Thursday, April 30, 2020

#Review - ECHO Academy by Christina Bauer #YA #SyFy

Series: Dimension Drift #2
Format: Kindle, 208 pages
Release Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: Monster House Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: YA / Science Fiction

A Prince Of No Value
On planet Umbra, Thorne is known as the weak prince, extra brother and human-shaped punching bag for his father, Cole, Emperor of the Omniverse. Thorne never expected to find his transcendent soul mate. But when the prince connects with Meimi Archer, the human girl becomes Thorne’s transcendent and his world…

…until Cole decides to abduct her.

Now the prince of no value will do anything to protect what’s most precious. Meimi.

A Girl Geek With A Problem

Science prodigy Meimi Archer attends ECHO Academy, an elite high school located under Earth’s Boston Dome. That part is cool. Then she finds herself separated from her boyfriend, Thorne, due to a supposedly unbreakable exile void. Not okay.

Meimi pulls together a band of classmates and misfits. Her goal? Break through the exile void. Her problem? Headmaster Conway, the man who runs ECHO Academy. Conway wants to use Meimi’s exile void annihilator for an invasion of Umbra. Meh. Meimi’s not worried--she’ll take the Headmaster down while still reuniting with Thorne, easy peasy. Only trouble is, who’s that shadowy figure following Meimi everywhere? And why does it feel like Umbra may actually be invading Earth somehow?

In ECHO Academy, secrets are revealed, plots uncovered, and transcendence is only a few pages away. Don’t miss this jam-packed adventure of 40,000+ words.


ECHO Academy is the second (actually 4th) installment in author Christina Bauer's Dimension Drift. Things you should know. First, there are two prequels called Scythe and Umbra. Scythe is the story of Meimi Archer one of the most intelligent young scientists in this world who created something that led to being discovered by the wrong people. Umbra follows the second main character, Thorne, who is from Umbra an Omniverse where his father is Emperor. Thorne meets Meimi after making good on one of his father's promises. 
I suggest that you read Scythe first so that you know who the characters are in this series, and what happens to bring us to this point. Second, this book actually overlaps with Alien Minds, so yes, I do recommend that you keep that in mind before jumping into this story. Since Meimi and Thorne are the main characters of this story, the author alternates chapters between them. After a confrontation with Thorne's father Cole, Emperor of the Omniverse, on Umbra, the two are separated by and Exile Void. 
Back on Earth, Meimi at least has her best friends at ECHO Academy, Zoe and Chloe along for the ride. Cole has to either trust his own brothers, Slate and Justice, or find a way to stop Cole from claiming Meimi as his transcendent. Under the Boston Dome, Meimi has to also deal with an unhinged professor who wants Meimi to help him design an invention that can invade Umbra. Thanks to Zoe and Chloe, at least Meimi is able to band together a band of super geniuses and misfits in order to break through the exile void.
I am not sure it's possible to have worse parents than Thorn, but I imagine I've come across them a time or two over the last 11 years. Throne refuses to accept defeat. While Meimi is working to find a way to break thru the Exile Void and reunite with Thorne, Thorne is discovering family secrets that could actually give him a leg up on how to finally. The most interesting part is that Thorne and Meimi each can control access to what's being called the Crown Sentient where Cole gets his powers from. Even the discovery of Meimi's true heritage makes things a little bit more interesting as the story moves forward.
At the end of this book, it appears as though the author has decided to quit writing any more stories in this series. She's claiming that if she does come back to this series, it will be as separate stories featuring Justice & Zoe, Slate and Chloe. This is the same author who writes the Angelbound Origins series and she also just started the Pixieland Diaries. So, as you see, the author has a whole lot on her plate.
Dimension Drift Series
1. Scythe
2. Umbra
3. Alien Minds
4. ECHO Academy

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

#Review - Return Once More by Trisha Leigh #YA #SyFy #Romance

Series: The Historians #1
Format: eBook, 294 pages
Release Date: October 20, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury Spark
Source: Publisher
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Romance

Years have passed since refugees from a ruined Earth took to space, eventually settling a new system of planets. Not only has science made the leaps necessary to allow time travel, but the process engineered a strange side effect - predicting your one true love.

Sixteen-year-old Kaia Vespasian is an apprentice to the Historians - a group charged with using time travel to document the triumphs and failures of the past - and she can't resist a peek at her long-dead soul mate in ancient Egypt.

Before she knows it, she's broken every rule in the book, and the consequences of getting caught could destroy more than just her new romance. But when Kaia notices a fellow classmate snooping around in a time where he doesn't belong, she suspects he has a secret of his own - and the conspiracy she uncovers could threaten the entire universe.

If her experience has taught her anything, changing history means facing the consequences. The Historians trained her to observe and record the past, but Kaia never guessed she might have to protect it - in a race across time to save her only chance at a future.

Return Once More is the first installment in author Trisha Leigh's The Historians. The story is set in the year 2560. In 2510, irreversible destruction on Earth sent people into space. Sanchi, Amalgam of Genesis, is where we find out main protagonist Kaia Vespasian. Genesis was born out of the desire for peace and harmony. Kaia and her family are direct descendants from the Original colonizers, as well as Roman emperor Vespasian who ruled from from 69 to 79 BC. Vespasian founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empire for 27 years. 

On Genesis, citizens are exiled for only the gravest infractions, and families are often exiled with the person who committed the infraction. Kaia is an apprentice historian. She and her mates go on research trips back to important moments in history like the assassination of Julius Caesar to observe, record, and reflect. Historian Elders claim they are attempting to prevent the past from rising up on this new utopian where weapons are illegal, and crime is pretty much null. 

Kaia's brother Jonah went off script 3 years ago, and now is considered a pirate. So, when Kaia finds Jonah's travel cuff, it sends her on a discover mission to find out what he's been up to, as well as what the Historian are doing. Kaia's friends are Analeigh Frank and Sarah Beckwith. Sarah has found her true companion with a fellow student named Oz Truman who Kaia discovers is doing some unsavory things that she herself end up getting involved in things she should have walked away from. After all, she has a target as large as Jupiter on her back thanks to Jonah.

Part of this story is about finding ones true companion when they turn 17. For Kaia, finding her companion ends up sending her back to Ancient Egypt and the son of Cleopatra, Caesarion aka Ptolemy Caesar who only lived 17 years before being killed by Octavian, the later Roman emperor Augustus. The romance between Kaia and Caesarion, the already over two thousand years dead Egyptian soul mate, was somewhat fairy tale-like, a tragic one, but fairy tale nonetheless. It also reverberates throughout history which is something she has been warned to avoid at all costs.

The story ends on a cliffhanger sort of ending. Kaia is in huge trouble. Oz is someone involved in major conspiracy that could have lasting effects. Her friend Analeigh found trouble helping Kaia, and her friend Sara is no longer speaking to her for reasons I won't spoil for fear it will take away from what really happens and why. I chose to read this book in the middle of the Pandemic to rid myself of a ever growing piles of books that I planned to read but shoved aside. Was it a good choice? Maybe. The idea of time travel is at the top of my list of things I like to read about. The idea of true companions is really nothing more than soul mates in other genres.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

#Review - A Ghostly Mortality by Tonya Kappes #Cozy #Mystery

Series: Ghostly Southern Mysteries #6
Format: Mass Market, 336 pages
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Publisher: Witness
Source: Publisher
Genre: Mystery & Detective / Cozy

In the 6th novel in Tonya Kappes’ Ghostly Southern Mystery series, Charlotte Rae Rines comes back to Sleepy Hollow, but as one of the dead 

That ghost sure looks . . . familiar.

Only a handful of people know that Emma Lee Raines, proprietor of a small-town Kentucky funeral home, is a “betweener.” She helps ghosts stuck between here and the ever-after—murdered ghosts. Once Emma Lee gets them justice they can cross over to the great beyond.

But Emma Lee’s own sister refuses to believe in her special ability. In fact, the Raines sisters have barely gotten along since Charlotte Rae left the family business for the competition. After a doozy of an argument, Emma Lee is relieved to see Charlotte Rae back home to make nice. Until she realizes her usually snorting, sarcastic, family-ditching sister is a . . . ghost.

Charlotte Rae has no earthly idea who murdered her or why. With her heart in tatters, Emma Lee relies more than ever on her sexy beau, Sheriff Jack Henry Ross…because this time, catching a killer means the Raines sisters will have to make peace with each other first.

A Ghostly Mortality is the 6th installment in author Tonya Kappes Ghostly Southern Mysteries series. Emma Lee Raines is proprietor of a small-town (Sleepy Hollow) Kentucky funeral home called Eternal Slumber. She's also a “Betweener.” Emma helps those who were murdered and are looking for a resolution before moving onward. After Emma Lee solves who murdered them, only then can they cross over to the Great Beyond, Big Guy In The Sky. 

Psychic Debbie Dually was the one who informed Emma Lee that she wasn't crazy, she was a Betweener, someone who can communicate with ghosts with the not-so-dearly departed. In fact, she told Emma how she was the only one that could help solve their murder to help them rest in eternal peace.  This story actually picks up immediately after the events of A Ghostly Reunion with the funeral of a former classmate of Emma's who she helped adding to her total.

Now we are onto someone even closer to Emma herself. Emma and her sister Charlotte Rae inherited Eternal Slumber from their parents and ran it together, until Charlotte left to work at Hargrove’s Funeral Homes. Emma visits her to have Charlotte sign legal papers, but Charlotte’s deftly avoids signing the papers. In fact, the Raines sisters have barely gotten along since Charlotte left the family business for the competition. 

When Emma later sees Charlotte, but others can’t, she realizes that Charlotte has been murdered. Since Charlotte has no memory of the event, Emma copes with her despair and loss as she tries to discover who murdered her sister.  Emma beau, Sheriff Jack Henry Ross, knows of Emma Lee’s abilities and cautions her to let him handle the investigation. He knows she often meddles where she shouldn’t and places herself in danger, but this case is too close to home for Emma Lee to ignore, especially with Charlotte constantly by her side.

It's fair to say that parts of this book are emotional. Charlotte once agreed that Emma suffers from a condition called funeral trauma. Little did she know that she would have to rely on Emma to find out who was responsible for killing her and why. One of the other reasons it was emotional for me is that the sisters finally understand how truly they really love each other despite all the nonsense that has separated them and caused hurt feelings. I also had mist in my eyes over Grandma Zula's reaction to Charlotte's death. Holy crap. It was also a bit on the humorous side to be honest. Gradma Zula is this books entertainment value and never fails to do what she does as a fine Southern Woman raised and bred.

I am slowly making my way through this series, but have been sytmied by the shut down of the local libraries. I'd love to get fully caught up before diving into the next (2) books in the series.  Thank you to B, from #TalkSupe who got me interesting in this series.

Monday, April 27, 2020

#Review w/Excerpt - Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst #Fantasy

Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback, 544 pages
Release Date: April 21, 2020
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Epic

In this epic standalone fantasy, the acclaimed author of the Queens of Renthia series introduces an imaginative new world in which a pair of strong and determined women risk their lives battling injustice, corruption, and deadly enemies in their quest to become monster racing champions.

Life, death, and rebirth—in Becar, everyone knows that who you are in this life will determine what you are in your next life. The augurs can read your fate in your aura: hawk, heron, tortoise, jackal, human. Armed with that knowledge, you can change your destiny with the choices you make, both in this life and your next. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and you will always be a kehok for the rest of time.

Unless you can win the Races.

As a professional trainer, Tamra was an elite kehok rider. Then a tragic accident on the track shattered her confidence, damaged her career, and left her nearly broke. Now Tamra needs the prize money to prevent the local temple from taking her daughter away from her, and that means she must once again find a winning kehok . . . and a rider willing to trust her.

Raia is desperate to get away from her domineering family and cruel fiancĂ©. As a kehok rider, she could earn enough to buy her freedom. But she can’t become good enough to compete without a first-rate trainer.

Impressed by the inexperienced young woman’s determination, Tamra hires Raia and pairs her with a strange new kehok with the potential to win—if he can be tamed.


In this epic standalone fantasy, Sarah Beth Durst's Race the Sands introduces an imaginative new world in which a pair of strong and determined women risk their lives battling injustice, corruption, and deadly enemies in their quest to become monster racing champions. In the desert world of Becar, people are reincarnated upon death and the worst of the worst are reincarnated as kehoks, or demons that are the dream spawn of Simic monster hybrids. 

As a former Becaran Races winner who is now thought to be cursed, Tamra Verlas is a trainer who understands the risks involved with the kehok races and trains her pupils not to bond with their charges. Tamra would do anything to protect her 11-year old daughter Shalla who was chosen to become one of the Augurs who can tell you what you were in a previous life, and what you'll become in your next. When her patron, Lady Evara, gives Tamra an ultimatium of training a winner or be fired, Tamra buys a black lion kehok with the intent fixing her reputation after an accident the previous racing season. 

All she needs is a rider. Raia is desperate to get away from her domineering family and cruel fiancĂ©. As a kehok rider, she could earn enough to buy her freedom. But she needs a first-rate trainer. Impressed by the inexperienced young woman's determination, Tamra hires Raia and pairs her with a strange new kehok with the potential to win -- if he can be tamed. Raia and Tamra's relationship is that of a mother to a daughter and it's wonderful to see. Raia and her kehok bond almost immediately through a series of trials, tribulations, failures and amazing accomplishments. 

That is if they can only avoid royal conspiracies, Becaran Races, assassinations, her competitors vying for fame and fortune, as well as a possibility of war on the horizon. Then there are the monsters. The kehok are monsters that would do Doctor Moreau proud—from lion and lizard combinations, rhino and jaguar, to horse and jackal monstrosities, to a black lion with steel scales. These monsters are the rebirth of the "darkest, most evil souls" of Becar which in and of itself is an interesting view on reincarnation. 

Tamra and Raia are the main characters yes, but don't over look Lady Evara who puts together a plan to get Raia to the Becaran Races. This society is heavily dependent on priest-like councilors called augurs like Yorbel who uncovers a shocking truth about kehoks that could destroy Becare as well as Prince Dar. Emperor-to-be Dar who is seaching for his brother's soul before he can be crowned Emperor. He has to deal with unruly ambassadors, a population growing restless, and the thought that his country will soon be invaded by a neighboring county unless his brothers soul is found quickly. 

It's fair to say that Sarah Beth Durst is an author that I am looking forward to see what she writes next. This is a story that has little romance, but could have if the author chose to do so. I'm glad she focused on Tamra and Raia's journey instead.

Call it what it is: monster racing.
Forget that, and you die.
Tamra thought she should have that tattooed on her forehead so the idiots she was trying to train stood a chance of remembering it. Bellowing with every shred of voice she had left, she shouted at her newest crop of riders, "They're not your pets! They're not your friends! You falter, they will kill you! You lose focus, they will kill you! You do anything stupid, they will--say it with me now . . ."
Dutifully, the five riders-to-be chimed, "Kill us!"
One of her students raised her hand, timidly, which was not a good sign. If a little shouting withered her, how was she going to survive a race? "But I thought you told us to befriend the kehoks? Earn their trust?"
Oh, by the River, was that how they interpreted it? "Did I?" She fixed her glare on each of them, letting it linger until they wilted under her gaze like a sprout beneath the full desert sun. "Can anyone tell me exactly what I told you to do?"
Another answered, "To, um, be kind to them? Serve their needs?"
For the last month, she'd had them mucking out the kehoks' stalls and piling them with fresh straw, dragging water from the Aur River to fill the kehoks' buckets, and selecting the highest quality feed. She'd instructed them to care for the kehoks as they would a beloved horse, albeit keeping away from their teeth and claws and, in some cases, spiked tails. "Exactly. Anyone want to tell me why?"
The first student, Amira, cleared her throat. "So they learn to trust us and will obey--"
"They are monsters," Tamra snapped. "They do not trust. They do not feel gratitude. Or mercy. They do not understand kindness." Kehoks didn't, couldn't, change. Unlike the rest of creation, they were what they were, condemned for all time.
"Then why--" a third began.
"Because we are not monsters!" Tamra bellowed. "The decency you display is for the sake of your souls. The kehoks are already doomed to their fates. I will not train riders only to have them come back as racers!"
They all looked shocked, and she had to resist rolling her eyes. River save me from the innocent arrogance of youth. All of them believed they were too pure to ever be reborn as a kehok. Only the darkest, most evil souls came back as those insults to nature, and so her young students believed themselves safe. They didn't understand that evil could grow if planted in a field of banal cruelty. They didn't see why it was important to diligently protect and preserve every scrap of honor. Then again, this wasn't a temple.
They'd either figure it out eventually or regret it for an eternity.
Besides, more than likely, they'll all turn out mediocre and come back as cows.
All she could do was give them the chance to improve their lot, both in this life and the next one. She couldn't control what they chose to do with that opportunity.
Tamra put her fists on her hips. "The ability to show kindness and mercy to those who do not deserve it is a strength! And that strength will give you an edge in the races."
And now they looked confused.
"Only the strongest win," Tamra said. "You've heard that a thousand times. But is it strength of muscle? Obviously not. No human alive can out-muscle a kehok. It's strength of mind, strength of heart, and strength of will."
The third student, a fifteen-year-old boy named Fetran, crossed his arms, as if that made him look tough and defiant. With his gangly limbs and pimply face, he just looked petulant. Why, oh, why did I agree to train these children? she asked herself. Oh, yes, their parents were paying her. Lousy way to pay the augurs' bills. Not that she had much of a choice. Because while she'd be far better off picking a potential winner, training him or her up with a brand-new kehok, and claiming her share of the prize money, there was the little problem that she couldn't afford the race entrance fees, not to mention the purchase price of a new kehok. . . .
"So, last season?" Fetran drawled. "Was your rider weak of mind, heart, or will?"
Low blow.
Tamra smiled.
He shrank back.
She smiled broader. She knew that when she smiled, the scar that ran from her left eye to her neck stretched and paled. She'd gotten that scar during her final kehok race, a race she'd won, before she'd retired to raise her daughter and train future champions. Emphasizing that scar made people uncomfortable. She loved her scar. It was her favorite feature, a relic of a time when she was the one destined for greatness, with a wide future ahead of her.
In a falsely chipper voice, Tamra said, "Maybe it was a combination. But you seem to have everything sorted out, so how about you show us how it's done?"
Fetran looked as if he wanted to bolt. Or vomit. "I c-can't . . ."
She let him squirm a minute more, intending to let him off the hook, but then Amira stepped forward, cleared her throat, and said in a squeak, "I'll try."
Oh, kehoks. That was not what she'd meant to happen.
Tamra opened her mouth to say, No, you're not ready. But then she stopped. Studying Amira, she thought, There's some strength in her. A spark, maybe. If it could be fed . . .
Briefly, she allowed herself to imagine the glory, if she transformed one of these rich kids into a fierce competitor. She'd be the most sought-after trainer in all Becar, and her daughter would never again have to feel worry that they'd be separated.
No. It's a crazy idea. I can't turn one of them into a winner. It was widely known that the children of the wealthy dallied in racing but never won. None of them had the fire. You had to burn with the need to win, with the conviction that this is what you were meant to do. That was an aspect of racing that couldn't be taught, and these spoiled rich kids had never felt it. They'd never known the feeling of yearning for a future that vanished like a mirage before your eyes. Or the feeling of having all your dreams slip like sand through your fingers. They'd never tried to change their fate and discovered it was immutable.
They'd never been thirsty.
On the other hand . . . the girl had volunteered to try.
Maybe the answer to all Tamra's problems had been right here in front of her the whole time, and she'd been too stubborn to see it. The augurs preached that you could improve the quality of your soul by your choices, and thus grant meaning to your current life and hope for your next. Tamra might not be able to read the state of these kids' immortal souls . . .
But maybe I could give them a chance to shine.
"Follow me," Tamra said curtly.
"Hey, she asked me," Fetran butted in. "I'm first."
"You're going to break your neck," Amira told him.
"And you won't?"
"My kehok likes me."
Tamra heaved a sigh. Seriously, why did she bother talking? It wasn't as if they listened to her. Kehoks liked no one, because they loathed themselves. I'm a terrible teacher. I should switch to raising potted plants. "You'll race each other. And you'll use chains and harnesses." When Fetran began to object, she held up her hand. "I don't want to explain to your parents why their darlings are minus a few limbs."
Or have them explain to me why I'm not getting paid anymore.
Without looking back to see if they were following, Tamra stalked across the training grounds to the kehok stable, a prisonlike block, made of mud-brick and stone, that dominated half the practice area. Out of the corner of her eye she saw other trainers' students running obstacle courses, lifting weighted barrels, and wrestling each other on the sand. She didn't make eye contact with any of them. She knew what the other trainers would think of this--her students weren't ready for the track. But they would never be ready if they didn't take risks.
And if there was a chance she could shape them into what she needed them to be . . .
Closer to the stable, she heard the kehoks.
The worst part about a kehok scream was that it sounded almost human, as if a man or woman's vocal cords had been shredded and then patched up sloppily by an untrained doctor. It made your blood curdle and your bones shiver.
Tamra was used to it.
Her students still weren't.
Amira and Fetran huddled with the others in a clump as she flung open the doors. This is a terrible idea, she thought. Sunlight flooded the stalls, and the kehoks screamed louder. They kicked and bashed against their walls. There were eighteen kehoks in the stable, five of which were owned by Tamra's patron.
She halted in front of them.
The unnaturalness of the creatures made your skin crawl, even if you were accustomed to seeing them on a daily basis. Kehoks looked as if they'd been stitched together by a crazed god. There were dozens, even hundreds, of possible varieties, all of them with the same twisted wrongness to their bodies. In the batch before her, one had the heft of a rhino and the jaws of a croc. Another looked like a horse-size jackal with the teeth and venom of a king cobra. Another bore the head of a lizard and the hindquarters of a massive lion. According to the augurs, the shape of the kehok's body reflected the kind of depravity it had committed in its prior life.
Tamra picked the lion-lizard and the rhino-croc. She wasn't trusting newbies around venom, even in a practice race. Starting with the lion-lizard, she positioned herself in front of his stall and met his eyes.
Like all kehoks, he had sun-gold eyes.
The eyes were the only thing beautiful about any of them.
She let her gaze bore into his. Steadying her breathing, she shut out all other distractions: the whispers of her students, the screams of the other kehoks, even the muttering of other trainers, who had come to see what she was doing in the stalls so early in the training season.
She felt her heartbeat. Steady. Thump, thump, thump. Focusing on that, she willed the kehok's heart to beat at the same tempo.
He fought her. They always did.
Rearing back, he struggled against the shackles.
"Calm," she murmured. "Calm."
Moving slowly, Tamra gestured to Fetran to pass her a harness and saddle. He did, and Tamra kept her thoughts firmly fixed on the kehok. Thump, thump, thump.
She tossed the saddle onto the kehok's back. The monster shuddered but didn't try to bolt. Continuing to move deliberately, she attached the harness--both the harness and the saddle clipped onto a chain net that was fitted over the kehok's thick hide. The chain net allowed them to be shackled within their stall, as well as quickly saddled.
She repeated the process with the second mount.
When both were ready, she signaled her students: Fetran and Amira to the starting gates and the rest to the viewing stands. Grasping one harness in each hand, she barked at the two kehoks, "Follow!"
Kehoks didn't respond to words.
They responded to intent. And will.
According to Becaran scientists who had studied the kehoks for ages, the kehoks read your conviction through a combination of your voice, your expression, and your body language. The augurs claimed they responded to your aura and its reflection of the purity of your purpose. But Tamra believed what most riders and former riders secretly believed: the kehoks read your heart and mind. Regardless of how they did it, though, the result was the same. Doubt yourself, and you'll be gored. Don't doubt . . . and they'll take you to the finish line.
In other words, the more stubborn you were, the better control you would have.
And Tamra was very stubborn.
She just had to hope these two teenagers were as stubborn as she'd been.
Everyone watched as she led the two kehoks to the racetrack. She was, she admitted to herself, showing off. Not many people could control two at once. It had been considered a useless parlor trick when she'd been a rider--you were allowed to influence only your own racer--but it had come in handy as a trainer.
Locking the kehoks into the starting shoots, Tamra beckoned Fetran and Amira. They slunk closer, clearly regretting having agreed to this. She thought about letting them back out, but then thought, This is their chance at glory! Or at least it was a step in the general vicinity of glory. Whether they knew it or not, she was offering them freedom from the lives that had been mapped out for them. And a chance to change the fate of their souls.
"One lap," she told them. "Loser mucks out the winner's stall for a week."
"Get ready to shovel," Fetran said to Amira, his bravado belied only by the adolescent cracking of his voice.
Amira's eyes were as wide as a hare who's caught sight of a hawk. But she said, "You're only saying that because you're scared I'll win."
You're both scared, Tamra wanted to say. "Mount up," she ordered instead. "Belt yourselves in. Fetran, take the rhino-croc. Amira, the lion-lizard."
The two students climbed the ladders into the starting shoots. Tamra moved around to the front, forcing the two kehoks to focus on her instead of the riders. Normally, an advanced rider would do this by him- or herself, but she wasn't taking chances. Her students had never run side by side before, on a shielded track. So far, all their experience with riding the kehoks had been solo, heavily supervised by her. She held the mounts steady with her will.
This is going to work, she thought. I'm going to make them into winners! I'm going to change their destinies! Instead of dilettantes who dabbled in racing before returning to run their parents' estates, they'd be champions. When they went for their annual augur readings--or however often rich kids went--they'd be told hawk or tiger, instead of cow or mouse. They'd be thrilled--the young always wanted to be reborn as something grand.
The two students lowered themselves into the saddles and belted themselves in with the harnesses--the straps should keep them on their kehok's back no matter what the monster did. In a professional race, there were no harnesses and no chain nets.
It added to the excitement.
She broke contact with the kehoks and climbed the ladders to check the straps. The second she switched her focus to the saddles, the kehoks began to buck and snort. Fetran and Amira clung to their backs.
Straps were secure.
She took a breath . . .
Reconsidered all her life choices that led her to this moment . . .
Decided it was too late to change her mind and run off into the desert to live a less stressful life subsisting on scorpions and camel dung . . .
She retreated to the stands, beyond the dampening shield that covered the track. All racetracks had an augur-created psychic shield that prevented anyone in the stands from influencing the racers, whether it was by concentrated determination or an overabundance of enthusiasm. From here on, it was up to her two students.
"You have one task," Tamra called to Fetran and Amira. "Fix this word in your mind:
Tamra then slapped the lever that unlatched the gates, and the two kehoks, with their riders still clinging to their backs, burst out of the starting shoots. They barreled forward--even at a cheap training facility like theirs, the practice track was hemmed in by high walls, so there was no place for the massive mounts to go except forward. But that didn't mean they wouldn't try to resist.
She jogged through the stands, parallel to the track.
The lion-lizard bashed against the wall, trying to knock his rider off. He didn't understand that the rider was attached. Tamra felt each blow in her memory--her bones still ached because of the number of times she'd been slammed against a training wall. Then there was the time a kehok had rolled on top of her in an attempt to unseat her. Her right leg had broken in three places, but she'd won that race. Some days--like today, with twinges of sympathy--her leg still hurt.
"Run!" she shouted at the two riders. "That's all that matters! That's all that exists! You are nothing but the sand beneath the hooves, the wind in your face, the sun on your back. You are this moment. Feel the moment. Feel the race!"
She missed it, the way the wind felt, the way the rest of the world fell away, the way life was distilled into a simple goal. Nothing about life was simple anymore.
She wished she could peel away everything else and just focus on this: a race. Just her and a monster that she understood and could control, rather than the monsters who wore human faces and believed they were purer of soul than she.
Maybe they are purer than me. But that doesn't make their actions right.
She couldn't dwell on that now, though, as Amira and Fetran demanded her attention. The other students and trainers cheered as the two kehoks and riders thundered around the track. Sand was kicked into the air in a cloud that billowed up toward the sky. She began to feel a shred of the old exhilaration--the barely bridled wildness of the kehoks, matched with the barely contained terror of the riders. It was intoxicating. Tamra cheered with the others as the riders rounded the third corner.
And then it happened--
Fetran lost control.
She knew it a split second before the crowd gasped. It was in the way the boy's kehok tossed his head, the sun glinting off his golden eyes--
The rhino-croc sensed that the boy's focus had slipped, and he pivoted on his back feet. Rising up, he struck the other kehok, the lion-lizard, in the face. The lion-lizard crashed to the wall, and the girl--pinned between her mount's back and the wall--cried out in pain. Shaking off the crash, the lion-lizard then charged at the rhino-croc. He lashed with his claws, and the croc clamped down with his massive jaws.
Tamra was already running. She leaped onto the sands of the track with no thought but to save her students. Ahead of her, the two kehoks were tearing into each other.
She threw herself forward, feetfirst, skidding between them on her back. Hands up, she roared with every fiber of her being: "STOP!"
Later, the other trainers would tell her what she did was suicidal.
You're crazy.
You don't throw yourself between out-of-control kehoks.
You don't lie prone beneath their hooves and claws.
But Tamra did.
What she didn't do was allow a shred of doubt or fear into her mind. They would stop because they must stop. Her livelihood depended on it. Her daughter depended on it. I will not lose these students.
You. Will. Stop.
And they did.
Snorting and snuffling, the two kehoks dropped back onto four feet and retreated from her. Rising to her feet, hands outstretched, one toward each, Tamra felt her whole body shaking with . . . She had no name for what she felt. But they would calm. Now.
She heard the others running toward them. Shouting for healers, the other trainers unstrapped her two riders. She heard the screams of her other students, their voices melding as if they were a single scared beast. One of the riders, Fetran, was howling in pain. The other, Amira, was frighteningly silent.
But Tamra kept her focus on the two kehoks.
She walked toward one and took his harness. Then she took the other. She led them along the racetrack, crossed the finish line, and then led them back across the training ground to their stalls. It felt ten times as far as it was.
Only when they were locked in did she allow other thoughts to enter her mind.
Her students.
Were they dead?
Was it her fault?
Yes, of course it is. She was their trainer. Part of her job was teaching them not to die.
For a moment, Tamra couldn't make her feet move. She'd rather face a herd of kehoks than exit the stables now and see what damage had been done.
One of the kehoks snorted as if it were mocking her cowardice.
Go, she ordered herself.
And she walked out of the stable to see how badly her students were broken, and to take responsibility for letting her hopes destroy their dreams--and possibly her own.

Friday, April 24, 2020

#Review - Seven Endless Forests by April Genevieve Tucholke #YA #Fantasy

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy

On the heels of a devastating plague, Torvi’s sister, Morgunn is stolen from the family farm by Uther, a flame-loving Fremish wolf-priest who leads a pack of ragged, starving girls. Torvi leaves the only home she’s ever known, and joins a shaven-skulled druid and a band of roaming Elsh artists known as the Butcher Bards. They set out on a quest to rescue Torvi’s sister, and find a mythical sword.

On their travels, Torvi and her companions will encounter magical night wilds and mystical Drakes who trade in young men. They will sing rowdy Elshland ballads in a tree-town tavern, and find a mysterious black tower in an Endless Forest. They will fight alongside famous Vorseland archers and barter with Fremish wizards. They will feast with rogue Jade Fell children in a Skal Mountain cave, and seek the help of a Pig Witch. They will face wild, dangerous magic that leads to love, joy, tragedy, and death.

Torvi set out to rescue a sister, but she may find it’s merely the first step toward a life that is grander and more glorious than anything she could have imagined.

April Genevieve Tucholke's Seven Endless Forests is a standalone companion to The Bonelss Mercies. It is also a retelling of the King Arthur legend with a female lead character. This story takes place in the fictional country of Vorseland. The main character in this story is 18-year old Torvi who has suffered great losses. When her only surviving family member, Morgunn, is kidnapped by a vicious band of Fremish wolf-priests, Torvi sets out to rescue her. Accompanying her is Gyda, a shaved headed druid, as well as a band of singing, storytelling Butcher Bards who are all on a quest.
At its core, Seven Endless Forests is about finding your quest and setting out to live your life. Torvi spent her youth being looked down upon by her mother for being too weak. Her mother believed Morgunn was the child destined for greatness and never stopped telling both of them that. But it was Torvi who buried their mother’s body, Torvi who kept Morgunn alive and sober, and Torvi who sacrifices everything when Morgunn is kidnapped by the wolf-priest, Uther. Torvi is a character with great balance of  both strong and vulnerable.
This is a true coming of age story. Torvi's growth from beginning to end is remarkable. Her inner strength proves that her mother was absolutely wrong about Torvi. Her sister Morgunn on the other hand, is a bit more difficult to understand. Though she is only 14, she's depicted as an alcoholic in the story and that is going to make some uncomfortable. She also believes that she is the one who will be succesful in completing her quest. Along the way they have many adventures and end up on a new journey seeking a sword encased in stone that nobody has seen in many, many years. Names and tales from the well-known Arthurian stories often pop up as Torvi and her friends follow their quest. 
This title (along with the Boneless Mercies) are perfect examples of what we expect from campfire tales and Norse mythology. You follow Torvi, Gyda, Madoc, Ink, and Stefan on a harrowing adventure to reclaim home, family and freedom as well as a fable sword. Having to make hard choices that will lead the world to better or let it succumb to the flame and wolves of the priest Uther. With her band of troubled yet endearing misfits you meet up with witches, assassins, bards, traverse tree top villages, cursed towers and hidden kingdoms.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

#Review - Dark Skies by Danielle L. Jensen #YA #Fantasy

Series: Dark Shores (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 480
Release Date: May 5, 2020
Publisher: Tor Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

Unwanted betrothals, assassination attempts, and a battle for the crown converge in Dark Skies, the sequel to the YA fantasy Sarah J. Maas called “everything I look for in a fantasy novel”


Lydia is a scholar, but books are her downfall when she meddles in the plots of the most powerful man in the Celendor Empire. Her life in danger, she flees west to the far side of the Endless Seas and finds herself caught in the middle of a war.


Killian is Marked by the God of War, but his gifts fail him when the Corrupter invades Mudamora. Disgraced, he swears his sword to the kingdom’s only hope: the crown princess. But the choice will put his oath—and his heart—to the test.


With Mudamora falling beneath the armies of the Corrupter, Lydia and Killian strike a deal to save those they love most—but it is a bargain that could lead them to disaster.

Dark Skies is the second installment in author Danielle L. Jensen's Dark Shores series. The setting isn't just a few kingdoms, but an entire world. It crosses a dozen nations, it contains diverse cultures and races and religions, it faces evils that are both human and decidedly inhuman. This story delves more into the gods and goddesses of the Dark Shores, particularly the seventh god, The Corrupter. The most feared god, The Corrupter wants control over all of the other gods. People who have been “marked” by this god can literally suck out your life force.
But at the heart of the series has always been the friendship between two girls, Lydia and Teriana. Dark Skies alternates between Killian Calorian, a new character readers haven't met yet, and Lydia Valerius, best friend to Teriana, the second mate of the Quincense and heir to the Maarin Triumvirate who you would have met in Dark Shores. Lydia Valerius is the adopted daughter of Senator Appius Valerius and very much an outsider due to not being born in Calendral.  
If you've read Dark Shores, you know that Lydia did a bad thing which ended up with Lydia disappearing about the time Terianna and her crew ended up in deep trouble. A good part of Lydia's story actually takes place simultaneously to Teriana's story. After betraying Teriana's trust and her friendship, Lydia has every intention of making things right. But, she ends up in another land called Mudamora where she suddenly finds that she has some pretty cool new abilities that may or may not work back in Celendral. 
From being the subject of an assassination attempt, to an unwanted bethrotal, to being robbed, beaten up and then being Marked, to being a guard for Malahi and coming to trust Killian to help train her, Lydia's journey is nearly non-stop. Lydia being Marked is a curious twist to her life and leads to some major twists. Lydia's transformation and journey from the beginning to the end show the girl has a bit of moxy to her. 
The story actually begins by introducing readers to 19-year old Lord Killian Calorian. After Killian and his Legion suffer a catastrophic defeat to Rufina, and her 10,000 corrupted, he's assigned to protect Princess Malahi for the rest of his life. In Killian's part of this world, there are people who are Marked by the Six. Killian has been marked by Tremon who is the God of conflict and war. Unfortunately, Tremon didn't help him or his legion when they were overrun and soundly defeated, and he didn't help Killian get out of his protection detail. 
But, there is more to Killian than meets the eye. A softer side that will see him rescue orphan children and ensure they are fed with food that would have been tossed away by Malahi's cooks. He is just trying to do something that will make a difference and save lives. He knows he can't save everyone but that doesn't mean he won't try until his last breathe. Then he meets Lydia. Here's something fun, Killian actually knows who Teriana and her crew are and are willing to help Lydia save them. The Maarin have the capability to travel from East to West without letting anyone know how they are able to do it.

Politics is a major player in Dark Skies. It drove the story and heaped out tons of tension between the characters. So much scheming by so many different people. The plot twists were anything but predictable. All of the characters have their flaws. No one has all of the answers and no one is completely invincible or untouchable. The intrigue really carried the story along with all of the danger. The danger is intense. Wars, a plague, starving citizens, demons falling from the sky, dangerous armies, literally ones called the Corrupted at your front gate
The author and Tor Teen have made a choice for readers which is pretty unique in this genre. You can start reading the series with Dark Shores, OR, you can start reading with Dark Skies first. They have the same starting points which will converge in the third book! While this book doesn't focus on Marcus or Teriana, they do make brief appearances since Lydia's story overlaps with events that cross over from Teriana and Marcus's.  The author states on her Goodreads page that she hasn't abandoned either character. You'll see them again in the third installment she calls Dark Skies as well as Lydia and Killian.