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.)

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.

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.

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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READ

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!

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.