Urban Fantasy

Review: Labyrinth Lost

Cover of "Labyrinth Lost," featuring gold text on a dark background above the head (from the nose up) of a brown-haired girl in sugar skull makeup
Image from Zoraida Córdova

Title: Labyrinth Lost

Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1

Author: Zoraida Córdova

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Blood

Back Cover:

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone. 

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Review:

I put this on my to-read list because there was magic and I’d heard it was gay. That’s about it. I picked it randomly when reserving books at the library, and when my fiance saw it sitting on the dresser I couldn’t even tell him what it was about. That’s how little expectations I had for this book.

The good news is, this is a great book.

It really was. The magic was amazing, Alex was a strong character with good development and growth, the plot seems straightforward but throws some twists in at the end, Los Lagos is an amazing setting (just as dark and twice as strange as you’d expect, but with a definite Wonderland vibe), and the layers of magic are revealed slowly and wonderfully.

It’s just … a beautiful book, really. It’s the kind of story that if you saw it visually, it would be elegant and graceful and eerie, rendered in dark purples and blacks and silvers. The writing and the mood is gorgeous, and it made me want to go out and practice magic and cast some powerful spells.

I only really had two problems:

  1. It’s never really explained why Alex is afraid of her magic. All you get is something about the family cat being possessed, and her magic kills it? And somehow that made her father leave? It’s not clear.
  2. It wasn’t gay. I was told it was, and I kept expecting a romance between Alex and her friend Rishi. (Maybe there will be in the next book, but there wasn’t here.) But on the bright side, there also wasn’t any romance with Angsty Brooding Hero Nova, either.

I feel like breaking it down and analyzing the components of it will ruin the magic. It was just … fascinating and absolutely gorgeous. And it ended on a twist. I’m totally looking forward to the next book (next year …).

The Brooklyn Brujas series:

  1. Labyrinth Lost
  2. Circle Unbroken (April 2018)
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Urban Fantasy

Review: Win the Rings

Cover of "Win the Rings," featuring a person's face superimposed over the image of a desert with a city skyline in the background
Image from K.D. Van Brunt

Title: Win the Rings

Series: Cracked Chronicles #1

Author: K.D. Van Brunt

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Back Cover:

The Army’s most valuable weapon is not any kind of gun, missile or tank. It is kids—kids who are special, trained, lethal. Jace is one of them. She has been the property of the Army since they found her when she was five. But the Army does not control all special kids. Gray is one that got away, and he has spent most of his sixteen years hiding from the Army.

Now, the Army has found out about Gray and they cannot allow him to roam free. Operating on the theory that it takes one to catch one, Jace is sent out with a special ops squad to hunt Gray down, but Jace is not the only one pursuing him. She has competition, and the competition is after her too. What ensues is a desperate chase through city after city as duty and honor collide with love and sacrifice, as Jace must decide whether the enemy of my enemy might be my friend.

Review:

I was not super excited about this book going in. The cover was meh (yes, I judge books by their covers) and I didn’t understand the title, but the back cover copy sounded just interesting enough that I said, “why not.”

Jace reminded me a lot of Max from the Maximum Ride books, if Max had never escaped the School. And trust me, that’s a high compliment – Max is one of my all-time favorite characters. She didn’t have Max’s sarcasm, but she had the tenacity and the awesome kick-butt skills. I loved her.

I also enjoyed Grey, who was actually a point-of-view character. He was Jace’s opposite in many ways – much less violent and angry, and a lot fewer skills – but while I loved Jace for the awesomeness, I loved Grey for his humanness. He loved his sister and was willing to make a lot of sacrifices to keep her safe.

This was like the best of both plots. There was Jace’s side with the army stuff and impressing the heck out of people who aren’t accustomed to the idea of a shapeshifting teenage government agent. Then there was Grey’s side, living on the run, using his shapeshifting to steal from thieves, and trying to live some semblance of a normal life. Even the details of shapeshifting were great. It was all completely fabulous.

Win the Rings was a surprise hit for me. I absolutely loved it. And I can’t wait to read the next book, whenever it comes out.

I received a free review copy of Win the Rings from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Cracked Chronicles:

  1. Win the Rings
  2. Dance of the Pink Mist
  3. A Freedom to Fight For

 

Urban Fantasy

Review: New Sight

New Sight book cover
Image from Jolly Fish Press; used by permission

Title: New Sight

Author: Jo Schneider

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Releases: April 22, 2014

Back Cover:

Most sixteen years olds’ biggest worries revolve around school dances and good grades, but Lysandra Blake has a much bigger problem to worry about: She wants to rip peoples’ eyes out.

When Lys finds herself tied down in a psych ward after attacking her own mother, everybody around her is convinced she’s gone insane. The doctors don’t have answers, and Lys is about ready to give up when the mysterious Mr. Mason appears, telling Lys that she’s not insane—she’s addicted to a rare and deadly drug that she has no recollection of using. With this knowledge, Lys is thrown headfirst into a world of daunting, magical powers that are not only unbelievable; they are extremely dangerous.

Review:

The synopsis sounded a lot like there would be psychic powers, but it was listed as fantasy, not paranormal. So I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but magic and psychics are both good with me. Plus, the mental illness angle sounded awesome. So I figured I’d try it.

Lys was interesting. She was protective and brave, and didn’t really think about herself when someone else was in trouble. But she could be naive and slow to pick up on things (or that could just be that I picked up on stuff faster than average). I absolutely loved the fascinating descriptions of her mental-illness thing. Even though the narration was third person, I had to double-check that fact because her emotions came across so well.

Brady, a fellow inmate/drug-addict/whatever-you-want-to-call-him, was my favorite character. He was the light-hearted, fun one, who always seemed happy and optimistic. The ending definately raised my opinion of him, too.

I only half liked Kamau (another inmate). The reader part of me thought he was a little too much of a perfect love interest (at least until the end when he started to play much more into the plot). The teenage girl part of me wished I could find a sweet, caring guy like him.

New Sight kind of had an ensemble cast. I say “kind of” because even though there are a lot if I were to name them all, they were never onstage all at once. So the story didn’t usually feel too crowded, but there are far more characters I could mention if I had the space.

This synopsis is one of those that gives you a teaser of the first few chapters – because that’s about how long this one lasts for. Then it moves on. There’s a group working against Mr. Mason which may or may not be evil (or maybe Mr. Mason is the evil one). Lys and a group of friends go on the run from these people. And that’s about as far as I’ll go, for risk of spoilers – but it gets better.

I absolutely loved the idea behind New Sight. This kind of magic isn’t exactly original, but that it acts kind of like a psychic power and kind of like a drug … brilliant!

New Sight was original, fascinating, brilliant … and I wish spoilers weren’t a problem, because I’d love to mention so much more of the plot. There’s so much more than you read on the back cover, and it gets so much better. I totally enjoyed the read. There’s not much sequel room here, but I’d be interested to find out what Jo Schneider is writing next.

I received a free ARC of New Sight from the publisher. Their generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Urban Fantasy

Review: Aether Warriors

Aether Warriors book cover
Image from Dean Ravenola; used by permission

Title: Aether Warriors

Series: The Hidden War #1

Author: Dean Ravenola

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Back Cover:

Young Chase’s life is suddenly turned upside-down as he discovers he has been chosen as an Aether Warrior. He is the last member found of a small group of gifted children that will be trained to lead a war that has been ongoing secretly for centuries. Strange creatures, hidden bases, and perhaps even a betrayal lie in store for Chase as he follows his destiny.

Review:

So why did I pick this up? Partly because I like magic stories, partly because it generally sounded interesting, and partly because the author is nineteen years old. As a teenage writer myself, I’m always happy to support one brave enough to publish his writing on his own.

I liked Chase. He had a not-so-idyllic childhood, but he still turned out okay – friendly, caring, and loyal, if a little bland. I wish he had more time between arriving at the Golden Scales base and the traitor being a traitor to discover and show off his skills. But overall, I enjoyed reading about him.

I don’t want to say a lot about the other characters, for risk of revealing the traitor. (Unfortunately, I found it really obvious who the traitor was, but it’s hard to say how much of that was just my plot psychicness.) But I liked almost all of Chase’s team. The exceptions were Juno, who wasn’t really social (and whose name always made me think of the Roman goddess of motherhood, even though this Juno is a guy), and sometimes Jasmine, who rubbed me the wrong way.

The story starts off pretty basic. Weird stuff happens, Chase unleashes supernatural abilities and gets taken away to join a secret group of similarly gifted people. Then it gets a little more exciting, with a mythical creature zoo (of sorts), magic and magical weapons, powerful relics, and, of course, a similar group of magic people that are evil. And there’s a traitor. There weren’t a whole lot of layers to it, but I enjoyed the magical action and watching Chase’s team operate.

I really don’t like writing this, but I’ve always promised honest reviews, and I feel this deserves a mention. The writing was not as good as it could have been. This is one of those books were the basics of a good story are there. There’s plot, protagonists, antagonists, action, and all the elements of a classic hero’s quest fantasy. But the author really needed another year or two of writing practice under his belt. (I say this as a writer myself – I see a lot of his mistakes in my own older works. Practice can work wonders.)

I did enjoy Aether Warriors, which is why I’d urge Dean Ravenola to take another look at it. It has some awesome potential, but it will need a little help in getting there.

I received a free review copy of Aether Warriors from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Hidden War series:

  1. Aether Warriors
Urban Fantasy

Review: Sweet Venom

Sweet Venom book cover
Image from smallreview.blogspot.com

Title:  Sweet Venom

Series: Sweet Venom #1

Author:  Tera Lynn Childs

Genre:  Urban Fantasy

Back Cover:

Grace is looking for a new start in San Francisco – but things get a little scary when a minotaur interrupts dinner.  Gretchen is tired of monsters keeping her out into the wee hours on a school night, but during a routine monster riddance, she runs into a girl who could be her double.  Greer has her life pretty well put together, but it all changes when two girls who look almost exactly like her show up on her doorstep.  The three girls are descendants of Medusa, the once-beautiful gorgon maligned by myth, and destined to spend their lives hunting the monsters.  But the monsters are suddenly breaking all the rules…

Review:

I’ve always loved Greek mythology, and this sounded like a completely original take on the Medusa myth.  And when I found a free ebook version, I snatched it right up.

Grace was an environmentalist, a vegetarian, and a total geek – full scholarship to a super-prestigious, exclusive high school, computer nerd (with rudimentary hacking skills), the whole shebang.  If I had to take a guess, I would say she’s the youngest sister – she has the more peacemaking, let’s all be friends and stick together ideas.

Gretchen, I also liked, but in a totally different way.  She was the tough, kick-butt one of the bunch.  She could be harsh, which was understandable, but if I was to guess, I think she’s the oldest sister.  She has those more bossy, protective tendencies.

Greer didn’t come in until more than halfway through the book, which, from the summary, I didn’t expect.  She was also more bratty than the others – which is explained in a way that made me feel sorry for her.  Her parents didn’t care, her boyfriend was a jerk…  It was totally obvious to me that she was better off killing monsters.

And speaking of killing monsters – that wasn’t nearly as integral to the plot as I thought it would be.  Sure, they were there and they were a threat, but Grace, Gretchen, and Greer accepting each other as sisters seemed to be the main focus of the story.  It wasn’t really a bad thing, mainly because it was done so well, but it’s not what I expected.

About the only thing I had a problem with was jumpy transitions.  At first, I thought that little triple asterisk scene separator got list in the transition to ebook, but then it would jump back and forth – Gretchen in school, Gretchen fighting a monster in a back alley, Gretchen in school – in alternating paragraphs.  Occasionally, I would have to reread a paragraph or two to figure out where (and when) in the story I was.

I enjoyed the story.  It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I enjoyed it just the same.  And I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Sweet Shadows.

Oh, and quick random side note about the title:  It’s not just catchy. There really is some literally sweet venom in the book.

The Sweet Venom series:

  1. Sweet Venom
  2. Sweet Shadows
  3. Sweet Legacy