review

Book Review – Chronicles of the Nocturnal Forest

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Chronicles of the Nocturnal Forest – Vanessa Kings

Melanie is living an ordinary, boring life when one night she is transported in her dreams to the Kingdom of Astebeth. Night after night, the fairy of her dreams will tell her the stories of the inhabitants of the Kingdom, its town, and the magical Nocturnal Forest nearby. A forest full of magical creatures where the impossible can happen. Soon, she comes to
suspect that her dreams may not only be dreams after all. Follow her on her incredible journeys that will take her to magical places and beyond Earth itself to discover the magical secret of the Nocturnal Forest in the first part of The Fairy of my Dreams trilogy.

Score – 2

Breakdown:

Plot – 2

Characters – 2

Writing – 3

I’m going to start by saying this book didn’t work for me. Your mileage may very much vary. This is book has a very strong fairytale feel, is sweet, innocent , and light. I can see that would appeal to other readers. Unfortunately I couldn’t bond with this book.

Melanie, the narrator, is a girl struggling to fit in. She wants to spend more time away from the real world, prefers her books to dealing with people. I could definitely relate to this. Initially, there’s a conflict with her parents, who naturally want her to come out of her shell as she’s at the age where she should be considering university and careers, rather than fairytales. Unfortunately, this conflict doesn’t really go anywhere. There are no real consequences for Melanie as she gets sucked into the dream world and the lives of the people there. She doesn’t fail exams, and the relationship the parents don’t really sour or come to a head in a big argument. I would have liked to see more  development of her, for her to be more than just the narrator of the story, which is all she is. There’s a reason for her recording her dreams, revealed at the end, but she doesn’t really grow or learn from her experiences.

Melanie’s dreams focus around a particular family. The first story is of Sarah and Thomas, star-crossed lovers who were denied by nature of their birth hundreds of years ago. Now reborn, they fall in love again, but unfortunately so is their enemy, who kept them apart in the part. I’m all for a forbidden and the redeemed love. I adore that sort of thing. My problem with Sarah and Thomas’s story was that it was too easily resolved. They were kept apart by nature of their birth, but now they are reincarnated in right social classes to live happily ever after, and that’s all their really is to it.

There’s an awful lot of happily ever after in this book. As the family moves through the years, children are born, grow up, fall in love, live happily and have more children that do the same. If this hadn’t been the format of the majority of the book, it wouldn’t have bothered me too much, but it ended up dragging for me. I found myself skipping through things because I wasn’t worried that anything was going to really happen.

What I did like was the whimsy of some of the events, which verged on the surreal in places. The moon goes missing in one dream, and in another there’s a spaceship ride to Mercury, where the characters meet the Mercurians and enrol them in solving problems back on Earth. This sort of throwing all rules to the wind and running the story on pure imagination really appealed to me. It felt fresh and different and I wished there was  more of it.

The ending was unsurprising, and there were a few editing issues I noticed that I didn’t see elsewhere.

The book is also illustrated and both the chapter breaks and the illustrations of the characters are a lovely touch that add to the feel of the book. Overall, while I found the characters lacked depth and the plot could have done with more stakes, I can see this working well for younger readers, perhaps as a book for parents to read with their children.

Book Review – The Beholder

The Beholder

The Beholder by Ivan Amberlake

Around the world, people die under mysterious circumstances. Each branded with an arcane sign, they are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. When more people are missing, with similar signs appearing in and around their homes, Jason, an average New Yorker, realizes the victims are a riddle addressed to him.

He is the final piece.

Emily appears, the most beautiful woman with extraordinary powers and startling amber eyes, and tells Jason that powers dormant within him are about to wake. In the world of Light- and Darksighted, he is the only person who can prevent Darkness from enslaving the world. He is the Beholder whose advent has been awaited for many years.

Setting out on a journey with Emily, Jason discovers many improbable things like Sight, Soulfusion, the Hall of Refuge, but the greatest surprise arrives the moment he realizes he has fallen in love with Emily.

Score: – 3 stars

Breakdown:

Plot – 2

Characters – 2

Writing – 4

I loved the idea of a puzzle created out of murder victims, and when the book started, I was immediately drawn by in my Jason, his friends and his life. I found the voice engaging, and the character believable and likable. The concept of the book was intriguing and the writing style clear and well written. The opening, with a girl being chased is a great draw.

I really liked the fight scenes in this book. They’re complex, but easy to visualize, and feel fresh and original. They definitely show the writer’s strength, and the quality of writing is probably the strongest thing about this book. Whether in Jason’s building, or floating across the Atlantic ocean, they provide a fascinating visage.

The characters started out well for me, but I found as time went by, I cared less for them. Jason is a solid protagonist, and I found my opinion of him didn’t really change. I wished he could have done a bit more towards the plot. I suspect he will in later books, but as he is a new-comer stepping into a very different world, he is mostly led around by others who know more. The side characters, Debbie, Mark, Tyler, I wanted to know more about, but it felt that they were pushed out of the story a bit. The book is fast paced, but this means there isn’t much time for exploring the personal side. Several times things are hinted at, but they never really come to fruition. And example is early on, Mark appears to have a crush on Debbie, but never makes any attempt to gain her affections, and seems utterly  not bothered by her ending up with another man. Tyler is a fascinating character, and I really hope he gets a bigger part in later books, but I couldn’t really bond with him in this one, so any peril fell a bit flat.

The romance felt a bit fast and a bit forced to me. I would have liked to see their relationship blossom more slowly, and then I think I would have engaged with it a bit more. As it was, they didn’t feel properly in love to me, so later events in the book again failed to catch me emotionally. Equally, Jason soulbonds with his friends, which is described as a very powerful thing, the sort of connection that identical twins have, but Debbie and Mark never really felt like more than work colleagues to me.

The book uses a couple of tropes in the plot that need careful handling in an adult book – good vs evil, and a chosen one. I didn’t feel these aspects got the depth they really needed. The war between the light and the dark felt a bit “because it’s always been so”, the stakes of the conflict were not clear enough to me. That said, I did like Pariah as a villain. He was a bit of a stereotype bad guy, but he worked for me.

Towards the middle of the book, while pace of events didn’t drop off, it did feel like it slowed down. There was a lot of description of Energy, what it could do, the light and dark sighted etc. I think I would have rather learned less about Energy and spent more time with the characters. The powers the characters had didn’t ever feel like a deus-ex, but it did feel like certain things happened because it led to cool scenes, like the flying, and being able to control time. There wasn’t really a sense of the scope of the abilities, and new ones appear almost constantly throughout the book.

Overall – this is a well written book, but with too much of the wrong things in to be a great book. However, I do think that with a lot of this down and out the way in book one, the sequels have the potential to be everything this book wasn’t. If the author can engage me with the characters the way I wanted to in the next one, then I can see myself really enjoying it.

Book Review – Medieval Minds

Medieval Minds Ebook CoverRS

Medieval Minds by R Holland

What would you do if you were offered a free trip to tour a medieval theme park for the week of Spring Break, and later found out you were going to be paid $1,000 dollars?

Victoria (Tori) Ginsen and her best friend Jasmine are given an offer from a beautiful dark stranger named Elizabeth to tour a place called Medieval Minds before it opens to the general public. Upon their completion of the tour they are going to be paid $1000 each. It’s an offer they can’t refuse.

And just like any high school graduates with nothing to lose and nothing to do for Spring Break, they decide to take the offer. For them $1000 each would really help with some bills. But Tori immediately notice something’s not right. From the night the bus arrives to pick them up, to the group of delinquents that gradually fill the bus, and the passing of drugs around, Tori knows this isn’t the normal vacation. Not to mention the dead girl in the back seat. But when they arrive, the life-like jousting tournaments and the look, feel, and smell of the place allow Tori to relax a little as she realizes this place actually exists. Sadly, the day soon turns sour as two more members of their group mysteriously die, and she’s certain that the death at the jousting tournament was real. Tori and the others soon find out that none of them are going home. Ever!

Insistent upon leaving and going home, a young handsome man named Daniel is able to convince her otherwise. Their love blossoms and their main goal is to keep each other safe. Finally she accepts that escaping is impossible, but trying to keep the rest of her group alive may be the biggest challenge of them all.

Score: 3 stars

Breakdown:

Plot – 2.5

Characters – 2.5

Writing – 3

Victoria is quite a different protagonist as the book starts out. Burying her grandparents, she comments on the fact that she’s grateful that they died now, before they could rack up any more debt. The is a sense of detachment and callowness as she narrates that I found very refreshing. I didn’t exactly like her as a person, but I did find her take on things quite interesting. Sadly, that unique outlook fades as the book goes on and while her voice doesn’t change, she loses the aspect of her narration that set her apart.

The book is a slasher novel for about two thirds. I’m not a big fan of the slasher genre, but the author certainly doesn’t skimp on the death or gore, so if you are, then it will probably appeal to you. There’s a lot of opportunity for death in the pseudo medieval town that Victoria and her friend Jasmine find themselves in, from burning at the stake to being reduced to jalfrezi by landmine. The scene describing the clean up of that particular event was particularly vivid.

While there is a lot of death, I didn’t really care, because there are too many characters to be invested in. I can only remember a handful of names, and I’m not sure I could tell you much about any of them other than the main few. So I was mostly reading to find out who died in what manner, rather than being immersed in the horror of the situation.

About two thirds of the way in, the book takes on a different feel. I read the first two thirds quite slowly, not bored, but not gripped. I read the last third much quicker – most of it in one sitting. But I didn’t like the content as much. I really liked the ending. The epilogue was great, but it came out of almost nowhere. I would have loved to see the book progress from the slasher origins, to that plot, but it’s only really in the last couple of chapters that the direction of Victoria’s character is revealed.

One of Victoria’s companions in the Medieval Minds “attraction” is a boy named Daniel. Up until one point, Victoria thinks he’s cute, but he irritates her. Then he saves her life and suddenly things hot up. I found the romance moved too fast. She hated him one day, and the next he was the most important person to her. It would have been more believable if they’d had more interaction and the build-up was smoother, or if there had simply been an unstated understanding that they were probably doomed anyway, so might as well take some pleasure in each other. I found the second romance in the book completely unbelievable. Grief is resolved far, far too quickly and it almost feels like love is a result of sex. (I’m trying not to spoiler anything, so apologies if this is a little cryptic.) The last part of the book moves very quickly, jumping though months and even years.

The writing was a little basic in places. It was free from typos and grammar issues, but full of caps-lock emphasis and multiple punctuation. I think if it had been tighter, and the pacing and focus had been stronger earlier on, I would have enjoyed the first two-thirds much more than I did. I don’t think the last third is something I’d enjoy without major editing. It just felt rushed and more than a bit silly. Victoria seemed to forget where she was and what had happened in the earlier part of the book thanks to her lover’s strong, warm arms. I’m still not sure what the motivation for the place is, or why Eliza, who has so much power and control in the place doesn’t just take over. This is a fake kingdom, surrounded by mines. I’m not sure who is going to object if the rules of patriarchy are broken.

Overall, I liked many of the ideas in the book. There’s no shortage of horror, both in terms of physical deaths and also the dark pasts of the victims. The setting was an interesting choice, and the protagonist had an interesting outlook, at least early on. There’s plenty enjoy about this book if you’re after a grisly slasher. I just wish there had been a bit more in the last section on how and why everything worked, Eliza’s motivations and Victoria’s transformation, rather than what is actually depicted.

You can buy Medieval Minds on Amazon.

Book Review – Branded (Fall of Angels, Book 1)

Branded (Fall of Angels, Book 1) Keary Taylor

Jessica’s had the nightmares for as long as she can remember. Nightmares of being judged for people who have died, of being branded by the angels. Her friends and family think she’s crazy because of it all. Yet she carries the mark of the condemned, seared into the back of her neck, and hides it and herself away from the world.

But when two men she can’t ignore enter her life, everything changes, including the nightmares. The two of them couldn’t be more different. She will do anything to be with one of them. Even tell him the truth about angels, why she never sleeps, and the scar on the back of her neck. But one of the two has set events into motion what will pull her toward her own judgment and turn her into the object of her greatest fear.

Score: 2 stars

Breakdown:

Plot – 2

Characters – 2

Writing – 3

I saw this book was free on Kindle so downloaded it because the plot sounded interesting and and I thought I might get a good series out of it. Sadly, I was disappointed. It started so well – the main character desperately trying to fight off sleep and losing the battle against exhaustion, then a brutal and vivid dream of a man being judged by angels and condemned. I was instantly hooked on the setting.

And then the book got going and I felt like I had been lied to.  Chapter two contains so many bad writing cliches. Starting the chapter with waking I could forgive, given the plot. But the mirror scene, the long drawn out description of every action she takes – seriously, I know how to pour cereal – and the repetitive writing made me wonder if I was reading another book.

The plot is predictable. There are no twists, it just seems that Jessica, the main character, is thick. Any person with half a brain would have put everything together from the moment things started happening. And that was far too late in the book. After the vivid and dramatic opening, not a lot happens for a while. We get introduced to Jessica’s life, her neighbour, and then the arrival of the impossibly perfect love interest, Alex, but no plot. When it does happen, it just happens to Jessica. Things are revealed with convenience, and other things are forgotten until they are necessary. Jessica is an amazing artist, for example, but that only comes up once when she needs to have something revealed to her by an old drawing.

The characters are flat. I wanted to like Jessica, but the more she failed to do anything, the less I could consider her as a worthy heroine. Alex is a cardboard cut-out of what an ideal man should be. He has no flaws. They fall in love instantly, despite the fact there doesn’t seem to be any reason for his attraction to Jessica. Emily and Cole are both plot bunnies, nothing more. The only one of any interest to me was Sal, Jessica’s neighbour who was beaten by her abusive husband. But even she is reduced to screaming “Plot!” at Jessica over and over by the end of the book.

The implied love-triangle is awkward, and any tension arising from it would have easily been solved if Jessica had been honest. “Hi, Cole. I was being friendly because you’re a new neighbour, but please don’t read anything more into it because I’m dating Alex.” “Hi, Alex. I was nice to the new neighbour, and he seems to have got the wrong message. Sorry about that.” There, problem solved. Because I didn’t care about the romance, the climax fell flat. I was only reading to get to the end by that point. Everything is tied up too neatly, the sacrifice is rendered pointless, and there wasn’t really much to make me want to find out about the plot, even if I had cared about the characters in the slightest.

Overall, I brilliant idea and first chapter, let down by a lack-luster book full of flat, dull, and stupid characters.

Book Review – Destinies Intertwined

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Destinies Intertwined by Gaytri Deshmukh

Lark isn’t your normal princess. She’s the princess of Myrinor, an influential kingdom with a rich history. Along with that title come great responsibilities, such as learning swordplay, trying her best to be the perfect role model, and most importantly, hiding her deepest secret. As days go by, she discovers that her best friend, Julian, is not what he seems. An ancient curse resurfaces from the past and drags them both into the heart of a forgotten kingdom. The fates of both kingdoms rest in their hands. The quest begins to end it all.

Score: 3 stars Breakdown:

Plot – 2.5

Characters – 3

Writing – 3.5

This is a strong book, if you want to sit down for an afternoon of escapism. It’s got a princess, mythical creatures, true love and an evil villain. Sometimes that’s exactly what I am in the mood for: a story that takes me away from the real world and deposits me in a new place where I can have faith that good will conquer evil and love will win out in the end. The writing is fluid, the descriptions shine and the writer never descends into language that is pretty but meaningless. There are a few typos but nothing that would detract from enjoying the book. I didn’t like the multiple punctuation (?! is used frequently) or capitalised words, but again, that doesn’t effect the reading.

I liked Julian, the dragon shape-shifter love interest.  He’s easy on the metal eye and perfect for escapist fiction with his strong arms and dedication to the main character, Lark. I wanted to like her more. Her full name, Gaylark, was really pretty in my opinion, and I enjoyed the fact the book opened with her sword fighting. To be fair, there was little bad about Lark as a person. She wasn’t whiny, spoiled or selfish, and she has a strong and determined spirit. She just didn’t really do much. I quite liked Seth, too and I was glad the author refrained from setting up a love triangle. His development was predictable, but it was a comfortable sort of predictable, like well worn shoes.

While Lark is not quite a sit in the tower and wait to be rescued type princess, she’s not terribly instrumental in moving the plot, either. While Julian fights for her, she rescues him from a siren simply by being in the same room. She doesn’t do anything, but the siren would rather deal with her than him and he gets away. There is a plot reason for this, but it makes the rescue feel anticlimactic. She is instrumental in the climax of the book, but it doesn’t feel like something she alone could have done. Things happened a bit easily in the book for me to feel the tension. At least two major plot items fall into Lark’s lap, one almost literally and just in the nick of time. Julian’s identity feels convenient and mostly unnecessary. It only really has an impact on the events right at the end. The villain’s plan didn’t really let me know how he was going to take over the kingdom. It was just accepted that he would.  I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I felt like Lark was working for the victory more.

Despite that, I did enjoy the book. It’s good escapism, the sort of tale you can wrap yourself up in to shut out the complications and contradictions of the real world. You probably won’t be surprised by anything in it, but sometimes it’s nice to see where you’re going. I did think the last line was an adorable mixture of cheesy and cute. You can buy Destinies Intertwined on Amazon and Smashwords, and catch up with the author on Figment,  and Goodreads.

Book Review – Waters of Nyra

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Waters of Nyra, Volume 1 by Kelly Michelle Baker

Never an ordinary dragon, Nyra grew up forbidden to breathe fire or fly. Like her mother before her, she has only known a life of enslavement, held in thrall by mountain dragons, which need Nyra’s ripening wings to secure hunting for the future. But at the cusp of her first flying lesson, new rumors whisper through the herd. Mother pursues friendships in forbidden places, blurring the once succinct enemy line. In a whirlwind of realization, Nyra uncovers a secret in plain sight, one thought unknown to her enslavers, and one putting her at the focal point of rebellion should it come into play. And come it does, but through a terrible accident, killing the slaves’ last chance of escape. To survive, Nyra must conquer the sharp-ended lies cutting her future to ribbons and the war threading in their wake.

Score: 3.5 stars

Breakdown:

Plot – 3

Characters – 3.5

Writing – 3.5

I found the book very slow to get going, and at first I struggled to engage with both Nyra and her brother. I think this is mostly because the characters are much younger than I am, and I think, looking back, that they author did a good job of representing pre-teens. Nyra got to grow on me as the book went on, and I really liked the character of their mother, Thaydra. she’s smart, optimistic and determined, but still bears the pain of the previous failed escapes. There were a few characters like Opalheart who I felt as if I was missing their purpose. Maybe they will come back more in the later books, but they lost relevance in this book.

When the action is good, it’s very gripping. I found myself flying though the section with the fire. However, the book takes a long time to get going, which meant I struggled with the beginning. The legend is an important point, but Nyra’s boredom and sleepiness in the scenes where it is being retold meant I was not engaging with it. (I do love the twist on it that is revealed at the end and that does make me interested in the second book.) There was also too much time spent on things like how young dragons learn to fish, which slowed down the pacing. I have the feeling the sequel will be better paced.

The ending felt a little rushed, in contrast. It definitely leaves the story wide open for a sequel, but the stop point felt a little arbitrary. I didn’t feel like I had a conclusion to this book. There are also some things in the last chapter, particularly around Thaydra, that I wish had been gone into in more depth for emotional reasons.

The language is very pretty, and I didn’t notice much in the way of errors. At points, I felt the the sound of the words over-took the meaning of them, so there were pleasant sounding phrases that didn’t mean much, but that wasn’t a frequent issue. I think this book will be best received by middle grade readers with a strong vocabulary, but will also be enjoyed by young adults who want an easy escape full of fantastical creatures.

You can buy Waters of Nyra at Amazon and leave a review on goodreads. Catch up with the author at her website, facebook, or twitter.

Please note: I’m still finding my feet reviewing, so the format may vary from book to book until I get comfortable. If you have a self-published novel, use the contact form to drop me a pitch. I’ll only taking on very few at a time, but if I like the sound of it, I’ll be in touch. I enjoy fantasy, horror and sci-fi and you get bonus points if your book has a gay romance.

Book Review – ASPECT OF WINTER

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Aspect of Winter by Tom Early

It’s hard enough just being gay in high school even as a senior, but Feayr (Fay) must also deal with hiding the magic of winter that he possesses. His best friend Sam (Samantha) is his only confidant, and every day that he has to pretend to be normal pushes him closer to the edge.

When Janus University, a college for teenagers with magical capabilities, discovers the pair and sends a student to test them, Fay and Sam, along with their classmate Tyler, have to quickly adapt to a far more dangerous world than they’re used to. The three friends have to survive misguided summoning attempts, ancient holidays better left forgotten, and even a first date, all while preparing for the Trials, the University’s deadly acceptance process. As they do their best to come out ahead, the trio experiences firsthand just how wonderful and terrible a world with magic can be.

Score – 4/5 Inventive and enjoyable YA fantasy coming of age story with strong characters

Breakdown:

Plot – while a fairly standard YA setup (magic, magic academy, trials and threats to be overcome), the overarching nature of the situation is refreshingly original and the  magic is consistent and well realised. The plot takes a very dark turn at the end which I would have liked a bit more fore-showing. I have no problem with the events, but it’s like taking a blow to the stomach without tensing first.

Characters – I loved these guys. I found it very easy to relate to quiet, awkward Fay who is struggling to fit in on a number of levels. He’s brave and intelligent, but takes matters too seriously and blames himself to easily. His best friend Sam is a delight. Outspoken, loyal, more than a little violent, but hiding the pain of grief from her mother’s death. And then there’s Tyler, the love interest. I found their relationship adorable, and it’s a sign of well-formed characters when I’m happy to read about the more mundane aspects of their lives as well as the plot. It was nice to have some bi characters as well as gay ones.

Writing -well-balanced and easy to read. The book flows well and Fay’s personality carries the narration well. The characters have strong, individual voices and their personalities never get muddy. I particularly enjoyed the clever use of scientific understanding to get the best out of the magic powers. I found the trials towards the end of the book dragged just a tad, but there’s nothing wrong with the writing and the action scenes are clear and easy to visualise. I just wanted to get  more of Fay’s plot a bit quicker. I also think things went a little easy for the team (up until the very end of the book, when trust me, that is no longer true), but I never felt like they didn’t deserve to win any of their battles.

You can get a copy of Aspect of Winter from Amazon