Fire and Heist by Sarah Beth Durst #bookreview #YA #fantasy

In Sky Hawkins’s family, leading your first heist is a major milestone–even more so than learning to talk, walk, or do long division. It’s a chance to gain power and acceptance within your family, and within society. But stealing your first treasure can be complicated, especially when you’re a wyvern–a human capable of turning into a dragon.

Embarking on a life of crime is never easy, and Sky discovers secrets about her mother, who recently went missing, the real reason her boyfriend broke up with her, and a valuable jewel that could restore her family’s wealth and rank in their community.

With a handpicked crew by her side, Sky knows she has everything she needs to complete her first heist, and get her boyfriend and mother back in the process. But then she uncovers a dark truth about were-dragon society–a truth more valuable and dangerous than gold or jewels could ever be.

Humans that turn into dragons?  Heists?  Why wouldn’t you want to read this?  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

Sky’s family and friends are the most important things in her life – along with kissing and ice cream.  Her priorities are straight, and her humorous voice makes this such a fun read.  The world-building is amusing – in the wyvern culture, leading your first heist is cause for celebration.  As dragons, stealing and hoarding gold is encouraged, so in Sky’s world, her situation is pretty much a coming-of-age story.

The family dynamics make up a good portion of this story – a family mourning their mother gone missing, an overprotective father, and brothers who clearly care about Sky, but show it in awkward, yet heartfelt ways.  Most of the supporting characters are well-drawn, and Sky’s human friend, Gabriela, is like an adorable puppy you want to hug.

Fire and Heist is more of a fluffy read, but with an Ocean’s Eleven-like heist, a lovable family, and a charming and determined MC, it’s light and enjoyable.  Also, dragons!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

 

Dark Visions: an anthology of 34 horror stories #bookreview #horror #TuesdayBookBlog

From the creators of the #1 bestseller The Box Under The Bed horror anthology comes Dark Visions, 34 horror stories from 27 authors. Tag along on a con man’s New Orleans vacation where he gets more than he bargained for from a mysterious voodoo shop. A collection of family photos reveals an eerie secret about a beloved grandmother’s true nature. A child’s horrifying memories haunt her into adulthood. A new camp counselor learns that the camp has secrets she might not live to reveal. Edited and compiled by Amazon bestselling author Dan Alatorre, this anthology of horror brings together the minds and pens of more than two dozen amazing authors. Dark Visions will take you into the realm of the eerie and macabre, with thrills and chills from: bestselling author Dan Alatorre (The Navigators) bestselling author Jenifer Ruff (Everett), bestselling author Allison Maruska (The Fourth Descendant), bestselling author J. A. Allen, award-winning author MD Walker, award-winning author Juliet Nubel, award-winning author Dabney Farmer, award-winning author Sharon E. Cathcart, award-winning author Heather Kindt, award-winning author Bonnie Lyons, award-winning author Sharon Connell, award-winning author Geoff LePard, award-winning author Anne Marie Andrus, award-winning author Christine Valentor, award-winning author BA Helberg, Ernesto San Giacomo, Alana Turner, Nick Vossen, award-winning author Robbie Cheadle, Betty Valentine, award-winning author Frank Parker, award-winning author Bonnie Lyons, award-winning author Lori Micken, Chuck Jackson, Ellen Best, Victoria Clapton, Perfect for Halloween or any time, these stories will make you think twice before spending the night alone, planting a tree in your garden, or even visiting your mother. Consider yourselves warned. 

If you’re looking for quick reads to enjoy during a break in your day, Dark Visions offers some eerie, creepy, and unsettling short stories that are perfect for this time of year.  Although I can’t review each individually, I’ll mention those I was still thinking about days after finishing.

If you’re a parent, The Storm by J.A. Allen will rip your heart out.  Pictures showing people who were absent when the picture was taken is disturbing and haunting – which is why The Stranger by Allison Maruska is a freaky little tale.  The Willow Tree by Robbie Cheadle is dark and twisted, but what makes it even more frightening is that it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.  It’s easy to imagine hearing about something like this in the news.

Dark Visions offers a nice variety of stories that may have you looking over your shoulder and double-checking the locks on your doors.

I received an ARC from one of the authors.

 

 

The Mansion by Ezekiel Boone #bookreview #horror #scifi

After two years of living on cheap beer and little else in a bitterly cold tiny cabin outside an abandoned, crumbling mansion, young programmers Shawn Eagle and Billy Stafford have created something that could make them rich: a revolutionary computer they name Eagle Logic.

But the hard work and escalating tension have not been kind to their once solid friendship—Shawn’s girlfriend Emily has left him for Billy, and a third partner has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. While Billy walks away with Emily, Shawn takes Eagle Logic, which he uses to build a multi-billion-dollar company that eventually outshines Apple, Google, and Microsoft combined.

Years later, Billy is a failure, beset by poverty and addiction, and Shawn is the most famous man in the world. Unable to let the past be forgotten, Shawn decides to resurrect his and Billy’s biggest failure: a next-generation computer program named Nellie that can control a house’s every function. He decides to set it up in the abandoned mansion they worked near all those years ago. But something about Nellie isn’t right—and the reconstruction of the mansion is plagued by accidental deaths. Shawn is forced to bring Billy back, despite their longstanding mutual hatred, to discover and destroy the evil that lurks in the source code.

I read The Hatching series by this author, which I enjoyed, and after seeing the cover of this one – I needed it immediately.  And AI books fascinate me.

After reading this, you may think twice about having a smart home.  The thought of a computer program becoming sentient and deciding independently to control the lives of its creators is freaky scary.  It made me think about how my Alexa speaks at random times – even when no one is in the room with her.  Nellie is dark and dangerous – and she really shines the last 20% of the book during some intense situations – but I wish she would have gotten more page time.  It’s mentioned in the blurb that Shawn, Billy, and Emily had a love triangle back in college, but the drama surrounding that and flashbacks from their respective pasts make up a larger portion of this story.

Not that the plot of The Mansion is anything like The Shining but, being a King fan, I noticed some parallels – a secluded mansion/resort in the middle of winter, an alcoholic sleeping very little and consumed with his work, a character named Wendy, and young creepy sisters – but these are twins with an unusual connection, not ghosts.

I wouldn’t classify this book as horror scary, but more disturbing and unnerving.  It’s a long read at over 400 pages, and contains a good bit of repetition which can be difficult to get past, but I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to both sci-fi and horror fans.  With this being an ARC, the word count may change before publication.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

 

The House Always Wins by Tom Minder #bookreview #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Someone is shooting up Dirty Sam’s.

Will the Long Harbor police get their man, or woman, before a casino heist, a slots player who disappears in a puff of smoke, a crossbow-toting florist, and an undercover agent who makes a mean goulash, complicate the investigation.

Oh, for the simpler days of illegal gambling.

The quirky character descriptions alone intrigued me before I even knew what this book was about.  A cross-bow toting florist?  I needed to know more about this person.

Long Harbor is filled with some unsavory characters, and it’s difficult to figure out who’s trustworthy – but that’s part of the charm of this book.  There’s no shortage of suspicious characters, and they’ll keep the reader guessing where their loyalties lie, and who did what.

Character development is a strength for this author, and I could easily envision each character, along with their good traits, flaws, and weaknesses.  I also snickered several times over things they did or said, and imagined an Ocean’s Eleven-type soundtrack playing in the background.

Although the author wrote another book set in Long Harbor with several of the same characters, both are considered standalones.  I struggled with the extensive character list – remembering who was who, but that could be because I didn’t read the first book.  I wouldn’t say reading it is a necessity, but it may help with the confusion.

If you enjoy quirky, well-written characters, a briskly paced plot, and a good heist story, I highly recommend The House Always Wins.  

I received an ARC from the author.

The Lying Woods by Ashley Elston #bookreview #YA #mystery

Owen Foster has never wanted for anything. Then his mother shows up at his elite New Orleans boarding school cradling a bombshell: his privileged life has been funded by stolen money. After using the family business, the single largest employer in his small Louisiana town, to embezzle millions and drain the employees’ retirement accounts, Owen’s father vanished without a trace, leaving Owen and his mother to deal with the fallout.

Owen returns to Lake Cane to finish his senior year, where people he can barely remember despise him for his father’s crimes. It’s bad enough dealing with muttered insults and glares, but when Owen and his mother receive increasingly frightening threats from someone out for revenge, he knows he must get to the bottom of what really happened at Louisiana Frac–and the cryptic note his father sent him at his boarding school days before disappearing.

Owen’s only refuge is the sprawling, isolated pecan orchard he works at after school, owned by a man named Gus who has his own secrets–and in some ways seems to know Owen better than he knows himself. As Owen uncovers a terrible injustice that looms over the same Preacher Woods he’s claimed as his own, he must face a shocking truth about his own past–and write a better future. 

After reading a couple of heavy sci-fi/fantasy books, I was in the mood for an intriguing mystery.  I’d never read anything else by this author, but rest assured, I plan on correcting that.

I finished this book in less than two days (while I was supposed to be working on several other projects), but just couldn’t put it down.  The dual narrative between Owen and Noah is done so well, and goes about revealing the layers of secrets at a perfect pace.  A small town setting and and secluded pecan farm only add to the years-old secrets.  With the shocking situation Owen and his mother find themselves in, being stripped of everything they own and having to endure horrible comments and treatment from both adults and teens affected by Owen’s father, it’s incredibly easy to relate to them.  Rather than wallowing in self-pity over everything he’s lost, I admired Owen’s determination to better his situation, help his mother, and find his father.

Upon reaching the end of the book, I had several theories, but the twist came as a surprise.  Warning:  Whatever you do, don’t flip to the end of this novel and spoil it for yourself!

If you’re looking for an absolutely un-put-downable mystery with deliciously surprising twists, this is your book.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

This Cruel Design by Emily Suvada #bookreview #YA #scifi

Cat thought the Hydra epidemic was over, but when new cases pop up, Cat must team up with an enemy to fix the vaccine before the virus spirals out of control in this thrilling sequel to This Mortal Coil, which New York Times bestselling author Amie Kaufman says “redefines ‘unputdownable.’”

The nightmare of the outbreak is finally over, but Cat’s fight has only just begun.

Exhausted, wounded, and reeling from revelations that have shaken her to her core, Cat is at a breaking point. Camped in the woods with Cole and Leoben, she’s working day and night, desperate to find a way to stop Lachlan’s plan to reprogram humanity. But she’s failing—Cat can’t even control her newly regrown panel, and try as she might to ignore them, she keeps seeing glitching visions from her past everywhere she turns.

When news arrives that the Hydra virus might not be as dead as they’d thought, the group is pushed into an uneasy alliance with Cartaxus to hunt down Lachlan and fix the vaccine. Their search takes them to Entropia, a city of genehackers hidden deep in the desert that could also hold the answers about Cat’s past that she’s been searching for.

But when confronted with lies and betrayals, Cat is forced to question everything she knows and everyone she trusts. And while Lachlan is always two steps ahead, the biggest threat to Cat may be the secrets buried in her own mind. 

The first book in this series, This Mortal Coil, was one of my most captivating reads last year.  Any books involving genetic engineering?  Yes, please.  I was so excited to receive an ARC of This Cruel Design, but also cautiously optimistic that it would live up to my heightened expectations.  No worries – it more than delivered, and is just as addictive as the first book.

I had no trouble falling right back into Cat’s world, but still appreciated the recap in the first couple of chapters.  Strong characterization is one of the strong points of this series, and I thought I knew these characters’ secrets – wrong.  So very wrong.  More gasp-worthy secrets, hidden agendas, surprising relationship reveals – strap yourselves in and be prepared.  The coding technology continues to thrill my inner science geek, and comes across as absolutely realistic the way it’s written.

With a unique plot line, strong, likable characters pushed to their limits, a fast pace, and futuristic technology, this series will appeal to YA sci-fi fans, and is easily a crossover.  My wait for the next book will not be patient or pleasant.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Atonement in Bloom by Teagan Riordain Geneviene #bookreview #urbanfantasy

“Atonement in Bloom” continues the urban fantasy from the point where “Atonement, Tennessee” ended. The quaint town was stranger than Ralda Lawton could have imagined. The local population included supernatural beings of the fae variety. Although only she and a few others knew about that. In a past life, Ralda ― Esmeralda had been involved in something with those supernaturals and it had carried into her present life. In Atonement, Tennessee, that almost got her killed. Now she has new problems, and new supes to complicate matters.Atonement in Bloom continues the misadventures of Ralda, her friends, and neighbors in the small (but far from peaceful) town of Atonement, Tennessee. Her old house and cemetery are still there, along with Lilith the cat, quirky townsfolk, and assorted supernaturals. Now Lilith the calico sniffs out a strange beast. Fae foolery backfires. A friend is abducted. On a cold December day, Atonement, Tennessee comes into bloom.

Boy, did I miss these characters (especially Lilith, my favorite fictional calico cat) and this quirky little town.  When the author offered me an ARC, I jumped at the chance.

If you’re a regular reader of Geneviene, whether it’s her books or blog, her vast imagination comes as no surprise.  If this is your first encounter, you’re in for a creative treat.  With charismatic characters, both human and magical, glowing pigs, and an engaging mystery, this novel will easily persuade you to curl up in your favorite reading spot and spend a few delightful hours in the town of Atonement.

This is the second book in the series and could be read as a stand alone, but for maximum enjoyment, I’d advise reading Atonement, Tennessee first.  I’d highly recommend this series to fans of magical characters, eccentric towns, creative mysteries, and highly intelligent felines.  I’m still hoping Lilith gets her own book.

I received an ARC from the author.