Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mortal Defiance by Nichole Chase

Title: Mortal Defiance
Series: Dark Betrayal
Author: Nichole Chase
Previous Books in Series: Mortal Obligation
Length: 3659 Kindle units
Rating: 3.5 stars

Refresher: Vampires from outer space. Ree and her five guardian-friends are all that stands between them and the annihilation of the whole planet

Apparently the only thing that people remember from my review of Mortal Obligation was that it contained vampires from outer space. This has apparently led my sister to believe that it is like Plan 9 from Outer Space, which is unfair because Mortal Obligation is much better than Plan 9. There are no tipping cardboard tombstones, and Bela Lugosi does not die in the middle. Really, the fact that the vampires are from space in the Dark Betrayal trilogy is incidental to the plot. So I’m a little sorry if I over-emphasized it in the last post. Clearly I still liked it well enough to read the second one.

I enjoyed Mortal Defiance rather more than I did Mortal Obligation, especially since it had more of a plot and lacked the numerous introduction-of-the-mythology scenes of the first one. As noted above, the mythology is a bit absurd, so everyone is better off thinking of it as a general good vs. evil.  The book lost a few points toward the end, because the characters had to explain the mythology for the benefit of their parents.

Paden still has a ridiculous name, but he has decided to be less wishy-washy, which is definitely an improvement. Roland also comes to a decision regarding his feelings for Ree, which leads to exciting drama and competition for highest kill count. And it seems that there may be a secret, spooooky connection between the two boys.

The one thing that felt off in the novel was the “missions” that Ree and her friends went on. They go out investigating vampire activity, but at each point they observe that this is not the “final battle” that they are waiting for. I don’t understand why, since they know who all the players are, they don’t just skip ahead to this final battle. I mean, I understand they need time to train, but I would think they would do that from a safe distance. And they might want to engage in some reconnaissance/test battling to judge the enemies’ weak points. But I would think they would only send a few of them out to investigate, rather than the whole team. I especially think they would like to leave Ree well out of combat. They can’t count forever on the bad guys not taking her out because they are waiting for the cosmos to align and declare it time for the last battle.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Tip of the Spear by Sean Daniel Shortwinter

Title: Tip of the Spear
Author: Sean Daniel Shortwinter
Rating: 4.5 stars

The Plot

Sabine is a member of Gods army – literally. After her death in Gotland in 988, she went to heaven where she eventually became an elite Evil Countermeasures angel, one of the greatest fighters in the war against hell. Sabine can go hand-to-hand with any of Lucifer’s agents and defeat them with graceful ease.

For 1,000 years, Sabine has been trying to earn her wings, and if she succeeds on her next mission, she will finally get them. But the mission isn’t quite what she’s used to. Instead of sending agents back to hell, she is tasked with keeping one person alive – a human teen girl named Vanessa. But this deceptively simple mission could prove to Sabine’s undoing because Vanessa’s father is at the center of hell’s most nefarious plot yet, and there is no way that Sabine is letting the demons win.

The Good

Tip of the Spear was a strange little novel (though it was really more medium-sized). I struggled with how to score it on a conventional scale, and eventually decided to give it 4.5 stars but not put it on my Quick Pick list. Because while it is an amazing novel in many ways, it defies genre too much for me to feel comfortable recommending it to the traditional YA paranormal/fantasy audience.

The novel featured a variety of characters of varying types. Some were original, like the narrator Sabine and the damned field medic Kocepk. Others were familiar, like the archangel Michael and the sensationalized murderess Lizzie Borden. Regardless of their source, they all had snappy dialogue that several times had me laughing out loud.

Sean Daniel Shortwinter has a strong knowledge of and interesting perspective on history, as well as familiarity with geography and current events. I’ve taken 2 Russian history classes, and I’d be hard-pressed to remember that Kyrgyzstan is a country, much less think to include it in a novel. He describes his battle scenes in painstaking detail, but like any good action story, the book also has a compelling plot.

The Bad

I think that the narrative structure could have been better thought out. About two-third of the book is told from Sabine’s first-person point of view, and the rest is from Kocepk’s third person point of view. This made it difficult to understand how much of a main character Kocepk was supposed to be, especially since he did not often interact with the main cast. In general, I am opposed to switching from first to third person; if there is more than one person telling the story, I prefer multiple first-person views or else straight third person. In this case, I think that trying to switch between first-person narrators while also trying to follow everything else that was going on might have made my head explode, so I would have recommended everything in third person. That might also have allowed us to see the story from a few other viewpoints, so we could have seen what some of the others were doing while separated from Sabine.

The other thing that didn’t quite feel right was the mythology of Sabine’s character development. She has been working for heaven for a thousand years as its best hand-to-hand fighter, but she does not yet have her wings, which makes me generally unsure what one must do to merit them. The concept of her starting to age because she was finally making friendships was not fully developed, and the less said about the chapter where she suddenly hits puberty and goes temporarily batshit insane the better.

The Romance

Alas, there was no romance in Sabine’s tale, unless you count the fact that she was running away from her own arranged wedding when her father beat her to death. Or the fact that the archangel Raphael and her friend Awair are both described as quite attractive. But, really, Sabine is too busy saving the world from nuclear Armageddon to take time out for romance, and as a citizen of the world, I appreciate that.

Will I read more?

I’m not sure if there are going to be more books in the series, but if there are, I will definitely be picking them up. Sabine and her cohorts end Tip of the Spear beginning their next adventure, and I could definitely see that spinning into another book. But I also have deep respect for the stand-alone novel and will consequently respect the author’s decision should he not stretch this out into a series.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Paranormal Public by Maddy Edwards

Title: Paranormal Public
Series: Paranormal Public
Author: Maddy Edwards
Length: 6490 Kindle units
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Plot

Charlotte had been getting ready to go to college, but she did not plan to go to one quite so strange. The day before she departs, she is attacked by a frightening black dog. When she wakes up, she finds herself not at her chosen university but at the mysterious Paranormal Public University.

Instead of taking Intro Psych or Chem 101, Charlotte has to use magical power that she doesn’t seem to possess and study the history of a war between races that she’s never heard of. She has to learn quickly because the supernatural war is coming ever closer to Paranormal Public, and the school might just need Charlotte if it wants to survive.

The Good

Paranormal Public was a fun and upbeat tale that utilized just about every kind of supernatural creature – vampires, werewolves, mages, pixies, angels, demons, and giant killer dogs. (No werebadgers, but you can’t have everything.) It was interesting to watch how the different races coexisted, interacting but not really mixing with each other.

As in Maddy Edward’s One Black Rose series, a lot of the most interesting people were the side characters. Among them were Charlotte’s wise-beyond-his-years little brother Ricky, the super-cheerful werewolf Sip, the sarcastic dark mage Lisabelle, and the histrionic pixie Camilla. The varying characters with their mix of positive and negative traits make Charlotte’s adventures come alive.

The Bad

The biggest problem with Paranormal Public is that it could not be more of a Harry Potter knockoff if it tried. A student is taken away from a neglectful family and into a world of magic that she never knew existed. The students are divided up into competitive houses, even though unity among them would be more beneficial to their cause. The student quickly makes friends with the outcasts and enemies of the privileged. One teacher seems to be evil, and there is a magical sport that everyone loves to play. So, yes, it’s basically Harry Potter with a girl in college. And we all love Harry Potter, of course, but we also appreciate a little more variation on the theme.

My other issue with Paranormal Public is that the writing is a bit clunky. Events don’t always happen in a smooth chain of events. For example, in the beginning, Charlotte is preparing to go to college and escape her horrible stepfather. Before she leaves, she is attacked by a black dog in the middle of the street and then suddenly she wakes up at a totally new university that she has never heard of. My reaction was basically, “What? Who took her there? How did this happen? Doesn’t she have to, like, talk to her other college about not going?” Eventually I decided not to question and just go with it, but occasionally a sequence of events would leave me puzzled.

The Romance

Students at Paranormal Public are strongly discouraged from dating anyone outside their supernatural creature type, which is a big problem for Charlotte, since she doesn’t seem to have a supernatural creature type. Nonetheless, she manages to catch the attention of Cale, a pixie she knew from back home with a drama queen girlfriend, and Keller, a fallen angel tasked to tutor her in remedial magic.

I’m not entirely sure what powers fallen angels have (except for wings. All good angel stories must have cute boys with wings), but if Keller is any indication, they apparently have the power to be awesome in everything. He spends his weekdays at class and tutoring Charlotte. He spends his weekends supervising students in detention and being the best competitor in the school wide sport, Dash. In between there he somehow also manages to keep up with his classes and be one of the best-looking and popular kids at Paranormal Public. It’s kind of impressive. And possibly a little unrealistic.

Will I read more?

As I read books and decide how I’m going to review them, one of the most important domains is something that I call my give-a-crap meter. Basically, this consists of me reflecting on what I have read and thinking “Do I give a crap?” If I were to flip a page and discover that all the students suddenly burned to death in a fire, would I be sad? If Maddy Edwards declared that she was never going to write another book about Charlotte and Keller and their battle against demons, would I be disappointed? The answer in this case is “Yes, I do give a crap.”

I do not think the importance of this factor in reviews can be exaggerated. Many books are excellently written but fail to make me care about the characters or their problems. Paranormal Public has some issues, but when it comes down to it, it was an interesting read about characters I wouldn’t mind seeing again. So if and when there is a sequel to Paranormal Public, it will probably be making an appearance on a Sequel Tuesday.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Night Camp by L.C. Evans

Title: Night Camp
Author: L.C. Evans
Length: 1686 Kindle units

For those of you who usually tune into Sequel Tuesday, I am doing something a little different this week. The IndieView, a site that not only links readers of independent books to my reviews but also to reviews all over the web, is having a tribute to L.C. Evans, an indie author who lost her battle with cancer earlier this month. So in honor of her work and in solidarity with the indie publishing world, I am reviewing her middle-grade paranormal novel Night Camp. Sequel Tuesday will return next week with a long-awaited follow-up regarding vampires from outer space.

In Night Camp, Shane’s parents are forcing him to go to summer camp, and in retaliation, he insists upon going to the strangest camp he can find – Night Camp, where campers sleep all day and explore the world at night. But soon after their arrival, Shane, his cousin Brad, and fellow camper Nicole begin to suspect that the people running the camp might be vampires.

Overall I found Night Camp to be a cute and engaging story about the adventures of kids at a summer camp. It brought back lots of memories of my times at summer camp, and I found myself wishing that I too could have spent my summers living in a castle and exploring caves instead of the much more traditional cabins and canoeing that I remember. Of course, I was also grateful that I was not entirely cut off from adults and the outside world while at the mercy of people who I suspected might want to use my blood as a midnight snack.

Night Camp was written for a younger audience than what I usually review, and I sometimes had a difficult time putting myself in the mindset of a younger child. If I were to encounter a vampire, I would immediately try to determine which of the many vampire mythologies in fiction most closely resembled the creatures with which I was presented. But clearly the average 13-year-old does not have the experience or analytic capability to try to understand vampires on this level. To him, a vampire is simply a blood-sucking monster, though whether such an assumption is fair is the whole point of the book.

While I don’t know that I would recommend Night Camp to my usual audience, it is definitely the kind of thing that might appeal to the ten-year-old in your life.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Blood Tells True by Alan Ryker

Title: Blood Tells True
Series: Vampires of the Plains
Author: Alan Ryker
Length: 2149 Kindle units
Rating: 4 stars

The Plot

Jessica has been hunting vampires since one of them killed her family a year ago. It’s not enough for her just to kill them, though. She likes to lock them in her silo and force them to fight against each other. Then she can fight the strongest one and prove that she is better than the bloodsucking monsters.

Then one night, Jessica’s super vampire escapes. She tracks it to the town of Krendel, but she is totally unprepared for what she finds. Because Krendel has a unique vampire situation, and Jessica is about to find herself in the fight of her life.

The Good

The vampire mythology in Blood Tells True is unique. The vampires are more like zombies than traditional vampires in that they are mindless animals attacking anyone they come across, though of course they want blood instead of brains. However, vampires who are on meth do not experience the same mental degradation as other vampires. The effect of vampirism and meth on intelligence was such a classic example of an interaction that I had to graph it:

(If you are now thinking “Wow, Elizabeth, that must be the nerdiest thing you’ve ever done,” believe me when I tell you that it doesn’t come close to breaking the top 10.)

The story itself was rather interesting, as long as you didn’t get too attached to the characters. I found myself surprised by the plot twists. At least twice I found myself saying, “Well, I didn’t see that coming!”

The Bad

As a reviewer, I knew this would happen to me eventually, and here I am confessing that this book falls into the category of “not my thing.” This book definitely falls into the category of “gritty,” which I know is extremely popular in the adult urban fantasy spheres. To be honest, that’s a lot of why I stopped reading so much adult urban fantasy. I like to read stories where noble characters triumph over extreme odds in order to reach their happy endings. Stories about people who have been forced to become killers because of the cold, hard world just make me sad.

Objectively the most irritating thing about the novel was the change in perspectives. For example, we would often get a scene from Jessica’s point of view, and then in the next chapter we would see the events from someone else’s perspective. At first, this was kind of cool, but after the first half of the book or so, when we had 3+ perspectives to follow, I started getting confused over the sequence of events. I also had a hard time following things that only occurred from the sheriff’s point of view, since I couldn’t really keep track of whose side he was on.

I also feel obligated to note that this book is on the more expensive end of the self-published scale at $3.99, and it is also one of the shortest that I have reviewed. Not that length is necessarily an indicator of quality. But I feel the need to point this out for those who carefully consider unit price per word.

The Romance

Sadly, or perhaps fortunately depending on your viewpoint, there is no romance in Blood Tells True. Unless you count Kroger thinking about how hot Jessica is while he and his buddies are on their way to kill her. Which I don’t. So, sorry, paranormal-romance-only readers. This one is not for you.

Will I read more?

At this point you may be saying, “Well, Elizabeth, if you don’t like gritty horror but still gave Blood Tells True four stars, it must be REALLY good.” I have, however, attempted to correct for my own personal preferences in assigning a star rating. Of course, I consider 4 stars a good rating, so I would say that if this book description sounds appealing to you, you will probably like it. But if you would like me to get back to reviewing books about five hundred year old vampires who go to high school and fall in love with teenage girls, this one is probably not your cup of tea.

As for me, I will most likely be skipping the other books in the series. It’s not that it’s particularly bad in any way, but, as I said, it’s just not my kind of thing.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Crossroads by J.J. Bonds

Title: Crossroads
Series: Crossroads Academy
Author: J.J. Bonds
Length: 3913 Kindle units
Rating: 4 stars

The Plot

Katia is far from thrilled to be headed to Crossroads Academy. She knows it will be full of snobby rich teen vampires who will only be friendly to her in order to curry favor with her powerful uncle. Still, she’s determined to learn all she can, especially about becoming an elite fighter.

In spite of herself, Katia begins to make friends and settle in at Crossroads, until tragedy strikes the nearby town of humans. Suddenly the vampires are afraid for the exposure of their world, and Katia must face a much more personal threat – the truth about her past, which she will do anything to keep secret.

The Good

In spite of the fact that Crossroads features two potentially overdone tropes in the YA paranormal world – vampires and boarding schools – I found the book enjoyable and compelling. Crossroads definitely has enough that is unique to keep a reader engaged, from the cutthroat vampire politics to the oddities of the blood disease.

I liked Katia a lot as a character, largely because she was not a cookie-cutter YA heroine. She establishes fairly early on that she does not care whether other people like her, and at no point does she alter her decidedly negative attitude in order to please anyone else. Yet she demonstrates that she can admit when she is wrong and manages to form bonds with select few others. I admit that at times her hostility toward everyone got on my nerves, but I was able to push past that and like her overall.

The kindle version of a book also has full chapter formatting, with a table of contents and the ability to flip between chapters. I cannot possibly describe how much I appreciate it when authors take the effort to do this.

The Bad

For the majority of Crossroads, the narrator Katia is keeping a very large secret about her past from the audience. This is made especially irritating because she constantly hints that there is something that she is not telling us. In a first person narrative, we as readers should feel like we are in the character’s head, and this effect is ruined when we are constantly reminded that the narrator is withholding information from us.

I conducted a brief and informal survey of people I know to determine whether everyone else found this device as irritating as I do. There were a variety of responses. Some felt, as I do, that if you want to keep a secret from the audience, you write in the third person. Others said that they did not mind this technique when it is done well. I think even those in the latter group would agree that this is not one of those cases. I nearly stopped reading the book a few times because I was getting tired of Katia’s attitude. But then when I reached the big reveal at the end, where we found out what had happened in her past, my response was, “Oh. Oh, wow. That totally makes sense. I now completely understand why she is the way she is.” I feel as a reader, this background information would have given me a better appreciation of the story as it developed, and there was still plenty of room for a surprise ending.

The Romance

Before Katia is at Crossroads for very long, Nikolai, the most popular boy in school begins to show an interest in her. In spite of all her rebuffs, he continues to offer overtures of friendship and volunteers to tutor her in martial arts. Basically, he is perfect – cute, smart, talented, rich, patient, tolerant of his friends’ foibles, etc. I actually find myself wondering why he puts up with Katia, and especially why he wants to pursue a romantic relationship with her. I cannot stress enough that the reasons for her unfriendliness are totally legitimate, but I would think that it would curtail her having any sane and rational suitors worth having. But, then, if she didn’t, the book wouldn’t really be worth reading, so we will just have to accept that Nik can see past her gruff exterior to the shining person within.

Will I read more?

I’m thinking probably yes, especially now that the reasons for Katia’s hostility are made clear. I’m curious to see how the revelation of Katia’s past influences her interactions with the other characters in the book, as well as with the reader. Some people may say that YA stories about vampire boarding schools are overdone, but I say as long as long as they’re good, feel free to keep ‘em coming.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Inner Demons by Sarra Cannon

Title: Inner Demons
Series: Peachville High Demons
Author: Sarra Cannon
Previous Books in Series: Beautiful Demons
Length: 2547 Kindle units
Rating: 4.5 stars

Refresher:  Orphan girl joins small-town cheerleading squad. Spooky things happen. Jackson Hunt -> swooning

I have a friend who has resolved to read every book that I give five stars to on my blog. I immediately denied any and all responsibility for any such books that he hated. I confess I was a little concerned about how he would react to the Peachville High Demons series, being as it was a little girlier than his usual tastes. Nonetheless, as soon as he finished Beautiful Demons, he immediately purchased Inner Demons. And as soon as he finished that, I got a text message from him saying “OMG second Demons book was SO GOOD.”

Of course, he then spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time detailing the parts of the plot that he found less believable, and he had to consider carefully whether he was willing to spend $3 on the next installment. (He decided that he was. I’ll be sure to let you know what he thinks when I review Bitter Demons.)

But, of course, you don’t really want to know what my friend thinks as much as you want to know what I think, though I’m sure you appreciate the corroboration. If anything, I liked Inner Demons even better than Beautiful Demons. At the end of the first book, we still had many questions about exactly what was going on, and we got more answers in the second book. For example, I learned that I was slightly inaccurate when I referred to the cheerleaders as demons; they are actually witches who have a complex relationship with the demon world. Harper also resolves the frustrating memory problem that was definitely the weak point of Beautiful Demons.

I like that there is some depth added to Harper’s friends and fellow cheerleaders. She continues to associate with them, even though they were cruel to her in the first book, and even though she is starting to question how much she wants to be involved with the town witches. She appreciates the feeling of belonging, and the reader begins to see that it is not just the superficial belonging of being popular but actual bonds with these girls. Lark realizes that Harper is ashamed that she cannot afford to buy a dress for the dance and creates a workaround. And Brooke confesses feelings to Harper that she cannot reveal to anyone else.

And in case you are wondering, Jackson Hunt is still my favorite boy in all the books I’ve read for my blog so far. I’ll let you know if that changes.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Coyote's Pup by A.M. Burns

Title: Coyote’s Pup
Series: Coyote’s Pack
Author: A.M. Burns
Length: 3325 Kindle Units
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Plot

Chance was on an ordinary camping trip with his parents when they are attacked by a were-coyote. He suddenly finds himself orphaned and in the company of an assortment of witches, vampires, and were-creatures of varying shapes and sizes. As Chance adjusts to this new reality – one in which he himself may be not only a were-coyote but a magic-user as well – he realizes that the danger has not passed. Because the coyote that attacked him still has something he wants from Chance, and he won’t hesitate to hurt Chance’s new friends in order to get it.

The Good

Chance and his fellow characters are all quite likable in that they consistently behave in a pro-social manner, and I do like books about people who are undisputedly on the “good” end of the good and evil scale. The members of this Coalition of supernatural creatures are all genuinely interested in helping each other with their magic or anything else that they can help with. The teens risk danger and exposure in order to save a family from a cave-in.

Coyote’s Pup also gave me a whole new appreciation for badgers – were-, dire, or otherwise. I’ve always seen badgers as having gotten the short end of the stick, animal power-wise, and they have always been my last choice for animal companion and/or alter-ego. But it turns out that badgers are kind of useful and exactly the creatures you want on your side during a cave in.  Clearly the were-dragons still have a leg up in most competitions, but I’m not counting out the badgers anymore.

The Bad

There were a lot of characters in Coyote’s Pup, and I had a difficult time remembering who was who. At first I thought this was my fault for not paying enough attention during the introduction scenes, but then I looked to see where I had missed the explanation of who the twins were, only to discover that there wasn’t one. At that point I accepted that I was not going to be able to keep a mental catalog of all the characters, and I would just have to hope that any important information about a character would come up when it was plot-relevant.

I also kept getting frustrated with how stupid the kids in the book were. Like, they knew there was a dangerous and psychotic were-coyote out there, and they had evidence that he was seeking out Chance. They knew that there was a group of trained professionals looking for this were-coyote. The adults repeatedly asked them to stay out of it, and when the kids did get involved, things tended to go very badly, very fast. Yet they still concluded that going off on their own to a serial killer’s house was a good idea. But guess what? Things went badly. I realize that without these efforts, there would have been no plot. But even the most exciting plot loses something if the reasons behind it are insufficient.

The Romance

Chance spends most of the book hanging out with three people who I come to assume are teenagers similar to him in age. They are Trix, the pretty, red-haired weather witch, Mike, a werebadger who enjoys shopping, and Mike’s twin Mel, who is described as looking extremely similar to her brother in spite of being a girl.

It does not necessarily surprise me that of these, Chance is most interested in Trix. After all, he is a teenage boy; of course he likes the pretty girl. What does surprise me is that Mel seems to be automatically excluded as a love interest because she is not attractive. When the four are hanging out together, often Mel and Chance are together on the sidelines, rolling their eyes at the shopping escapades of the other two. I consequently get the impression that they have more in common than Chance and Trix do, but he doesn’t even look twice at her.

I am choosing to pretend that this is because we are inside Chance’s clueless teenage boy head. If the story were told from Mel’s point of view, I’m sure the whole thing would have a more complex and probably more depressing slant.

Will I read more?

A.M. Burns has apparently written several stories that take place in this same world about some of the other characters, and there is apparently going to be a series of books about Chance’s ongoing adventures. I confess to having some interest in the stories about the multi-thousand-year-old were-dragon (who I think is gay and dating either one of Trix’s brothers or one of the other guys? Gods, these characters are confusing!) But I’m not sure that I have sufficient interest to invest in another book.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Catalyst by Marc Johnson

Title: Catalyst
Series: The Passage of Hellsfire
Author: Marc Johnson
Length: 7188 Kindle Units
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Plot

For the first fourteen years of his life, Hellsfire lived with his mother in a small village, barely making ends meet. Then one day, he has a chance encounter with Princess Krystal of Alexandria and saves her from attackers using powerful magic that he did not know he had.

Now Hellsfire must make a journey deep into the mountains, where he must undergo rigorous training to learn to control his newfound power. Because a dark power is trying to take over the land, and Hellsfire may well be the man destined to save all the races from total destruction.

The Good

Catalyst fits into the tradition of epic fantasy that I have not reviewed very much (or at all) so far but that is definitely within the purview of my blog. I’m actually killing two birds here by reviewing a traditional fantasy by a male author. (In case you’ve been wondering, I have not been intentionally leaving out either. The gap is due more to availability than to any kind of statement.)

In true heroic tradition, Hellsfire is a young man with humble origins who, through courage and perseverance, becomes the only person who can save the known world from unspeakable evil. With some prophesies and fireballs thrown in. This is a recurring theme in our stories and legends because we like it. We enjoy watching an everyman character triumph over extreme odds to become the savior of the known universe. It makes us feel as though we, too, can cast off the shackles of our anonymity and slay the evil wizard, should he ever appear.

Also, there was a smartass dragon. More books should have smartass dragons.

The Bad

The main problem with Catalyst stems from the same source as the virtue, which is that we have heard this story many times before. This particular incarnation doesn’t stray very much from the traditional. Hellsfire has a mentor who teaches him in the ways of magic based on the elements. He must ally with the dwarves and elves in order to save the kingdom and its fair princess from the machinations of an evil wizard advisor. It’s not a badly done version of this story by any means, but it is nonetheless the same story.

In a lot of ways, the plot of Catalyst reminded me of an RPG (role-playing game) video game. This is not, strictly speaking, a bad thing. I like RPGs, and Hellfire’s adventures were less frustrating than the events in Dragon Age. It’s just that as I was reading, I felt like Hellsfire was on a quest chain; as soon as he finished doing one thing, an immediate course of action for the next step would present itself. Hellsfire has a vision of Alexandria in danger? As he travels, he runs into a group of elves with similar goals! Trying to gain knowledge and escape from the dungeon? Look, a dwarf prisoner with connections to the dwarf leaders! I found myself imagining how the story would be different if the player character were a girl or if s/he made different choices. This provided me with some entertainment but probably not the kind that the author anticipated.

The Romance

As everyone knows, the crucial scenes for romance in a high fantasy novel, much like in a Jane Austen novel, are the balls. Very sadly, the city/kingdom of Alexandria is in a very precarious situation during all points of the novel that might have been ball-friendly, so the closest we get is a formal dinner. Hellsfire does get to be completely awkward as the only peasant in a room full of nobles and ambassadors. And yet Princess Krystal still comes over to talk to him.

Honestly, I’m not sure what Hellsfire sees in the princess. As a character, she is fairly awesome, willing to do anything for her kingdom and refusing to be defeated. As a love interest, though, I am not so sure. I mean, she is pretty and a princess, so that makes her the shining unattainable star. But in her interactions with him, she is kind of moody. But, then, Hellsfire makes suboptimal decisions and is somewhat inept, so maybe they are appropriately matched. Well, except the whole peasant/princess dichotomy. But I have hopes that that will provide interesting conflict later. With any luck at balls.

Will I read more?

At this point I am thinking most likely not, though I am far from absolutely decided. If the expansion pack… I mean sequel were to hint at a really interesting twist on the traditional story, or maybe were going to include some interesting political machinations (what? I like political machinations in my high fantasy), I might invest.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

August by Maddy Edwards

Title: August
Series: One Black Rose
Author: Maddy Edwards
Previous Books in Series: One Black Rose
Length: 5310 Kindle units
Rating:  4 stars

Refresher: Girl on summer break must choose between two fairy princes, with the entire fairy world at stake.

In my review of One Black Rose, I commented that I felt as though Autumn was risking a lot for a love that she did not feel very strongly. After reading this, my sister commented that I was not sufficiently taking into account the tendency for teenagers to do stupid things when they are in love. I concede that she may have a point, though I confess that I do prefer it when characters make good decisions. I also maintain that I didn’t really feel that Autumn felt strongly enough about Holt to warrant her decisions.

These concerns are laid to rest to some extent in August. Holt is gone, and Autumn is definitely pining for him in the manner of someone who is in love. This also gives an opening to address one of my other issues with the first book, which is that we don’t see that much of Samuel. The winter prince is much more present in this second installment, though we still don’t know much about what he’s thinking, and, perhaps more importantly, Autumn still doesn’t seem very interested to find out.

Another plus of August over One Black Rose is that it has more of a plot in the conventional sense of the word. A lot of the first book was Autumn slowly finding out that the world around her was more mysterious than it seemed, and the climax was relatively sudden after that. In August, we are clearly dealing with a dangerous enemy from chapter 1, and this enemy continues to be a threat until the very end, when the true source of the evil reveals itself in a surprising twist.

The one thing that bothered me is that Autumn seemed so sure that the way to solve her problems with Holt, Samuel, and their many assorted relatives, was for her to become a fairy. Considering that the method of her joining the faerie court was the source of all her problems, I failed to see how such an action would solve anything. But I guess I shall have to take my sister’s advice and chalk it up to teenagers making stupid decisions when they are in love.

Overall, August was an exciting addition to the series from the first ill-fated party to the dramatic cliffhanger ending. I will definitely be sticking around for a third installment.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Fate Fixed by Bonnie Erina Wheeler

Title: Fate Fixed
Series: The Erris Coven
Author: Bonnie Erina Wheeler
Length: 2261 Kindle units
Rating: 2 stars

The Plot

Lexie isn’t quite sure how she feels about her new stepfamily. Her stepfather Dragos makes her mother happy, but he is also insisting that the entire family move to Maine. Plus, her three new stepbrothers are overly protective.

Things get even stranger for Lexie when she arrives in the small town of Erris. She meets local bad boy Torin and realizes that he is the boy she has been dreaming about for months. But Torin has problems of his own, and he knows that meeting Lexie so early in his life is evidence that danger is lurking just around the corner.

The Good

Some of the mythology for Fate Fixed was very interesting. Instead of having straight-up vampires, we had dhampirs with a Nordic heritage. (FYI, for the purpose of labels in this blog, dhampirs count as vampires. Nephilim will also count as angels, and all people who turn into animals are werewolves. I don’t want an absurd number of labels.) The werewolves were also based on Romanian werewolf legends. I actually had to look up some of the words being used to describe the supernatural creatures and found that they were references to regional legends, which always scores points with me.

There were parts of the book that were also seriously creepy. Lexie’s new family slowly takes control of her life, and she loses her privileges – especially communication with the outside world – one by one without even realizing it. I find the idea of being so trapped and helpless rather terrifying, and, even though my parents are nothing like that, it makes me extra glad not to be a teenager anymore. No matter how frustrated I get with my life, I can at least be content that no one can legally take away all my choices.

The Bad

Fate Fixed begins with Lexie having a weird Romanian-werewolf stepfamily, who decide to move to a new town since they are a new family. As far as I can tell, they picked the location using a random geographic generator. And then this town has a bunch of Nordic half-vampires. The two supernatural elements and the new town are the three things that form the base of the story, but they have absolutely nothing to do with each other. That they all happen to the same girl at the same time is a bit too much of a coincidence to be plausible.

We had chapters from different perspectives, primarily Lexie and Torin, but also occasionally from our villain “Wolf.” It is made clear to the readers early on that “Wolf” is one of the members of Lexie’s step-family. There is some effort at misdirection, but there are just not enough potential suspects for the ending to be that surprising.

The Romance

This trope of soulmates meeting each other in dreams before meeting in real life is growing increasingly common. So common, in fact, that I can call it a trope. I’m not necessarily opposed to it. I like an epic love as much as anyone, and dreaming of each other is a pretty good indicator that fate wants the pair to be together.

But here’s the thing: It’s an indicator, not an absolute declaration. Were I to dream about a guy for months and then suddenly run into him on the street, my immediate impulse would not be to kiss him and start planning the wedding. First, I would ensure that I had not had a psychotic break, and then I would want to know whether this mystery boy was messing with me. After the initial shock, I would want to get to know him, and I would slowly realize that we are, in fact, perfect for each other. This is the normal progression of such a romance, and skipping straight to the happy ever after is not only ludicrous but also taking out the best part of the story.

Will I read more?

There are a few things I am curious about, particularly how Lexie’s family is going to deal with the aftermath. But it’s only flip-through-the-book-in-the-bookstore kind of curiosity, not investment in reading a whole other book. Also, I believe that the next book is about Lexie’s friend Liz and on of Torin’s many cousins, so I’m not even sure I would get the information that I wanted. Plus, you know, the book wasn’t all that good, so I’ll likely be skipping on the continuing adventures of the Nordic dhampir cousins.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Anew by Chelsea Fine

Title: Anew
Series: Archers of Avalon
Author: Chelsea Fine
Length: 3531 kindle units
Rating: 4 stars

The Plot

Scarlet remembers waking up in the woods at the age of fifteen, but her memory before that is completely blank. After two years she has come to accept that she may never get her memory back and has settled in for a normal life. Then she meets Gabriel, a boy who seems familiar to her but who can tell her nothing of her past. When she meets Gabriel’s brother Tristan, he seems even more familiar to her, but he hates her on sight. But as she grows closer to both brothers, she begins to remember the truth – that she is the victim of an ancient curse that is coming to claim her yet again.

The Good

Overall Anew was a compelling read. I stayed up and read the whole thing in one sitting when I really should have been sleeping. I got really drawn in, wanting to find out more about Scarlet’s past and the other mysterious things that were being hinted at. I also went back and reread certain parts a few days later, even though the lack of chapter formatting made this somewhat difficult.

My favorite character was Tristan and Gabriel’s friend Nate. He was immortal and in possession of large volumes of knowledge, and he served as a voice of reason to the lovestruck brothers. But he was also a very big gaming dork. He would sometimes lock himself away from other people for days at a time to improve his video game skills, and he would prioritize setting up his game system at least on par with advancing the plot of the book. I found him quite delightful

The Bad

When I first saw the title of this series – Archers of Avalon – I thought it was going to be about kickass Amazon women. I was kind of disappointed when “Archer” turned out to be the name of the family. The mythology ended up being interesting and unique enough that I forgave it, but I still have a vague and unfulfilled desire to read a book about Amazons.

I found the writing style of Anew somewhat irritating at times. There were a lot of fragments and one-sentence paragraphs. To some extent this created a young and bubbly voice, but after a while it created too many pauses and made the writing appear choppy.

I mentioned my favorite character, so I feel I should also mention my least favorite. Scarlet’s friend Heather was extremely annoying. I had a similar issue with her as I did with the narrator in Tempus – she used too many italics and seemed to be drinking way too many caffeinated beverages. Scenes that she appeared in quickly crossed the line from young and bubbly into over-the-top. Fortunately, she didn’t do too much after the first third of the novel, so we got a respite.

The Romance

A story about two brothers in love with the same girl cannot help but remind us of L.J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries series, but that’s completely acceptable because she is one of the classics of the YA paranormal romance genre. It’s a good trope and creates a good set of tension. I have to admit that I’m a little bit ashamed of the double standard I apparently endorse. In my review of Break Away, I observed that Dafne couldn’t steal her sister’s boyfriend without being a heartless bitch. But I am perfectly okay with Tristan stealing his brother’s girlfriend.

The story alternated between Scarlet’s, Gabriel’s, and Tristan’s point of view, and the brothers knew a lot more about what had happened in the past than Scarlet did. So for some sections we would get hints about what had happened, but we wouldn’t have these suspicions confirmed until Scarlet remembered them. One of the reasons that I stayed up reading as late as I did was that I was waiting for Scarlet to remember something that the boys kept hinting about. But then she never did, which was rather irritating. I’m hoping that this means it will be a major theme of book 2.

Will I read more?

Well, I told myself I would keep reading until Scarlet remembered something specific, and she still hasn’t, so I guess I’ve locked myself in for at least one more installment. The book also has quite the dramatic cliffhanger ending, so I’m anxious to see how that resolves. And if the future books include more Nate and less Heather, I shall likely remained tuned into the series.

And I would not be at all opposed if the author decided to throw some Amazons in. Just a thought.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Time Mends

Title: Time Mends
Series: Timber Wolves
Author: Tammy Blackwood
Previous Books in Series: Destiny Binds
Rating: 5 stars

Refresher:  Excellent book about a girl and her werewolf boyfriend. Buy immediately.

I was very excited to get my advance review copy of Time Mends, both because it was my first ever ARC and because I loved Destiny Binds so much. And I am glad to say that it did not disappoint.

In Destiny Binds, the heroine Scout finds out that there are werewolves and other kinds of shifters, which is hard enough for anyone to accept. In Time Mends, the stakes are so much higher, and the challenges that Scout faces are even greater. But it is when a person faces adversity that you can find what they are really made of. In her darkest hours, Scout shines as a strong character whom you cannot help but admire.

Did I enjoy it as much as Destiny Binds? It is difficult to say for sure. The book made me laugh and care in the right places. And it stuck with me so much that I had a dream the next night about the characters.

The second installment of any trilogy always has some issues. It’s generally the darkest point in the series, and it needs to lead into the third one. After the first one, I observed that I felt like things were more open-ended than I would have preferred. Time Mends ends with a gaping cliffhanger that makes me desperate to find out what happens in book 3.

In terms of negatives, I have promised no spoilers, so I don’t want to go into too much detail, but the actions of one of the characters did not sit right with me. I kept waiting for it to be a cunning and elaborate plan, and that might still happen. But even now, thinking about it, I get a little bit of a pit in my stomach. Which is good, in that it demonstrates the emotional power of the book. But also bad in that I dislike having a pitty feeling in my stomach.

So the moral of the story is, go out and buy Time Mends. But, then, since I’m sure you already read Destiny Binds at my recommendation, you don’t need me to tell you that any book of Tammy Blackwell’s is likely to be a winner.