Reading for pleasure, research, and for more than one professional outlet for book reviews makes it easy to lose a few submissions in transmission. Through absolutely no fault of their own, the following worthy titles' reviews didn't reach their intended online destinations earlier this year.
Crysta Levere (Twitter: @LevereCrysta)
YA contemporary supernatural romance
August 25, 2020
Dangerous secrets churn beneath the veneer of small-town charm in Aberdeen, Massachusetts. Nineteen-year-old Ava has pulled herself up from abandonment and homelessness into being a student at Agatha College. A classified ad leads her to off-campus housing with Dahlila, a local, and friendship with her fellow designated Outcasts. Their small group ventures to an underground social club that pulses with sinister intentions. Soon, Ava's life becomes entangled with mysterious Layton's murky existence and hidden agenda. Their chemistry sizzles. Volatile confrontations, multiple mysteries, a sometimes unreliable narrator in Ava, and sliding timelines combine to make Vitality a whirlwind tale of obsession.
Loaded with young adult angst and declarations of existential philosophy, Ava and Layton's story also includes smooth integration of sexual orientation as a fluid trait, and references to mild kink. Moody atmospheric prose teeters close to purplish territory. Mixed metaphors, odd word substitutions, a few clunky scene transitions, and a pattern of discordant syntax in characters' dialogue distract from a strong premise and compelling intrigue that moves forward with accelerated momentum. More clarity in the initial setup would support a less jumbled sense of competing unknown key factors for readers to sort and understand. A thrilling, unpredictable conclusion establishes high expectations for Vitality 2 [sic]. Fans of Rachel Caine's Morganville series who enjoy more edgy menace and erotic intensity should devour this imaginative mix of supernatural lore.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown (Brown Sisters #2)
Avon, June 23, 2020
This irreverent, bawdy romantic farce blends slapstick and laugh aloud hijinks with poignant emotional depth and biting social commentary. It starts with an unconventional prayer. Doctoral candidate Danika Brown needs a new friend with benefits after her most recent “situationship" implodes. If only grumpy security guard Zafir Ansari were available for some no-strings action. Dani learns the Universe often has a sense of mischievous humor when it comes to answering prayers, especially when the supplicant isn't paying attention. Utterly charming romantic mayhem ensues.
As the second installment of the Brown sisters' trilogy, Take A Hint, Dani Brown manages to offer more laughs (and profanity) than Chloe's story as it continues addressing broader issues of racism, body-shaming, mental health, and the mixed bag consequences of social media exposure. Those concerns and more are smoothly integrated into a spritely narrative with provocative layers. Snappy dialogue, a celebration of sisterhood and womanhood, and men with nuanced emotional range inject additional complexity into themes of rejection and grief. Talia Hibbert's immense storytelling talents generate giddy satisfaction for readers and respectful envy from other authors. Dani and Zafir's story sets a high standard of expectation for youngest sister Evie's journey, which is scheduled for release in 2021.
Star Quest (#2): All That Remains
Patricia Lee Macomber
Mystique Press, July 31, 2020
A few concise opening paragraphs introduce readers to the second installment of intergalactic adventures with Commander Cara Bishop and company. It works as a stand-alone in which crisis management is the focus and romance is mostly implied as Cara and her superior officer, Captain Steve Hunter, lead the Endeavor on an exploratory mission that crosses paths with a mysterious ghost ship. What happened? Where's its home origin? Answering these and other key questions while juggling the professional, technical, and personal demands of moving through space expands the scope of the mystery, and magnifies the interpersonal dynamics between the crew members.
Star Trek, Westworld, The Twilight Zone and more, this author's engaging space opera offers nods to staple tropes and themes in the SciFi genre with quirky fun. The tight, brisk narrative pace at the beginning starts to slow around the midpoint. Noticeable procedural oddities by crew members, and conflict resolutions that seem a bit too tidy detract from the strengths of distinctive characterizations, balanced integration of science and technology with messy human drama, and insightful world building. Star Quest: All That Remains takes readers on an entertaining imaginary jaunt.