Review: Rory, the Sleeper by A.W. Exley

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Rory, the Slayer is the final book in a trilogy all about strong women and a katana wielding, zombie killing Cinderella. (Do I really need to say more than ‘zombie killing Cinderella? I thought not.)

Rory, the Slayer on Goodreads

Serenity House series on Goodreads

You never know what you can achieve until you take a step and try.

Ella’s finally seeing a light at the end of the Grim War – unfortunately, to get there, she’ll have to defeat the witch deMage once and for all. No big deal, she’s only the witch that put the pieces in motion hundreds of years ago that brought about the war Ella is currently fighting.

The good news is, she’s not alone, because she’s going to need help in this battle.

The way I see it, there’s two major draws to this series. The first is zombies. Considering this is pretty much my first foray into zombie literature, I’m surprised I like it as much as I do. (I did ‘read’ one other zombie book, but didn’t like it.)

The other big draw is this is a Cinderella retelling – with elements of Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty. That, I think it does wonderfully. Cinderella is probably the best known fairytale and this story does wonderful blending the expected elements of a retelling with the new.

And I love Cinderella retellings that give a little time and sympathy to one or both of the ‘evil’ stepsisters. This story does, really humanizing Charlotte in this book, so that makes me very happy.

Dovetailing on to the retelling aspect is the romance. I don’t think it’s a huge secret that I like romance, but I’d usually rather have it in a romance book and not in my other stories. Well, I expect romance in my retellings. Romance – or, rather, love – is such a huge part of the common Disney versions of fairytales that it would seem odd without it.

And, beyond the totally likable characters, – especially Ella, and I don’t often get to say that about teenage main characters – and the general strangeness of zombies, what this story does wonderfully is the romance. (Yeah, I know, how strange for me to say that.)

But, Ella and Seth are a wonderful couple. They respect each other, fight alongside each other, they’re there for each other and I think this is one of the healthiest romances I’ve ever come across in a young adult book.

To go with the romance is the friendships built here. Ella and Alice are two of the solidest best friends I’ve read in quite a while and Ella’s blooming friendship with Charlotte is a thing of beauty.

The plot, however, impresses me the most – because there actually is one. There’s an investigation about the zombies and an explanation that both make sense.

4

Content Advisory: A brief, non explicit sex scene. Light descriptions of gore and violence. (I’d say this whole series falls on the older end of YA.)

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Review: Scoundrel by Zoe Archer

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Scoundrel is the second book in a stand-alone adventure/romance series with heavy treasure hunting vibes about The Blades of the Rose, men and women who protect magical artifacts from those (mostly British imperialists) that would use them to harm people. It is the sequel to Warrior and some characters/plots from that book does make an appearance.

Scoundrel on Goodreads
Warrior on Goodreads

It was then that she realized something. All this time, he had been speaking to her as his equal. Granted, he was a devil of a flirt, but he did not seem to consider her female sex a liability. He talked truthfully, openly, without the polite phrases or evasions so common to the speech of every other man she knew. And when she answered him, it was as if she’d unlatched a little door inside herself and could meet him on the level ground, confident in herself.

Bennett Day is a charmer, libertine and flirt. He has probably bedded his way through most continents. While using his allure to track down a manuscript important to the Blades, he comes across London Harcourt.

Recently widowed, London is the daughter of one of Bennett’s most powerful enemies – a chairman of the Heir’s of Albion, a group determined to see British supremacy rule the day. London, while she is helping her father translate an inscription on ancient ruins, has no idea that he’s not a simple archeologist.

A chance meeting sends Bennett’s and London’s lives careening towards each other, but will a secret kill their romance before it even gets started?

Just let me say, I adore this series. I bought Warrior a couple years ago on a whim, never expecting to like it as much as I did, and then put off reading this book because I was worried it wouldn’t hold up.

I needn’t have worried.

Bennett was introduced briefly in the previous book and I knew from it that I would kind of adore him. He’s charming and always complements women and it seems like he can’t help but flirt with every woman he meets. However, Bennett is also aware of what he is and makes sure that the women he’s with know what he is. He isn’t the sort of man to stick around. (He’s also the sort to use words before fists, but he is quite apt at both, so, yeah.)

At least, until he meets London.

London is … hmm. Honestly, she reminds me quite a bit of Evelyn from The Mummy movies. She’s smart, more book smart than street smart, but she has little experience in the world. She’s lived her entire life under the thumb of a man, (her father, her husband, then her father again) never really making choices for herself. Never being able to make choices for herself.

And that’s the thing that makes me love this series. Okay, I’m also a huge fan of the treasure hunter-esque (almost Indiana Jones) story line and wish I could find more books like this. But, really, what makes me love this book and the series and what made me excited/nervous after the first book is how equal the romance is.

London has been repressed her entire life and part of the reason she falls for Bennett is because he represents freedom. (That and his physique because, hello, lust at first sight. It’s not been long enough.) Often Bennett makes a remark and London can’t help but compare what he said to the things she’s heard from other men, the life he offers – one of her choice – versus what’s she’s lived before.

And, for me, that’s what I love in M/F historical romances and don’t find often enough. (This one takes place in 1875 on the Greek isles, btw.) I love the equality that Bennett offers London, the choices he represents and the fact that he only pushes her once but when he’s called on it, he immediately retreats. And I love watching London grow into her own, from someone that wants adventure desperately but thinks she’ll never get it, to a truly competent woman.

That being said, London’s father and her self-proclaimed suitor make me so angry because they are the sort to think that women are worth less than men, that women have to be protected from the world and themselves and – they’re sexist bigots and very much the sort that if you aren’t just like them (white British straight cis men) then you are less. I had to laugh at most of their scenes because you just know they will get their comeuppance from a woman (or two – the secondary romance was so cute) and a man (or two) that disagrees with their whole belief system.

4

Content Advisory: A few scattered curse words. Consensual sex. Sexist bigots being sexist bigots. (And one of them thinking rape-y thoughts.)

Double Review: Romancing the Inventor & Romancing the Werewolf by Gail Carriger

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These are the first (and, so far, only) two books in the Supernatural Society series of novella’s. Set in a steampunk alternative Victorian England where vampires, werewolves and ghosts are very much real, they feature LGBT+ romances. (Set in Carriger’s ‘Parasolverse’.)

Romancing the Inventor on Goodreads
Romancing the Werewolf on Goodreads

Romancing the Inventor

What one werewolf knew, the whole pack knew.
But they’d kept her secret, and now they were gone.
And vampires were perverted.
Or so she hoped.

Imogene is a little past her prime (long in the tooth, on the shelf, whatever you prefer) and her mother is starting to despair of every marrying her off. Imogene has had plenty of offers, plenty of men that want to marry her for she is uncommonly pretty. However, she is disinterested as she prefers women.

In an effort explore her preference, loose her innocence and figure out what’s wrong with her, she decides to join the vampires. (As, rumor has it, they are perverted.) What she doesn’t expect is to meet the lovely trouser wearing inventor indentured to the vampire hive, Genevieve Lefoux.

I’ll be honest, the major reason I’ve been so excited for this story is because I have adored Genevieve since her first introduction in the story. I adore her, and her romance was a little disappointing because this entire story is told from Imogene’s perspective. So, while we get plenty of moments of Genevieve appreciation, we also don’t get inside her head. (We do get to see her flustered though, and that has made me want to run away with her even more.)

Imogene is a real character. She is an innocent, but her thoughts definitely aren’t and, if she had her way, she wouldn’t be an innocent any more (because a lot of her thought’s are along the lines of ways to loose said innocence). She’s fairly practical and down to earth, but has a distressingly low opinion of herself. She also suffers from being too pretty.

Now, I know a lot of people will say that’s not a real flaw – and I agree that how it is usually done, it isn’t. But here, it is. Because, much like real life stories, bad things happen to Imogene because of her looks. She’s dismissed because someone pretty obviously cannot also be smart and, even worse, men want to take advantage of her because she is so pretty. Because of this, and her generally low station in society, some of the story is a little difficult.

4

Content Advisory: Scenes of physical abuse, mostly from a position of power, most of it sexual. Scenes that could easily be read as attempted rape. Threats of rape. (None of this between the main couple.) Consensual sex. (This is between the main couple. 😉

Romancing the Werewolf

It took a great deal of effort for a werewolf to have style. Getting naked once a month, ripping clothes constantly, and turning into a slavering beast was only the start of the afterlife’s many dandy challenges.

Twenty years ago, newly turned werewolf Alpha Biffy and Beta werewolf Professor Lyall spent a night of passion and comfort in each others arms. However, circumstances intruded and Lyall had to temporarily join another pack in reparation for a decision he made.

Now Lyall, recompense completed, has returned to London, to his pack, to his Alpha – but not everything is smooth sailing. Twenty years is a long time, even for immortals, and Biffy just took charge of the pack upon the previous Alpha’s retirement two months ago. Throw in a pack of werewolves adjusting to both a new Alpha and a new home, children being left on their doorstep and things are just complicated enough for both to wonder if friendship is all they’ll have.

Firstly, Lyall was always one of my favorite characters in this setting, so I was thrilled to see the first tentative get together between him and Biffy in Timeless and even more happy when I heard this book would finally give them some resolution. They are perfect for each other and I adore the way they work together and rely on each other.

Lyall is down-to-earth, calm, practical, a true Beta in ever sense of the word. Biffy is an atypical Alpha. He’s pretty, he likes fashion and was even planning on trying to be turned into a vampire before events transpired. They are very different, but so complementary – especially in that neither is the ‘usual’ rough-and-tumble sort of werewolf.

(Now, I honestly cannot read this book without comparing it to the previous one in the series because I read them back-to-back.)

Where this story wins out over the previous one for me, is three fold. This story has a plot beyond the couple getting together – a plot that we see resolution to and that affords ample opportunity for the typical Carriger insanity that she writes so well. (That was reasons one and two.) (And while Lyall is practical, he’s not as extremely normal as Imogene is, which was somewhat detrimental to Carriger’s writing style.)

The third reason is a case of major personal preference. I usually prefer a romance where we get to witness it through both characters. I like an alternating point of view. I like seeing what each person thinks of the other. (And, in truth, I prefer more than one perspective even if it’s not a romance.) Finally, while I’m not really a fan of the so-called ‘second chance’ romances, this one worked for me because they were never actually a couple before. (More like friends with benefits.)

5

Content Advisory: Briefly referenced past rape and physical abuse. Consensual sex.

While I find both these books (novella’s, but whatever) very nice additions to the ‘verse that Carriger has created, I’m not sure either work as an appropriate jumping on point. If you’re interested in the first published work, check out Soulless and if you’d prefer to read the series chronologically, try Etiquette & Espionage. (The former is more bodice ripper sexy while the latter is YA boarding (spy) school.)

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: Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan

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Hollow World is a standalone time traveling sci-fi with a utopian-esque world and the hapless modern man that gets thrown into it. (Kind of like a more aware Time Machine. And less depressing.)

Hollow World on Goodreads

Maybe if Pax were a woman he might have offered a hug or something, but Pax wasn’t a woman. The best a man could do for another man was pretend not to see. Only Pax wasn’t a man either.
Ellis was lost.

(Truthfully, Ellis is often lost.)

Ellis Rogers, just diagnosed with a terminal illness and told he has, at best, a year to live, does what any normal, sane, married man in his fifties would: he hops into the time machine he’s been building in his garage. Even knowing it’s going be a one-way trip, he’s hoping for a cure for his illness and sets the device for two hundred years in the future.

When he steps out of the milk-crate-and-minivan-cannibalized time machine, he’s surprised (and a little disappointed) to find himself not in a bustling metropolis of flying cars and gravity defying buildings, but an old-growth forest. Where Detroit used to be. Let’s just say that nothing about the future is quite what Ellis expected.

And the book isn’t quite what I expected. Even knowing the author’s other (fantasy) work, I still half expected a book that was dry and ponderous and, well, privileged. I can’t help it, I am ashamed to say that I expected Ellis to be ‘privileged cis white man 1.0’ – pretty much like the one from the original time machine story. And like Warren. *shudder* Oh, so much like Warren.

Ellis, actually, handles the whole thing – drastically changed earth, massively changed human culture – rather well. He’s a curious sort. He wanted to be an astronaut when he was younger and I can’t help but think that prepared him at least a little. He’s likable because he doesn’t dismiss the world. He doesn’t understand it, he misses his world, but he’s not going to say his world was better. He faces everything with a healthy dose of curiosity and – even if I was yelling at him for one awful decision he made – I liked him because of all that.

The other characters were a mix. Pax is absolutely wonderful, without a doubt my favorite in the book and definitely one of my favorite this year. The others weren’t so likable to me, but there was only one character I truly hated. (The evil, creepy villain, because yes, this story does have a villain that I wanted to kill in the worst way possible.)

I don’t really want to get into the world building because I don’t want to give out spoilers. Let’s just say that it was interesting and very believably handled. I could see the things happen that did, and I could see humanity reacting the way they did. Also, I have to add that the populace still speaks English. It’s a little changed, but I was so thrilled that there wasn’t a translation phase where we were left at sea.

This book takes a look at gender, love and individuality (and religion to an extent) and how much they matter – or don’t – in the grand scheme of being human. I’d tell you more, but, really, this is a book that it’s best to just go along with the ride and not know where it’ll end up.

5

Content Advisory: Some language/curse words. There’s a couple moderately described scenes of violence, a clinical description of a dead body and mentioned off-screen consensual maiming/body modifications. And a truly vile villain. Trust me, they deserve a special advisory all for themselves because I can’t imagine anyone that they won’t insult.

Review: Alice, the Player by A.W. Exley

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Alice, the Player is the sequel to Ella, the Slayer. Although this says book three, it is the direct continuation of Ella’s story. Book two is a side story prequel to the main tale that is not necessary to read second.

Alice, the Player on Goodreads
Ella, the Slayer on Goodreads
My Review of Ella, the Slayer

It wasn’t just the boys who liked to see stuff blow up, and it sounded far better than marking latitudes and longitudes on our maps.

This time around, we zombie-fy Alice in Wonderland. When Ella’s best friend Alice is kidnapped by newly turned queen Elizabeth, Ella travels with Seth to the underground hive to rescue her.

I can’t really comment on the retelling aspect this time, because I have never read Alice in Wonderland. There are a few specific notes that even I recognized, like croquet, and a few more direct references to the story.

There’s also several reveals about the vermin along the way that has Ella wondering if science or magic will explain them.

This series is so much fun. I like the slow revelations concerning the zombies. Even as they’re being killed, they’re being investigated and studied. I don’t usually deal with zombies much in the stuff I read or watch, but I love the way it seems like there’s actually going to be an explanation.

Ella and Seth are concerned as much – if not more – about how the vermin/Turned were created and why as they are will actually killing the individuals. It’s not just a case of ‘well, we have zombies…somehow’ and I really have high hopes for the answers in the finale.

But, for as much as I love that, the characters are what I really adore. Ella is great, she’s no meek, timid Cinderella. She’s tough, a strong fighter, will defend those she loves at any cost and for all that, she’s still very much a person. She gets sad and angry, she worries about romance. She’s a person, a teenage girl that was thrown into something she wasn’t prepared for and made the best of it she could.

It is so great seeing her and Seth work together, because they are true partners in this. Seth trusts her, relies on her, and even seems to appreciate her strength and abilities. She does the same for him, loving him more for the way he stands beside her, lets her do what she’s good at and they both know she can. (Seeing Ella with a flamethrower was priceless!)

This book also deals more with Alice and her boyfriend Frank. I think it was wonderful to see Alice come into her own and, while she’s not really a fighter, she has different strengths that she’s decided to use. I, much like Ella, don’t know if the relationship between Alice and Frank will stand the test it’s been put under, but it is nice to see a beta couple instead of a love triangle.

4

Content Advisory: About the same as the previous one, maybe a bit less. Let’s see, some violence, gore and moderately graphic descriptions of zombies as decomposing bodies. References to the use of flamethrowers in the war and thoughts/conversation on the effects on humans.

Review: Rose Point by M.C.A. Hogarth

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Rose Point is the second in spacefaring (with aliens!) sci-fi series Her Instruments by M.C.A. Hogarth that started with Earthrise. Earthrise eBook is free on Amazon.

Rose Point on Goodreads
Earthrise on Goodreads
Earthrise on Amazon

Reese gave chase because she hadn’t yet pursued a woman in a fluffy gown and that was no doubt a necessary part of her role in this farce.

As the second book in the series, we pick up where the first book ended – with the lovely crew of the Earthrise searching for a trade (as they are a merchant cargo ship) that will help keep them from sliding back into the red. (And a vacation destination wouldn’t go amiss, either.)

This time, the search takes them to a planet that breeds horses. Unfortunately, they are also locked in a civil war and when one of their crew is taken by the rebels, it changes the course of all their lives.

Honestly, I did not see coming the way the story changed. I thought I had a pretty good idea from the first book what type of sci-fi series this would be – but I was wrong. The plot in the first book that seemed a one-off adventure story, actually plays hugely into the big picture.

The plot this time around is tighter, but even a parts of the first book that seemed irrelevant, is important in this book. I highly recommend you start with the first in the series, but I think you’d probably be about to catch up in this book if you didn’t. (Why wouldn’t you though, because the first one is free!)

For me, as well done as the plot is, there’s two things that makes this series wonderful. The first is the world building. The author does a brilliant job of creating alien races. I am so tired of sci-fi books that are basically ‘humans IN SPACE’ and that’s it. In this book would have humans, as well as those that they genetically manipulated. I’m not a geneticist, but I’d say they took animal DNA and crossed it with human, to get, basically, a human/animal hybrid. There are also ‘true aliens’ – those that the humans had no part in the creation of.

The second thing, and this ties in with the first, is the characters. I adore them, but more than that, I love that they are so diverse. There is a seven person crew to the ship, and only one of them is human: Reese, our black lady captain. Everyone else is a non-human. And this fills my need of aliens in my sci-fi so well. And, I do especially love Reese because she’s this tough woman that loves books and has a monthly romance novel subscription.

There is also a blooming romance that is quite delightful to read about – and this is one of the few cases where a relationship doesn’t start out in romance in a series that I am happy to see it headed that way because these two characters bring out the best in each other.

5

Content Advisory: There’s an attempted rape (male on male) where the target was drugged. He plays a part in rescuing himself and it is not forgotten. His being attacked both changes the story as well as causes him to have some PTSD. There is also a bit of violence, blood and injuries that are not graphically described. And someone with the ability to kill people with their mind.

Review: Ella, the Slayer by A.W. Exley

Ella, the Slayer is the first in a young adult series. It features a retelling of Cinderella (with lots of little winks toward the tale) where Cinderella is a katana wielding zombie killer.

Ella, the Slayer on Goodreads

My position in the village was that simple. When you cannot face beheading the friend who turned up on your doorstep, even though they are salivating to take a bite from your succulent flesh, you summon the girl who carries the sword.

This book is so much fun.

It’s a katana wielding Cinderella that spends her time – after serving her ‘wicked step-mother’ – slaying the recently returned dead.

So, a lot of people died in the Spanish Flu pandemic, but it wasn’t the flu and they didn’t stay dead. Instead, they come back as ravening zombies that must bite the living to spread their infection.

In all this, we have Ella, the young daughter of a knight and a servant, that was raised by a doting father to learn to ride, shoot and swordfight as well as a boy. She takes it upon herself to protect her small village the best she can, with a blade, putting the undead to their final final rest.

There are so many things to adore about this book. I love the setting the author chose for it. It’s 1919, England, just after the end of World War One. This works so beautifully because for the first time, women went with a force into the workplace. So many men went to war that women were the ones responsible for keeping business and factories and homes running. While Ella takes a more active role, literally fighting to protect her village, it doesn’t seem as out of place as it could have at an earlier time.

I’m a huge fan of fairytale retellings. I love the way authors can take something well known – and I doubt there’s any fairytale as well known as Cinderella – and make it their own. And the author definitely did that here. While I’ve never really been a fan of the whole zombie thing, it works so beautifully here because of the dissonance. Who would have ever thought of Cinderella fighting zombies?

Ella herself is a normal girl – just one with a little more skills in fighting than most have and a very protective streak when it comes to her village. What’s more, she wants to be a normal girl. She yearns for the normal, happy life she lead before the war, when her father was still whole, before the dead rose again.

I really think that both the main characters, Ella and Seth, – the prince surrogate that’s actually a duke – have PTSD. One of the secondary characters is explicitly referred to as having ‘shell shock’ which was a term for a type of PTSD before that term was ever coined.

Beyond all that, I think my absolute favorite thing about this book is how Seth accepts Ella fighting alongside him. It’s obvious that he respects her and even likes her for her fighting abilities and her brains. He never once tries to keep her from fighting, just offers a shoulder and a hand if things get to be too much. And I love that.

5

Content Advisory: This book features a few very graphically descriptive scenes of decomposing corpses and some off-screen/alluded to nonconsensual body modification of a minor character. It is also quite violent, though not graphically so.