Friday, December 31, 2021

#Review - Fated Blades (Kinsmen #3) by Ilona Andrews #SyFy #Romance

Series: Kinsmen # 3
Format: Kindle, 222 pages
Release Date: November 23rd 2021
Publisher: Montlake
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: SyFy / Romance

An uneasy alliance between warring families gets heated in this otherworldly novella from bestselling author Ilona Andrews.

At first glance, the planet Rada seems like a lush paradise. But the ruling families, all boasting genetically enhanced abilities, are in constant competition for power—and none more so than the Adlers and the Baenas. For generations, the powerful families have pushed and pulled each other in a dance for dominance.

Until a catastrophic betrayal from within changes everything.

Now, deadly, disciplined, and solitary leaders Ramona Adler and Matias Baena must put aside their enmity and work together in secret to prevent sinister forces from exploiting universe-altering technology. Expecting to suffer through their uneasy alliance, Ramona and Matias instead discover that they understand each other as no one in their families can—and that their combined skills may eclipse the risks of their forbidden alliance.

As the two warriors risk their lives to save their families, they must decide whether to resist or embrace the passion simmering between them. For now, the dance between their families continues—but just one misstep could spell the end of them both.

Fated Blades by authors Ilona Andrews is the third installment in the Kinsmen series. Truth in reviewing, I have NOT read the previous two installments Silent Blade or Silver Shark as they came out in 2009 and 2011. Borrowing from the intro to one of the earlier books: humans needed to be “enhanced” to facilitate spreading across the galaxy - able to survive harsh conditions, or be fierce hunters or warriors, or make brilliant scientific advances. And some of these enhancements were biological, and could be passed down through the generations. 

Since, however, humans were still basically human, the folks who had these genetic advantages soon wanted to keep them to themselves, and thus the Kinsmen families were born. Fated Blades features two such families the Baenas and the Adlers, both with the ability to generate deadly swords or impenetrable shields from their bodies on a moment’s notice. The “secare” originally were soldiers created to fight in a vicious war, but have dispersed in the decades since. 

The Baenas and Adlers settled on the same planet along with a third family, the Davenports. In true Montague-Capulet fashion, the families are sworn enemies. So when the wife of Matias Baena and the husband of Ramona Adler not only have an affair, but more importantly, steal precious business secrets, heads are going to roll. Quite literally. This story alternates narratives between Matias and Ramona. The two families have repeatedly clashed for 150 years.

So they put a sort of truce in place to find the culprits before they destroy both families and give highly valuable technology to a group known as The Vandals who Matias has had the displeasure of meeting. What follows is a classic space opera, as they race across Rada and back, fighting battles, sharing a few moments of downtime, and learning more about each other as they go. And of course, as with all epic adventures, there’s a show-stopper of an ending – or actually two show-stoppers if you count the epilogue… 

With a bit of research, I found out that this book takes place on Planet Rada where Silent Blade took place. I also found out that Amazon is currently selling the two previous books together. Even though I enjoyed this story overall, I felt as though this was more of an after thoughts to keep fans happy. Thanks to Covid and the authors fear of offending someone because they were set to release a dark book in what they're calling, the dark times, ergo we get Fated Blades instead. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

#Review - In Every Generation by Kendare Blake #YA #Paranormal #Fantasy

Series: Unknown
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: January 4, 2022
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Paranormal / Fantasy

Frankie Rosenberg wasn't yet alive when her mom, Willow, her aunt Buffy, and the original Scooby Gang destroyed the Hellmouth and saved the world from the First Evil. These days, life in New Sunnydale is blissfully quiet. Frankie is just trying to survive her sophomore year at the rebuilt high school and use her budding magical powers to make the world a better place.

But that world is suddenly plunged into danger when the slayer community is the target of a deadly attack, leaving the future of the line uncertain. Then Frankie discovers she's sort of freakishly strong. Oh, and there's something Willow never told her about her true identity.

Cue the opening credits.

Quicker than she can carve a stake, Frankie discovers there's more to saving the world than witty one-liners and stupid hot demons. now everyone looks to her for answers, but speaking up has never been her strong suit. And it's hard to be taken seriously when your mom is such a powerful witch she almost ended the world once, while your greatest magic trick is recycling.

Despite the many challenges standing in her way, Frankie must assemble her own bumbling Scooby Gang, get dressed up in Buffy's (vintage '90s) clothes, and become a new slayer for a new generation—before whatever came for the rest of the slayers comes for her next.


“Into every generation, a slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.” 

Kendare Blake's In Every Generation begins a brand-new reimagining of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe. This story takes place 18 years after the curtains fell on the Buffy TV series. This series features the next generation of Scoobies and Slayers who must defeat a powerful new evil. A Buffy superfan herself, Blake deftly creates a new story within the Buffy world, fresh and exciting enough for those unfamiliar with the series, and rich enough to satisfy existing fans. This series is timed to launch with the 25th anniversary of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, when hunger for all-things Buffy will be high.

16-year-old Hailey Larsson is the younger sister of a Slayer named Vi. Vi and her fellow slayers are getting together this year for something called Slayerfest which is a regular gathering of all the remaining slayers in Halifax. But something goes horribly wrong. Hailey has been kept secret by Vi who wanted to protect her. Hailey has grown up knowing about the supernatural world and knowing she has to keep it a secret. She has also secretly been training so that she could help her sister. When Spike, Vi's watcher, shows up at her house, Hailey finds herself taken to Sunnydale, the former home of Buffy and her Scooby gang. 

16-year-old Frankie Rosenberg is a sophomore at New Sunnydale High School, and the daughter of the most powerful witch in Sunnydale history. She calls herself an eco-witch. Her mom, Willow, is slowly teaching Frankie magic on the condition that she use it to better the world. But Frankie’s happily quiet life is upended when Hailey & Spike show up with news that the annual Slayer convention has been the target of an attack, and all the Slayers—including Buffy, Faith, and Hailey’s older sister Vi—might be dead. That means it’s time for this generation’s Slayer to be born. 

And, for the first time in history, Frankie is the first Slayer Witch. Gone are the days of one watcher, and one slayer. Girls now are magically chosen at birth to be the next slayer if one dies before they are ready. In fact, Giles, one of the original Buffy Watchers, is so far off the screen that he is not a factor in this story. Frankie's origin story is pretty interesting and no, I am not going to spoil anything. Frankie and her new friends and old friends have to deal with a dangerous character called Hunter of Thrace, as well as the Countess who has been told that Sunnydale is free of slayers.

I understand that there are some of you folks who haven't watched the original Buffy TV show, so, Spike (James Marsters), Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Oz (Seth Green) are active characters from the series. Xander, with Buffy's sister Dawn, calls in with regular updates often and things don't look so good for our beloved Slayers. Vi was the slayer played by Felicia Day in the last season of Buffy. Sigmund, a half-demon who is the son of one of Willow’s demon friends, is a new character who steps up and stays to help out. 

One of the hardest things to do as a reviewer is to stay as far away from spoilers as possible. No, I will not tell you which slayers are no longer with us. I will say that there is a brief appearance by one of them who then immediately dashes off stage as soon as the villain is defeated. The author does her best to incorporate the Buffy-style campy dialogue and it's nice to see that Frankie is a bit like Buffy in that she never expected to be chosen as the next Slayer. With the gaping whole of an ending, I am definitely eager to see what happens next, and whether or not we will get the answers we need about any possible survivors.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

#Review / Excerpt - Absynthe by Brendan Bellecourt #SyFy

Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback, 416 pages
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Publisher: Daw Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Alternative History / Science Fiction

In his sci-fi debut, Bellecourt explores an alternate roaring 20s where a shell-shocked soldier must uncover latent telepathic abilities to save himself and the people around him.

Liam Mulcahey, a reclusive, shell-shocked veteran, remembers little of the Great War. Ten years later, when he is caught in a brutal attack on a Chicago speakeasy, Liam is saved by Grace, an alluring heiress who’s able to cast illusions. Though the attack appears to have been committed by the hated Uprising, Grace believes it was orchestrated by Leland De Pere—Liam’s former commander and the current President of the United States.

Meeting Grace unearths long-buried memories. Liam’s former squad, the Devil’s Henchmen, was given a serum to allow telepathic communication, transforming them into a unified killing machine. With Grace’s help, Liam begins to regain his abilities, but when De Pere learns of it, he orders his militia to eliminate Liam at any cost.

But Liam’s abilities are expanding quickly. When Liam turns the tables and digs deeper into De Pere’s plans, he discovers a terrible secret. The same experiment that granted Liam’s abilities was bent toward darker purposes. Liam must navigate both his enemies and supposed allies to stop the President’s nefarious plans before they’re unleashed on the world. And Grace is hiding secrets of her own, secrets that could prove every bit as dangerous as the President’s.

In his sci-fi debut, Absynthe, Brendan Bellecourt (a.k.a. Bradley Beaulieu) explores an alternate roaring 20s where a shell-shocked soldier named Liam Mulcahey must uncover latent telepathic abilities to save himself and the people around him. This is a story that blends the lines between the best of historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy to tell the tale of a shell-shocked soldier with unnatural abilities. 10 years ago, Liam Mulcahey was part of a group known as the Devil's Henchmen. 
Each of the soldiers was injected with an experimental drug that enhanced their abilities in a war against the St. Lawrence Pat which included Germany, France, Canada, and England. Most of the war was fought on US soil. Unfortunately for Liam, his memories were suppressed, and those in charge claimed it was because of a head wound. Now years later, he works as a mechanic for the wealthy family of his closest friend Morgan. When he joins Morgan and his socialite friends at a Chicago speakeasy he meets the beguiling, mysterious Grace, and partakes of the hallucination-inducing spirit absynthe.
Meeting Grace unearths long-buried memories which includes flashbacks to his time during the war. Liam’s former squad, the Devil’s Henchmen, was given a serum to allow telepathic communication, transforming them into a unified killing machine. With Grace’s help, Liam begins to regain his abilities, but when his former Commander and current President De Pere learns of it, he orders his militia to eliminate Liam at any cost. But Liam’s abilities are expanding quickly. When Liam turns the tables and digs deeper into De Pere’s plans, he discovers a terrible secret. 
Liam must come to terms with what all this means, even as starts regaining some of his past abilities. As things become increasingly complicated by the unrest caused by a hidden power struggle between shadowy factions in the government, Liam must figure out who to trust before those who want him silenced can get to him first. The same experiment that granted Liam’s abilities was bent toward darker purposes. Liam must navigate both his enemies and supposed allies to stop the President’s nefarious plans before they’re unleashed on the world. And Grace is hiding secrets of her own, secrets that could prove every bit as dangerous as the President’s.
Overall, Absynthe is a fast-paced, high-energy romp through speakeasies and the jazz-infused culture of the 20s with unnerving parallels to modern times. Liam is a character who puts his friends first above all else. And, even though this book is allegedly a standalone, there is possibilities that a sequel could be written in the near future.


On a crisp spring day in 1928, Liam Mulcahey found himself sitting in the back of a sleek maroon Phaeton, headed for the grand opening of the new flashtrain line.

As the Phaeton navigated the roads of the Chicago suburb, the driver glanced into the rearview mirror with his glowing blue eyes. “Are you quite certain it will be all right for me to attend, Master Aysana?” His voice was slightly garbled, the speaker built into his faceplate in need of repair. In the driver’s seat was a mechanika named Alastair, the chauffeur of the Aysana family, whom Liam worked for.

Sitting beside Liam in the back seat was Morgan, son of the famous rail baron Rajan Aysana. “I’m certain,” Morgan said with a placating smile. Alastair had been giddy with excitement for days at the prospect of seeing the new flashtrain debut.

“Because I can stay in the car if it would be too much of a bother,” Alastair went on.

“No, no, Alastair, you’re most welcome.” Morgan was twenty-eight, the same age as Liam. He had a round, freckled face and straight black hair with long bangs he was often flicking out of his eyes, a source of frustration for his doting mother.

“Well, then, that’s fine, sir.” Alastair couldn’t smile as such, but Liam had been working on him long enough to note the signs of his contentment. He sat straighter in his seat. His head momentarily jiggled from side to side. “That’s fine as raspberry wine.”

Liam didn’t like crowds-a predisposition that had only deepened since war’s end in 1918-yet he had to admit, he was excited too. Rajan Aysana’s accomplishments deserved recognition, but more than that, Liam wanted to pay back the kindness and generosity that Rajan and his wife, Sunny, had shown him over the years. So while the grand opening promised to be cheek-to-jowl, Liam had vowed to stifle his discomfort and raise his voice in celebration.

Besides, Leland De Pere, the President himself, was set to give a speech. He had been an Army officer during the war against the countries of the St. Lawrence Pact: Germany, France, Great Britain, and Canada. Liam had served under him, though all he recalled of the man was a speech he’d delivered to Liam’s class of soldiers, fresh out of boot camp, at Fort Sheridan. Liam doubted very much the president would remember him, but what an honor it would be if he did.

Soon they were pulling off the main road and entering the jammed parking lot of the gleaming flashtrain station. Attendants waved them toward the front of the lot, where a line of long-nosed limousines were letting out the VIPs.

The station itself was a small but impressive structure of rough stone, frosted glass, and highly polished steel. Red, white, and blue bunting was everywhere. A crowd of men, women, and children waited near the entrance, cordoned by red velvet ropes into a long, snaking line. Hundreds more had already been let in. Liam could see them standing along the edge of the platform two stories above. He swallowed hard while staring up at them; it was going to be much tighter than he’d envisioned.

As the Phaeton reached the back of the queue, Liam realized Morgan had been staring at him.

“You can stay in the car if you want, old buddy,” Morgan said.

“No, I’ll be fine.” Liam had meant the words to sound more convincing, but he could tell by Morgan’s sympathetic reaction he’d failed miserably.

“Or Alastair could take you home if you’re not feeling up to it,” Morgan said. “I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.”

Liam shook his head. “I wouldn’t dream of robbing Alastair of the chance to see the President speak.”

Alastair glanced at Liam in the mirror. “Oh, don’t worry about me, sir.”

“No,” Liam said firmly. “We’re here. Let’s celebrate.”

Morgan paused, weighing Liam’s sincerity, then smiled. “We won’t stay long.” He squeezed Liam’s shoulder. “I promise.”

The Phaeton pulled to a stop, and waiting attendants opened the passenger door. After stepping out and being patted down for weapons by two serious-looking government officers in black uniforms, Liam and Morgan headed up the nearby ramp. When they reached the elevated platform, practically every square inch was packed. And not just the near platform; the westbound platform was half-full as well.

Feeling his breath growing shorter, Liam used one of the few tricks that helped to calm his nerves: he studied his surroundings. High above, an arched roof of steel girders and frosted glass shaded all from the bright, noontime sun. Many of those in attendance had dressed up. They wore fine suits and bowlers, frocks and cloche hats, but there were others with simple coats and dresses, not to mention a few button-down shirts that showed a wrinkle or two. Liam didn’t feel at home, precisely, in his simple woolen pants, pea coat, and tweed flat cap, but neither did he feel out of place.

Set near the tracks was a decorated wooden stage with stairs and a raised speaking platform. Cordoning the area around it were more stanchions and velvet ropes. Standing behind the ropes were men wearing black suits with the initials of the Central Intelligence Corps embroidered onto their breast pockets. More were situated at the edges of the crowd. To a man, they stood at military ease, their legs spread shoulder-width, their hands clasped behind their backs as they scanned the crowd for signs of danger.

As the seconds passed, Liam’s heart slowed, and he breathed a short sigh of relief.

“One minute!” roared a burly cuss of a man, a porter with a push-broom mustache. “One minute remaining!”

Like the other porters, the man wore a long black coat, white gloves, and a red cap, though in his case the cap was pulled so low one could hardly see his eyes. The way he barked-indeed, the very timbre of his voice-summoned memories of the war, of drill sergeants. Curiously, his loping gait was accompanied by a faint, mechanikal whirring, likely from one or both of his legs having been replaced with prosthetics.

Liam was frustrated by his inability to remember more of the war, but he’d long grown used to it. The head wound he’d suffered during one of the war’s final battles had erased most of his memories of his time in uniform. What was odd, though, and made it all the more frustrating, was the fact that the erasure wasn’t absolute. Every now and again, something would spur a memory, but the moment he tried to reach for it, it would fly away like a startled goldfinch. Such was the case on the train platform as Liam tried to recall who the porter’s voice reminded him of.

He gave it up as useless just as Alastair, having parked the Phaeton, joined them. Liam, Morgan, and Alastair were all of a height, just shy of six feet, but Alastair was necessarily thinner, the minimum amount of weight being critical for extending the life of the power source inside his gut. “Have I missed it, sirs?”

“You’re just in time,” replied Morgan.

“Very good, sir.” Alastair might be a mechanika made of steel and brass, but at the moment he looked like an overexcited child-restless feet, eyes constantly moving, his metal fingers tenting before him. “Look!” he called in his garbled voice, pointing. “There it is!”

Heads turned. Necks craned. The porter stormed along the platform’s edge shouting, “Behind the yellow line, now! Behind the yellow line!”

Standing on tiptoes, Liam saw a glint of silver to his right. Beyond it, visible over the treetops, were the towers of downtown Chicago. The silver shape grew, the sleek engine and its trailing cars becoming more discernible.

“Hold your hats!” shouted the burly porter as the hum of the train’s engines grew louder.

Liam pinched the brim of his cap just in time. The platform vibrated. The flashtrain blurred past. Liam felt himself tugged forward in the vacuum of its wake. Then a gust of wind washed over the crowd like a wave off the sea. Dresses lifted, exposing knickers. More than a few hats flew into the air, sucked into the flashtrain’s mighty draft. Many laughed in excitement. Others stared in awe as the train dwindled into the distance. A few rows ahead of Liam, a red-haired girl sobbed in the arms of her mother.

As the train’s thunder faded, the crowd hummed excitedly. Many of those in attendance would never have ridden on a train. Now they’d seen a wonder of the modern world, a train so fast its speed rivaled the bi-planes from the war.

“So that’s it, then?” Liam shared a wink with Morgan. “Time to go home?”

Morgan let out an affected sigh. “Yes, yes, I suppose it is.”

Alastair looked from Morgan to Liam and back, somehow managing to look heartbroken. “But the President…”

Morgan smiled sympathetically. “Sorry, Alastair. It was only a joke. Father wanted to demonstrate the train’s top speed. It’ll be returning shortly.”

“I see.” Alastair’s eyes went dark several times, his equivalent of a blink. “Did you think your joke was funny, sir?”

A laugh burst from Morgan. “No, I suppose I didn’t.”

The hum of conversation had only just started to die down when the crowd shifted their attention to the westbound track. Moments later, the train glided to a stop ahead of them. Behind the sleek engine were three passenger cars, each bearing Aysana Lines’ bright yellow logo, a circle with the letters AL inside it. Curiously, the third car had no doors at all-apparently, it could only be reached from an adjoining car-and its windows were blacked out, blocking any view of the interior.

To Liam’s right, the burly porter dragged a truly massive sandwich board toward the edge of the track. It read, Forest Park Welcomes President De Pere! After setting it down near the last car, the porter turned to face the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he roared, “I give you the President of the United States.”

To a round of applause, the first car’s doors slid open. Revealed was a strikingly handsome man in his late forties with hazel eyes and golden blond hair parted to one side. Standing behind him were Morgan’s parents, Rajan and Sunny Aysana, a handsome Vietnamese couple who’d met in Chicago after emigrating to the States some forty years ago. They departed the train car together. As Rajan and Sunny smiled proudly, De Pere shook a few hands, waved, and sent smiles over the crowd, then he took the stairs to the top of the waiting stage.

Liam recalled a much younger Leland De Pere, the striking officer who’d given the speech in Fort Sheridan along the shores of Lake Michigan. It had been a hopeful day, but for some reason, seeing De Pere working the crowd gave rise to another of the few memories Liam had of the war, one of a broken battlefield, of holding a Springfield rifle, of trenches crisscrossing the shattered terrain. It had been dusk, the air both chill and damp. Ahead, a thick bank of fog had approached Liam’s position, and somewhere inside it, rhythmic booms pounded the earth. Red lights swept the fog’s thickness, ruby scythes cutting wheat.

Liam could never remember how he’d wound up in that terrifying place. He’d trained and served in the 128th Infantry, a grease monkey outfitting and repairing the battle suits used by the U.S. Army. How he’d landed on a battlefield, holding a bayonet-tipped rifle, he wasn’t sure. His best guess was that desperation had driven the Army to reassign him. It had been a critical battle, after all, the last major offensive of the war. He must have been reassigned to help in it.

Liam was suddenly drawn back to the flashtrain platform when Morgan elbowed him and said in a low voice, “What do you think happened to him?”

“Who?” Liam asked.

Morgan pointed to the shadows of the passenger compartment the President had just left. “The President’s aide, Max Kohler.”

Watching from within shadows was an impeccably dressed man whose face was hidden by an iron mask. Much of the mask was the dull color of pewter, but its filigreed swirls shone like oxidized brass. It was all soft curves, with no human features to speak of save three slits, where the mouth and nose would be, and two eyeholes-one a circular red lens, the other oval-shaped, revealing a bright blue eye. As the President spoke, Kohler studied the crowd warily.

Liam stared at him a moment. “I’ve no idea.”

It was likely Kohler had sustained some terrible injury during the war. His demeanor was off-putting, as if he distrusted everyone and everything around him. Leaning as he was against the luggage rack, his jacket hung open to reveal a sidearm, a Webley revolver, in a black leather holster. Like the burly porter’s barked commands, there was something familiar about the cocky way he was surveying the crowd.

For a moment, Kohler’s lone blue eye met Liam’s browns. He stared at Liam hard, as if he too were having a moment of recognition. Or maybe it was Liam’s imagination. In all likelihood he was only sizing Liam up for threats to the President. Soon, his gaze passed over to others in the crowd.

What followed was the sort of speech a public official gives at a ribbon cutting. That De Pere was a one-time military officer and a West Point graduate was clear. You could see it in his posture, in the precise way he spoke. He praised Rajan Aysana’s accomplishments as an inventor, an innovator, and an industry leader, but he gave compliments to his wife Sunny as well, who was bright, funny, and an ever-present fixture at all of Rajan’s public appearances.

“So it is,” De Pere said while waving to the red ribbon behind him, “that I bestow the honor of opening Chicago’s newest commuter line to the woman who supported her husband each and every step he took to becoming a giant of American industry.”

Sunny and Rajan climbed the stairs up to the platform where Sunny, her eyes crinkling with pride, picked up a massive pair of scissors from a pedestal. The scissors looked comically large in her small hands, but Sunny didn’t seem to mind. It took her a few tries, and her efforts were accompanied by a smattering of good-natured laughs, but eventually she managed to cut through the ribbon. Then she, De Pere, and Rajan were walking onto the roof of the train car, linking hands and raising them in triumph.

The crowd along both platforms cheered.

Eventually it was quiet again, and Rajan and Sunny took the stairs down. De Pere remained and walked to the edge of the stage, where he spread his arms wide and cast his gaze over the crowd.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

#Review - The King of Koraha by Maria V. Snyder #YAlit #Fantasy

Series: Archives of the Invisible Sword # 3
Format: Kindle, 414 pages
Release Date: November 22nd 2021
Publisher: Maria V. Snyder
Source: Kindle
Genre: Young Adult / High Fantasy

Hard on the heels of trouble in Zirdai city, Shyla Sun-Kissed and Rendor are ordered to report to the King of Koraha - a summons that is deadly to ignore. The King holds the key to Koraha's existence, but a formidable new enemy threatens Koraha's very survival and the King desperately needs Shyla and Rendor's help.

Wielding a terrifying and unknown magical power that can convert opponents into devoted soldiers, the mysterious army is hellbent on usurping the crown. Shyla and Rendor are tasked with discovering who in the seven hells these insurgents are. And what their real endgame is.

Trekking through the punishing conditions across the searing surface of Koraha, and facing numerous unseen foes and untold danger, they must follow the clues to uncover the truth before it's too late. The fate of the King and all the citizens of Koraha rests in their hands.

The King of Koraha is the third and final installment in author Maria V. Snyder's Archives of the Invisible Sword series. Coming off the successful rebellion against the Water Prince and the Heliacal Priestess in Zirdai city, Shyla Sun-Kissed, leader of the Invisible Sword, and Rendor are ordered to report to the King of Koraha in the city of Qulsary. Ever since she was little, and training with the Monks, she always wanted to see the world. Now, she gets her opportunity. But nothing is going to be easy. 
Trekking through the punishing conditions across the searing surface of Koraha where mercenaries and pirates rule, facing numerous unseen foes and untold danger, Shyla finds that she's the valuable conquest that more than a few enemies which love to have. The fate of the King and all the citizens of Koraha rests in their hands. The King holds the key to Koraha's existence and he controls water, but a formidable new enemy who once worked for the King's elite army, threatens Koraha's very survival and the King desperately needs Shyla and Rendor's help.
For at least two circuits now, taxes from the cities that should be coming straight to him have disappeared. The city is almost broke and the king fears an uprising if the citizens were to learn about this. Shyla has to go deep undercover in order to fish out the betrayers within the neighboring cities. Trekking through the punishing conditions across the searing surface of Koraha, and facing numerous foes and danger, they must follow the clues to uncover the truth before it's too late. 
Wielding a terrifying and unknown magical power that can convert opponents into devoted soldiers, Xerxes is hellbent on usurping the crown and he has the powerful to turn a willing person to a meat puppet. Unfortunately for Shayla, who aside from King may be the second most powerful person in Koraha, she's just the person Xerxes needs to become the next leader of the country. But, we can never count out Shyla. When the chips are down, she finds yet another way to push through and fight until the end.
With the The Eyes of Tamburah, and her three other abilities—movement of the sand, influence over another persons perceptions, and manipulation of people’s thoughts and actionsfalling into the wrong hands may have devastating consequences for Shyla and her Invisible Sword team. On the plus side, the relationship between Shyla and Rendor grows stronger throughout this story. She's also not alone after her friends in the Invisible Sword show up to assist.
“That’s why I call you sunbeam,” Rendor whispered in her ear. “That’s what you do to my heart every time you look at me like I’m worthwhile.” 
What I enjoyed about this story is the fact that the world becomes much bigger. Shyla ends up visiting a few new cities on her quest to defeat the villain and prevent the King from being ousted. I also loved that Shyla saw through Rendor's anger at what he has done in the past, and how he didn't trust her in the previous installment to tell her what he was doing in regards to actually helping her. I liked that Shyla put a whole lot of faith and encouragement into helping Gurice and Mojag find their true calling. 
I think one of the strengths of the author is that she doesn't rush the story along to fit into a certain time frame. It takes time to go from place to place in this world; sometimes weeks. I liked the idea of underground cities since most of the known world has suffered from the brutality of the sun and everything is set around the rising and falling of said sun to ensure one doesn't get toasty. 

Ever since Shyla was six circuits old, she'd wanted to visit all the vast underground cities of Koraha. At that time, her world had been very limited. Raised in a monastery by the Monks of Parzival for eighteen circuits, she'd only ventured out to the nearby city of Zirdai on the rare occasion. Her desire to travel never dimmed as she researched the history of each city, their various famous and infamous inhabitants, and catalogued the underground wonders of Koraha. In her dreams, she'd plan her visits, listing the sights that shouldn't be missed.

It was a nice bit of dreaming that failed to factor in one crucial detail--visiting those cities required traveling over the hot sands of the desert for far too many sun jumps in a row.

Far, far too many.

Now, Shyla trudged up yet another sand dune, hot, sweaty, and tired of the unending vermillion sands that stretched out in all directions. They were endless, rippling out to the horizon and beyond. As Shyla followed a step behind Lota, she wondered, not for the first time, how in the seven hells the caravan owner knew where she was going.

According to Lota, there was a road underneath the layer of sand. And Shyla had to admit--grudgingly--her dillo leather boots didn't sink in quite so deep. A good thing, as walking would require more effort if she sank up to her calves with every step.

Shyla glanced back at Lota's caravan trailing behind them. It was considered an average size, with fifteen wagons filled with goods and one for Lota's family. Each wagon had its own driver and was pulled by two gamelus. Then there were eight extra people that Lota referred to as her "muscles." They performed various jobs like taking care of the gamelus during stops and unloading and loading merchandise. There were also eight guards, counting Shyla and Rendor. Actually, as a former captain, Rendor should be counted as three at least.

Opposite her point guard position, he marched in the rear guard location, scanning the sands for potential threats, but he caught her gaze and smiled. The warmth inside her heated, and it had nothing to do with the sun jumping toward apex. She returned his smile, wishing for the millionth time they could have some privacy. But the travel shelters along the route only supplied protection from the killer heat and the cold darkness, with nothing fancier than a communal scattering of cushions.

There were two ways a person could travel across the vast desert that blanketed Koraha. Either you hired a guide, who arranged everything and escorted you safely to your destination, or you signed up with one of the many caravans that crisscrossed the world. Hiring a guide cost an outrageous amount of osmiums so only the deep-level wealthy could afford it. The second option gave you two choices: you either accompanied the caravan as a passenger or you joined as a worker, the latter being the cheapest way to travel and the easiest way to blend in. Too bad it was almost impossible for Shyla and Rendor to travel incognito.

As a sun-kissed, she stood out. Her sun cloak's hood helped hide her blond hair and kept the harsh rays of the sun off her chestnut-colored skin. However, she'd decided before this trip that she'd no longer worry about what other people thought of her. She hoped the citizens of Qulsary, the capital of Koraha, no longer believed that sun-kisseds must be sacrificed to the Sun Goddess right after birth. The new Heliacal Priestess of Zirdai had already outlawed the abandonment of sun-kissed babies on the sands.

Thinking about the new priestess, Shyla grinned. Not only was the woman a sun-kissed, but she was Shyla's mother. A pulse of love swelled in her heart. After years of thinking she had been abandoned and rescued by the monks, Shyla now had a family. Which she'd promptly left behind in Zirdai. Not because of her desire to travel. No. Because the King of Koraha had ordered her to report to him in person.

The knot in her stomach tightened and her gaze returned to Rendor. He too failed to blend in. At one hundred and ninety centimeters tall, Rendor was broad shouldered and pure muscle. And he was all hers. His solid presence helped steady her nerves but couldn't banish her fears completely.

What if the King had her arrested as soon as she arrived? There was nothing Rendor could do in that situation. She and her Invisible Swords had overthrown Zirdai's Water Prince and Heliacal Priestess--two very corrupt and power-hunger people who deserved to be usurped. Unfortunately, two hundred and sixty-four people died during the defeat--many of them Shyla's good friends.

Was the King worried her organization would set their sights on him? As far as she knew, he wasn't a despot. He was over eighty circuits old and preferred to rule from a distance, keeping an eye on the cities through the monks. The King only interceded in a city's politics when their tax payments stopped. Then he would send his legendary soldiers to deal with the problem. Otherwise, he seemed inclined to leave the cities alone, which had been unfortunate for Zirdai when it desperately needed his help.

To keep from fretting, Shyla concentrated on the fact that the King's emissary had investigated the events leading to the change in leadership and had approved Jayden as the new Water Prince and Kaveri as the new Heliacal Priestess. Yet Shyla's thoughts kept circling back to why the King wanted to see her.

Perhaps she should be more concerned about the sun nearing the danger zone. They had usually found shelter by now. If they were caught on the surface between angles eighty and one hundred, they'd be cooked alive. A few of the drivers muttered unhappily as other members of the caravan exchanged worried glances.

Shyla scanned the pink sky, searching for flocks of velbloud. The fuzzy white creatures rose into the air about twenty angles before apex to escape the killing heat, remaining attached to the sands by their long tethers. Tethers she'd used once in desperation to ascend with them. If it hadn't been for them and Zhek's healing goo, she would have died and joined the Sun Goddess.

"Beacon spotted," Yegor, Lota's husband, shouted. The tension dissipated as everyone relaxed.

"'Bout time, Yegor," one of the drivers called in a teasing tone. "Thought you'd gone sand blind."

"I wish," Yegor shot back. "Then I wouldn't have to see your ugly mug every sun jump." Laughter rippled through the caravan as Yegor urged his gamelu team to pick up the pace.

Yegor drove the first wagon, which contained his and Lota's two children. Actually, "contained" wasn't quite accurate as the little boy and girl rarely rode inside, preferring to either cling to the sides, lie on the roof, or ride one of the gamelus--which they had all named.

Shyla squinted through the brightness. Good thing they hadn't depended on her to find the tall obelisk that marked the entrance to a travel shelter. Even though they rose high above the dunes and had been built of black granite to contrast with the reddish-orange sands, they were still hard to find.

Lota led the caravan over to the beacon. As soon as they reached it, everyone burst into action. The gamelus were unhitched and brought over to the stone corral. They were given water and brought under the massive sun shade made from velbloud skin that the muscles erected. The gamelus were well equipped to handle the killing heat during the danger zone, however, due to the extra effort they expanded pulling the wagons, the shade allowed them to recover from their exertions faster.

Once the animals were settled, everyone climbed down the ladder into the shelter. Before joining them, Shyla scanned the horizon one more time, using the power of The Eyes to sense if there was anyone nearby. Not that she expected attackers to be hiding in the desert this close to the danger zone, but the shelter only had a single exit, and if it was blocked, they could be trapped. When Shyla had mentioned this to Lota and the other guards, they'd shrugged it off, unconcerned about the possibility. Only Rendor had understood the danger.

Satisfied they were alone, she descended into the cooler air. It was a straight shot down, ending in a long rectangular chamber about seventeen meters underground. By the time she reached the bottom, the temperature had dropped to twenty degrees Celsius. She waited at the base of the ladder for her eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness. The yellow glow from the druk lanterns hanging around the chamber were weak compared to the sunlight.

Once the black shapes inside the shelter solidified into people, Shyla nodded at Rendor, giving him the all-clear signal. He had waited nearby with his hand on his sword just in case. This habit of theirs amused the other guards, but they didn't know what magic could do. They had no idea that magic wielders could hide under the sands or disappear inside a dune.

The chamber was about five meters wide by fourteen meters long and identical to every other shelter they'd stopped in since Zirdai. Cushions for sleeping and sitting littered the floor. A few long low stone tables lined the walls. There wasn't a collection station. No one wanted to haul nasty-smelling buckets to the surface. Those who needed to relieve themselves were encouraged to go behind a sand dune before entering the shelters.

Shyla and Rendor headed to an empty sleeping cushion, weaving through the small clumps of caravanners. Some were already sprawled on cushions, others shared meals and gossiped, while a few rolled dice in order to pass the forty angles until the surface cooled to a safer temperature. Unaware that Shyla and Rendor had been involved in the turmoil in Zirdai, they didn't pay them much attention. Only Lota and her husband knew the truth because Shyla had wanted to be honest with the owner.

Once they reached the cushion, Rendor stripped off his sun cloak. Underneath he wore a sleeveless tunic. The soaked fabric clung to his well-defined chest. She relished the view as he wiped the sweat off his face, watching his muscles flex. Before he could catch her ogling him, she removed her own cloak.

Shyla welcomed the cool air that caressed her overheated body, sighing with relief. Too bad the water in her water skin was beyond tepid. Any hotter and she'd use it to make tea. Rendor handed her a couple rolls of velbloud jerky.

Taking her blanket from her pack, she spread it over the stained and lumpy cushion before lying down. Rendor joined her. This was one of the few times they spent together in relative privacy--not that they could do anything other than talk quietly and sleep.

"I don't think I'll be able to take fifty more sun jumps of this," she said, snuggling close, breathing in Rendor's unique spicy scent.

"This?" He squeezed her tight for a moment.

"No. The endless sameness sun jump after sun jump for the last twenty jumps."

"Traveling the world not as glamorous as you'd hoped? Or is it the lack of rebellions to lead? I could ask if the others want to overthrow Lota and her husband to generate some excitement," he teased.

"All right, you made your point. I just..." She searched her emotions.

"You just want to be there."

"Yes! The wait is killing me. Why couldn't the King say why he wished to see me?"

"It could be standard procedure when there's a change in leadership. Maybe he wants to get the details from a reliable source. Or to thank you for your help."

"Or to arrest me for murder."

"Ah. Tell me again how many people you personally killed?"

None, and he knew it. "You know what I mean. They died because of me."

"No, they died because the Heliacal Priestess set off gas explosions."

"Because she wanted me."

"She wanted The Eyes of Tamburah. It didn't matter whose eye sockets they were in, she was going after them regardless. You have to stop blaming yourself."

Except if it hadn't been for her, Ximen, Elek, and Lian wouldn't have been on level ninety-seven when part of it collapsed, killing them.

Rendor must have sensed the direction of her thoughts. "You're not going to be arrested."

"And if I am?"

"Then I'll rescue you."

She smiled at his confident tone. "What if I'm guarded by one of the King's elite squads?"

He huffed in derision. "I'll still rescue you. Just might take me a few more angles."

"Their fighting skills are legendary. They can't be beat."

"Everyone can be beat, sunbeam. And I would be highly motivated." His words hummed in the air like a promise.

No doubt the big brute would try. She gave Rendor a quick kiss. "Thanks."

His voice dropped to a husky whisper. "Thank me again when we're alone."

She nibbled on his ear before saying, "That'll be in fifty more sun jumps."

He groaned.

"Do you still think it's not that long?"

"Can't talk. I'm sleeping."

She'd punch him, but she'd end up just hurting her knuckles.

Monday, December 27, 2021

#Review - Count to Three by T.R. Ragan #Thriller #Mystery

Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback, 284 pages
Release Date: December 14, 2021
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thriller

For a private investigator on the trail of a missing girl, every second counts in a gripping thriller by New York Times bestselling author T.R. Ragan.

On her first day of kindergarten, five-year-old Tinsley disappeared without a trace…

Five agonizing years later, her divorced mother, Dani Callahan, is a private investigator. She and Quinn Sullivan, a promising young assistant determined to prove herself, are devoted to helping others find missing loved ones. And for Dani, finding Tinsley is still a never-ending obsession.

Their newest case is Ali Cross, a teenager who vanished off a Sacramento street while walking home. A troubled boy’s eyewitness testimony to Ali’s abduction provides their only clues. And as their search for Ali gets underway, new information about Tinsley’s disappearance begins to surface too.

As their investigations lead down two twisting paths, disturbing secrets are revealed and new victims find themselves in mortal danger. Time is running out, and the hunt is only getting grimmer.

Count to Three, by author T.R. Ragan, begins with the heart shattering kidnapping of a girl named Tinsley Callahan at the hands of a woman who looks like Tinsley's mother Dani Callahan. 5 years later, Tinsley is still missing, the case has grown cold, Dani and her former husband have divorced, and Dani has chosen to work as a private investigator whose has made it her mission to find other missing children and bring them home. She's found her calling. Something she's till hoping to do for Tinsley.

Dani has an assistant, Quinn Sullivan, whose own mother disappeared without a trace and she would do anything to find out what really happened. She truly believed that her mother would not leave her behind. With both Dani and Quinn hopeful of finding answers, Dani takes the case of a missing girl named Ali Cross who was taken in broad daylight by a mentally unstable psycho who believes that he has found his fated mate. The hardest part is that the police believed that she ran away from home.

Ali's struggles to survive as we see through her narrative. Everything she goes through, including trying to escape, and sending a letter to someone to find her, is because someone decided to take away Ali's choices and make them her own. Meanwhile, Quinn and Dani are hired by a troubled teenager named Ethan Grant who claims that he saw Ali the day she disappeared. And as their search for Ali gets underway, Dani is assaulted in her own work place, and Ethan ends up taken after being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

As new information about Tinsley’s disappearance begins to surface, Dani finds herself dragged emotionally hoping that Tinsley will finally be brought home. The information is not only shocking in it's revelation, but one would have a hard time screaming in anger once it comes to light. As their investigations lead down two twisting paths, disturbing secrets are revealed and new victims find themselves in mortal danger. Time is running out, and the hunt is only getting grimmer.

**In this country alone, 800,000 children are reported missing. Some are lost, some are injured, some are runaways, and some have been abducted into human trafficking and are never found again. It is reported that a majority of those reported missing are eventually found and brought home. One of the key aspects of any abduction is the personal aspects of the crime. 

Were they taken by someone they knew? Was it because the child was caught up in a divorce proceeding and the parent took it too far? Ali fell under the runaway case because she had previously fought with her mom and found someone else to be. But she made a promise to her sister to never do it again. This story's ending is on the predictable side. Things are wrapped up, villains are found and uncovered and their reasons are as stupid as it comes, but almost everyone gets their happy ending. But I feel as though the author missed an opportunity to make sure all storylines are tied up.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

#Review - The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 448 pages
Release Date: December 28, 2021
Publisher: MIRA
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Suspense

New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan's suspenseful new mass market original about a college senior's podcast that delves into an unsolved campus murder of a sorority girl three years earlier, as individual callers explode every fact previously thought to be true.

Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found two weeks later, and the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the Medical Examiner's, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.

Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle, he just isn't sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace's last hours. He asks listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer, former US Marshal Regan Merritt, to come on and share her expertise.

New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace's secret life...a much darker picture than Lucas imagined—and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own dark secret. The pressure is to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast – before the killer silences him forever.

Allison Brennan's The Sorority Murder is an original story about a college senior's capstone project podcast that delves into an unsolved campus murder of a sorority girl three years earlier, as individual callers explode every fact previously thought to be true. Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found almost 10 days later, and the case has grown cold. Three years ago, while interning at the Medical Examiner's office, Lucas discovered new information about Candace's death, but the police are not interested.

The lead detective truly believes that a homeless man who was last seen making a nuisance of himself at the yearly Spring Fling was responsible for Candace's death. Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle, he just isn't sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace's last hours along with his producer Lizzy Choi. With the recommendation of Lucas's adviser, Regan Merritt, a former US Marshal who left the service after the murder of her only son, and the implosion of her marriage due to the murder, decides to see what she can do to guide Lucas and hopefully keep him out of trouble. 

As the clues start coming forward, and the callers paint a picture of a girl, who by all outward appearances was a sweet girl who would give the shirt off her back if you needed help, who suddenly became sullen and closed off from her friends. As Regan gets further involved in the case, and she starts meeting the key characters who know more than they are saying, she realizes that Lucas has opened a hornet's nest, and if she's not careful, she could end up in a dangerous web of deceit by someone who is about as evil as they come while having the outward personality of a caring, cherishing person who everyone can rely on. 

Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace's secret life...a much darker picture than Lucas imagined—and one that implicates other sorority sisters in yet another possible murder that was covered up. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own dark secret. A secret that will expose an entire group of women who did the wrong thing at the wrong time and nobody took responsibility for their actions. The pressure is to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast – before the killer silences him forever.

I would gladly read any story that involved Regan as a spin-off if the author is so inclined. I think she is a wonderful character who puts her own skills, and training, and know how as a US Marshal to investigate lead after lead and while trying to keep Lucas, as well as Lizzy, alive. I liked her relationship with her father who not once pushed her into making a decision about what she's going to do next. Regan needs a happy ending, and I hope she one day gets it. Lucas can be forgiven for his obsession in discovering the truth about Candace since it directly affects someone from his past and her family who were looking for answers and closure. Unfortunately, there was a lot of repetition that could have been eliminated in the final draft. The pacing of the story was also slow.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

#Review - Cry Wolf (Hannah Wester #1) by Hans Rosenfeldt #Mystery

Series: Hannah Wester # 1
Format: Paperback, 400 pages
Release Date: December 28, 2021
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: Mystery




The first book in a new series by Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of the TV series The Bridge as well as Netflix’s Emmy Award–winning Marcella.

Hannah Wester, a policewoman in the remote northern town of Haparanda, Sweden, finds herself on the precipice of chaos.

When human remains are found in the stomach of a dead wolf, Hannah knows that this summer won’t be like any other. The remains are linked to a bloody drug deal across the border in Finland. But how did the victim end up in the woods outside of Haparanda? And where have the drugs and money gone?

Hannah and her colleagues leave no stone unturned. But time is scarce and they aren’t the only ones looking. When the secretive and deadly Katja arrives, unexpected and brutal events start to pile up. In just a few days, life in Haparanda is turned upside down. Not least for Hannah, who is finally forced to confront her own past.

Cry Wolf, by author Hans Rosenfeldt, is written as though it was made for TV. There are tons of characters from primary to secondary to tertiary. Hans Rosenfeldt is the creator of the TV series The Bridge as well as Netflix’s Emmy-winning Marcella. Whether or not this is an actual series, is unknown. With a bit of research, Edelweiss claims this is a standalone. However, the book ends on a cliffhanger and it's being sold as the first installment in a series featuring Hannah Wester who works for the Haparanda, Sweden police. 

When two wolfs are found dead, Hannah is on the case to find out who may have killed the wolfs which comes with a steep penalty. When human remains are found in their stomachs, the search is on for a body. When a link is made to a drug deal gone wrong across the border in Finland, a task force is assembled and events rapidly escalate. When a highly trained assassin seems to be cleaning up the drug deal gone back, things get a bit confusing and suspenseful since Hannah and her team are put directly in the bullseye. 

Hannah is a character who is 54 years old and experiences the same hot flashes that we all do once we reach a certain age. She fully admits that she has a tendency of jumping to conclusions too quickly, which has led to some personal issues with her husband. She also hasn't exactly been faithful to her husband which is a great big no no in my book. What really drives Hannah is the not knowing what happened to her daughter Elin 28 year ago.  

The novel is interspersed with police investigations into the crimes, violence, and the personal troubles of various characters in the novel. I think one of the most interesting parts of this story is that it takes place in both Sweden and Finland which makes for an interesting place to tell a story. A large portion of Haparanda's population speak both Swedish and Finnish and with open borders in the EU, people freely cross to do business on both sides. 

Even though there are many plotlines happening at the same time, they will eventually tie back to one particular incident and the key players like Hannah and an assassin known as Katya who was taken from parents who didn't love her, and trained to be a killer by The Academy which we can confirm is Russian in origination. Katya's storyline is excellent and it raises numerous questions and possibilities which I refuse to spoil. The ending is really good, it’s very exciting, there are some unexpected twisty elements, and yes, I do hope there will be a sequel to this story since Hannah is now on a mission to discover the truth about what happened to Elin and who was responsible.