Friday, July 19, 2019

#Review - Ascending by Margaret Pechenick #Science #Fiction

Series: The Vardeshi Saga #1
Format: E-Galley, 490 pages
Release Date: August 5, 2019
Publisher: Ink Sigil Press
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Science Fiction

Twenty-five years ago the Vardeshi came to Earth. Then they vanished without a trace. Graduate student Avery Alcott always knew they would return. When they do, she’s the only one who can speak their language. She’s quickly recruited to join the crew of an 11-man starship on a one-year mission into the depths of space. 

Avery leaps at the chance to leave behind everything she’s ever known. Wearing a Vardeshi uniform, adapting to their culture, following their orders, she’s as close to being one of them as she’ll ever be. But there’s more to interstellar diplomacy than knowing the right words to say. And shedding her identity turns out to be harder than she expected. When her ship, its crew, and the fragile human-Vardeshi alliance are threatened, Avery’s humanity—the very thing putting her at risk—just might be the one thing that can save her.

Ascending is the first installment in debut author Margaret Pechenick's The Vardeshi Saga. In 1993, a race called the Vardeshi made 1st contact with Earth. After a meeting at the UN, they got up and left saying that Earth wasn't ready for what they could offer. They considered humankind to be too young, and too angry, and too fractured. Sound familiar? The arrival of the Vardeshi led to the formation of the United Earth Council to deal with any future entanglements with alien races. Even though Earth moved leaps and bounds in technology, the Vardeshi didn't return.

Flash forward 25 years where we find protagonist Avery Alcott is a graduate student at NYU's linguistic program. Her mentor, Dr. Sawyer, was one of those who was allowed to meet with the aliens. He also created a program called TrueFluent which was hugely successful. He has spent years trying to break down the Vardeshi language so that if, or when they return, he would be ready for them. Avery spends a year learning and breaking apart the Vardeshi language thanks to Dr. Sawyer's program. 

Dr. Sawyer believed that Avery would be the ideal candidate for the exchange because she has humility, kindness, and patience to deal with any situation she finds herself in. Then the call comes in. The Vardeshi will allow a cultural exchange program for 100 earthlings to live among them for a year. Avery is one of those chosen. In fact, the Vardeshi crew of the Pinion chose Avery to travel to the Vardeshi home planet. To make matters even more interesting, Avery is also chosen to become a member of the crew and wear the same uniform they do. 

Avery is given the title of novi, the lowest rank in the hierarchy of the Vardeshi Stellar Fleet. She finds that she has a friend in Zey Takheri who is also a novi and her superior. It's menial server role, but it gives Avery a change to better understand the people she is going to spent a year with. As Avery learns more about the crew of the Pinion, she finds that there's both curiosity about her, as well as resentment that someone thinks that they can really learn the Vardeshi language good enough to gain support for an Earth/Vardeshi alliance. 

There is a feeling of something not quite right onboard this ship, and it's going to be a long trip if Avery can actually survive the machinations of people who have no desire to see an alliance with Earth. As others have said, the first part of this story is rather dull since nothing much happens. There is Avery's curiousness, as well as her reservation at not knowing enough to get by. However, it's a pretty good story overall, but with not a whole lot of action. Sure, there's a bit of suspense and mystery, but the ending is the real story.

The sequel, Bright Shards, is set to be released on August 1st of this year. I will definitely continue just to see where Avery goes from here after all that has happened to her.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

#Review - The True Queen by Zen Cho #Historical #Fantasy

Series: Sorcerer To The Crown  (#2)
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Release Date: March 12, 2019
Publisher: Ace Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Historical

In the follow-up to the “delightful” regency fantasy novel ( Sorcerer to the Crown, a young woman with no memories of her past finds herself embroiled in dangerous politics in England and the land of the fae.

When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.

If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she’s drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.

Story Locale: Regency England, fantasy world

Series Overview:
The future of British magic is in question in this acclaimed Regency set fantasy series.

The True Queen is the second installment in author Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown series. This story takes on different character than the first book. There are a few notable exceptions like Prunella Wythe Gentleman and Mak Genggang, but it is Muna and Sakti who are the main characters in this story along with Henrietta Stapleton who just happens to be Prunella's friend. As the opens, readers learn that it has been 2 years since we left Prunella and her now husband Zacharias Wythe the former Sorcerer to the Crown.

Muna and Sakti find themselves on the island of Janda Baik, Straits of Malacca (Malaysia) where they have no memories of how they got here or from before. Muna has no magical ability at all while Sakti has an abundance. Both appear to have been cursed, and the suspected culprit carries a surname that readers of Sorcerer to the Crown will be familiar with. Mak Genggang ships the sisters off to England, for Sakti to apprentice under the Sorceress Royal Prunella Wythe, and Muna to keep her sister company. 

While taking a shortcut through Fairy to their destination, Sakti disappears, leaving Muna to fend for herself when she reaches England. Pretending at having magic while scheming to find a way back into Fairy, Muna befriends Prunella’s schoolmate Henrietta Stapleton, who has trials of her own to face. Meanwhile, Prunella has been busy avoiding assassination attempts, politics, while also opening an academy for girls. She also has to worry about the Fairy Queen waging war on England's magicians after she is accused of stealing something valuable from the Queen.

Since this story takes place in Regency-era Britain, you will get the usual background about misogynistic men who despise women who play with magic, and those who aren't white, well, how dare Prunella invade their territory! I mean, really! And, to make matters worse, Prunella is married to a man who is even darker than she is! SHAME!! (Sorry if I offended anyone. But, this is what the British shout whenever they are in Parliament. I'm always curious as if one of them will break out the billy club and start a melee.)

In many ways, this story is the complete opposite of Sorcerer to the Crown. We barely see Zacharias, Prunella is more of a secondary character than a primary one, and even more characters like Rollo and Pogo play bit parts in this story. I found the mystery of what happened to Muna and Sakti's mystery pretty quickly. Even though Muna is center stage, it is Sakti who was the more forceful personality, the more strong-willed and impulsive than her meeker and more pensive sibling. 

It was pretty obvious that the author was attempting to appeal to a wider audience with the pairing of certain male and female characters together. I think Henrietta was a fine character all to herself. She has a curious family who she claims doesn't know anything about her magic use, and yet they prove her wrong. Don't ever think you can fool your parents. They will find out one way or the other.

At the beginning
On the shore

The storm was shattering.

Lightning struck a tree. The trunk split with extraordinary violence, but there was an inevitability to its destruction.

So, too, with her. As she was sundered in two, there was no surprise—only pain.

She heard herself crack, the ichor in her veins boiling, but then all noise was drowned out by the roar of the storm. In days past she had summoned lightning at a thought; the rain came and went at her command; the waves churned at her whim.

But those powers had been taken from her. Now it was she who was at the mercy of the elements, tossed about like a toy. She fought to hold on to the broken parts of herself, but they slipped out of her grasp.

Insensibility seized her. She was dragged down into darkness, not grateful, and yet relieved.

When she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was the dark bowl of the night sky.
Faint stars were scattered across its curved surface, and a full white moon rode the clouds. The air smelt sweetly of rain, but the tempest had passed.

Now a hush held the world in the palm of its hand. A low voice rumbled through her bones, monotonous and familiar. It was the voice of the waves, running up the shore and receding.

She felt as if she had awakened after a deep, revivifying sleep. She could not remember what had happened before, but that she had suffered she did not doubt. All distress had passed with the storm, however. She felt pleasantly empty—weak, wrung out, but calm.

The sand whispered against her as she rose unsteadily to her feet. Before her was the sea. Behind her, the dark mass of the jungle loomed out of the night like a drowsing beast, only half-asleep.

She felt her way across the shore, going slowly, for her limbs felt new to her. The beach was scattered with the debris of the storm, and she tripped on a piece of wood, grazing her knee.

The silence of the world began to frighten her. She felt alone, abandoned by all she had known—even her own self, for she could not remember what she was called. Trees lined the shore, graceful assemblies of coconut palms and casuarinas. But when she addressed them, they did not answer.

She longed for a friendly voice, the touch of a hand she knew. She had been asleep for so long. If only someone would tell her what had happened . . .

Her foot knocked against something solid. This log seemed different—solid, but more yielding. She crouched down, reaching out, and felt warm flesh, the jutting edge of bone. The body was breathing. It stirred at her touch.

The girl opened her eyes. They gleamed as they caught the light of the moon, and they held the same look she must have on her own face—a look of recognition and relief. “Muna.”

“Is that my name?” said Muna, but she was not really questioning it. She had known at once that they belonged to each other. “I have forgotten yours.”

“I was called Sakti, I think,” said the other. “Help me up, kak,” she said, calling Muna ‘“sister,”‘ and from then on that was how they addressed each other.

Chapter 1
Six weeks later

The island of Janda Baik, the Straits of Malacca


The forests of Janda Baik were imposing even in the full glare of daylight. In the half-light of dawn they were something else altogether-an extrusion of another, inhuman world, beyond terror or awe.

The forests blanketed a large part of the island, but the villages clung to the coast. The people of the island went quietly in the shadow of the jungle, avoiding its notice. What came to pass in the jungle was the business of witches and spirits.

Of course, such business was precisely Mak Genggang’s stock-in-trade. In appearance she was like any aged village woman to be found bent over cooking pots in a kitchen or selling vegetables in a market. Her manner, which combined warmth with an imperiousness that would not have been out of place in a palace, would not distinguish her from any other matriarch in her batik cloths.

Yet her appearance was deceptive. As everyone in Janda Baik knew, Mak Genggang was the foremost witch of the region, first among the magicians in the polities along the Straits. The King of Siam himself was said to have sought her counsel; she was renowned among practitioners of the magic arts in China and India; and she counted among her friends England’s Sorceress Royal, who presided over the magicians of that distant country. Mak Genggang’s name was known even in the Unseen Realm-the hidden world where the spirits live, next door to our own.

Despite her great powers she was a kindly woman, but as with many strong people who are not often afraid, it did not come naturally to her to take thought of the fears of the weak. It had been she who insisted that Muna and her sister Sakti depart at the start of the day, before the sun had quite risen.

“Magic is always strongest at a border,” the witch had explained. “Whether it be between jungle and village, or earth and sea, or day and night.”

Sakti’s face had twitched. Muna had known just how she felt. Left to herself, Muna would not have set off any earlier than noon, when the sun would be high in the sky, its light inescapable.

“We will be guided by your judgment, of course, mak cik,” Muna said. “But will not it be easier for us to see our way if we leave later in the day?”

“The sooner you are off, the better,” said the witch firmly.

They had risen at dawn, when it was dark, and the sky was still a deep blue when they arrived at the edge of the jungle. Under the trees lay a shadowy world, full of mystery and discomfort-leeches, snakes, dangerous beasts…and magic. For through the jungle lay the shortest route to the Unseen Realm, the abode of djinns and spirits, whence all magic ultimately flowed.

“If we put you on a ship to England, it would be a year before you saw its shores,” said Mak Genggang. “But the Unseen Realm borders all mortal lands, and it will take you no time at all to get there through the jungle. Any fool who wanders in the forest risks stumbling into the world of the spirits, if he does not take care.”

Muna had heard all the usual stories of such fools, and the grisly ends to which they came. The tales were not such as to light in her any flame of desire to model herself on their heroes. “But is it safe to go this way, mak cik?”

“Of course it is not safe,” said Mak Genggang impatiently. “But it would not be safe for you to remain here either. I shall make a path for you, and if you walk briskly, you will be in England before the Sorceress Royal has sat down to her breakfast.”

The ceremony for the opening of the path was a simple one. Mak Genggang did not chant, nor work any great magic, so far as Muna could tell. She merely bowed her head, muttering and prodding the grass with a stick, as though she were searching for something she had lost.

Muna drew her shawl closer around her, shivering at the chill morning air. There must be more to the witch’s activities than was apparent to unmagical eyes, for Sakti watched Mak Genggang with interest, seeming to forget her apprehension at the journey ahead.

There were only three of them at the forest’s edge. No one else in Mak Genggang’s household had been told of their departure. Of course Muna saw the need for discretion-it was no one’s fault but their own that they were being sent away in secret.

Yet she regretted that she could not bid everyone good-bye. Like most persons of importance Mak Genggang boasted a numerous following, though hers was more variegated than was usual. In her substantial wooden house, set back from the rest of the village, resided a shifting population of witches, apprentices, servants, slaves, bondswomen, poor relations, strays of all descriptions and even a number of lamiae.

These last had alarmed Muna when she had first joined the witch’s household, but use had accustomed her to them. They were not unlike mortal females-which was perhaps not surprising, for lamiae are nothing more than the spectres of women who die nursing a great grievance. The chief point that distinguished them from other women was their predilection for consuming the vitals of humans; they were particularly fond of infants. Those who lived under Mak Genggang’s protection were tame, however, observing strict codes of proper behaviour. They were inordinately fond of gossip and prone to quarrelling among themselves-but these were foibles shared by most of the witch’s dependents.

Yet Muna had grown attached to her fellow servants in the weeks since Mak Genggang had found her and Sakti wandering confused upon the shore, and taken them under her protection. Muna thought wistfully of the girl who slept on the pallet next to hers. She had often wished Puteh would not insist on repeating her conversations with a certain well-favoured youth in the village when Muna wished to sleep, but now she would miss that excitable voice buzzing in her ear. And she would miss Kak Lena, who reigned over Mak Genggang’s kitchen. She had promised to teach Muna Mak Genggang’s recipe for sambal (a secret as jealously guarded as any of the witch’s magic spells), but Muna would never learn it now…

“Why do you sniff?” whispered Sakti, with what for her was unusual percipience.

“It is nothing,” said Muna, embarrassed. She flicked her tears away with her shawl. “Only-I was thinking of everyone, you know! Aren’t you sorry to leave, adik?”

“No,” said Sakti. “You know I have been longing for something to happen!”

Muna sighed, but she had not really expected any other response from Sakti. She did not doubt they were sisters: how else could Sakti have known her name the moment they woke, though they remembered nothing else of their past lives? Certainly they looked alike-though Sakti was the prettier, with larger eyes, longer lashes and a clearer golden skin-but they seemed to share no other point of resemblance.

It was supposed they had been lost at sea during the storm-such a storm as Janda Baik had not seen in living memory, devastating crops and drowning several fishermen. But neither Muna nor Sakti could say what village they were from, nor name their family.

“The shock has chased these things out of your mind,” Mak Genggang had said, “but you will remember in time and then we will find your people.”

But they did not remember, though the days passed, turning insensibly into weeks.

The lapse of time had not worried Muna. It was inconvenient not to have memories, to be sure-yet life under Mak Genggang’s protection was comfortable. Muna had been set to work in the kitchen, and since in the witch’s household the art of cookery was as highly developed and esteemed as that of magic, she had found the work of absorbing interest. She had made friends among her fellow servants, and rapidly become part of the life of the house.

As for her sister, Sakti had been singled out by Mak Genggang from the outset for her remarkable magical gift. She had been elevated to the rank of apprentice and relieved of the greater part of her domestic duties so that she might devote her time to the study of magic.

Muna herself lacked any magical facility, but she was not exercised by this. Magic hardly seemed to make Sakti happy. To be admitted to Mak Genggang’s lessons in magic was accounted a great honour-noblemen and princesses had eagerly sought the privilege-but Sakti did not value her good fortune as she ought. Hers was a restless temperament and she chafed under the burden of Mak Genggang’s authority.

“The old woman is a tyrant!” she said to Muna. “I don’t see how you can bring yourself to bow and scrape to her, and say yes, mak cik and no, mak cik as you do.”

The truth was that Muna was fond of Mak Genggang. The witch could be overbearing, but it was natural that one so old and powerful should believe she knew what was best. But to say this to Sakti would only annoy her.

“I find that the fact she is a powerful magician is a great incentive to courtesy,” said Muna mildly. “Besides, we are indebted to her. She was under no obligation to take us in.”

Sakti could not deny that the witch had been kind. Mak Genggang had shown no impatience for their departure, as the time passed and they remained at her household. As for Muna, she knew there must be people wondering at their disappearance-family and friends waiting for their return-but since she could not remember them, she felt no urgent need of a reunion. She should happily have remained with Mak Genggang indefinitely…if not for the curse.

She glanced at Sakti’s waist, but the evidence of the curse was concealed by Sakti’s sarong. The recollection of the wound made Muna soften towards her sister. Why should Sakti regret to leave a place that had served her so ill? Muna could only hope that England would suit her better.

Mak Genggang straightened, tossing her stick away and clapping her hands. “There! That will keep you as safe as you can hope to be in djinn-country. And I have laid speech-magic on each of you, so you ought not to have any difficulty speaking with the English.”

The path unfurled before their feet: a silver rope of light, winding across the grass and into the jungle. Sakti and Muna regarded it in some doubt. Mak Genggang’s businesslike manner did not quite suffice to persuade them that to stroll into the Unseen World was nothing out of the ordinary way.

“What shall we do if we encounter any spirits?” ventured Sakti.

“I have taught you spells for defence. You will not have forgot them all, surely?” said Mak Genggang.

“No, but-”

“You should not have need of them in any event, so long as you keep to the path. Few spirits will offer to molest you if they know you are under my protection,” said Mak Genggang. “You must be discreet, however. The Queen of the Djinns has never minded what we do here in Janda Baik, but she has quarrelled with the English, and that has made her particular about who may travel between her realm and England. But if you are quick and quiet there is no reason she should ever know you have passed through her lands.

”You had best get along,“ she added, when Muna and Sakti still evinced an inclination to linger. ”I have other business to attend to-and we don’t want the English to come and find you still here. It would be just like their wickedness to surprise us! Go in safety, and give my regards to the Sorceress Royal and her young man. And mind you look after your sister!“

It would have been natural for the witch to have been addressing Sakti, since it was Sakti who had magic and was best equipped to defend them against the various perils of the Unseen. Yet Mak Genggang looked at Muna.

”I shall watch over my sister, mak cik,“ said Muna. She hesitated. ”Thank you. You have been very good to us!"

They set off. Muna did not mean to look back, for she had a suspicion she would disgrace herself if she did. Yet she turned despite herself.

Though they had only advanced a dozen steps into the jungle, already the crowding trees obscured her view. Through the gaps between the boles, she caught a glimpse of the witch still standing there-a small, upright figure, deceptively frail, shading her eyes with one hand.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

#Review - A Vampire's Fury by Raven Steele, Ava Mason (#Urban #Fantasy)

Series: Rouen Chronicles #8
Format: Kindle, 306 pages
Release Date: June 4, 2019
Publisher: Amazon
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Urban Fantasy

“The beast inside me is awake, and it is hungry.” 
Her heart gutted by Korin's betrayal, Samira turns her focus on not just killing him but destroying everything he holds dear. Only tearing apart the ones he loves will give her the revenge she requires. 

To do so, she must reawaken the beast inside her, the Kiss off Eternal Night. It is both a gift and a curse. If she’s not careful, tapping into those dark powers may destroy a lot more than Korin. The people she loves will also be at risk. But maybe that’s the cost of achieving ultimate revenge.  
Or so the beast inside her says..

“The world of superheroes is black and white; the world of monsters is not. Sometimes you need evil to fight evil.”

A Vampire's Fury, by authors Raven Steele, & Ava Mason, is the 8th installment in the Rouen Chronicles. The first thing I should say is that every book in this series connects to the next in the series including Aris Crow's trilogy which is set in Coast City. Time line wise; it has been 2 weeks since Korin killed Samira's daughter Faithe as well as another friend in a power play to make Samira grovel for forgiveness. It has also been 2 weeks since Lynx fell into a coma after unleashing a power we haven't seen to this point. 

Samira has a darkness in her called the Kiss of Eternal Darkness. Now that it is out, Samira has a craving to make Korin and his vile son Naburus pay for their transgressions against her, as well as forcing Mateo to work to kidnap more humans for his Scorpion Breath experiments. A surprising revelation is soon uncovered, and I am not sure if this will spoil things or not. At the end of Briar's trilogy, the Phoenix rose and is now the controlling powers behind Korin. But, could the Phoenix actually someone Lynx knows?

"A storm is coming, and only the dead can save the living.”

I've seen a different side to Briar this book as well, but I do have some questions about her relationships with both Angel and Luke who is very, very annoying and secretive throughout this story. I don't know what is going to happen from here. Angel has had enough of waiting in the background. He knows that Briar will be shattered if he chooses to leave, however, he doesn't want to hang around for eternity waiting for her to choose. 

I appreciated that Lynx was given a much more impressive role in this story again. Lynx is being forced by her mother Cassandra to go for training at Principis Noctis to learn how to use her gifts. We know that Lynx is powerful. She's proven herself, and will do so again.  Lynx is one part of the mysterious prophecy, and Briar has already done what she was supposed to do to become the second part of the prophecy. Now, all the Phoenix needs is for Samira to play her part in what could be apocalyptic for human kind. 

Samira has all sorts of issues to deal with. Regardless of her head, her heart is absolutely in love with Mateo, and would be devastating were he to not be in her life. She also finds herself in some dangerous situations and has to reign it in when her actions puts those she loves in danger. I have mentioned that you should read the books in this series in order, including the trilogy about Aris Crow. That warning now pays dividends when Aris arrives in Rouen to help Samira and her allies. This should be a very interesting story going forward.

This story is full of intense drama, suspense, intrigue, angst, emotional heartache, violence, torture, deceit, twists that have you glued to page after page of this thrilling, titillating, brilliantly written story.  

“The sides you choose are important. Remember that, if you live through this.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

#Review - A Monster's Fight by Raven Steele #Urban #Fantasy

Series: Rouen Chronicles # 7
Format: Kindle, 293 pages
Release Date: May 7, 2019
Publisher: Amazon
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Urban Fantasy

“I stopped fighting my inner monster. We’re on the same side now.”

Aris is back, but he's not alone. His once greatest enemy fights alongside him to take down Coast City's biggest villain. But the city isn't how they remembered. Vampires have taken over, and Aris isn't powerful enough to defeat them. His only hope is to tap into the ancient powers coursing through his blood but doing so may have severe consequences. The monster buried inside him must be unleashed.

A Monster's Fight, by author Raven Steele, is the 7th installment in the authors Rouen Chronicles. As the story opens, 9 months have passed since Aris Crow, Victor, Oz, Amy, and Emma left Coast City for Bisou Island where Victor is learning to deal with his new reality. No spoilers. I will recommend that you do read the first two installments in Aris's trilogy before continuing on to Samira's second installment in the Rouen Chronicles. Everything will make sense once you are finished reading this book. Trust me.

Thanks to Samira & Ames de la Terra, Aris and his allies are safe from what is happening in Coast City. Oz has been on a roller-coaster ride since he joined with Aris. His participation is actually a highlight since he is one of the few who isn't supernatural or with mighty powers. Aris knows he can't stay forever in Bisou Island because it's become apparent that Bastian has totally taken over the city, and the city is tearing itself apart by the seams. Humans are revolting against vampires. 

And, Samira is pre-occupied with with the growing evil in Rouen where her friends are facing an unimaginable evil which has come back stronger than before. Aris continues to struggle to keep the darkness within him thanks to having Elizabeth Bathory's blood flowing through his veins. He is playing a much, much larger game than he could ever imagine. He has to make it so that Bastian takes him into his confidence. He has to somehow keep Oz, Victor, as well as the human resistance from being wiped out. 

Aris has to become the thing he hates. A monster with a taste for human blood. Aris is a very strong character, but can he stop Bastian as well as the Ministry who we finally meet all of the members when they show up in Coast City thanks to revolt against Bastian. The ending has some emotional moments which you should be prepared for. But, I am ready to go back to Rouen, and pick up with Samira, Briar, and Lynx as they prepare to fight for their lives against several really powerful and evil villains.

Monday, July 15, 2019

#Review - Brave the Tempest by Karen Chance #Fantasy #Romance

Series: Cassandra Palmer #9
Format: E-Galley, 576 pages
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Cassie Palmer, chief seer of the supernatural world, faces her biggest challenge yet—her own allies! Everything’s on the line in the latest thrilling entry in the New York Times bestselling urban fantasy series.

Cassie Palmer has been chief seer of the supernatural world for a little over four months. In that time, she’s battled two gods, fallen in love with two men, and confronted the two sides of her own nature, both god and human. So it’s not surprising that she currently finds herself facing two adversaries, although they have a single purpose: to wipe out the supernatural community’s newest fighting force, leaving it vulnerable to enemies in this world and beyond.

To prevent catastrophe, the vamps, mages, and demons will have to do the one thing they’ve never managed before and come together as allies. Cassie has the difficult task of keeping the uneasy coalition intact, and of persuading her own two opposing forces, a powerful mage with a secret and a master vampire with a growing obsession, to fight at her side. She just hopes they can do it without tearing each other apart.

Story Locale: alternative Las Vegas and fantasy world

Brave the Tempest, by author Karen Chance, is the 9th installment in the authors Cassie Palmer series. As a brief summary, Cassie is the Chief Seer of the supernatural world. Even though this series has been going on since 2006, only a short 4 months have gone by in this world since she was chosen by the Pythia powers. However, she still doesn't have a job description. Nobody has told her what her job is really supposed to entail. Everybody, vampires, demons, and mages have pretty much just accepted the quirkiness that is Cassie and learned that she can not be controlled or handled.

After all, Cassie did the impossible. She chased down Pritkin's soul in the past and reunited him. But, with the supernatural war on the brink of a full invasion of Faerie, Cassie has some moral dilemma's. How is she supposed to protect the acolyte's she rescued from England? How can she ensure her acolyte's, especially Rhea, are trained to one day step up when they are called upon? How can she get the witches to trust her enough to allow them to send their daughters to become part of the Pythian Court? 

How can she help keep the fragile alliance that she helped create between vampires, mages, and demons. What's worse, how can she manage her heart when it comes to choosing between Mircea and Pritkin? I liked that Cassie found her backbone in this book. She isn't afraid of anyone except failing her kids. She is the Pythia. She has the ability to travel back in time. She has done things that people have scoffed at because she has shown a bit of weakness in understanding her role. 

But, she doesn't need the vampires or the mages, or the demons to tell her what to do. She doesn't need Mircea to steal away her vampire bodyguards who have kept her and her acolyte's safe from numerous attacks. The author does a whole lot of information dumping in the first 1/2 of this book. That's fine, but reading the books in order, and understanding how Cassie has come to this point in her life is rather important. I have to say that I am happy that it appears that Cassie and Mircea's daughter Dorina have put their hate aside. 

Dorina is a changed character since Shadow's Bane as well as her relationship with Louis-Cesare, a master vampire and member of the Vampire Senate, like Dory, who has dealt with Dory's craziness for sometime now. It is fair to say that events of Dory's book are skimmed over and that's for the best. We, as readers, can easily pick up Shadow's Bane and find out what happened for ourselves. It's also fair to say that these series are interconnected which means that each of the main characters appear in each of these series. 

If you are one of those who were demanding more of Cassie & Pritkin, you will not be disappointed. In fact, I dare say you will smile......A lot. One thing that the author does really good, is the action sequences. You will get plenty of those as well. But, the rumination of past exploits, and the fact that Cassie really needs to go back in time and allow one of the Pythia's to train her properly, kind of weighs down the story. We are now at 9 books in this series. Cassie has shown some moments that she is just as badass as the rest of her so call allies. Now, she has to decide what her future looks like.

Friday, July 12, 2019

#Review - Heartwood Box by Ann Aguirre #YALIT #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: Standalone
Format: E-Galley, 336 pages
Release Date: July 9, 2019
Publisher: Tor Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: YA / Thrillers & Suspense

A dark, romantic YA suspense novel with an SF edge and plenty of drama, layering the secrets we keep and how appearances can deceive, from the New York Times bestselling author

In this tiny, terrifying town, the lost are never found.

When Araceli Flores Harper is sent to live with her great-aunt Ottilie in her ramshackle Victorian home, the plan is simple. She'll buckle down and get ready for college. Life won't be exciting, but she'll cope, right?

Wrong. From the start, things are very, very wrong. Her great-aunt still leaves food for the husband who went missing twenty years ago, and local businesses are plastered with MISSING posters. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city limits that the locals don't talk about. Ever. When she starts receiving mysterious letters that seem to be coming from the past, she suspects someone of pranking her or trying to drive her out of her mind.

To solve these riddles and bring the lost home again, Araceli must delve into a truly diabolical conspiracy, but some secrets fight to stay buried...


Ann Aguirre's Heartwood Box is a cross between fantasy, and science fiction, and speculation. Thanks to her parents spending time in Venezuela covering a story, because why not? Araceli Flores Harper is sent to her great-Aunt Ottilie's home on Long Island to spend the summer before she attends her final year of High School. Ottilie's husband disappeared 20 years ago. She still lives in the run down Victorian home she's always lived in. But, that's not the real story. 

Upon arrival, Araceli sees dozens of missing persons posters. It seems that people have disappeared and are never heard from again. In fact, it's gotten really bad with 11 disappearances in 10 months. Araceli is warned to stay away from the lights in the woods but nobody has any idea what they are. She is told there is a top secret government research facility known as Fairhaven Labs.What do they really do at said lab, and are they to blame for what is happening?

Araceli becomes part of a group which includes Kimala, Tamsyn, Jackson, Derek, and Logan. Araceli has spent a lot of time in various countries, including Mexico. She speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, and Mandarin. She is also supposed to be a decent dancer and tries out for the dance team. But, according to Araceli, she is worried that white folks with pitch forks and white hoods will suddenly show up to kidnap her. In New York. 

She's scared that ICE will take her away to some secretive location where she will disappear without a trace. She claims the town is more dangerous than the entire country of Venezuela which is tearing itself a part at the seems! She's apparently never been to Venezuela, and I'm pretty sure neither has the author or she wouldn't have made such an ugly and unfounded claim. The town where the story takes place was founded by German immigrants. If you know where I am going with this fact, you'd be correct. Therefore, the author tells you about the towns history without naming it. 

Anyway! Araceli stumbles her way across a mystery box. The aforementioned heartwood box. In the box there is a letter from someone named Lucy to Oliver. This letter was dated 1918. After putting her homework in said box, it disappears. This sets off an interesting two way communication across time between Aracelli and Oliver who is a GI sent to fight the Germans in World War I. The next curiosity is discovered when Aracelli learns her Tia is leaving food for her husband and that food is always gone the next morning. Weird, right?

I think it was curious the connection between Oliver and Logan. While Oliver is pretty much catching Araceli's heart strings, and she's falling hard for the him, Logan is disappearing right before our eyes into the background. What's humorous is the author mentions the movie Lake House with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. In the movie, they each leave letters in the mailbox. So, twist it just a bit and Araceli and Oliver leave their letters in the mysterious Heartwood Box instead. 

Honestly, this part was the best part of the story for me. You can tell that Araceli was falling for Oliver, and vice versa. When she falls asleep, she is able to see who Oliver is, and what he is doing. He thinks she's an angel, or a bruja. She's just a girl whose family is off gallivanting across the world trying to find the next story while she tries to decide her future. There are certain elements of the Butterfly affect in this book. How can there not be? After all, once you start messing with actual time and history, things must change as well.

There have been some wrong claims about where this story is told. Trust me, it's on Long Island, not Upstate New York. I lived in New York for most of my life, except the last 20 in Florida, and the 4 years spent in the military. It is also true that the town was where the Army had a training camp for soldiers from New York City. If you love history like I do, look up the Lost Battalion, 77th Division which was exclusively New York City poor men.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

#Review - Shadow & Flame by Mindee Arnett #YALIT / #Fantasy

Series: Rime Chronicles #2
Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
Release Date: June 4, 2019
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

From acclaimed author Mindee Arnett comes the thrilling conclusion of the stunningly epic, action-packed, and romantic fantasy adventure about a powerful girl possessed of strange magic, the outcast prince she loves, and the kingdom that has torn them apart.

Kate and Corwin are on the run, desperate for allies in a new world of war among the kingdoms of Rime. As the book opens, Kate suffers a massive loss, one that will shape the struggle for freedom of all wilders and magic folk—that is, if Kate can learn to control her own power

Shadow & Flame is the final installment in author Mindee Arnett's Rime Chronicles. The story picks up around 6 months after the ending of Onyx and Ivory. Shadow & Flame is told in the POV of both Kate Brighton and Corwin Tormane, High Prince of Rime who has been labeled as a traitor. However, Kate and Corwin get separated in the beginning of the story after so many shocking things go wrong, and spend most of it apart trying to deal with their own personal.

After the heart racing prologue, the story jumps ahead 1 year. Kate is part of The Rising and called the Wilder Queen thanks to her actions in taking over Farhold. She wears flame tattoos to honor those she lost, including one for Corwin and Bonner who she believes was lost in a mission to Seva. The same Seva which has been trying to conquer Rime using wilders who were kidnapped from Rime. Kate has no idea that Corwin is really alive and being groomed to be a pawn in Rendborne's much larger and more deadlier game. 

Kate, unfortunately, has a chip on her shoulder a mile wide. Which, considering how she is treated by others, and what happens in the prologue, makes some sense. She makes some silly mistakes based on emotions leading to her friends ending up in dire circumstances. Kate has a remarkable ability, but sometimes that ability is used on the wrong people even though it's in an attempt to save their lives. When you take away someone's free will, you are stepping over the line from what makes you a hero to a villain.

While Corwin is facing some twisted plots, and manipulations, including having to marry someone he has no emotional connection with, his brother Edwin has declared himself to be King of Rime even though the uror challenge hasn't been satisfied. When Corwin and his new entourage, including the King of Seva, and Rendborne arrive in Rima, things get interesting to say the least. Even after everything Edwin did to him, and how he was treated, I think it's fair to say that events transpire that I won't spoil that makes Corwin believe that he can be a better king than his brother.

Inevitably, people are going to be sad by some of the consequences of this story. Some people will like the fact that the romance was basically subtle if non-existent for most of the story. The foreshadowing from the first book to the finale of this book was clear now that I've read this book. All the loose ends are tied up nicely and the ending is so satisfying. I am glad that the ending of this series wasn't dragged out for one more book to leave reading hanging off a cliff wanting to know if Corwin and Kate will have a happy ending or a brutal denial of a happy ending thanks to a garden variety of villains.

Onyx & Ivory and Shadow & Flame are everything you want from a big-book YA series: an impeccably built world, an epic storyline with dual protagonists, pulse-pounding action, compelling adventure, court intrigue, and breathless romance. Kate, Corwin, Bonner, Signe, and Dal learn things they never knew about themselves, their choices and the consequences that come with those choices. Each of these characters go through hell. And I mean literal hell.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

#Review - Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho #Fantasy / #Historical

Series: Sorcerer Royal (#1)
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Release Date: July 12, 2016
Publisher: Ace
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Historical

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers maintains the magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the institution has fallen into disgrace, naming an unsuitable gentleman as their Sorcerer Royal and allowing England’s stores of magic to bleed dry. At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up, an adventure that brings him in contact with Prunella Gentlewoman, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, and sets him on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

Story Locale: Regency England 

Sorcerer to the Crown, by author Zen Cho, is the first in a series of historical fantasy books set in Regency London blending a touch of fantasy, politics, humor, and romance while taking a poke at Regency prejudices.  It has been 3 months since Zacharias Wythe has taken up the staff of the Sorcerer Royal—not so long since his predecessor, Sir Stephen Wythe, has died. Because he is a negro bought from a slave owner by Mister Wythe and his wife Lady Maria Wythe, he the object of general interest, and of great hatred because others think he is a murdered who usurped his title.

Zacharias is bound to serve the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers who have been in dire need of answers as to why England's magic has been on the decline. Especially when they are at war with Napolean's France and the Fairy Queen has cut off all access to the land of Fairy. With his main nemesis, Geoffrey Midsomer, back from Fairy, it is probable that Zacharias's problems with become even more dire. What's more troubling is the fact that he is the only Sorcerer Royal who doesn't have a familiar thanks to Fairy's restrictions and that doesn't protect him against numerous assassination plots.

Then there's Prunella, an unexpected and willful, yet completely charming addition to his tangled problems. 19-year old Prunella Gentleman of the Daubeney's School for Gentlewitches is an orphan who also has dark skin, and may in fact be too magical for her own good. After discovering her supposed fathers secret stash, which includes 7 priceless eggs, Prunella decides to leave the school and follow Zacharias to London so that she can learn how to control her magic. Prunella is forbidden to acknowledge her magic because she is a woman and therefore cannot possibly be magically inclined.

Institutional racism and oppression is a real menace in this story, even overshadowing the threats of war from France, the dwindling magical resources of England, and the political entanglements involving the matter of witches, belligerent visiting diplomats, and backstabbing members of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers. While I adored Zacharias, it was Prunella who stole the show with the sheer force of her personality. In many ways, the author set up the transition from Zacharias to Prunella and the sequel to this story.

THE MEETING OF the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers was well under way, and the entrance hall was almost empty. Only the occasional tardy magician passed through, scarcely sparing a glance for the child waiting there.
Boy children of his type were not an uncommon sight in the Society’s rooms. The child was unusual less for his complexion than for his apparent idleness. Unlike the Society’s splendidly liveried pages, he was soberly dressed, and he was young for a page boy, having just attained his sixth summer.
In fact, Zacharias held no particular employment, and he had never seen the Society before that morning, when he had been conducted there by the Sorcerer Royal himself. Sir Stephen had adjured him to wait, then vanished into the mysterious depths of the Great Hall.
Zacharias was awed by the stately building, with its sombre wood-panelled walls and imposing paintings, and he was a little frightened of the grave thaumaturges hurrying past in their midnight blue coats. Most of all he was rendered solemn by the seriousness of his task. He sat, swollen with purpose, gazing at the doors to the Great Hall, as though by an effort of will he might compel them to open and disgorge his guardian.
Finally, the moment came: the doors opened, and Sir Stephen beckoned to him.
Zacharias entered the Great Hall under the penetrating gaze of what seemed to be a thousand gentlemen, most of them old, and none friendly. Sir Stephen was the only person he knew, for one could not count Sir Stephen’s familiar Leofric, who slept curled in reptilian coils at the back of the room, smoke rising from his snout.
The thickest-skinned child might have been cowed by such an assembly, and Zacharias was sensitive. But Sir Stephen put a reassuring hand on his back, and Zacharias remembered the morning, so long ago now—home, safety, warmth, and Lady Wythe’s face bending over him:
“Never be afraid, Zacharias, but do your best. That will be quite enough, for you have been taught by the finest sorcerer in the realm. If the attention of so many gentlemen should make you nervous, simply pretend to yourself that they are so many heads of cabbages. That always assists me on such occasions.”
Zacharias was pretending as hard as he could as he was propelled to the front of the room, but the cabbages did not seem to help. To be sure, Lady Wythe had never been called upon to prove the magical capacities of her race before the finest thaumaturgical minds in England. It was a grave responsibility, and one anyone would find daunting, thought Zacharias, even if he were a great boy of six.
“What do you wish to bring alive, Zacharias?” said Sir Stephen. He gestured at a small wooden box on a table. “In the course of his travels Mr. Midsomer acquired this box, carved with birds and fruit and outlandish animals. You may have your pick.”
Zacharias had rehearsed the enchantment he was to perform many times under Sir Stephen’s patient tutelage. The night before, he had fallen asleep reciting the formula to himself. Yet now, as he was surrounded by a crowd of strange faces, oppressed by the consciousness of being the focus of their attention, memory deserted him.
His terrified gaze swung from Sir Stephen’s kind face, skipped over the audience, and roamed over the Great Hall, as if he might find the words of the spell waiting for him in some dusty corner. It was the oldest room in the Society, and boasted several interesting features, chief of which were the ancient carved bosses on the ceiling. These represented lambs, lions and unicorns; faces of long-dead sorcerers; and Green Men with sour expressions and vines sprouting from their nostrils. At any other time they would have captivated Zacharias, but right now they could give him no pleasure.
“I have forgotten the spell,” he whispered.
“What is that?” said Sir Stephen. He had been speaking in clear ringing tones before, addressing his audience, but now he lowered his voice and leaned closer.
“No helping the boy, if you please,” cried a voice. “That will prove nothing of what you promised.”
The audience had been growing restless with Zacharias’s stupefaction. Other voices followed the first, hectoring, displeased:
“Is the child an idiot?”
“A poll parrot would offer better amusement.”
“Can you conceive anything more absurd?” said a thaumaturge to a friend, in a carrying whisper. “He might as well seek to persuade us that a pig can fly—or a woman do magic!”
The friend observed that so could pigs fly, if one could be troubled to make them.
“Oh certainly!” replied the first. “And one could teach a woman to do magic, I suppose, but what earthly good would a flying pig or a magical female be to anyone?”
“This is a great gift to the press,” cried a gentleman with red whiskers and a supercilious expression. “What fine material we have furnished today for the caricaturists—a meeting of the first magicians of our age, summoned to watch a piccaninny stutter! Has English thaumaturgy indeed been so reduced by the waning of England’s magic that Sir Stephen believes we have nothing better to do?”
Unease rippled through the crowd, as though what the gentleman had said sat ill with his peers. Zacharias said anxiously: “Perhaps there is not enough magic.”
“Tush!” said Sir Stephen. To Zacharias’s embarrassment, he spoke loud enough for the entire room to hear. “Pray do not let that worry you. It pleases Mr. Midsomer to enlarge upon the issue, but I believe England is still furnished with sufficient magic to quicken any tolerable magician’s spells.”
The red-whiskered gentleman shouted an indistinct riposte, but he was not allowed to finish, for three other thaumaturges spoke over him, disagreeing vociferously. Six more magicians took up Mr. Midsomer’s defence, alternating insults to their peers with condemnation of Sir Stephen and mockery of his protégé. A poor sort of performing animal it was, they said, that would not perform!
“What an edifying sight for a child—a room full of men several times his size, calling him names,” said one gentleman, who had the sorcerer’s silver star pinned to his coat. He did not trouble to raise his voice, but his cool accents seemed to cut through the tumult. “It is all of a piece with the most ancient traditions of our honourable Society, I am sure, and evidence of how well we deserve our position in the world.”
Mr. Midsomer flushed with anger.
“Mr. Damerell may say what he likes, but I see no reason why we should restrain our criticism of this absurd spectacle, child or no child,” he snapped.
“I am sure you do not, Midsomer,” said Damerell gently. “I have always admired your refusal, in the pursuit of your convictions, ever to be constrained by considerations of humanity—much less of ordinary good manners.”
The room erupted into more argument than ever. The clamour mounted till it seemed it must wake the carvings on the box, and even the slumbering bosses on the ceiling, without Zacharias’s needing to lift a finger.
Zacharias looked around, but everyone had ceased to pay attention to him. For the moment he was reprieved.
He let out a small sigh of relief. As if that tiny breath were the key to his locked memory, his mind opened, and the spell fell into it, fully formed. The words were so clear and obvious, their logic so immaculate, that Zacharias wondered that he had ever lost them.
He spoke the spell under his breath, still a little uncertain after the agonies he had endured. But magic came, ever his friend—magic answered his call. The birds carved upon the box blushed red, green, blue and yellow, and he knew that the spell had caught.
The birds peeled away from the box as they took on substance and being, their wings springing away from their bodies, feathers sprouting upon their flesh. They flew up to the ceiling, squawking. The breeze from their wings brushed Zacharias’s face, and he laughed.
One by one the carved bosses sprang to life, and the dead sorcerers and the sour old Green Men and the lions and the lambs and the birds opened their mouths, all of them singing, singing lustily Zacharias’s favourite song, drowning out the angry voices of the men below, and filling the room with glorious sound.