Book Review #20: Illusion by Joseph Phelps

The allure of Blacklight Industries’ most immersive experience, The Life of Crime, has made it the world’s premier crime game, bringing users back to the 21st century, where they can shape the world with absolute freedom. For good or bad.

Players build crews, control turf, and fight for power and status along the way. Each server is home to a unique metropolitan city, and the West Coast US server, Illusion, is under attack. For the first time in the game’s history, an entire server is threatened with total takeover by an unscrupulous and power-hungry crew known as GoonStorm.

When Kurt finds himself expelled from college and without any prospects of employment, he joins the game at the request of his best friend Jimmy, albeit three years after the initial release. Needless to say, he has a lot to learn. The pair quickly fall in with the game’s most famous driver, the mysterious Getaway Gal, and find themselves a part of a dangerous campaign to stop Illusion’s most powerful guild from taking over the server.

Outmanned and outgunned, Kurt and company are going to have to use every trick in the book to save Illusion from falling into the wrong hands.

(This blurb is taken from Amazon, as I stared at my computer for 4 hours trying to figure out how to sum this book up. LOL)

Illusion: The Blacklight Chronicles: Book One by [Joseph Phelps]
Isn’t this cover gorgeous? Taken from Amazon, of course.

I honestly don’t even know where to start! Haha. I’m at a loss for words.

For starters, I will say that Phelps has done a magnificent job of creating this immersive world around a single game. Down to the background things like AI behavior and game mechanics and the power-balance system, everything has been thought of. It’s a well-formed, creative world above all else.

Not only is the world well made, but the characters are also phenomenal. There’s not one MC that I didn’t genuinely like (or at least interested me!). Some of the GoonStorm players made me want to stick my tongue out at them, but that’s a pretty basic form of dislike. And that’s nothing towards their author! Oddly enough, it wasn’t the main MC that I found myself intrigued by. I was genuinely annoyed by how slow he was when it came to catching on and finding his niche within the game. I preferred Jimmy with his cut and dry sense of humor and his love of BIG weapons and Kitty, actually, with her devil-may-care attitude and love of FIRE.

Speaking of Kurt, actually, it took me a really long time to figure out if he was even worthy of being a main character. He just wasn’t as interesting as the other two, and I struggled to relate as much as I should. I only held off saying something because I wondered if my opinion would change, and it did. I understand his importance. It just took me a while.
The biggest issue I had (and I think it’s a stylistic, preference sort of thing) was the drawn out descriptions of the weaponry and vehicles within the game. I have this bad habit of kind of glazing over when reading over long detailed paragraphs so that I can hurry on to the plot parts. Sadly, I found myself doing this quite a lot in the beginning and middle of the book. I’ll tell you why I didn’t do it at the end later. I think its good to leave the reader a little bit more room to fill in the gaps themselves so that they can create their own images in their minds. I prefer this actually. It’s no fun if you do it all for me.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the back-to-back action. But that’s the plot! I get that. So, I know this is a definite preference issue. So, I’m not going to rag on this one for long. I felt like I could never catch a breath before Kurt’s trio were right back to getting into trouble. Although!! My favorite two action scenes were when they played Fox and Hound (because I thought his tactics really brought out his strength as a player and his personality) and then when Kitty basically told the GoonStorms her plan and then BLEW UP THE ENTIRE CITY. I like her guts, lol. She’s a woman of her word, and I can stand by that.

Overall, I’m going to give it a 4 simply because it wasn’t my style. It was still a phenomenal book, though. I feel like I’ve just completed a major accomplishment, lol. If you’re an action fan and like sitting on the edge of your seat, don’t hesitate to pick this book up.

You can buy a copy of Illusion here! Or read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review #19: Witch’s Return by Sionna Trenz

Sonya’s life outside of Stargazer Island was nothing short of torturous. An overbearing, abusive stepfather and an controlling, condescending mother maneuvered her life like two evil puppeteers. But she’s back now– out of their grip and away from their power. Her one true love and an motley crew of gifted friends welcome her in with open arms, and Sonia is able to finally take a deep breath and relax.

Or so she thinks.

Her return to the island (a safe haven for an assortment of supernatural species) brings a dark presence along with it. A man’s death serves as the first breaking of the seals in a larger ritual, but the problem is, Sonya has no idea what ritual is starting. If she doesn’t figure it out before the last seal is unbroken, Hell with be unleashed on the island. Literally.

Witch’s Return (Stargazer Island Series Book 1) by [Sionna  Trenz]
Image taken from Amazon

Style:
I’m not a fantasy fan. I’m not. *Amy, you say this every single time. Stop repeating yourself.* BUT THIS IS FANTASY. It’s an Adult Fantasy Romance, and I’m giving it FIVE stars, y’all. Five. Stars. Let me tell you why.

First of all, Trenz has managed to weave a huge assortment of fantasy elements into one neatly-made basket. You’ve got shifters, brownies, demons, ghosts, witches… In my inexperience with the genre, I’m blanking on more. But I know they’re there. Even as someone who doesn’t read a lot of this genre, I was easily able to keep up.

Second, going with the point above, Trenz somehow managed to keep my attention– even though some of the species and magical rules required some foundation. The magical system in the book is new– to me, anyway– and while it definitely had to be explained, I wasn’t falling over drooling. It was short and succinct but definitely just enough for me to say, “Oh. Makes sense. Moving on.” Often as I read, I glaze over parts like that. Not this time.

I also need to include this in here: Third, this is a ROMANTIC book. I didn’t expect that when I first started reading. I won’t spoil who ends up with who, but HOT DANG, it was beautifully written. No cringey word usage (you know the ones I’m talking about with a steamy book), and no scenes that made me want to puke. The intimate scenes were exactly that, INTIMATE. There was all this talk about “going to the stars” and “exploding together” and “stardust” and good Lord, it was so perfect and sweet that I might need to visit a dang dentist now. I absolutely loved it.

Characters:
So, like most fantasy books I’ve reviewed, this book has a bit of an ensemble cast. There’s Sonya’s friends: Liam, Sam, Rowan, Celia, and Sage. Then later we add Mason, Grace, Siobhan, and so… many… more. Then, there’s the townspeople, Sonya’s parents, the deities involved in the ritual… So many characters, y’all.

I won’t spend too much time analyzing each and every character; that would take half a year. I just want to talk about the two main protagonists (Sonya and Liam) and the main antagonists (Albert and Sonya’s mom- Eleanor).

Sonya is the perfect protagonist. Troubled past, but strong and resilient through it all. Strong connection to her natural magic and talented at using it. She’s so dedicated to her island and is more than willing to give her everything for it. I like her a LOT. Liam, quite like Sonya, is the perfect Knight of Stargazer Island. He’s sweet, charming, strong, DREAMY. He’s like the Kristoff to Sonya’s Anna– the absolute puzzle piece support system. He’s not trying to run the show (which I appreciate), but he’s definitely strong enough to take over when she needs him too.

Now the antagonists. I’ve never wanted to smack someone as hard as I want to hit ALBERT. Even his name makes me want to just…

But, like, isn’t that a compliment? Lol. Shouldn’t we all want to smack a good villain? Now Eleanor– Shame on you. You’re a terrible excuse for a mother. I find it hard to say you deserved what you got, because I’m not that evil. But I am ashamed of the things you did. Periodt.

My one complaint about the massive cast was that everyone seemed very overpowered. I picked that up in the beginning when the plot was slower, when Sonya needed a person with one specific power and then someone else magically had that exact power she needed, but as the story went on and things picked up, I sort of forgot that it was an issue. Clearly, I didn’t even deduct a star for it, so it must not be a huge problem. Lol.

Plot:
As far as plot goes, I have absolutely no complaints. A super sweet main romance, several side digs between side characters, a strong main plot line filled with magic and mystery and action, and then there’s the potential for more installments when everything’s said and done. It kept my attention from beginning to end and even had me staying up late to read another chapter (or two, I won’t lie).

I genuinely, really, really enjoyed this novel. I’ll be picking up Book 2 at my earliest convenience. 9/10– Would read again.

You can buy Sionna Trenz book here! Then, go follow her on these social media platforms.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sionnasstargazers/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sionnatrenz

Book Review #18: Wizards and Wives’ Tales by Kate Messick

Paula’s life revolves around two things: RPG and her friends. Everything else is secondary… her job, her exercise regimen, finding love. It doesn’t help that she feels like she’s not very good at her job and not the right type of girl to sweep the tall, well-dressed Luis off his feet.

Joe is an ocean away from the two people he loves the most: Dillon and Sandy. A new job, new people to play with, and a whole new world of problems. This should be simple, but Paula GMing style clashes with him (as does a few of her friends).

Can the two get past their differences and somehow manage to run a successful game? Even better, will something new blossom out of the wreckage of both of their lives?

Image taken from Amazon.

Style:
I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m falling in love with LitRPG. It’s almost like two stories wrapped up into one— the main “real world” story and then the campaign. This litRPG novel is somehow nothing like the others I’ve read, and yet, I love it none the less.

Like i said, two stories in one here! And I feel like that takes special talent! Not only do we have two well-balanced storylines that interweave absolutely seamlessly, we also have two sides to EACH character. Honestly, the level of skill this would take to write blows my mind. Each different POV is written so distinctively that I had absolutely no trouble bouncing from eye to eye, and I enjoyed each and every one of them.

While it is an indeed complex book in the layers of characters and plot lines, the style isn’t over complex. It was very easy to follow and understand from beginning to end. It was a average length read that took me about a week. With my busy schedule, that’s about normal.

Characters:
I’ve kind of talked about this already, but I can’t praise Messick enough for her talent in characterization. Honestly, every single character she wrote is a separate individual, and they all stood out from each other. No bleeding over or confusion at all.

The main characters are by far Some of my favorite I’ve read in a while. Paula is the epitome of a relatable character—less than confident, less than perfect, less than traditionally beautiful, and definitely not without fault. At the same time, though, she cares endlessly for her friends and would go to any lengths to ensure their happiness and safety. I was constantly rooting for her, even when I wanted to strangle her for not kicking Business Suit (for spoiler’s sake, I won’t say his name) out the moment he started being a controlling jerk.

Joe is not as perfect as Paula is in my eyes, but I like that he’s the typical protective male type without being too overbearing on anyone. He also has lingering issues, but don’t we all? And I mean, I love a woman fixing a troubled man. 😂😂

Overall, no complaints on characters! Last note: I appreciate that the office cat had his own chapters! It really added to the story in a unique way. I’ve never seen anything like that before. It was fantastic and hilarious.

Plot:
I don’t want to go too deeply into this, because I want everyone who reads this to go pick up a copy of this book. You NEED to. I don’t say that lightly.

I often abuse the term “page-turner” because I am a known book-aholic. I won’t deny that. But this book was indeed a page-turner. It had absolutely everything you might want– romance, action, fantasy, RPG. You name it, this book had it. The action kept me reading long after I was supposed to be in bed and brought me back after I finally had no choice but to put it down. The romance had me squealing and swooning (and even wanting to smack someone), but it wasn’t so overly done that I felt like gagging. And then THE FANTASY. I don’t do fantasy. I feel like a fish thrown into a desert when I read it. But this was simple enough (and well explained) that I wasn’t confused.

My one complaint was that the epilogue (I’d have to check back, but it was post-story definitely) didn’t really feel necessary. The story felt nice and wrapped up with a pretty red bow on the top, and then– there’s more? **SPOILER** The engagement wasn’t really needed in my opinion, and I could have been perfectly happy without it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they got together! shrug

Even if you’re not a RPG player– you NEED this book. You won’t regret it. I’m giving it a full 10/10.

You can buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Wizards-Wives-Tales-Adventure-Rolling-ebook/dp/B08JTGW2G6

AND follow Kate Messick on the following social media sites:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KateMessickAuthor
Her blog: https://justapotato.com/