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Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Order of the Four Sons: Book I - Action-packed, deep, and thrilling; a highly-recommended read!

Today, I am reviewing the Urban Fantasy story The Order of the Four Sons: Book 1 by Coyote Kishpaugh and Lauren Scharhag. A Mission Impossible-esque thriller with a team drawn from the dregs of the mystical Order of the Four Sons, this book boasts amazing action and character interaction alongside a mythology that stands favorably next to any that I’ve read.

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

Characters: 5/5. Absolutely outstanding. Each and every one of their characters drew my interest and stood apart from the others. I loved the dynamics between them, from the gruff leadership of the Colonel to the growing teacher-student relationship between Doug and Kate and the firm grasp on real reality that Murphy tries to hold onto. Each feels like a real person to me, a real personality. Each of their actions is in line with their established traits, and they do a fantastic job in setting them up quickly.

Plot/Storyline: 5/5. Enthralling. I lost a good couple hours today of my own writing on this book because the story hooked me so strongly. The plot elements follow one another in completely believable sequence, with no instances of the deus ex, with no coincidences or elements coming out of left field, but yet trickled with twists that made my eyes widen as I realized what was going on. This is an excellent, excellent story.
Flow: 5/5. As I do with my own writing, Kishpaugh and Scharhag did not delay their characters’ actions just because they wanted to talk about them or describe them. The story moved with the speed of plot, with the sense of urgency strongly felt in each delay, in each question the characters had to ask themselves, and I loved the tension and drama this created..
Spelling/Grammar: 4/5. I counted 3 or 4 typographical errors in this book - a missing quotation, a few misspelled words - and that was it. It’s better than most other published works that I’ve read, and the smoothness definitely added to my enjoyment of the book.

Overall: 4.75/5. Wow. What a thrill ride. Ending on a fantastic cliffhanger, I became an instant fan of Kishpaugh and Scharhag's writing and this series. I will be picking up the next book soon. I can’t recommend it enough.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Inevitable Ascension by V.K. McAllister - a fun, fast-paced time-travel fantasy! 3.75/5 stars!

Today I’m reviewing the YA Fantasy/Time Travel novel Inevitable Ascension by V.K. McAllister. This book follows Violina and Lux, two young ladies who have a very Robin-hood style approach to life: hunting down extinct critters and selling them to a museum, they get involved in a heist from that same museum when they get stiffed for their fee. A chance encounter with a mysterious and addled woman involves them in adventures that lead them back and forth through time to save their world. Or destroy it.
Oh, and whatever they do, they’ll have a blast. Lux insists.
I give this book a 3.75/5. Here is my breakdown.
Characters: 3/5. This is the weakest part of the book. I enjoyed the adventures that Violina and Lux put themselves through (or found themselves put through,’ll see), and I enjoyed the background of characters that they interacted with. There just...wasn’t much about them that made me understand or empathize with them. Their banter was funny, but occasionally the circumstances made funny banter seem strange. I just couldn’t connect well with them.
Plot/Storyline: 4.5/5. The storyline here was reminiscent of Chrono Trigger, a very well-loved RPG from the Super Nintendo era. Time hops back and forth to make things right, action and adventure and was a lot of fun, a lot of fun. The author wraps up the story well and elegantly, and the plot is consistent with little to no “gotcha” factor. Well done!
Flow: 3.5/5. This goes hand-in-hand with the character development issue. The two protagonists were go-go-go! from the beginning, and that left little to no time to get to know them. Even gravely wounded, they never took a break, never performed at any less than their best. A little more pacing might have improved the book.
Grammar/Spelling: 4/5. Mostly clean and consistent. I didn’t note any misspellings, but did see a few places where a comma was needed or extraneous. High quality, but not perfect.
Overall: 3.75/5. This book deserves the positive attention it will get. For many people, the fast pace and hurried development will detract little, and they’ll be pulled into the great and engaging storyline. For others, they’ll be left wanting more in a few areas, as I was. Regardless, this was a solid first outing in a projected series, and I’m very, very curious as to where Violina and Lux will end up next!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Dracula: The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt - a worthy sequel to the original! 4/5 stars!

Today, I am reviewing the Horror/Paranormal story Dracula: The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt. This is a story set in the beginning of the 20th Century, decades after the first interaction with the Transylvanian Prince. The characters have aged, and are each dealing with the repercussions of those events on their lives in their own ways...some less successfully than others. The story centers around Quincey Harker, the namesake of the Texan who stabbed Dracula during their confrontation and the son of Jonathan and Mina. Obsessed with drama and desiring to pursue a career in acting rather than law as his father commands, he falls in with a young, exotic actor who is taking Europe by storm, As he interacts with the world, he discovers there is more to the young actor's story - and his own - than he could have ever imagined.

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

Characters: 4/5. I enjoyed hearing about the familiar characters and found their reactions to their lives after Dracula to be plausible. The interactions between them - and the forced separations - rang true for me. I also enjoyed the dialogue and the new additions - Bathory, Quincey Harker, and the rest - and found myself wrapped up in their stories.

Plot/Storyline: 4/5. Solid, serviceable, and enjoyable. I liked the changes they made to the original and the explanations given. I know that many people felt that these changes perverted the intent of the first book, and that may be so, but I had a good time with THIS story, and judge it on that basis.

Flow: 4.5/5. Nice and easy to read. The scenes cut well together and the sentences flowed smoothly. I was able to immerse myself in the book easily and well.

Spelling/Grammar: 5/5. This book, unlike many of my reads, is a traditionally-published work, and the editing reflects what that is SUPPOSED to mean. I found no issues of spelling or grammar.

Overall: 4/5. I enjoyed this book very much. The world of Dracula is a fascinating one, something that I enjoy in many different ways over many different adaptations and interpretations, and this added something new yet familiar to the mix.

To purchase, just check out the link below. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sol of the Coliseum by Adam Gaylord - An enthralling, rich Fantasy world from a unique perspective.

Today, I am reviewing the Fantasy story Sol of the Coliseum by Adam Gaylord and published by Mirror World Publishing. Seen through the eyes of a born slave, Sol, Gaylord paints the picture of a tyrannical empire that condemns its prisoners and conquests to death by combat in the eponymous Coliseum…where, once you enter, you never leave. Sol climbs the ranks, becoming a fighter of skill and renown, but when a special prisoner is offered to him as one of his victory prizes, he learns that the world outside is more enticing than he knows…but will he risk his life, and those he cares about, in a possibly futile escape attempt?

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

Characters: 5/5. This is the real strength of the novel, the best thing about it and what made me excited as I kept going. Gaylord has created a world populated by relatable, interesting characters that each have stories of their own – the stoic yet paternal guard captain Grall, the Spoils offered to Sol as victory prizes, the shifty and misunderstood Slink – even “bit” characters jump off the page and demand to be recognized as real. And they are. Well done!

Plot/Storyline: 5/5. By setting this story in the Coliseum, Gaylord sets himself up for a story in which we, the readers, are necessarily denied all the perspectives. It allows us to discover the world through Sol’s eyes, revealing secrets as he discovers them. I found the plot gripping and highly entertaining, and once I got into the meat of it I couldn’t wait to devour the book. .

Mechanics: 4/5. When I first started reading the story, I got scared – there are heavy exposition periods throughout the book, and, especially before I had gotten invested into the book, I was worried that the exposition would drag on too long, weigh too heavily. It did not. While I won’t claim that I needed all of the information that Gaylord shared through his “author voice,” none of it was boring and the way he wrote it was entertaining. Overall, the language of the book was high-quality, descriptive but concise, and I have nothing but praise for the combat scenes and the character interactions, both of which can be difficult for authors.

Spelling/Grammar: 4/5. Only a few typos throughout the book. Nothing of significant consequence.

Overall: 4.75/5. An excellent low-magic fantasy read, filled with rich, fun characters and offering a sobering look at hope and will. It was a pleasure to read, and, like so many indie books that I have reviewed, I found myself wondering why I had taken so long to get started on this one!. Thank you, Adam. It was a fantastic read, and I wish you continued success!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Capering on Glass Bridges by Jessica Hernandez - A very promising first installment and a great Fantasy read!

Today, I am reviewing the YA Fantasy story Capering on Glass Bridges by Jessica Hernandez. Telling the story of Kaia Stone, a young woman who has grown up differently than the others she knows, the book describes how the Utdrendans send her and others into the cursed kingdom of Mar, with knowledge from years ago that may undo their horrific doom.

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

Characters: 5/5. I enjoyed these characters very much. Hernandez did a fantastic job in creating an interesting interplay between the various members of Kaia’s party. Their back-and-forths were fun and credible, and their griefs and sorrows equally so.

Plot/Storyline: 4/5. A very solid fantasy adventure story. I think that Hernandez did a good job making her fantasy world interesting (a coming-of-age ceremony in which people are bonded to a homunculus-type being, for instance, and the magical power of Speaking). The effort is apparent, and she does it justice.

Flow/Construction: 4/5. I have no complaints here. The story moved quickly and easily. I can’t recall feeling like the scenes were dragging or slowed down. Again, a solid performance here. 

Spelling/Grammar: 4.5/5. Very insignificant, minor mistakes occasionally found. Nothing problematic or unusual.

 Overall: 4/5. Jessica Hernandez shows her talent in this book. I’m not sure if it’s her first book (but I think it is), and if so then she can only improve from here. I really hope there’s more to come!


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Artificial Light by Nathan Wall - A mix of elements I love...but a book that I didn't.

Today, I am reviewing the Science-Fiction/Fantasy story Artifical Light by Nathan Wall. As with my last entry, this one crosses genres by mixing science with mythology and religious apocrypha. It is the third in a series, and I can’t help but think that I might have enjoyed it more if I had read the first two.

This genre describes one of my favorite types of book – in this one, several gods/Angels are factioning off, breaking into different groups. The birth of an “angel-born” sets off a pogrom of sorts, leading to the death of Osiris and the exile of his family.

I received an ARC copy of this novel to provide my honest review. However, I was not able to complete the book, stopping after about 30% due to issues with its construction that will be covered below.

Still, I give this book a 3/5, based on what I did read. Here is my breakdown.

 Characters: 4/5. Easily the strongest point in the book. The idea of intermixing mythologies appeals to me enough that I do it in my own writing, and, individually, the characters that Nathan has created seem like real people – even with all their strange, supernatural powers – and have realistic motivations. I wish I could have gotten to know them a bit better in the first third of the novel. 

Plot/Storyline: 2/5. I still have no idea what was going on in the story. The prologue, showing the death of Osiris (presumably…again, I only finished 1/3rd the novel) was well done and exciting, but after that, I feel like the author lost track of his character threads. I understand the concept of a slow build, but after 30% the book had failed to hook me at all.

Mechanics: 2.5/5. The pace and the constant jumping between perspectives worked together to defeat me. I felt like my attention was being divided by too many different points-of-view, by time-jumps, and by occurrences across time and space. This kept me from engaging with the story – I don’t know who’s doing what, I’m not even sure who IS what.

Spelling/Grammar: 4.5/5. The copy was very clean and easy to read. The words chosen were well-picked and I didn’t find any significant issues of grammar. Thank you!

Overall: 3/5. This could be good. This could be SO, SO good. All the essential pieces of an excellent story are here. I believe that Artificial Light is an uncut gem – ready to burst forth, once we trim away the parts that are obscuring the inner beauty. I couldn’t finish it, but that doesn’t make it bad – just a little too slow, a little too jumpy for me. Keep at it, Nathan. Thank you for writing.

You can find the book at the link below.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Birth of Hope by A.J. Trevors - A rushed, cliched story...but glimmers of potential show through. 2.75/5.

Today, I am reviewing the Science-Fiction/Fantasy story Birth of Hope by A.J. Trevors. I classify it as both genres because, although the novel has a strong science-fiction element, with unexplainable technology, alien races, and multiple planets, there are also things that are unexplainable through the lens of science in the book’s universe. This is the first in the Gaia Chronicles series, and releases in early February. In this story, there is an interplanetary invasion by the Vangarian, a lizard-like race capable of summoning extra-dimensional beings called Spectres. These Spectres are so powerful on the battlefield that only another can defeat one…but the allied races don’t have the ability to summon them.

Or do they?

I received an ARC copy of this novel to provide my honest review.

 I give this book a 2.75/5. Here is my breakdown.

Characters: 3/5. Meh. The characters in Birth of Hope were, in the main, one-dimensional and uninteresting, although not actively dislikeable. The main character is very much a “Gary Lou,” someone who has few defining characteristics other than that he is a prophesied “Chosen One” who has the most power of anyone, despite his lack of training. It’s a tried-and-true cliché, but that doesn’t change the fact that it IS one, and so the author needs to use special skill in pulling it off. J.K. Rowling pulled it off by making Harry Potter weak in several areas, making him relatable, plying him with flaws and supporting him with other characters. The other characters in Birth of Hope feel like window-dressing for the drama that is Damien, props that propel him toward bigger and better things rather than people in their own right. Even his struggles with negativity, hopelessness, and anger don’t feel genuine.

Plot/Storyline: 2/5. Even more clichéd than the characters. The story is fast-paced and allows little time for character development. Twists are thrown in with little or no foreshadowing and the whole thing feels generally unsatisfying. It picks up a little bit at the end, but I still was left feeling like I had wasted my time.

Mechanics: 3/5. The pacing wasn’t bad. Although I was dissatisfied with the storyline, I didn’t feel like the writing itself was dragging me down, or that the author spent too much time on any particular thing. The time advances were difficult to wrap my head around, as the situation would greatly change during a chapter break and I would have to dig into the text to find out how much time had gone by.

Spelling/Grammar: 2/5. In the ARC version that I received, there were several missed periods (several per page in many places) and verb tense shifts, flipping from past to present and back again. The author has told me that these were fixed, so I won’t factor them too heavily into my final rating. 

Overall: 2.75/5. I think that this author has potential. The idea of the Spectres is interesting and his descriptions of them are actually very well done. I think that he could benefit from another two drafts, getting some feedback from beta readers on what is working and what isn’t in the story. I recommend looking at Stephen King’s On Writing, as I do with all new authors. It’s a highly informative book that really helped me get started in my writing career. Thank you, A.J. Trevors. I wish you the best.

Good luck!


Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Keeper and the Rulership by Emily Martha Sorensen - engaging, a lot of fun, and a worthwhile read!

Today, I am reviewing the Fantasy story The Keeper and the Rulership by Emily Martha Sorensen. While this is definitely a YA (Young Adult, for our newcomers) style book, I enjoyed its in-depth character development and plot very much.

In this book, we follow the adventures of the young woman, Raneh, as she learns why she has magic and comes to terms with her destiny. This is a very solid YA fantasy, with enjoyable characters, that stays away from the most onerous of tropes.

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

 Characters: 4/5. Sorensen does a great job in establishing the characters and their motivations. Each is sufficiently distinct from the others and has obvious motivations that make sense. Their interactions are fun and they fit well within the world that she’s established. I enjoyed spending time with them; their behaviors were consistent and well-reasoned, with little of the “random” things that characters can do because of “plot necessity.”

 Plot/Storyline: 4/5. A fun story that, while it doesn’t leave profound, lasting marks on my soul, was a very worthy use of my time. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in Raneh’s world, walking beside her as she came to her realizations and made her decisions. The development of the world was well-done, and felt very real to me. My only concern with the storyline is the ending. The ending itself was fine, but it felt abbreviated, like it came too soon after the climax of the story with insufficient denouement. I would have liked more wrap-up.

Technical Aspects: 4/5. The story moved quickly and was a treat to read. I had a good time and didn’t trip up over choppy sentences, poor dialogue, or exposition. A well-constructed book that allowed me to access the story.

Spelling/Grammar: 4.5/5. There were a few, very few, typos in this book. Well done!

 Overall: 4/5. This is a very solid book, clean, fun, and well-crafted. I enjoyed it very much and want to read more from Sorensen. She is very talented and I look forward to seeing more of her work. Thank you!