Looking Past the GHOSTS & ASHES–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a new M/M YA Sci-Fi adventure from F. T. Lukens. GHOSTS & ASHES is the sequel to the phenomenal THE STAR HOST, and should be read in order. This space opera features a technopathic boy trying to find his family a year after he’d been captured, tortured and escaped–and the military recruit who will sacrifice anything to keep him safe.

Catch an excerpt below and register to win a $25 GC or one of five ebooks.
About the book:
Three months have passed since the events of The Star Host, and Ren is living aboard the Star Stream under the watchful eyes of the Phoenix Corps. Plagued by vivid nightmares that ravage the ship in his sleep, he struggles to prove he isn’t a threat and fears he has traded one captor for another. His relationship with Asher, whose efforts to balance his personal loyalty to Ren with his professional duties to the Corps are failing, fractures.

Adrift without an anchor, Ren must return to his home planet of Erden if he has any chance of reversing his dangerous descent into madness. There, he hopes search for his missing brother and salvage his relationship with Asher. What he nds is knowledge that puts everyone’s allegiance to the test.

How about a little taste?

Ren sighed. Asher wanted to talk, and Ren’s insides ached with a fierce loneliness he hadn’t experienced since the first night in the cell of the Baron’s citadel. He didn’t want Asher’s words or his pity. And he didn’t want to relive the details of the nightmare, which had sent him twisting in his sheets and crawling across the floor. The sense memories clung to him, like cobwebs whose phantom threads, fluttery and strange and stubborn, brushed against his skin. The strands were infinite; they touched the deep places of Ren’s consciousness and burrowed down to his marrow to pull out the things that terrified him most.
He didn’t want to share the nightmare, but Asher’s flat countenance and sure gaze couldn’t hide his worry. It flashed in his eyes and ran in shaky tremors down the length of his crossed arms, as if he hugged himself to keep in his concerns and not as a defense to reflect whatever Ren had to throw at him.
Ren bent his knees, propped his arm up, and allowed his fingertips to dangle. Sweat flattened his hair against his temples. He regarded Asher coolly as Asher sat on the edge of Ren’s bunk.
“Do you remember when we went dancing?”
Asher blinked at the non-sequitur. “On Mykonos?”
Rowan had taken them dancing in a place with loud music and rotating lights. The beat had vibrated through Ren’s boots. “I had never been dancing like that before.”
Asher raised an eyebrow. “You weren’t bad. Well, not as bad as Jakob.”
“I liked the slow dance.” Asher had grabbed Ren in his arms and pulled him to the dance floor. They’d laughed and moved and all Ren’s worries had dissolved in happiness and the rhythm of the music. “I liked being with you. With the crew. I miss that.”
“We’re here now, Ren.”
He shook his head. “No. You’re not. It’s different now.”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
Ren looked away.
“Ren, you’re not okay,” he said flatly.
“No. I’m not, but I didn’t feel like broadcasting it.”
“It’s a little late for that,” Asher said softly. Ren’s stomach twisted. Asher had all but confirmed his latest nightmare had played on the vid screens. The crew had seen what Ren couldn’t remember, didn’t want to remember. “You’re getting worse. And they know it.”
Ren twisted his lips. “I’m aware the crew already knows. Pen can’t lie for anything.”
“Not them. The Corps.”
Ren rested his head on his knees. “You told her. You threw me to the wolves.”
“I had to.”
“Why? Do you want me to leave? Be locked away?”
“Stars, Ren. You know I don’t want that.”
“I don’t know what you want, to be honest. I don’t understand why you hold allegiance to them at all.”
“Because I have to. I promised five years.”
“You and your promises,” Ren said bitterly. That was loyalty Ren couldn’t understand, not after what the Corps had done to Asher, not after having left him for a year to rot in a cell on what they called a backwater planet. But Ren was beginning to realize there were things he would never understand and maybe wasn’t meant to.
“And I promised I’d keep you safe. Any way I could. This is the only way. Don’t you understand that?”
Ren felt the slight touch of Asher’s fingertips across the back of his hand. His star sparked and sought out the mechanism in Asher’s shoulder instinctually.
Asher shivered.
“There’s a fine line between safety and captivity.”

My Review:
This is the second book in a series and best enjoyed when read in order.

Ren is a star host, a person who can control technology using his mind. He has the ability to mentally fuse with any electrical gadget, no matter how big or small, and can fix most any broken appliance with a touch. In the first book, he had been captured and tortured for this ability, as Baron Vos sought to bend Ren to his control as a weapon. Ren joined with Asher, a captive member of Phoenix Corps–a form of galactic police–and they escaped the Baron’s fortress. That was just the beginning of their saga, which I’ve described in my review.

Now, however, Ren adn Asher are struggling yet again. Phoenix Corps are directly monitoring Ren’s mental and emotional state with daily reports to assess if he’s a threat. Star hosts are notorious for bonding with their machines and losing humanity altogether. It’s not been easy for Ren to stay in his body when the Star Stream, his host ship, is calling out for his loving touch. Asher has pulled away, Ren believes, and Ren can’t sleep or eat. He’s on the verge of cracking when Asher confesses Ren’s instability and urges hsi commanding officer to allow Ren to return to his home planet to get a break from teh tech surrounding him. THis is Ren’s deepest wish, too. TO investigate the fate of his parents and brother–lost to him a year ago when he was captured.

Life on Erden isn’t what it had been. Ren’s humble village had been destroyed–by the Phoenix Corps, searching for Ren and other star hosts. It’s only one stage in a centuries-long battle Ren soon learns. And it makes him even more frustrated with Asher’s devotion to their service. Still, being on the planet does help Ren return to his humanity–though it’s short-lived. Ren’s mission to find his missing brother, Liam, brings them right into Phoenix Corps deadly sights, and their quest reunites Ren and Asher with their previous captors. Only this time, Baron Vos isn’t the only enemy to fear.

The pace of the story is excellent. Ren’s confusion and struggle to remain human is easy to understand. His hurt over Asher’s decisions, and coldness, is palpable. Their trust has been broken, but they still need to rely on one another to survive each challenge–and it gets really challenging. The sci-fi elements are engaging and accessible, even for people who don’t enjoy sci-fi, per se. Asher and Ren are a couple, to a degree, and there is a little bit of kissing and connection, but nothing to even blush over. This book is all about the action, and Ren’s quest to live as normal a life as possible as a star host. He’s convinced his brother is being held captive–confirmed by telepathic communication–and Ren is going to rescue Liam no matter what. Even if Asher stands against him. That’s an admirable stand, and Ren’s an admirable young man. Asher’s motives are often int he shadows, but his intent is to protect Ren, even from Ren’s instincts. The conflict is high, and the stakes are life/death/freedom, so it’s pretty intense.

Do not expect this story to end with this book. We are on a long story arc that leads Ren on many adventures. I liked where this ended, and I’m anxious to get the next book in the series. Highly recommend to folks who like sci-fi, and readers who want diverse characters.

Interested? You can find GHOSTS & ASHES on Goodreads, Goodreads, Interlude Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, Book Depository, IndieBound and Google Play.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 GC from Interlude Press or an ebook of GHOSTS & ASHES.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
F.T. wrote her first short story when she was in third grade and her love of writing continued from there. After placing in the top five out of ten thousand entries in a writing contest, she knew it was time to dive in and try her hand at writing a novel.

A wife and mother of three, F.T. holds degrees in psychology and English literature, and is a long-time member of her college’s science-fiction club. F.T. has a love of cheesy television shows, superhero movies, and science-fiction novels—especially anything by Douglas Adams.

Connect with F.T. on her website, Twitter, Tumblr and on Goodreads.

Tough Life For a DO GOODER–A Review


Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for an intriguing YA adventure from j. leigh bailey. DO GOODER features two gay teens in big trouble in Central Africa. I’ve loved the new adult M/M romances I’ve read from this author, including FIGHT TO FORGIVE and RECKLESS HOPE, so I plucked this one out of my queue for a TBR Thursday feature.

About the book:
No good deed goes unpunished, and for seventeen-year-old Isaiah Martin, that’s certainly the case. The gun he was caught with wasn’t even his, for God’s sake. He only had it to keep a friend from doing something stupid. No one wants to hear it though, and Isaiah is banished—or so it seems to him—to live with his missionary father in politically conflicted Cameroon, Africa.

However, when he arrives, his father is so busy doing his good deeds that he sends Henry, the young, surprisingly hot do-gooder with a mysterious past, to pick up Isaiah and keep him out of trouble. Even while Isaiah is counting down the days until he can go home, he and Henry get caught in the political unrest of the region. Kidnapped by militant forces, the two have to work together to survive until they are rescued—unless they manage to find a way to save each other first.

My Review:
Isaiah Martin is a high school senior at a private school in Wisconsin when he tries to help a friend in dire need. His best friend is having severe home troubles, and Isaiah finds her near school with a gun in her lap–Isaiah tries to remove it and gets arrested for possession. His mother, a high powered attorney, gets his arrest expunged for probation as long as Isaiah spends the summer volunteering with his missionary physician father in Cameroon, Africa.

Isaiah isn’t thrilled with the idea, mostly because he hasn’t even heard from his father in the nine years since he and his mother moved back to the States. And, he’s really not happy when his dad can’t even make it to the airport to pick him up. Instead, Isaiah is collected by Henry, and young and attractive man who’s been working at the mission for a couple years. Isaiah is sullen and petulant, and the ride to the mission is two days long and arduous–including a stopover for fresh medical supplies.

There is some level of bonding as these two spend a day and night together, but it gets serious when Isaiah, a diabetic, struggles with his insulin pump–and Henry gets bitten by a venomous snake. Oh, and when the armed guerillas take them captive in an effort to locate components of a chemical weapon? Yeah, that really kicks this adventure into high gear.

DO GOODER was an engaging YA adventure, with openly gay characters caught in a high stakes plot. It felt very well-researched, and had elements of suspense that far surpassed the critical zone. Isaiah is literally slowly dying from DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) over the course of their imprisonment. Trusted friends are slaughtered, and it seems like only one–if either–of these boys will make it out alive. The anguish Isaiah feels because of his father’s political ties is extreme, and Henry’s self-sacrificing activity is more than a little harrowing. I really enjoyed how close these kids bonded, though the book is sexually-innocent, and ached for both of them when “rescue” comes to pass. It was a little hard to follow the timeline, because Isaiah is the narrator, and he’s overcome by disorientation that accompanies DKA. That said, the confusion gave an authentic feel to the point-of-view and kept the tension high.

Interested? You can find DO GOODER on Goodreads, Amazon, Harmony Ink, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iTunes. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the author:
j. leigh bailey is an office drone by day and the author of New Adult and Young Adult LGBT Romance by night. She can usually be found with her nose in a book or pressed up against her computer monitor. A book-a-day reading habit sometimes gets in the way of… well, everything…but some habits aren’t worth breaking. She’s been reading romance novels since she was ten years old. The last twenty years or so have not changed her voracious appetite for stories of romance, relationships and achieving that vitally important Happy Ever After. She’s a firm believer that everyone, no matter their gender, age, sexual orientation or paranormal affiliation deserves a happy ending.

She wrote her first story at seven, which was, unbeknownst to her at the time, a charming piece of fan-fiction in which Superman battled (and defeated, of course) the nefarious X Luther. She was quite put out to be told, years later, that the character’s name was actually Lex. Her second masterpiece should have been a best-seller, but the action-packed tale of rescuing her little brother from an alligator attack in the marshes of Florida collected dust for years under the bed instead of gaining critical acclaim.

Now she writes New Adult and Young Adult LGBT Romance novels about boys traversing the crazy world of love, relationships and acceptance.

You can find j. leigh online on Facebook, her Facebook Author Page, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Thanks for popping, and keep reading my friends!

Cephalopod Coffeehouse February 2017: A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL–A Review

0ed81-coffeehouseHi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

This month, I’m recommending Eric Lindstrom’s A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL, a newly-published YA adventure through bipolar disorder. Having read and LOVED his debut, NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST, (featuring a blind protagonist) I’m really enjoying Mr. Lindstrom’s ability to bring marginalized characters to the page in living color.

tragic-wonderfulAbout the book:
For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

My Review:
This is a contemporary YA novel about a character with severe bipolar disorder still learning how to cope with the ups and downs of her emotional world.

Mel Hannigan is a seventeen year old girl struggling through her days with a newly (one year) diagnosed bipolar disorder. Her elder brother, Nolan, also suffered this disease, as does her Aunt Joan–who they all call HJ or “Hurricane Joan.” Nolan, who we only meet in flashback, died four years ago–in an accident that stemmed from his mania. Since his tragic death, her parents have divorced and Mel lives with her mother and HJ. She’d also lived with her grandmother, but she died a year ago after a battle with stomach cancer.

Mel works in the Silver Sands, the same nursing home where her grandmother spent her final days. It’s a touchstone place, for her, where she has many friends among the residents, including Dr. Jordan–a retired psychiatrist. He helped “diagnose” Mel before she had her first manic episode–and subsequent crash–just over a year ago, now. At that time, Mel was having a break with her group of friends, losing Annie, Conner and Zumi when she backed away following a fight and power play which coincided with an inpatient stay for treatment of her mental issues. Now she balances a cocktail of prescriptions designed to keep her moods even, and has two close-ish friends Holly and Declan, who brought her school work home over the period of her long absence and recovery–which everyone believes was for mono and bronchitis, not bipolar disorder.

When the book picks up, Annie has inexplicably reached out to leave behind childhood relics with Mel for Conner and Zumi–mementos of their friendship–because Annie’s family is moving to Paris and she doesn’t want to confront either Conner or Zumi regarding this life change. Turns out Annie isn’t a nice person, and Zumi was desperately crushing on her. Mel knows it will break Zumi’s heart, and the stress is fracturing her grip on her moods. Right about then, Mel meets David, grandson of one of the elderly residents at Silver Sands, and they strike a cautious friendship–which could lead to more. They both seem to want this, but Mel is reluctant because she doesn’t think she–the gal with the broken brain–is really worthy of love. Surely someone “normal” is better suited for everyone. Just look at HJ! She’s the life of the party and pretty, but no man will settle down with her.

Okay, so, being in the mind of a person with a mental condition like bipolar disorder is never easy. There are bouts of mania and depression, and episodes of disordered thinking and obsessive-compulsive behavior. That’s not all of the book, but those moments exist and they ramp the tension up high as we’re not quite sure where Mel will go, or what she will do, when she’s manic, or obsessive. She does a LOT of checking in with her body and mind, and talking to responsible adults about her mental well-being, with is fantastic. Her aunt’s not a great influence, because she’s sure that Mel’s missing out on life, doped up and quelled by medication. Joan is currently unmedicated, but her strong personality doesn’t sway Mel from her chosen course to medicate–because she knows how things can go tragically wrong for someone like herself–like Nolan–when there’s no meds on board. And, unfortunately, in her periods of mania she sometimes misses doses, leading to a downward spiral that results in another bad episode.

I really liked this book because it didn’t feel varnished. It was a challenge, however, to keep up with Mel, and I think I’d have liked more information about Nolan up-front. That said, going along the winding path and following Mel into the rabbit hole of her racing mind was eye-opening. Having dealt with emotional wellness issues in myself and close family members for decades now, it was a journey I’m familiar with, and felt resonated off the page. Mental illness is never an easy read, but Mel’s upbeat and committed choice for medical care was refreshing. I really appreciated the rich support network that assisted Mel, and how her fears of being abandoned once people learned her real “illness” weren’t reinforced.

There’s a hint of romance, but it’s not the focus. Instead, the real-life dramas of friendships dissolving and new ones forming are the center of the book. These stressors are common for teens, which provides the context for grasping Mel’s underlying medical problems, and makes her reaction to those stressors accessible, even in their extremes.

Interested? You can find A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Thanks for popping in, and be sure to check out the book-of-the-month recommendations from my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers…

Caught In The Magic: FROSTBLOOD, A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new YA fantasy from Elly Blake. FROSTBLOOD is the first book in a series set in a world where some are born to wield flame or frost–and the Firebloods, like 17 year old Ruby, have been hunted to near extinction. Why would she ever agree to help the Frostbloods do anything?

Oh, right, to kill the merciless Frostblood king….

frost-bloodAbout the book:
The frost king will burn.
Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has concealed her powers of heat and flame from the cruel Frostblood ruling class her entire life. But when her mother is killed trying to protect her, and rebel Frostbloods demand her help to overthrow their bloodthirsty king, she agrees to come out of hiding, desperate to have her revenge.

Despite her unpredictable abilities, Ruby trains with the rebels and the infuriating—yet irresistible—Arcus, who seems to think of her as nothing more than a weapon. But before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to compete in the king’s tournaments that pit Fireblood prisoners against Frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her—and from the icy young man she has come to love.

My Review:
Ruby is a teen girl unsure how to manage the demands of her Fireblood heritage in a land where being a Fireblood is a death sentence in itself. Born with the ability to wield fire from her hands, she must release some of this power now and then or she feels pent-up and unstable. She always hides deep in the woods outside their remote village to test and release her fire magic, but the day comes when the Frostblood King’s soldiers find her and burn their village for daring to “harbor” a Fireblood. They also kill her mother right before Ruby’s eyes.

She’s imprisoned, kept in a state of complete damp and cold to douse her flames, and starved nearly to death, only to be rescued by a Frostblood master, Brother Thistle, and his protector, Arcus. They vow to save her if she will help them kill the king–and that’s a bargain Ruby’s all too eager to make.

Safely ensconced in an abbey to Fors, the god of Frost, Ruby is trained by Brother Thistle in the safe wielding of her flames, and by Arcus in hand-to-hand combat and swordsmanship. Not all the monks are in favor of keeping a Fireblood nearby, however, and view Ruby’s training as traitorous to the throne. Over time, Ruby and Arcus develop a camaraderie that slides into attraction. She’s there for several months, as the attack on the king is planned for the summer solstice, the time when Ruby’s fire magic will be naturally at it’s zenith. But, she’s frustrated when she learns that the total plan isn’t necessarily to kill the king. It turns out that his ice throne, fashioned by Fors a thousand years before, has been corrupted by dark magic, and Thistle and Arcus believe that darkness has inflicted a madness on the king. Perhaps if Ruby melts the throne, she can restore sanity to the king, who can then call off the hunt for Firebloods.

Ruby isn’t in love with this plan, and feels vengeance is hers to claim–but she’s captured by the king’s soldiers before she and Arcus can mount their siege. Being a Fireblood, Ruby is pressed into the King’s gladiatorial entertainment, fully expected to be killed in her first event. When she wins–aided by magic that isn’t hers–Ruby knows she’s living on borrowed time. If only she can get her flames on the King’s throne before her life is snuffed.

For a fantasy, I really found the realistic development of Ruby as a heroine to be excellent. She’s not a quick study. She gets frustrated. She makes mistakes that harm her, and those around her, but she’s valiant and determined. Ruby wants to be useful, wants to help herself and all the Firebloods, and Brother Thistle is a patient teacher she wants to please. Arcus is moody and mean-spirited at times, pushing and prodding Ruby to get her off-center. He knows the kind of battles she’ll face if they can get her into the King’s court, and his tough-love approach felt realistic, as well. Her experiences in the King’s court are filled with intrigues, humiliation, and brutality. She’s forced to meet her mother’s killer many times, even in battle, and Ruby has to keep her wits clear to keep herself alive. The magic that afflicts the King is in play throughout the court–and Ruby’s not immune. She has the opportunity to embrace this power, and change her place in the world dramatically, but her deep rapport with Thistle and Arcus keep her grounded in a way she hadn’t expected. The worldbuilding is really good, with scenes that are fleshed out and a menacing tone imbued throughout the prose. The juxtaposition of ice and fire was a constant theme, and related not just their powers but also the emotional landscape of the players: hot-headed Ruby has burning passions, while Thistle and Arcus are cool, collected and calculating.

The love story that develops between Ruby and Arcus is quiet, with only a few moments of acknowledgment before the climax. It seemed a natural progression of their time spent together–from wariness to acknowledgement, to friendship, esteem and eventually attraction. Arcus has a dark history, and his desire to destroy the throne is tied to his intimate knowledge of the king and the monarchy. I was happy that my suspicions regarding his heritage were accurate. I liked the rawness of the experiences that Ruby endures, and how her personal tragedies help forge her into a warrior ready to save herself and those she loves. This book is slated as the first in a series, and ends in a way that completes the initial story arc. There is no cliffhanger, and I expect the next book will have a whole new set of troubles for Ruby to solve–with Arcus at her side.

Interested? You can find FROSTBLOOD on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Elly Blake loves fairy tales, old houses, and owls. After earning a BA in English literature, she held a series of seemingly random jobs, including project manager, customs clerk, graphic designer, reporter for a local business magazine, and library assistant. She lives in Southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and a Siberian Husky mix who definitely shows Frostblood tendencies.

You can catch up with Elly on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Royal Romance for THIRD DAUGHTER–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a YA fantasy/adventure/romance that I just adore from Susan Kaye Quinn. THIRD DAUGHTER is the first book in a series that follows the path of a young princess who’s determined to save her country from war, and marry the love of her heart. It’s a sweet series and, with THIRD DAUGHTER currently FREE in ebook form on Amazon, it’s a great way to get started. I’ve read and LOVED both SECOND DAUGHTER and FIRST DAUGHTER, which continue this adventure and love story to completion.

third-daughterAbout the book:
Sneaking out of the palace wasn’t one of Aniri’s best ideas.
But she’s the Third Daughter of the Queen of Dharia—zero responsibilities and zero royal duties. She’s just the backup daughter, in case her older sisters’ arranged marriages—to take the crown or broker an alliance—don’t quite work out. But once Aniri reaches her 18th birthday, she’ll be truly free, and then she can marry the charming fencing instructor she meets for fevered kisses in the forest.

But then the impossible happens—a marriage proposal. From a barbarian prince in the north, no less. And if Aniri refuses, the threat of their new flying weapon might bring war.

So she agrees to the young prince’s proposal, but only as a subterfuge to spy on him, find the weapon, and hopefully avoid both war and an arranged marriage to a man she doesn’t love. But once she arrives in the sweeping mountains of the north, she discovers the prince has his own secrets… and saving her country may end up breaking her heart.

This Bollywood-style royal romance takes you to an alternate East Indian world filled with skyships, saber duels, and lots of royal intrigue.

How about a little taste?

“I love you, Aniri,” Devesh whispered.

When he pulled back, she smiled. “I hate to tell you this, Dev, but I already knew that.”

“If you go off with this Prince Malik, and anything happens to you, the Queen may dispense an army to come after you, but I will beat them there.”

Aniri drew in a shaky breath. Prince Malik said he would allow her a lover, even though arranged marriages were expected to be true marriages, especially among royalty. But could she live that kind of life? A secret love on the side while performing the duties of Queen in a foreign land? The idea made her shudder. It pained her every day her love for Devesh was kept hidden. She couldn’t imagine a lifetime of it. Nor could she picture Devesh, with his love of the court and all things political, banished to the frozen wastelands of the north simply to be her consort.

He must have seen the emotions warring across her face. “Tell him no, Aniri. Refuse him and come away with me. We could leave today.”

“Dev—”

He cut her off with a kiss. “We could return to Samir,” he whispered against her lips. “We won’t be rich, but we could travel anywhere you wished, all the places your father would have taken you. We would have all the time in the world. To be together. To learn the truth about your father’s killers. To make a family of our own.”

It was precisely what they had planned. Now it all seemed like a hopeless fantasy. “Dev, I can’t simply abandon my country. If I refuse Malik, and there is war to pay, I cannot just run away… Is this the confidence you wanted to tell me?”

Devesh looked torn, like there was something more he wanted to say but was holding it back. “I cannot offer you a Queendom, Aniri. My love is all I can promise. I hope it is enough to convince you to refuse Prince Malik’s offer.”

He stepped back, and with clasped hands and a short bow, he turned and strode away. Her heart tried to beat its way out of her chest to follow him. If she accepted Prince Malik’s offer, she would lose the man she loved.

Unlike the Jungali prince, she wasn’t sure that was a price she was willing to pay.

My Review:
If you had to marry for love or marry for peace, what would you choose? That’s the question facing Princess Aniri, Third Daughter to the Queen of Dharia.

It’s two weeks until Aniri turns eighteen and can choose to marry her beau–Devesh, a courtesan and emissary from Samir, a neighboring nation and trade partner. Her two older sisters have already married men that complement their station, even when love is not present, and Aniri is determined to follow her heart, not her duty.

Especially when her duty involves marrying Prince Malik, heir to the throne of the barbarous northern Jungali provinces. No. No! NO!

Except, Aniri knows she can’t decline outright–and rumors of a Jungali airship weapon are serious indeed. If Aniri accepts the prince’s proposal she can get close enough to find out if the airship is real–and maybe she can help her homeland and her mother’s Queendom figure out how to avoid a war.

Prince Malik makes it easy on Aniri–he tells her their marriage would be one of business. That she could (discreetly) take a lover if she wished. Hmm… And her mother, the Queen, assures her that the choice is hers.

Aniri does what she must–becomes a spy. I loved her reactions to the “barbarians” she encounters on her journey north! Oh, how sweet to have her realize, “Hey, they’re pretty awesome in their own way!” Then Devesh shows up and tells her the airship is a ruse–a trick to get her to marry Malik. After which she will be killed and her beloved country Dharia overrun by Samir and Jungali. Aniri doesn’t know whom to believe, and espionage is not her strong suit. The political intrigue is high and Aniri barely escapes an attempt on her life.

The tension is fierce throughout. Each new chapter brings Aniri closer to either love, or death. We get a fantastic steampunk world, with an East Indian flair, and a strong female main character who picks up the ball and runs her hardest. Even when she fumbles, Aniri is worthy of cheers because she learns from her mistakes and never quits.

What I hadn’t expected, and thoroughly adored, was Malik’s assistance. He realizes his only shot at peace is this marriage, and he’s willing to trust a confessed spy with the biggest military secret of his country. Aniri could never have learned what was necessary to save her people without Malik earning her forever trust. And Devesh? Well, perhaps an on-the-side lover isn’t the best place for him in the Jungali court. In the end, Aniri does choose her own husband. And she chooses very well indeed.

Three words to describe this Third Daughter? Indomitable. Passionate. Resourceful. She’s my kind of heroine.

And, can I say the cover is exquisite? The internal art (chapter headings and section breaks) is just as lovely, and speaks volumes about the care that went into making this book. I absolutely LOVED it, and would recommend it to any YA reader. Its smidgen of passion–some swoony kisses–won’t make you blush, but will get your heart beating.

Interested? You can find THIRD DAUGHTER at Goodreads, it’s currently FREE on Amazon, and on paperback through Barnes & Noble.

About the Author:
Susan Kaye Quinn is a rocket scientist turned speculative fiction author who now uses her PhD to invent cool stuff in books. Her works range from young adult science fiction to adult future-noir, with side trips into steampunk and middle grade fantasy. Her bestselling novels and short stories have been optioned for Virtual Reality, translated into German, and featured in several anthologies.

She writes full-time from Chicago, inventing mind powers and dreaming of the Singularity. You can find out what she’s up to by subscribing to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!).

Catch up with Susan on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Cephalopod Coffeehouse Dec 2016- GRAIL- A Review

0ed81-coffeehouseHi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

This month I’m sharing a review for the third book in the Le Fay series by Realm Lovejoy. GRAIL follows Morgan Le Fay, a fire-throwing soldier for a modern-day Camelot. This book really needs to be read after HENGE and SWORD for it to make sense.

grailAbout the book:
A hero has fallen, and darkness threatens a splintered Camelot. In the midst of turmoil, the last hope for the kingdom is Morgan le Fay. Morgan is both feared and revered . . . and currently in prison for treason.

In the wake of King Uther’s tragic death, the wicked Mordred is closing in on young King Arthur, and the boy king turns to Morgan for help. Freed from her imprisonment through his order, Morgan searches for a way to protect him. But she is still an outcast, and no one believes her suspicions about Mordred.

To save King Arthur, Morgan must reach the greatest Royal Relic in the world—the Grail—before Mordred does. It’s a journey that will challenge her in ways she’s never been challenged before. Traveling deep into a land of darkness, she will need to overcome the ghosts of her past to find her true power.

Can Morgan defeat Mordred and save King Arthur? And this time, can she defend Camelot without destroying herself?

My Review:
Morgan Le Fay is an eighteen year old girl who’d dreamed of being a member of Arthur’s Round, an elite fighting force that would counsel and protect Arthur Pendragon when he became king. This is a contemporary society where magic exists, and Camelot is real. Unfortunately, the Pendragon family is under attack by the Luminaries, an extremist group that wants magic to be out in the open, unconstrained by law. The Luminaries tried to kill Morgan and young Arthur in HENGE and again in SWORD. Morgan is, to her credit, a steadfast girl. She’s unorthodox, because she refuses to let Arthur come to harm–and believes that people close to him, namely Mordred, are aligned with the Luminaries.

Still, her behavior is erratic and dangerous, in the eyes of the court, and she’d been sentenced to death for treason for kidnapping Arthur before his enemies could. Without Morgan, Arthur would have been struck down before he even gained his magic. Of course, in forcing Arthur to find Excalibur, Morgan learned a very difficult truth about her heritage–and her relationship to Arthur.

She’s been imprisoned to keep that secret safe, and also, because no one can fully prove, or disprove, her involvement in Arthur’s father’s untimely death. Lancelot is on her side, however, and when Morgan is sentenced to a life of magicless servitude, he bargains for her release into the Grey Knights. It’s not fantastic, but it’s not scrubbing toilets either. But, Arthur needs Morgan more than ever, now that he’s fifteen and bearing the weight of the crown. He’s borderline suicidal, and Mordred’s machinations haven’t ceased. When Arthur goes missing, it’s up to Morgan–who’s blood is tied to Arthur’s–to head up the rescue mission, and perhaps save her dear friendship with a jaded Merlin.

Morgan was my kick-ass heroine of 2015, and she’s back this year with another rollicking adventure. She’s more subdued, however, feeling the full-weight of her crimes, and newly-discovered paternity. She’s devoted to Arthur, but her efforts to assist him only lead her into more trouble. Morgan, Lancelot and Merlin have a complicated relationship, with Merlin–who had been completely infatuated–spurning her, while flirty Lancelot is willing to stick his neck out to make her punishment lessened. Merlin comes off as a real whiny dude, making my esteem drop, while Lancelot’s a steady man, unafraid to be a hero. The adventure to find Arthur is perilous and pushes Morgan to her very limits. She never quits. I just love that about her. She may be down, but it’s always a temporary situation, because her shrewd intellect is always looking for the next opportunity to rise again. By the end, she’s not only saved the day, she’s saved herself. And that’s totally cool. She has romantic feelings for both Lancelot and Merlin, but this doesn’t become a love triangle scenario. There are too many hurt feelings to have any real romance. Plus, Morgan’s life is not her own for a great deal of the book. She does her best to mend rifts, and it seems she manages to do this quite well. I’m eager to get the next book in this series.

Interested? You can find GRAIL on Goodreads and Amazon.

Thanks for popping in! Be sure to check out the reviews of my fellow Coffeehouse bloggers. And, keep reading my friends!

Flying High With FLIP THE BIRD–Review & Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review  for a “flighty” contemporary YA romance from Kym Brunner. FLIP THE BIRD pits a young falconer against a fledgling animal rights activist–and the feathers are sure to fly! (Okay, okay. I’ll stop with the puns already!) I’ve already reviewed two of Kym’s previous titles: WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE, a contemporary Bonnie and Clyde paranormal romance and ONE SMART COOKIE, a fun ethnic YA Romance. So, I couldn’t wait to read FLIP THE BIRD.

Scroll down to get in on the book giveaway below.

FLIP-THE-BIRD-2About the book:
Mercer Buddie wants two things in this world: a girlfriend and the chance to prove to his master falconer father that he’s not a flake. With hunting season fast approaching, fourteen-year-old Mercer has only a short time to work with Flip, a red-tailed hawk he irreverently named to show his dad that falconers don’t have to be so serious all the time.

When Mercer meets Lucy, he falls hard for her gorgeous looks and bubbly personality. He thinks his love life is about to take flight, until he discovers that Lucy and her family belong to a fanatical animal-rights organization called HALT—a group that believes imposing any sort of restrictions on animals is a form of cruelty. Mercer soon realizes that if he wants to keep seeing Lucy, he’ll need to keep his love of falconry and his family’s raptor rehabilitation center a secret from her, and Lucy’s involvement with HALT from his family.

With humor and honesty, Mercer’s story shows how growing up means making difficult choices…and sometimes, being rewarded in unexpected ways.

My Review:
I absolutely devoured this YA contemporary romance.

Mercer Buddie is a high school freshman who’s still trying to get his bearings in his world. Originally from northern Wisconsin, his family moved two years ago to the northwest Illinois area so his mother could take a director job at a fictional Rockford college. His mother is a scientist, though Mercer has little interaction with her because of her long hours. He’s very close with his father, a bird expert and raptor rehabilitator. Raptors, for those who don’t know, are birds of prey, and have talons and hooked beaks–when I used to teach at Cal State Bakersfield, I had the opportunity to tour their Raptor Sanctuary many times. The Buddie Bird hospital and sanctuary in this book was very reminiscent of that. Mercer’s father rehabs injured birds, releases those who are able to survive on their own, while caring permanently disabled ones. Mercer and his elder brother, Lincoln, have both assisted in the care of the birds, and are falconers as a hobby. This means they humanely trap wild hawks and train them to hunt for them. It’s a hobby I’m not very familiar with, but I learned a lot about it in this book!

At age 14, Mercer is finally legally able to get a hunting license of his own, and to train his own bird. As the story opens, Mercer is on the hunt for his first bird–and he messes up by leaving his bait behind. He meets Lucy at a local pet store to buy a new mouse; she thinks Mercer is buying the mouse as a pet. Mercer’s so tongue-tied and captivated, he can’t get her out of his mind. He successfully traps a juvenile red-tailed hawk that is promptly named “Flip.” Mercer’s anxious about his bird-training skills, and hopeful he can train Flip well enough to compete for the Best Apprentice pin at the season opener falconry hunt in four weeks.

Mercer next meets Lucy in the most unlikely place: a protest at his mother’s college. Turns out Lucy’s parents are big in an animal rights organization called HALT, which wants all animal testing and use to be outlawed. Some members of this group have been arrested for destruction of labs, and Mercer witnesses them assaulting his mother. Still, seeing Lucy at school, he wants to know more about her–and he thinks pretending to be interested in her organization is one way to do so. He’s particularly shy, and wishes he was a buff ladies man like Lincoln.

The more Mercer interacts with Lucy, the more trouble he finds himself in, however. He’s lying to everyone about who he is; hiding his falconry from Lucy, hiding his HALT activities from his parents, and pretending to be a vegetarian so he can eat lunch with Lucy each day. Some of her fellow HALT members at school are even more keen on the protests than Lucy, and Mercer’s friends keep urging him to be himself–and not always so subtly.

As to be expected, the big reveal comes at the worst possible time in Mercer and Lucy’s budding romance. It seems like that might be the end, but it’s not…well, not exactly. Because Mercer’s family and their raptor sanctuary are now in the crosshairs of HALT, and that’s not a safe place to be. Mercer’s father had warned him of the dangers of this group, and it’s not idle words.

I don’t want to give away any more of the plot. Mercer proves himself time and again to be a kid who can’t separate his feelings. He likes Lucy, and he loves falconry, and his family, but he thinks he can have it all. Unfortunately, he just can’t. When it comes to the crisis, he’s honest and forthright and admirable. That said, that’s not his biggest challenge–and he’s a total boss in the face of the serious problems caused by HALT members’ recklessness. Also, he has the opportunity to continue his romance with Lucy, under less-than-ideal conditions and makes the right choice there, too. Through all this adversity, Mercer becomes a stronger kid, one unwilling to be pushed around by anyone, not friends or family. He recognizes the futility of pretending to be someone he isn’t only to make others happy, and this is an organic theme of the book, not something tacked on.

I really enjoyed all the falconry bits, and the sheer elation Mercer experienced in training Flip. His big showing at the opening hunt was so fun! Lots of good and “bad” humor. Mercer is a stand up guy, in his mind initially, but later in his actions. His brother Lincoln is a jerk and a bully, among other flaws, and Mercer does the right things, eventually, that actually end up getting his whole family to be more cognizant of their problems. I like his tattling sister, too.

Regarding HALT. Full disclosure: my education is in science, and I spent many years as an animal researcher. I’ve had many friends and family express conflicting opinions regarding the use of animals in scientific studies. I cannot begin to outline the restrictions and care that goes into certified animal research–there are so many. And while I respect the gains that animal rights activists have made in terms of ethical treatment of animals, I absolutely can’t condone violence and destruction of property in the name of “saving” animals. What is particularly troubling are people who do not understand the danger they create when they release animals who are unable to live free. The scenes in this book are fictional, but they are not created out of imagination. Like Mercer, readers will have to decide what the right choices are regarding animal welfare. As a scientist, I know that animal research is conducted as carefully as possible, with as few animals as is necessary to demonstrate accurate results to benefit humans and animals alike.

Compelling characters, a dynamic odd-couple YA romance, and interesting plot twists kept me reading this one long after I should have gone to bed. It’s a solid story about being true to who you are, finding the right relationships, and meeting your responsibilities head on.

Oh, and flipping the bird now and then.

Interested? You can find FLIP THE BIRD on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter Giveaway link for your chance to win one of three copies of FLIP THE BIRD (US only…)

Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Kym Brunner dreams entire novels in her head, but needs about a year to write it all down. She wishes there was an app for this. She’s addicted to chai tea, going to the movies, and reality TV. When she’s not reading or writing, Kym teaches 7th grade full time. Her article, Cracking Down on Multiple POVs: Surrender and Nobody Gets Hurt, appeared in Writer’s Digest online (July, 2014). She is the author of two traditionally published novels: a YA suspense-thriller, Wanted: Dead or In Love (Merit Press, 2014) and a YA humorous romance, One Smart Cookie (Omnific Publishing, 2014). She lives in the Chicago area with her family and her two trusty writing companions, a pair of Shih Tzus named Sophie and Kahlua.

You can find Kym online on her website, twitter, Facebook, or subscribe to her newsletter.