A Free Dreamer Review: Armistice (The Amberlough Dossier #2) by Lara Elena Donnelly

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Armistice returns to Donnelly’s ravishing 1930s Art Deco-tinged fantasy world of Amberlough with a decadent, tumultuous mixture of sex, politics, and spies.

In a tropical country where shadowy political affairs lurk behind-the-scenes of its glamorous film industry, three people maneuver inside a high stakes game of statecraft and espionage:

Lillian, a reluctant diplomat serving a fascist nation,

Aristide, an expatriate film director running from lost love and a criminal past,

and Cordelia, a former cabaret stripper turned legendary revolutionary.

Each one harbors dangerous knowledge that can upturn a nation. When their fates collide, machinations are put into play, unexpected alliances are built, and long-held secrets are exposed. All is barreling towards an international revolt…and only the wiliest ones will be prepared for what comes next.

First things first: “Armistice” is NOT a stand-alone story. At all. If you haven’t read the first book yet, don’t read this review, as it contains spoilers for book 1.

While “Amberlough” was set in a world similar to Europe, “Armistice” is largely set in a world that’s similar to India. With significant differences, however. The society is mostly matriarchal. Not extremely so, but women are definitely the ones with more power. I always find that an interesting concept and love to explore matriarchal worlds. And once again, the author did not disappoint. The setting was extremely well developed, with lots of little details that made the atmosphere all the more real. As soon as I read the first sentence, I immediately fell into the setting and found it extremely hard to resurface.

The feel of this book is very different from the previous one. It’s still intense, but there’s less action and drama. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy this book any less than the first one, it’s just different, quieter somehow. Which is a weird thing to say about a story that features Cordelia Lehane… I loved getting to know her better. Lillian, Cyril’s sister, also made for a very interesting MC. We do get a bit more of Ari, but really, this book is all about the women.

Just like “Amberlough”, we get yet another cliffhanger ending. Endings are hard for me. It’s so easy to ruin an otherwise good book with a crappy ending. And usually I despise cliffhangers, especially if it’s not the first part of a series. But Lara Elena Donnelly writes perfect endings and I actually like her cliffhangers.

Honestly, there’s so much more to say about “Armistice” but somehow I lack the words to express just how awesome this series is. Like, seriously, these two books are among the best I’ve read in a very, very long time and I have a feeling the author might become one of my favourites. Read it. It’s so, so, so worth it. And I might just die from sheer anticipation till part 3 FINALLY gets released.

The cover is gorgeous and matches the first part perfectly. I might just buy book three as a paperback because I finally want one of these amazing covers in my physical bookshelf.

Sales Link:  Amazon

Book details: ebook, 384 pages

Published May 15th 2018 by Tor Books

The Amberlough Dossier Series:

Amberlough

Armistice

Amnesty coming in 2019

A MelanieM Review: Ghoulish by Kat Bellamy

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Colt Jager never knew what happened to the parents who abandoned him, and he never cared–until he inherited their ghoulish secret.

Raised as a human who had no idea he was anything but a blue-collar construction worker until the night of his 25th birthday, Colt finds it hard to adjust to life in the Kinship, a hidden world woven discreetly into human society.

After a grisly encounter with his true nature, Colt meets a family of human-friendly ghouls who teach him that there’s a way to be inhuman without being inhumane. But things get complicated when he realizes that the “wolf attack” responsible for killing his boyfriend’s brother was actually committed by a ghoul on the hunt.

When an elite family of especially monstrous ghouls called Alphas threatens the man he loves, Colt will have to lie to Jason to keep him safe. Can a predator ever truly be a hero, or will the man he loves become his prey?

What an unexpected treat this story turned out to be!  A first release by Kat Bellamy, Ghoulish revolves around a main character that’s yes, a ghoul in love with a human, not that he’s aware of it right at the very beginning of the story.  Now ghouls are not something I normally find as main characters in my LGBTQIA romances or any romances for that  matter in fiction.

Where do I find them?  In superb anime like Tokyo Ghoul (if you love anime’ and haven’t found this series, it’s a must) or, ok, that’s about it. I can’t think of any outside of anime or Manga. So for Bellamy to make this work (and they did), they needed to create an empathetic character, a group of support characters we can also care about, do a terrific job with their universe building, and weave in a romance and a suspenseful plot.

Check, check, check, check,  and check.  All accomplished.

Not bad for a first work.  In fact, this story had me in it’s grip from the moment Colt discovers his true nature.  From then on, it’s a “hang onto your seat, flip that page, stay riveted to the story” sort of tale.  I became so immersed in Colt’s life, his deadly situations (really no pun intended), even his romance with Jason, that I was unaware of the time flying by.  It was 2 am when I finished and I was heartily sorry to see these characters go.

Several things here.  There is a fairly large cast of characters but not too many that a reader can’t keep track of them.  The world building isn’t complete but as there’s a sequel coming, I won’t fault the author on that, hoping the new novel is going to fill in the blanks as the title (The Kinship) seems to infer. This is a HFN and honestly, the romance sort of takes a backseat, or at least slides a bit to the side, to all the other marvelous narrative work going on here.  It’s a thriller, laden with suspense, but still manages to be full of tons of heartwarming elements and love.  Huh, how about that! And that’s on the ghoul side!

Anyway. Any details would just spoil this so none are given.  Read it!  The characters are great, the writing flows quickly, the scenes are vivid, and the story will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Plus I thought the ending worked  because there’s a sequel coming and hopefully, there’s a younger character I need to spend more time with.  And we still have some mysteries to unfold.  Yes, I can see this as a series to successfully run on past the sequel.  Now I’m anxiously waiting the next book out.  Why not pick this one up and catch up to me!  I highly recommend it!  Ghouls in love are so much fun!

Cover art is eye-catching even if that model is getting to be a bit overworked.

Sales Link:  Amazon | Amazon UK | Goodreads

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 314 pages
Published October 22nd 2017
ASINB076P71FF

A MelanieM Review: Mythica by L.J. LaBarthe

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Rating:  4.25 stars out of 5

MythicalgishHalf selkie Caiden is unhappy that as a Mythica he is unable to serve his country as his father had done.  In fact all Mythicas are banned from service because they might not be able to handle the stress, changing forms in combat.  While Caiden agrees intellectually with that assessment, emotionally he’s frustrated and taking his discontent out on those around him.  Its even affected his viewpoint of the  sy’lph, an alien race that arrived on Earth seeking sanctuary and a home after their galaxy was destroyed in a war.

But when a minotaur goes wild at the government offices of the Bridging Lives agency (a sort of  Social Security other being checkpoint and social agency), Caiden jumps in to stop the minotaur and his world changes forever.   First he is rescued by Gray, a sy’lph who is the local liason between humans, mythica and the sy’lph.  Gray is gorgeous and Caiden is overwhelmingly attracted to a being he has resolutely disliked.  Secondly, the minotaur had been poisoned.

Soon all the mythicas are under attack.  And Gray and Caiden take their first steps towards understanding and a relationship just when everything starts to fall apart around them, putting themselves and Caiden’s family in danger.

Mythica by L.J. LaBarthe is a book that defies categorization, something that surely thrills its author.  How to describe a beautifully written story that encapsulates human mythological creatures come to life, along with an alien race fleeing galactic genocide and bringing inhuman technology with them.  Then throw in a interspecies romance, racial purity rights terrorists, and much, much more and you have Mythica – scify, supernatural, paranormal, action, suspense, mystery romance!  I would expect nothing less from L. J. LaBarthe.

From the opening lines, the author pulls you into the joy of Caiden’s life as a half selkie!  He is frolicking in the ocean waters near home which is Broome in Western Australia:

Dolphins swam up to join him, and he grabbed the dorsal fin of the nearest one, laughing when he surfaced and breathed in air again. The dolphin dragged him along through the water at a rapid rate, making him whoop with delight, a sound echoed by the raucous cries of the seagulls hovering overhead. Schools of fish swam below him, sometimes their silvery bodies brushed against his toes, and Caiden loved that too, the feeling of being so free, so connected to all the elements—water, air, light, earth. The dolphin that pulled him along through the water brought him close to shore, and Caiden felt the soggy roughness of sand beneath his feet. He let go of the dorsal fin, calling a thank you and goodbye to the dolphins as they swam on.

LaBarthe conveys the lightness of being and the spontaneity of Caiden’s selkie behavior in the waters.  And just as quickly, the author is able to ground Caiden in his human half, complete with his discontent and unhappiness at leaving the watery haven behind as he reluctantly arrives at the Bridging Lives agency.   LaBarthe has created with her “mythicas” a fascinating new group of beings (albeit from an ancient beginnings).  The mythicas are

“Mythica were the descendants of all mythological creatures of antiquity—the pixies, fairies, selkies, minotaurs, dragons, and more—who lived and worked alongside humans.”

Caiden himself is half mythica, his father human and his mother a selkie, a human/mythica pairing not uncommon in this story. The author is quick to give Caiden a  painful past made bearable by a supportive, loving family, only some of which are mythicas.  Broome is pictured as normally as is possible when mythicas and aliens such as the sy’lph casually walk about its facilities and streets.  There is an authenticity to each scene that is wonderful considering who and what is appearing throughout each description and event.

Also marvelously imagined are the sy’lph.  Alien beings of mallable metal (think mercury) whose real shape and body is confined within a synthetic humanoid shell.  Just seeing their true shape/body is enough to blind any human.  Their back story and natural history is as complex and captivating as everything else that LaBarthe has created here.  But while all the outside elements are fantasical in nature, inside there exists a lovely romance between two beings/people trying to learn about each other and work their way towards something more lasting and real.

Interspersed throughout the myriad of plot threads is the threat to Caiden, his family and all mythicas.  It isn’t long before the villain of the pieces appears  and the uncertainty and dread that comes with this nasty little storyline

is yet one more element that will keep the reader engaged and deeply involved in Mythica until the ending.  Which I was sorry to see arrive.

Mythica has such a wide appeal and such a ingenious universe, that I hope to see LaBarthe revisit it again in another story.  Both the mythicas and the sy’lph deserve to have their stories told.  But while we are waiting for that to happen, pick up Mythica and see why I recommend it so highly.  Never has such a concoction of genres been so appealing.

Cover by Mumson Designs is lovely, and captures the joy of Caiden perfectly.

Sales Links:      Bottom Drawer Publications   All Romance (ARe)          Amazon          Buy it here

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 217 pages
Published September 18th 2014 by Bottom Drawer Publications
ASINB00NQA0FV0
edition languageEnglish

 

Review: Brothers In Arms (The Recon Diaries #1) by Kendall McKenna

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Brothers In ARms coverMarine Staff Sergeant Jonah Carver is a legend among the soldiers stationed in  Afghanistan and for good reason.  Jonah Carver is the Marine ideals personified, his past missions now part of Corp mystique. So Jonah is the natural choice when a high security mission arrives in Diyala Firm base, Diyala Province, Iraq.  A high level personage needs Bravo company for transportation and protection against the insurgents.  When that person is targeted and killed, a new mission is planned to hunt down the assassins and uncover the agents behind the  plot against the American military.

And that brings Jonah’s past back with the arrival of Kellan Reynolds in the task force created to investigate the assassination.  Kellan Reynolds is Jonah’s former Captain in Afghanistan.  They had one night of hot, unbelievable sex before Kellan left the Marines to become an advisor to the President and Jonah returned to his troop. Now the same attraction and sexual tension is back as though it never left.  But the joint mission requires their full attention and the resumption of their relationship takes a back seat to the investigation.

When Kellan is kidnapped by the insurgents, their mission is thrown into disarray.  Jonah and his company must risk everything to get Kellan back, not only for the mission but for their future together as well.

After reading Strength of the Pack, I had to go out and see what else Kendall McKenna had written.  The book I found, Brothers In Arms,  did not disappoint the high expectations left by Strength of the Pack.  Shorter in length, this book contains the same memorable characters and vivid descriptions of the locales that I marveled at in the previous book.  Really, this author has so many strengths I don’t know where to start.

Characterizations.  Absolute perfection.  McKenna creates these wonderful Marines, gritty, human, vulnerable and brave.  She gives them dialog to speak so believable that I swear I could hear them in my dreams and puts them through events so authentic, so real that I expected to see them appear on the nightly news.  How’s that for great writing.  These men reek of sweat, and dust, and the smell of gun oil.  They are tired, the heat is sweltering, and the enemy is everywhere.  I truly felt as though I was in the middle of the platoon in Diyala Province.

The romance is equally suited to the men involved.  Don’t expect any flowers, that ain’t happening.  But the emotions, however internalized, are as real as the men involved.  I really appreciated that.  I loved that non verbal communication thing that happened between them.  They knew each other so well that at some point, speech became unnecessary until they had the luxury of time to spend with each other, and then the sex is incendiary.

Narrative and exposition are as amazing and detailed as her characterizations.  I felt as though I was embedded in the company and knew these men as intimately as their Sergeant did.  It was both a pleasure and pain to meet and understand these men and women because McKenna made their situations as authentic as their real life counterparts.  I will say no more.

Why not 5 stars?  Primarily due to the story length.  I wish it and the resolution had been longer, I certainly wanted more.  If you are looking for just romance or erotica, this might not be the book for you.  But if you are looking for meticulous writing, beautifully articulated characters and as real a setting as any I have read recently, then please get this book and be prepared to meet a couple you won’t soon forget.  Lucky for us a sequel is on its way.  I can’ t wait, Neither should you.

Cover Art by Jared Rackler. Just as superb as the story contained within.  Loved it.

Kendall McKenna. Brothers in Arms. MLR Press LLC.