Review: Oracle of Philadelphia

17304890★★★★☆

Oracle of Philadelphia is the first book in Elizabeth Corrigan’s ongoing Earthbound Angels series. In this first installment, we are introduced to the owner of an unassuming Philadelphia diner who just happens to be a centuries-old Oracle. Carrie has borne witness to power struggles between Heaven and Hell for millennia, but she is drawn back in to their conflict in an attempt to save a man who has sold his soul to protect his sister’s life.

As someone who is mostly unfamiliar with mainstream Christian lore, I was pleased with  how the intricacies of the Earthbound Angels  world were revealed without feeling burdensome. Characters and their histories are revealed as the story weaves through time, shifting between present Philadelphia and scenes in Ancient Egypt or Paris in the midst of the industrial revolution. This look at their shared histories enhances what was  one of the greatest strength of this book: the bonds between characters. In such a large cast of angels and demons each has a distinct voice, goal, and purpose within the story. They exist independently, not as mere obstacles or aides for the protagonist. This extends to one of the most notable of Carrie’s companions, the fallen angel Bedlam. The duo’s rapport lends story humor and hope when in bleak times.

Though this is the first book in the Earthbound Angels series, it also serves well as a standalone story. I tend to stay away from series because the endings are often unsatisfying, leaving too many unanswered questions or relying on the next book to wrap up loose ends. Instead, Oracle of Philadelphia strikes the perfect balance. It is satisfying as a standalone read, but leaves ample room to expand on the questions left hanging in the books that follow. Whether you’re seeking a quick, well-developed urban fantasy novel or a new series to dive in to, I highly recommend checking this out.

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Review: Conscious Bias

46008700. sy475 ★★☆☆☆

Conscious Bias is billed as a legal thriller with f/f romance. I felt primed to read this after coming off Grace Mead’s Defense of an Other and was eager to start, but things go awry very quickly.

Calling this a thriller is just plain wrong. There is little to no tension in this story. I was propelled forward as I struggled to figure out what was going on instead of being compelled by the plot. The main character is a gifted lawyer, but she takes a backseat in the case central to the book. In the trial that is the focus of Conscious Bias, Monica Spade is not the prosecutor or even a member of the prosecutor’s team. She prepares two witnesses to testify and sits back to watch the trial. It’s interesting enough, but left Monica feeling more like a supporting character than our protagonist.

The crime that sets off the divisive trial in Apple Grove revolves around the death of Abdul Seif, an exchange student studying at the local university. There isn’t a lot of ambiguity with the crime, the reader knows that the defendant is guilty, it’s just a matter of waiting to see which side can get the system to rule in their favor. This is where Venice’s law career comes in handy, but it is hardly the saving grace of this book. The trial central to this book doesn’t start until past the halfway mark, mostly because this book is a blow-by-blow account of Monica’s every waking moment from start to finish. Silly subplots (a monkey loose in a hospital?) only add to the painful pacing.

Outside of the trial, Monica spends lots of time at the gym, where she meets Shelby. Their insta-love connection isn’t something I was in to, but that’s just a personal preference. What really killed it for me was the cringe-worthy dialogue. Shelby’s eyes were “firebombs” and her butt cheeks were “orbs.” It’s pervasive throughout the book, but peaks during the scenes in which Monica is at the gym, fantasizing about Shelby. And, that’s mostly it. For a book that’s billed as a f/f romance, there isn’t a lot going on besides fantasizing, some flirting, and getting together right at the end of the book. The sticking point for me was, again, that even though this book only spans a few weeks, they’re emphatically in love by the time they get together.

The story is further burdened by two-dimensional bad guys (sexist bosses, sleazy defense attorneys, corrupt businessmen) that fail to add and tension to the story because it is very apparent early on that the main character is always going to land on her feet because the author wants her to. I gave this book the benefit of the doubt until the very end, but there was no redemption with the rushed, senseless wrap-up. Clearly I’m in the minority here, but pick this book up at your own risk.

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Review: Black Crow, White Snow

45440171. sx318 ★☆☆☆☆

To sum this up in the quickest way possible: Black Crow, White Snow started off as an intriguing foray into a world of female pirates but quickly squandered any potential with an intense focus on the world’s matriarchy.

I picked this up on a whim because pirates and it sounded like it would be a welcome distraction from the incessant rush hour traffic. Instead, this story only compounded my frustration as I sat on the interstate. I was initially enthralled by the strong prose and great narration, but was lost soon after. In this story we get a limiting glimpse in what appears to be a very, very large world. We learn that these characters are a part of a matriarchal society that is at war, where magic is standard (albeit deadly to many), and where one’s gender will almost certainly decide what one will be in life. The ship of characters we get to know are on the way to find a mythic power that could help turn the tide of the long-fought war. And that’s about it.

These strong characters that were leading the charge to bring home a weapon that could save their people were instead two-dimensional and boring as hell. Bela is no inspiring leader in these trying times, and her lover was merely a sex object. Her crew were so redundant I could hardly distinguish them from one another no matter how much I went back to re-listen. Their egos and infighting all muddled together in the end. What irked me the most was the way the matriarchy was constantly harped upon. This wasn’t simply a society in which women were considered the stronger, superior sex and held more positions of power. It’s just disgustingly, over-the-top sexist. I was distracted constantly by the way characters in extreme peril at all times could take the time to bash and degrade the only male in the story. This is a well-worn trope that I did not expect to be the focal point of Black Crow, White Snow but was absolutely the downfall of it.

If you’re seeking out a story about strong, queer women of color, this is not it.

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Review: Teen Titans: Raven

42788199★★★★

It is finally here! The first installment of DC Ink’s new Teen Titans series. As a die-hard Marvel fan for most of my life, this isn’t a franchise that I’m familiar with beyond cartoons here and there as a kid. I was turned on to this new series because one of my favorite artists, Gabriel Picolo, illustrated Raven’s story.

Teen Titans: Raven takes place before the Teen Titans have formed, instead focusing on Raven’s life after the accident that taken the life of her mother. Suffering from memory loss, she starts a new life in New Orleans under the care of her aunt.

Garcia’s clear enthusiasm for this character coupled with Picolo’s gorgeous artwork have come together perfectly to produce a strong introduction to carry this series forward. All is introduced at the perfect pace, but long-time Teen Titans fans will still be thrilled with the appearance of some infamous foes. Perhaps my favorite part of this was the new family that takes Raven in and helps her grow. Though she struggles greatly with remembering who she is and rediscovering the truth of her powers, her aunt and sister support her through a transition into a new life. I would highly recommend this to both new and old fans of the Teen Titans franchise, the vision of Raven that Garcia and Picolo have brought to life is my favorite that I’ve ever seen and I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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Advance Review: The Need

★★☆☆☆

A mother alone with her two children, settling in for the night as her husband is abroad. An intruder who knows them intimately, lurking in their home. The Need is eerie and gripping from the very first page.

This is the first of Helen Phillips’s books that I’ve read, and I was thrilled with the captivating quality of her writing, especially her raw portrayal of motherhood. The pacing is quick, with frequent changes of scene, bouncing between the present and days earlier. I tore through the first half of the book, but found myself beginning to lose momentum as the plot progressed further. The Need became more dreamlike and ambiguous and ultimately ended this way. The final act of this book was unsatisfying and left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, but this was an interesting read nonetheless. Continue reading “Advance Review: The Need”