20 April 2017

Republic/Diplomats and Fugitives





















From Goodreads:

REPUBLIC: "After the notorious outlaws Amaranthe and Sicarius helped overthrow the corrupt faction controlling the empire and brought in a great war hero to lead the nation to prosperity, they finally earned their pardons--and some time off. A tropical vacation cruising around in a private submarine? Perfect. But their trip is interrupted by a summons from the new president: they're needed back at home. Trouble unlike anything they've ever dealt with threatens to destroy the capital city and throw the fledgling republic into chaos."

DIPLOMATS AND FUGITIVES: "Even though Basilard is the official Mangdorian ambassador to the Turgonian Republic, he still isn’t fully trusted by his pacifist people. After he was enslaved and forced to entertain spectators in pit fights that left him scarred and mute, his kin turned their backs on him, condemning him for choosing violence. They don’t let him travel home without supervision, and he isn’t allowed to see his daughter.

When trouble arises in his homeland, a mysterious blight that could cause widespread starvation for his people, he’s invited to take several old friends to travel to his country to investigate. If Basilard can solve the problem, perhaps his people will finally realize he’s not a bad influence on his family. But unlikely obstacles stand in his way, including a strange Kendorian woman that he’s ordered to take along on the mission.

A Kendorian fugitive hiding in Turgonia, former tracker and assassin Ashara Longbow wants to start a new life, so she can sneak her children out of her country to join her in the republic. Not only is she hunted back home, but the Kendorian ambassador in Turgonia has learned she exists and wants a favor in exchange for keeping her secret. If she doesn’t help him thwart Basilard’s mission, she may never see her children again."

***

Lindsay Buroker has built an intriguing world. The idea of people striving to do good in a place where religion has been banned and being the best version of themselves without divine guidance--and how they interact with those who do have beliefs--creates an interesting interplay. Republic and Diplomats and Fugitives continues the story of Amaranthe and her crew as they try to find their places in the new democratic country of Turgonia. Entertaining as always, they deal with the challenges in front of them and their city without expectation of reward (except for Maldynado, but he expects to be rewarded for EXISTING. Good thing he’s charming!) and performing heroic feats of derring-do. The blend of magic-fuelled technology and a steampunk society creates an interesting dynamic as well.

But most of all, there’s the original characters. Maldynado and Basilard and Amaranthe and Sicarius shine (or glower darkly) and it’s just wonderful to go on adventures with them once again. With the added dry wit of Sespian and the sparkle of Mahliki and the fantastic relationship of Admiral Starcrest and his wife Tikaya, the stories continue to have depth and humor. I do love this series and I’m glad Ms. Buroker extended it.

Gentle Reader Alert: You know that non-religious society? Yeah, the characters don’t have the same morals I do and they’re pretty frank about it. There is some innuendo, but nothing graphic. I’d still put this at about a PG-13 level.

31 March 2017

Unexpected Love



From Goodreads:
"Around the turn of the century, matches were made for all sorts of reasons--whether to keep a family together or simply to make ends meet. But love has a way of turning up in the most unexpected places! With four historical romance stories in one, this fun anthology will sweep you from the dance floors of aristocracy to the hearths of country living, leading to love through the most unusual circumstances."


*****

Unexpected Love is full of sweetness and growing love, which always makes me happy. These lovely authoresses have taken great care to get the historical details of their chosen time periods right. Their characters are likeable and charming by turns, and I always found myself rooting for them and their success. I especially enjoyed The Price of Her Heart by Mandi Ellsworth--Faye McKinney's sassy voice breathes a massive amount of sparkle into the piece. I absolutely adored her by the end of the first page.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern.

21 March 2017

Operation Prom Date


From Goodreads:


"Kate ships tons of fictional couples, but IRL her OTP is her and Mick, the hot quarterback she’s crushed on since, like, forever. With only one semester left of senior year, it’s now or never if she wants to land him in time for prom. Since she’s flirtationally challenged, she enlists Cooper Callihan, the guy who turned popular seemingly overnight but who used to be a good friend.

Cooper lives and breathes rowing, but his partner just broke his wrist. When he remembers Kate’s good with a set of oars, he strikes a deal: help him train, and he’ll make sure her crush notices her. Only he didn’t know how addicting spending time with her would be. Or how the more successful the Operation is, the more jealousy he experiences.

The mission has been set. The troops have their marching orders. But what if the target is the wrong guy all along?"

*****

Operation Prom Date was absolutely effervescent. It was charmingly adorable, with a great plot and SUCH well-drawn characters. Cindi did a great job of getting me into her character's heads and loving Kate and Cooper both. Kate's unabashed geekiness and her sardonic sense of humor led to flashes of great personal courage. Cooper's humility and desire to do what Kate wanted, valiantly resisting his own feelings, made me an instant fan--he was so gallant and unselfish! And then I wanted them to get together SO BADLY. I read the entire book in one sitting--it was very much worth the lost sleep!

Gentle Reader Alert: Some swearing.

15 March 2017

Falling for the Beast


From Amazon:

"Aribelle is backed into the position of cleaning house for the horrible Mr. Thaddeus Walker. Not only is he rude, he's dangerously secretive, going out at night and coming home with injuries which seem to heal mysteriously fast. She should be keeping her distance, not trying to break down his barriers. But the more she uncovers, the more attracted she becomes until the cost of exposing his secrets fades behind the risk of losing her heart.

Thaddeus knows he should have sent the girl away instead of allowing her into his home. Now she's asking questions he can't answer. And the more time they spend together, the more he wishes he could pull her close and kiss her. But he can't afford to do that. Beautiful Aribelle could never love a beast."

*****

Falling for the Beast is a clean romance. The setting is good and the characters seem very true to the Disney original, just moving in an updated world. On the other hand, there is a lack of depth to this book that really niggled at me--there was nothing that created emotional resonance for me. I didn't feel like I ever got into the characters' heads, as most of the story was *told* to me, instead of shown to me. For me, that is a make it or break it point. Other than that, the story moves quickly and hit all the right plot points. If you're looking for a sweet take on a modern Beauty and the Beast retelling, this will fit the bill.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern.

09 March 2017

SERIES REVIEW: Cassidy Jones





Many moons ago (or in 2013, as Goodreads tells me), I encountered Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula. At this point I couldn't even tell you how I got into it, but I am SO GLAD I did. Here's a synopsis of the first book (via Goodreads):

"One Girl. One Accident. One Incredible Superhero.

Cassidy Jones is your typical fourteen-year-old--that is, until a seemingly harmless accident in the laboratory of a world-renowned geneticist turns her world upside down.

Discovering incredible strength, speed, and enhanced physical senses that defy logic, Cassidy embarks on an action-packed adventure that has her fighting for answers…and for her very life."

I couldn't get to the rest of the series fast enough after finishing The Secret Formula and was absolutely delighted to spend time in Cassidy's world. Cassidy has an authentic 14-year-old's voice, prone to the emotional rollercoaster most teenagers are, but she is balanced by a strong desire to help other people and a self-awareness that makes her much more tolerable than other young teenage protagonists I've read. Her love and concern for her family, her willingness to accept help when needed, add to that and are balanced by her stubbornly independent streak. She feels very real--I really like that. The magic system, for lack of a better term, is also very well thought out. Cassidy can't do EVERYTHING and there are consequences when she uses her newfound abilities. The villains she deals with are a bit cartoonish, but much like the original Batman series, they still pose a plausible threat to the people she loves.

SO. The point is, I love this series. The writing keeps getting better and better and the characters continue growing and developing in reasonable and logical ways. You really should go pick up a copy.  You should really, REALLY read the rest of the series before you read the rest of my review, because there are SPOILERS A-PLENTY. Remember that growth that Cassidy experiences? Yeah. Go experience it with her, then come back and read my very happy review of Cassidy Jones and the Eternal Flame.
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I'll wait here.
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Well, this post will, anyway. I have other things to do. Books to read and so on.
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Have you read it? If not, proceed at your own risk. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
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*rubs hands together gleefully* OK! Here we go.

So Cassidy has finally fessed up to her parents and everyone is aware of her superhero exploits. Joe is now living with the Phillips and making sure everyone is fed well, and Jared and Cassidy are not dating, but they're definitely boyfriend and girlfriend, which is making Emery crazy. What are you going to do? She's got a crush who likes her back. Give it time, friend Emery. (Yeah, I'm Team Emery. So is Cassidy. She just doesn't know it yet.)


Anyway, here's the synopsis of the book, from the author herself:

"Some boundaries should never be crossed…

The diabolic Metal Woman takes three people hostage. Her ransom demand: the location of a mysterious and unprecedented weapon, rumored to have been a gift to the Third Reich from Vulcan, the Roman god of fire.

When a rescue attempt goes sideways, Cassidy Jones seeks justice. Her quest leads her to the Seattle Underground, where she falls into the grip of an inexplicable evil. Cassidy learns too late that her desire for revenge may cost the life of someone she loves."

Yikes, right? In true Elise Stokes fashion, the Metal Woman is cold, heartless, and psychopathic. No wiggle room in that villain. And now that she has metal skin, Lily White (aka Metal Woman) is very evenly matched with Cassidy Jones, the only mutant on earth who can stop her. Much like the Luminous, there is no way for Cassidy to win without help. So she turns to her boys--Jared and Emery--who have talents of their own, and they do their best to take on Lily and her diabolical goons.

I absolutely LOVED reading Eternal Flame. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but there is a LOT of heart-pounding action and running around the tunnels under Seattle. Cassidy grows closer to the people she loves, but at the same time, she sees the toll that her secret life is taking on her family and friends. And I love her for it! Her eyes are open and she does her best to balance the two. In fact, I would say that this entire series is about finding balance--balance between friends and family, between your hobbies and your regular life, between your self and your beast. Hm. Maybe that last one is just Cassidy.

The tangled triangle of Cassidy and Jared and Emery is also balanced. This is not Twilight because Cassidy's heart is not torn in two, but it is a precise balance between first crush and best friend. I *love* romance in the books I read--makes my reading world go 'round--and it can be anything from  awkward beginner experience to finding THE ONE. These kids are a bit young to be finding "the one" yet, but Stokes deftly writes that awkward beginner stage in a way that tugs mightily at my heartstrings.

There you have it: heart-pounding action, tugging at the heartstrings--this book has a LOT of heart. The whole series continues to grow in complexity and the stakes are raised ever higher--it's a great adventure and a worthwhile read. I enjoyed it immensely and I would happily hand off to my 13-year-old daughter. Well done, Elise. Looking forward to the next one.

03 March 2017

The Light Trilogy: Renegade Red


From the publisher:
"Reckless, desperate, and distraught, Noa Sullivan leaps into a collapsing Portal in the explosive finale of Shattered Blue "the jaw-dropping, award-winning first installment in The Light Trilogy” in wild hope of rescuing her little sister Sasha. Now Noa and the Fae brothers who love her--Callum and Judah Forsythe--must find a way to survive not only across worlds but between them, in places so treacherous and deceptive their own minds are twisted against them. As the three fight to survive their passage, they battle not only enemies but themselves, and their darkest, most difficult secrets.

Surviving, however, is only the beginning: Noa needs to find Sasha. That means becoming a warrior herself, one just as fierce as the magical brothers battling for her love. Across broken cities, underground labyrinths, rushing floods and endless skies; in the face of legions of armies, horrifying tyrants, and the most deceitful of friends, can Mortal Noa rescue her sister--and understand her own heart--in time to escape the most deadly of magic realms?"

***

I loved last year’s Shattered Blue. The poetry, the drama, the pull Noa felt to both brothers--I was wrapped up and intrigued. And the ending was so unexpected! It was a thrilling ride.

Renegade Red definitely builds on those thrills. As Noa navigates her way through the In-Between, I began to clearly see where her heart truly was oriented--not with either Callum or Judah, but with little sister Sasha, the girl-beast who taught Noa how to fight and be brave just by being herself. Noa’s love for Sasha carries the story, and I loved the depiction of how family love can be true love. The idea of love is thoroughly explored in Renegade Red--what will people do in the name of love? How will their idea of love twist their perspective? Do love triangles actually exist? Is love more powerful than pride and ideology? Noa’s experience in the In-Between and in Aurora was heart-pounding and intense. I found myself gripping my tablet tightly often. The ending was surprising and twisty and left Noa standing on her own two feet, but I loved it even as my heart was breaking for everyone else.

Truly an imaginative, poetic read. I highly recommend the trilogy and can’t wait for next year’s installment.

 Gentle Reader Alert: A few mild swears--nothing too shocking.

20 February 2017

The Fill-in Boyfriend


From Goodreads:

"When Gia Montgomery's boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she'd been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend—two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.

The problem is that days after prom, it's not the real Bradley she's thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn't even know. But tracking him down doesn't mean they're done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend's graduation party—three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.

Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship."

***

Kasie West’s books were recommended to me a while ago by a good friend, and I am SO GLAD she was! The Fill-in Boyfriend was charming and funny and heartfelt. I loved the sly geek references and the way that Gia ended up taking a good look at herself and her priorities. She wasn’t necessarily a bad girl or a mean girl, but I love how she moved from being a shallow high school princess to someone with substance by the end of the story. And Mr. Fill-in Boyfriend grew too. Life is about growth and change and improving ourselves, and stories whose characters remain static are so much less fulfilling than ones where the characters strive to be better versions of themselves. That’s why I comment on it so much--it’s THAT important.

So, take the time to dig into The Fill-in Boyfriend. I think you’ll love it.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found no items of concern.