpse of officers pointing up at the roof of a nearby building before I figure out what occurred here. Another criminal must have jumped to their death. Suicides like this have been peppering the news.
And I helped make all of this happen.
I swallow my unease and turn away. There’s a subtle but significant blankness in everyone’s eyes. They don’t know an artificial hand is inside their minds, bending their free will.
Hideo’s hand.
The reminder is enough to make me pause in the middle of the street and close my eyes. My fists clench and unclench, even as my heart lurches at his name. I’m such an idiot.
How can the thought of him fill me with disgust and desire at the same time? How can I stare in horror at this line of people waiting in the rain outside a police station—but still blush at my dream of being in Hideo’s bed, running my hands along his back?
We’re over. Forget him. I open my eyes again and continue on, trying to contain the anger beating in my chest.
By the time I duck into the heated halls of a Shinjuku shopping center, rain is coming down in wavy sheets, smearing the reflections of neon lights against the slick pavement.
Not that the storm is stopping preparations for the upcoming Warcross closing ceremony, which will mark the end of this year’s games. With my beta lenses on, I can see the roads and sidewalks color-coded in hues of scarlet and gold. Each Tokyo district is highlighted like this right now, the streets shaded the colors of the most popular team in that neighborhood. Overhead, a lavish display of virtual fireworks is going off, piercing the dark sky with bursts of colored light. Shinjuku district’s favorite team is the Phoenix Riders, so the fireworks here are currently forming the shape of a rising phoenix, arching its flaming neck in a cry of victory.
Every day over the next week or so, the top ten players of this year’s championships will be announced worldwide after a vote by all Warcross fans. Those ten players will compete in a final, all-star tournament during the closing ceremony, and then spend a year as the biggest celebrities in the world before they play again next spring, in the opening ceremony’s game. Like the one I once hacked into and disrupted, that upended my entire life and landed me here.
People on the streets are proudly dressed up as their top-ten vote this year. I see a few Asher lookalikes sporting his outfit from our championship game in the White World; someone’s decked out as Jena, another as Roshan. Still others are arguing heatedly about the Final. There had obviously been a cheat—power-ups that shouldn’t have been in play.
Of course, I had done that.
I adjust my face mask, letting my rainbow hair tumble out from underneath my red raincoat’s hood. My rain boots squelch against the sidewalk. I have a randomized virtual face laid over my own, so at least people who are wearing their NeuroLink glasses or contacts will look at me and see a complete stranger. For the rare person who isn’t, the face mask should cover enough to make me blend in with everyone else wearing masks on the street.
Sugoi!” someone passing me exclaims, and when I turn, I see a pair of wide-eyed girls grinning at my hair. Their Japanese words translate into English in my view. “Wow! Good Emika Chen costume!”
They make a gesture like they want to take a photo of me, and I play along, putting up my hands in V-for-victory signs. Are you both under Hideo’s control, too? I wonder.
The girls bob their heads in thanks and move along. I adjust my electric skateboard strapped over my shoulder. It’s a good temporary disguise, pretending to be myself, but for someone used to stalking others, I still feel weirdly exposed.

Emi! Almost here?

Hammie’s message appears before me as translucent white text, cutting through my tension. I smile instinctively and quicken my steps.


It would’ve been easier, you know, if you’d just come with us.

I cast a glance over my shoulder again. It would’ve definitely been easier—but the last time I stayed in the same space as my teammates, Zero nearly killed us in an explosion.

I’m not an official Rider anymore. People would ask questions if they saw us heading out as a group tonight.

But you’d be safer if you did.

It’s safer if I didn’t.

I can practically hear her sigh. She sends the address of the bar again.

See you soon.

I pass through the mall and out the other side. Here, the colorful blocks of Shinjuku shift into the seedy streets of Kabukicho, Tokyo’s red-light district. I tense my shoulders. It’s not an unsafe area—certainly not compared to where I came from in New York—but the walls are covered with glowing screens featuring the services of beautiful girls and handsome, spiky-haired boys, along with shadier banners I don’t want to understand.
Virtual models dressed in scanty outfits stand outside bars, beckoning visitors to enter. They ignore me when they realize my profile marks me as a foreigner and turn their attention to the more lucrative Japanese locals navigating the streets.
Still, I pick up my pace. No red-light district in the world is safe.
I duck into a narrow street on the border of Kabukicho. Piss Alley, so this cluster of little walkways is called. The Riders picked it for tonight because it’s closed to tourists during the Warcross championship season. Scowling bodyguards in suits stand at the entrances and exits of the alleys, shooing away curious passersby.
I take down my disguise for a second so they can see my real identity. One bodyguard bows his head and lets me in.
Both sides of the alleys are lined with tiny sake bars and yakitori stands. Through each of their fogged glass doors, I can see the backs of other teams huddled in front of smoking grills, arguing loudly at virtual projections on the walls showing interviews with players. The scent of fresh rain mixes with aromas of garlic, miso, and fried meat.
I pull off my raincoat, shake it out, and fold it inside out into my backpack. Then I head to the last stall. This bar is a little bigger than the others, facing a quiet alley blocked off on either side. Its doorway is lit by a row of cheery red lanterns, and men in suits stand in strategic positions around it. One of them notices me and moves aside, ushering me forward.
I walk under the lanterns and enter through the sliding glass door. A curtain of warm air envelops me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

#Review - No Sleep till Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton #Urban #Fantasy

Series: DRU JASPER (#3)
Format: E-Galley, 287 pages
Release Date: October 23,2018
Publisher: PYR
Source: Edelweiss/Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Urban

An inexperienced sorceress must retrieve a priceless artifact from the enchantress who stole it, break the curse on her half-demon boyfriend, and stop her friends from turning on each other before the enchantress calls down doomsday.

When a wicked enchantress steals a cursed doomsday amulet, crystal sorceress Dru Jasper has only twenty-four hours to get it back before the world will come to a fiery end. With this supernatural amulet in hand, the enchantress intends to break the sixth seal of the apocalypse scroll—making the seas boil, the stars fall from the sky, and the earth itself split apart. Overall, bad news.

Dru must hit the road to get the amulet back. But she suspects her half-demon boyfriend, Greyson, and his demon-possessed muscle car, Hellbringer, are hiding a dark secret. Can she trust them to help her stop doomsday? Worse, tracking down the enchantress runs Dru smack up against a pack of killer shape-shifters, the grim mystery of a radioactive ghost town, and a dangerous speed demon even more powerful than Hellbringer.

As the clock runs out, Dru is locked in a high-speed chase with the enchantress, fighting a fierce, magical duel she can never win alone. Can Dru and her sorcerer friends unravel Hellbringer’s secrets, outwit the shape-shifters, and retrieve the stolen amulet before the dawn of doomsday?

No Sleep till Doomsday is the third installment in author Laurence MacNaughton's Dru Jasper series. The story is set in present-day Denver, in & around Dru’s home and crystal shop, in a world where sorcerers and magic lurk beneath everyday life, unbeknownst to most people. Dru doesn’t have strong magical ability, but what she does have she uses to help people with magical problems. 

In the beginning, Dru stumbled across a man (Greyson) who was close to turning into a demon and a plot to bring about the end of the world was uncovered. Since then, she has scrambled to save the world, reconciled her growing magical abilities to her everyday life while also being surrounded by her friends Rane, Opal, and of course, Greyson who drives a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona called Hellbringer which was summoned from the Otherworld to help with the apocalypse.

This story surrounds events that happen rather quickly. As Dru is attempting to find a way to break Greyson's curse which makes him one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, she gets a very unwelcome visitor in the form of a really powerful crystal sorceress who steals a very powerful artifact that shouldn't be allowed any where in public. Said object is powerful enough to break the 6th seal of the apocalypse seal. But, that is just the beginning. Dru's troubles are just beginning.

Her friends, Rane and Salem, are attacked by a giant Bat which apparently means the return of a group called protean sorcerers who are able to shape-shift. In the process, Salem loses one of his own favorite amulet's. Shortly thereafter, Opal's car is broken into, and she too loses an amulet. For Dru, this can only mean one thing. The apocalypse she has already stopped twice is once again on the horizon. 

It means that Dru and her Scooby gang must put personal issues aside, especially Salem and Opal with Greyson and their belief that he is one of the triggers for the apocalypse, and use their skills to figure a way to stop the crystal sorceress and her shape-shifting nightmares from opening the games of hell itself and unleashing the end of the world. 

I really like this story. I love Dru, the girl who finds out she is a crystal sorceress who never believed she could actually save the world. Dru hasn't exactly accepted her role as a sorceress, but she does believe it is her responsibility to try to save the world from evil. I love the way that Dru sticks with Greyson no matter how much her friends have issues with him or his car. I loved Greyson and his demon possessed car. 

I loved the fact that Hellbringer has a bit of competition in this story which leads to plenty of chase scenes and face-paced action. Opal is pretty much the entertainment aspect of the story with her weird sense of style, but don't count her knowledge of crystals out. Rane has the amazing ability to turn into metal or steel which really comes in handy when helping Dru save the world. The loose cannon of the group? Salem. Salem and I have a love hate relationship. I hate him but love that there is an outsider among Dru's group to keep her on her toes.

This book actually gives each character a brief chance to shine on their own without the author having to let Dru tell their stories. I love this series because the stories are a mixed up genre mash-up between Urban Fantasy and a quirky mystery with some pretty interesting characters. I would say that if you are looking for something different from the same old vampires, Fae, and Werewolves, you should definitely check out this series from the beginnin.

**Note** I received word from the publisher that there will be a fourth installment in this series which is absolutely fantastic news. Thank you, Lisa for the 411!**


For some reason, Dru had always assumed doomsday would fall on
a Monday. Not on a nice, easy summer Friday night. The universe
just didn’t seem to be that cruel. Then again, Dru had been wrong about doomsday before.

When the energetic knock sounded at her door, she opened it to find Greyson standing on her threshold. He held a lush bouquet of red peonies in one hand, and an expensive-looking bottle of wine in the other. He had replaced his usual white T-shirt and black leather biker jacket with a pressed button-down gray shirt and designer jacket. For once, he was freshly shaved, and he smelled great.

Dru’s jaw dropped open in surprise, and she quickly shut it.
His eyebrows crept upward. “Am I early?”

She folded her arms across her ragged sweatshirt and turned to look at the shambles of her apartment, feeling her cheeks redden. For the last few days, she had locked herself inside with her ancient books of magical knowledge, determined once and for all to discover a way to break Greyson’s curse. Every flat surface was covered with tall stacks of smelly, old texts and multicolored crystals. The floor was dominated by a shimmering seven-pointed star made of copper wire. The stubby dregs of candles burned at each point.

Greyson gestured with the bouquet of flowers. “When I called, you
said you were lighting candles, so…”

Ohh! Candles, yes, but…” Dru chewed on her upper lip, struggling
to explain all of this in a way that wasn’t completely awkward.

“You see, the candles are for work…” She gestured toward the copper star, painfully aware of the essential oil stains on her sleeve. She tried to hide them by pretending to fix her hair, which was a hopeless disaster. With a nervous laugh, she said, “I thought you were coming over on Friday night.”

His  rugged face showed utter confusion. “It is Friday.”

“What? Nooo.” She checked her phone. “Oh, fudge buckets. Look,
um, just give me a few minutes to straighten up and—”

“It’s okay. It’s work. I should probably just go.” He hesitated, as if he wanted to say more, then held out the flowers. “These are for you.”

“No! No, you don’t have to go. Come in, come in.” She took the
flowers and wine, and quickly set them aside. Racing around like mad, she picked up stacks of dusty medieval manuscripts and a couple of creatively
misplaced yoga pants, staggering under the combined weight of it
all. “Sorry. I’ve been doing all this research. Obviously. And I’m so close.
So close. I found this thing in one of the padlocked Stanislaus journals
where he made kind of a poetic reference to Tristram banishing a ‘demon
of the horse,’ which isn’t precisely the problem you have, but let me
just—whoa!” She accidentally kicked over a lit candle with her bare foot,
spilling hot wax across the hopelessly scarred wood floor.

“Got it.” Moving quickly, Greyson steadied her and stooped to right
the candle. The flame guttered and went out, releasing a curl of smoke.

“Oh, good. Nothing’s on fire.” Dru set the books down on top of another
stack, pausing a moment to make sure the whole thing didn’t topple over.
When she turned around again, Greyson was smiling down at her.

“Looks like I need to get you out of this apartment,” he said. “How
about a fancy dinner to shake things up?”

“Oh, shoot.” She adjusted her glasses and squinted at the microwave.
“I heated up that burrito like…Wait, was that lunchtime?” The
grumble in her belly told her that she hadn’t eaten it. “I’m sorry, everything
is such a mess. It’s just that I’m putting everything else on hold
until I find a way to break your curse. So you can be normal again, and
not one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

At that, Greyson’s smile vanished. Though he didn’t move, he suddenly
seemed miles away from her, as if her words had driven an invisible
gulf between them.

Her empty stomach clenched up with worry. “What? What did I say?”

He just shook his head and walked over to the window. In the evening
sky beyond, the distant sparkling lights of downtown Denver glowed
peacefully. Dru’s apartment was on the upstairs floor over her shop, the
Crystal Connection. Outside the window, metal stairs ran down to the
parking space behind her store. It wasn’t the most glamorous place to live,
and she certainly hadn’t meant Greyson to see it like this for the first time.
But that didn’t seem to be what was bugging him. “You really want
to make me normal again?”

“For sure. Yes. Absolutely.” She studied the tension in his shoulders,
wondering at the sudden change in him. “Why, what am I missing?”

He let out a long breath and hung his head, then looked at her. The light
of the candles reflected in his blue eyes. “Everything that exists between me
and you, everything, it’s all because there’s something wrong with me.”

At first, she thought he was joking, and she started to laugh. But the
hard look in his eyes made the laughter dry up instantly.

She cleared her throat. “Well, that’s just not true. We have plenty of
things in common besides, you know, doomsday problems.”

His gaze didn’t waver. “Name one thing.”

She opened her mouth to reply, but nothing sprang to mind. Her
entire life revolved around musty books, dusty rocks, and an encyclopedia’s
worth of knowledge about healing herbs and potions. His life, on
the other hand, involved old cars, engines, wrenches, tires—and being
cursed with the destructive powers of a Horseman of the Apocalypse.

His gaze softened. “The strange powers I have, that’s the whole reason
we met. That’s why we’ve been so close. Because you’re worried that at
any moment, I could crack. I could become a monster again.”

For a moment, Dru visualized the creature he’d once been. Looming
horns, vicious fangs, rippling leathery skin as black as midnight, and eyes
fiery red as hot coals. With an effort, she pushed that unsettling memory
aside and focused on the handsome man standing before her.

“Let’s not jump to the worst-case scenario just yet, okay? Things are
under control. There was a time, not too long ago, when you were running
around with horns growing out of your head.” With both index fingers,
she pointed at her own temples for emphasis. “And right now, you look
great, okay? More than great. Fantastic. Amazing.” She looked him up
and down, drinking in the sight of him, then shook her head, trying not
to get distracted. “The point is, we’re making progress, and that’s what
counts. I’m not giving up. Somewhere inside all of these books, there’s a
cure. And I will find it.”

“And then what?”

“Then you’ll be normal again. Isn’t that what you want?” She stepped
closer to him, acutely aware that on a deeper level, he was asking a
question she didn’t quite comprehend. “How could that possibly be a

His lips pressed into a thin line. “If you fix me, if you get rid of my
Horseman powers, then what am I? Just some mechanic with an old car.”

The anguish in his voice cut through her. She laid a hand on his
strong arm. “Greyson, no. It’s not like that at all.”

“Before I met you, I never believed in magic. Or monsters. Or any of
this.” His voice grew husky. “And now I’ve seen what you can do. I know
the world needs you and your friends. People like you, born with powers
that can save lives, fight the bad guys, keep everyone safe.” His forehead
creased with worry. “But once my powers are gone, I won’t fit into your
world anymore.”

“That’s not true,” she said softly. But obviously he believed it. Her
eyes stung with tears. “Is this…?” Her voice cracked. “Is this you
breaking up with me?”

How could she make him understand that they were meant to be
together? They had a connection that went deeper than just their day-today
interests. There was something about his very presence that affected
her on a fundamental level. Being near him made her feel like everything
was right with the world.