Review: Hexslayer by Jordan L. Hawk

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Hexslayer is a historical urban fantasy M/M romance set in New York near the turn of the twentieth century featuring witches and their familiars, with a mystery running through it. It is the third full length novel in the Hexworld series, though the books can be read out of order. (Though, personally, I wouldn’t recommend it.)

Hexslayer on Goodreads
Hexworld series on Goodreads

But witches didn’t give. They took and they took, nothing more. They dangled a promise of food and safety, of money…in exchange for everything a familiar had to give. Body, soul and magic. The chance to live a life they wanted, instead of trailing behind their witch.

Unbonded familiars are being killed, murdered in what looks like a ritual killing, and Nick, an angry horse shifter, does the one thing he swore he never would: bond to a witch. It’s all in an effort to investigate the killings, but what he doesn’t expect is Jamie, his witch and a genuinely good person.

Nick and Jamie must put away their differences and learn to work together (Nick must learn to trust a witch) if they are to save New York City from a plot to topple it.

I love this series. I’ve always loved stories that deal with people that aren’t quite human and the mistreatment that they can suffer for it. (ESPECIALLY when they come out on top in the end.) People that are more talented than the average and are feared because of that. And that’s what the familiars are.

Besides that, you have the familiar/witch bond – which kind of works like soulmates. You have THE perfect match, and while familiars and witches can bond even if they aren’t a perfect match, the bond is strong and the duo is more powerful if they are a perfect match. (Considering that this is a romance series, there’s no major examples of it, but the bonds can also be simply platonic.) (There’s a nice little mention that asexual and aromantic are things in this setting, too.)

Nick is a very compelling character, because he has so much anger and hatred for the witches. Not all of it is for good reason though, and it’s a lot of fun seeing him come to terms with the fact that not all witches are the villains he’s painted them as.

Jamie is a bit less compelling and doesn’t have as much to overcome in the story. What he does have, though, is a prosthetic leg. (And suffering from PTSD, even if they didn’t have a name for it.) What’s nice about this is how references are made to him having trouble climbing steps and the way people look at him differently than they did before he lost his leg. Jamie is very well adjusted though, and is understanding enough and sweet enough that he balances out Nick wonderfully and they complement each other very well. (And Jamie calling Nick ‘sweetheart’ is just made of win.)

Besides what worked well for this story (that whole enemies-to-lovers thing is such fun if done well and I think this book did a good, if understated, job) I love the world that the author has built up. I know a lot of people would argue that there’s no such genre, but to me this is a historical urban fantasy. I takes place in a city, it has paranormal elements and it is most definitely a historical. (And this is one of my favorite sub-genres.)

What didn’t work so well for me was the mystery. I thought it was obvious who was in on it – even if I didn’t know why – and, at one point, I was practically screaming at one of the characters to not trust this person.

5

Content advisory: Explicit sex. Some cursing. Moderately graphic depictions of death, dead bodies and violence. Talk of phantom pain from an amputated limb.

Diversity featured: LGBT+ characters, racial diversity, (Samoan/Native American) physical disability.

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Review: Venturess by Betsy Cornwell

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Venturess is the sequel to the awesome steampunk retelling of Cinderella, Mechanica. (This review will contain some spoilers for the romance outcome from Mechanica.)

Venturess on Goodreads
Mechanica on Goodreads

But I had worked hard since then to mend my heart and remake my understanding of love and family from the simple, binary ideas I’d had before. Fin and I weren’t the starry-eyed couple I’d dreamed of last winter, true; we were simply a unit, together with our Caro. We were three people who loved and needed one another, and it was as easy and as hard as that.

Nicolette got her happily ever after, even if it might not have been what anyone expected. Now she’s a well known, well respected inventor, happy with her family and Jules, her mechanical horse.

But war is brewing and when an attack is made on Prince Fin’s life, Nick, Fin and Caro get thrown right into the middle of it in an effort to save the land of Faerie.

Honestly, the easiest thing to say about this book was that I liked it, but didn’t love it. The biggest reason I was excited for it was the relationship between Nick, Caro and Fin. I don’t know how to describe it and, wonderfully enough, there’s never a name put to it.

It definitely was lovely though, and seeing them work together and love and trust each other was beautiful. Without a doubt it was my favorite thing in the story.

But this book was surprisingly different then the previous. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I was expecting more in the way of slow moving character development and was quite surprised at the amount of death in this book and how truly unpleasant things get.

Nick has continued to grow as a person and, honestly, shows a lot of development that I might not have credited her with. She’s brave and strong, but she also leans on her friends – who, in turn, lean on her. (Once again, love those three together.)

She’s faced with several trials through the story (several twists) that I think she handled wonderfully. Well, for the most part. I don’t think running away from your problems helps anything, but she dealt with them eventually and stayed true to herself.

The twists were…well, the first one was obvious. I wasn’t sure what the explanation would be, but I did see it coming from very early on it the book. I kind of think that it maybe wasn’t supposed to be a surprise because it was followed up with another twist almost immediately. (That one I didn’t see coming.)

Over all, a lot of questions were answered, it was nice to see Faerie, closure was had, and I still wanted to know more of what Nick, Caro and Fin were doing. (Also, I have to say, I adore the Faerie culture. They understand Nick’s relationship in a way that humans won’t and it was so lovely.)

4

Content Advisory: Nothing explicit. Some mentions of torture. Talk of death and animal death. Nightmares. Implied death. Really, all the even vaguely unpleasant things are mostly left up to your imagination – and I have a VERY active imagination so I imagine worse than it probably truly was.

Review: Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

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Long May She Reign is a standalone, young adult fantasy novel with a book smart leading lady trying to survive and hang on to her throne after a mass poisoning.

Long May She Reign on Goodreads

I was done pretending. The court had been shattered, and we couldn’t rebuild it, not without a million cracks showing through. I had to be honest. I couldn’t trust my advisers, and the murderer might have been on my side, so what else could I do, in the face of all that, except stop playing any sort of game and just be? Be queen as I wanted to be queen, in the court and out. Be myself, be Queen Freya, be whatever sort of person that turned out to be.

As twenty-third in line to the throne, Freya would much rather spend her days in her laboratory than in court. Her life changes on the king’s birthday though, when a mass poisoning sweeps the party.

Now queen, Freya must navigate court life, attempt to be true to herself and rule a kingdom, all while investigating the murders.

Freya is pretty darn unique, especially for YA fantasy I’d have to say. She suffers from social anxiety and panic attacks. She’s smart, analytical and rational, always needing answers and asking lots of questions.

What I think I love most about Freya is that she suspects everyone in the book at least once. (Except for her best friend, Naomi.) She suspects her advisers, her servants, her court, even her own father. No one is ruled out immediately – a la ‘oh, it couldn’t possibly be them’ only to have them turn out to be the killer.

I adore Freya, Naomi, Fitzroy and Madeleine. It’s so nice to see their building friendships and all the twists and turns that they take. Granted, some didn’t take the twists and turns that I would have liked, but what can you do?

The plot is, at it’s core, a mystery. There’s plenty of other trappings going on, but it’s really Freya sleuthing around to figure out who killed the court – mostly just as a way to keep her safe. And I liked that. She’s aware that she’s interested in finding the guilty party to protect herself at least as much – probably more – than to get justice for the dead. (Honestly, the resolution to the mystery was something that I never expected/saw coming, so it gets bonus points for that.)

I only have a couple small problems. First, around page one hundred, the book lags. It starts off brilliantly, once we hit about a third through, it takes off, but there is a stretch that just doesn’t move.

Also, it’s frustrating. I can imagine it was supposed to be because it’s frustrating for Freya and it’s frustrating as a reader. I want the mystery solved. I want the advisors to quit treating Freya like a nincompoop. I want respect for the queen. Sure, I get it all, but it was just frustrating caring so much and getting soundly trounced.

Which, now that I think on it, may actually be a good thing because that does at least show that I truly care about the characters. And I do care about Freya. The rest of her inner circle a little less, but I do adore the girl. (And this is very definitely Freya’s story.)

4

Content Advisory: Mild descriptions of poisons and their effects. A few brief panic attacks, mostly brought on by too many people, too close.

Diversity Spotlight Thursday

DIVERSE SPOTLIGHT

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves and Paperbacks. Every week, the participants are supposed to choose one book for each of the three categories: a diverse book you have read and enjoyed, a diverse book on your TBR, and a diverse book that has not yet been released.

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Daybreak Rising by Kiran Oliver

Celosia Brennan was supposed to be a hero. After a spectacular failure that cost her people their freedom, she is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance at redemption. Together with a gifted team of rebels, she not only sets her sights on freedom, but defeating her personal demons along the way.

Now branded a failure, Celosia desperately volunteers for the next mission: taking down the corrupt Council with a team of her fellow elementally gifted mages. Leading the Ember Operative gives Celosia her last hope at redemption. They seek to overthrow the Council once and for all, this time bringing the fight to Valeria, the largest city under the Council’s iron grip. But Celosia’s new teammates don’t trust her—except for Ianthe, a powerful Ice Elementalist who happens to believe in second chances.

With Council spies, uncontrolled magic, and the distraction of unexpected love, Celosia will have to win the trust of her teammates and push her abilities to the breaking point to complete the Ember Operative. Except if she falters this time, there won’t be any Elementalists left to stop the Council from taking over not just their country, but the entire world.

This book is not without its flaws, but it is still one of the most diverse books I’ve ever read. There is racial diversity, many, many characters that are on the LGBT+ spectrum and one of the POV characters is blind. Honestly, it deserves a read just because of all that.

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Coral Bones by Foz Meadows

Miranda, daughter to Prospero, the feared sorcerer-Duke of Milan, stifles in her new marriage. Oppressed by her father, unloved by Ferdinand, she seeks freedom; and is granted it, when her childhood friend, the fairy spirit Ariel, returns. Miranda sets out to reach Queen Titania’s court in Illyria, to make a new future…
Monstrous Little Voices is a collection of five short novellas, a single long tale set in Shakespeare’s fantasy world of fairies, wizards and potions, in honour of the four-hundredth anniversary of the Bard’s death.

This is just a short tale (54 pages) but after Foz Meadows work on her Manifold worlds series, I knew I had to read it. As an added bonus, this is a Their Own Voices story as the protagonist is genderqueer as is Meadows.

coming soon

The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

From what I’ve heard, the setting is culturally and racially diverse and it sounds totally awesome besides!

Once again, love to hear your thoughts on these books and any suggestions you may have for me to read!

Diversity Spotlight Thursday #1

DIVERSE SPOTLIGHT

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves and Paperbacks. Every week, the participants are supposed to choose one book for each of the three categories: a diverse book you have read and enjoyed, a diverse book on your TBR, and a diverse book that has not yet been released.

I knew, restarting a blog, that I wanted to do this meme. I had just started it when I wound up going on a hiatus and now I want to talk about these awesome/awesome-sounding diverse books.

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Earthrise by M.C.A. Hogarth

Reese Eddings has enough to do just keeping her rattletrap merchant vessel, the TMS Earthrise, profitable enough to pay food for herself and her micro-crew. So when a mysterious benefactor from her past shows up demanding she rescue a man from slavers, her first reaction is to say “NO!” And then to remember that she sort of promised to repay the loan. But she doesn’t remember signing up to tangle with pirates and slavers over a space elf prince… Book 1 of the Her Instruments trilogy is a rollicking space operatic adventure set in the Pelted Paradox universe.

This book is just a lot of fun and a great story, even beyond the fact that the main character is a black woman. And, seriously, it is super hard to find a black main character in a spacefaring sci-fi. I do highly recommend this book though – especially for fans of found families, skirting the legal and those that like a little romance with their space-adventuring!

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Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards.

These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.

Here I am, busy looking for diversity in spec fiction, and I haven’t read Elizabeth Bear yet. She’s got so many awesome sounding stories, but I decided on this one to start with because – from what I’ve heard – it’s based around a non-white culture that’s more than just window dressing.

coming soon

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell by Avon Gale

Victoria “Vix” Vincent has only two weeks to find a replacement fiddle player for her band’s summer tour. When classically trained violinist Sawyer Bell shows up for an audition, Vix is thrilled. Sawyer is talented, gorgeous, funny, and excited about playing indie rock instead of Beethoven. Their friendship soon blossoms into romance, even though Vix tries to remember that Sawyer’s presence is only temporary.

Sawyer’s parents think she’s spending the summer months touring Europe with a chamber ensemble. But Sawyer is in dire need of a break from the competitiveness of Juilliard, and desperately wants to rediscover her love of music. Going on tour with her secret high school crush is just an added bonus. Especially when Vix kisses her one night after a show, and they discover that the stage isn’t the only place they have chemistry.

But the tour won’t last forever, and as the summer winds down, Sawyer has to make a tough decision about her future—and what it means to follow her heart.

To say I’m excited for this book is an understatement. I love this author’s writing style – even if I’ve only read her m/m hockey series – and I am so looking forward to see how she does with a f/f with musicians!

I’d love to hear what you think about any of these books! And do leave suggestions and book recs!