Friday, January 31, 2020

#Review - Shadow Born by Rebecca Hamilton, Heather Marie Adkins #Fantasy

Series: Shadows of Salem Book 1
Format: Kindle, 248 pages
Release Date: January 7, 2020
Publisher: Evershade Publishing
Source: Amazon
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Chicago Police Detective Brooke Chandler is keeping a secret…and if she’s not careful, it could get her killed.

Brooke is no stranger to the supernatural. In Chicago, vampires are just as prevalent as drug lords, and infinitely more bloodthirsty. So when her partner and fiancé dies in a mysterious fire while chasing down a lead in Salem, she suspects something dark and otherworldly is at play.

Blessed with the ability to see into the past by touching inanimate objects, Brooke transfers to the Salem PD, hoping her talent will help her get to the bottom of things. Between dodging assassination attempts and being stonewalled at every turn, the going is tough. Add in a mysterious fae club owner with secrets of his own and a personal grudge against her, and it becomes nearly impossible.

If Brooke wants to play in the supernatural sandbox, she’s going to have to roll up her sleeves and get dirty. But how many people will have to die for Brooke to discover the truth about her fiancé?

Shadow Born, by co-authors Rebecca Hamilton, Heather Marie Adkins, is the first installment in the authors Shadow of Salem series. As the story opens, protagonist Brooke Chandler is temporarily moving from Chicago, a town infested with Vampires, to Salem to find out the truth about what happened to her fiance Tom Garrison. Garrison was supposed to be investigating kids missing from a local orphanage where Tom grew up. The case is now cold but with her secret psychometric skills and relentless drive for justice, Brooke figures she might be able to solve it where no one else could. 

Unfortunately, she slowly discovers that Salem is not like her hometown Chicago and not everything is as it seems. Before she knows it she's stumbled upon a supernatural plot and become tangled with some of the more powerful supes in Salem. Brooke, who is described as having silver hair and purple eyes, is soon recognized by Lord Tremaine who claims he holds a grief against her for something she apparently did in the past. Tremaine is something ancient, and dangerous. While Brooke has the ability to see into the past by touching inanimate objects, Tremaine can apparently remove memories and wipe entire places from existence.

Someone, maybe Tremaine, is wiping out all memories of what happened to Tom. What are they hiding and how far will they go to prevent Brooke from uncovering the truth about Tom as well as the truth about who she really is? Even though her "Uncle Oscar" trained her, it becomes highly apparent that Brooke may be out of her league. If Tremaine doesn't get to her first, others may do it for him. Can Brooke and Tremaine put their angst aside and work together to fight the evil that is growing in Salem, or will it be Brooke's swan song? Several unexpected twists and turns occur leading Brooke to a truth that just maybe to hard to bear. Old family truths and a possible romantic past come to light as well.

#Review - Fear Justice by C.C. Bolick #YA #Fantasy #SyFy

Series: The Fear Chronicles #1
Format: Kindle, 267 pages
Release Date: April 25, 2019
Publisher: Dirt Road Books
Source: Amazon
Genre: Young Adult / Urban Fantasy

After her father is kidnapped, Rena can't trust anyone, especially not the agent who saves her. If only she knew his real mission is to unlock her power... Seventeen-year-old Rena Mason counts the days until she can leave for college. Every night her father drinks himself to sleep, leaving her to care for her younger brother. When her father is kidnapped by terrorists, her dreams of freedom become a nightmare. 

Stunned that her father has a history with these terrorists, Rena knows she must run or be their next victim. She learns the tough guy at school has a reason to look after her - he's working for a government agency with the same goal as the terrorists: find a woman who disappeared eighteen years ago. Time is running out since only this woman's special gift can save the world from a looming nuclear attack.

Rena can't trust anyone, especially not the stone-cold agent she's falling for. Can they save the world before Rena's feelings trap her in an agent's fight for justice?

Fear Justice contains elements of fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal. It's the first book in an exciting new series called The Fear Chronicles.

Fear Justice is the first book in The Fear Chronicles series by author C.C. Bolick that combines sci-fi and fantasy. In the Prologue, CC establishes the back story for the series second main character Travis Payne who works for a secretive organization that is supposed to protect US citizens from people with powers. People like Travis who have the powers of teleportation. Readers also learn that a woman named Rosanna, who disappeared 18 years ago, might actually be alive. Why should we care you cask? Continue reading. Rosanna, called Fire Bird, had the power to stop nuclear bombs. 

She could also start a nuclear explosion. We're also introduced to Donald Mason who just happens to be Rena's father. Mason, who resigned 18 years ago, was assigned to protect Rosanna. His partner, Travis' father, has been missing for years and Travis hasn't stopped looking for him. Mason is the only one who holds the answer to what happened. Since then, Mason married, had a child and that woman apparently died in a car accident 3 years ago. Travis is ordered to find Rena Mason so that Director Sylvia Greene can discover if Rena has the same powers as Rosanna. 

17 year old Regina (Rena) Mason is having a hard time looking after her sibling (Alfie) after her father resorted to drinking himself to sleep after Rena’s mother died a few years ago. Her father has some deep, dark secrets which he hasn't bothered sharing with Rena. Rena's father has enemies from before. Enemies like Black Dawn terrorist Louis Castillo who believes that Rosanna is alive. Rena is told to run with her brother to Atlanta if he disappears. Instead, she and newly arrived Travis Payne find themselves running from Castillo's people. 

Rena discovers that Rosanna was her mother. Her mother, like Rena herself, had the same ability to stop a nuclear bomb or cause one to explode. Rena is exposed to the Agency and Sylvia who are the worlds first line of defense against people who have powers that could harm others. Rena's powers only work when she's afraid. The problem is that Rena doesn't fear anything. Literally, you can drop her off a cliff and she doesn't show any fear. The only way to release her powers is to find a way to feel. With Louis on the fringes wanting Rena like he wanted her mother, Rena will have to learn who she can trust and who is just using her powers.

This series is full of possibilities with genuine characters, special powers, a solid mystery, and a good basis for more stories. Plenty of action and suspense. I've already read the second installment in this series while waiting for Fear Darkness to release shortly. 

The Fear Chronicles (Rena and Travis):
Fear Justice
Fear Power
Fear Darkness
Fear Tomorrow (April 2020)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

#Review - Alone in the Wild by Kelley Armstrong #Mystery #Fiction #Crime

Series: Casey Duncan Novels (#5)
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: February 4, 2020
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Mystery & Detective

In #1 New York Times bestseller Kelley Armstrong's latest thriller, the hidden town of Rockton is about to face a challenge none of them saw coming: a baby.

Every season in Rockton seems to bring a new challenge. At least that's what Detective Casey Duncan has felt since she decided to call this place home. Between all the secretive residents, the sometimes-hostile settlers outside, and the surrounding wilderness, there's always something to worry about.

While on a much needed camping vacation with her boyfriend, Sheriff Eric Dalton, Casey hears a baby crying in the woods. The sound leads them to a tragic scene: a woman buried under the snow, murdered, a baby still alive in her arms.

A town that doesn’t let anyone in under the age of eighteen, Rockton must take care of its youngest resident yet while solving another murder and finding out where the baby came from - and whether she's better off where she is.

Alone in the Wild is the Fifth installment in author Kelley Armstrong's Casey Duncan/Rockton series. This story takes place 6 months after Watcher in the Woods. It is December in the Yukon where Rockton is located. Rockton is a town of fugitives and those running from something. Detective Casey Butler and her lover Sheriff Eric Dalton have 2 whole days off to themselves and of course, Storm their Newfoundland dog who has grown into quite the tracker. Of course, that's when Casey hears the cries of a baby. A baby? Here in the Yukon? Nobody under 18 is allowed in Rockton, so why is there a baby here?

Casey's investigation leads her to a woman who is deceased and a baby that isn't much older than a month. Who is the woman? Is she from one of the settlements? Or, could she be one of the hostiles that Casey and Eric have been warning the council about for months now and been ignored? This might be the most personal story for Casey that the author has written to date. If you've read this series from the beginning, you know that she had a extremely bad encounter with evil 14 years ago which left her in really bad shape. Her secret gave her the ability to take the job in Rockton.

Casey's affection for the baby really shows another side to her that we haven't seen before. It's actually painful because there is almost no chance that she can have one herself. Casey and Eric get busy trying to take care of the baby, who now is the youngest person in Rockton, while also trying to find out who killed the woman, while also trying to find the baby's parents and decide if she should be returned to them. I dare say that this is also a personal issue for Dalton as well since, sorry for the spoilers, he was taken from his parents and raised in Rockton. He's never quite forgiven the Dalton's for what they did to him while leaving his brother Jacob to fend for himself.

As Casey and Eric continue to investigate the crime, readers get a chance to see two separate of the settler encampments which were former Rockton residents who chose the Yukon instead of returning South. Casey has long wanted to know more about the hostiles who threaten the town of Rockton and she also gains some information about them during this investigation. Casey & Eric's relationship has actually turned a bit steamy recently. Casey and Dalton’s story has a lot of emotions involved when they are spending time with this baby. If actually forces them to confront their feelings about family and their future. 

Serious question: Am I the only one tired of the whole council story? I want Casey and Eric to uncover what is really happening and why they seem to care more about making money than what is happening. Also, I still don't fully trust Petra since she has a very twisted background which I won't spoil. Where do her loyalties lie? With Rockton or the Council? Will we ever meet the Council? I think the most interesting outlier character in this book is Maryanne. She reveals quite a lot about the so called hostiles and how she became one and later escaped from them. She may hold a whole lot of answers so Casey & Eric can prevent any escalation of conflicts that are soon to come. 

If you haven't started reading this series yet, the first 3 books were pretty much self-contained. Watcher in The Woods and this book now paint a larger picture and have had interwoven threads.


I wake buried under a hundred and forty pounds of dog. Storm knows she’s not allowed on the bed, so I lie there, brain slowly churning, until I remember I’m not in bed. I’m on the ground. Cold, hard winter ground—the floor of a tent that is definitely not big enough for two adults and a Newfoundland dog. Which tells me one adult is gone.

I lift my head. Sure enough, there’s no sign of Dalton. I peer at the glow of sunrise seeping through the canvas. I’ve slept in. It’s December in the Yukon, when dawn means it’s about … I lift my watch. Yep, 10 A.M.

I groan. Storm echoes it as she tries to stand, an impossible feat within the confines of this tent.

“Where’s Eric?” I ask.

Shockingly, the dog doesn’t answer. I blink back the fog of a night that started with tequila and ended with … Well, it ended strenuously enough to explain why I’m still in bed at ten, though apparently my partner had no trouble rising early.

We’d left Storm outside last night. That wasn’t cruel. It’s hovering around the freezing mark, positively balmy for this time of year. Storm has her thick coat and her companion, a wolf-dog named Raoul. We’d brought them on our weekend getaway both for company and for training, Storm as a tracker and Raoul as hunter. Raoul’s master doesn’t hunt. Not animals, at least.

If Storm is in the tent with the flap closed, that means Dalton let her in. It also means he’s taken Raoul. I rub my eyes and spot a note pinned to the tent flap.

When I push Storm, she grunts and shifts enough for me to scrabble over her and pluck off the note.

Hunting. Back for lunch. Coffee in thermos. Don’t wander.

The note is the model of reticent efficiency, and I would say that fits our sheriff to a tee, but I’ve also read his near-poetic academic and philosophical musings, ones that shouldn’t come from anyone without a Ph.D., much less a guy with zero formal schooling. That is also our sheriff. Two sides to the same coin. Only I get to see the second one.

I find not only coffee but breakfast in a dog-proof pouch at the end of the bed. Scrambled eggs with venison sausage, and bannock with … I lift the hard bread, still warm from the fire, oozing gooey brown dots. Bannock with chocolate chips. I laugh and take a bite. I won’t say I’m a bannock fan, but chocolate makes everything better.

I happily munch the bannock and wash it down with coffee. I don’t toss any scraps to Storm. Honestly, at her size, she’d never even taste them. Instead, she gets one of my sausages. As for the “don’t wander” part of Dalton’s note, I’m interpreting that as a suggestion rather than the imperative it seems. Oh, naturally he hopes I’ll take it as a command, but he knows better than to expect that. He means for me to stay close, and I will. I’m not about to stay in the tent for two more hours, though.

When I finish breakfast, I open the flap, and Storm clambers out to romp in the snow. She’s fourteen months old, which means she’s outwardly a full-grown dog, but inside she’s still a pup. At thirty-two, I understand the feeling. Or, I should say, I’ve regained the feeling after sixteen months in Rockton. Before that, while I remember a girl endlessly on the move, endlessly into mischief, that girl vanished when I was eighteen, shoved into hiding by the kind of mistake that banishes one’s carefree inner child. Out here, I’ve found her again … at least, when I’m not on duty as Detective Casey Butler.

Dalton and I are on vacation, which means we’re taking an entire two days off. Down south, we’d call that a weekend. Up here, with a police force of three, we take time off where we can find it.

Things have been slow in Rockton. The holidays are approaching, and it’s as if people decided to cut us slack as a seasonal gift. No assaults. No robberies. No murders. In a town of under two hundred people, the last should be obvious, but this is Rockton. Murder capital of the world, someone used to say. That someone knew exactly what she was talking about, having turned out to be a killer herself.

Rockton is special. For better or worse. Mostly better, but the crime rate is one of those “worse” parts. We can’t expect otherwise, really. We are a town of fugitives. Everyone here is running from something. Some are victims, on the run from ex-partners, stalkers, anyone who might want them dead through no fault of their own. This is the true purpose of Rockton—a refuge for those fleeing persecution. It’s also home to white-collar criminals, whose misdeeds pay our bills. Then there are those whose mistakes—often violent ones—brought them to Rockton under expensively bought cover stories given even to Dalton. So it’s no surprise that we have a murder rate.

For now, it’s quiet, and has been for six months. Which means Dalton and I can take an actual weekend off.

Storm and I play in the snow for about an hour before I realize that I should have stoked the fire first. While Dalton had left it blazing for me, he’s obviously been gone awhile, and by the time Storm and I collapse, exhausted, the fire is down to embers. I add another log, but it’s not going to take. We need kindling.

That’s life up here. Constant work just to survive. Heat doesn’t come at the flick of a switch. Food isn’t the nearest fast-food joint away. Water isn’t a simple matter of turning on a faucet. In Rockton, we simulate modern living as best we can—there are restaurants in town, and water does come from taps through a pump system—but everyone needs to work to put food in that grocery, to fill the water tanks when the stream runs low. One quickly develops a healthy respect for our pioneer ancestors.

Storm and I head out to gather kindling. Soon, though, I realize that new-fallen snow is going to complicate the task. Even if I unearth sticks, they won’t be dry. That’s fine—the best source of winter kindling is dead trees. I’m maybe a few hundred feet from the camp when I find a brown-needled pine that’s been crowded out by sturdier siblings.

I start breaking off twigs. Storm dances about, her second wind gale-force strong. When I throw a stick, she chases it, only to notice I’m still snapping off branches. She shoots me a sullen scowl.

“I’m not Eric,” I say. “I play fetch properly.”

More scowling. Then she flings herself to the ground with a flounce and a sigh.

“Fine,” I say with a laugh. “Once and only once.”

I take another branch and hold it over my head. She stays where she is, watching me, refusing to fall for this again. I throw it, and she doesn’t move until I take off after the branch. Then she bolts up and runs for it.

I’m one pace ahead, Storm right on my heels. She veers to pass me, and I throw myself down in a home-plate slide. I grab the stick, flip onto my back, and fist-pump it in the air … giving me two seconds of victory before I have a Newfoundland on my face for the second time this morning.

Sputtering and laughing, I shove her off. Then, punctuating my own noise, I hear something that makes me go still. Storm lumbers off with the stick as I rise slowly, listening.

It wasn’t what it sounded like. Couldn’t be.

The noise comes again, a plaintive wail, like a baby’s cry.

Storm catches it. She stops and pivots, ears perking. She glances at me as if to say, What is that?

“I don’t know,” I answer, as much for myself.

The morning has gone quiet again, and I’m straining to listen and figure out what it really was. I mentally run through my list of “animals that aren’t hibernating right now.” I’ve heard a similar sound from a bear cub, but it’s the wrong season for that. We have cougars—a female who wandered north of their usual territory and now has grown cubs. The cry didn’t sound right for a big cat. Not a wolf or a feral dog, either.

Bird? That seems most likely, and I’ve decided that must have been what it was when the noise comes again, and it is not like a bird at all.

A fox? They make some truly bloodcurdling sounds. There’s a vixen who lives near our house in Rockton, and I’ve heard her scream and bolted upright, certain someone was being murdered horribly right outside our window.

I’m still standing there pondering when I catch a glimpse of running black fur and realize it’s my dog.

“Storm!” I shout as I bolt after her.

She stops, and I exhale in relief. This spring, I had to shoot a young cougar she chased. Thus ensued six months of special training to be sure no wild animal would ever lead her off again.

I jog to catch up.

“We’ll go check it out,” I say, and she may not understand the words, but I only need to take a step toward the sound for her to bark with joy.

I motion for her to heel, and she does. Dalton and I have spent countless hours training her, and it’s paid off. She’s not only blossoming into a first-rate tracker, but she’s more obedient than I’d dared hope. That’s a necessity when your dog is bigger than you.

Storm stays at my side. When a tree prevents that, she falls behind me, as she’s been taught.

The wail comes again. It’s weak enough that if the forest weren’t winter-quiet, I’d miss it. It sounds so much like a baby that I have to pause and ask myself “Why couldn’t it be?”

There are people living out here besides us. Rockton has been around since the fifties, and over the years, residents have relocated into the wilderness for various reasons. Their term ran out in Rockton, and they didn’t want to go home. Or they disagreed with the politics—as the town became less an asylum for the innocent and more a pay-to-play escape for the desperate—but they still needed the refuge of the forest. Most of these are what we call settlers. True pioneers of the north, some in communities and some living independently, as Dalton’s parents did. Then there are the hostiles, and that is … a complicated subject that becomes more complicated the longer I’m here and the deeper I dig.

When I arrived, I was told that hostiles were residents who’d left and reverted to something primitive and dangerous. I’m no longer convinced that all of them chose that reversion. But that’s a topic for another time. What matters now is that people do live out here, so I might very well be hearing a human infant.

I slow to a walk, straining for the sounds of others. If I hear any, I will retreat posthaste. Even settlers can be aggressive if we wander into their campsites.

Yet I hear only the occasional cry of what, increasingly, I can’t imagine as anything except a baby. Then Storm whines. I glance down at her, and she stops. Parks her butt in the snow and gives me a look that asks if we must continue. She follows it with a glance over her shoulder, in the direction of our camp, in case I don’t understand what she wants.

She senses danger ahead. No, I suppose that’s melodramatic. To be precise, she smells strangers, and she has learned, unfortunately, that not all strangers are kind. Something in the scent of whatever lies ahead worries her.

I motion for her to sit and stay, and she glowers at me. With a grunt, she lifts and then lowers her hindquarters. I’m as trained in Storm’s language as she is in mine, and this odd movement tells me that she will sit and stay, but she’d rather come with me.

I hesitate. I’ve learned the hard way that my dog might be the most valuable commodity I own out here. Never mind how well she’s trained; one look at her size gets a settler’s mind turning, considering how she could be used, as protection or as a beast of burden.

Taking her with me is a risk. So is leaving her here, commanded to stay, prey for any human or beast who happens upon her.

I nod and motion for her to stay behind me. She doesn’t like that but communicates her disapproval only with a chuff. Then she’s right on my heels.

After another half dozen steps, there is no doubt that I am hearing a baby. The weak and plaintive cry comes from right in front of me. Yet I see nothing.

I blink hard. I’m in an open area scattered with saplings, not big enough to hide someone clutching a child. The cry comes from right in the middle of an empty clearing, where I see nothing.

Storm whines. When I motion for her to stay behind me, she whines louder, taking on a note of irritation now. She’s asking nicely, but she really, really wants the release command. I won’t give it. This could be a trap, someone …

Someone what? Hiding a recording of a crying child under the snow?

Under the …

I tear into the clearing. The heap ahead looks like a buried log, and it’s too large to be a baby, but that’s definitely where the sound comes from. As I run, the snow deepens, with no tree canopy to block it, and I’m staggering forward in snow to my knees. I plow through, and I’m almost at the heap when my leg strikes something, and I stumble. In righting myself, I uncover a boot.

In two more steps, I’m beside the heap. The cries have stopped, and my heart stops with them. I claw at the snow. My fingers hit fabric. A woman’s body. I can see that in a glance, and again, I don’t stop for a better look. She is still and she is cold, and I cannot help her.

I keep digging, but there’s just the woman, and for a horrible moment, I imagine the baby trapped beneath her. Then, at a whimper, I realize the sound comes from under her jacket. I tear at it, the fabric frozen and stiff.

Blood. I see blood under the snow. I wrestle the jacket open, and there is the baby, clutched to the dead woman’s chest.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

#Review - Seven Deadly Shadows by Courtney Alameda, Valynne E. Maetani #YA #Fantasy

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: January 28, 2020
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

Fans of Six of Crows will devour this riveting contemporary YA retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai

Seventeen-year-old Kira Fujikawa has never had it easy. She’s bullied by the popular girls in school. Her family ignores her. And she’s also plagued with a secret: She can see yokai, the ghosts and demons that haunt the streets of Japan. But things accelerate from bad to worse when she learns that Shuten-doji, the demon king, will rise at the next blood moon to hunt down an ancient relic and bring the world to a catastrophic end.

Not exactly skilled at fighting anything, much less the dead, Kira enlists the aid of seven powerful death gods to help her slay Shuten-doji. They include Shiro, a kitsune with boy-band looks who is more flirtatious than helpful, and O-bei, a regal demon courtesan with covert reasons of her own for getting involved.

As the confrontation with Shuten-doji draws nearer by the day, the fate of Japan hangs in the balance. Can Kira save humankind? Or will the demon king succeed in bringing eternal darkness upon the world?

"I am a girl surrounded by monsters and ghosts from an ancient world. Most days, they scare me less than people do."

Seven Deadly Shadows is a retelling of sorts of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai by co-authors Courtney Alameda, and Valynne E. Maetaini. 16-year old Kira Fujikawa is an outcast at school, but training to be a priestess at her grandfather's Shinto Shrine. Kira and her family have tended to the Fujikawa Shrine for nearly one thousand years. She is the only one in her immediate family who has the ability to see the otherworldly beings called yokai demons around; it seems the gift skipped from her grandfather directly to her. 

This has her at odds with her parents and family tradition, the latter of which she is intensely proud to be a part of. Everything changes the night shrine is destroyed by yokai demons and her grandfather is murdered by demons looking for a hidden piece of the fabled Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi sword.  Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi is a legendary Japanese sword and one of three Imperial Regalia of Japan said to be made by the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Historically, this sword has never been seen in public. Only artist renditions of what the sword looks like can be found. 

If Shutin-doji finds the last shard and puts the sword together, he will not only kill the Sun Goddess, but sent the world into forever darkness. With Shiro, a Kitsune shrine guardian alongside, Kira sets off on a path of revenge for her grandfather that will take her to Tokyo. Kira makes a deal with Lady O-Bei of the Twilight Court for help. All she has to do is find 7 Shinigami death gods and the missing shard of a powerful shard. All while going to school and being a dutiful daughter.

Kira Fujikawa has always felt like an outsider. Between being able to see the deadly yokai that live amidst normal mortals and being bullied at school, the only safe place Kira has is at the temple her family owns and her grandfather runs. But, as the story rolls forward, Kira finds her own way and her own strength. Kira and Shinigami, which include Shiro's brother Ronin, and Roji a former samurai who takes Kira under her wing and teachers her own to fight, and how to survive. For some readers, there was this outrage that Kira is some sort of snowflake who can suddenly find a way to defeat a power Demon and his followers.

However, there is more to the story than that and you should definitely pay more attention to Kira's descendants and the fact that her grandfather and others knew that Kira would be the one to face ultimate terror and danger. While this novel includes supernatural characters and could be shelved in fantasy, the heart of the story is about a girl finding out—and embracing—the truth about herself. She goes from an outcast with no self-confidence to a world-saving heroine who has managed to get seven unruly demons to follow her lead. She learns to trust herself, trust in herself, and embrace the quirks that set her apart from everyone else. 

Despite not being familiar with the source material, the story was entertaining enough to keep my focus and attention. It may sounds curious to you, but I actually love stories that feature Japanese mythology and culture. Japan is filled with centuries old stories and characters that remain strong even today. The religion of Shinto is a big part of Japanese culture. I also appreciated that Alameda made a pilgrimage to Japan in order to take in the setting and the cities, Kyoto and Tokyo, where this story is set. I am also thankful for the glossary at the end of the book!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

#Review - Rebels by Everly Frost #YA #Fantasy

Series: Assassin's Academy #1
Format: Kindle Edition, 322 pages
Release Date:  October 11th 2019 
Publisher: Ever Realm Books
Source: Amazon
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

Rebel or die.
My choices are simple. I've been sent to Bloodwing Academy because I'm one of the magically repressed. I should have magical powers, but I don't. Not yet. One day I'll wake up and my powers will be out of my control. I'll be a threat to everyone around me, but that doesn't mean they should lock me up. Especially with the dangerously fierce and irresistibly gorgeous, Striker Draven. As heir to the Draven fortune, he thinks he can have whatever he wants. He wants to pull me apart, rip out my power, and take my heart with it.

That's if I don't rip his out first.

My name is Peyton Price. My freedom will come at a cost. Body and mind, I have to decide if I'm willing to pay it.

Rebels is the first book in a two part series called Assassin's Academy. This book is set in the same universe as the authors previous series Assassin's Magic featuring Hunter Cassidy and Slade Baines who make appearances in this series as well. Event's in this book, begin before the events that happen in Assassins' Maze. 20-year old Peyton Price is being dropped off at Bloodwing Academy for the magically repressed by her family. It’s a school that has a one way ticket. There's no escape. The only way to leave is via body bag. 

This is a school designed to try and make everyone there show their abilities in whatever way the Bloodwing teachers feel fit. The running theory is that with fear that’s when powers show and they really do wrap their hands tightly around that. These teachers are insane and know no limits. On the first day she is there, Headmistress Osprey decides to try to torture Peyton with magic to see if she can figure out what Peyton is. Peyton is labeled as Unknown and shoved in the attic where the only threat to her is her next door neighbor Striker Draven.
Peyton has never once exhibited any magical manifestations even though she's past the age of those who come into their powers. Peyton's time here at the Academy isn't all fun and games, especially when Striker Draven seems to be the angriest and most dangerous person in this entire school. After being punished for something she didn't do, Peyton encounters a Harpy. Harpies transport prey to hell. They regenerate. They're strong. They're considered Class B monsters. The only beings more dangerous are Valkyrie and Keres who are not supposed to exist any longer. As we've learned from Hunter and Slade and Archer, that's not true at all. 

The point of this Academy is to build an army for Lady Tirelli who you would have met if you read the previous series. The Unknowns are the strongest and therefore shouldn't be underestimated. After Peyton kills the Harpy, those like Striker start to take her seriously. It's apparent that she's not a spy, that those in charge don't really want her to die, and that she's in as much trouble as the rest of them. Osprey wants to find out what she is and what she is capable of. Striker's beast is immediately protective of Peyton. 

Nobody has ever pushed Striker like Peyton will do over the course of this story. The Unknowns are supposed to be expendable by their families. Nobody will shed a tear if they just happen to die along the way. Peyton finds some friends among the 30 students with similar stories. Lucinda, Ashley, Joseph, and Lachlan are all trying to find out what they really are and what they are capable of. The students are lied to and told that the Assassins, especially Hunter, want them dead. When Peyton's powers due finally manifest, she may be the most dangerous being in this entire academy.   

The magic users who run the Academy are truly sadistic. Bloodwing is the ultimate prison with a singular goal set in stone. Beat out the hidden powers to serve a high calling. Bullies rule and using violence is encouraged. Striker is the typical tortured soul bad boy who has been trying to suppress what he is from being used by the school's leaders. He is often times found beating the crap out of someone to prevent them from being killed by the school's leaders who are always looking for an excuse. They dynamics between Peyton and Striker play out well since they are both dominate. Striker also has a plan for getting back at his step father for what he did to his mother. That is if he can find a way to escape.

The ending is wild. It absolutely sets the stage for the sequel and the end of the series.

#Review - Diamond City by Francesca Flores #YA #Fantasy

Series: Diamond City #1
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: January 28, 2020
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Dark Fantasy

Diamond City is an action-packed young adult fantasy by debut author Francesca Flores about a girl who perseveres through poverty, violence, and loss to achieve a future for herself.

Good things don't happen to girls who come from nothing...unless they risk everything.

Fierce and ambitious, Aina Solís is as sharp as her blade and as mysterious as the blood magic she protects. After the murder of her parents, Aina takes a job as an assassin to survive and finds a new family in those like her: unwanted and forgotten.

Her boss is brutal and cold, with a questionable sense of morality, but he provides a place for people with nowhere else to go. And makes sure they stay there.

DIAMOND CITY: built by magic, ruled by tyrants, and in desperate need of saving. It is a world full of dark forces and hidden agendas, old rivalries and lethal new enemies.

To claim a future for herself in a world that doesn't want her to survive, Aina will have to win a game of murder and conspiracy—and risk losing everything.

Full of action, romance and dark magic, book one of this breathtaking fantasy duology will leave readers eager for more!

Diamond City is an action-packed young adult fantasy by debut author Francesca Flores about a girl who perseveres through poverty, violence, and loss to achieve a future for herself. 18-year old Aina Solis is an assassin who works for Kohl Pavel, aka the Blood King who saved her life when she was 12 and made her his Blade. She's at the top of her game working towards her freedom to work for herself. When she is offered the job of a lifetime that will finally set her free from Kohl, she jumps at her chance.

All she has to do is kill Kouta Hirai: one of the most prominent Steels in the city. She enlists the assistance of her only friend Teo Matgan, a fellow assassin, and does what Aina does best. She gets the job done. But when Aina discovers that Kouta has miraculously survived by magic forbidden in Solís, everything she has ever worked for is ripped from beneath her feet. The Blood King rescinds his protection, his favor, her money, and gives her one week to clean up her mess...or else. Before Aina knows it, she has a large bounty on her head and every one with a grudge or who has lost someone thanks to Aina is quickly on her heels.

Aina must rely on the very last person she would have ever expected to track down Kouta - his brother, Ryuu. With the help of a growing & diverse crew, Aina soon realizes that there is more at stake than her own life. With Teo, Ryuu and Raurie Coste on her side, Aina must uncover deep, dark secrets that seem to include her mentor, her friend, and her idol, Kohl as well as her focused enemy General Bautix. She has find where Kouta is before Kohl and his allies reach him first. As Aina and her crew work towards finding Kouta, they discover even more shocking secrets that may cause ripples in the country for years to come.

Aina struggles often in this story. The last 6 years of her life have been conditioned to believe one thing, only to be blindsided by power, money, and dangerous alliances. Aina's story is about the difference between healthy love and toxic love, about learning to fight for something bigger than yourself, and about giving a voice to the poor.  I'm adding a key character description I found via the author who I give full credit for this section of my review:

Aina - Fierce, ambitious, and rebellious. She’s as sharp as her blade and as mysterious as the blood magic she protects. An eighteen-year-old orphaned assassin with a bounty on her head after succeeding but ultimately failing to kill her target that would give her freedom. To survive, she will stop at nothing and let no one get in her way—for if they do, they’re dead.

Ryuu - He may have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth but his eyes blaze with fire over the injustices in the world. Loyal to a fault, he would kill to avenge his parents death as well as save his brother from being taken away. He thrives most under pressure and has the ability to dig deep into people’s own truths.

Tannis -  Piercing eyes and blue tousled hair—don’t let her stunning features fool you into thinking she won’t kill you with her throwing stars and knives. Growing up with a less than desirable childhood, it’s hard for her to trust anyone. For this reason, she often chooses to act alone. Tannis may be the one thing Aina needs to survive everything that comes for her.

Teo - He’s a lover, not a fighter, but cross him and he will break you. You may see a criminal but he keeps his work honest, takes no handouts, and lives for his friends and his mother. Teo and Aina's relationship isn't one of a romantic one. They are close as brother and sister and have promised each other to be there for the other no matter what happens.

Kohl - He’s brutal and cold with a questionable sense of morality. Known to many as “The Blood King” he provides a place for people who have nowhere else to go. Essentially, he owns them and if you cross him he won’t give it another thought but to decimate you. Kohl is devious and has many powerful friends including a gang called Jackals who want to see Aina pay for her past actions.

Raurie - Her family is her life. When she’s not working at her uncle’s bar, she’s negotiating prices on imported liquor, and, oh yeah, her aunt uses blood magic. She’s young, pretty, can outsmart most, and will step up to the plate to defend those she cares about. Raurie doesn't run away when things get dangerous. She's around for the revelation, and will hopefully be a key part of Aina's future plans.

In closing, Diamond City has some strong worldbuilding. It's seriously incredible. It's so solid, so intricate, and so interesting. There are prisons that don't see the sunlight, underground tunnels, gangs, wolf sized spiders, mines, complicated history, and so much more.