MANGA: Midnight Radio
Midnight Radio – Iolanda Zanfardino
An intriguingly interwoven tale of four lives changed by a mysterious late-night radio broadcast that wakes them up from their mundane existences. Each tale speaks to different social issues without pandering to a political agenda: LGBT+ rights, racism, social network addiction, and the difficult decision between settling down versus following your dreams. Each tale is told in a vivid, polychromatic illustration style that flows from one character to another and back again in a uniquely identifiable fashion
Midnight Radio tackled social issues and tried to be meaningful but does not really say anything new. The delivery was flat. It was kind of predictable. I was bored.
On the upside, loved the polychromatic illustrations! It helped me follow the 4 interconnected stories and it’s nice to look at.
I received a copy of Midnight Radio from Lion Forge via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
2 Stars – it’s a struggle to finish the damn book
REVIEW: Dark Rivers by Morgan Brice
Witchbane: Dark Rivers – Morgan Brice
One hundred years ago, a sheriff’s posse killed dark warlock Rhyfel Gremory, but his witch-disciples escaped, and their magic made them nearly immortal. To keep their power, each year one of the witch-disciples kills a descendant of one of the men in the posse, a twelve-year cycle that has cost dozens of lives, including that of Seth Tanner’s brother, Jesse.
Seth Tanner uncovers the cycle of ritual killings that feeds the power of the witch-disciples, and he’s hell bent on getting vengeance for Jesse and stopping the murders. His fledgling romantic relationship with Evan Malone complicates his mission, but Seth can’t walk away. Seth and Evan are learning to navigate their partnership—as lovers and monster hunters—while they chase down the next witch-disciple and avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention.
When the hunt takes Seth and Evan to Pittsburgh on the trail of the next killer, they’ll have to save the intended victim and take down the powerful witch. If the skills they possess and the bond between them isn’t enough, the evil will remain unchallenged, and more people will die…
Note: Includes mention of past domestic violence and stalking.
While Witchbane, book one, left me unimpressed, Dark Rivers, the second book went a long way into convincing me about this series. Enough to earn an extra star.
One of the best things about it was that Evan definitely improved a lot. He is now far from the TSTL character I tagged him in the first book. Now he can do magic spells using sigils and martial arts. He and Seth still has to deal with PTSD but he was able to keep his cool during his abduction. And saved himself. Attaboy!
I also complained previously about the first book trying too hard to be steamy. Here, the horny thoughts and sex scenes were less distracting and mesh more naturally into the story. The developments between Seth and Evan was more believable and I’m now sold on their romance.
The POV switched between Evan and Seth which generally worked throughout the story, although I would have wanted Evan’s POV when he was fighting with Mike, the psycho ex, instead of having it relayed through Seth’s eyes.
The writing is still straightforward and no frills but the suspense is tighter and the story is more action packed. A big plus is the introduction of the other monster hunter team, ex-priest Travis and former special ops Brent, characters from the author’s other series, Night Vigil. I know Seth and Evan could hold their own in a fight but it’s comforting to know there are other people who can watch their backs.
Overall, this is a good sequel to Witchbane and though still far from perfect, is definitely much better written. The author was able to address some issues from the first book and also gave our heroes time to grow and catch a break. And most importantly, Dark Rivers succeeded in changing my mind about this series. I’m definitely into this now so good job, Morgan Brice!
review of Witchbane here
other Morgan Brice books here
I received a copy of Dark Rivers from Darkwind Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
Soundtrack: Where The River Flows
Artist: Collective Soul
Album: Collective Soul
MANGA: Star Collector Vol. 2
Star Collector Vol. 2 – Sophie Schonhammer & Anna Backhausen
Fynn’s favorite activities are skipping class, smoking, and lying around. So when he’s told it’s time to shape up and try doing something else for a change, he has no idea where to even start.
Then, on a nighttime walk around his neighborhood, he sees a stranger with a telescope up on a hill: his name is Niko, and he loves to watch the stars. Intrigued, Flynn decides to find out more about this nerdy boy and what could be so interesting about the night sky that he loves so much.
This is the second and final volume of the Star Collector series.
This is the angstier, more painful sequel to Star Collector Vol. 1 in which there were a lot of fights and unnecessary drama. Nico shutting Fynn out made me want to shake him. Also, Nico’s homophobic dad, do we really need him there?
I liked the fluffier Vol 1 better but Vol. 2 also had many poignant moments, like Nico and Fynn’s visit to Nico’s grandfather or Fynn’s mom who knows.
I love Nico and Fynn. I think they’re cute together and that they finally saw their shooting star but THAT’S IT?!
review of Star Collector Vol. 1 here
I received a copy of Star Collector Vol. 2 from Tokyo Pop via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it
REVIEW: Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity–what it means and how to think about it–for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.
I learned the term asexual sometime in 2015 and more recently, gender queer. It wasn’t earth shattering or life-changing. It was more like something clicking into place with the knowledge that that disinterested state you have known all this time has a name. If this graphic novel was released much earlier, that light bulb moment would have come sooner too.
In my country, the term gender queer is relatively unknown. If you are not hetero, it’s either you are a gay or lesbian. People confuse gay with trans, even the gay guys themselves almost always have the idea that being gay means becoming or acting like a woman. Those who prefer to act masculine are referred to with derision as ‘pretending to be a man’ or ‘not a real man’. Lesbians were also expected to be butch and lipstick lesbians are not common. Much of my experience with gender queers are those born biologically male and would be automatically tagged as gay. Maia Kobabe would be tagged as lesbian and it would take a very lengthy explanation to make people understand. There are no guarantees they will.
This memoir will help open minds. It explores gender identity and self. It also talks about love and family and how having a sibling who just gets you could make all the difference in the world. It chronicles the difficulties and horrors a gender queer person goes through. It is raw and very honest, sometimes painfully so but always with a touch of humor and optimism. In itself, it is a highly enjoyable graphic novel with interesting illustrations and has an ending that leaves an opening for a sequel just in case.
I highly recommend this to everybody.
I received a copy of Gender Queer: A Memoir from Lion Forge via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Soundtrack: Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
Artist: David Bowie
Album: Pin Ups
REVIEW: Witchbane by Morgan Brice
Witchbane – Morgan Brice
Seth Tanner and his brother Jesse’s fun evening debunking local urban legends ends with Jesse’s gruesome murder. Seth vows revenge on Jesse’s killer – too bad the murderer has been dead for a hundred years. Seth uncovers a cycle of ritual killings that feed the power of a dark warlock’s immortal witch-disciples, and he’s hell bent on stopping Jackson Malone from becoming the next victim. He’s used to risking his neck. He never intended to risk his heart.
I had high hopes for this. Sadly, it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.
Witchbane would have been more effective if it spent more time establishing the occult elements instead of trying too hard to be steamy. It was annoying how Seth and Evan’s almost every other thought drifted to boning each other instead of putting more effort at finding that witch which kills the momentum of whatever chilling suspense Morgan Brice was setting up. I also found the writing repetitive at some points.
I wasn’t convinced Seth and Evan should be using the L-word already given that they hardly trust each other and have known each other barely a week. Also, Evan was TSTL which is ironic for somebody who ran away from home and should have honed his stranger danger radar already. I was amazed at how easily he trusted a stranger simply because that person was a cop. ‘Round these parts, we never trust cops. I know it’s a cultural difference thing but still, after what he had seen, why is he still doubting Seth?
I liked Seth and I could see he was really trying hard to do his job. He has no compunction about lying or hacking or breaking the law which at first glance makes him suspect but monsters don’t follow human laws and the necessities of monster hunting calls for creativity and an open mind. I want to see Seth becoming a sort of MacGyver because heck, I haven’t seen a MacGyver type of character in MM so far.
This is another series where the world is more interesting than the execution of the plot. The Witchbane world is interconnected with the Badlands worlds and I really liked Badlands. I’m hoping for cameos in both series although, TBH, I would probably stick with Badlands at this point.
review of Badlands here
I received a copy of Witchbane from Dark Wind Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like
Soundtrack: Small Town Witch
Artist: Sneaker Pimps
REVIEW: Badlands by Morgan Brice
Badlands – Morgan Brice
Medium and clairvoyant Simon Kincaide owns a Myrtle Beach boardwalk shop where he runs ghost tours, holds séances, and offers private psychic readings, making a fresh start after his abilities cost him his lover and his job as a folklore professor. Jaded cop Vic D’Amato saw something supernatural he couldn’t explain during a shootout several years ago in Pittsburgh and relocated to Myrtle Beach to leave the past behind, still skeptical about the paranormal. But when the search for a serial killer hits a dead end, Vic battles his skepticism to ask Simon for help. As the body count rises, Simon’s involvement makes him a target, and a suspect. But Simon can’t say no, even if it costs him his life and heart.
The blurb grabbed my attention and Badlands reminded me of Psycop by Jordan Castillo Price with a teensy wee bit of that Whyborne & Griffin and The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal vibe. It has the same paranormal/urban fantasy/romance blend as the other series but it has it’s own distinct flavor that is just as interesting.
Although, I was neutral about the romance part at first. But I was also like that with Vic and Jacob from Psycop and now I couldn’t get enough of the two. So the romance. Simon is cute, Vic D’Amato is good looking, they met, sparks flew, one couldn’t get the other out of their mind and so on. Nothing we haven’t seen before until Simon was dragged into the precinct and Vic wasn’t there to back him up. The look on Simon’s face and Vic helpless on the other side of the glass , I was feeling that moment. Hang on, guys!
What really carried the entire book was the unputdownable murder mystery mixed in with the supernatural. As if a serial killer isn’t bad enough, we get a serial killer stealing psychic energies and gaining magical powers from each kill. Although the suspense and mystery kept me turning the page, it wasn’t as tight as I would have liked because the two men’s thoughts kept circling back to each other which was kind of minimized tension from the build-up. The book splits evenly between romance and the rest but I preferred it to be more detective work less thinking about getting into each others pants because people are dying here, detective.
I was in the dark as to who the killer was. I made a bad guess as usual and suspected Jay, the tattoo artist. Stupid, I know. This is why I don’t try to play detective when reading mysteries. Best to just let the whole thing unfold without preconceive notions. Simon, however, would have made a great detective if he hadn’t become a uni professor. When he got some clues, he totally ran with it and came up with a lot of breakthroughs and insider information that unfortunately made him seem like the killer. Hence, him being interrogated by Ross.
This needs to be said, but I think Ross wins the Best Partner award for not only putting up with Vic’s temper all the time, covering his ass from the Captain, being the voice of reason and a loyal friend but also doing ALL the paper work in the aftermath of the debacle. You owe him, Vic. Big time.
As for the world-building, I like how the Badlands world is set-up and that it is connected with books from Morgan Brice’s other series. Myrtle Beach is home to many people with psychic abilities, most of them untrained and keeping low key. Simon sees himself as kind of like their mentor slash caretaker. I like the idea of having a network of psychic spies and I want see the Skeleton Crew in action again in the next books.
Badlands is a strong first book of a very promising series. We have two very likable MCs, an enjoyable mystery and great setting. Morgan Brice vividly bought Myrtle Beach to life with its crowd of tourists, quirky shops and even quirkier locals. I’m definitely in for another visit.
Psycop review here
Whyborne & Griffin review here
The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal review here
I received a copy of Badlands from Darkwind Press via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Soundtrack: Psychic City (Voodoo City)
Album: See Mystery Lights
REVIEW: Exit PLans For Teenage Freaks by Nathan Burgoine
Exit PLans For Teenage Freaks – Nathan Burgoine
Being the kid abducted by old Ms. Easton when he was four permanently set Cole’s status to freak. At seventeen, his exit plan is simple: make it through the last few weeks of high school with his grades up and his head down.
When he pushes through the front door of the school and finds himself eighty kilometers away holding the door of a museum he was just thinking about, Cole faces facts: he’s either more deluded than old Ms. Easton, or he just teleported.
Now every door is an accident waiting to happen―especially when Cole thinks about Malik, who, it turns out, has a glass door on his shower. When he starts seeing the same creepy people over his shoulder, no matter how far he’s gone, crushes become the least of his worries. They want him to stop, and they’ll go to any length to make it happen.
Cole is running out of luck, excuses, and places to hide.
Time for a new exit plan.
Ever had a dream where you’re suddenly in a public place with no clothes on?
That could very well be Cole’s reality when he suddenly gained the ability to teleport and he needed to get it under control fast! Teleportation is one of my top five must-have superpowers and like Cole, I’d have my fun with it too but we could all do without the creepy guys watching our every move.
The way teleportation was used in this book was closer to magic realism than full blown fantasy because it was hardly focused on majority of the book. It was more like just another skill Cole needed to work on on top of academics and art. At some points, it felt inconsequential on the face of the everyday events Cole and his friends dealt with. It even occurred to me, this subplot was just there to give the book an extra something because without it, it would simply be a typical LGBT-themed YA.
It took me a while to totally get into the story. It started slow for me then picked up when I was a third in. What I really enjoyed the most were the people and their relationships. I really loved Cole’s parents and I am happy to see a teenager who has a happy and contented relationship with his parents since many teenagers in books and movies seemed to complain about their parents. The Rainbow Club is a joy and even Grayson, the one they complained about, did good. Cole and Alec’s friendship are goals, Malik is a sweetheart and I want Candace in my corner. The representations were awesome and genuine. I think the only thing missing was a dog.
The story zooms back to the teleportation part on the last 30% of the book. Cole finally meet the creepy people face to face, did some gutsy moves then poof! it ended just when him and Malik were heading somewhere fun. I don’t know if the book has a sequel, I hope it does. The way things ended between them, I think he might hear from other teleporters in the future. Also, I want to go places with Cole and Malik.
Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks deals with a lot of things, from sexuality, growing up, career plans, disabilities to discovering you have superpowers. Some of these were well-developed and I particularly liked the inclusion of ASL in the novel, something the author knows first hand. Other aspects were either rushed or tossed around then left open such as Grayson and Alec’s conflict, Alec and Ben or that year-end party that was mentioned here and there but not shown. These asides and casual mentions reflects real life conversations but in a book, they’re kind of frustrating.
Another plus for me is that while the book is about a gay teen, it is not about coming out and all the LGBT+ teens were happy being themselves. Overall, I enjoyed the book and I think most people would also like the positive relationships, the diversity, and realistic portrayal of teenagers.
I received a copy of Exit Plans For Teenage Freaks from Bold Strokes Books via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
Soundtrack: Song About Teleportation
Artist: Wings of Love
Album: The Charming Ghost of Freedom
REVIEW: Parallel Larry by Jacqueline Rohrbach
Parallel Larry – Jacqueline Rohrbach
Larry’s search for love didn’t include Greg, his regular waiter at his favorite restaurant. Always too busy daydreaming about a handsome doctor, Larry fails to notice Greg’s shy advances. But when Greg finally finds the courage to ask Larry out, he’s suddenly killed in a freak car accident. Only then does Larry realize how perfect they could have been together.
No one gets a second shot at true love. Or do they?
Inexplicably, Larry is drawn into a parallel reality, and in this new timeline, Greg is still very much alive. Here, the shy young waiter Larry knew from before has managed to live out many of his dreams. All except one: he hasn’t found love. Larry gets one more shot after all!
There are a few problems. One, Larry’s time is limited. Two, Greg has already dated the parallel reality’s Larry, and he was a real jerk. Now Larry has to prove he’s nothing at all like his evil doppelganger and that he is willing to risk everything to protect the man he loves.
He’s found Greg again. To keep him, Larry will have to stop daydreaming and fight himself—literally—not just metaphorically.
This is partly what I expected.
Parrallel Larry’s premise of a second chance romance involving a dimension jump is really interesting. Being no stranger to bizaarre and seemingly random sci-fi stories like the anime, Space Dandy, I totally buy the multi-dimensional verse, the toaster portal and the eighties obsession. I also expected it to be fluffy and cute and on those points, it delivered.
What was hard to believe was how things seemed to be too conveniently set up, like suddenly Larry had a knife in his boots or staying in the new dimension was as simple as inserting a microchip that didn’t really do anything. Don’t their government have other, more conclusive methods? While I am not really expecting something profound, I felt the story lacked a certain oomph, and its fluff and cute seemed shallow. Greg and Larry were both likable people and their romance would have been more heartfelt had it had more depth.
Overall, the execution could use some work but I think the set-up has a lot of potential and can be expanded. I am all for amping up the offbeat elements, and creating a series where multi-dimensional jumpers find love in other universes.
I received a copy of Parallel Larry from Nine Star Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like
Soundtrack: You’re Mine
Artist: A Flock of Seagulls
Album: The Light At The End Of The World
MANGA: Servant & Lord
Servant & Lord – Lo & Lorinell Yu
Christian has always admired handsome, talented composer Daniel. Their shared appreciation for music marked the beginning of a friendship between a willful boy and a sophisticated young man…
But when tragedy strikes and circumstances twist around to put Daniel in the service of Christian’s wealthy family, their bond is tried in unexpected ways. Years ago, the universal language of music drew them toward one another.
Now, Christian has to hope it’s still enough to bridge the gap between their vastly different lives.
Servant & Lord is an age-gap story between the bratty rich kid Christian and his long suffering friend cum caretaker cum mentor and former composer Daniel.
Like all the good M&S tropes, the dynamics between Christian and Daniel is filled with USTs, and fervent longing. Christian is more open about his feelings and Daniel, being older and an employee of Christian’s father, kept his under tight reigns. The manga is mostly from Christian’s POV but I really liked it that there were some parts were presented from Daniel’s perspective.
The manga starts from the time Christian met Daniel as a child, to him as a high school student and finally as a university student. Through all these years, Daniel is in denial and maintains the illusion that Christian’s feelings were the affections of a child and therefore something he would outgrow. And so I threw big hurrah when Christian took matters in his own hands and made Daniel face his feelings.
Since I like slow burn stories, this is right up my alley. The artwork looks good and I had no problems following the story progression. Age-gap is not my jam but I have no issues with it here. The story is not the most unique but still interesting enough for me to enjoy. I’m looking forward to the sequel.
I received a copy of Servant & Lord from Tokyo Pop via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
REVIEW: Noble Hops by Layla Reyne
Trouble Brewing: Noble Hops – Layla Reyne
Everything Dominic Price has worked hard to uphold is about to come crashing down on everything he holds dear.
So much for the quiet life. Just as assistant US attorney and brewery owner Dominic Price is settling into a comfy new chapter with his partner, FBI agent Cameron Byrne, the sudden death of Nic’s father puts their happily-ever-after in jeopardy. Nic immediately suspects foul play, his prime suspect a notorious gangster his father was indebted to—only now the loan shark is out for blood.
Cam has been longing for Nic to finally let him in on this very personal case. But when Nic’s belief that he’s the sole Price heir is upended, the line between personal and professional starts to blur, leaving Cam unsure of where he stands.
Nic is depending on Cam’s kidnap and rescue expertise to save his recently discovered family member before it’s too late. But with a dangerous threat closing in, the ghosts from Nic’s past cast long shadows. Any relationship could crack under the pressure, but for Nic, finding his family might mean losing the love of his life.
I want some of that Fighting Boston Irish Stout!
Noble Hops wraps the Trouble Brewing series with a lot of suspense, action and that much awaited HEA. This third installment is focused on Nic. We get some answers to burning questions, such as why Vaugh was so hell-bent on hassling Nic when he had already cut ties with his father and who is this GS tattooed on Nic’s back.
Cam and Nic is rock-solid and nothing could come between them, not even Nic’s first love, though Cam had his insecurities. I love how in sync they were with each other and nothing underscores their deep connection than when Nic wholeheartedly said Cam would find him. He always does.
Like any MM reader, I love a good love story but Noble Hops is my kind of MM book in which there’s a whole lot of plot going on and the romance is on the side. An important person was kidnapped and Cam was in charge of the rescue operation. The search and rescue and the case against Vaugh took up most of the book. Vaughn was one tough bastard to nail. Waiting for him and Bowers to get their comeuppance kept me turning the pages. Nic’s family secrets were exposed but on the upside, his family expanded. Also, I have been waiting for it!, Nic doing his AUSA magic in the courtroom. Go get that bastard, Counselor!
I highly recommend Trouble Brewing. It’s an addicting romantic suspense series with well-written story arcs, lovable cast of characters, exciting romance, also, great beer.
And please, do we get a wedding novella? A spin-off for Eddie and G?
I received a copy of Noble Hops from Carina Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Soundtrack: Falling In Love Is A Suicide Mission
Artist: Our Krypton Son
Album: Fleas & Diamonds