Book Series Review: Age of Andinna, Kristen Banet – Book #1 – 4

Author: Kristen Banet
Series: Age of Andinna
Order: #1 – 4
Books In Series: The Gladiator’s Downfall, The Mercenary’s Bounty, The Warrior’s Assault, The Rebel’s Vision
Genre: Fantasy/Romance/Reverse Harem
Overall SPA: 5 Stars
5 Stars

 

 

Blurb – Book #1: She’s an Andinna. A member of the winged, horned, and tailed warrior race that the Elvasi Empire defeated in the Hundred Year War and then enslaved. She’s a slave, and has been one for a thousand years, the personal property of the Empress of the Elvasi Empire, since the end of the War. She’s a gladiator, thrown onto the sands of the Colosseum to die, though it backfired on those who wanted her dead. She’s the Champion of the Colosseum, and has been for roughly nine hundred years.

All of these things have marked her as an outcast among her own people. Hated, distrusted, and despised, she knows the name of her people, but not much else.

But she knows where she stands. Keeping her head down and her blades sharp has carried her this far, and she refuses to acknowledge the deepest wishes she holds in her heart. Those will only get her killed.

Alone, she’s stood against everything they have ever thrown at her, refusing to give them what they want.

What Mave doesn’t know is that it’s all about to change.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 5/5 Stars
World Building: 5/5 Stars
Uniqueness Factor: 4/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 5/5 Stars

It isn’t often that I will pick up books that fall into the reverse harem sub-genre and it is rare that I like them when I do as they tend to jump all over my peeve button for a variety of reasons. These are the first books I’ve read that fall into that sub-genre that I genuinely thought were excellent. I decided to take a chance on these as I’ve read several other books by this author that I’ve really enjoyed and I absolutely was not disappointed.

First and foremost is the incredibly well developed world building in these books. I found it fascinating and unique, giving the reader a lot of rich details and interesting concepts like the individual races of the different characters. While those races may be loosely based on some classic mythological beings like dragons and, very slightly, elves, they are their own unique beings set in their own unique world and not anything I’ve seen before.

One of the things that stands out for me is the fact that the main character, Mave, is absolutely fierce in every way. For once you get a mature female character that can easily stand on her own two feet and doesn’t need to be coddled. She is no simpering princess and takes no BS from anyone. She is a true survivor and an absolute badass. She also isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. She has a lot to deal with and overcome, but she does so by standing in front of it and facing it head on.

What came as a surprise in these books is that, while this is a reverse harem, it isn’t the main focus of the story and comes along slowly. If anything, this is just as much a series that focuses on finding family as it does on the romance. You also spend way more time on the action going on around the characters and the conflicts of the world around them than you do on most anything else. The romance and the family building are tightly woven through everything else giving you an incredibly well balanced story.

For those that really aren’t a fan of a lot of heavy steam, you won’t get that here. There are maybe one or two scenes in each book. They don’t go too heavy on the detail and don’t take up a lot of page space. They are easily skimmed or skipped if you really aren’t interested. For those that do like a lot, this could be a disappointment, but you still get some and there is enough amazing storytelling going on around it to make up for it.

This was such a surprising series and I’m a little amazed at how much I really ended up loving it. So much so, that this may have pushed this author into my auto buy group. The first to be added to that group in a really long time.

I do want to note that there are more than 4 books in this series. When I first considered picking these up, I saw a box set or collection available, so made the assumption that the series was finished. It is not and book 4 makes that beyond obvious as it leaves off at a place that is as close to a cliffhanger as you can get without actually being one. The next book in the series is due out in June 2020.

*Cover art and blurb are only for book #1.

 

Book Review: Shadow Valley – Gwen Hunter

Author: Gwen Hunter
Book Name: Shadow Valley
Release Date: March 4, 2015
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Romance
Overall SPA: 5 Stars
5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Mackenzie Morgan thinks she’s doing the right thing by taking her teenaged daughter, Bella, into the Appalachians on a photography shoot. Fleeing a crumbling marriage, Mac needs time to bond with her daughter and escape the betrayal that still leaves her numb. But when a drifter abducts Bella and carries her deep into the steep mountain woods, Mac must draw on her deepest reserves to fight for her daughter’s safe return.

When her soon-to-be ex-husband arrives, old wounds flare, and Mac turns to Caleb Howell, a local tracker, who helps keep her focused on the most important task: finding Bella. Then astonishing evidence comes to light that reveals the abduction was not as random as they first believed. As hours turn into days, Mac struggles to keep her hope—and her terrified daughter—alive.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 5/5 Stars
Believability: 5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 5/5 Stars

This was an intense, action packed read that I really did not want to put down once I picked it up. For those that love stories about how far a mother will go for her child, this is a great one to grab. While I’m kind of stuck on the short and sweet side of this review, that so isn’t what this book is. It was just a really great read that is worth the time to pick up.

Book Review: Suddenly Psychic, Glimmer Lake- Book #1

Author: Elizabeth Hunter
Book Name: Suddenly Psychic
Release Date: February 18, 2020
Series: Glimmer Lake
Order: #1
Genre: Paranormal/Women’s Fiction/Family Drama/Romance
Overall SPA: 5 Stars
5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Every woman goes through changes in their forties.
Just not… these changes.

Robin Brannon was a normal wife, mom, and antique shop owner until a brush with death turned her day-to-day life upside down. Now she and her two best friends are seeing things that belong in a fantasy novel. Ghosts. Visions. Omens of doom. Nothing that belongs in the peaceful mountain town they call home.

Added to that, Robin’s marriage is on the rocks, her grandmother’s health is failing, her mother is driving away the customers at her shop, her teenage daughter refuses to get her drivers’ license, and her left knee aches every darn morning.

Robin doesn’t have the time, energy, or knees to unearth the secrets buried at the bottom of Glimmer Lake, but fate doesn’t seem to care. Some secrets are just dying to be exposed.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 5/5 Stars
Uniqueness Factor: 4.5/5 Stars

Believability: 4.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 5/5 Stars

This is a beautiful mash up of some of my favorite genres all in one book. Top that with the main characters being mature, adult women (something that is rare in the paranormal genre) dealing with real life type issues associated with being that age along side the twist of the paranormal, toss it all with very real characters with sass, attitude and relatable flaws and this was nearly a perfect fit for me.

While the premise behind the three women and best friends, Robin, Monica, and Val, suddenly getting psychic abilities in their mid 40’s may be a bit far fetched, the author does an amazing job of selling it with the way she manages to blend it with real life.

The story is told from each of the three women’s perspectives, but falls more heavily on Robin’s perspective as she is the main character. That imbalance was unusual for me, but I really enjoyed how it helped the story flow and to get an idea of how each woman was dealing with the sudden changes. I adored the amazing, loving relationship between these three friends. It is the type of friendship most everyone would love to have in their life.

The romantic aspect of the story comes in a couple of different places, mainly in Robin’s relationship with her husband. How she is feeling in that relationship was so relatable to what many women, especially those that are also mothers, feel at some point. This just added to how much I liked her character.

This book made me laugh while connecting with the characters. Then topped it off with the kind of cry that is sad and happy at the same time. Since this is the first in a series, I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next book and probably digging into this authors back list as this was the first book I’ve read from them.

*This review was also published in Envie! Magazine’s April 2020 edition.

 

Book Review: Badger To The Bone, Honey Badger Chronicles – Book #3

Author: Shelly Laurenston
Book Name: Badger to the Bone
Release Date: March 31, 2020
Series: Honey Badger Chronicles
Order: #3
Genre: Urban/Fantasy/Romance/Humor
Overall SPA: 4.5 Stars
4.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: She’s the woman he’s been hired to kidnap. But ZeZé Vargas has other ideas . . . like getting them both out of this nightmare alive. Just one problem. She’s crazy. Certifiably. Because while he’s plotting their escape, the petite Asian beauty is plotting something much more deadly . . .

Max “Kill It Again” MacKilligan has no idea what one of her own is doing with all these criminal humans until she realizes that Zé has no idea who or what he is. Or exactly how much power he truly has.

But Max is more than happy to bring this handsome jaguar shifter into her world and show him everything he’s been missing out on. A move that might be the dumbest thing she’s ever done once she realizes how far her enemies will go to wipe her out. Too bad for them Zé is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her alive . . . and honey badgers are just so damn hard to kill!

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 4/5 Stars
Series Continuity/Expectations: 5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 4.5/5 Stars

I’m not even a little bit surprised that this was another win for me. I’ve really loved all the books from this world (this series and a couple of other interconnected series with some character overlaps) and this one is no exception. I’m just really glad that I wasn’t reading this when anyone was around or I probably would’ve had them convinced I was certifiable with all the snorts and outright belly laughs that burst out of me at random times.

The only real ding this gets from me is that the romantic line of this story isn’t quite a prominent as it is in most of the other books in this world. I would have really enjoyed more time with Max and Zé interacting, but their parts together are almost an afterthought to everything else that was going on.

It is because there is a whole lot of other stuff going on that this still manages to be an excellent book. This is an absolute recommend (along with pretty much every single other book in this world) for anyone that loves irreverent, snarky humor with a small side of steam.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: Heartsong, Green Creek – Book #3

Author: TJ Klune
Book Name: Heartsong
Release Date: October 22, 2019
Series: Green Creek
Order: #3
Genre: Paranormal/Urban/Romance/LGBTQIA
Overall SPA: 5 Stars
5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: All Robbie Fontaine ever wanted was a place to belong. After the death of his mother, he bounces around from pack to pack, forming temporary bonds to keep from turning feral. It’s enough—until he receives a summons from the wolf stronghold in Caswell, Maine.

Life as the trusted second to Michelle Hughes—the Alpha of all—and the cherished friend of a gentle old witch teaches Robbie what it means to be pack, to have a home.

But when a mission from Michelle sends Robbie into the field, he finds himself questioning where he belongs and everything he’s been told. Whispers of traitorous wolves and wild magic abound—but who are the traitors and who the betrayed?

More than anything, Robbie hungers for answers, because one of those alleged traitors is Kelly Bennett—the wolf who may be his mate.

The truth has a way of coming out. And when it does, everything will shatter.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 5/5 Stars
Series Continuity/Expectations: 4.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 5/5 Stars

I was utterly lost when I first started this. So much so, I even went back and reread the last couple of chapters of Ravensong, just to be sure I didn’t miss something or forgot something. I was so confused and frustrated and wondering what the hell was going on, verging on angry. Then, suddenly, I was like “Oh. OH! What the HELL did you do?!” I’m now convinced that TJ Klune is simply evil.

This entire book just kind of reaches in, grabs you by the heart and twists it until it is an unrecognizable mess. I was so torn by it all. I loved Robbie’s character in the previous books and this was so hard to read because… okay, I won’t say more or I’ll give too much away. But, it took a while for me to get back to that point. I kind of hated what happened in this book, but I loved the book anyway.

Then it had to go and end that way and it is way too damn long before the next and final book comes out. Like I said. TJ Klune is evil. And is why I had to ding at least one of my rating categories by a half a star, because that’s just wrong. Also why the next book is going on pre-order the second it is available.

 

 

Book Review: The Blacksmith Queen, The Scarred Earth Saga – Book #1

Author: G.A. Aiken
Book Name: The Blacksmith Queen
Release Date: August 27, 2019
Series: The Scarred Earth Saga
Order: #1
Genre: Fantasy/Romance/Humor
Overall SPA: 5 Stars
5 Stars

 

 

Blurb:  The Old King Is Dead
 
With the demise of the Old King, there’s a prophesy that a queen will ascend to the throne of the Black Hills. Bad news for the king’s sons, who are prepared to defend their birthright against all comers. But for blacksmith Keeley Smythe, war is great for business. Until it looks like the chosen queen will be Beatrix, her younger sister. Now it’s all Keeley can do to protect her family from the enraged royals.

Luckily, Keeley doesn’t have to fight alone. Because thundering to her aid comes a clan of kilt-wearing mountain warriors called the Amichai. Not the most socially adept group, but soldiers have never bothered Keeley, and rough, gruff Caid, actually seems to respect her. A good thing because the fierce warrior will be by her side for a much longer ride than any prophesy ever envisioned …

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 5/5 Stars
Believability: 5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 5/5 Stars

When I first saw this book was the start of a new series, I was a tiny bit concerned it wouldn’t follow what I’ve come to know and love about G.A. Aiken’s style. You never really know for sure what you’re getting into with a new series and the blurb doesn’t quite do this justice, falling on the more serious side. Fans of the Dragon Kin series will be happy to know this series is set in that same world. Though there isn’t any kind of crossover just yet, the potential is there for future books.

Everything I’ve always loved about a G.A. Aiken novel is in this one. All the over the top, effortlessly badass female characters. The phenomenal, irreverent snark and humor layered into those intensely grotesque battle scenes. I don’t know another author that can make me laugh so hard about someone getting their head smashed to a pulp. Those things really shouldn’t ever be funny, but because of the way she writes, I cannot read and drink anything at the same time.

I was really surprised this went the direction it did with Keeley’s and Beatrix’s relationship. At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but I really did. It felt different for this author (unless I’ve forgotten something or missed a book in the past) to go that route.

Even though this is the same world as the Dragon Kin series and you get to see similar beings (dragons, centaurs), they are still unique to the part of the world this book is founded in. So, while similar in setting and general feel, it still has the sense of newness that I thoroughly enjoyed. The next book in this series cannot come soon enough.

For those new to G.A. Aiken, no need to worry. You won’t feel lost. If you love a little magic, a wide range of interesting types of characters, battle scenes and lots of humor (the kind that gets everyone looking at you funny when you snort, choke or belt out your most embarrassing laugh), you absolutely should be putting this one on your TBR.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Book Review: Dear Wife – Kimberly Belle

Author: Kimberly Belle
Book Name: Dear Wife
Release Date: June 25, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Overall SPA: 5 Stars
5 Stars

 

 

Blurb:

Beth Murphy is on the run…

For nearly a year, Beth has been planning for this day. A day some people might call any other Wednesday, but Beth prefers to see it as her new beginning–one with a new look, new name and new city. Beth has given her plan significant thought, because one small slip and her violent husband will find her.

Sabine Hardison is missing…

A couple hundred miles away, Jeffrey returns home from a work trip to find his wife, Sabine, is missing. Wherever she is, she’s taken almost nothing with her. Her abandoned car is the only evidence the police have, and all signs point to foul play.

As the police search for leads, the case becomes more and more convoluted. Sabine’s carefully laid plans for her future indicate trouble at home, and a husband who would be better off with her gone. The detective on the case will stop at nothing to find out what happened and bring this missing woman home. Where is Sabine? And who is Beth? The only thing that’s certain is that someone is lying and the truth won’t stay buried for long.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 5/5 Stars
Believability: 5/5 Stars
Uniqueness Factor: 5/5 Stars

Personal Opinion: 5/5 Stars
I am gushing over how much I loved this book! I don’t normally gush, and I don’t think I ever have over a mystery/suspense book, but I am gushing because this was everything a mystery/suspense novel is supposed to be. It is also the kind of book that you really don’t want to know a whole lot about before you read it. You want to go in mostly blind and without any opinions or expectations to get the full impact of the story, so I’m doing my best to keep it really general.

This started out with the best first chapter I’ve read in a really long time, if not the best first chapter ever. Talk about getting sucked in. I was a little worried that with that strong of a start, there was no way it would continue that strong, but it absolutely did.

The entire story is told from three different characters’ perspectives, Beth, Marcus – the detective looking into Sabine’s disappearance, and Jeffery – Sabine’s husband.

I won’t say that I loved all of the characters in this book, but you don’t normally love the bad guy in a story. That said, I did really enjoy the way the bad guy was written and presented.

It was also impossible not to feel sympathy for Beth, her pain and her desperation, even if you have doubts about her character at times. I was emotionally invested in her and Sabine’s story from the start.

The storyline throughout this felt really unique and not something recycled from a dozen other similar novels, which is a huge thing for me, especially in this genre.

I cannot say enough how well this story flowed. I loved how when I thought I knew what kinds of connections existed, or at least suspected, something gets revealed that makes those assumptions less sure. Or you know there is no connection and you are given a piece that shows, maybe there really is. You are just never entirely sure. I was really deep into the book before some of the larger puzzle pieces started to be visible and it wasn’t a picture I was expecting. All of those hints and reveals are done in incredible, subtle ways. Subtle enough that there were a couple I didn’t pick up until another small piece was uncovered.

Basically, this was awesome. If it isn’t on your TBR yet, it absolutely should be.

Book Review: Child’s Play, DI Kim Stone – Book 11

Author: Angela Marsons
Book Name: Child’s Play
Release Date: July 11, 2019
Series: DI Kim Stone
Order: #11
Genre: Crime/Police Drama, Suspense, Mystery
Overall SPA: 4.5 Stars
4.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Finally we’re playing a game. A game that I have chosen. I give one last push of the roundabout and stand back. ‘You really should have played with me,’ I tell her again although I know she can no longer hear.

Late one summer evening, Detective Kim Stone arrives at Haden Hill Park to the scene of a horrific crime: a woman in her sixties tied to a swing with barbed wire and an X carved into the back of her neck.

The victim, Belinda Evans, was a retired college Professor of Child Psychology. As Kim and her team search her home, they find an overnight bag packed and begin to unravel a complex relationship between Belinda and her sister Veronica.

Then two more bodies are found bearing the same distinctive markings, and Kim knows she is on the hunt for a ritualistic serial killer. Linking the victims, Kim discovers they were involved in annual tournaments for gifted children and were on their way to the next event.

With DS Penn immersed in the murder case of a young man, Kim and her team are already stretched and up against one of the most ruthless killer’s they’ve ever encountered. The clues lie in investigating every child who attended the tournaments, dating back decades.

Faced with hundreds of potential leads and a bereaved sister who is refusing to talk, can Kim get inside the mind of a killer and stop another murder before it’s too late?

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 5/5 Stars
It isn’t easy writing about characters when you are deep in a series. This one is an exception because, even though it is ongoing, you will ALWAYS get new characters, at least from the perspective of the bad guys. We again get bad guys that are truly bad, but still allow the reader a sense of pity or understanding.

Series Expectations: 4/5 Stars
If I had to compare this to others in the series, it isn’t my favorite because it isn’t quite at the same level as far as the separate storylines (but only slightly less), but I still really enjoyed it.

Believability: 4/5 Stars
Pretty much no matter what scenario you get with a Kim Stone book, or how over the top it may be, it still always works. This one is no exception. The crime aspects may be a little over the top on the believability chart (though I think a lot of truly horrific crimes IRL would fit that the same way), the way those are presented and handled by the characters works well.

Personal Opinion: 5/5 Stars
There are very, very few authors that are capable of keeping me interested in a series this deep into it. Ms. Marsons has proven yet again, that she is more than capable of keeping a series feeling new and fresh.

If I had one small thing to nitpick, and it is small, is that you don’t get to see Penn interacting with the rest of the team in this one. As a newish character and one taking the space of a character that was incredibly difficult to lose, both as the team in the story and as a reader, I would have liked to have seen more of those interactions in this book. I do think that we get an even better feel for him as a character in this, even if it isn’t through his interactions with the team.

I will never get tired of that team and how they work so well together. It is one of the things I love about this series. While you don’t spend huge portions of the book on personal dramas for those characters, you absolutely know who they are as individuals, which makes them so very real.

The two different storylines in this are kind of classic for this series and is one of the many things that I love. One of those threads is the one Penn is working on and the other is the main thread the team is working on. I liked getting to see a new face, similar to the last book, and I’m wondering if those are hints at the team growing in the future.

I always wonder when I get to the end, where the next book can go that is going to feel new, that things are going to start to feel stale. The fact that this is book 11 and not one of them has ever gotten even close should tell me I don’t have anything to worry about any time soon.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Other areas of note (not included in the SPA rating):

Cover: 4/5 Stars
I liked this cover from the beginning as it sets the tone for what is inside. I always like to look at them again after I’m done reading a book to see if I still feel the same way. I love it when I can things in it that only really aren’t noticeable until after you’ve read the book. This has notes of that hinting it it.