Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ring of Destiny by Eric Quinn Knowles

Title: Ring of Destiny
Series: Reynald
Author: Eric Quinn Knowles
Length: 2592 Kindle units
Rating: 4 stars

The Plot

After an accident ruins his dream of a wrestling career, Jared moves to the town of Reynald to make a new start. Unfortunately, he has a harder time fitting in than he did at his old school, at least until Sarah comes along. She’s the most beautiful girl that he’s ever seen, and he is strangely drawn to her. But then one night as he is going home from a date, Jared is attacked by an undead former classmate and rescued by cheerleader Charlotte and loner Sheridan. They have some surprising news for him – Vampires are real, and his new girlfriend Sarah is one of them.
The Good

I think that more books need more loner scientist types like Sheridan. (For most of the book I thought he was gay, and I thought that made him even more awesome – a gay character with traits other than being gay! But now that I look back, I think that was just a supposition his classmates had about him, which makes me kind of sad.) Nonetheless, Sheridan was an interesting flawed-and-sympathetic character who said one of the best things that I’ve read in a fantasy novel.

When Charlotte and Sheridan are describing the supernatural world to Jared, Charlotte remarks, “There’s more to it than science.” And Sheridan says, “There is only science.” And I (probably aloud) said, “Exactly.” I find it kind of maddening in books when the magic is described as beyond science, because that doesn’t make any sense. Science is not a kind of information; it is a method of understanding reality using empirical evidence. The reason that science is perceived as antithetical to the supernatural is that there is no evidence supporting the existence of ghosts, fairies, werewolves, etc. But if presented with hard evidence that there were such a thing as vampires, no scientist worth his or her salt would just say, “Oops, science is wrong.” He or she would take out the measuring device of his or her choice and try to find out everything there was to know about the blood-sucking fiends. Sheridan and Ring of Destiny understand this, and it makes me happy.

Okay, done now. Getting off high horse.

The Bad

I don’t feel like I really have a lot to say that was bad about Ring of Destiny. I mean, some of the plot was a little confusing, and I had a hard time following all the different factions. There seemed to be at least four or five small groups involved, and some of them did very little. I think there was supposed to be a moment at the end where I said, “Ah, of course. It is all clear now.” That didn’t happen, but that’s mostly okay.

Most of the reason I’m giving the book only four stars is that I felt mostly “Meh” about it. I read the first third of the novel without feeling at all invested with any of the characters. I think this was primarily because a lot of it was from Jared’s point of view, and he was having a hard time meaningfully interacting with the other characters in the book, and social interaction is what makes books interesting. When we got further in and saw more of the relationships – between Jared and his dad, between Sheridan and Charlotte – the book got a lot more interesting.

The Romance

So, really, the only romance going on was between evil vampire Sarah and once-jock Jared. But this relationship actually had a fair number of interesting nuances. Jared was attracted to Sarah for more than just her beauty, though if I tell you what the real reason is, that would definitely constitute a spoiler. And though Sarah was terrorizing the school in search of the ring of destiny, her goal was to become human again and have a nice normal life like she had with her fiancĂ© before she became a vampire. I mean, it’s still kind of hard to root for these crazy kids working it out, but it is nonetheless an read-worthy relationship.

Will I read more?

I have no strong desire one way or the other about whether I read more in the series. I probably won’t seek it out on my own, but if I were asked to read it, I would probably agree.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sacrifice by Mayandree Michel

Title: Sacrifice
Series: The Descendants
Author: Mayandree Michel
Previous Books in Series: Betrayal
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: 5222 Kindle units

Refresher: After a very confusing segment that takes place in the modern day, Cordelia travels back in time to learn that she is the Empress of the Ischero, a group of descendants of the Greek gods.

When I read Betrayal, I was of two minds about it. I felt like it had a really interesting mythology, but the story went off in some very confusing directions. I was hoping that with a lot of the bewildering time travel stuff out of the way, the second book would be much better in terms of story. In this I was disappointed.

It’s not that Sacrifice was totally bad. There were some very good elements. The love triangle/quadrilateral was particularly interesting. Cordelia had to choose between the boy she fell in love with on her own and the boy the gods have chosen to be her mate. Of course, I was put in the uncomfortable position of being on the side of the rapist/murderer (which means less when you’re talking about shape-changing immortals but is nonetheless disturbing. Seriously, YA novels, why do you try to make horrible people appealing? I’m a 31-year-old who can distinguish fiction from reality, but the intended audience of these books is made up of impressionable 13-year-old girls.)

Anyway, I liked the characters, and I liked the mythology. (I always find it interesting when the Greek gods are characters to see which ones are the “good guys” and which are the “bad guys,” especially when these differ from my own conceptions.) But I once again had a hard time following the plot, particularly as it relates to time travel. Cordelia’s main goal in the book is to bring her parents back to life, despite the insistence from her subjects that she should be focusing on other things. I don’t want to try to explain the process of how she goes about finding them and getting to them, as it would involve spoilers, but suffice it to say that I got to the end of the book and was not entirely sure what had happened.

All in all, I felt like I enjoyed the story, but I really wish it had been better written. But it’s about as good as the first one, so if you liked Betrayal, Sacrifice is definitely worth a read. Will I tune in for a third installment? I have not yet decided. For now I will keep following Mayandree Michel’s blog and decide what I want closer to the release date.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Color Keepers by Catriona Crehan

Title: The Color Keepers
Author: Catriona Crehan
Length: 1786 Kindle units
Rating: 2 stars

The Plot

When Emily’s mother buys her a mirror, she has no idea that it’s a magic mirror. That is until it spits out messages for her and turns into a tunnel into a magical world. But when she gets there, Emily accidentally frees the evil Crow Queen, and now it’s up to her and her two champions to gather the four colored keys to save the kingdom.

The Good

The Color Keepers had a good basic story. Emily brings her brother and her friend Sam on a quest into a magical world where she has to face various challenges in order gather the four colored keys. At the beginning of the story, Emily is isolated and hostile to the world around her, and the tests she faces help her to be more accepting of the people and problems in her life. There is definitely a message of salvation and understanding rather than destruction.

The Bad

The Color Keepers was very short, and much of the time it felt more like the summary for a book than the book itself. Nothing that happened to the book was developed at all, and it more felt like a simple series of acts that Emily undertook rather than a fleshed out novel. Consequently, it was really hard to get involved in the story on a meaningful level.

In spite of this, I found a lot of what happened in the story to be confusing and/or ridiculous. I didn’t really understand the backstory about how the Crow Queen became evil and what that had to do with her sister and how all this somehow related to the colored keys that Emily had to collect. All of it was related to Emily by a talking mouse, who seemed less upset that Emily unleashed the horrible queen onto his world than one would expect. He was more like, “Great, Emily! Now that you’ve done this stupid and horrible thing, you get to go on a quest!”  And then Emily needs to convince the only two people she knows to go into the magic world with her, so she has a “party” where she invites only the two of them and then “tricks” them into coming into her bedroom at the time appointed to travel through the mirror. All in all, the story was so lame that I had to repeatedly stop reading to bury my head in my hands.

The Romance

Emily starts the book at a new school where she quickly meets an attractive boy named Sam. When Sam asks Emily to sit with him at lunch, she assumes that he means just them alone and refuses to go sit with his friends. Nonetheless, he decides that he likes her and starts hanging out with her alone. Of course, their friendship seems to be nothing more than that, as Sam frequently talks about girls he is thinking of asking out. But now Emily needs Sam’s help to save the magical world from the Crow Queen, and this will almost certainly force them to reveal their true feelings about one another.

Will I read more?

The Color Keepers is not the worst book I have read for my blog so far, but it is also far from the best.  The story was interesting, but it was not particularly well developed and ended up being overly simplistic. Consequently, I don’t think I will be tuning in for more books in the series, if there are any.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ignition by Ezra Linehan-Clodfelter

Title: Ignition
Series: Ignition
Author: Ezra Linehan-Clodfelter
Length: 9580 Kindle units
Rating: 4 stars

The Plot

Jes knows there’s something different about Seth. At first she thinks that it’s just that he’s the hottest guy she’s ever seen. But when she sees his eyes glow red, she know that there is more to the story. She confronts him, and he confesses that he is an incubus from another plane of existence, though right now he’s just trying to blend into high school like a normal human. Jes still wants to be his friend, but she doesn’t yet realize how dangerous that may be.

The Good

Overall, Ignition was a good read. The characters were multi-faceted and likable. The book explored all kinds of relationships in depth, not just the romance between the main characters. Jessica’s family was very important to her, and we got to see how she related to both her parents when she was put in a position where she needed to lie to them. (Actually, I think they let her off way too easily. If I had repeatedly injured myself and taken a number of walks outside at midnight, I’m fairly certain my parents would not have said, “Oh, we trust you. Try to be more careful.”)  She also has a different relationship with each of her three friends: Amanda, who can always be counted on to do the selfish thing, Seth, on whom she’s not-so-secretly crushing, and Lily, who encourages her to do things that she ordinarily wouldn’t dare.

The Bad

So there are two things I want to discuss her about Ignition. The “normal” one is that the book was kind of draggy. This is not as damning as it could be. Usually when I see a book this long, I shudder because I suspect that it is going to be full of useless scenes. For as long as it was, though, Ignition managed to move along at a fair clip. Nonetheless, it was a very long book in which very little actually happened, and I feel like it could have been cut down to stop me from flipping ahead to when Seth was going to come back.

Now, the second one. I am not sure this is actually a flaw. There was a plot twist that did not sit right with me, and it happened late enough in the book that I am going to be as vague as possible to avoid spoilers. As I was trying to figure out what was problematic for me, I ended up asking myself whether the same action made by a straight male character would have bothered me as much, and I was forced to conclude that it probably would not have. It was more likely my heteronormative bias disliking things outside my comfort zone. And I realized that if I believe in equality for lesbians/bisexual women (and I do), then I must also accept their right to behave like histrionic psychopaths when their affections are not returned. So, thank you, Ignition, for helping me grow as a person.

That said, I’m not sure that it wasn’t ALSO a lame plot device. So consider yourself forewarned and forearmed.

The Romance

So Ignition was one of those books where the romance was far more important than the plot. The plot was pretty much incidental and didn’t even come up until halfway through the novel, and even then it didn’t really rise and fall that much. But since we read YA paranormal romance for the romance anyway, I’m mostly okay with that.

We start out with boy crazy Amanda determined to find a boyfriend for her friend Jes. Simultaneously, a super-hot new boy named Seth transfers to their school, and Jes immediately likes him. But for some reason, when she talks to him, she is unconscionably rude. Amanda promises to try to get them together anyway… until she decides to go out with him herself. Jes is probably more understanding about this than she should have been, and she spends time hanging out with Amanda, Seth, and Seth’s sister Lily. And then Jes discovers a shocking piece of information: Seth is an incubus. He is so relieved to finally have someone know his secret that he starts hanging around with Jes a lot, and they become close, maybe closer than Seth and Amanda, even though Seth and Jes are “just friends.”

And now at this point, you are all like, “Oh, I know where this story is going.” And I say that to some extent you do, but to some extent you do not. There is deviation from the formula. Which is good. And then again not because… Well, we are readers of YA paranormal romance. We like the formula.

Will I read more?

There’s a lot that was interesting in Ignition, and I’m definitely curious about what happens to the characters. I could see myself tuning in for another installment.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blood Bond by Heather Hildenbrand

Title: Blood Bond
Series: Dirty Blood
Author: Heather Hildenbrand
Previous Books in Series: Dirty Blood, Cold Blood
Rating: 5 stars
Length: 7893 Kindle units

Refresher: Tara is half-werewolf, half-Hunter, and she is destined to bring peace between the warring races.

When last we left Tara, she was at Hunter school and had just defeated Miles, the psycho werewolf-Hunter hybrid, who was turning humans and Hunters into werewolves for his own nefarious purposes. As we open book 3, Tara has any number of problems. First, there is her ex-boyfriend George, who has been injected with werewolf syndrome and is certain to go mad if Tara can’t find a way to save him. Second, all the new hybrids that Miles created are coming after Tara at the behest of some new leader. Meanwhile, Tara’s latent werewolf side seems to be manifesting, and the Hunters have decided that they may not want to make peace with werewolves after all. So Tara’s got a lot on her plate.

What kept striking me as I read Blood Bond was how much I love Heather Hildenbrand’s writing. It flows so smoothly that you get sucked in, and before you know it, you’ve read half the book. Part of this is that there are always interesting plot things going on. This third installment of the series introduces some interesting new characters and twists on the mythology. And Tara does her trademark going off on her own and take some ill-advised action in the name of saving the day, which so annoys a friend of mine about the series.

In terms of romance, I have to confess that I’m still not loving Wes. He is perfectly nice, but I think that’s the problem. He doesn’t really have any traits of his own. He just does whatever a standard supportive boyfriend would do. Which is why I like Alex better, even though he starts the novel by going off on a squad to kill possibly innocent hybrids. Because he has a conflict and makes bad choices occasionally. Or, you know, a lot. But I think this may have to be a case where I reconcile myself to being on Team Wrong Boy.

Also, is it just me, or does the position of the girl on the cover look really uncomfortable? I can’t help thinking, “Gah, why is she twisting her spine that way?”

Overall, a really good third book. I enjoyed the new twists and characters, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Troll or Derby by Red Tash

Title: Troll or Derby
Author: Red Tash
Length: 3469 Kindle units
Rating: 4 stars

The Plot

It all starts when Deb has to rescue her sister Ginnifer from a trailer fire set by Ginnifer’s drug dealing boyfriend Dave. Deb manages to get her sister out alive, but while they are at the hospital, some of Dave’s unpleasant allies kidnap Ginnifer again, so Deb has no choice but to go after her again. Little does she know that on her tail is a troll named Harlow who only wants to help her as she becomes enmeshed in the fantastic world she’s about to find out that she’s a part of.

The Good

Troll or Derby was an entertaining and enjoyable story. It was definitely a different kind of twists on faeries and trolls, where both species lived in the human world and wreaked havoc on unsuspecting mortals in some very cruel and disturbing ways. There is a scene involving blue licorice fairy candy that I find particularly upsetting if I think about it too hard.

Roller Deb was not your average YA heroine, and I mean that in a good way. She roller skated everywhere she went and had aspirations of someday joining a roller derby team, and she doesn’t give a crap if that means that all her fellow trailer park residents think that makes her a lesbian. She is fiercely protective of her family and shows that she will do just about anything to keep her sister safe, and considering who has her sister and what they plan to do to her, that’s saying something. And when we finally find out what species Deb is… I don’t want to give spoilers, but she’s super awesome and officially my new favorite type of faerie.

The Bad

The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Deb and Harlow, and I’m not sure how I feel about this. Deb tells most of the actual story, and Harlow provides cultural background with an occasional plot point. This leads to a couple of problems. First, when they are together, the story seems repetitive, and sometimes when they are apart, their stories do not seem to be on the same timeline. Also, in order to have Harlow not give everything away, he remembers different amounts of his history at different times. This gets really confusing in parts, and as of the end of the novel, I still only have a vague impression of their history. 

Frequent readers of my blog know that I am not a huge fan of gritty. Troll or Derby definitely had a lot of grit – rapists, drug lords, human slavery. It was not a pretty scene. But. Somehow in all of this, the book didn’t feel that gritty. It kept a light-hearted tone that prevented me from getting too down in the dumps about how horrible and irredeemable the bad guys were. And I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, really. I mean, it kept me interested instead of putting that uncomfortable pit feeling in my stomach. I just felt like I should be taking the bad guys more seriously.

The Romance

I am still a little bit unclear about some of the romantic dynamics in the story. It seems that when Harlow and Deb were little, they were bonded together in some way, which means that as soon as Harlow sees her now, he knows he has to follow her and protect her. And as soon as she sees him, she knows they have a connection. In order to keep her protected, Harlow does something that involves wearing her teeth around his neck that means that they are married, though Deb would probably freak if she were made to understand this. All in all, it’s not a traditional courtship, and there are probably a few kinks left to be worked out.

Will I read more?

As of the end of the book, I still feel like I have many more questions and answers. Why did Dave and McJagger want Ginnifer in the first place? Was it only to get to Deb? Or are there other things going on? How will the troll court resolve its succession issues? And will Deb ever find out that she’s married to Harlow? These and many more things I would like to know, and thus I will probably tune in for book 2 to see how the overarching plot develops.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Estelan by Trace Broyles

Title: Estelan
Series: Estelan
Author: Trace Broyles
Rating: 1.5 stars

The Plot

Late one night, the Moon Temple is attacked, and only one priestess survives, so far as anyone knows. The powerful members of the realm realize that this means the darkness is coming into the world, and First One Kriton gathers a group of warriors to prepare for the coming battle.

The Good

Some of the mythology of Estelan was very interesting. The main power struggle seemed to be between light and dark First Ones, and many of the participants in the battle were their children, who had varying special powers and immortality. The people in this world did not age gradually, the way that one would expect. Instead, they go through a Transition where they go from being children to being adults overnight. Sometimes magical marks appear on a person’s body during the Transition, indicating what future they are destined for. I thought this was a creative and cool way to deal with characters aging.

The Bad

I once played this D&D game where all our characters started at 9th level and were presumed to have been traveling together for some time. Unfortunately, we hadn’t actually played these characters before, so we actually knew absolutely nothing about each other. Awkwardness ensued. I had not felt this way again until I read Estelan. I felt like I was introduced to the many, many characters, and I was expected to have all kinds of back knowledge about them that I just didn’t have. I mean, when I’ve spent only a couple hours with a man and a girl, and he suddenly reveals that he is her father, this is not particularly meaningful to me. I mean, sure, it’s a big deal for her, but I honestly don’t care.

As I began to read Estelan, I was upset because I had no idea what was going on. I banged my head against the text for quite a long time trying to make sense of it. Eventually I accepted that I was not going to be able to achieve 100% comprehension and let it go. Which turned out to be the right choice because it turns out that absolutely nothing happens. Seriously. There is an undefined attack in the temple, and the unidentified forces later attack some people in the village. Some of the villagers get together and realize they must hide/go on some journey. But they don’t seem to have any goal in mind, other than to fight the nebulous darkness. But that’s okay because they’re all more concerned about getting married and having babies than anything else.

The Romance

So the romance was actually the only thing about the story I could actually follow. First we had Pallia the priestess, who escapes from the temple after the attack and marries the man she was supposed to marry before she was forced to become a priestess. He is a mage, and I think the mages are supposed to be evil. I was not a huge Pallia fan at the beginning because she seemed to want to use the attack as a way to escape the temple. But she seemed to do largely neutral and good stuff for the rest of the book, so I supposed she was supposed to be some sort of protagonist.

Shai/Mina also escapes from the temple and goes into hiding with Nain, who recently lost his wife. Luckily, Mina looks like Nain’s dead wife, and his father thinks they should get married, so they do. This seems to work out well for them.

Kitin and Roane are in love with each other, but for some unnamed reason related to their fate to save the world, she refuses to acknowledge this relationship.

Will I read more?

I cannot stress enough that I could not follow what was going on in the first book. Consequently, I can have no interest in what happens next. I mean, I do kind of hope that Kitin and Roane work out their issues, but that’s only a passing thought. So I wish all the characters the best, but if they wanted me to invest more in their journey, they should have told me wtf they were doing.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fate Succumbs by Tammy Blackwell

Title: Fate Succumbs
Series: Timber Wolves
Author: Tammy Blackwell
Previous Books in Series: Destiny Binds, Time Mends
Rating: 5 stars

Refresher: Scout becomes enmeshed in the world of shifters and seers and is now on the run from the ebil Alpha Pack.

As I read Fate Succumbs, I kept being reminded of a variation of something that my friend says about Joss Whedon movies, which is to say that “Books that are by Tammy Blackwell are so much better than books that aren’t.” It is no secret that Destiny Binds is the single best book I have reviewed so far on my blog, and if I recommend one book to someone who wants to get a sample of the kind of things I review, that would be it. And so it is with much joy that I am able to say that Fate Succumbs is just as good as the other books in the series, and I think I might actually like it better than Time Mends. I laughed, I… Well, I didn’t cry, but I did have to go back to Destiny Binds and check for an previously-unnoticed prophesy, so that’s something. And I got to think "I told you so" twice.

I don’t want to say too much about the book for fear of spoilers of the previous books in the series, but I can share a little. The book starts out with Scout and Liam on the run, and I find this particular dyad especially amusing. They are both so horribly bad at communicating with each other, him because he doesn’t talk and her because she doesn’t say anything that’s not at least half sarcastic. Despite the seriousness of the plot, I found myself laughing more during the beginning of this book than I did during any of the others.

Those of you who were concerned about the lack of romance in Time Mends can rest assured that Scout’s love life takes some interesting turns in Fate Succumbs. Of course, if you are like a friend of mine, who was telling me that one of the things he likes best about the series is that romance takes a back seat to plot, you will also be satisfied because Fate Succumbs has a plot of epic proportions that is in no way overshadowed by the romance.

I confess that I am actually a little sad that the series is over. I had so been looking forward to the release, and once I read the book, I wished I could go back to the excited feeling of having it anew. But! Tammy Blackwell has promised us new books in the world of shifters and seers, and we will hopefully love these characters as much as Scout and her pack.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

The Society: Proof by Aaron Crabill

Title: The Society: Proof
Author: Aaron Crabill
Length: 4921 Kindle units
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Plot

Keely Allison has one goal – to find proof that ghosts exist. Most days during the summer and every weekend during the school year, she and her friend Tad go to houses in the most haunted town in America, Pembleton, Arizona, and try to find enough evidence of paranormal activity that her scientist uncle will certify as legitimate evidence. When the new school year starts, it brings with it Sean Cage, a paranormal enthusiast and newcomer to Pembleton. After seeing his infrared goggles and hearing about the malevolent spirit haunting his house, Keely and Tad are only too happy to let him into their Society. But will the addition of a new perspective have the endeavor crumbling in upon itself?

The Good

The basic story of The Society: Proof was good and interesting. Keely, Tad, and Sean are teenagers who are determined to find proof that ghosts exist and who pursue this quest with admirable dedication. I know that when I was a teenager, I did not care passionately enough about anything to spend hours reviewing tedious audio and video footage. In addition to their budding investigative careers, the main characters have to deal with the usual issues of teenage life, including but not limited to bullies and unrequited love.

The overarching plot that starts developing over the course of the story is also potentially intriguing. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but it seems that the cases the teens have been tracking are not just average hauntings. The Society members are simply pawns in a larger conflict at work in the most haunted town in the US.

The Bad

When my anthropology-major sister was in college taking introduction to archaeology classes, her classes had novels used as textbooks. Basically, these books were set up to have a (rather lame) murder mystery going on, but interspersed throughout the story was information about archaeology theory and practice. The first half of The Society: Proof read very similar to this. I felt like I was reading a textbook with a plot about paranormal investigation. This added the extra level to the text where I was trying to determine whether the author actually thought that ghosts exist in the same way that the characters did, which always makes a book lose points with me, embittered scientist that I am. (I am also refraining from going on a diatribe about how there is no proof in science, which the characters in the book definitely did not know.)

Another problem with the book was its complete inability to be subtle. Any time a character was feeling something, we would be told this several times in no uncertain terms. Now, to some extent I prefer over-clarification to under-clarification, but in this case it really slowed down the pace of the novel and was the narrative equivalent of repeatedly hitting someone on the head with a hammer. This was especially problematic at the beginning, where not too much was happening. If I hadn’t agreed to review the novel for my blog, I almost certainly would not have made it past the first quarter of the novel.

The Romance

Tad has been in love with Keely for as long as he can remember. It’s half the reason he participates in their paranormal investigation society. He thinks that maybe this year will be the year that he finally gets up the courage to tell her how he feels. What he doesn’t realize is that by waiting so long to say anything, he’s put himself into a love triangle. New member Sean is interested in Keely, and he has more self-confidence than Tad, enough to voice his attraction to her. So which boy will win out? And will Keely ever love any boy as much as she loves searching for ghosts? Only time will tell…

Will I read more?

I was just looking on the book’s Facebook page, and apparently it is the first in a five-part series about these characters. I confess that I do have some interest in getting more information about the mythology. However, I think that this is a case where I might like to see summaries of the later books rather than actually reading them in their entirety, so that I could avoid being clubbed with slow-moving text.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dreamcatchers by Tom Sarega

Title: Dreamcatchers
Author: Tom Sarega
Length: 4608 Kindle units
Rating: 1.5 stars

The Plot

Ronnie, Tommy, Freddie, Grace, and Kate have enough trouble starting secondary school. They really don’t need terrifying nightmares on top of that, but it seems they don’t get much choice. Desperate to make the terrifying visions stop, the children follow a trail of clues left by a missing chemistry teacher into a hidden chamber in the basement of the school library and then into a shared dream state. There they meet their guide Iktaniki, who says that they are the only ones who can avert the end of the world predicted by the Mayans centuries ago, but only if they can meet the challenges ahead.

The Good

Dreamcatchers had an interesting narrative structure, a unique sort of framework setting. The book was divided into five sections, and each represented a different part of the story arc. First the children meet and begin to have problems with nightmares, and in the second section they come together in the dreaming world to learn about the powers they have there. The narration then takes a break from the main characters and we learn about the origin of the dreamcatcher curse. This section takes up a good quarter of the novel and is probably the most interesting part. Then in the last two sections the children work together to uncover the secrets of the dream world and try to defeat the evil.

The book also takes place RIGHT NOW. I started reading the book on Sunday, September 2, 2012, and the first page of the book starts on Monday, September 3. (Of course, that made me ask myself why the children were starting school on Labor Day, until I realized they were British.)

The Bad

I don’t even know where to start. The story did not make a whole lot of sense. Basically, we are expected to believe that five British schoolchildren are having nightmares because of a conflict between two brothers in an ancient civilization on a totally different continent. At the root of this conflict is a dreamcatcher that was gifted to a Mayan (read: Mexican Indians) man by the gods. A quick google search will let you know that, while Dreamcatchers were adopted by the Pan-Indian movement, prior to the 1960’s they were associated with the Ojibwe Nation (read: U.S./Canadian Indians).

And that’s just the mythology/plot. The narrative sequence also left much to be desired. The children first need to investigate why they are having bad dreams, and their method for doing so is circuitous and illogical. Yet somehow it gets them into the dream world, where they need to develop dream powers. Basically, they suck at this, but Iktaniki insists that they need to go the World In Between anyway. And this whole time he’s giving them absolutely no information. And that’s a description with me leaving out the inconsistent characterization subplots and the weird scenes with the old lady and her mirror that I’m still confused about.

Also, I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. But omniscient third person narration is never a good idea. Pick a character’s head and stay in it until you get to the next section.

The Romance

Well, the chemistry teacher who disappeared in the 1970s had a wife, and apparently they were very happy together. And in the flashback section, Iktaniki marries the chieftan’s daughter Maya, despite the differences in their social classes. But in general people were focused more on saving the world than on romance.

Will I read more?

I think the book is a stand-alone, but if there were more, I would not be reading them. To be overly honest and probably crueler than is strictly necessary, I’m regretting spending as much time as I did reading the book. But I remember that I perform a service by separating the good books from the bad and persevere.

See Details for Book on    Amazon    

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Red Dawn by J.J. Bonds

Title: Red Dawn
Series: Crossroads Academy
Author: J.J. Bonds
Previous Books in Series: Crossroads
Rating: 4 stars
Length: 2499 Kindle units

Refresher: Hostile teen vampire Katia goes to elite boarding school, where she is constantly afraid her secrets will be discovered.

At the end of Crossroads, we finally learn all of Katia’s secrets, so it’s possible that she’s going to be polite and amicable in book 2. But, alas, she is as snarky and defensive as ever, at least to the people she dislikes. Which is good, because it makes her an interesting heroine. She is also fiercely loyal to her friends, and she’s broadening that sphere to include at least a few more people.

It is her friendship with Shaye that causes the conflict in the book. Shaye suffers from the rare vampire blood disease, and just as a scientist discovers the cure, he steals it and vanishes. Katia is not content to sit by and let her friend die, so she learns everything she can about the theft and decides to investigate it herself.

I confess I was a little bit incredulous that this entire mission was undertaken by teenagers. I believed that Katia would go to these kind of extremes, but I found it odd no one else in the vampire world was able to pick up on the same clues as she did. All in all I feel like things came a bit too easily for Katia. The book was quite short. I would have liked to see a few more twists and turns that would have lengthened it and maybe made the whole thing a bit more believable. But, then, if I really wanted believability in my novels, I wouldn’t be reading about wealthy teen vampires.

I think that in some ways, Red Dawn was a set up for the third and future books in the series, because we uncover a new and dangerous enemy who looks able to plague the vampire world for many books to come. I am looking forward to seeing where that goes, especially since I think this enemy is going to have a sympathetic side.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Catharsis by Aaron Black

Title: Catharsis
Author: Aaron Black
Length: 4456 Kindle units
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Plot

Bodhi has been training to be a Christine monk for as long as he can remember, but he runs into a problem on his current mission. He comes across a girl being held by slavers, and he knows that he has to save her. Since he lacks the kind of skills necessary to defeat a violent slaver, he quickly ends up captured alongside her.

But things are not entirely what they seem. He did not come across this girl by chance, and their fates have been intermingled since before his birth. Everything is related to the dreams he has every nights, and the mysterious creature to whom they are being sold. Because it seems that Bodhi has a far greater destiny than he ever imagined.

The Good

The overarching plot and set-up of Catharsis was pretty cool, and the best thing about this was  the way the dreams worked. And I confess that if you had told me at the beginning I would be saying this, I would have told you that you were crazy. At first they are kind of annoying, mostly because when Bodhi wakes up, he doesn’t remember them, so the reader has all this information that the narrator doesn’t have, which is a confusing set-up. Bodhi dreams of himself, a pixie, and a really tall warrior meeting and being attacked by a giant dragon, and you’re pretty sure the pixie is the woman the slavers captured. So you think, “Oh, these three people are going to come together and defeat the ebil dragon.” Turns out that’s not what it means at all. It is much tricksier, and consequently much more interesting, than that.

The Bad

Catharsis begins with a monk named Bodhi going through the town of Shivpuri with his monk partner Channa to attempt to convert people to the Christine faith (sort of like Christianity but with reincarnation). While he is there, Bodhi finds a young woman who has been kidnapped by slavers. In the monks’ attempt to rescue here, Channa is killed. So Bodhi runs away, sleeps with a prostitute, and decides he doesn’t want to be a monk anymore.

If you are saying, “Wait, what?” then you are in good company, because that is exactly what I was thinking at this point in the novel. When your character who has been a monk his entire life has one bad experience and then just decides he doesn’t want to do it anymore, that does not seem like a wise and reasoned choice. It makes your character seem kind of pathetic.

Actually, I found myself somewhat perplexed several times during the course of the novel. I’m still not clear on what kind of environment we were working with. It was clearly some version of earth, but with different races of men and dragons and space-faring people. It was a mix of all kinds of mythologies, kind of like someone slapping a bunch of different paint colors on a canvas with the outcome being more “incomprehensible finger painting” than “work of art.”

The Romance

Okay, so I do my very best not to complain too much about sexism in books, especially given the fact that much of my English degree was earned by learning from feminist professors. Nonetheless, sometimes I come across a situation that I cannot ignore, and Catharsis has one of these cases. The main love interest is a pixie named Kama, a beauty who appears to be about sixteen years old and frequently walks around with no clothes on. As the story goes on, we learn that all pixies appear as nubile young women and that, as a rule, they “don’t do clothes.” The only other woman in the book is Mara the dragon, who is pretty much the villain of the piece. Oh, and the prostitute.

So… yeah… This is an extreme example of the reasons that people complain that fantasy is sexist. It’s the only place people can even pretend to get away with having teen boy fantasies taking the place of actual characterization. Which I guess is fine if your only audience is men who secretly wish that Stepford was a real place. But if you’d like to bring your fantasy into the twenty-first century, put some clothes on your heroine.

Will I read more?

Some of the story was interesting enough, but for the most part I didn’t really want to read more as I was reading the first story, so I don’t see myself seeking out the second one.

See Details for Book on    Amazon