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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Through the Gloom by Jennifer R. McDonald - 4.75/5

Today, I am reviewing the Paranormal story Through the Gloom by Jennifer R. McDonald. This is the sequel to Into the Veil, continuing the story of the veilwalkers Lyric and Lincoln, their father and mage Jacken, and the Hathors, a family of conjurors who can summon objects from afar and who are fiercely loyal to one another. If you haven’t read the first in the series, check out my review on that, then go read it!

I give this book a 4.75/5. Here is my breakdown.

Characters: 5/5. As in the last book, Jennifer explores her characters thoroughly and well. I enjoyed the changes that Lyric went through, her doubts and absolute dedication to finding out the truth about her mother’s death. Her relationship with conjuror Aiden Hathor made me want to bang my head against the wall…but only because it was so clear that the two of them are perfect for each other in every way, yet each trying to be overly noble to “protect” the other.

I’m also very curious about Gemma now.

Plot/Storyline: 5/5. Compelling. Consistent. Lyric’s saga takes a darker turn as betrayal upon betrayal, some hers and some not, begin to take their toll. Her relationships with others become strained, but she presses on, determined to find the truth. I believed every step of this story and was never pulled out of my immersion. The magics presented make sense in the context of the world, and I was never confused by any of it. Well done, Jennifer!

Flow: 5/5. Onward, ever onward, with the perfect balance of slowdown and action. Tension was thick throughout this novel, and I often felt like I was trapped in the fog of the veil, unable to see what was coming next, my heart tripping as I waited for the next development.

Spelling/Grammar: 4/5. Better this time. Jennifer has made significant improvements in her structure and grammar since the last book. In fact, I have it on good authority that she’s gone back to Into the Veil and fixed up some of the things I mentioned last time. A much smoother read.

Overall: 4.75/5. Fantastic. Outstanding. Thrilling. Jennifer spins a tale of betrayal, deceit, innocence lost and love to be fought for. Gloom is even better than its predecessor. I will be purchasing the third book, Across the Blood Red River, as soon as my TBR list winnows down a bit. Jennifer is one of my favorite authors now, and her work is exemplary!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Vulcan Academy Murders - 4/5 Stars. A great look at Vulcan society and culture!

Today, I'm reviewing The Vulcan Academy Murders by Jean Lorrah. It's a novel set in the universe of Star Trek: TOS, and involves the Enterprise's main trio (Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, in case you didn't know) getting involved in a murder investigation during shore leave on Vulcan. There is a lot of exploration of the Vulcan mindset, their history and culture, and their mental powers.

I give this book a solid 4/5. Here is my breakdown:

Characters: 4/5. The trio are obviously themselves, and the characterization will ring true for any fan of the Original Series and/or the first Star Trek movies. The new characters brought in, a mixture of Vulcans and humans, are also very well done. My only quibbles come with the one-dimensionality of the antagonist character...but fear not! I shall not reveal his/her identity!

Plot/Storyline: 4.5/5. A murder mystery on Vulcan? Where they don't even have a police force? Sign me up! The story was engaging and compelling, keeping me turning pages until the end. I really enjoyed watching the interplay between Spock and Sarek as the latter tries to come to terms with the illogical decisions of his past regarding his son, and the relationship between Daniel Corrigan and T'Mir.

Flow: 5/5. Action packed, nary a dull moment, with just the right interspersing of downbeats to keep things fresh. From the time the heroes set foot in the midsummer Vulcan heat, they're up to their necks in insanity. A very nice, quick read.

Spelling/Grammar: 4.5/ 5. I don't have any specifics, but I seem to recall a comma splice or two and maybe a misspelled word. Still stellar work.

Overall: 4/5. Great fun for fans of TOS, and for fans of Vulcans in general. If you've ever wondered what it was like for Spock as a child, or for Sarek and Amanda as they started their strange, cross-species relationship, pick this up.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Plain of the Fourteen Pillars by T.K. Foster - Prematurely Published

Today, I am reviewing the YA Fantasy/Portal story Plain of the Fourteen Pillars by T.K. Foster. In this book, a young man playing in the woods encounters a strange female creature who ushers him into another world. I freely admit that I made it to chapter eight before I had to put this book down, but I will do my best to explain why.

As a DNF (did not finish), I give this book a 2/5. Here is my breakdown.

Characters: 2.5/5. These guys could be interesting, I think, but they are hampered by the writing style and the absurdity. As it stands, I made it to chapter eight without caring about the main character or the creature that brought him into her world. Their dialogue was stilted, their conversations seemed mostly irrelevant. I understand that this is a YA story, but the discussions between them felt more like those between a five-year-old and his imaginary friend.

Plot/Storyline: 1.5/5. Everything seemed random, thrown together, a parody of the tropes of the clich├ęs of the genre. Eight chapters in and I didn’t know what any of the points were beyond the classic “I’m in a weird, strange place and I want to go home but @$% doesn’t let me.”

Flow: 3/5. This was the best aspect of the novel—while far from great, the pacing and flow felt solid. It’s hard to judge because of the other distractions, but I think that Foster is probably well-read and has an intuitive understanding for how a story should move.
Spelling/Grammar: 3/5. I’ve seen worse, but Plain has a fair amount of misplaced commas, splices, misused words, and spelling errors. I get the feeling that this book was rushed to publication; another round or two of content editing and proofreading is badly needed.

Overall: 2/5. I wanted to like this book. I’m a fan of portal fantasies, and I enjoy good YA stories. Unfortunately, Foster failed at providing a compelling opening, a reason to care about his characters, or an actual sense of story. I give this two stars because I think there could be a story here, there could be interesting characters. I hope that Foster takes this to heart with his next work, spending a little more time to develop ideas and communicate them on the page.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

No Deadly Thing by Tiger Gray-3.75/5 stars.

Today, I am reviewing the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal story No Deadly Thing by Tiger Gray. This is an action-packed, fast-moving novel that tells a compelling tale, but maybe tries to do too much in too little space. Ashrinn must fight against an evil, corrupting cult using the magic in his world that he isn’t, at first, aware of, but which he learns permeates every aspect of his life—including his wife, a fire mage with a terrible secret; and his neighbor and squadmate who is married to a Fae and blessed/cursed with halfbreed children.

I give this book a 3.75/5. Here is my breakdown.

Characters: 4/5. I loved the development of the Storm, a magical team put together to combat the Cult, and the struggles Ashrinn had to work through to put it together and make it into a cohesive unit. I thought that most of the development was great, and I thought I got a good sense of who each character was. There is m/m bisexuality/homosexuality described in detail in this novel, but, as a heterosexual male reader, I had no problem with any of the ways it was described. My only criticism here is that there could have been so much more time devoted to each person—Gray does a good job making the characters feel important, but readers want to understand important characters in and out.

Plot/Storyline: 4.5/5. A compelling storyline, rich in depth and scope. World-altering danger and a real, personal sense of peril all in one. Kiriana’s revelation was also well-done. I didn’t feel like there were any wasted scenes or red herrings. Again, I wish that this story had been better described in a few places—not because Gray’s rendition was bad, but because it was rushed; too much happening too quickly to get to the final battle.

Flow: 2.5/5. Here is the major weakness in No Deadly Thing. The first portion of the book is marred by massive time-jumps, most often unexplained. Ashrinn starts out as a soldier who knows nothing about magic until he performs an unexplained miracle, but within the space of a few pages already understands why people are afraid of werewolves and the different kinds of mages. There are also several POV changes, which can throw some people off, although I thought Gray executed them reasonably well. I was concerned about the time-jumps as I went through the novel, but it lessens somewhat as one approaches the second half of the book.

Spelling/Grammar: 4/5. Better than most novels. There were a few minor misspellings, especially toward the end of the book, but I would happily put No Deadly Thing up against several traditionally published works I’ve seen recently.

Overall: 3.75/5. This is a good book as it stands…but with a little bit of division, a little bit more time taken on some of the characters and story ideas, it could have been a great book. I’ve seen reviews that recommend that Gray divide No Deadly Thing into several other novels, each focusing on a specific portion of the original. That might have worked, but I also would have enjoyed the work being longer, with more detail. I will be checking out the sequel.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Curse of Prometheus by Morgan St. Knight - 4.5/5 Stars

Today, I am reviewing the Urban Fantasy story Curse of Prometheus by Morgan St. Knight. The first novel in what I hope to be a long series, it explores the story of Medea, the sorceress from ancient Greek mythology who assisted Jason and the Argonauts…and was later abandoned by them. The book was well worth the read, grabbing my attention and holding me to it.

I give this book a 4.5/5. Here is my breakdown.

Characters: 5/5. St. Knight creates a rich array of characters drawn from ancient Greek myths and mixed with modern day humanity. From the sorceress herself to her half-Titan aunts to the nosy neighbors down the street, each person is well-portrayed and has an impact in the story. Motivations are clear and believable, and the internal struggles that Medea must endure are captivating.

And it really is too bad about Hercules.

Plot/Storyline: 4.5/5. Very well played and well done. Greek mythology is an often-used source of inspiration for writers – I even have a book based on it coming out myself – but St. Knight does a great job of making it her own. Her interpretations and characterizations are unique. As a testament to her skill, she did not once remind me of Percy Jackson (an excellent series itself), despite having some of the same elements. The plot is effective and efficient. Medea has a job to do, but it gets disrupted and she has to figure out why. The twists are well-timed and hard to see coming, but don’t leave the reader feeling blindsided or like the author was trying to trick him/her. An exceptional story that I can’t wait to continue.

Flow: 5/5. Never a dull moment! St. Knight pushes the action forward with continual danger for our heroine. She hardly gets a chance to breathe, and never one to relax, before more madness comes her way. The story gains speed as one continues it, until, by the end, you’re paging so fast you’re liable to get a paper cut (or whatever the digital equivalent is)!

Spelling/Grammar: 3.75/5. Once again, an author falls victim to the spelling/grammar section. This was good, much better than some I’ve seen, but there were enough errors that I noticed them. The most common ones that I remember as I write this are some mistakes in punctuation, particularly after speech/dialogue (missing periods, or periods instead of commas, that sort of thing). I don’t think it detracted from the story, but they were present.

Overall: 4.5/5. After participating in St. Knight’s giveaway and reading the synopsis of Curse of Prometheus, I was excited to receive a copy and check it out for myself…and I was not disappointed. I’m a fan of books just like this one – gritty but hopeful, with new interpretations of classic myths. It’s what I love to write, and it’s what I love to read. St. Knight has earned herself a fan in me, and I hope one in you as well!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ondelle of Grioth by Danika Dinsmore - My first perfect 5/5!

Today, I am reviewing the Fantasy novel Ondelle of Grioth by Danika Dinsmore. This is the third installment of the Faerie Tales from the White Forest series. For the purposes of disclosure, this is the only novel in the series that I have read – I haven’t seen the first two. 

I give this book a 5/5. Yes, it’s finally happened – a book received an actual perfect score. Here is my breakdown.

Characters: 5/5. Danika has created a society of supernatural creatures that is believable and relatable. Each character has a place, none are superfluous, and I felt connected to each and every one. From Brigitta, the confused but headstrong protagonist to Fozk and Gola and the rest, each character contributed to the story, no matter how brief his/her involvement.

More importantly, I haven’t read the first two stories in this series, and yet I was never confused by the character interactions or connections. That is a feat in and of itself!

Plot/Storyline: 5/5. Danika weaves her story like she was born in this realm and is just telling us about something that actually happened. The magic in the world is in-depth and clearly explained, with nary a feeling of the deus-ex-machina. I was fascinated by the link between Brigitta and Ondelle in particular (remember that I haven’t read the first two books) and excited by the possibilities as the story unfolded.

Flow: 5/5.  This story proceeded at the speed of plot, which is how I myself write. I never felt like more time was being taken than necessary on any point, or that the characters had diverted into needless conversation or activity. Danika wrote a story, and that story is evident in each keystroke.

Spelling/Grammar: 5/5. Huzzah! Well done! I saw no errors. I repeat, I saw no errors. This is not to say that there are none, but I did not see them as I went through. My only suggestion to Danika is that she eliminate what Stephen King called the “swifties” – which are adverbs attached to dialogue, like “he said softly,” or “she shouted angrily.” Your writing is strong enough that you don’t need them.

Overall: 5/5. Absolutely amazing. I have been planning to read this book for a long time, and now I will be getting the rest. Then, once I’ve read books one and two, I’ll be re-reading this one to see what I missed in my first go through. I can’t say it enough – Danika has crafted a masterpiece. I look forward to more.