Drug Deal Deception

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Drug cartels fighting can be an intricate affair for those involved, particularly when each party wants to send a message of their strength and superiority. Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love follows Lola through what might be her last few days as she works to keep herself out of the deadly crosshairs of the cartel.

The Crenshaw Six is a gang in South Central Los Angeles looking to make their mark in the region, drawing themselves into the battle between the resident drug cartels. With Lola’s man Garcia appearing to be the leader of the Crenshaw Six, the real leader, Lola, is able to piece together important information by playing the role as a submissive, occasionally battered, woman. With her life of the line for a botched drug deal, Lola needs to figure out where the heroin and two million in cash disappeared to, and fast. With her cunning and strength, Lola manages to uncover the truth behind one of the cartels in her attempt to survive.

As a portrayal of the intricacies of gang hierarchies it was refreshing to see an acknowledgment of the ability of a woman to be a powerful leader. Lola is a strong, intelligent character with enough vulnerability to make her feel real and Lucy is similarly strong and precocious in the situations she finds herself in with Lola (although perhaps a little too precocious and helpful to be entirely believed); however, the other characters presented are more surface-level depictions of a stereotype serving a purpose in Lola’s life. For a crime story, this is a decent read that is rather entertaining, as long as you don’t look too closely at some of the details, which should have been researched a little more thoroughly to retain some realism and characters who could have been fleshed out a bit more.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Mastering Magic

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Power defines social ranking, and not just governmental power, but magical power as well. One girl’s unique magical ability plays a role in an uprising for magical equality in Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves.

In a society where your bloodline determines your eligibility to harness and use magic, the division between the ruling elite and the common people is vast. Anna Arden was born to the ruling class, the Luminate, but she’s been categorized as Barren, unable to wield magic. After immense anger unexpectedly disrupted the spell her sister was casting during her debut, Anna is exiled to Hungary with her Grandmama to protect the sisters’ reputations. While traveling to and in Hungary, Anna witnesses first-hand the divide between the classes, in which a rebellion is brewing and gaining strength, and she is determined to find a way to use magic, but in using it she has a choice to make in what role she’ll have withing the rebellion.

Despite an overly familiar plot within this genre, I enjoyed the story, it moved quickly, and it was set in 19th century Hungary, which was a rather unique setting. The world building of the Binding reminded me of Alice traveling through the looking glass, where everything might not be as it seems and it provided a good reflection of the brutal realities of Anna’s world. There was continuity issue that ripped me out of the story, which was Anna’s mastery of Hungarian: when she’s first in Hungary she mentions that she doesn’t know much Hungarian outside of what her Grandmama calls her, then she mentions that she’s learned just enough to be able to roughly ask for help to learn how to use Romani magic, but then when suddenly confronted with bad news in a Hungarian newspaper she suddenly seems able to read it without any issue, but there’s been no mention that she’s been working on learning the language.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Deliciously Deadly

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Food. That delicious sustenance that perpetuates life…unless you’re some of the unfortunate victims in The Devil’s Feast by M.J. Carter.

Captain William Avery is attending to some business in London and catching up with friend and mentor Jeremiah Blake when he finds himself in the middle of a suspicious string of deaths by poisoning being kept quite at a club that’s noted for its famous French chef Alexis Soyer. Investigating the deaths, Avery, who is primarily on his own due to Blake’s fugitive status, learns of the various political and personal grudges to be found within the kitchen. Each of these grudges provides a potential motive to commit these poisonings, but Avery strives to find out the truth before an important political dinner takes place at the club.

Filled with lots of details, which demonstrates the level of research involved in crafting this mystery, the story withheld the culprit’s identity until the very last moment, providing plenty of plausible false leads along the way. While there was lots of description given to dishes, clothing, and people’s actions, there wasn’t a lot in the way of an actual plot until Blake reappears to help move matters along. The inclusion of Thackeray as a character, albeit minor, piqued my interest since I was an English major. I found the fact that The Lancet was mentioned interesting since I work in academic journals publishing and am familiar with the title. Having not read the other books in this series, I didn’t feel that I was missing out on too much backstory information; however, there were instances where having ready previous installments might have been helpful in better understanding what was being referenced.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Spectral Investigations

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Teenagers might think that nobody listens to them, but when no one can literally hear, or even see you, you have a whole new set of problems, such as being dead, as in Bad Girl Gone by Temple Mathews.

16 year old Echo Stone can’t figure out why she’s woken up someplace she doesn’t recognize, Middle House, surrounded by rude kids she doesn’t know. Or why she keeps being called an orphan when she knows that her parents are alive. When she sees her parents driving away from her home, which worryingly appears to be a bloody crime scene, she stands in the middle of the road but their car goes right through her, forcing her to realize that she’s dead. A ghost. Lingering until she can solve and seek vengeance for her murder, Echo works with other murdered kids at Middle House to figure out what happened to her, which also provides an opportunity for Echo to realize certain truths about herself during the process.

The story and concept had me intrigued from the start; however, while the narrative had potential I ultimately found that this could have been developed into something greater, and more enjoyable, than it is. There were some continuity errors, notably with the eye colors of Cole and Andy. When Cole was introduced as Hazel Eyes and then later said to have blue eyes and Andy is introduced with blue eyes and then his brown eyes are mentioned…not great – it pulled me out of the narrative to question it, which breaks any suspension of disbelief I had going. Echo was also a rather annoying character – she seems to have one image of herself, oblivious to attributes of her personality that others find detestable about her – maybe I could buy that being killed messed with your memory, but she had no problem recalling things about others; plus she seemed to define herself based upon her relationships with guys, which is never something that I like to see in a character, especially when the romantic angle overtakes the mystery angle of the story.

Overall, I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Masked Motives

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A deadly audition to fill a vacancy for an assassin for the Queen and an opportunity to take revenge upon the nobles responsible for the destruction of the Nacean people is the focal point of Sal’s life in Linsey Miller’s Mask of Shadows.

Sallot Leon has a brutally tragic history that drove Sal toward a life of thievery and crime. The latest mark had an interesting note in her purse, indicating the upcoming auditions to become the new Opal for the Queen, one of four assassins to do her bidding. Intrigued by the opportunity to get closer to the nobles responsible for the destruction of Sal’s native Nacea, Sal goes to audition to be able to exact revenge when the moment arises. In becoming auditioner Twenty-Three, Sal’s identity is pushed to new limits in the attempt to win the competition and serve the Queen while gaining insight and skills to better exact revenge.

The story moves rather quickly and is quite engrossing and enjoyable to read; however, there was a bit of a slow down toward the middle of the narrative while auditions were taking place and it became more of a waiting game for the competition to be killed off. I thought that the romantic entanglement with Elise wasn’t entirely needed (apart from moving the plot forward) and it happened a bit too fortuitously for my preferences to be believable. I was excited about the inclusion of a gender fluid protagonist, and although it appeared to be very simplistically portrayed, it was easy to grasp and greatly appreciated as it wasn’t the only defining feature about Sal–plus it worked toward building the malleability needed in a successful assassin.

Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.