Friday, April 30, 2021

#Review - The Underworld Library by Laura Bickle #Dark Fantasy

Series: Hellbrary # 1
Format: E-Book, 3024 pages
Release Date: March 31, 2021
Publisher: Syrenka Publishing LLC
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Horror

Whoever possesses the Great Library of the Underworld rules Hell itself…and threatens the destiny of both the Heavens and Earth. 

The Great Library contains the most deadly magic tomes penned since the beginning of time. This magic is both wondrous and terrible, kept under lock and key by witch-librarians serving the king of the Underworld. 

Eve is one of those faithful librarians. She doesn’t recall her life prior to the Hellbrary, and unlike her fellow Hellbrarians, she has very little magic to speak of. When a dangerous book is stolen, she must recover it with the help of a Gorgon librarian, a hellhound, and a mysterious shapeshifting royal envoy. This daemon, Azarr, has a serpent tongue and the heart of a man – can he be trusted?

King Caldrius’s court has fallen under siege. Caldrius’s cruel son, Ral, has returned from exile with an army to assassinate his father. But his father’s crown alone does not guarantee Ral the throne. He needs the library, and he will take it by force. His ambitions don’t end with the Hellbrary – he means to take Earth and the Heavens beyond. 

Eve knows there’s only one way to defeat Ral: they must use the recovered book to awaken the Queen of the Witches. Caldrius imprisoned Viridia millennia ago when she grew too powerful to control. Then, he offered the witches a choice: serve him or die. They served, until now…but will awakening Viridia summon an evil greater than Ral? 

Time is running out, and all the forces the Underworld must unite to wage war for the library and control of all of existence. 

The Underworld Library, by author Laura Bickle, is the first installment in the authors Hellbrary series. The story begins with Ral, Prince of the Dark Palace, son of Caldrius, King of the Underworld, in a place called Nothingness or the Salt Desert where men and women from Earth end up after they die. Ral was sent there as a punishment because he is pure evil. Now, he has a plan. His plan begins by escaping from the Hatyx Sisters (Hate, Fear, and Wrath) then making an alliance with the Cix and the Blood Ilk who may have access to a powerful weapon called the Spark.

If he can convince the Cix (who are basically vampires) of his intentions of removing Caldrius and taking his place, then find a weapon of unbelievable power, he will have a near unstoppable army behind him to remove his family from power and take the Great Library and its immense power for himself.

Eve Douglass has been working at the Great Library of Hell (Hellbrary) which was created by Caldrius for 2 years. Unlike her colleagues, she has no memories of the before. She only has bits and pieces and memory flashes that she tends to write down so that she can attempt to put the pieces together. She has two cats who she can understand. Yes, the Hellbrarians are able to speak to animals and nearly every other language including Akkadian.

Eve's friends and colleagues at the Hellbrary include Volach, who does a really good impression of being a good dog, Meissa's, gargoyles who all have the same names, Sotris, her boss, and Stanna, who by all indications could be Medusa with her 3 snakes. She's also a witch. There is some suggestion that something bad happened to Eve or that she was a witch or that someone too her memories away because of something that happened before the Underworld.

Things get hairy when a demon named Azarr, daemon to Caldrius, shows up with a badly burned messenger moth with a message that the library needs to retrieve a dangerous book immediately. Normally, the Overdue Book Collection Squad is sent out on the most dangerous missions to retrieve books. But not this time. There are very few books not in the custody of the Great Library. Most are controlled by the Library in the Heavens, and there are only a handful lost in between. The Book of Dreams is one of them. 

After learning about the dangerous book, Caldrius tasks Azarr to join the quest to retrieve the book and bring it back to Special Collections. If he is successful, he will be freed from his millennia service to the King. Eve, Azarr, Volach, and Stanna go on a risky mission to collect the book, only to be thrown into a war to save the Library from Ral and his allies.

Princess Thalla of the Dark Palace is the youngest daughter of Caldrius. She was born without the ability to speak. Instead she talks through a raven called Eco who is connected to her. Thalla hates Tal but she loves her older brother Gerint who treats her with respect and not a play thing to be tortured. Her mother, Llythria, Queen of the Heavens was lured away by Caldrius. But Thalla's world is tipped upside down with Ral and his Cix attack the Dark Palace leaves her as the only survivor. 

This story ends on a wild cliffhanger ending with witches joining in the battle against Ral and the Cix including a woman who was put to sleep by Caldrius, Viridia. There are so many questions that need to be answered starting with how Eve ended up in the Underworld, and what really happened to her that she is unable to remember her time before she came here 2 years ago. There is also Thalla to think about and no, I am not a fan of spoilers. She, unfortunately, only has one ally, and that person has his own story to tell. If I had to give a brief summary of this book, I'd say legends and myths come together in one place to fight to save a Library that is under attack by a evil villain who has no care about how many people he destroys.  

Thursday, April 29, 2021

#Review - Realm Breaker (Realm Breaker #1) by Victoria Aveyard #Fantasy #YA

Series: Realm Breaker # 1
Format: Hardcover, 576 pages
Release Date: May 4, 2021
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Epic

A strange darkness grows in Allward.

Even Corayne an-Amarat can feel it, tucked away in her small town at the edge of the sea.

She soon discovers the truth: She is the last of an ancient lineage—and the last hope to save the world from destruction. But she won’t be alone. Even as darkness falls, she is joined by a band of unlikely companions:

A squire, forced to choose between home and honor.
An immortal, avenging a broken promise.
An assassin, exiled and bloodthirsty.
An ancient sorceress, whose riddles hide an eerie foresight.
A forger with a secret past.
A bounty hunter with a score to settle.

Together they stand against a vicious opponent, invincible and determined to burn all kingdoms to ash, and an army unlike anything the realm has ever witnessed.

Realm Breaker is the first installment in author Victoria Aveyard's new trilogy by the same name. If you've watched or read Lords of the Rings, this series should be for you. This story is packed with action, betrayal, and twists you won't see coming. It is an epic fantasy novel with a rather large cast of characters. The story begins with Andry Trelland who is a squire in the service to a knight who has joined a group called the companions of the realm. The companions quickly find themselves outnumber and massacred by one of the main villains of the story who is looking to tear open the realm to his master and allow all sorts of dangerous creatures to enter the world.
Corayne an-Amarat aka the smuggler's daughter is the second character introduced. Corayne's mother Meliz an-Amarat is a pirate who trusts her daughter's well being to others while she's kept Cora's father's name a secret. Corayne has always dreamed of the sea, of seeking the horizon, but her mother has always said no. After meeting with Dom and Sorasa, Corayne learns that her father was one of those who was lost his life in the battle at the beginning of this book. A father that she never met but somehow she is expected to be the last remaining descendant of his bloodline and wield his spindleblade. No pressure!
Domacridhan of Iona is an immortal or Vederan trying to avenge a broken promise. He, like Andry, was at the massacre at the beginning of this story and is only alive because he is immortal. Until Dom meets with Corayne, his only ally is Princess Ridha of Iona who goes on her own quest hoping to find allies to help Dom against the villains of this story. Dom realizes that Cora is like her father, restless and searching for something. Meanwhile, Dom's people are cowards and their only focus is finding a way home to Glorian which has been cut off from them.
Sorasa Sarn is an assassin of the Amhara, legend of the shadows, who has been exiled by her Lord Mercury. After meeting with Dom, Sorasa helps him search for any remaining Cor blood mortals who remain. The sons and daughters of Cor are all but extinct. Except for two. One of them being Corayne and the other being her diabolical and evil uncle Taristan. Sorasa has a rather large target that she is trying to avoid. She's made plenty of enemies, but has the skill set to survive and escape from most places.
Erida is Queen of Galland. After her knights were massacred leaving only Andry to live, Erida doesn't believe the story that Andry claims happens. She makes it known that everything she does is for power, including marrying the villain of this series and trying to stop Corayne and her group from being successful in shuttering the spindles which have unleashed armies of beings that haven't been seen in ages. 
Valtik is the strangest character in Corayne's allies. She's the sorceress who uses twisted riddles to get her message across. She's the one who advises Sorasa that the quest needs seven people to be successful. Trelland is a forger with a secret past. Sigil is a a bounty hunter with a score to settle. The team of seven is the only force that stands between the invincible Taristan and his mission to conquer all worlds and watch them burn. Taristan recruits some formidable allies that make the company's mission to stop them seem insurmountable. 
Realm Breaker is set in a world called Allward that, at one time, was the crossroads for travel between other worlds. The portals that were used by travelers are called spindles. Once upon a time, Cora's ancestors were spindleborn, children of a lost realm who are slowly dying out. One of the repercussions of losing the spindles is that there are groups of people in the Aveyard’s world who actually came from another world, and are cut off from their ancestral home, who age differently that regular humans. Elders or Vedera are considered immortal in Allward, although it is quickly established that an Elder can receive sufficient damage to be killed. We see a lot of different countries and kingdoms through out the book, from deserts to green oceans to stinking cities. 
As with the authors previous trilogy, the author leaves this story on a cliffhanger. If everything goes well, the next books will release over the next 2 years.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

#Review - Blade of Secrets by Tricia Levenseller #YA #Fantasy

Series: Bladesmith # 1
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Release Date: May 4, 2021
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

In the first book in Tricia Levenseller's exciting new YA fantasy duology, a teenage blacksmith with social anxiety is forced to go on the run to protect the world from the most powerful magical sword she's ever made.

Eighteen-year-old Ziva prefers metal to people. She spends her days tucked away in her forge, safe from society and the anxiety it causes her, using her magical gift to craft unique weapons imbued with power.

Then Ziva receives a commission from a powerful warlord, and the result is a sword capable of stealing its victims' secrets. A sword that can cut far deeper than the length of its blade. A sword with the strength to topple kingdoms. When Ziva learns of the warlord’s intentions to use the weapon to enslave all the world under her rule, she takes her sister and flees.

Joined by a distractedly handsome mercenary and a young scholar with extensive knowledge of the world’s known magics, Ziva and her sister set out on a quest to keep the sword safe until they can find a worthy wielder or a way to destroy it entirely. 

Blade of Secrets is the first installment in author Tricia Levenseller's Bladesmith duology. Eighteen-year-old Ziva Tellion prefers metal to people. She spends her days tucked away in her forge, safe from society and the anxiety it causes her. She is known for being the only magical smitty in existence and her Zivan blades are legendary. People come from all over the world seeking out her weapons. The bulk of her customers are mercenaries, sellswords, and fighters for hire. But things are going to quickly change for Ziva and her younger sister. Ziva receives a commission from a powerful warlord named Kymora Avedin. Kymora was once the King's General and now has her own army. She is powerful and deadly. After Ziva sees a gorgeous man walking by her shop, she ends up putting her emotions into the broadsword she built.  

She ends up creating a Sword of Secrets. The most powerful magical sword ever known. One of the many sword’s magical abilities is that with a drop of blood, the sword and the swordbearer will know your secrets and your intent. When Ziva learns of the warlord’s intentions to use the weapon to enslave all the world under her rule, she takes her sister, Temra, and leaves everything behind. Joined by a Kellyn Derinor, a mercenary, motivated by the money Ziva can pay and the offer of a custom weapon, and a young scholar named Petrik with extensive knowledge of the world’s known magics, Ziva and her sister set out on a quest to keep the sword safe until they can find a way to destroy it entirely. The problem is that nobody betrays Kymora and gets away with it. 

So, the four end up hightailing it from place to place trying to stay away from the high bounties placed on Ziva's head. Ziva will do anything to protect Temra. This is a bit of a quest novel, except they are trying to outrun someone rather than find something. A lot of the book is spent as the four main characters are on the road, trying to find someplace safe to stay, as well as discover some way that Ziva might be able to destroy or hide her powerful weapon. It is also a beautiful thing seeing how the sisters get along. Temra is a free spirit, social butterfly and well able to protect herself and Ziva with both blade and her wits. She has always been at the forefront trying to protect her older sister who raised them after their parents were murdered. 

Ziva's social anxiety is presented very authentically throughout the book. It’s not a feature of the story, and yet it does effect every part of the book. It’s a very powerful part of the book and the way Ziva thinks, reacts and guards herself is a genuine reflection of her anxiety. Ziva's conflict/affection for Kellyn is something new for Ziva. Even though they start out at odds and often argue, as they journey together, Ziva learns a little more about his motives and history and continually surprises herself with how her feelings change towards Kellyn. I dare say that there are two romances in this book and it will be interesting to see if either pans out. 

The good and the bad. 1. The book ends on a cliffhanger. 2. This is only a duology which means that we shouldn't have to wait 2 years to find out a resolution to Ziva's story and what happens next.


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

#Review - Incognito by Katie Delahanty #YA #Dystopian #Thrillers

Series: Keystone (#2)
Format: Paperback, 334 pages
Release Date: May 3rd 2021
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Dystopian / Thrillers

In the virtual utopia of the Simulation, everyone will live peacefully and without fear or needs—at least that’s how they’re selling it. But the government plans to use this program to take control of the entire human race. Elisha Dewitt has just been given her first mission to help prevent this, and she’s ready to prove she can go incognito just as well as any other master thief.

Breaking and entering? No sweat. She’s done worse. Stealing a cassette tape from the museum vaults will be easy—in, out, done—until he shows up...and everything gets way more complicated. Garrett Alexander just has that effect.

Nothing is as it seems, and a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse begins with Garrett, her rival and match in every way. Not knowing who she can trust, Elisha decides it’s up to her to rescue everyone—even Garrett—before the world as she knows it comes to a brutal end.


Incognito is the second installment in author Katie Delahanty's Keystone series. This is a series set in a far off future. This is a society divided into factions such as Corporates, Influencers, Laborers, Unrankables followed by the Disconnects who are of the lowest order. Keystone, who Elisha Dewitt formerly Ella Karman belongs to, are all Disconnected from the world. They intentionally cover and mark their faces so that facial recognition doesn't catch them. Their main mission is to steal analog history and to preserve the truth corporations and governments are trying to hide or alter forever.  

Elisha has a gift of superior intuition which is what led her to Keystone in the first place. At the end of Keystone, Elisha was given her first solo mission by Professor Allard to steal a cassette tape from the Andy Warhol Time Capsule Museum in Pittsburgh. Breaking and entering? No sweat. She’s done worse. Breaking into a nearly impossible museum with state of the art security will get a bit more complicated. Especially when Garrett Alexander shows up and tosses everything out the window. Garrett tends to unnerve Elisha at times. He literally left her stranded in a tree house 5 months ago. 

In the virtual utopia of the Simulation created by Simon Technologies, everyone will live peacefully and without fear or needs—at least that’s how they’re selling it. But the government plans to use this program to take control of the entire human race. help prevent this, and she’s ready to prove she can go incognito just as well as any other master thief. Nothing is as it seems, and a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse begins with Garrett, her rival and match in every way. Not knowing who she can trust, Elisha decides it’s up to her to rescue everyone—even Garrett—before the world as she knows it comes to a brutal end.  

Thankfully for Elisha, she has a core of friends (Rayelle, Stewart, and Sophia) who are strong in their own talents which make them a great team. This is a good thing since there are those who are uniquely interested in Elisha and her brain which could be key to the so called Super Brain. So, off the crew goes to Stanford where things get interesting. I'll stop here by saying that there are lots of twists in the final chapters of this book. Characters truly prove who they are loyal to. Other characters reveal a shocking truth that leaves the book in a wicked cliffhanger ending. I am looking forward the sequel. There are so many questions that need to be answered, and the shenanigans between Elisha and Garrett need to be sorted out.

Monday, April 26, 2021

#Review - Shadowed Steel by Chloe Neill #Fantasy #Paranormal

Series: Heirs of Chicagoland Novel (#3)
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Release Date: May 4, 2021
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Publisher
Fantasy / Paranormal / Urban 

In the third installment in the USA Today bestselling Heirs of Chicagoland series, the vampires in Elisa Sullivan’s world are out for blood.

Elisa Sullivan is the only vampire ever born, and she bears a heavy legacy. After a sojourn with the North American Central Pack of shifters in the wilderness—where she turned a young woman into a vampire to save her life—Elisa returns to Chicago.

But no good deed goes unpunished. The ruling body of vampires, the Assembly of American Masters, is furious that Elisa turned someone without their permission, and they want her punished. When an AAM vampire is found dead, Elisa is the prime suspect. Someone else is stalking Chicago—and Elisa. She’ll need to keep a clear head, and a sharp blade, to survive all the supernatural strife.

Shadowed Steel is the third installment in author Chloe Neill's Heirs of Shadowland series. Because of an incident that happened in Wicked Hour, Elissa Sullivan, the only vampire to ever be born, not made, faces the Vampire ruling body known as the American Assembly of Masters. The Compliance Bureau arm of the AAM accuses Elissa of breaking their laws against turning a human into a vampire unless permission is given by a Master, or the AAM. They demand that Elissa join a House or face the consequences which include testing and/or facing a kind of imprisonment until she complies. Testing is not something she will agree to.
When Blake, one of the vampires from the Compliance Bureau, is found dead, Elissa is pulled in for questioning by the Ombudsman Office where she has been working. She's put on administrative leave while the investigation goes on which makes her very determined to find out who killed Blake. Elissa has also attracted the attention of a mentally unhinged stalker who sends her creepy notes which talk about their non-existent relationship. Elissa has no idea who's sending the messages but she's concerned that the stalker seems to be targeting her friends including Connor because he's not a vampire.
To make matters even more twisted, a monster lives inside Elissa thanks to magic that allowed Merit to conceive the first born vampire. The only people who know about this is Connor Keene, heir apparent to the North American Central Pack, and Lulu Bell, her best friend and roommate. For reasons that boggle the mind, Elissa hasn't told her parents (Ethan or Merit) about her monster half and how hard she's been struggling to keep the monster from taking control. There are literally two consciousnesses in a single body. Her struggle with the monster has been an ongoing conversation since this new series began. Let's hope it resolves itself. 
Then, of course, comes Connor's own pack who aren't exactly jumping for joy knowing that he is mixed up with Elissa. Even though Elissa basically saved their skins in Wicked Hour, the hatred is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. This book brings back Merit and Ethan in more ways than the previous two installments didn't. They are fully invested in not seeing their daughter be used as a tool by machinations of a few bad seeds. However, I absolutely do not like that Elissa is keeping secrets from her parents. I agree that she should be able to live her own life outside of Cadogan House.
The relationship between Connor and Elissa has grown leaps and bounds even with their playful banter. One could say that they've taken it a whole new level. It's actually nice to remember that these two grew up with each other and were often trying to one up the other when it came to causing melee for their parents. I like that Elissa has a core group of trusted friends including Lulu, Alexei Breckenridge, Theo, and Petra along with her boss Roger Yeun.
I made a comment about not being sad if this was the last installment. I highly doubt that is the case. There is a whole lot more to be unraveled and whether or not Elissa will be able to deal with the monster or if she will ever tell her parents about her true struggles. 


An ill wind moves through Chicago,“ Lulu said, sniffing the air.

”It’s not an ill wind,“ I said. But I stared down at the malformed lump of sickly gray dough currently spreading across the sheet pan and admitted to myself I didn’t have much room to argue.

”It worked in Paris,“ I muttered, frowning as I mentally retraced my steps. Measure the ingredients. Add the sourdough starter. Knead, rise, shape, proof.

Lulu Bell, the thoroughly anti-magic daughter of two sorcerers and my best friend, moved into the kitchen area of the Near North loft she was letting me share, and looked down at the lump.

”But not in Chicago.“ She patted my shoulder. ”Maybe you could try something else.“

By ”something else,“ she meant hobbies-fun, stress-relieving activities meant to give me an outlet other than coffee, katanas, and, since I’d returned to Chicago from my stint in France, supernatural politics. The latter was partly the fault of my temp job at the city’s supernatural Ombudsman’s office, the OMB, and partly because I was a vampire. We were dramatic sorts.

And maybe because of that, the Great Hobby Search had not been a success. Baking bread was only my latest and not-greatest attempt. We had a half dozen succulents on the window ledge that had gone either mushy or crispy, a pyramid of tangled yarn, and an array of glass vials and jars, sellers of which had promised me the best coffee experience of my life. Lulu now used them to store paintbrushes, and I continued to buy cups from Leo’s, which slung the best coffee in Chicago.

”We have an hour before everyone gets here. We can call someone and ask them to pick up bread. Maybe Connor can bring something from NAC.“

Connor Keene was the crown prince of the North American Central Pack of shapeshifters, which had a lucrative restaurant business.

”The only NAC goods Connor will bring is Alexei. And I’m not begging at the Pack’s table.“

Lulu ignored my mentioning Alexei Breckenridge. She found Connor’s Packmate irritating; he had a crush on her, which made for interesting watching. ”I’ll bet it’s not the first time you’ve begged a member of the Pack,“ she said with a wily grin.

In addition to being my occasional supplier of barbecue, Connor was also my boyfriend. Tall, built, with dark hair and blue eyes that usually carried a wolfish gleam. I’d seen him as a human and as a wolf. Both were impressive.

”Why do you need bread anyway?“

I walked to the trash can, dumped the bowl’s contents inside. ”I’m making sourdough crostini with burrata, arugula, and tomato jam. Or I was.“

She just looked at me.

”What?“ I put the bowl in the sink. ”A potluck was your idea. ’Let’s have people over,’ you said. ’Just make your favorite food,’ you said.“

Lulu rolled her eyes. She opened the refrigerator, pointed to the shelves inside the door, where bottles of blood and caff mocha were chilling. (In separate containers. Because mocha-flavored blood was a crime against vampirity.) ”Your favorite food is not crostini or burrata or arugula or tomato jam. It’s coffee and blood, in that order.“

”I like other things,“ I protested. ”And your favorite food is not deviled eggs, but that doesn’t explain why there are three dozen percolating in the refrigerator.“ I wrinkled my nose in disgust. The person who’d decided the best way to eat boiled eggs was to mix the innards with relish and mayo should be drawn and quartered.

She plucked one from the tray before closing the door again. ”They’re just an experiment,“ she said, then looked at it with narrowed eyes, as if inspecting it.

I didn’t believe her. But I watched her for a full minute, and she didn’t so much as twitch. Fortunately, I only had to wait a little for the truth. ”When the party starts, all will be revealed,“ I predicted, spreading my hands in a rainbow for dramatic effect.

”And speaking of deviled things,“ I murmured, as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Lulu’s cat of sleek black fur and prickly attitude, sauntered toward us. She looked up at Lulu with tolerance, and at me with unconcealed disdain.

”Hello, devil cat.“

”If you call her things like that, she’ll pee in your shoes.“


”Again,“ Lulu acknowledged.

I’d tried being nice to her. I bought her catnip, made salmon for her dinner, read from a book of poetry I’d brought home from Paris, showed her the only legitimate version of Pride and Prejudice that Lulu and I acknowledged. (Sure, fans loved Harry Styles as Darcy, but that was just for the novelty. Colin Firth was the One and Only, thank you very much.) But she would have none of it. I was the third wheel. Maybe cats didn’t like vampires. Or maybe she’d seen what so many others hadn’t. That I wasn’t just a vampire, or just the only vampire born instead of made.

Whatever the reason, she’d decided we were enemies.

I leaned down to look her in the eyes, smiled. ”I’m going to dress you up like a cowgirl while you sleep. Then I’m going to take pictures and send them to the Tribune.“

If her dirty looks were stakes, I’d have been deceased. But she hissed and ran away, conceding the ground. I called that a win.

”Peeing in your shoes will only be the beginning,“ Lulu said and popped the deviled egg into her mouth.

Boxed brownies substituted when bread failed. While they cooled on the stove, I pulled my wavy blond hair into a low braid and paired a flowy black sleeveless tank with dark, shimmery leggings and boots. I added dark mascara over green eyes and brilliant crimson lipstick to shine against my pale skin.

An hour later, the loft was full of chatter and humans and the bowls, pans, and bags of food brought by guests. Eleanor of Aquitaine lounged under the dining room table, hoping for scraps. Connor hadn’t yet made an appearance, but the apparent winner of the deviled eggs sat on the ledge that fronted the wall of windows, each covered with plastic in a different color so they made a rainbow of light.

Mateo, Lulu’s newish beau, was a glassblower who worked on big, expensive art pieces. He was muscled in the lean way of a person who rarely stopped moving, and had a tan complexion and a shorn head. His eyes were dark and deeply set beneath heavy brows, his lips generous, his jaw square. He chatted with some of his artsy friends-they were all angular clothes and hair-and Petra, another OMB friend. She was petite, with tan skin and dark hair and eyes, and was an aeromancer in her own right.

”Your glassblower seems cool,“ I said. Lulu and Mateo had been seeing each other for a few weeks, since we’d returned from a short trip to Minnesota. She’d traveled in an RV with my OMB colleagues to help deal with a Pack crisis. I wasn’t sure if it was the trip, the company, or the magic, but she’d seemed sadder after returning, at least until she’d connected with Mateo.

”Yeah. He is. His friends are cool, too. Very…edgy.“

”I haven’t talked to them yet. But if you like them, I like them.“

And since they were all human, I could break them like a twig if they hurt her. So that was a nice benefit.

The conversation in the loft quieted, and I instinctively glanced up to find the source of the change.

The source was a shifter. My shifter.

He’d emerged from the long hallway that led to the loft door, his body tough and strong. He wore jeans and a heathered NAC Industries henley that hugged muscle, and he carried a bottle of wine. His dark hair waved around a chiseled face punctuated by brilliant blue eyes and a mouth that was usually arranged into a self-assured grin. He had the bearing of a prince, the body of a god, and the ego to match both, all of it matched by his integrity, wit, and concern for his Pack.

And his eyes were fixed on me.

His mouth curved, and more than one human around me made little sounds of appreciation and lust. The prince, allowing the commoners to take a look.

”People look at him like he’s a properly made baguette,“ Lulu whispered. ”Ready to be devoured.“

They did, and I couldn’t blame them, given that my thoughts ran along the same lines. Minus the implicit insult to my bread-making skills.

”And then he looks at you,“ she continued, ”like he’s the big, bad wolf and you’re the grandmother.“

”That is a very disturbing analogy.“

She held up her hands. ”You’re right. It was, and I take it back. I tried something out, it wasn’t the right direction. I made a mistake.“

Connor’s best friend, Alexei, stepped in behind him. Alexei was just as tall and built, with dark blond hair and hazel eyes that scanned the room with suspicion. Alexei was the quiet and loyal sort. Unless he was harassing Lulu.

”Oh, good,“ Lulu said. ”Alexei’s here.“ There was conviction in the sarcasm, but joined by a spark in her eyes that I was glad to see.

I liked Alexei, and not just because he was loyal to Connor and the Pack. He and Lulu bickered like children, and he was pretty creative with the teasing. Never, I thought, crossing the line into inappropriate-not when she seemed to enjoy their sparring as much as he did. Still.

”You want me to tell him to knock it off?“ I knew she could take care of herself, and usually had no qualms about telling off bullies. But, again, still…

”Please,“ she said and waved me off. ”I can handle one puppy.“

”He’s not a wolf,“ I said. ”He’s a very big cat.“

She just stared at me. ”What?“

”The Breckenridges aren’t wolves. They’re panthers.“ I cocked my head at her. ”I thought you knew that.“

”I did not.“

”Does it matter?“

”I don’t know.“

”Good evening,“ Connor said when they reached us, kissing me softly. Just a brush of his lips against mine. A hint and a promise. ”Sorry we’re late.“

”You’re right on time.“

Literally and figuratively, I thought, still marveling that this boy I’d thought was conceited and obnoxious had grown into…well, still conceited. But much less obnoxious. As if he understood the line of my thoughts, he smiled widely. ”We were both right on time.“

Maybe a little obnoxious. But in the best possible way.

”Lulu,“ Connor said with a smile. ”Thanks for having us over.“ He offered up the wine. ”Hostess gift.“

”Thank you,“ she said, taking it.

”A friend of mine has a vineyard near the Wisconsin border. It’s supposed to be pretty good.“

”How does it pair with deviled eggs?“

He blinked. ”I have no idea and don’t want one.“

Lulu turned her gaze to Alexei. ”I see you brought the tabby.“

She’d made that switch quickly enough. Alexei just looked at her, and the challenge in his eyes was clear. I’ll take you on. In every possible way.

Pink rose on her cheeks. ”Go climb a tree.“

”Go suck on a paintbrush.“

”Weak,“ Lulu said, then strode off toward Mateo. He smiled as she approached, waved her closer, then added her to the conversation with Petra.

”Suck on a paintbrush?“ I asked, looking back at Alexei with obvious pity.

”I haven’t been able to come up with many artist-specific insults.“ And he was considerate enough not to use her magic-or decision not to practice it-against her. ”Who’s the human?“

”Date,“ I said.

Alexei snorted dubiously and wandered off toward the food. With, I belatedly realized, a bottle of vodka in hand. His hostess gift, I assumed.

”Was that disdain for Mateo, or the idea of her dating him?“ I wondered.

”I think it was for the concept of her dating, generally. He knows she’s not interested, but I think that’s actually made it worse. The thrill of the chase, and all.“

I gave him a speculative look. ”Maybe I should have made you chase me harder. Or further.“

His smile went feral, and I could actually hear girls sighing on the other side of the room. ”Try it,“ he said, a dare in his brilliantly blue eyes.

”You think you could catch me?“

This time, the kiss was possessive and consuming, and as arrogant as the dare had been.

”Elisa Sullivan,“ he said, smiling against my lips. ”I’ll always catch you.“

A throat was cleared. We turned our gazes, found Theo smiling at us, raising a crusty loaf of bread in a paper envelope in greeting. ”I’m interrupting,“ he said with amused and unapologetic eyes.

Theo was a former cop who’d become my partner at the OMB. He had dark brown skin and dark hair in short whirls, and hazel eyes above a generous mouth.

”It’s a party,“ Connor said. ”Interruption is impossible.“

But I narrowed my gaze at him. ”Why did you bring bread?“

Theo blinked. ”Because I like bread? And it’s a party? And Lulu said to bring something?“

”But did she specifically say to bring bread?“

Theo looked at Connor for help, but Connor just shrugged.

”I got nothing, man.“ He put an arm around my waist, kissed my temple. ”Why are you interrogating your partner over bread?“

I grunted. ”It’s a long story.“ A long, smelly story.

”Is it related to deviled eggs?“ Connor asked.

”I feel like I’ve stepped into some kind of alternate universe,“ Theo said. ”Are ’bread’ and ’deviled eggs’ code words for state enemies or secret missions or anything else that would actually make sense?“

”They are not,“ Connor said. ”I think we’re literally talking about bread and deviled eggs. And it looks like those aren’t the only two options, so I’m going to take the bread“-he plucked it from Theo’s hand-”and put it with the rest of the food, and grab myself something to eat, and you can discuss important Ombudsman things.“

I’d taken the night off yesterday to help Lulu clean and prep the loft, so it was possible I’d missed drama. ”Do you have any important Ombudsman things to discuss?“

He frowned, considered. ”River nymphs fighting over the Chicago River boardwalk again.“

”Old news,“ I said. ”Pass.“

He smirked. ”Bank robbery by two of Claudia’s fairies?“

Claudia was the queen of Chicago’s band of rather mercenary fairies, including those who’d tried to magically shift Chicago into a facsimile of their green homeland.

”Getting warmer,“ I said. ”How much did they take?“

”They tried for about two hundred pounds of gold bullion because, you know, they like the shiny. But with the weight, they didn’t make it very far.“

”Arrogant of them,“ I said. ”What did Claudia have to say?"

Friday, April 23, 2021

#Review - Gilded Serpent (Dark Shores #3) by Danielle L. Jensen #YA #Fantasy

Series: Dark Shores (#3)
Format: Hardcover, 576 pages
Release Date: April 27, 2021
Publisher: Tor Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

The parallel stories that began in Dark Shores and Dark Skies converge in Gilded Serpent, the third book in the YA fantasy series that Sarah J. Maas called "Everything I look for in a fantasy"


Lydia returns to Mudaire to enter training at the healing temple. But instead of fighting to save lives, she’s convinced she is doing more harm than good. She delves into the history of the gods only to discover a truth that will change her life forever.

His birthright as commander of the Royal Army is finally in his grasp, but Killian feels anything but victorious. Burdened by his past, he embraces the darker side of his mark—and in doing so, risks starting a war.


Having defeated the tyrant Urcon, Marcus struggles to form a lasting alliance with the Arinoquians. But he is plagued by the knowledge that there is a traitor among his friends, and it could cost him everything that he’s fought for.

Torn between her growing allegiance to the Thirty-Seventh legion and her need to liberate her people, Teriana finds herself mired in a web of secrets. She embarks upon a path that will either save everyone she loves—or put them all in their graves.

Gilded Serpent is the third installment in author Danielle L. Jensen's Dark Shores series with the final releasing in the Spring of 2022. Gilded Serpent starts right where Dark Shores and Dark Skies ended. The author has chosen to make it easy for you to read either book first and then second before reading Gilded Serpent. Events of both books happen simultaneously. Please know that I will do my best not to spoil this book for you. In this installment, the author has decided to alternate her story via four main characters: Teriana, Killian, Marcus, and Lydia. 

Teriana is the second mate of the Quincense and heir to the Maarin Triumvirate. Her people are born of the seas and the keepers of its secrets. They owe allegiance only to the Six Gods. But because of Teriana's betrayal of her people, she's forced into a contract with power hungry and villain Lucius Cassius where she is to lead a contingent of Celendor soldiers across the seas to a world that is being called the Dark Shores. Succeed and her mother and her people live, fail and they all die. What could go wrong? Plenty.  

There's even a saying that East shall not meet West under any condition. The West worships a group of 6 Gods and Goddesses, with a 7th making all sorts of loud noises that could lead to even more violence and bloodshed. Since arriving in Arinoquia, Teriana has tried to help search for paths back to the Empire. She's also helped win a war, and brought together Marcus and other groups like the Arinoquian imperators. Teriana's relationship with Marcus has grown, but it also has lots of ups and downs. A pretty cool secret is revealed about Teriana that makes things very interesting to see what happens going forward.

Marcus is the commander of the Thirty-Seventh, the notorious legion that has led the Celendor Empire to conquer the entire East. Marcus was blackmailed by Cassius into helping him win an election. Now he has used Teriana's love for her people in order to blackmail her into leading Marcus to the Dark Shores and a way for other Celendorian Legions to follow. Marcus has a serious issue on his hands in that someone betrayed him. Until he can figure out who, and unravel his relationship with Teriana, things are going to get extremely dicey. Part of this story takes place where Marcus and Teriana finds themselves back in Celendor and into more trouble.

Lydia is a scholar and Teriana's best friend, but books are her downfall when she meddles in the plots of the most powerful man in the Celendor Empire Lucius Cassius. After betraying Teriana's trust and her friendship, Lydia has every intention of making things right. But, thanks to Marcus, she ended up in another land called Mudamora where she suddenly finds that she has some pretty cool new abilities. In this part of the world, Lydia has been marked as a healer. With the Blight evolving, Lydia is shoved to the forefront to find a way to stop it.

Killian Calorian is Marked by the God of War, but his gifts failed him when the realm under the dominion of the Corrupter invaded Mudamora. Killian has a boatload of issues on his hand starting with the Corrupter who wants control over all of the other gods. People who have been “marked” by other gods are now the Corrupters focus. A little sneak peek. Killian knows who Teriana and the Maarin are. Killian is also the only character who has plenty of character flaws that need to be quickly corrected before he's completely lost out in left field somewhere. 

Will be interesting to see what happens when the four characters finally get together. Especially after what Marcus did to Lydia. ::lips are sealed:: There is so much scheming by so many different people in this book. 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. Strengths and weaknesses are challenged, our main characters learned more about each other. The danger was intense. 

Wars, a plague, starving citizens, dangerous armies, a world filled with danger, a scheming Emperor who wants to rule the world, a pantheon of Gods who are under attack from a diabolical seventh God who seems to have no weaknesses. This has to be one of the strangest endings to a book. And, no, I am not making this up. There are literally TWO cliffhanger endings to the book. Not one. All four main characters are in trouble as this book ends. Some are in deeper trouble than others but the point is that nobody is safe at this point.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

#Review - Demonic Pact by Majanka Verstraete #YA #Paranormal

Series: The Angel of Death Series # 2
Format: Kindle, 256 pages
Release Date: March 23, 2021
Publisher: Firefly Press LLC
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Magical Realism

Riley, a seventeen-year-old Halfling Angel of Death, is on a dangerous mission.

To save her friend’s life, she must make a pact with the man who just tried to kill her and break him out of the Celestial Prison, guarded by Angels of War—fearsome warriors who can squash her like a fly. Even worse, if she's caught, she’ll be sentenced to eternity in that impenetrable prison.

Riley will be forced to make deals with demons and her number one enemy, turn her back on her friends, and risk losing her family forever.

Worst of all, her very existence depends on her devious new allies.

Demonic Pact is the second installment in author Majanka Verstraete's The Angel of Death series. The story takes place in the fictional city of Fairhaven where vampires, trolls, demons, witches, halflings, and Angels mingle among unaware humans. Riley, who was awakened after a serious car accident to the world she lives in, is a seventeen-year-old Halfling Angel of Death who is on a dangerous mission to save her friend's life, and restore her soul. First, she must find a way into the Celestial Prison where Angel of Death Myron was sent after Riley stopped him in the previous installment. 

But the Celestial Prison is damn near impossible to enter. The prison is guarded by fearsome warriors known as Angels of War who can squash you like a bug. Even worse, if she's caught, she’ll be sentenced to eternity in that impenetrable prison. This plan comes at a pretty inconvenient time knowing the Angel Council hates her, and hopes she fails in her first mission to bring the soul of a dead person to Heaven. Without any assistance from her Guardian Angel Leander, Riley will have to pull together an alliance of the willing. 

Including her own grandmother Herbie Johnson a witch who hid the truth about Riley's heritage from her. Including Myron who just tried to kill her and sold her friend Stacey's soul to a Demon who she has to track down and bargain with in order for Riley to save Stacey. Including a boy named Damien whose family is aligned with Demons while he was cursed by a rival witch coven. A curse which only allows him to remain awake for one hour every day. A curse that reveals a shocking prophecy that was also hidden from Riley by her own grandmother.

With Myron facing a trial by his peers, Riley sets her self on a course that will likely cause major friction between herself, Leander, her grandmother, the Angel Council who wants to see her dead, and her friends Katie, Michelle, and Craig. Worst of all, her very existence depends on her devious new allies. Will Riley become another Darius who caused numerous problems for the Angels and Heaven? Will her new friend Damien who is a half witch and half human help save the day? Will Riley  be able to bring Stacey's soul back from the Demon who owns it? Will Riley ever find out who her Angel father is, and will he be able to keep Riley from being killed off by the council? Will Leander be able to save Riley from her own stupidity? 

Since the story ended on a cliffhanger, I guess I will just have to read the sequel whenever it releases and find out what happens next. Thank you to the publisher for providing me a free copy of this story in lieu of a honest review. The thoughts are my own, and nobody else's.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

#Review - Flamefall by Rosaria Munda #YA #Fantasy

Series: The Aurelian Cycle # 2
Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
Release Date: March 23, 2021
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult Fiction / Dystopian / Fantasy

Revolutionary flames ignite around Annie, Lee, and a brand new character in the follow-up to FIREBORNE.

After fleeing the revolution and settling into the craggy cliffs of New Pythos, the dragonlords are eager to punish their usurpers and reclaim their city. Their first order of business was destroying the Callipolan food supply. Now they’re coming for the dragonriders.

Annie is Callipolis’s new Firstrider, charged with leading the war against New Pythos. But with unrest at home, enforcing the government’s rationing program risks turning her into public enemy number one.

Lee struggles to find his place after killing kin for a leader who betrayed him. He can support Annie and the other Guardians…or join the rebels who look to topple the new regime.

Griff, a lowborn dragonrider who serves New Pythos, knows he has no future. And now that Julia Stormscourge is no longer there to protect him, he is called on to sacrifice everything for the lords that oppress his people—or to forge a new path with the Callipolan Firstrider seeking his help.

With famine tearing Callipolis apart and the Pythians determined to take back what they lost, it will be up to Annie, Lee, and Griff to decide who—and what—to fight for.


Flamefall is the second installment in author Rosaria Munda's The Aurelian Cycle. This series focuses on three main characters: Griff, Lee, and Annie. Griff is a peasant on New Pythos called a humble rider because he was claimed by a dragon. Lee Stormscourge aka Lee Sur Paller is Dragonborn who made a life or death choice at the end of the previous installment. Antigone aka Annie is now First Rider and Fleet Commander of Callipolis Dragon fleet. Annie and Lee grew up together but her family was killed by a Dragon.  

Annie is charged with leading the war against New Pythos. But with unrest at home, enforcing the government’s rationing program risks turning her into public enemy number one. Annie is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Literally. She does the unthinkable which makes people upset with her. She makes an alliance with Griff to help him against his oppressors. She has a responsibility to her people, but her people are suffering under a metals test that separates people under 4 different colors: Gold, Silver, Iron, and Bronze. In the end, Annie comes up with a brilliant strategy that leaves a hold your breath ending.

Griff knows he has no future now that Julia Stormscourge is no longer there to protect him. His dragon and the rest of the humble dragons in New Pythos are muzzled and unable to breathe their flames. Those he serves want to see Callipolis brought to their knees, but Griff feels differently. He longs to help do what is right, leading him to seek guidance from Callipolis’s new Firstrider, Annie. Griff, however, gets blindsided by a new character who hates peasants. As with Annie, his story ends on a cliffhanger.

Lee struggles to find his place after killing kin for a leader who betrayed him. Lee must make some really hard decisions as to where he lays his loyalties for the best of the people. He isn’t sure what is right anymore. One thing is for sure, though, he doesn’t want to be part of a regime that hoards rations for certain people and allows others to go hungry. He can support Annie and the other Guardians or join the rebels who look to topple the new regime. 

With everything that happens in this story, it is not a shock or surprise to read the ending of this book and watch as all three characters lives are on the brink of darkness. The characters are constantly having to make hard choices and reevaluate their principles. For Annie, it's allowing people to believe that she's the villain and not whining when they treat her as such. For Griff, it's loving someone you can't have, and then making a choice to stand up for himself against tough odds. Lee seems to struggle internally and the repercussions of Lee’s actions lead to a stunning ending to the story.

Chapter One: New Pythos


Julia’s missing, and I’m in a terrible mood. Not improved by the weather, which is cold and damp, but in New Pythos, it’s always cold and damp. I’m gutting fish in a back room off the dragon lairs when Scully comes to find me.

“Dragonlord here to see you,” the lair- master says.

That’s the one way to make my day worse. Bran and Fionna, the other two squires on fish- gutting duty, exchange a look. We’re up to our arms in bits of fish bone and scales; the stink of the fish oil will follow us out of the lairs, and now I’m going to miss the one perk that comes with prepping dragon feed— sneaking the remains home. I rise, wiping my hands on the work rag.

Scully hates the sound of my perfect Dragontongue, which is why I always try to use it. “Which dragonlord”— I pause just long enough for him to wonder if I’ll add— “sir?”

Scully scowls. This is why he keeps putting me on fish gutting. Lip. Not to mention our clans hate each other. “The one you serve,” he says in Norish.

Most days, that would be good news. Today, I just wish it were Julia.

On the balustrade outside, Delo Skyfish waits for me.

I remember as a child being struck by the Callipolan exiles, when they arrived on New Pythos: at the ghostly pallor of the Stormscourge survivors, at the warm brown skin and tight curls of the Skyfish lords. Delo Skyfish no longer looks like the ragged urchin that washed ashore ten years ago, but he’s still striking, and at the sight of his fur cloak and freshly coiffed hair, I’m conscious of my own stinking state.

I bow low.

“Your presence is an unexpected honor, my lord.”

Delo mutters, “As you were.” I straighten; Delo is scowling at me, like he knows I’m trying to discomfort him. He’s my age, taller than I, but slenderer. “The Triarchy- in- Exile wants to speak with you.”

I hug my arms around my chest, shivering from the sea spray coming in off the water. We’re dwarfed by the cliffs above and the citadel atop them, and by the limestone pillars of karst that jut from the sea into the sky. “Did they tell you what for?”

I use the formal you, and when Delo answers, he uses the informal. When we were younger, and I was still figuring out Dragontongue, he tried to get me to use the informal, too, or speak to him in Norish, which he was learning at the same time, but I refused. In trials of will with Delo, I win.

“They want to question you about Julia,” he says. “She’s missing.”

As if I haven’t noticed.

“Why would I know where Julia is?”

Delo hesitates. “Ixion— told them.”

From the way he says it, I don’t have to ask what.

The last time I saw Julia, her lips were on mine. In the dark I could feel, not see, her smile as she bunched my shirt to raise it. She always smiles, like what we’re doing is a game, and it amuses her to win.

Ixion told them.

I’ve stopped walking, and Delo stops, too, turning back to me. His face says everything I need to know about what’s about to happen in the Glass Hall. He doesn’t say I’m sorry, and I don’t say Ixion had no right. By now, I’m no stranger to the humiliations Ixion devises.

Like being called before the Glass Hall as Julia’s peasant lover stinking of fish.

As if he’d heard me think it, Delo reaches into his satchel. “I brought you a fresh shirt.”

Most of Delo’s clothes are blue, the color of his House, but this shirt is plain, undyed— appropriate for a peasant. Even so, it’s finer than anything I’ve ever owned, and I’m likely to ruin it with muck. I pull it over my head, and when I look up, Delo’s watching me. He looks away, down. The shirt smells like him.

I follow Delo up the winding outer stairs, carved into the side of the cliff and looking out over the North Sea, that connect the lairs where I work to the citadel at the summit. Both were built by the ha’Aurelians in the original conquering, when they invaded Norcia with their dragons, subjugated my people, and renamed our island New Pythos. The dragons’ bloodlines dried up in the cold not long after, but the lords remained.

And now, for the first time in generations, they have dragons again. Twenty-five dragons, brought as eggs by the Callipolan exiles ten years ago.

Dragons for revenge.

Dragons for the exiles’ surviving sons. Dragons for the sons of the lords on whose hospitality they imposed. Titles for their children in a future, greater Callipolis.

But there weren’t enough sons. The exiled Triarchy was forced to present the remaining hatchlings to others. Female dragonborn, like Julia. Bastards, who trickled in from Callipolis’s vassal islands, once despised for their illegitimacy but now needed.

Dragons were still unclaimed.

So, with a fleet not yet filled, the dragonborn resorted to a measure few believed would work.

They had the remaining dragons presented to the sons and daughters of their Norcian serfs.

And the dragons Chose.

They call us humble-riders.