Tuesday, February 28, 2023

#Review - Backpacking Through Bedlam by Seanan McGuire #Fantasy

Series: Incryptid # 12
Format: Paperback, 352 pages
Release Date: March 7, 2023
Publisher: Daw Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Seanan McGuire's New York Times-bestselling and Hugo Award-nominated urban fantasy InCryptid series continues with the twelfth book following the Price family, cryptozoologists who study and protect the creatures living in secret all around us.

Reunion, noun:
1. The state of being united again.

Reconciliation, noun:
1. An act of reconciling, as when former enemies agree to an amiable truce.
2. The process of making consistent or compatible.
3. See also “impossible.”

Alice Price-Healy gave up her life for fifty years to focus completely on the search for her missing husband. The danger of focus like that is that it leaves little room for thinking about what happens after…and now that she’s finally managed to find Thomas, she has no idea what she’s supposed to do next. The fact that he comes with a surrogate daughter who may or may not have some connection to Alice’s recently adopted grandson is just icing on the complicated cake.

So the three of them are heading for the most complicated place in the universe: they’re going home.

But things on Earth have changed while Alice, Thomas, and Sally have been away. The Covenant of St. George, antagonized by Verity’s declaration of war and Sarah’s temporary relocation of an entire college campus, is trying to retake North America from the cryptids and cryptozoologists who’ve been keeping the peace for the past hundred years. And they’re starting in New York.

Alice and company have barely been back for an hour before the Ocean Lady and the Queen of the Routewitches are sending them to New York to help, and they find themselves embroiled in the politics of dragons, kidnappings, and of course, the most dangerous people of all: family.

Getting “back to normal” may be the hardest task Alice has undertaken yet.

Backpacking Through Bedlam, by author Seanan McGuire, is the 12th installment in the authors Incryptid series. One would hope that you have read Spelunking Through Hell before starting this book as the story picks up right were the previous book left off. The InCryptid series is a witty urban fantasy saga featuring an eccentric family of cryptozoologists who act as a buffer between the humans and the magical creatures living in secret around us.This story is narrated by Alice Healy Price who spent 50 years searching for her husband Thomas Price. 

Now that they have been reunited, and now that they have escaped from the bottle dimension where both Thomas, and his adopted daughter Sally Henderson were sent by the Crossroads (which was destroyed by Antimony), it is time to go back home to Buckley Township, Michigan and Galway Woods, where both Alice's mother and grandmother died. It is fair to say that every book before this point was a build up to the next phase in what is to come next. We've know for awhile now, or ever since Verity declared war on the The Covenant of St. George, that they would not go quietly into that good night. Nope, they are out for vengeance.

Without spoiling anything, we now know that Sarah Zellaby, Antimony, and her friends have made it back home after their adventurers. It has been around 3-5 years since Alice disappeared. It is further learned that the Covenant has somehow found out that there is a male Dragon in Manhattan that should have been wiped out a very long time ago. They are now going after other Cryptids hoping to wipe them out and lure out the Dragon not knowing that the Price's are still alive. 

So, it is not a shock or surprise to see both Mary Dunlavy and Rose Marshall quickly make an appearance when they learn that Alice, Thomas, and Sally have returned. Rose tells Alice that there is no time for relaxation. The Queen of the Roads is asking Alice to get rid of the Covenant as soon as possible since it was her family who created the problems. Things get interesting when Alice reunites with Verity, and her husband Dominic DeLuca as well as a cute surprise. Sarah Zellaby also makes an unusual appearance which should not surprise anyone. 

By the way, McGuire has posted that Sarah Zellaby and Alice Healy-Price were the key characters around whom she built the Incryptid series. Alice has substantial resistance to telepathy, and she has Kairos luck. Kairos luck means that improbable coincidences happen to her reliably. Kairos coincidences can be good luck or bad luck. Alice, who is almost always armed, also never missed once she pulls the trigger. But she have barked off more than she can chew, especially with Margaret Healy, who is out for vengeance on the Price family who is supposed to be dead.  

If you have read this series from the start, you know a whole lot about the Aeslin mice who never forget anything and have kept the Price Healy family history. Slight spoilers: At the end of Spelunking, Alice brought Sally to Kevin Price's compound in Oregon. If you know anything about this series, you now that Alice's children, mostly her daugher Jane, hate Alice. Sally stole James' waffles and told the folks there (folks including Aeslin Mice) to tell James that Sally stole his waffles. As you have no doubt guessed from the title, that communication is the subject of the novella. We see more deeply into the civilization and religion of the Aeslin in this story than we ever have before. 

I honestly do not know how authors like McGuire are able to churn book after book out without having stories fail spectacularly. I am looking forward to who will be the narrator of the next book in this series as well as finding out how much longer the family is expected to be at war with the Covenant

Monday, February 27, 2023

#Review - Before the Storm by James D. Shipman #Historical #Fiction #Womens

Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Release Date: February 21, 2023
Publisher: Kensington
Source: Publisher
Genre: Historical / Fiction / World War II

Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn, Kristin Hannah, and Pam Jenoff, this thrilling, high-stakes Cold War novel from a bestselling author follows one couple’s relentless pursuit of an infamous fugitive Nazi scientist across Europe in the aftermath of WWII.

Berlin, 1948: World War II may be over, but a new era of conflict has begun. The Russians have cut off all access to the western part of Berlin in an attempt to seize it from the Allies. The thirst for power, dominance, and revenge is as strong as ever, and anti-Semitism is still rampant. When a store in West Berlin is vandalized with swastikas, Sara Sturm, a German woman working for the US Department of Public Affairs, is dispatched to investigate, and meets Max and Karl Portnoy, two Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

Sharing their stories of loss, Sara and Max form a bond. Max and his family were sent to a concentration camp during the war, where his parents and sister perished. The man who betrayed them, Nazi nuclear scientist Heinz Hoffman, is now a wanted criminal. Since Max and his brother are among the very few who can identify him, Sara agrees to accompany them to Hoffman’s last known whereabouts, hoping they will finally be able to bring him to justice.

But tracking the elusive Hoffman is not just difficult, it’s perilous. From the mountainous backroads of Bavaria to the Soviet border, Sara and Max race to evade assassins sent by the top-secret Odessa organization. And then there are other adversaries, hidden but no less lethal, determined to gain control of Hoffman and the knowledge he possesses—knowledge that may determine the course of countless wars to come.

Before the Storm, by author James D. Shipman, mixes fact and fiction. The story is told from multiple points of view, primarily those of the protagonist Sara Sturm, a German who works for the Americans Office of Public Affairs, and the Nazi she’s hunting, Heinz Hoffman who may have been one of the primary scientist on German's attempt to create nuclear weapons. There is also a third character; a man named Otto who has a very bad reputation after his participation in the Battle of the Bulge. Otto is a member of the group known as Odessa.

Set in 1948 against the backdrop of the Berlin Blockade by the Soviet Union, this fast-moving Cold War thriller brings to life the shifting alliances that splintered the Allies in the years immediately following WWII. The story takes place over just a few days in October 1948, sending Sara Strum and Matt Portnoy on a breakneck race throughout Europe in pursuit of a war criminal, from the Tiergarten and Stasi Headquarters of Berlin, to the Soviet border, Bavaria’s mountainous backroads and Schloss Leutstetten, and more. 

It is inspired by Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, the real-life husband and wife Nazi-hunting team who spent decades hunting down Nazis and bringing them to justice. They were responsible for finding and organizing the extradition to France of Klaus Barbie, a.k.a. the “Butcher of Lyon,” helped clinch the convictions of former Nazis and their collaborators, and documented all 76,000 Jews deported from France. While the protagonists of Shipman’s novel are not married, they do have a romantic relationship tainted by Cold War government elements. 

While the characters are fictional, this novel incorporates many historical facts and truths, including the fact that the Catholic church, particularly the Franciscan monks, worked with Odessa and the CIA to hide former Nazis and relocate them to South America. The story also has a pretty twisted ending that involves some curious revelations about all of the primary characters from Sarah, to Max, to Hoffman, to Otto. While there is some romance, it doesn't overshadow the highly important message of this story sends to readers about the horrors of war, and the sickness of antisemitism.

The story explores how German scientists were swooped up by the Americans and Soviets, and rather than being punished for their significant use of slave labor they were given careers and homes in the United States and Russia. It also paints a highly realistic portrait of West Berlin under Soviet blockade, when it was cut off from the rest of the US/French/English territory of Germany as part of the Russian effort to take over the entire city. It also paints a highly realistic portrait of West Berlin under Soviet blockade, when it was cut off from the rest of the US/French/English territory of Germany as part of the Russian effort to take over the entire city.

As always, I encourage readers of this book, as well as my review, to do your own research when it comes to the Berlin blockade after World War II, as well as the tremendous work done by the Americans in order to fly massive supply drops into West Berlin. I would also encourage you to read about the Catholic Church and how they literally helped Nazi's flee persecution by the allies. Many of them ended up in South America while many others were given amnesty by the American government in order to help the US beat the Soviets in dominance. Something China has now past and will continue to do so for the near future. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

#Review - All the Dangerous Things by Stacey Willingham #Mystery #Thriller

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Release Date: January 10, 2023
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Crime

One year ago, Isabelle Drake's life changed forever: her toddler son, Mason, was taken out of his crib in the middle of the night while she and her husband were asleep in the next room. With little evidence and few leads for the police to chase, the case quickly went cold. However, Isabelle cannot rest until Mason is returned to her—literally.

Except for the occasional catnap or small blackout where she loses track of time, she hasn’t slept in a year.

Isabelle's entire existence now revolves around finding him, but she knows she can’t go on this way forever. In hopes of jarring loose a new witness or buried clue, she agrees to be interviewed by a true-crime podcaster—but his interest in Isabelle's past makes her nervous. His incessant questioning paired with her severe insomnia has brought up uncomfortable memories from her own childhood, making Isabelle start to doubt her recollection of the night of Mason’s disappearance, as well as second-guess who she can trust... including herself. But she is determined to figure out the truth no matter where it leads.

Following up her instant New York Times bestseller, A Flicker in the Dark, Stacy Willingham delivers a totally gripping thriller about a desperate mother with a troubled past. One year ago, Isabelle Drake's life changed forever: her toddler son, Mason, was taken out of his crib in the middle of the night while she and her husband Ben were asleep in the next room. With little evidence and few leads for the police to chase, the case quickly went cold. However, Isabelle cannot rest until Mason is returned to her—literally.

Then: when Isabelle was a child, she had really bad issues with sleepwalking. Her sister Margaret would follow her everywhere. Her sister idolized her. Until one day, Isabelle wakes up and discovers her bedrooms soaking wet carpet, and someone has changed the nightgown she was wearing when she and Margaret went to bed. This one incident as always guided Isabelle's life. She honestly believed for the longest time that she was somehow responsible for Margaret's death, and the fact that she ends up years later being called a baby killer, has really destroyed her life to the point where she is unable to sleep.

In hopes of jarring loose a new witness or buried clue, she agrees to be interviewed by a true-crime podcaster named Waylon Spencer. But his interest in Isabelle's past makes her nervous. His incessant questioning paired with her severe insomnia has brought up uncomfortable memories from her own childhood, making Isabelle start to doubt her recollection of the night of Mason’s disappearance, as well as second-guess who she can trust... including herself. But she is determined to figure out the truth no matter where it leads.

As Isabelle and Waylon investigate not only the night Mason disappear, but what happened to Margaret, the reader will once again have to ask themselves who can you trust. Can you trust Waylon who has his own reasons for getting close to Isabelle? Can Isabelle trust her own husband who has not only left the home, but has now started seeing someone new. Can you trust Ben who seems to have easily moved on without caring about what happened to Mason.

This is one of those stories that will boggle your mind to the point of not trusting anyone. Not Isabelle. Not Mason. Not Ben. Not even the police who seem to ignore Isabelle every time she offers a new lead to follow up on. The characters are not morally white, or black. They are not perfect by any means. But when all is said and done, I honestly think you will uncover the mystery of what really happened to Mason and why?  

Thursday, February 23, 2023

#Review - The Myth Manifestation by Lisa Shearin #Fantasy

Series: SPI Files # 5
Format: Paperback, 300 pages
Release Date: January 16, 2018
Publisher: NYLA
Source: Library
Genre: Urban Fantasy

The agents of Supernatural Protection & Investigations (SPI) protect people from predatory supernaturals. This time, we’re the ones who need protection.  

New York is one of the most popular convention destinations in the world—for humans and supernaturals. Every hundred years, rulers of thhe world’s supernatural races come together to negotiate and renew a peace treaty. Meeting in the same hotel are the governors of our world’s goblin and elf colonies. SPI is saddled with the security nightmare of keeping the living delegates alive and the undead delegates from becoming permanently deceased. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

I’m Makenna Fraser, seer for SPI. Our security nightmare becomes real when monsters from the delegates’ mythologies begin mysteriously appearing in the flesh to hunt delegates from every side of the debate. And when the hotel gets sucked into another dimension, there’s no escape.

We discover that we’re all pieces in an elaborate and deadly game. A game about to spill out into the real world. Failing to escape is game over and not an option. We have to save the world—but first, wee have to save ourselves.

The Myth Manifestation is the Fifth installment in author Lisa Shearin's SPI Files. Key characters: Makenna Fraser, Ian Byrne, Vivienne Sagadraco, Rake Danescu, Kenji Hayashi, and Kitty Poertner. Makenna and her team are agents for the Supernatural Protection and Investigation group in New York City. They are the Worldwide supernatural police force trying to make sure that humanity doesn't have any idea what goes bump in the night, or other parts of the galaxy for that matter.

Makenna is a Seer. She can see through glamours of various supernaturals who try to hide from her. She also recently got an interesting new ability in that she can see portals. Ian is her partner, and he's supposed to keep her safe. He carries Lugh's Spear which means that he's a direct descendant of the Tuatha de Danann. Vivienne is the boss of SPI and she's also a very dangerous dragon. You don't want to get on her bad side. Rake is a goblin spymaster and has been courting Makenna outside of all his other duties.

Every hundred years, rulers of the world’s supernatural races come together to negotiate and renew a peace treaty. Meeting in the same hotel are the governors of our world’s goblin and elf colonies is a difficult challenge on any normal day. The security nightmare becomes all too real when monsters from the delegates’ mythologies begin mysteriously appearing in the flesh to hunt delegates from every side of the debate. When a portal mage is found dead, Mac, Ian, Rafe, and the team have to figure out what happened. And when the hotel gets sucked into another dimension, there’s no escape.

This book opens the door for even more crossover between Shearin's SPI Files and Raine Benares series. The Raine series fits nicely in the fantasy genre, while the SPI fits in the Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal genre's. I would argue that you likely can not read this as a standalone. I would further argue that if you read the series in order, you will not be lost, and understand the changes that is happening to not only Makenna, but Ian as well. Where those changes end up is anyone's guess. My next stop is to make sure my library has the next books in the series so I can catch up on some more Mak and Rafe fun. 


Tuesday, February 21, 2023

#Review - Black Wolf by Kathleen Kent #Thriller #Espionage

Series: Standalone?
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: February 14, 2023
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Espionage

A "masterful" and "riveting" thriller about a female CIA agent whose extraordinary facial recognition powers lead her into the dangerous heart of the Soviet Union—and the path of a killer who shouldn’t exist (Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author).

She never forgets a face. 
He never forgets his prey.

It is 1990 when Melvina Donleavy arrives in Soviet Belarus on her first undercover mission with the CIA, alongside three fellow agents—none of whom know she is playing two roles. To the prying eyes of the KGB, she is merely a secretary; to her CIA minders, she is the only one who can stop the flow of nuclear weapons from the crumbling Soviet Union into the Middle East.

For Mel has a secret; she is a “super recognizer,” someone who never forgets a face. But no training could prepare her for the reality of life undercover, and for the streets of Minsk, where women have been disappearing. Soviet law enforcement is firm: murder is a capitalist disease. But could a serial killer be at work? Especially if he knew no one was watching? As Mel searches for answers, she catches the eye of an entirely different kind of threat: the elusive and petrifying “Black Wolf,” head of the KGB.

Filled with insider details from the author’s own time working under the direction of the U.S. Department of Defense, Black Wolf is a riveting new spy thriller from an Edgar-nominated crime writer, and a biting exploration of the divide between two nations, two masterminds, and two roles played by a woman pushed to her breaking point, where she’ll learn that you can only ever trust one person: yourself.

Kathleen Kent's Black Wolf is a cold war era thriller about a young woman with an extraordinary ability to never forget a face once she's seen it. The story is set in its entirety in Belarus aka Byelorussia in 1990. August, 1990, Minsk, a four person team from the CIA led by Dan Hatton, Julie Reznik, Ben Franklin, and Melvina Donleavy has been sent to the country as representatives of the State Department to see what kind of financial incentives the US can offer the soon to be independent of the soon to be former Soviet Union to prevent uranium from falling into the wrong hands.

Melvina has a secret she can't share with anyone. Trained by the FBI, recruited by the CIA, she's deep undercover by orders of the CIA's Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations. This is her first mission. Why was she sent along with Dan's team? She's supposed to be an observer only. She is under no obligation to tell her team what her real purpose here is. Because of her unique abilities, her task is to prevent weapons grade uranium or any nuclear weaponry from leaving the Soviet Union and falling into the wrong hands, specifically those of Iran who would love to have a nuclear bomb of their own.

If the Russians find out about Melvina, she would likely disappear into Russia's psy-op program forever. Melvina must also keep her head on a swivel because she can't afford to be caught by the legendary Spy Hunter known as the Black Wolf aka Martin Kavalchuk who focuses on Melvina after several women she came in contact with were found murdered. She soon finds herself targeted by a dangerous serial killer who has been targeting women for the past 3 years. Nobody, including the legendary Black Wolf, has any idea who the killer is.

As the mission progresses, with a little help from Dr. William Cutler, Melvina and her team must weave an intricate path through a country that is still processing what happened during World War II, as well as the Chernobyl explosion that destroyed much of their crops. They also have to deal with a very active KGB that is listening in on every conversation and watching their every move. I am not a newbie when it comes to Kent's writing. She's has done a masterful job of blending fact and fiction, creating the stage in a historic place and that is to be expected from her former life. 

In the authors own words:

"Black Wolf is based loosely on the author working as a civilian contractor to the Department of Defense in Belarus and Kazakhstan in the early 1990s. The Soviet Union was in chaos after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the U.S. government was very concerned about the more than 10,000 nuclear weapons and tons of chemical and biological weapons poorly stockpiled and carelessly guarded as the republics split apart. Many of the characters in the novel are composites of real people — the Bratva (mafia), the KGB, the sex workers, scientists and apparatchiks — whose paths I crossed, and who left a lasting impression on me."


Monday, February 20, 2023

#Review - Cursed by Fire by Danielle Annett #Fantasy

Series: Blood & Magic # 1
Format: Kindle, 235 pages
Release Date: December 1, 2020
Publisher: Coffee and Characters
Source: Amazon
Genre: Dark Fantasy

Blood is going to spill …
It won't be mine.

Someone is feeding the flames, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. The victims are innocents, chosen to pit the shifter Pack and the vampire Coven against one another.

If war breaks out, humanity won’t survive.

But controlling fire is my thing, and I won’t let that happen.
I’m a mercenary, but this is about so much more than money. It’s my city and someone is threatening it. I won’t stop until I find them.

When the good guys start to look more like villains, I have no choice but to question everything I knew, including the people I thought I could trust.

It turns out the humans might not be as helpless as they seem, and I'm in more danger than I realized.

Cursed by Fire, by author Danielle Annett, is the first installment in the authors Blood and Magic series. In this world, it has been 6 years since the Awakening when all things that went bump in the night came out. That includes vampires, shifters, mages, witches, and many more. Humans are no longer at the top of the food chain. The protagonist of this series is Aria Naveed currently in Spokane, Washington working as a mercenary. She's also a Psyker - human born with pyrokinetic abilities aka pyrokinesis.  

After a case involving a 7 years old seems to end up as a cold case, Aria is devastated she couldn't find who was responsible. Then the alpha of the local shifter community, Declan Valkenaar, approaches Aria and her partner Mike. It seems as though what appeared to be the murder of a human child, is actually the murder of a shifter from the Pacific Northwest Pack. Let me know if you have heard this before. Shifters in this book have been infected by a virus called Lyc-V. It spreads by blood to blood contact unlike vampires who actually have to bite you. There are packs in this book called Clan Cat, Clan Wolf, Clan Feloidea (hyenas), Clan Muridea (rodents), Clan Canidea (foxes) and Clan Big (bears). 

Aria ends up working with a man named James who is also a shifter and the packs hunter aka enforcer. If that’s not enough, Aria has a stalker named Inarus who evokes something in her each time they collide, he can do things Aria has never seen. Can she trust him? Why is he following her? To make matters worse, it seems that there is also a human run group that truly hates the supernaturals and would love to see them eliminated. Strangely enough, it seems that this rift may also be causing the pack and vampires to grow closer to a war which humans would lose badly.

So, do I think this was ripped off from other authors? Close. The idea behind the pack, as well as the vampires was definitely similar to another well known series. It's not plagiarized in that there are no copying and pasting of parts of the Kate Daniels series. There are also other differences like whether or not we will get the truth from the author about what really happened to her parents and why. So, would this book be considered fan fiction? I would have to read the sequel to find out and I have plenty of others books to get through first. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

#Review - Royal Blood by Aimée Carter #YA #Contemporary #Royalty

Series: Royal Blood (#1)
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: March 7, 2023
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Contemporary / Royalty

An American girl becomes the British monarchy’s greatest nightmare in this thrilling new series where royal scandals just got deadlier.

As the illegitimate daughter of the King of England, seventeen-year-old Evan Bright knows a thing or two about keeping secrets. 

But when she’s forced to spend the summer in London with her father and the royal family, who aren’t exactly thrilled she exists, her identity is mysteriously revealed, and suddenly the world is dying to know every juicy lie the press prints about her. 

After a fun night turns deadly and Evan becomes the primary suspect in a murder investigation, the escalating rumors and fallout threaten to tear her life apart. As she fights to uncover the truth about what happened, she discovers royal secrets that are even more scandalous than she imagined—secrets that could change the monarchy forever.

And her own may be revealed next.

Royal Blood, by author Aimée Carter, is the first installment in the authors Royal Blood trilogy, with books #2 and #3 releasing in 2024, and 2025. This is the story of Evangeline (Evan) Bright. Evan hasn't exactly had the perfect life. She's been kicked out of 9 different boarding schools. She hasn't seen her mother since she was 11 because she has health issues. She's the illegitimate daughter of King Alexander of the United Kingdom who she's never known or met but he tends to send her expensive presents that she considers to be bribery.  
Facing felony charges and 5 years in prison for arson at St. Edith's Academy for Girls, Evan is spirited away to London for the summer by Jenkins, who has always been there for her when she needs something, where she is about ready to meet the family she never knew she had. With a major chip on her shoulders, and being made to feel 6 inches tall by her sister Princess Mary aka Maisie who is the heir to the crown (and was born on the same day!) and the Queen Consort Helene who has nothing but disdain for Evan's existence. 
Evan knows that in 25 days she will turn 18, and she will be free from all expectations. Then the unexpected happens. While at a party thrown by Jasper Cunningham, a boy she barely knows, she is assaulted, and escapes from experiencing a woman's worst nightmare. Soon thereafter, Scotland Yard names Evan as the prime suspect in Jasper's death that happened that same night and everyone in the UK as well as everywhere else, believes that Evan was responsible. Knowing she was drugged, knowing she didn't kill anyone, Evan is in a bad place emotionally.
Her only friends are Kit, a boy who seems genuinely interested in making sure that Evan doesn't get railroaded by the Royal Family, the Presses, Scotland Yard, and the trolls on social media. She also has Lady Tabitha aka Tibby who is a wonderful character who guides Evan through the darkness and into the light. Evan is a genuinely interesting character. She was able to keep the secret of who her father is. She was able to keep the secret as to what her mother has gone through. She may want to give up and run away, but when the chips are down, Evan pushes back and tries to expose who is trying to destroy her life, and that of her mothers.

It is fair of me to say that if you like reading about the British Royalty, and have read the Princess Diaries, this book is cat nip for you. Nothing is off the table. Blackmail, mystery, suspense, and a bit of romance with an interesting ending to the story.

Chapter One

To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it.

—­Queen Elizabeth (b. 1533, r. 1558–­1603)

Breaking into the academic wing of St. Edith’s Academy for Girls isn’t the most reckless thing I’ve ever done, but it definitely comes close.

What makes the whole thing exceptionally irresponsible is the fact that I have only one week to go until graduation. In one week, this nightmare that has been the past six years of my life will end, and I’ll never have to set foot in a boarding school again. I should do the smart thing and stay in my dormitory, where my roommate is crying into her pillow and thinks I can’t hear her. But I’ve built my reputation on never doing the smart thing, and there’s no point in subverting royal expectations now.

And so, at ten o’clock on a Monday night, I creep down the windowless corridor in complete darkness, my fingers brushing against each door handle as I pass. Though it’s almost impossible to navigate without banging into something, the lack of light also works in my favor. I’ve already disconnected the sole ancient security camera—­the only piece of technology allowed in St. Edith’s hallowed halls—­but there’s always a chance a custodian might be lurking, and all the careful planning in the world won’t hold up against someone else’s outrageously good luck.

I stop in front of the fifth door on the right and dig through my pocket. The lockpicks were a Christmas gift to myself last year, and while I’ve practiced on my dormitory door, I haven’t had the chance for real-­world application until now. A thrill runs through me as I hold the lock taut with the tension wrench, nudging each tiny pin one by one with the pick in my other hand. Headmistress Thompson would spontaneously combust if she knew what sort of education I’ve been giving myself while everyone else has been vying for acceptance into Harvard and Yale, but this is quickly becoming the most worthwhile thing I’ve learned since arriving at St. Edith’s in January.

The lock gives way before I expect it to, and I almost drop my tools in surprise. I’ve done it—­I’ve actually picked a lock. Pretty sure it won’t win me an award anytime soon, but it feels like a superpower, and adrenaline courses through me as I push open the door.


The hinges complain loudly, and I freeze. As my heart pounds, I remain perfectly still, listening for any sign that someone’s on their way to investigate.


With a renewed sense of urgency, I slip into the classroom. Calculus. Not my favorite. When you start trying to apply logic to the imaginary and infinitesimal, the rules get murky, and I like knowing the rules. I read the code of conduct for St. Edith’s—­along with the eight other boarding schools I’ve attended since the age of eleven—­cover to cover, and I can quote whole sections in a pinch. Knowing the rules, after all, makes it easier to manipulate them. And to break them in spectacular fashion.

Moonlight shines through the stained glass windows, offering a kaleidoscope of relief from the oppressive darkness, and I hurry on silent feet to the teacher’s desk. Mr. Clark isn’t a bad person. He’s just stuck teaching in an archaic system that values test performance above learning, the same way I’ve been stuck in a Vermont forest for the past five months thanks to an archaic system that values image above family. We’re both victims of circumstance, and I already feel a hefty dose of guilt for what I’m about to do. If there was a better way to handle this, I would, but there isn’t. So here we are.

The single drawer in his wooden desk is also locked, but I have it open in under thirty seconds. And there, nestled between stray pencils and paper clips in all its hunter-­green glory, is my holy grail.

The grade book.

It doesn’t take me long to find the right page, and I tear it out with a single satisfying rip before pulling a lighter from my pocket. While St. Edith’s draconian ban on technology makes life infinitely more difficult than it has to be, this is the one time it works in my favor.

The paper browns and shrivels as the flames devour it, leaving behind curls of gray ash. I’m not a pyromaniac, but there’s something poetic about all that hard work disappearing in seconds. Everything is temporary. Even permanent records.

“Evangeline Bright! What on earth do you think you’re doing?”

The overhead lights buzz to life, and I wince. Headmistress Thompson stands in the doorway, her hair in curlers and her face purple. I’ve never seen her in anything other than a matching tweed skirt and blazer, and I’m so transfixed by her shabby pink robe that for a moment, I forget what I’m doing.

“Put that out,” she demands, her voice shaking. “At once, Evangeline!”

“I would,” I say slowly. “But I’m sort of all in on this now, you know? And it’s only one page. Mr. Clark will barely even miss—­ow!”

The flames reach my fingertips, and I hiss in pain, dropping what’s left of the burning paper. As Headmistress Thompson and I both watch, it floats down onto the desk—­and lands right in the middle of the grade book.

Within seconds, the entire school’s math grades go up in flames.

Headmistress Thompson gasps, her face now a sickly mottled color. “The fire extinguisher! Where—­”

But as she darts back into the hallway, clutching her curlers, I’m rooted to the spot—­by shock or disbelief or dissociation, I don’t know. All I can do is stare as the hungry flames grow bigger and brighter, until they spread to the pile of dry timber that is Mr. Clark’s desk.

Shit. Shit.

I rip off my cardigan and try to smother the flames, but they’re too strong, and all I accomplish is setting my school-­issued sweater on fire. A spark jumps onto my skirt, threatening to catch, and I bat it away, my pulse racing.

It was only supposed to be a page.

“Evangeline!” booms Headmistress Thompson from the doorway. “Get away from there!”

“I—­” I begin, not sure if I’m about to apologize or insist that I can put it out with my smoldering cardigan, but it doesn’t matter. Headmistress Thompson surges through the thickening smoke and seizes my elbow, yanking me away from the blaze.

There’s a dull roar in my ears, drowning out whatever it is she’s shouting at me, and as she drags me into the dark hallway and toward the nearest exit two corridors down, I glance back at the classroom. The fire is spreading, faster than the single missing fire extinguisher could handle, and I’m dimly aware that the anemic alarm going off is identical to the bell that rings when class begins. I don’t know much about buildings, but I’m pretty damn sure that none of this is up to code.

At last, as Headmistress Thompson shoves me through the side door and into the cool night air, I take a deep gulp and stumble across the grass, my lungs burning and my eyes streaming. We turn back toward the school, and our mouths hang open as flames shatter the stained glass windows of Mr. Clark’s classroom in an explosion of rainbow shards.

Well. At least it’s spectacular.

Chapter Two

Watch out, Britain! We’re less than a month away from Princess Mary’s eighteenth birthday, when the traditional media coverage restrictions on underage royals are lifted, and the world is champing at the bit. What kind of juicy gossip will rise to the surface? After a lifetime of private tutelage and being sheltered from the limelight, is our enigmatic future queen ready for the scrutiny she’ll face now that the silk gloves are coming off?

We’ll certainly see plenty of her in the weeks to come, as Her Royal Highness has reportedly already sat her A levels and is expected to make a splash during the jam-­packed social season this summer. Trooping the Colour, Royal Ascot, Wimbledon—­according to our royal sources, she’ll be there for them all.

What will she wear? Will she have a date? And most important, how long will it take for our beloved princess to headline her first royal scandal?

—­The Regal Record, 6 June 2023

I’m sitting inside an interview room at the police station, staring at my haggard reflection in what must be a two-­way mirror, when the door opens for the first time in hours.

A brawny officer stands on the threshold, a deep frown etched onto his bulldog face. We lock eyes, and even though I’m nauseated from exhaustion and the fear that’s been simmering in the pit of my stomach all night, I keep my expression painfully neutral. I know better than to say a word without a lawyer present, but it also means that he and the rest of what passes for a police force in the tiny town near St. Edith’s all believe Headmistress Thompson’s highly dramatized story about what went down in Mr. Clark’s classroom. And while I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing the entire scintillating tale, judging by her wails the night before as another officer took her statement, it doesn’t exactly paint me in the best light.

I brace myself, expecting yet another round of questions I won’t answer, but instead the officer crosses his arms over his broad chest. “Evangeline Bright,” he says gruffly, “you’re free to go.”

I stare at him, not sure I’ve heard right. After nearly ten hours in this room with only a plastic water cup and a ticking clock for company, I’m expecting handcuffs and a court date, not freedom. But before I manage to form a question I shouldn’t be asking, the officer steps aside, revealing a balding Englishman with a trimmed salt-­and-­pepper beard. And suddenly I understand.

“Jenkins!” I leap to my feet, even though my whole body aches after spending all night in an agonizingly uncomfortable chair. “The police said they couldn’t get ahold of you—­”

“Your headmistress contacted me first,” he says, stepping past the officer as if he isn’t even there. “I was already on the plane when they called. Are you hurt? When is the last time you had anything to eat or drink?”

I shake my head, suddenly aware of the fact that my mouth tastes like a dirty sock. “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What happ—­”

Thursday, February 16, 2023

#Review - Operation: Cupid by Michael Anderle & M Guida #YA #Fantasy

Series: Paranormal Mercenary Corps # 2
Format: Kindle, 221 pages
Release Date: January 17, 2023
Publisher: January 17, 2023
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

Chelby has escaped Sector Nine’s detention center and avoided execution, but her troubles are only just beginning…

Her sleep is disturbed by terrifying nightmares of Fae assassins shooting down a blue dragon. As the dragon turns to stone and shatters, Chelby wakes up to a blazing inferno in her room.

She lost control—again—and there are consequences.

Too many lives are at stake and Chelby is too dangerous to stay in the dormitory.

Dr. Gould has no choice but to move her to the therapeutic center until she can master her fire abilities. Banished from her friends and taken out of training, Chelby sees the center as a pretty version of jail.

Will she be stuck there indefinitely, or will the continuing revelations about her origins change everything for her?

Sector Nine is up to their old tricks again.

They’re using the Edinburgh orphanage Chelby lived at while she was a kid as a front to develop super soldiers to hunt down supernaturals.

The orphanage is the key to her past, but the only way she can go with her team is to prove to Dr. Gould that she can control her powers.

Can Chelby break through the fear holding her back from getting the answers she needs? Or will her family connections get to her first?

Operation: Cupid by co-authors Michael Anderle and M. Guida is the second installment in the authors Paranormal Mercenary Corps series. This book picks up 2 days after Chelby was rescued from Sector Nine's infamous prisoners under the control of her stepfather Robert Brooks. Even though she's safe with her team, her sleep is disturbed by terrifying nightmares of Fae assassins shooting down a blue dragon. As the dragon turns to stone and shatters, Chelby wakes up to a blazing inferno in her room.

Who were the people in Chelby's dreams? Dr. Gould who is not only a Gold Dragon, but leader of the Paranormal Mercenary Corps., has no choice but to move her to the therapeutic center until she can master her fire abilities. Banished from her friends and taken out of training, Chelby sees the center as a pretty version of jail. She also knows that even though she escaped, there are plenty of people who want her dead. In fact, one could say that she's so important that assassins are eager to find her and remove her off the board.

This is going to be spoiler-y since this book is filled with some major revelations. Chelby learns that not only is she dual blooded, which is unheard of, but she's part fae, and part dragon which is why assassins went after her mother and father. It seems as though a certain individual from the Court of Blossoms isn't all that happy that Chelby exists. She's a threat to his reign. As is Commander Wyland who just happens to be Chelby's uncle, and Dr. Gould who just happens to be Chelby's grandfather on her father's side. 

After learning a whole lot about who she is and who her family is and the importance of keeping her safe, Chelby's team consisting of Kog (Orc), Maggie (Dire Wolf), Hicks (Wolf), Jonas (Fae), and Justice (Vampire) is now called Anchor of Salvation and they are given a mission of utmost importance. Dr. Gould advises the team that Section Nine is up to their dirty tricks again. They are using an orphanage in Scotland, one that Chelby spent some time in, for nefarious perhaps, and they may have supernaturals in their custody that they are using their blood to create super soldiers.

One new character is added. His name is Brody O'Hara, and he's a human who has been experimented on to create said super solders. It seems as though Section Nine has been taking children who won't be missed and pumping them with supernatural blood. Brody knows who Chelby is, and he knows who her mother was. He knows why fae assassins are so eager to hunt her down as well as Wyland. But can he be trusted? King Ash is obsessed with keeping the crown for himself, and if Chelby remains alive, she has every right to claim the crown for herself. But Chelby isn't going to take Ash lightly, especially when she proves how dangerous she really is.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

#Review - May Contain Magic by J.A. Cipriano #Fantasy

Series: Meet Abby Banks # 1
Format: Kindle, 217 pages
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Publisher: Createspace
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Abby Banks is your typical college student, except that her entire life has been one big lie. Kidnapped as a young girl and fostered by a government agency as collateral, Abby never knew she was important… until her birth mom’s terrorist organization unleashes a devastating attack on the facility.

With magic.

Now Abby’s world is in a tailspin. Her birth mom wants to harvest her organs, her only protector is a vampire, and she can do magic. Well, sort of. She’s supposed to be able to do magic.

And if she can’t figure it out in time to stop her mom, not only will she get her organs stolen, her mom will blow up two major cities to fuel her doomsday ritual.

May Contain Magic, by author J.A. Cipriano, is the first installment in the authors Meet Abby Banks series. 20 year old Abby Banks thinks of herself of just another college student in a town called Folsom. But the truth is that Abby was kidnapped from her mother and fostered by a government agency to ensure her mother walks the straight and narrow. Abby knew nothing about this until one day she is kidnapped away from all she knows in order to protect her against, you guessed it, her mother who just happens to be the most dangerous woman in the world.

Her mother, Esmeralda Banks, is desperate to have Abby back but only for her own selfish reasons which are frightening to Abby when she finds out what her mother is really up to. Stephen, a secret agent, who is also a vampire, is assigned to protect Abby from her mother, but he has his own vulnerabilities but whose side is Donovan DeMarco, the alpha werewolf whose loyalties change at the drop of a hat. So begins a struggle between good and evil to save Abby and to stop her mother from dominating the world. Who can Abby trust? Who is telling the truth and who is lying? And who are the good guys really?

Abby is the center of all action, but she isn't directly involved in it till the end when we learn why she's special or not. She's either being dragged from place to place or rescued from captivity while Stephen, the love interest in the story is right in midst of the action scenes. He seems contradictory in nature, being a first class spy yet getting embarrassed easily. The story makes you wonder who you can truly trust. Is it the government agency with no name that has kidnapped children in order to prevent their families from blowing up the world? Or, is it Esmeralda Banks who just wants her daughter back so she can rid the world of the corrupt government itself?  

#Review - Kill it with Magic by J.A. Cipriano #YA #Fantasy

Series: The Lillim Callina Chronicles # 1
Format: Kindle, 204 pages
Release Date: September 22, 2014
Publisher: LMPN Publishing
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

Sixteen-year-old Lillim Callina is good at two things: running away and magic.

Now, Lillim's half-demon ex-boyfriend is contacting her for help, she has somehow gotten herself mixed up in a kidnapping, and her long-dead rival has risen from the grave.

So when a dragon plotting to take over the world offers her a choice: Work for him or else.

Lillim Callina is going to choose else.

Kill it with Magic, by author J.A. Cipriano, is the first installment in the authors The Lillim Callina Chronicles. Technically, there's a prequel called Ward Breaker which I read several weeks ago that kind of skims on who the main character really is and what she's capable of. Let's get the who, what, where, when, and why out of the way. Lillim Callina is technically a 16 year old teenager who belongs to a group known as Dioscuri. 

In this world, however, everyone who dies, ends up reincarnated and that's what's happened to Lillim. Lillim is a reincarnation of one ass-kicking, name-taking female with a nasty streak and some deep, dark secrets. And, to top it off, Lillim's alleged surrogate mother, Diana Cortez, never got along with the woman who was reincarnated into Lillim. So, Lillim was trained by Diana to be the best of the best, a demon hunter with the abilities to do magic. 

She carries several powerful swords she named after Set and Isis as well as a slew of other weapons filled with silver. Her job is to fight monsters and keep people safe. But things are going to get a whole lot more exciting for Lillim. First, her ex-boyfriend Joshua sends a message to her asking for help. Second, a group of men, including an angry Dragon, show up at her door and demands that she track down an important package which just happens to be a baby dragon.  

Lillim is sent to retrieve a jeweled box from werewolves, but when she gets there, she ends up fighting for her life against powerful vampires, including Logan who she helped a year ago take over his current caste, because of what's in the box, and what the vampires want to use what's inside the box to gain power in a battle of Dragon vs Dragon with one particular dragon being protected by none other than Warther, Dragon Knight, the man who drained hell in order to get the woman he loves back. Add in a few demons, a dragon, and a crazy mentor and you have non-stop chaos.

Lillim appears to be sixteen, but her growing process was expedited and now she has memories from her eight former lives – especially the previous one – making her a clever mix of teenager and burned-out middle aged woman. Lillim really can't get a minute of down time. There are moments where you likely will have to suspend belief. She's allegedly mortal, but she's constantly being slammed into brick walls by dragons, set on fire, and basically subjected to brutality that should have killed her. We also have several males who refuse to accept that Lillim's former persona is gone, and that may be the biggest downfall of this entire story.

Monday, February 13, 2023

#Review - The Headmaster's List by Melissa de la Cruz #YA #Mystery

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: February 28, 2023
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Thrillers & Suspense

Friday night. The party of the summer. Four teens ride home together. Only one never makes it.

When high school sophomore Chris Moore is tragically killed in a car crash, Armstrong Prep is full of questions. Who was at the wheel? And more importantly, who was at fault?

Eighteen-year-old Spencer Sandoval wishes she knew. As rumors swirl that her ex, Ethan, was the reckless driver, she can’t bring herself to defend him. And their messy breakup has nothing to do with it – she can’t remember anything from that night, not even what put her in that car with Ethan, Chris, and Tabby Hill, the new loner in school.

The hunt for answers intensifies when a local true crime podcast takes an interest in the case, pushing Spencer further into the depths of this sinister mystery. Was it all just a night out that went very wrong? And is it a coincidence that all but Chris is on Armstrong's esteemed honor roll, the Headmaster’s List? In a place ruled by pedigree and privilege, the truth can only come at a deadly price.

Set against the glitz and glamour of an elite LA private school, Melissa de la Cruz's first YA thriller is an addictive mystery perfect for fans of Gossip Girl and A Good Girl's Guide to Murder.


One of Us Is Lying meets Riverdale in author Melissa de la Cruz's The Headmaster's List, an edge-of-your-seat YA thriller about a fatal car crash and the dangerous lengths one teen will go to uncover the truth about what really happened. Set against the glitz and glamour of an elite LA private school, The Headmaster's List, is an addictive mystery as well as the authors first Young Adult mystery.

One of them was driving.
One of them was high.
One of them screamed.
And one of them died. 

Friday night September 3, 2021. The party of the summer before classes begin. Four teens ride home together. Only one never makes it. When high school sophomore Chris Moore (15) is tragically killed in a car crash, Armstrong Prep is full of questions. Who was driving? And more importantly, who was at fault? There were four people in the car; 18-year old Spencer Sandoval, 17-year old Ethan Amoroso, 16-year old Tabby Hill, and Moore. Spencer wishes she knew the truth, especially since she has a traumatic brain injury. 

As rumors swirl that her ex, Ethan, was the reckless driver, she can’t bring herself to defend him. And their messy breakup has nothing to do with it – she can’t remember anything from that night, not even what put her in that car with Ethan, Chris, and Tabby Hill, the new loner in school. Ethan will probably spend time in jail as this is not the first accident resulted with tragedy he got involved into! Mixed in with a True Crime Podcast called Get Salty with Peyton Salt, the answers the reader is searching for may be at your fingers since it appears that Peyton has some very interesting contacts who may know the truth. 

Spencer is at the top of her class and has a near perfect GPA which is good since she wants to get into Cal Tech when she graduates. She basically an overachiever with few friends outside of Olivia Santos. She is on the varsity field hockey team, as well as several clubs that make her resume to any colleges look good. After the crash, Spencer, now wearing a cast on her left arm, and sporting a new facial wound, is also given a special service dog named Ripley who is supposed to guide her around school and be there in case she starts having nightmares. 

I adore Ripley. I also loved Spencer's perky sister Hope who is a bloody genius at 12! As Spencer's memories start to come back, she is helped by Jackson Chen, the best friend of Spencer's former boyfriend who is now looking at spending a long time in prison for manslaughter. As Ethan's trial begins, Spencer realizes that she is slowly gaining memories of what really happened that night. Can she discover the truth, or will she be the next victim? The mystery of the whodunit was pretty good. I had two characters on my guess chart, and came pretty close to guessing correctly. Points deducted for the woke character who just happens to be a drug deal. Sorry Not Sorry but I've had enough.