The Fifth Knight (The Knights of Caerleon #1) by Jesikah Sundin & Claire Luana – Review by Cynthia Ayala

The Fifth Knight (The Knights of Caerleon #1)The Fifth Knight by Jesikah Sundin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Incredible. Fans of the Legend of King Arthur will surely appreciate this novel and the complexities of it. What’s also great about this novel is the characterization. Fionna is unstoppable and incredible, and such a strong female character, very different from the usual damsels in distress that are common in Arthurian retellings. However, her story goes beyond just representing a strong female character; it also goes to the twist in the narrative surrounding Gwenevere. It’s an interesting set-up and plot twist for the story and sets up great tension in the story as it unfolds. Readers know the eventual outcome, anyone who knows about Arthur, Lancelot and Gwenevere see the result, but the journey there, the twist to that ending makes it captivating because there are so many avenues this story and plot twist could take, making it unpredictable.

Nevertheless, the story is about more than Fionna; it’s about the Arthurian legend and how it comes to life.

Sundin and Luana knew what they were doing when they decided to make this story a reverse harem. It’s a new genre that is gaining more and more traction as of late because its concept is to have one female character and have multiple men fall in love with her. Now, there are many ways this genre can be taken, in some ways, depending on the writer, it’s clear that the goal is to create something more erotic, lacking focus on storytelling. But then you have some incredible works that develop the genre and ground it, focusing on the story and character building. This is one of those novels. The romance doesn’t overwhelm the novel; it works to create tension and build the foundation of the story. The emotion in the story, the overwhelming sense of desire and love, the different analogies like “someone smelling like home,” they all work in tandem with one another to make sure the depth keeps the romance from falling into something cheesy or dated.

I’ll say this, I’ve never read a reverse harem novel, to be honest, didn’t think it would be my cup of tea, but like with any story, as long as it has powerful writing behind it and grounded storytelling, any genre can be anyone’s cup of tea. This novel is proof of that.

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The Jack (The Immortal Series Book Two) by M.K. Harkins — Review by Cynthia Ayala

The Jack (The Immortal Series Book Two)The Jack by M.K. Harkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picking up where the last book left off The Jack follows Archer on his road to redemption. What’s so lovely about redemption stories is that we get to see the complications that come with wanting to redeem one’s self. Archer was a minor character in the previous novel, and now he finally gets to shine. He seems so different than he was in the previous novel because two years have passed, allowing him to think on all the lies that led to his betrayal, lies he thought of as truth, forcing him now to come to terms with his actions and the consequences. It is very nice to see his character grow. In the previous novel, again, he was a minor character and very flat, static. That was okay because the story was not about him and he was, very much, a plot device. Everything is different now. Now he has a chance to shine, and he has that chance to shine. Archer is far more enigmatic in this novel than he was not a previous novel his narrative the description of his little twitches, quirks, and personality make him jump off the pages.

He is not the only character that gets to shine. Their’s Sadie who is the last Seer. Sadie has lived her life and isolation because the Jacks killed all the other Seers. So naturally, she harbors this resentment and hatred toward all things Jack including Archer understandably even though he is only half, Jack. Ultimately the fact that the story goes between Archer and Sadie makes the story thrive. It is a very different formula than the previous novel that only followed one person’s perspective, but now the story goes back and forth between the male perspective in a female perspective and two characters who have similar common denominators as far as their lives are concerned.

Both characters are very different than what Harkins has given readers in the previous novel. They have different dynamics that make the story flow. Their romance is also very different than the previous novel, and both characters have such defining qualities that make them likable to the reader.

It is an entertaining story, and much like its predecessor, its fast pace it keeps moving it is honestly novel one could probably read one day because it just moves so quickly. However, there’s also a lot going on in the story. Some scenes just like in the previous novel do seem a little rushed, but they do not hinder the story or distracted reader. However there’s still so much history that could be explored, there’s so much in the backstory that could make this novel have a higher level of depth than it already has.

Ultimately at the end of the day, it is an excellent novel to rain because it just moves very quickly, keeps the readers on their toes and has fantastic character development.

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Running from Demons by M.K. Theodoratus – Review by Cynthia Ayala

Running from DemonsRunning from Demons by M.K. Theodoratus
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting novel. The most impressive part of the book is Pillar and the challenges she faces in her life, in the way her coming-of-age story explores identity. Pillar is a girl who is trying to find her place in a world surrounded by people with power. Everyone around her has power, but to be mundane, to be a null, especially with a mother who wasn’t, it complicates her life and, in ways, makes her an outcast. Which is unfortunate. But that’s also what makes Pillar strong. Pillar faces adversity from all around her, along with demons. Pillar is a great voice for a generation that often feels ignored. She has spent her whole life being put down only to rise in the face of adversity and challenge it, and that’s what makes her great, that challenge, that’s what makes her shine in the novel.

The added element of this hidden power she has within her, it also makes her compelling because it’s not a power she needs to define her, it’s just power she happens to have, the power that was hidden from everyone around her. And that’s great because it adds history to the novel, it adds context to the universe this story is being told in.

Now, the other characters in the novel, well the fact is that there are just too many. Some of them are great, but some of the dynamics between the characters, they don’t get to flourish as they should have. There’s just so much story crammed into this one novel that it almost feels like two novels are trying to coexist and squeeze together. Now, that’s only due to the pace of the book and the scene dynamics. There’s just so much richness in the scenes and story that once the door opens for exploration, its shut and the reader is shoved down a hall towards another door. That’s the biggest fault of the novel, this idea that so much had to be crammed into it for M.K. Theodoratus to tell this story and adventure of Pillar.

Despite that, however, the story is inventive and does provide readers a unique urban fantasy. It has a context to it and many great characters that make it a fun story. The story could have easily been 200 pages longer max, and it wouldn’t have dragged out the story. There’s just so much happening, and the level of detail makes the readers eager for something that doesn’t fully get explored. Pillar’s continuously moving in the novel and so it the reader. Roots are not forming here, but that might be intentional since Pillar is searching for roots of her own, a history of her own. So on that level, the reader can truly connect to the main character in a powerful way which is what makes the story, in the end, compelling.

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The Reader (The Immortals Book 2) by M.K. Harkins – Review by Cynthia Ayala

The ReaderThe Reader by M.K. Harkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Riveting and incredibly fast-paced, The Reader delivers a non-stop action ride that keeps the reader entertained and enthralled by the story and the characters. That is probably the best facet of this story, the pace because Harkins can do what many people cant, which is squeeze is massive amounts of history without bogging down the pace of the story or distracting the reader. Harkins approaches her storytelling the way she approaches it regarding Ann. She does not know much, and she has to learn a lot in a small amount of time, so Harkins gives the Ann the cliff notes version of history which is essential. Some authors do not do that which does not work out to well because unless it is essential, it can just make the story drag out. Here Harkins breaks up the history with tension, with a descriptive narrative of what the world is like in the present. So, with the break history lessons broken up by action and character dynamics, it makes for a great read because the story keeps up the momentum while also building up this world for the reader, a world that the reader can understand and get to know.

Some slight problems go hand in hand with the pace of the novel, but ultimately, they are minimal. It just follows the ending. The resolution was so quick; it happened in a snap and the redemption of the villain, it moves like a flick of a switch that their loyalties, it is uneasy to see a villain switch over so quickly without really understanding the motive. It was just too quick, the ending, and could have used a tad more action and character development here.

Nevertheless, it is a good novel. There is a small cast of characters that allows the reader to get to know each of these characters and how they fit with one another. There isn’t much room for character growth in this novel, but the way they all fit together and influence each other is what makes it fun and makes the reader invested in them.

Ultimately, this is just a quick read. It offers a great story that moves effortlessly with a quick pace that keeps the reader engrossed in the story and action of it all.

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A Monster Like Me (Heart of Darkness Book 2) by Pamela Sparkman – Review by Cynthia Ayala

A Monster Like Me (Heart of Darkness Book 2)A Monster Like Me by Pamela Sparkman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A powerful novel that follows a band of characters as they try to navigate their way out of the darkness that almost swallowed them up. As a fantasy novel, this story had to be unique in some way, especially in dealing with fairies, and the way the story functions is pretty unique. There is a coldness that emanates from the story as it talks about the Unseelie court, brutality that makes the story jump off the pages and infect the reader with fear and anger. It’s good when a story makes the reader feel so strongly for the characters and the story, not to mention the world that is being built here.

Sparkman did an incredible job building this world and recreating this fantasy and these fairy creatures for the reader. The essence that surrounds them, the plot and definition of the characters is unique and truly stands out. Not to mention the message the story holds the message of perseverance.

The base of the story is all about hope; it’s about having hope and finding the light even in the darkest of times. It means that even when someone loses themselves to darkness the way Zeph lost himself to the darkness that they can find the light and find a way to save themselves from the overwhelming darkness. That message is so incredibly powerful. Zeph found his way out, but this story is all about him and his newfound friends trying to pick up the pieces, to repair themselves and their relationships with one another, to repair everything damaged by the dark with love and hope. And it is an incredible journey to follow because it allows the characters to move about the story with dimension, to jump off the pages and litter the reader with their emotions and thoughts, making the reading experience even more compelling. These characters grow together; they form this bond that allows them to face the darkness head-on once more, adding tension and action to the novel.

There is another thing that makes this story so good, and it’s Sparkman’s use of language. There are some scenes that are triggering, and thankfully Sparkman does give the reader notice before even beginning to read the story, but what makes those scenes as powerful as they are triggering is her limited use of language. These are scenes that have every opportunity to be explicit but are not, and it’s all due to Sparkman’s impeccable use of language. She uses the minimalist of words to get the scene around, playing on the slightest of details to make the scene pop. And pop they do. The reader isn’t dulled by the excessive use of language, there is enough provided to lure the reader in, keep them grounded, and focus on what is happening in the story rather than be distracted by the detail and words. These scenes carry so much power and that’s how they should be. Admittedly they are uncomfortable to read, but they should be, but that only serves to give them more weight, lending to the creation of a powerful novel.

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The House that Adelia Built by Mya O’Malley – Review by Cynthia Ayala

The House that Adelia BuiltThe House that Adelia Built by Mya O’Malley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an unprecedented delight. The House that Adelia Built it not only a fast-paced read, it’s also an eerie one, one that is simply delightful and creepy. Part of what makes this novel so good is the atmosphere it holds is so eerie. Taking place in a lighthouse above the bluffs creates an isolate atmosphere that is reminiscent of Stephen King. It has this tone that makes it eerie without adding much to it. O’Malley lets the story speak for itself, she lets the description build upon itself and create the mystique that lures the reader into the mystery of it all It’s captivating how the story functions in that way, to focus on the use of language to captivate the reader. O’Malley knows how to show and not tell, and she does it so well.

On top of that, there is the 200-year gap that goes into the storytelling. The story shifts from the 1800s to 2017 to focus on two separate women in who both live in the lighthouse. Hope from the year 2017 is having visions of something terrible happening at the lighthouse, except she’s having trouble with it, reconciling these visions with her life. Hope has never tried to make sense of her visions or the pull the lighthouse has on her, but once she meets Clooney, everything becomes stronger for her, making it harder for her to live day by day. It’s interesting how the story goes, how it creates Hope and makes her persona and narrative so different from Adelia. These are two very distinct voices that drive the story, and what’s more, the flashbacks, the way they build the history also serve to build the mystery.

The novel goes back and forth effortlessly between the two narratives, keeping the reader from losing interest and losing their place. The story is clearly written and uses misdirection so well. It’s unpredictable how these two characters relate to one another, leading to a mind-blowing resolution. That’s what makes it so good. Yes, the narratives maintain their own tone and distinctions, but the fact that the tension and pace enthralled the reader, keeping the reader on their toes it what makes the piece as a whole so accomplished. As a ghost story, a paranormal story, it keeps the reader at the edge, it maintains the mystique. That’s what’s so powerful about this novel and why it’s so good.

The story flows, it has an enthralling setting and captivating characters and this air about it that makes the reader just want to curl up and read. The pace keeps it moving, keeps the edge on the tension so that builds just so perfectly. Honestly a great read.

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Truth Seer (Truth Seer Trilogy) by Kay L Moody – Review by Cynthia Ayala

Truth Seer (Truth Seer Trilogy Book 1)Truth Seer by Kay L Moody
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A strong beginning to a series does a lot of analyzing through a strong narrative. Imara is a strong character because she can see the truth, but the truth is always in the eye of the beholder. And the world isn’t all black and white. The concept and narrative are interesting in that respect because the novel incorporates colors to reflect truth. This makes the novel interesting because often times the world is thought of in black and white when it’s not and just because someone lies doesn’t mean it’s bad. Many of the characters reflect this concept, creating conflict and tension and showing many levels of right versus wrong. It’s a great analytical piece because it explores the facets of what it means to be human. The world functions in the now, and people’s intentions, and emotions shift. This novel capitalizes on that and through Imara, the readers sees that vividly. This is a skill and a challenge for Imara because she sees truth versus like but not intention. White lies don’t mean the same thing to her as they do to others, a lie is a lie and in her opinion making her a very blunt character. She’s harsh and cold but not in an off-putting way. She’s blunt and hard because the world she sees while colorful is filtered by a façade. It’s a challenge for her which ultimately makes her likeable, but doesn’t limit her character development.

That’s part of what makes this novel special. The world is a complicated place, and while Imara’s vision would seem to make it less complicated it doesn’t. Her is so gray that the colors blind her from actually seeing intention. Ultimately this allows her to grow because she learns that not everything is black and white that people are defined more by their actions than anything else. This opens up a whole new world for her.

Overall the pace of the novel is slow. This group of friends is trying to navigate through catacombs filled with traps, but that is the entire novel nothing more happens story wise. So after a while it starts to feel like more of the same and really the only captivating part is the use of color and character development. Theirs lots of tension between the characters because of Imara’s ability which is ultimately the driving point of the novel.

Truth Seer is an interesting beginning to a new series despite it’s overall lack of plot development and slow pace because either offers insight into the human psyche.

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Who We Might’ve Been (Billie Dixon, #3) by D.L. Pitchford – Review by Cynthia Ayala

Who We Might've Been (Billie Dixon, #3)Who We Might’ve Been by D.L. Pitchford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who We Might’ve Been is an exceptional novel because it is so realistic, and the characters are so relatable. The series of novels follows one Billy Dixon as she embarks on her junior year at college. Many of the ups and downs she has encountered throughout the series are brought back through context clues and scene structure, establishing history. It is that established history that makes the story so gripping because the author does not spend time recounting everything, she delivers the history in essential scenes with the minimalist of details give the scenes depth and power. The history between the characters adds context to the story, the characters, and their dynamics with one another, creating an excellent story for the readers. This history serves to make the character very relatable because it defines her actions and her feelings, recounting her struggles and accomplishments in achieving her happiness. That is such a relatable and realistic concept to bring to life, and Pitchford does that beautifully in her style of writing. Her style of writing is incredibly easy to understand while it presents a complex narrative. Who We Might’ve Been is more than just some story about a girl trying to navigate through her decisions and struggles in college; it is about her journey and her health.

Billie suffers from a form of depression and alcohol abuse, and her struggle to take care of herself is impressive. Just because she is on medication and in therapy does not make everything 100% better, it is a struggle, a struggle for her to maintain that health and take care of herself. Moreover, with the complications in her life, it is not easy. For Pitchford to address that and show the struggle is beautiful. It is not only well done, but it is well done with justice, highlighting how medication, while helpful, isn’t a 100% cure like many people think. People need to want to get help, they need to want to be happy, and healthy, but that is not always easy. Billie highlights one end of the spectrum regarding that while Dahlia highlights the other end.

Dahlia is a significant character regarding this because she serves as a foil for Billie. It makes their relationship resonate with the reader because when it comes to the two characters and the development of their relationship, the reader has to be able to believe that the nature of this growth. Dahlia is a toxic individual because she does not want help and has a very warped idea of love. Dahlia does not know what it means to love and be loved, and while Billie wants to stay away, this goodness in her wants to help as well. She understands, she can resonate with Dahlia, thus helping the reader understand her, but this serves as a teaching lesson. Again, someone can only help someone who wants help; one cannot help someone otherwise and the way the story and author both show that is impactful. It can generate empathy on the side of the reader and serve as a powerful teaching moment as well. Billie’s internal narrative is compelling, it is easy to understand, and it helps the reader get a sense through description and tone, of what the author is trying to get at understanding mental illness. Billie may want to help her friend, but by trying to help someone who does not want it, she puts her wellbeing at risk. That is a red alert to readers to look at their own lives. Again, it is a teaching moment that no one should ever sacrifice his or her wellbeing for another’s happiness.

Pitchford also uses Dahlia to address consent, another important topic. With the #MeToo movement on the rise, consent is a hot topic, so addressing it is risky. However, the way the Pitchford does that is by using a female as a violator of consent. Consent goes both ways and women are more than capable of violating this as much as men, so for the author to address that within the confines of a complicated relationship is essential. To see it play out in the novel is incredible and creates great tension in the plot.

The complexity of the novel and the character dynamics adds dimension and depth to the novel. The realism and thought process that went into developing this story was incredible and served to make a grounded story. There’s a freshness to that will make readers love these characters because they can relate to them and addresses essential topics without dragging them down with over the top drama, making every scene as impactful and compelling as the last.

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