Genre: Fantasy & Magic

Review: Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews

Posted May 3, 2016 by Holly in Reviews | 1 Comment

Review: Bayou Moon by Ilona AndrewsReviewer: Holly
Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews
Series: The Edge #2
Also in this series: On the Edge
Published by Penguin
Publication Date: September 28th 2010
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary, General, Fantasy & Magic, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 480
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four-half-stars

The Edge lies between worlds, on the border between the Broken, where people shop at Walmart and magic is a fairytale–and the Weird, where blueblood aristocrats rule, changelings roam, and the strength of your magic can change your destiny…

Cerise Mar and her unruly clan are cash poor but land rich, claiming a large swathe of the Mire, the Edge swamplands between the state of Louisiana and the Weird. When her parents vanish, her clan’s long-time rivals are suspect number one.

But all is not as it seems. Two nations of the Weird are waging a cold war fought by feint and espionage, and their conflict is about to spill over into the Edge—and Cerise’s life . William, a changeling soldier who left behind the politics of the Weird, has been forced back into service to track down a rival nation’s spymaster.

When William’s and Cerise’s missions lead them to cross paths, sparks fly—but they’ll have to work together if they want to succeed…and survive.

When I saw there were four books in this series, I thought they all followed the same couple. I was pleasantly surprised to find that isn’t the case. Bayou Moon picks up shortly after the events in On the Edge.

Cerise Mar and her family live in the Mire, the swamp lands of the Edge, a place of magic between the Broken (regular non-magic Earth) and the Weird (a parallel of the Earth filled with magic). Her family has been in a generations-long feud with another family, the Sheeriles. When her parents disappear and one of her cousins reports the Sheeriles have taken over their grandparents’ abandoned home at the edge of their property, she goes to investigate. In their bid to win the fight against her family, the Sheeriles have partnered with a spymaster from the Weird,Spyder, and his merry band of genetically modified freaks. Something she knows it’ll be difficult, if not impossible, to fight. She travels to the Broken to retrieve a document proving ownership of the house and ends up meeting William.

William is a changeling from the Weird. Changelings aren’t accepted in the Weird and are either killed at birth or sent to live in an orphanage where they’re trained as weapons for the country. When William failed to obey an order during a mission, he was sentenced to death. Lord Sandine adopted him (for his own nefarious purposes) and when he died, William was set free. Since then he’s been living in the Edge and working in the Broken, if not happy, then at least content to be alone. When he’s approached by the Mirror, a spy organization from the Weird, to track down an old nemesis, Spyder, he reluctantly agrees. Spyder is rumored to be hiding in the Mire and seems to be targeting the new girl he met on his journey there. He decides he needs to stay as close to Cerise as possible to find his target, but he doesn’t expect to be as drawn to her as he is.

William intrigued me in the first book, On the Edge, and I was anxious to get his story. Having been raised in an orphanage and, aside from his quasi-friendship with Logan (the hero of the first book), he’s been alone his whole life. He craves a family and connections to other people, but he’s too wary to make friends or trust new people. He’s also a stone-cold killer who is trained in all areas of combat. Oh, and there’s the small thing that he can change into a wolf at will. He thinks Cerise is a meek little thing when he first meets her, and vows to protect her. Until he realizes she’s just as skilled and deadly as he is. I think the first time he watched her kick ass is when he started falling in love.

“Stay back this time,” Cerise said. “It’s my fight.”
“There are nine of them. Don’t be stupid.”
“Stay the fuck back, William.”
“Fine.” He took a step back and raised his crossbow. If that’s the way she wanted it, he could always rescue her later. “Let’s see what you got.”
The larger boat slammed into them, sending a quake through the hull. Two men jumped onto the deck.
Cerise struck and paused, blood running down her blade.
The first two fighters died without a scream. One moment they stood on deck, and the next the top halves of their bodies slid down into the river.
William closed his mouth with a click.
The attackers drew back.
The edge of Cerise’s sword shone once, as if a glowing silver hair were stretched along the blade. She leaped onto the larger boat.
They swarmed her. She whirled, cutting through them, slicing limbs in half, severing muscle and bone. Blood sprayed, she paused again, and the fighters around her fell without a single moan.
Four seconds and the deck was empty. Nothing moved.
She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Cerise doesn’t trust easily, but she agrees to take William home with her when she realizes he’s a target and he’s more than capable of helping her in a fight. If the idiot man would stop trying to protect her, that is. She’s a fully trained warrior and knows how to handle herself in a fight, plus she knows more about the swamp than he does. That doesn’t stop her from lusting after him, though. As they get deeper into the swamp, she becomes more and more impressed with him.

When she was a teenager, she used to imagine meeting a stranger. He would be from the Weird or the Broken, not from the Mire. He would be lethal and tough, so tough, he wouldn’t be afraid of her. He would be funny. And he would be handsome. She’d gotten so good at imagining this mysterious man, she could almost picture his face.
William would kick his ass.
Maybe that was why she couldn’t get him out of her head

Cerise’s large family is colorful and really comes to life. Aunts, uncles, cousins..each had their own personality and quirks. I loved getting to know them and watching them interact with each other. Keldar and Lark especially stand out, as both their backstories are intriguing. Keldar acts like a happy-go-lucky guy all the time, but it’s obvious there’s more depth there than he’d like to let on. I’m glad he’s getting his own book.

Seeing William become enfolded in the family and fall for Cerise was wonderful. I wanted to see him become part of something and that’s exactly what happened here. Cerise was more emotionally balanced than he was, but she had her own baggage. They were evenly matched in every way and I loved watching them fall.

The action and adventure in this novel was on point. Their search for Cerise’s parents, Spyder and his altered agents, the mystery of what Spyder was looking for, the feud between Cerise’s family and the Sheeriles…all of it kept me on the edge of my seat. Fair Warning, there’s a high creep factor here with some of the baddies in the swamp and Spyder’s agents, and some of it was really gory, but I can’t deny I loved every bit of it.

Andrews’ imaginative and detailed world really comes to life here. I highly recommend the story.

4.25 out of 5

four-half-stars

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Guest Review: Starflight by Melissa Landers

Posted February 12, 2016 by Whitley B in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: Starflight by Melissa LandersReviewer: Whitley
Starflight by Melissa Landers
Series: Starflight #1

Publication Date: February 2nd 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 309
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three-stars

Life in the outer realm is a lawless, dirty, hard existence, and Solara Brooks is hungry for it. Just out of the orphanage, she needs a fresh start in a place where nobody cares about the engine grease beneath her fingernails or the felony tattoos across her knuckles. She’s so desperate to reach the realm that she’s willing to indenture herself to Doran Spaulding, the rich and popular quarterback who made her life miserable all through high school, in exchange for passage aboard the spaceliner Zenith.

When a twist of fate lands them instead on the Banshee, a vessel of dubious repute, Doran learns he’s been framed on Earth for conspiracy. As he pursues a set of mysterious coordinates rumored to hold the key to clearing his name, he and Solara must get past their enmity to work together and evade those out for their arrest. Life on the Banshee may be tumultuous, but as Solara and Doran are forced to question everything they once believed about their world—and each other—the ship becomes home, and the eccentric crew family. But what Solara and Doran discover on the mysterious Planet X has the power to not only alter their lives, but the existence of everyone in the universe…

This was quite a fun book, and I did enjoy the storyline and even the romance.  But I feel like every side character was phoned in, and the science fiction setting was not used to its full potential.  Plus, the final climax wrapped up a subplot instead of the main plot and apparently thought I wouldn’t notice.

First off, I did really enjoy the two main characters.  Solara is a tough, gifted mechanic who’s determined to make a new life for herself.  Doran is an entitled rich kid who desperately needs to be taken down a few pegs (and then that actually happens).  Both of them have some good nuance to their personalities, and I especially liked Doran freaking out about Solara’s criminal past (it’s over the top, but supposed to be and makes sense).  As the novel goes on, they complement each other well and their growing affection is … well, would have been sweet if Doran hadn’t laid on the jerkitude quite so strong at the start.

The setting felt very much like the series Firefly, with a quirky crew on a ramshackle, beat-up ship off to the outer edges of space to do slightly nefarious things.  Which, great! I love that shtick. It’s just…it was Firefly.  And that’s it.  Anything that wasn’t covered by that show was basically the same as modern day.  There were so many little details exactly the same as our time period that it just weirded me out a little.  (For instance, senior portraits. Not sure why that stands out in particular to me, but it does.)  I didn’t feel like this book added anything new to the genre, because it was just a vague veneer of sci-fi pasted on top of a contemporary base.  The side characters felt the same way.  They were quirky, they were kind of fun, but they were thin and nothing we haven’t seen before.

The plotline of the book was quick and action packed and interesting.  I was not fond of the “Solara accidentally married a pirate” bit, mostly because it was so awkwardly shoehorned in there.  (Also, the gross patriarchy required to make it work.)  But everything else worked.  It was a rollickin’ fun adventure.  Again, until the end, when this big major plot came to a head…and a subplot got wrapped up instead.  Now, it’s a series, so leaving things open ended is fine.  Except in the last chapter everyone acted like the whole “Doran was framed” thing got settled.  It…didn’t.  It got more information, but it certainly didn’t get even a fraction of settled.

Rating: 3 out of 5

three-stars

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Guest Review: Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine

Posted January 26, 2016 by Whitley B in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: Impostor Queen by Sarah FineReviewer: Whitley
The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine
Published by Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: January 5th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy & Magic, Action & Adventure
Pages: 432
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four-stars

Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic. Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by magical priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

I absolutely loved this book. It was such an engaging fantasy. The world was fascinating, the magic was awesome, the characters were great, the plot was engaging. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the main character, and she was more ‘eh’ than actual ‘dislike.’

The story follows Elli as she moves from (forcibly) pampered princess to outcast, and it’s very well handled. Probably because Elli was kicked out after they discovered she didn’t have magic, rather than her running away. That allowed to her to have this genuine, deep-seated devotion to her country and a desire to do best, and when she found herself living in a shack in a cave and working hard for the first time in her life (or working at all for the first time!) she had that drive and motivation to prove/improve herself to keep her going. I really liked that about her. What I didn’t like was the way she seemed really, really young in some parts. Honestly, when the book started, I thought she was supposed to be eight or so. (She got better. Sorta.) I also didn’t like how, when she did discover her unique powers, instead of doing literally anything with them she just sort of flailed around and let them control her. She had most of winter to experiment, and she didn’t get proactive until the last few chapters. It didn’t seem to fit with the rest of personality, which was very intent on learning how to be ‘useful’ in every single other way except magic.

Also, she was thoroughly bisexual, so that was awesome.

I liked the world in this book, which had magic, culture, and geography all intertwined into one awesome whole. Secret sects! Wars! HISTORY! Bizarre inheritance rituals! I loved how well it all came together. The plot was rather introspective and focused a lot on the characters and the world, until the action at the very end, but I was interested enough in said characters and world that I didn’t really care. Mostly because the world was the unique part of the book, and when the action did happen it was kind of predictable. (I have a theory, one which I’m pretty sure is correct, there were some glaring hints, but I’m going to have to wait until the sequel to be proven right. Sigh.)

All in all, a solid YA fantasy that I would recommend to any fan of the genre.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Reading Order

Impostor Queen

four-stars

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Guest Review: Riders by Veronica Rossi

Posted January 18, 2016 by Whitley B in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: Riders by Veronica RossiReviewer: Whitley
Riders by Veronica Rossi
Series: Riders #1
Published by Macmillan
Publication Date: February 16th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy & Magic, Action & Adventure, General
Pages: 384
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four-stars

Riders. A new fantasy adventure from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Veronica Rossi.
For eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake, nothing but death can keep him from achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does.
Recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can't remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen--Conquest, Famine, and Death--are brought together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence.
They fail.
Now--bound, bloodied, and drugged--Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in a battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he's fallen for--not to mention all of humankind--he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger.
But will anyone believe him?

This book had a great tone, lots of action, and a really creative set up. And, of course, I was tickled pink by the military main character, but I could be a little biased on that part. But I did have a few problems with some of the characters.

The book was told through a framing device: Gideon is recounting the story to an interrogator after he’s been captured. There are short chapters scattered throughout where we come back to the ‘present’ and to Gideon and his predicament. Normally I don’t like framing devices that try and pass the whole book off as someone actually telling it (books are haaaard, ain’t no one going to be that eloquent off the cuff!), but in this case it was easy enough to ignore, and I did like the interjection chapters.

The bulk of the plot is pretty straight-forward. Four boys find out they have super powers (ish) because they are the four horsemen of the apocalypse (ish) and they all need to find each other and protect some sacred item from the demons who want to use it to nefarious ends. Cool, I’m on board, lots of room in that basic set up for rollickin good times. And we got some very nice action and logistics and running around. There was a good pace in this, a sense of tension and anticipation that kept me reading, so much so that it was halfway through the book before I realized…a good quarter of everything going on is just Daryn not telling people anything? It got more prominent in the latter part of the book, which was very annoying. I dislike plots that rely on “I can’t tell you because reasons” to draw things out. I feel like it was unnecessary, too; there was plenty of stuff going on to carry a novel without constantly saying “I’ll tell you a few chapters from now. …because reasons.”

I loved Gideon, especially his anger management issues and the really poignant way the book handled the death of his father. I also very much enjoyed the way the horseman powers were handled, and especially the creative interpretation of Famine. (Actually, Sebastian in general, I loved him.)

I take exception to a couple things, though. First, all the horsemen are…well, men. Now, on the face of it, I don’t mind dudely ensemble stories. Really. I like dude groups, it’s cool. But when you’ve got all your main characters as dudes, you need to fill out the rest of the cast with some strong ladies. In Riders we get…Daryn. Daryn’s contribution to the plot could be replaced with a broken cell phone. Her role is to relay information from the Powers That Be…and that’s it. She’s a passive receiver who does nothing else. She just shows up, says “you’re a horseman, I’m not going to tell you what that means because your brain would explode or something, let’s go get the next guy now,” and that’s the end of her involvement in the book’s central plot. Our only other female characters are an interrogator who is little more than a sounding board, a mother and a sister who are gone after the first few chapters, and two female demons who never get speaking lines. The plot-moving roles in this book are full of sausage.

Second, Marcus. He’s the only POC character in the book, and he’s reduced to a surly figure with very few speaking lines and little development beyond “Gideon hates him.” Those two get in fistfights constantly for no discernible reason, which is fine, boys are stupid and Gideon has War-super-powers that screw things up. But that’s it. That’s all of Marcus’s character. We learn nothing else about him. He’s a violent black man with a violent past who doesn’t talk and gets called a psychopath on more than one occasion. Playing true to some really uncomfortable stereotypes, there, book.

Rating: 4 out of 5

four-stars

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Review: Liam Takes Manhattan by Thea Harrison

Posted January 7, 2016 by Holly in Reviews | 2 Comments

Review: Liam Takes Manhattan by Thea HarrisonReviewer: Holly
Liam Takes Manhattan by Thea Harrison
Series: Elder Races #9.5
Also in this series: Lord's Fall, Pia Saves the Day & Peanut Goes to School, Dragos Takes a Holiday, Night's Honor, Night's Honor, Dragon Bound, Midnight's Kiss, Midnight's Kiss, Dragos Goes to Washington, Shadow's End, Pia Does Hollywood, Pia Does Hollywood
Published by Teddy Harrison
Publication Date: December 22, 2015
Genres: Coming of Age, Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Fiction, New Adult, Paranormal
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three-half-stars

Warning: This story contains a major spoiler from SHADOW’S END (book #9, released December 1st, 2015). If readers do not want to be spoiled, they should read the stories in order of their release dates.

This is a short story (15,000 words or 50 pages) intended for readers of the Elder Races who enjoy Liam Cuelebre as a character.

Reeling from a deep loss, the magical prince of the Wyr, Dragos and Pia’s son Liam Cuelebre, turns inward and withdrawn as he struggles to come to terms with who he is, along with the challenges that lie before him.

Hoping to ease his heartache and offer comfort, a concerned Dragos and Pia offer him a gift, something he has desired for a long time. Liam’s response has a ripple effect across all of New York. Soon miracles of all kinds start arriving just in time for Christmas, along with a visit from a mysterious person who gives Liam hope and a vision of his future.

LIAM TAKES MANHATTAN is the third part of a three-story series about Pia, Dragos, and their son, Liam. Each story stands alone, but fans might want to read all three: DRAGOS GOES TO WASHINGTON, PIA DOES HOLLYWOOD, and LIAM TAKES MANHATTAN.

Liam Takes Manhattan takes place after the events of Harrison’s latest full length release, Shadow’s End, and includes major spoilers for that book. For those who haven’t read it, I suggest waiting to pick up this one (unless, like me, you don’t mind spoilers).

Liam is growing at a ridiculous rate. Though he’s technically only a year old, he has the body and intellect of a twenty-something. What he lacks is real-world experience, something he isn’t getting living at home. He wants to stretch is wings a bit (heh) and isn’t sure how to do that, what with his father being the most powerful Wyr alive and Liam’s inner dragon having a hard time accepting orders from him.

Pia and Dragos are having a hard time, too. They love Liam, but they thought they’d have years to grow accustomed to him becoming an adult..not months. When they offer him a gift he’s been wanting for years, his reaction is so unexpected it leaves all of them reeling.

I love Liam. It’s strange knowing he’s only a year old, but he’s growing into a strong man I really enjoy reading about. Watching him grow and change has been a delight. I was looking forward to this story for many reasons, not the least of which is the way things ended for Liam in Shadow’s End.

While I really enjoyed the story itself and liked seeing things from Liam’s perspective, the end really frustrated me. Usually I finish these novellas feeling satisfied, but this one left me frustrated and wanting more. That isn’t to say it wasn’t a good story, but why did it have to end the way it did?? Especially since the next novel won’t be available for a million years </slightexaggeration>??

Still, I love watching Liam grow and change. Here we saw flashes of temperamental teenager, as well as chafing-at-restraints young adult. I can’t wait to see where the future takes him.

3.5 out of 5 

three-half-stars

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