Book Reviews

Review Rating Scale:

POOR – AVERAGE – FAIR – GOOD – VERY GOOD – EXCELLENT

Arranged alphabetically by author’s last name

Salem Moon is the second book in the Six of Salem series by Kristin Bapst, an urban fantasy that combines several different mythologies into something both familiar and unique. Being the second book in a series, I was already familiar with the characters and the story that came before. That did not change the fact that this book managed to create an immersive world for these characters and their struggles.

1. Thoughts on the plot

As a continuation of the series, Salem Moon explores the coven (the Six of Salem) and their continuing battle against evil. This book focuses on Rose, the youngest, and her growth into new powers and into adulthood. There are also discussions of relationships—healthy and unhealthy—and an exploration of self. As far as the plot goes, I think everything fit together really well. The characters were drawn from event to event both by their own volition and choices, and by the overwhelming momentum of the events themselves. I would say that there were a fair number of scenes that I would have liked to see more of. For example, the various arguments felt truncated, and the training scenes felt too short. This is mostly to do with a lack of sensory description of the world around the characters, instead focusing on character interaction to move things along in the scene. Which is fine, but it felt a little too fast.

2. Thoughts on the main character

Rose is a perfect example of someone who is trying to figure out her place in the world. She is in university for an arts degree, trying to navigate loss—see book one—and the start of a new relationship. I think her character is expertly done; she feels real in her emotions. Her reactions ot things are realistic and relatable. Also, she’s got awesome powers, which is fun. I would say, again, that I want to see more of Rose’s development or personality through the way she reacts (non-verbally) to the world around her (something that comes from sensory description rather than dialogue or dialogue tags). Still, I like Rose a lot. Having read book one, I think that she is probably my favourite of all the characters.

3. Favourite part

The food. This has nothing to do with anything, but my goodness, the food described just sounds so good. I mean, yes, I liked all the other bits too, but seriously? The food.

4. Critique

As previously stated, I think this book could do with a bit more narrative or sensory description. It doesn’t necessarily detract from the story to not have this—everything plays out really quite well—but I just want to explore the world a bit more. See more of what’s going on. It would add a little…je ne sais quoi to the book.

This series is one that I enjoyed a fair bit. I think the use of mythology is great, the characters are interesting, and the plot entertaining. If you are fond of magic, witches, battling against evil, and a little extra spark when people find their soulmates, then this is definitely a book for you. I would say that this book is good, and could be very good with just a little more exploration.

For as much as I read, rarely do I get a chance to review a poetry collection. Oh, I am quite fond of poetry and have several volumes (though, to be honest, many of them are not from this or even the previous century) that I peruse frequently. But I rarely get a chance to review poetry, and I am glad to have this opportunity.

Ode to Eight Years is a collection of poems by Kristin Bapst, about the journey from scarred past to acceptance and to love and onwards. It is primarily about love, with some darker questions about a person’s ability to love after past trauma and difficulties. And I think it’s that dichotomy that makes this collection work.

As far as the poems themselves go, they are not quite in the style of Dickinson, or Auden, or Byron. (Again, my previous experience is showing through.) However, I think it does very well with the contemporary style and it works very well with the themes. The thoughts that cross line breaks often break the flow to focus on a particular sensation or revelation. And where things are choppier, therein lies the struggles to be overcome. Or at least, that was my impression. (I haven’t done academic-style poetry analysis for a while and my skills are a bit rusty.) Since it’s impressions that make the difference in poetry, I think this worked very well.

Also, it was just nice to read poetry about overcoming struggles and growing in love and in self. I think it’s a perfect time to be reading something like that.

Anyways, I would say that this collection is a solidly enjoyable one. The themes were readily present and didn’t require meta-analysis, the poems were well-written in terms of flow and style, and I enjoyed reading it. I would say that if you are into the highly-contemporary style where the primary theme of the poem is hidden beneath layers of meaning and word-play, this is not the collection for you. It is down-to-earth, rich, and enjoyable.

I have a great fondness for books—especially spec fic books—that deal with the minutiae behind politics and revolutions. (It’s possible that this is so because I wrote a sci-fi/dystopian piece about how language invoked a revolution, but I digress.) Keith Crawford’s Vile is one of the best books I’ve seen in a while that deals not only with a potentially politically (and otherwise) explosive situation, but the minutiae behind it. Oh, and it was spectacularly well written, too.

1. Thoughts on the plot

There is a lot going on in this book. Magistrate Elianor Paine goes to Shadowgate to bring back a Vile (the father or the children) to vote in the next election, ostensibly for one goal and quietly for another. However, there are things going on in Shadowgate that involve the long-gone threat of the Kindred, secrets between family members, and rivalries that divide the town. Every piece initially seemed like a separate thing, something that didn’t quite fit with the others but was still important. And then I read on.

The sheer capability of weaving each piece together so that one leads seamlessly to another, and when put together create a whole image is hugely impressive. I enjoyed going through the plot and figuring things out immensely. I would say that this was absolutely well thought out and well crafted. Basically, it was great.

2. Thoughts on the main character

For all her capabilities, Elianor Paine doesn’t initially seem like a likeable character. (Okay, yes, this is grimdark and yes, that means morally grey characters, but still.) She has her own motives and is a bit arrogant. However, the more I read about her and the other characters, the more I liked them. Oh, yes, they were absolutely morally grey and perfect for grimdark. (coughPersephonecough) But their motivations were so perfectly woven into the plot, and their backstories superbly well done. Basically, I enjoyed all of the characters, but especially Elianor. She was a perfect main character. Perhaps manipulated, but not dumb. And certainly very capable.

3. Favourite part

The revelations of all the characters as they finally figure out what is going on in their lives. This was done so as to be a surprise, and yet expected. I felt what the characters felt and I absolutely thrilled in it.

4. Critique

Actually, I don’t really have one. I think the language was well crafted, the characters entertaining and, if not likeable then at least intriguing, and the plot superb. I really want to know more.

This book is beautifully written. It fits perfectly into the questionable characteristics that make grimdark what it is. The minutae are described well and pieced together to form a whole that is the perfect start to a series. Definitely on my best books for 2020 list.

For some reason, stories about Death (or death, depending) always intrigue me. Okay, yes, some of this is because I quite like the darker side of fiction. But a good portion of that is also just curiosity about how people think about death, whatever comes beyond, and what value they place on life. So when I get to read a fantasy book about a character who meets death, I find it absolutely fascinating. Night Latch by Anela Deen (SPFBO entrant for 2020), is definitely in that category, and has the added benefit of being really well written and thought out.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This book is actually quite interesting for the fantasy genre (even in urban fantasy) because the stakes are, generally, low. This book follows Sam, a locksmith who can open any lock. He meets death when she needs his help to open a door. From there, he discovers the world of magic, of the metaphysical, and his own place in that world.

I found the plot to be very interesting, because it mixed Sam’s normal life with his newfound place in a hidden world. There were mundane things he had to deal with, as well as some not so mundane. This mix of large and small problems made the plot very interesting and entertaining to read, with very good pacing and a gentle build in drama.

2. Thoughts on the main character

As far as main characters go in fantasy novels, Sam is quite ordinary. He is a locksmith who lives above the garage of his mother’s house, where his family is. He wants little more than a quiet, comfortable life. And when he finds that fantastical things are being thrown in his direction, he does his best to help however he can. He requires some help in this, and inevitably tries to do the right thing as best he can.

Generally speaking, when we find an “ordinary” character in a fantasy piece, it’s really a hero who has been hiding (or raised in hiding) until the day they are called upon to become extraordinary. Sam is really just an ordinary person. And because of this, his flaws and good traits really resonate more than I initially expected. I find that I really like Sam, for being a person who feels familiar and yet still has a touch of magic in his life. Definitely one of my favourite characters that I’ve read in a while.

3. Favourite part

I think the situation with Maggie was probably my favourite part. I can’t really say much more than that without spoiling the novel, but I like the fact that this book doesn’t gloss over the hard things, or force a happy ending to make the reader happy. (Though this isn’t the end of the book.)

4. Critique

My only critique for this piece is that the ending felt like it had been cut off. Okay, I know that this book is only the first of two, and things were about to get suitably more dramatic if they continued, but it felt a little too abrupt to tie up this first book nicely. However, this doesn’t really detract from the rest of the book in my opinion, it just makes me want to read book two right away.

On the whole, I would say that Night Latch is a fantastically well-written piece. The language flows well. The plot is highly entertaining. I really like all of the characters (but especially Sam) and I really, really want to know what’s going to happen next. I would have to say that this is definitely on my list of best books for 2020. It’s really quite excellent.

Part of what I love about fantasy is the ability to explore new worlds without ever leaving my house. In the case of Trine Rising by C.K. Donnelly, I was absolutely enthralled by the world that was created; it was vivid, well-crafted and featured a conlang that had me eagerly working out its pieces.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This book is something between a coming-of-age piece and an epic fantasy. I suppose it would be YA fantasy, but it felt deeper than a lot of YA that I’ve read recently. The basic premise is that there is a prophecy stating that two trines, or people who controlled all three magical Aspects rather than just one, would appear: a dark and light trine. The whole of Kinderra would then be at their mercy, destroyed and then rebuilt. The only problem is, Mirana is a trine and her visions have told her that such a thing does not necessarily bode well.

This book had two particular styles of plot advancement that I liked quite well. The first is the action, the events that require Mirana to make a decision. They are increasingly pressing, and tie up a good deal of the characters, as well as force the second mode of plot advancement: the character development. The characters must make decisions, move forwards with their lives, and face the consequences of previous actions before things get worse or things will, ah, get…worse. Much worse. I liked the intertwining of the plot-based and character-based writing styles and think it works exceptionally well.

2. Thoughts on the main character

Mirana is not your typical YA hero. For one, she seems to act on her dislike of her powers in a rational manner. Instead of just rejecting her place in the world out of hand, as I have seen in many YA pieces, she has a reason for doing precisely that. She is perhaps more rational than you would expect, but she also has emotions driving her to move. These two pieces are at war, which makes for a very interesting piece of conflict. I especially like the scene in the library, as well as the climactic piece towards the end, where her decision is made.

3. Favourite part

I cannot really say a whole lot about my favourite bit, because spoilers, but I can say that the ending, where Mirana’s mentor is musing on things…and the fantastic plot twist that reveals…cue sharp intake of breath as I gasped in surprise. Stunning.

4. Critique

Oddly, as I love linguistics, the main critique I have has to do with the naming conventions. Not in any structural way, or for any dislike of the conlang (actually, I loved it), but the way that they were interspersed throughout the novel. This mostly is to do with who people are and where they are from. These things are quite intricate, which makes sense because there is a great deal of political machinations behind the dramatic plot. I haven’t got a problem with that. But I would have loved just a touch more explanation of where these people were from—describe the setting of their homeland or province—so I wouldn’t have to flip back to the map every few pages. With an ebook that was difficult to do. It honestly isn’t a huge thing at all, just enough directions and places that my directionally/geographically challenged brain had a hard time keeping up, especially since I was trying to dissect the names as they were constructed.

Overall, I would say that Trine Rising is a fantastic first book in a series. It has a fun plot, great characters, a plot twist that had me smiling, and a conlang phrase at the top of the chapters, which was pretty great. If you are looking for a book into which you can immerse yourself, this is the one for you. A very good book!

Satirical fantasy is a subset of comedic fantasy, in which all the tropes of fantasy that we know and love are used and then laughed at. Basically, logic is suspended—or used to such a high degree that all the familiar tropes make no sense, which achieves essentially the same result—and the ridiculous is expected. It’s a commentary on what we find interesting, and it takes itself perfectly seriously. It just doesn’t expect the readers to do so. So when I say that The Alehouse Wars by Michael Evan and JMD Reid is a highly entertaining satirical fantasy, you should know precisely what to expect. Only…add seals and walruses.

1. Thoughts on the plot

As with the typical epic-style fantasy, there is an outside threat that, well, threatens the way of life of our entire cast of characters. In this case, the harbour seal community and their beloved ale. The threat is epic—everyone is going to die or become slaves and their ale is going to be taken—and the response must be similarly epic. This sort of plot is fairly familiar, given that it is used in many large-scale fantasies. If you ignore the fact that the characters are seals, the threat is from walruses, and the stakes are beer, then everything is familiar. The fact that this plot contains all of those things allows us to smile at the ridiculousness of taking something as familiar as a way of life, and trivial as beer (says the non-drinker), is entertaining. It has a battle scene, a daring rescue, and all the associated character development.

2. Thoughts on the main character

We have two main POV characters in this book, Matthias—the patriarch of his family and general leader of the seals—and his son JM, who is, well, your typical angsty not-quite-adult with a crush. These two take on the world, er, walruses, in order to save the beer and the crush respectively. They are, in essence, the ordinary person who is raised to hero status. And, frankly, they are both a bit absurd. Highly entertaining and a bit absurd. I enjoy them both. JM is perhaps the more interesting to me, simply because I find snark highly amusing.

3. Favourite part

There are two bits I enjoy for this: one, the narrator basically saying we should ignore all the illogic and just go with it; two, the whole deus ex machina being, well…openly discussed.

4. Critique

The ending. While highly interesting and terrifically tragic, it has nothing to do with anything. I get that it’s satirical fantasy, and there are certain expectations to maintain, but…I have no idea what was going on. I still enjoyed it thoroughly, but that particular out-of-nowhere trope is one of my least favourites. Apparently, even when it’s being openly satirised. Of course, this is just my own opinion, so the critique is more or less invalid. Oops!

If you’re looking for a bit of fun in the style of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, then this is the sort of thing you would enjoy. Irreverent, snarky, entertaining, slightly illogical, so on and so forth. Oh, and it’s about seals. A very good book.

There is an artform to not taking oneself too seriously, to enjoying life and putting a bit of humour into the darker situations. In this case, the situation is the fantasy world of The Alehouse Rebellion, the continuation of The Alehouse Wars by Michael Evan and JMD Reid. And you know what? It was great fun.

1. Thoughts on the plot

Okay, after book one, you wouldn’t expect there to be a whole lot of plot to continue. The walruses were defeated, the harbor seals won the day and had magical powers, and things were basically fantastic in the ale industry. But what would happen if the walruses weren’t really dead? If they got something that put them on an even footing with our magical seals? The seal society (and the ale) would be at risk.

As expected, this book took the plot of what would be a fairly typical fantasy revenge sequel novel thing (there is a proper word for this sort of plot, I just don’t remember what it is), and then supercharged it. You see some of the common fantasy tropes used in fantastic and hilarious ways. The ridiculousness of the first book is matched, and even exceeded. It does new things rather than repeating the events of the first book. Basically, it’s a wild ride and highly entertaining.

2. Thoughts on the characters

This is the next step in the life of our seals Matthais and JM, some couple of years down the road. As one would expect with a sequel, the characters maintain that kernel of what makes them the characters we know and love, but also gives them new challenges to overcome and face. In this instance, family life for JM takes control. I liked the descriptions of the new life that our heroic seal has to face. Not everyone can transition from hero to family life well, but JM seems to have succeeded. And then he embraces his new challenge (the walruses have returned!) with that same zeal of the first book. This sort of character depiction is consistent across the whole cast, and makes for a seamless transition from book one. (Which, incidentally, is very well done in terms of the plot, also, as the ending from book one makes much more logical sense when put together with the beginning of book two. But I discussed plot in the last point, so I now move on.)

3. Favourite part

My favourite pieces would have to be Bob, the dad-joke making narwhal, who seems to exist purely as a plot device from the authors. Highly amusing, all around. And then there is the AI that we meet later in the book. It’s like Marvin the paranoid android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, except the personality went in the complete opposite direction. Perhaps like the doors from the Heart of Gold ship, but perhaps more independently intelligent. Both characters were that perfect amount of ridiculousness to make this story extra fun (and satirical, which is the genre, so rather important).

4. Least favourite bit

Um…Hmm…This one’s hard. I enjoyed this so much, because everything was that great mix of fantastical, satirical, serious and amusing. Honestly, if I can even think of a critique, it’s going to be pretty minor, so I shall instead just say I liked it. A bunch.

Overall, The Alehouse Rebellion is a pretty perfect continuation of the satirical fantasy book The Alehouse Wars. I had a great time with the characters and the story and really can’t think of a reason why you shouldn’t read this book about walruses and seals and science and magic and whatnot. Absolutely entertaining.

Some of the fun with the different stories I read comes in the form of the narration style. You can do so much with the different perspectives, tenses, prose style and sometimes the way the story is told strikes me more than what the story is about. Such was the case with Justin Fike’s first three books in his Farshore Chronicles series. (Though, the what was just as fun, I will admit.)

1. Thoughts on the plot

The first three books in the omnibus edition of the Farshore Chronicles follow Charity, a thief sentenced to transportation from Byzantia. She travels to the Farshore colony, a place on the opposite end of the world from her home, where she is set to work out her prison sentence in the arena. There, she meets magical creatures the likes of which she thought were legends: an elf, a dwarf, a feral halfling, an orc, more. But Charity quickly becomes more than just a fighter in the arena and that leads her on a magical adventure that may or may not hold the fate of the world in her hands.

I really like the way that the stories in each book are woven together with the next. Each book has its own adventures, its own complete plot, but the overarching story creates something larger, more significant, than the individual plots on their own. However, it is also nice to have each story because of all the little pieces that make up the larger plot. They give you an inisght into the caracters, the world, and they are just entertaining in their own right.

2. Thoughts on the characters

Charity is a fantastic narrator. The story is told in first person perspective, so we get to see all the inner workings of her head and we get to figure out the reliability of her thoughts. Her personality shines through spectacularly well in the form of snark, precise action and a fair bit of causing trouble. As a main character, she shines through very well.

She is also a great vessel through which to explore the world, as she is learning about this forgotten land for the first time, just as the readers are. We learn about the magical creatures, the beings that live in this land, and the way in which it is revealed works very well for the story.

Of the characters, I think Charity is probably my favourite, but Sheska, the angry halfling (a species completely unlike what you would expect, but perfect for the story) is definitely a close second.

3. Favourite part

I think the growing connection between each of the characters as they create this band or found family is probably one of the best elements of the story. It allows for the character development to shine through very well, and by the end of book three, you feel poignantly for all the characters’ actions and reactions. And, of course, they get to defy expectations in creating such a band, which I always enjoy.

4. Critique

If I have a critique, it’s mostly to do with the endings of the books. If you are reading these first three books not in omnibus form—individually, possibly with gaps between books—then the endings of books one and two are desperately dramatic. The cliffhanger leads right into the plot of the next book and you really want to know more. The end of book three ties things up nicely, so there’s not a huge cliffhanger before book four (sort of like television series), but one and two do have the cliffhanger.

However, if you’re reading these books as the omnibus, all you have to do is turn the page and your questions will be answered so…the point may be moot.

Overall, these three books were a pleasure to read. They were entertaining, fast-moving fantasy adventure books with a snarky narrator, a world that was both familiar and different, and characters that really tugged at the heart strings. I definitely enjoyed these and would say that they were very good.

Rarely have I read books in the romance genre that deal with such issues as mental illness, self-love, even poetry. But there are always exceptions to the rule. Such was it with C.B. Gabriel’s Trey & Kate, a contemporary romance that focused more on the reality of relationships and life than it did romance. This book is written in a completely different style than what you would expect from a romance novel which is why I would tentatively place this book in a cross-genre category: literary fiction and romance.

1. Thoughts on the plot

There are a few things you can expect from a romance novel. One is that there will be romance. Two is that the road to getting there will be difficult, with many ups and downs. This book was no exception, however it did not follow the formula that is often standard for the romance genre. Instead of figuring out life’s ups and downs together, the two main characters were apart more often than they were together. They were figuring out how to deal with their own demons. yes, they pined for the other, but it was learning to deal with their own emotions and traumas that was centre stage. This made for a completely different sort of romance than what I had expected. It was far more realistic and therefore more like literary fiction than otherwise.

2. Thoughts on the main character

These two main characters, Trey and Kate, are extremely realistic; they are messed up individuals with problems that just about anyone can relate to. They have both been burned in the past and it is difficult for them to trust. I can appreciate that this story does its best to be realistic, but I think I would have liked these two to perhaps be a bit more consistent in their journey. They jump around from problem to problem—trust issues to mental illness to dealing with the problems from the past to addiction—without every really solving or conquering one first. This makes them feel a little too much like characters who would perhaps belong in a series rather than a single book, wherein they focus on one primary problem rather than several. Again, though, this fits with the style of realism and so does make sense with the rest of the story. I just, personally, like a little more consistency and linear progression.

3. Favourite part

One of the things that is rarely seen in a romance (though I have seen it more frequently in the last couple of years than otherwise) is the focus on self-love before romantic love. This book manages to make self-love and self-acceptance an extremely important factor. Actually, much of Trey and Kate’s journey is to do with learning to accept themselves and their issues before they can commit to a relationship with each other. I really liked this idea, because it emphasises something which I consider to be really important. You can’t look to another person to make you happy; that comes from within.

4. Critique

My only real critique for this book is to do with the style of writing. This book uses metaphor quite heavily as a means for these characters to both relate to each other and to understand life. That in itself is fine, but the regular interactions that often flesh out a character and make them so interesting are then ignored to be almost non-existent. There is a lot of information that seems to be missing and when coupled with the heavy use of metaphor, this book reads more like poetry than it does a coherent story. Granted, that fits the genre-mash that I mentioned earlier, however it does make the coherence of this story a bit rough. The characters are also a little bit more difficult to get to know because a good number of people do not communicate or think primarily in metaphor and the lack of average interactions makes them feel a little stiff.

Overall, I would say that this book was definitely not what I expected from a romance. It deals more with the issues that one might face in real life. It examines the concept of self-love and it puts the characters through a number of scenarios that you would not typically see in a romance novel. For this reason, I add the classification of literary fiction. I would say that given these things, this book is GOOD.

The advancement of technology can bring about many wonderful things. However, these potentially world-changing advancements are often supported by people who care about power more than they care about helping people or making the world a better place. In Enigma’s Virus by Gary Paul Garrett, the intertwining of politics and power-hungre individuals with technological research brings about problems that could very well change the world as we know it… and not for the better. Only a few people stand in the way of this destruction and they have to use their own technology to stop these terrible events.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This book reads a little like science fiction meets techno-thriller. It has all the elements of a thriller—replete with secrets that the government is keeping, as well as people who are surprisingly well-equipped to stop them—and the technical pieces of a book focused more on technology and its effects than anything. Overall, the plot is fairly standard, which does not mean that it is uninteresting. In fact, I found the plot itself to be one of the best features of the book.

2. Thoughts on the main character

There are many characters in this book, which makes it rather difficult to determine which one is the main character. I believe that Keith or Tim are the two that I would nominate for the position and they are both likeable and extremely capable. However, I think this can be a little problematic, as they are often facing the same situations and sometimes deal with them in the exact same way. This makes things like individuality a little difficult to determine since the character responses are so similar. They are very unique in their connections to other characters, though, so that makes them quite distinct.

3. Favourite part

My favourite piece of this book is probably a tie with the technical pieces (because who doesn’t love science) and the relationship that develops between Keith and Allie (incidentally the daughter of our villain). I think that lends this book a little bit of the human aspect which otherwise is a little flat in this book. Other characters have relationships and close connections with other characters, but none of them feel very deep or memorable compared to the one between Keith and Allie.

4. Critique

I think there are a few larger problems with this book. One is that the prose itself is a little difficult to follow. Events happen that make sense, then the next paragraph has more events that came out of nowhere. It feels almost like a jump in logical sequence with the story. Another critique is that there are certain plot holes that were not filled and make the credibility of this story hard to swallow. One such example is the Presidential security being almost non-existent, allowing certain events to happen when otherwise they wouldn’t. My main critique, though, is that the villain, who sets the events in the book in motion, feels like nothing more than a garden variety pervert. He does not seem capable enough to do most of the things that are attributed to him. He just seems like a person with anger issues who could not have possibly gotten to where he is without someone else pulling the strings. The other question with this villain is…why? Why is he so interested in this technology? Why did he invest in it? What’s the purpose? All of that seems to be missing. Unfortunately, with the villain being so difficult to believe, that makes the rest of the story equally difficult to swallow because none of the characters would be in that situation if the villain made logical sense with the description given.

Overall, I liked the plot and the main characters. This book feels like a standard techno-thriller/science fiction piece that you would find at your bookstore. But, with the unbelievability of the villain and his motivations, I would have to say that this book sits between AVERAGE and FAIR.

Jane Austen’s works have been a must read in the world of romance for years. Somehow, she managed to capture the essence of people in books whose plots have little more than families living out their lives. Still, they have captured the hearts of many readers. So when Florence Gold took some of the concepts of Jane Austen’s works and applied them to the time of World War I, I was intrigued. And, as it turns out,  Elizabeth and Darcy was very interesting. It explores the history of Jane Austen in all her glory and criticisms, while also exploring the love story that exists separately—or perhaps not so separately—from Austen’s works.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This plot centres on Elizabeth Jane Austen, the original Jane Austen’s grandniece. She is a lecturer at Oxford in 1916 and must work with Nevin Darcy Lancashire, a Captain sent home from the front due to injury, in order to write a forward to the new printings of Jane Austen’s works. While trying to convince Nevin of the merits of Jane Austen’s works, Elizabeth must also explore her own mind and heart. This plot is actually quite interesting in that it combines an overview of the history and analysis of Jane Austen’s pieces while also investing in the lives of their “modern” counterparts. Some of the characters mimic those in Austen’s books, as do some of the situations. But there is much more that goes on in this story, which is evident of how we have both changed and stayed the same from the time of Austen. In a nutshell, I quite liked the plot and found it very fun, with enough seriousness to be able to become thoroughly engrossed.

2. Thoughts on the main character

I would say that Elizabeth in Gold’s book mirrors the Elizabeth in Austen’s, only she is more self-aware. I do not know if this ability to introspect comes from the situation—an Oxford education and a job—or the history—1916, right in the middle of one of the most devastating wars in all of history—but it is fascinating to read. She is obviously capable and yet has enough insecurities that the reader can relate to her. It was quite entertaining to watch her go through the romance with Nevin—or I should say, Darcy. Their relationship was character-enhancing and also quite charming. I think there were bits where Elizabeth was incredibly stubborn or foolish, but on the whole I liked her quite a lot.

3. Favourite part

That is a difficult one. Possibly the confrontation between the Duchess of Lancashire and Elizabeth and her Darcy. That was quite entertaining. I can say no more, because of spoilers, but I shall say that it is reminiscent of a certain scene in Pride and Prejudice.

4. Critique

This was such a good book, a combination of history and literary analysis and romance, that it is difficult to want to critique this book. But there was one bit where things just sort of fell apart and that bit was the ending. The story was moving along very well, and then everything just sort of stopped. Yes, it was a strategic point of ending. Yes, there was history to consider. But even one more interaction between Elizabeth and Darcy would have been enough to tie this up extremely well instead of just sort of dropping you off the edge of a cliff. It was such a shame, because the rest of the book was wonderful.

Given that this book was, overall, extremely well written and researched, with all the fascination a good story and characters can bring, I would like to say that this book is excellent. However, the ending did sort of jar me enough that I shall say, instead, that it was VERY GOOD.

I happen to  be really fond of fairy tale retellings. I think it harkens back to a time in my childhood when I thought that being a fairy tale character would be just about the coolest thing ever. Of course, I’ve wizened up a bit and discovered that being a fairy tale writer is even cooler, but my fondness for fairy tales and reimaginings remains very strong. So when I read Dawn Rising by Lisa M. Green, a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty, I knew it was going to be a wild ride. And you know what? It was.

1. Thoughts on the plot

Okay, first things first. You should know that this is not your standard Sleeping Beauty retelling. When I say reimagining, I mean reimagining. The basic premise is that Aurianna is living in a time when things are bleak, surrounded by Darkness, and full of questionable practises.  Until one day, someone comes for her from the past and says he has to take her back. Why? Because she has to save the world. Aurianna travels back to discover a world that is fundamentally different than her own. For one, there’s magic. There’s transportation. The number of people is larger. And it is under threat. Aurianna just wants to know the truth, but everyone is looking to her to save them.

This plot is really very imaginative. The theory that Sleeping Beauty’s curse involve time travel is really fascinating. As is the threat that she must face. This takes the traditional, not-so-involved heroine (mostly because she’s asleep) and turns her into the instigator of her own destiny. I really enjoyed it, and I’m curious to see where the next books in the series go.

I will say that the ending did feel a little abrupt (from climactic battle onwards). Part of that, I know, is due to the fact that the series has only just begun and there are things not yet understood, but it was just a bit too quick and not quite in line with the rest of the pacing.

2. Thoughts on the main character

As far as characters go, Aurianna is a great one to follow. For one thing, she isn’t going to blithely go along with what she’s told about her past/future, or her supposed destiny. She questions everything, taking action when she feels its necessary and basically causing trouble. She has spunk and I like her. I do think she’s perhaps a bit grumpy at times, but it is an understandable grumpiness. After all, everything she had was left behind in the future so she could go back.

In fact, Aurianna is so well developed that she makes some of the other characters look a little flat. There isn’t a lot of this, but every now and again, we meet characters (like the Regulus) who don’t have quite the same amount of development. Some of this is because of the lack of time spent inside their heads (Aurianna is the main character) and some of it is just that we don’t yet fully understand their motives, as this is the first in a series.

Still, I like Aurianna. A lot.

3. Favourite part

The descriptions of the world were just exquisite. I think that the author managed to spend just the right amount of time on these descriptions, showing us the world in a way that we could really see the differences between past and future. The images were vivid, but didn’t overwhelm the story. I really found myself absorbed by the descriptions and thoroughly enjoyed it.

4. Critique

As previously stated, the ending of this book felt a little abrupt. As a reader, I knew that some sort of confrontation was inevitable—this was the whole purpose of the story—but it felt like the confrontation came without any real interaction with the “problem” and then ended without an actual understanding of what just happened. Again, I know that this is partly because most of the answers will come in later books in the series, but I just want a little bit more detail in that section.

Overall, I would say that Dawn Rising is a beautiful reimagining of Sleeping Beauty, taking something that is familiar and making it into so very much more. It is unique, the characters are fascinating and the world is absolutely stunning. A very good book.

The world is not always what we were taught to see. There are things beyond our understanding, beliefs differing, ways of life unfamiliar to us. The ability to see this and accept it for what it is, still maintaining compassion and purpose, is a challenge. Faith and Fury, the first in Tiger Hebert’s Riftborn Demon Hunters series, is an exploration of such challenges set in the backdrop of a fantasy novel.

1. Thoughts on the plot

Generally speaking, the plot of this novel is somewhat familiar. You have two hunters of demons, looking to stop the demons from gaining a foothold in this world and thereby causing trouble. They face challenges. Etc. However, this book takes that pleasantly familiar plot and expands on it in a unique way. This is done through the exploration of the Riftborn, what it means to have that power. There are also fantasy creatures which are always entertaining to read about: frost giants and dragons. The challenges are also just as much about humanity than they are about magic and demons. I think those things make this plot just a bit more than what you would expect.

2. Thoughts on the main character

Our main character is Vacinne LeDroux, a Lightborn Warden tasked with protecting the world from demons. When we first meet her, she is young and inexperienced, out on her first mission to destroy a demon. She ends up meeting a sell sword and hires him to help her. He also ends up teaching her about the reality of the complexities of the world beyond what she’s been taught. I think the development for Vacinne is fairly steady throughout the novel. She still maintains much of her stubborn streak through to the end, but it is tempered by a bit of experience and wisdom. I enjoyed reading about Vacinne and her growth a fair bit.

3. Favourite part

The whole segment with the villain of this particular piece (not the demons) I thought was very good. There was motivation behind this villain’s movements and actions, and the more we understood them, the more interesting things became. I can say no more because, well, spoilers.

4. Critique

I will say that this book felt a little short on some of the detail. I know it wasn’t meant to be a particularly long epic fantasy piece, but I would have liked just a little more detail in some of the encounters with the dragon and the frost giants, for example. And a little more background on the Wardens and their whole order would have been nice. However, for that last point, I have a feeling those questions will be answered in book two.

Overall, I would say that Faith and Fury was a book that took a familiar plot and expanded it, creating a unique and interesting read. The book wasn’t terribly complex, but it was light enough (yes, I know it’s a dark fantasy) to be just what I needed right now. I would say that this book was solidly good.

The Dog Who Ate the Vegetable Garden & Helped Save the Planet by Dorothea Orane Hurley (the dog) and Margaret Hurley is a book that talks about ethical veganism from the perspective of a white boxer, Dori. This book explores the why behind ethical veganism and also explores the life of a vegan dog.

Now, before I get into the review, I would like to mention that I am not an ethical vegan. I am a dietary vegetarian and have coeliacs (gluten-free). I tend to go all natural—which often includes, but does not always mean veganism—in all my skin care, hair care, cleaning products and the like as well, but that is because I don’t process chemicals well. At all, really. So while I often use and consume vegan products, I am not an ethical vegan. Ethical veganism is a philosophy that a person should consume and use no animal products in any aspect of their life because that would entail cruelty to animals and enables many of the large corporations in using and exploiting animals.

Okay, now that we’ve got the definitions cleared up, let’s get on to the book.

I think, generally, that it is an interesting idea to tell a story from the perspective of a dog, or other innocent party, so that the reader can experience the world or idea from the ground up. Often this allows for a greater exploration of a concept, which, when trying to persuade or inform, is a very useful tool. In this case, I understand the idea and think it very interesting, I just don’t think it was executed well.

The prose was extremely difficult to get through. Not because of spelling inconsistencies or grammatical issues, but because the sentences were broken up into incomplete thoughts. This would be like: I went. To the store. Yesterday. The full thought that makes up the sentence is broken up. And, because our brains are trained to treat periods as a full-stop, I had to pause at each and every one. This made reading incredibly difficult. I couldn’t follow the train of thought and a lot of the impact of the story was lost to a headache. If that sort of linguistic phenomenon doesn’t bother you, then the rest of the prose was fairly coherent.

As for the story itself, that is a difficult one. A lot of times, the arguments behind ethical veganism appeal to emotions. They argue that consuming such things as dairy or eggs or meat involves a great deal of harm to the animals, because they are crammed into small spaces, mistreated, forced to endure great discomfort at the hands of humans, etc. A lot of the language I have seen in the past regarding ethical veganism is designed to be inflammatory, because the argument is being made that humans are cruel and violent beings in regards to animals, and that needs to stop.

I understand the emotional appeal. However, it is not an argument I often appreciate. Nor is it one that works well on me. For me, logic and science are two things that will make a lasting impression. Mentioning the emotional impact once or twice is plenty; I get the message. But repeating it over and over with as graphic imagery as possible—that actually pushes me away from the argument. I find that the best way to persuade—at least in my case—is with the presentation of logical arguments backed up by science. I saw a few logical arguments here, in the form of descriptions of what is done to animals, but little science to inform me why I should pursue a vegan diet or lifestyle. At the beginning, science was mentioned once in that it hadn’t been proven that veganism was bad for a person. There were a couple of other times where the difference between animal protein and vegetable protein were mentioned, but that was about it.

As a story with a tale to weave from beginning to end, I think this lacked in coherence because of the prose. As a political or philosophical argument, I think that the inflammatory emotional descriptors were far less effective than a logical, sequential argument. I understand that the perspective of the dog was meant to create empathy, but I didn’t feel particularly connected to Dori.

Overall, I would say that the book is not bad. It was definitely difficult for me to read, though I understand the reasoning behind using such an unusual and choppy sentence structure. And the arguments were designed for people who are not quite so logic-based as am I. So, I think this could be a good book, even a very good book, just not for me.

In some stories within the fantasy genre—including all the grimdark, horror, epic, adventure, and otherwise—there are beings that are as old as the world. Usually these beings are gods, or monsters. In Brent Kelley’s work, Chuggie and the Desecration of Stagwater, the main character is one of these beings. And he manifests as a drunk, more-than-slightly sarcastic person with a chain and anchor protruding from his ribs. Chuggie is the manifestation of Drought and he is, unknowingly, about to enter into a series of events that is going to change the lives of a good number of people and also cause a whole lot of trouble.

1. Thoughts on the plot

There is a lot going on in this book, which is actually quite nice. There are so many different elements that all exist separately and yet come together to make the whole. For people like me who enjoy a well-woven story just as much as puzzles, this is a really good combination. The way that Chuggie interacts with the world seems to be a haphazard and drunken staggering from plot point to plot point. The characters around Chuggie have their own intent, their own mechanisms, their own motivations, and yet everything that Chuggie does expands upon and renders moot all that these characters do. Basically, this world has no idea what hit it. The way that this is explored is really well done on the author’s part. It is a difficult feat to manage to make everything come together under the attentions of a character who seems completely blown about by chance. And also quite impressive.

2. Thoughts on the main character

For as much as Chuggie seems to be a drunken wanderer who has no real intent beyond living his life and enjoying it, he is actually a very complicated and interesting character. It is sometimes hard to relate to these incomprehensibly old and powerful beings in stories, simply because their experience is so far beyond our own. With Chuggie, however, he seems to be a perfectly ordinary guy. Well, except for the super old bit. And the embodiment of Drought bit. But everything else is just a result of Chuggie trying to eke out a decent life and encountering rather dangerous and unfortunate situations along the way. The really entertaining part, though, is the way that all of the other characters seem to underestimate him. He may act like an ordinary guy, but he really isn’t. And honestly, it’s more than a bit amusing to see the other people floundering when they realise their mistake.

3. Favourite part

There are so many pieces of this book that I enjoyed that it’s really hard to pick a favourite part. Is it the bit where we’re introduced to Chuggie and he’s stuck in a tree? Or the bit where he impulsively runs off to go fetch a goat-faced purse to save his trapped love? Or the part where the other characters finally realise what idiots they’ve been? I don’t know. So I shall instead say that my favourite part was the fact that everyone is going around riding goats like horses and pretending that it’s completely normal. Every time I read that, I had to fight from laughing out loud and scaring my cat. Even in dire circumstances.

4. Critique

I think out of everything, I had a hard time with the ending. This book does such a spectacular set-up and building of the dark-possibly-horrific world that we find ourselves in. There is so much going on that comes together so nicely. The bits that push this book into the horror category are really well described and quite vivid. So when everything ends so abruptly, it felt a little strange. Okay, yes, the ending does make perfect sense. And, yes, there is a book two that will (hopefully) answer all the remaining questions. But it felt a little like everything just stopped. It was a little like being yanked out of the story by a string of strangely spelt words (this didn’t happen, but for a linguist, this is the best parallel I’ve got).

Overall, though, and even disregarding the ending, I would say that this book is very well written, well thought out, and well done. The characters were interesting (if a touch grotesque in parts, which is to be expected), the plot was entertaining and the whole goat situation… Anyways, I would say that this book was VERY GOOD.

Magic comes in all shapes and sizes, especially in books. There are actual magics, like those a wizard or witch might use. There are divine magics, used by the gods. And then there are the ordinary magics of people who are just doing what they believe is right, when the world stands against them. A Bard’s Lament by Poppy Kuroki focuses on this type of magic, and it was absolutely stunning.

1. Thoughts on the plot

Being a novelette, there is a very concise plot that the story follows. In this instance, the story follows Ella, a bard, and her sister, Lucinda, who works as a prostitute. Both sisters are working to earn their way out of a debt that they inherited, leaving them with very little. In the midst of everything, there is aslo the fear of the Rathole, a place of nightmares, that hangs over their heads. Ella is forced to face her fears when things go wrong and her sister gets caught up in a terrible mess. But there is also something else that hangs over their heads. Something far greater…

This novelette manages to capture a decently large number of events in the midst of the story, without making it feel like the author is doing too much. I liked the way that events transitioned smoothly from one to another, growing ever more dire and significant until we reach the final scenes. I think this worked really quite well, even though we didn’t have quite as much of the worldbuilding that one would expect from a fantasy novel. I got a clear picture of everything that was happening and was just as enthralled in the characters’ actions.

And the ending! Oh, my!

2. Thoughts on the characters

Ella is a truly sympathetic main character. She isn’t particularly strong or powerful; she is perfectly ordinary except in her ability to play music. I think this makes her relatable. What really makes her a sympathetic and interesting character is the way that she cares for her sister Lucinda throughout. She wants to be there for her family no matter how tough things get, and she does that with compassion and grace.

And that bit at the end, that extra knowledge that lends so much more significance to Ella’s actions? Oh, my!

3. Favourite part

The ending. It was superbly done, with drama retroactively lacing the book with intrigue. That just adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the whole plot that elevates it to something really wonderful to read. I can tell you no more, though, because, well, spoilers.

4. Critique

My only real critique for this book has nothing to do with the plot, the characters, or the prose. It is just the matter of the QR codes at the beginning of each song. Okay, yes, it is nice to have the option to listen to the music as the book is being read, but they sort of jar me out of the story. Now, granted, this is purely my opinion based on the fact that I don’t tend to listen to music as I read, even if it’s relevant to the story. But I think that maybe the QR codes could be put at the beginning, just following the introduction, so it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story.

Overall, this piece was really quite lovely to read. I enjoyed the characters, the plot, and the prose and found myself thrilled at the ending. I almost wish that the story had been a full novel, because there is the potential for so much more story to explore. However, it really works just as it is and I wouldn’t change it. An excellent novelette.

I read a lot of fantasy. It so happens that I really like all varieties of fantasy (and almost every genre) but there are some that just make you sink back with the biggest cup of tea you can find and smile. In this particular instance, the book was Shattered Dreams by Ulff Lehmann, a book that combines epic fantasy with some of the more fiddly aspects of detailed oriented historical fiction, as well as a touch of the grimdark to spice things up. This book, I shall tell you with great delight, is what I imagine a literary chess game to be. It has strategy, threads woven together, forethought, false directions, intrigue, and that wonderful fascination that puzzles invariably provide.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This plot is definitely one that is not simple. Some epic fantasy stories will follow a character or a group of characters on a quest. Some follow more intricate details that move through various characters’ lives and create a world, fully formed, fully fledged, stunning. This book does that. There are definitely a few things to follow: Danaster is being invaded by its neighbour, Chanastardh. The Danasterians would agree that this is a problem. Therefore, some of the people in Danaster, namely a holy warrior, a slightly-befuddled wizardess, and a few other people who are smarter than you might think, have decided that perhaps they should do something about this. Naturally, there are other forces at work. Ones from the long past. And they’re bringing other people into play.

The plot is expertly woven together, with details about the actually-terribly-important history of the world that I found fascinating. Often, epic fantasies rarely manage to get the history involved in a truly realistic manner. Or, they give you an info-dump at the very beginning disguised as a prologue. This plot involves the history in careful remarks, chance phrases, and an elf perhaps screaming too loudly about such matters.

Again, this is like a chess game, only with death being the result if you lose a piece.

2. Thoughts on the main character

There are a few really important characters in this book, but I shall focus on two: Drangar and Kildanor.

Drangar is a man fleeing his past. His very mysterious past. We first meet him in the isolated backwaters and he is invariably mysterious and interesting. This is a potent combination, which usually—in epic fantasy, as well as other genres—means there is a tragic backstory. This tragic backstory, though, is actually rather central to the plot and does more than just develop Drangar’s character. To be fair, it does that, too. Drangar tries to flee, but the past has claws and does not so easily let go. In facing it, he becomes a key upon which events turn.

Kildanor, on the other hand, is fully aware that he is significant. This is not arrogance, but experience. He is one of an order of holy warriors, belonging to a religion that current times have done their best to ban. (It hasn’t worked all that well, as these things go.) Kildanor has power and he has the influence to wield it. So, he does. All in the name of his god, Lesganagh, god of Sun and War. But there are other dangerous forces afoot, some of which haven’t been seen since one of the last wars and hoped to have been locked away forever.

The characters in this book read like wildly interesting and realistic people. They have quirks and fears. They joke with their friends. And they both shape and are shaped by the world around them. These are really well done characters, ones I enjoyed reading almost as much as I enjoyed the situations in which they found themselves.

3. Favourite part

There was a bit where things caught fire and people were complaining by means of axe-strike. That was definitely my favourite bit.

4. Critique

My critique for this book has very little to do with the book and more with my inability to read a map. It took me a few chapters to figure out who was fighting whom and which side everyone was on. However, it was all made completely clear once I looked again at the map so helpfully provided at the front of the book. Otherwise, I really have no major critiques. Just the knowledge that I am directionally challenged and geographically incompetent. C’est la vie.

Overall, I would say that I have not read a book of this depth and detail and thought for a while. Sometimes I read to melt my brain and clear the synapses. But most of the time, I like to think and to be invited to think. This book definitely did that and I am glad for it. I could probably read this book over and over and still enjoy unravelling it. I would therefore say that this book was EXCELLENT.

Death does not always mean the end. Certainly not in fantasy stories. But what if all of the ideas that you had about what went on after the grave were, well, somewhat mistaken? The Last Soul by Jonathon Lively is book one in the Oreniah Codex, an exploration of one soul’s journey through what comes next, but also how to get back.

1. Thoughts on the plot

The initial chapter, dealing with the cat soul Ches, led me to be extremely intrigued in what was going on. When we then encounter the main character, Lathan, I was thrilled to be able to see how he was going to interact with Ches and all the intricacies of Oreniah. Lathan’s life, though, does take a while to examine. Yes, it is important because it describes his relationships and his reason for wanting to get back—and therefore undergoing all the things he undergoes while on Oreniah—but it does take a while to get into. I found myself a little confused by how ordinary Lathan’s life was. However, this does change after a bit. We are introduced to some of the oddities which lead to his death. Then, things really start to pick up.

I would say that this plot may start off slowly (excepting the introduction with Ches) but it definitely does not continue that way. There is a lot going on in Lathan’s life after he, well, dies. And objectively, it may seem like simple things, but it is also so much more than that. Once this plot starts really going, it really goes.

2. Thoughts on the main character

At first, Lathan seems, I have to admit, like a bit of a bumbling fool. He is obviously in love with his family and he really enjoys his life. He does seem to be a bit oblivious to some things, though, and that really shows in his relationship with his wife, Tara. However, when push comes to shove, Lathan is a definite hero. He has a firm sense of right and wrong. He will do as much as he can to help those he cares about. He listens and tries to understand.

Also, his soul—and related abilities—is pretty awesome. Controlling the air? Very cool!

3. Favourite part

My favourite part would probably be the bit near the end where Lathan and Justice finally get to whollop their opponents and see what sort of team they can be. I can, unfortunately, give you no more than that because of spoilers, but believe me when I say that it is not only a great character building moment, but it is also just an epic throw down.

What can I say? Sometimes I like the bits where they just hit stuff. It’s therapeutic.

4. Critique

My biggest critique is probably to do with the worldbuilding. That is to say, the world of Oreniah and all its lore is extremely interesting and very cool. However, the way that this world is described overwhelms the story a bit.

A lot of the scenes that are pivotal to character development or plot development or just a really big fight are interspersed with huge amounts of description. This means that the world itself is very clear, but it can also be a bit too much. For example, there were a couple of fight scenes where I had to go back and re-read a good deal of the action because every movement and detail was depicted. This made it hard to imagine in my head because what might have felt natural for me to imagine was not what was depicted. This isn’t to say that what was depicted was wrong or off, just that it was a little too much. This also happened a few times with simple descriptions of scenes. There were just too many details and it overwhelmed what was actually happening with the characters themselves.

On the whole, though, I thought this book was really very interesting. The story was unique. The characters were well written and very interesting. I think they will continue to expand and grow in subsequent books and that will be a great journey. The action sequences are done on an epic scale and that is highly entertaining to read. So, even with the world itself being perhaps a bit too much for the characters and the action, I would say that this book was definitely fun to read. I would say that it is GOOD, bordering on VERY GOOD.

Dragon’s Trail by Joseph Malik is a fantasy techno-thriller, which is to say it is a mash of two genres that rarely get seen together. The magical nature of fantasy—with elves and men riding about on horses, wielding swords—combined with the detail-oriented techno-thriller, which uses technology to solve whatever horrid problem is facing the main character and the world that particular day. This story follows two people from Earth: Jarrod, a former fencing and martial-arts master who now works as a stuntman; and Carter, a former linebacker who has a penchant for medieval style fighting. These two are summoned to Gateskeep, where they are tasked with getting the army up to snuff in order to combat a sorcerer named Ulo. Jarrod and Carter do this, only they bring some of the might and knowledge of Earth with them. The result? A fantasy with huge amounts of actual information on fighting and strategy, where the characters have an advantage and are still faced with struggles, and where the major conflict hinges on bringing a gun to a knife fight, relatively speaking.

1. Thoughts on the plot

If you look at this story from the surface level, the plot is a fairly typical portal-fantasy novel. A person—usually from Earth—is brought in, accidentally or otherwise, to solve a massive problem facing some fantasy realm. This person applies their Earther knowledge and faces the fantastical challenges with great aplomb. Or, at least, a whole lot of style. If you zoom in to the plot, this story is a whole lot more complex than the typical fantasy, portal or otherwise. There is strategy behind the decisions that characters make on either side. The things that you would expect to be so are not quite what they appear. And the characters from Earth are indeed quite capable and do have great style and aplomb (I’m looking at you, Carter, with that massive suit of armour) but face actual challenges from all quarters.

Then, there are the technical details that make this a techno-thriller. Technology is central to any society. This book explores the technology of the time and does so in such detail that you know precisely that it matters. A lot. And, as it turns out, the technology does matter. A lot. These details, combined with the strategy of a grand-scale fantasy, make this plot one of the more interesting and complex ones that I have seen in a while.

2. Thoughts on the main character

Jarrod is the primary main character here, though Carter plays a rather significant role. Initially, he seems a bit arrogant and probably mad at the world. However, it is soon shown that he actually knows what he is doing and asks rational questions. Okay, yes, he is still arrogant, but there is reason.

The interesting part is watching Jarrod’s development as he explores the world surrounding Gateskeep. He doesn’t change quite so dramatically as some characters do in fantasy novels, but it is definitely there. The arrogance, though, doesn’t ever really go away. Frankly, I’m okay with that. It makes him an entertaining character and I enjoy the snark a fair bit.

3. Favourite part

Well, I’m a linguist. I shall say, then, that my favourite part of the book started with the discussion of the phonetic attributes of the word gbatu and continued with the various descriptions of the language-learning process. I liked all the technical pieces, too, but honestly, language. What’s not to like?

4. Critique

If I had a critique for this book, it would be one of two things. I would say that Jarrod and Carter seem to make mincemeat of their challenges. The odds are stacked in their favour, for obvious reasons. However, since that is rather the point of the book and the challenges are, well, actually challenging, I would say just sit back and enjoy the technology. Even if you have to look up some of the terms.

The other critique I have is that the map at the back of the book is rather unhelpful for people like me who need a map constantly.

Basically, the few critiques I had were more or less irrelevant.

My overall rating for this book is definitely EXCELLENT, which tops the scale. A good way to start the year, no? Now, on to book two, where I imagine things are going to get rather worse for our characters. This should be quite entertaining.

I have never reviewed a children’s book before, because honestly they are so amazingly difficult to create that I was always a bit wary. You wouldn’t think that children’s books would be difficult, but children see the world in such a way that we adults often have a difficult time relating. And as an adult, reviewing a book meant for someone with a far more open and flexible mind is something that is quite difficult. That being said, I am going to give it a go, starting with Katie Lynn Melko’s Paw Elementary: Roxy’s Adventure to the School Dentist.

Usually, in a picture book, the part of the story that grabs me are the pictures. These have to tell the story to someone who can’t read (or is just starting out) and is having someone read to them. These pictures have to match up with the story well enough that you can tell what’s going on without the words. And you have to have enough interest that the child doesn’t get bored. These pictures do very well with that. The expressions reflect the emotions that the characters should be feeling (even with the stylistic features of a cartoon dog and friends). There is enough to interest a child in the scene. I think the bits with the dental tools might require some help with the words, but half the time I have no idea what the dentist is doing anyways, so that’s something to consider.

As for the actual story itself, the concept is a good one. The idea is to make a trip to the dentist less scary for children. It is a bit frightening when someone shoves pointy objects into your mouth and expects you to hold a conversation. This does well at explaining what a dentist is doing to children. However, it does forget the bit about ‘what if you actually have a cavity and they have to drill your tooth out’. (I do understand this, though, because that is not a fun experience and you probably shouldn’t include such things in a children’s book.) On the whole, I think it does well in making the dentist a more understandable thing, while also talking about the importance of brushing your teeth properly.

I think that if I have a critique for this book, it would be in the placement of the text. Yes, the picture is the most important part, but the text is very cramped and close together, and if a child is trying to read along, the words are going to be difficult to pick apart. Making the words just a touch bigger and maybe changing the colour to be slightly lighter would be helpful. 

On the whole, I like this book. I think it does well with making a potentially scary situation less frightening. And teaching children is one of the main points of children’s books. 

Sometimes, when the world gets tough, all you need is a good adventure with dragons (which are awesome), characters you can really root for, a challenge or villain to overcome, and dragons (still awesome). Eileen Mueller’s Riders of Fire series does just that. But since I don’t want to spoil later books, I shall focus on Ezaara, the first in the series.

1. Thoughts on the plot

In this book, Ezaara is found by Zaarusha, the Queen of the dragons, and they imprint as rider and dragon. From that dramatic beginning starts a series of events that land Ezaara right in the middle of a fight between the dragons and Zens, a being from another world who wants to conquer the realm of Dragons; a series of political machinations that call her right to ride Zaarusha into question; a quest to prove her devotion to her friends and to the realm; and some serious drama. There are many things going on and it is really wonderful.

I was hesitant at first because things started off so quickly, but once you got past the first five percent of this book, events really started to take form and it works really well. This series focuses not just on the overarching battle between the dragons and Zens, but the little details as well. The training, the character growth, the relationships that form between friends and more, the back story, all of it is woven together in an intricate web that draws the reader from one scene to the next in an enthralling manner. The plot, in short, is quite fun.

2. Thoughts on the main character

I like Ezaara. A fair bit. From the outside, she looks like a hesitant sort who can’t quite seem to figure out what to say to appease the politicians, and isn’t quite certain of her place in this world. But as we get to see what Ezaara is thinking, and how she grows, we learn that she really is just someone with a bit of spunk who wasn’t born into this world of dragons, but grows to become one of its most valued assets. That, and she really does very well at not caring hugely what others thing. Well, she cares, but isn’t afraid to stand on her beliefs, either. And the growing connection between her and Roberto? I think it adds that extra element of depth to the story.

3. Favourite part

I think my favourite part has to be the bond between Ezaara and Zaarusha. They just seem to be matched so well in personality, but are independent thinkers, too. It works so well and makes the story more than your typical YA fantasy.

4. Least favourite part

The cliffhanger! Aaaah! I will warn you that every book of this series that I have read so far (1-3) ends in a dramatic cliffhanger. It makes sense, because each story is leading into the next and we can’t be allowed to forget that there is a larger story at stake and things are going to get worse, but…my goodness!

As a writer, I can appreciate the cliffhanger, because it makes the stories flow together quite well. But as a reader, I give that all-too-typical dramatic “oh, no!” that comes with such things.

Overall, I would say that Ezaara is a great first book to a really fun and interesting YA fantasy series. The plot does not follow the formula that you would expect. The characters are deep and interesting. There is always something new to discover around the next corner. Basically, I enjoyed it quite a lot. I would say that it is very good.

Reading the sequel to a book that you enjoyed can go one of two ways: either you hate it, or you’re stepping back into a world that you loved and everything feels more, better, the adventure a perfect extension of book one. Shadow Pantheon by Eric Nierstedt was like that.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This book would have a hard time being as world-changing and dramatic as book one, but somehow, it managed that quite well. This time, our pantheon of gods stuck in the modern world have a better handle on how to deal with the world around them. That doesn’t make the challenge they’re facing any easier, though, because what they’re facing is their past. And if there’s one thing that people have a difficult time with, it’s the past. I can’t really tell you anything more specific than that because of spoilers for book one and book two, but I shall tell you this:

The plot was, as expected, well thought out. The pieces were a mystery at first, but they seemed to flow together very well so that by the end, you knew exactly what was going on and desperately needed our characters to fix it. And the way that was done…well, it was a great application of mythology, fantasy, and highly capable storytelling. (And this mythology was done right.)

2. Thoughts on the main character

As with book one, there are several main characters in this book. They are our pantheon of gods from various different cultures, living in New York and doing their best to get along with mortals. I really liked seeing these characters again. They are precisely as you would expect, coming from the first book, but there is enough further development in consideration to the new situation and the resurgence of the past that you don’t get bored with them. You get to grow along with them (although I’m not sure Coyote really grows, but more moves sideways to expectations). I enjoyed reading them just as much as before. Balder is still one of my favourites, but this time Anubis probably takes the top slot for me.

3. Favourite part

I enjoyed the particular plot with Anubis and Carlos, the boy holding a part of Anubis’ past. I think there was really great depiction of the characters from mythologies, without watering it down like you would see in some television or movies. The essence was captured perfectly, but the human side of Anubis as Mustafa was just as intriguing as the mythology. Definitely a great piece of the story. (Though, the plot twist at the end was really great, too.)

4. Critique

I think the only issue I had with this book was to do with some of the unanswered questions at the end. Of course, this is more to do with my curiosity than anything, so there isn’t really a problem with the ending. Actually, the ending is quite good. I just…I want to know more. How they continue, what comes next, all the usual things that happen when a book I really like is finished. Sigh.

Overall, I’d say that Shadow Pantheon is a fantastic sequel to the first book. The characters are still wonderful to read, the situation is new and interesting while retaining what they learned before, the plot twists are fun, and it was a great modern exploration of various mythological and religious systems. Essentially, a VERY GOOD book.

One of the things I love about dystopian books is the fact that they basically describe what could go wrong in the world, in great detail. And that list is almost endless. It’s fascinating to look at the way that things we take for granted, or believe to be innocuous, can be morphed into something entirely different. Michael Pogach’s Spider in the Laurel does this exceptionally well.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This book takes place in a parallel reality to our own. In essence, the United States and much of the world has gone through a series of revolts or revolutions that have basically forbidden all talk of Belief, which includes religion, mythology, even much of mythic history. The new world order is doing its best to control what people believe, because if they can do that, they can control their people more absolutely—of course, they don’t say this out loud. Enter Rafael Ward, a Professor of mythic history who has been conscripted into helping take down believers. On his first mission, though, he gets in over his head and starts on a world-wide chase to recover something that may be lost to legend, but could change the world.

This plot is incredibly well-thought out. There is a lot going on, and it would be easy to get lost if it weren’t for the fact that everything is relatively logical and there are enough details and explanations of history and mythology to ground the reader. I enjoyed the massive scope of this novel; it was great to puzzle through and to think about. The characters made it even more entertaining, because their place in this interconnected maze was sympathetic.

2. Thoughts on the main character

Rafe Ward seems like a guy caught up in things beyond his control. He’s been conscripted into the REC to help destroy artefacts of Believers, but he teaches mythological history at university. The world surrounding him is incredibly complex and there are machinations behind machinations. Only, Rafe is far from dumb, so he figures things out before anyone would like him to; this only puts him into greater danger.

As a character, Rafe is very interesting to read. His character development from start to finish is quite staggering. Part of it is that we learn a considerable amount about him throughout the novel. Part of it is that the circumstances push him to his limit and he is forced to grow. But the amount of depth that Rafe displays is impressive. The only other character that comes close is MacKenzie, who also shows a good deal of depth, but not nearly as much as Rafe. Which, frankly, reads perfectly well.

3. Favourite part

I really enjoyed all of the historical digressions, discussing things that are apocryphal or mere legend. There was obviously a great amount of research done and I really liked to see the integration into the wider plot of the novel. That, and I just really like the application of history to the wider context of a book.

4. Critique

I think the only thing that was a bit off was to do with some of the more intense action sequences. They read well, but every now and again something would seem to jump and I would have to backtrack and figure out how we got from point A to point B. On the whole, this did not interfere with the story at all, but it was a little jarring and took me from within the story to without.

If you’re interested in a book that is both incredibly well written, and incredibly well thought out, this is definitely one for you. I would say that the intricate nature of this book was done extraordinarily well. I rarely see something so massive done to this degree of capability and I enjoyed it thoroughly. This book has great characters, fascinating world-building, a whole slew of entertaining plot points and history thrown in for good measure. Spider in the Laurel is definitely on my list of best books for 2020.

The shadows of our pasts haunt us all, whether we know it or not. Such is the premise of Ashley Olivier’s The Raven Thief, a delightful YA fantasy that reminds us of such shadows, but also makes the journey of discovery enjoyable. At least, I found it throughly entertaining to read over the weekend.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This book follows the adventures of Enya, the Raven Thief and leader of the Grims street gang as she tries to run from the palace, against whom she has been rebelling. This leads her into an adventure with three not-so-dead “dead” princes, who have been set a task to find a magical sword. This task takes Enya, her second in command Carson, and the three princes on an adventure to unbury secrets of a dark, magical, and dangerous past.

Overall, the plot is a good one. There are enough things going on that we never grow bored, but the characters also have enough down time in order for us to process the events right along with them. The events are interesting and the way that they all link together is quite entertaining.

2. Thoughts on the main character

I like Enya. I think she’s snarky enough to take on the burdens of the rebellion herself, but smart enough to know she needs friends. But I also like the way that she has been portrayed, with the traumas of her past having been forgotten by Enya as a defence mechanism against said trauma. I think that this is a far more common means of moving past difficulty than people often expect, and this doesn’t often show up in books where the MC has a tragic backstory. The way that this was done was perhaps a little strong, given that most people don’t think about having forgotten the difficult times simply because they have been forgotten. However, Enya’s past with the royal family, for whom she worked, is intricately linked with her current circumstances and the story’s events as she works with the princes, so that does make sense.

Also, her relationship with Carson is truly adorable to read.

3. Favourite part

Carson is probably my favourite, well, character if not event. He is unswervingly loyal, and his feelings for Enya are both annoyingly subtle and too obvious. As a character goes, he supports Enya’s role perfectly and later on in the book makes for great intrigue. And that ending!

4. Critique

My only critique is that some of the worldbuilding—primarily at the beginning—is a bit too obvious. This is mostly done in the way that Enya muses about the world around her, which is perfectly acceptable. The only problem is that some of these musings fall in between moments of intense action, where something happens that require an immediate reaction that is then interrupted with these moments of worldbuilding. The action Enya takes appears after these moments, but it also supposedly the immediate reaction required, which can bet a bit jarring because of the lag. However, this doesn’t happen but two or three times and mostly at the beginning, so it really doesn’t impact my impression of the book much.

I would say that The Raven Thief is a delightful YA fantasy with characters who are interesting and even fun to read, a challenge of increasingly desperate proportions to overcome, and an ending that leaves you eager for the next book—in a good way. This book is very good.

There is a lot that goes into the making of a good fantasy novel. There is worldbuilding, the dramatic and often impactful nature of the plot, the characters who are affected by this plot, plus so much more. Oftentimes, you see fantasy novels that focus on one thing above others: worldbuilding or characters or plot. Rarely do you see all of these. JMD Reid’s Diamond Stained, the first book in his Secret of the Jewels series, manages to capture all of these elements and blend them together into something that is unique, epic, entertaining, and a pleasure to read.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This book starts off small. The main character, Ōbhin, finds himself in a situation he’d rather not be in. He performs his duty—which in the grand scheme of things is a relatively minor thing—and events spiral outwards from there. Things grow organically, one event leading into another which then presents more and eventually, the whole realm (so far) is involved and Ōbhin finds himself at the centre. The way that this plot builds is expertly done, not something you see often when the standard is to throw the characters—and the world—into the midst of a crisis (also a perfectly good way to do a story, just entirely different). I found myself really enjoying the way things grew and watching how the characters pushed the plot along, as opposed to the plot pushing them.

2. Thoughts on the main character

Ōbhin is a great main character to have. He has some of the standard fantasy hero qualities—follows a strict set of principles, dangerous but with a good heart, a tragic back-story—but there is so much more that goes into his character. He is perhaps quieter than most heroes, with more time to think and reflect on his action. His blushing sense of propriety is another thing which helped to flesh him out and make him real. As far as characters go, he is definitely one of the most developed that I’ve seen in a while, which was truly great to read. I will say that his tragic backstory does make him a little less three dimensional and more like a character from a book than a person you would interact with, but as this doesn’t occupy his every thought, it works well.

3. Favourite part

I think I probably enjoyed all the character interactions the most. They helped to move the plot along and made the characters more realistic, which was great to read (especially in a genre where you usually see the dialogue doing one or the other, depending on the focus of the book). Smiles was hugely entertaining, poor man. Fingers, too, but Smiles wins that honour.

4. Critique

The main critique I have for this is to do with Avena, our secondary protagonist and a character as entertaining and interesting as our main protagonist. The section later on in the novel where she reflects on her actions and her emotional well-being feels a little forced. The conclusion that she comes to makes sense, but the way that she thinks about it reads a little too stiffly. However, she is a great character in all other regards, so I would say that this critique is minor.

Overall, Diamond Stained was a truly great book to read. I was drawn through the novel as though I were with the characters. The worldbuilding was expertly done—not too much information, but not too little, either. I could picture things perfectly. The characters were well developed and fun to read. And by the time the plot really hit exploding point, I was so invested in the outcome that I almost freaked out at the end. Therefore, I would say that this book is VERY GOOD.

I think that every author dreams of what would happen if their characters came to life. If the creations of their mind, the depictions of themselves, were to appear in real life. For the main character in Jordan J. Scavone’s Night Warrior, this actually happens. And it’s nothing like what she anticipated.

1. Thoughts on the plot

I really enjoyed seeing this twist on the typical YA portal fantasy, where instead of being pulled into a magical world, the characters of Viranda’s fantasy novel are pulled into our world. This presents a whole slew of very interesting possibilities: technological difficulties, interacting with “normal” people, what happens when magic appears, etc. I think the plot was fairly good in combining the events of the magical world of Lingard with the reality of Earth. Each situation was of a higher degree of danger and drama and the characters had to learn to face it accordingly. I would say that a lot of the worldbuilding was a bit info-dumpy, since we learned of the situations through doors in Viranda’s mind being opened and revealing lots of information at once.

2. Thoughts on the main character

Viranda is an interesting main character, given what one usually sees as the stereotype in YA novels featuring a female lead. Instead of the pretty and perfect magical warrior who just doesn’t know it yet, Viranda is flawed. She injures herself at the beginning of the novel and that stays with her. She is uncertain and deals with normal emotions like jealousy and fear and selfishness. But she also is a good friend, determined to help solve the problems, and willing to do what it takes. I like her, basically. I think it would have been nice to see a bit more development in her actions and interactions with others rather than being informed of what it was that was happening with her, but on the whole I like her.

3. Favourite part

This isn’t really a specific scene, but rather the fact that when Viranda injures herself at the beginning of the book, the injury takes time to heal. It doesn’t magically go away. It stays with her throughout the book and becomes another challenge to overcome. I like it when things like this are consistent throughout a story, because I’ve seen too many books where a character gets injured and then ignores it until all the action is done. It made this more real.

4. Critique

My main critique is to do with the worldbuilding. Viranda learns about the situations with her characters and the world of Lingard by means of doors in her mind opening and revealing information. This could be done to very cool effect, and is, for the most part. However, there are some parts near the end of the book where Viranda seeks information and things that have not been hinted at or mentioned at all throughout the book appear to flesh out a character or to provide a solution to the problems that have been plaguing them the whole book. It feels a little like a McGuffin and throws a solution at us without really having an impact on the characters or the plot that we’ve seen thus far.

Overall, I would say that Night Warrior is a fun book that twists the typical YA portal fantasy into something new and entertaining. The plot is interesting and there is enough going on to keep you engaged. I would say that this is a solidly good book.

The Unwanted by Z.T. Soyoye is a story about a fifteen year-old Alex Charon, who is trying to come to grips with a new school. Oh, and new powers, too. He is trying to learn these powers when he witnesses the kidnapping of his friend. Now he must perfect these powers to fix what was wrong, without falling into despair.

1. Thoughts on the plot

As far as plot goes, this is a fairly standard anime-style urban fantasy middle-grade novel. Our main character develops powers. As he does, something terrible happens to his friends and he must do his best to try and fix things. This takes place at a school and the cast of characters is precisely what one would expect from this sort of story. Which is all grand, excepting one thing: the plot twists don’t feel much like twists. They feel more like precise representations of what you would expect from the genre.

This is not a problem, necessarily. Genre fiction always contains the expectations and tropes of that genre. Many books contain similar plots and ideas. The trick is trying to make them unique enough that you’re not reading the same thing over and over. This book does a decent job at that.

2. Thoughts on the main character

Alex fits the role of main character for this sort of novel exactly. He has principles. He has doubts. He is trying to fit into a new world and perhaps pushing himself too hard to succeed. So when things go wrong, he takes that drive to the extreme. This fits well with the story and Alex is a likeable character. I will say that some of his internal monologue is a bit existential and asks questions that are more telling us what is going on than showing us how Alex is dealing with a situation. (Yes, I know it’s a cliche to use those terms, but that’s what it felt like.) Most of this is fine, but near the end when things go all sorts of wonky, the internal monologues felt like they broke up the story too much; we were focusing on Alex’s internal struggle rather than the fact that external struggles were doing their best to pulverise him.

3. Favourite part

I liked the mash-up of urban fantasy with an anime-style story. It’s done frequently enough that you see this sort of thing in the genre a lot, but I still liked the execution.

4. Critique

A lot of my critique for this book is to do with the fact that things were pointed out to the reader very plainly. There was no mystery. No intrigue. The questions were answered fairly quickly and the things that weren’t answered quickly did not necessarily follow any sort of logic. I felt a little like the author was trying to explain the world instead of show me the world. Don’t underestimate your readers, no matter how old you expect them to be. (I was reading my way through the entire catalogue of 19th century literature, and Shakespeare, by the time I was eleven. This is not uncommon in people who read.) They’re smarter than you think.

On the whole, as far as a middle grade anime/urban fantasy mash-up goes, this fit the bill precisely. The characters were what you would expect, and the plot was, too. I think that there could have been more done to create a bit of intrigue or struggle for the readers, but overall, it’s what you would expect. I would say, therefore, that this book is FAIR.

Dystopian novels serve a very important and specific purpose for society. They paint a picture of what could happen if things continue in a particular direction, and warn us away from it. In the case of The Big Smoke by Nathan Srith, the warning refers to what could happen when social media and charisma go too far, when ideals get mixed with ideology, and when power is within one’s grasp.

1. Thoughts on the plot

Generally speaking, having a dictatorial leader who rules by fear and force or by charisma alone is not an uncommon feature in political-based dystopian novels. This one is unique in that it features a female dictator and also the role of social media. This lends a few interesting points to the escape from her rule. And the fact that this novel focuses also on both the rise to power and the subsequent escape by our main character, Nick, allows for a greater range of events than the simple “escape” sequence, including discussion of the role of politics and social media.

2. Thoughts on the main character

Overall, I like Nick. He’s a guy with ideals and principles. He may have a firm belief on how the world should be, but he is also flexible enough to listen to other opinions (namely his sister) and adapt to the changing environment. He’s battling his demons and his role in the new world of the Independent State of England (what used to be London). This makes him a good character, a decent hero, and an interesting main character to follow. I do have one problem with him, though; he only fought back against his role after his sister was captured. Every other horrible thing that happened up to then he acknowledged as bad, but he only seemed to break away after his sister was captured. This makes it hard for me to like him for his strong principles, because he seemed able to ignore them prior to the start of the novel.

3. Favourite part

The ability to find food in a completely looted city.

4. Critique

My main critique for this book is plausibility. Dystopian novels are usually a bit implausible, simply because they take problems and move them into the extreme. However, there has to be a certain amount of believability, or the whole point of dystopian novels being used to warn society becomes moot. In this case, the ability of The Boss to take over the British government and then subsequently wall off London, support a rebellion and continue her rule is highly implausible for a couple of reasons. One: the dissolution of government. The British government system can be dissolved by means of what is essentially a vote of no confidence by the PM or the other parties. Or, the monarchy can call of the same thing, depending on the circumstances. Barring that, an election must be held every five years. So the Boss remaining in power after such horrid events seems highly improbable. Two: the walling off of London into an independent state. As London is the capital of England, and a cultural and economical mecca, it would not be allowed to fall into the hands of a rebel people or party. The military would step in. And, even if they did manage to keep the military out initially, there is no way that the rest of the world (which is supposedly continuing on as normal) would allow a dictatorial state to appear in the midst of one of the larger powers of the Western world.

Everything else with the book is perfectly acceptable, as long as you can suspend disbelief of the initial premise. Unfortunately for me, that premise is difficult to ignore.

Overall, I would say that this book has all the proper hallmarks of a dystopian novel. The politics, the warning, the world falling to pieces, even our hero’s disillusionment. As long as the problems with the process of how this world came to be can be overlooked, then this novel is perfectly fine. For me, though, this reads too much like a Snake Pliskin movie. I would say that it is FAIR to GOOD.

While many fantasy stories are epic in scale, not all of them move from action scene to desperate situation; some are more deliberate and intentional in their collection of details into a story. Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens is, I would say, an epic fantasy that is happy to burn slowly into something dramatic.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This story follows Guyen, a refugee in the land of his enemies. He plans not only to survive, but to fight back, until his brother falls into a coma to do with the Faze—the magical energies of the world—and Guyen is called to the capital. There, he works on Faze and Binding, deals with political intrigue, and discovers the world is much, much larger than his own problems.

Taken as a storyboard, this story is fairly typical. Person washes up in land of his enemy, discovers he is something a bit more, learns from his enemy and discovers that things are not what they seem. It’s a generally standard epic fantasy-style story where the stakes grow ever larger as our hero’s knowledge increases. However, this plot is very, very detailed. The intricacies of Guyen’s day-to-day life are often laid out and we see much of his thought proceses as he goes about his life.

Generally speaking, I like stories that delve this deeply into a character, because I find that the details are the pieces that really make a story interesting and relatable. This story is fairly good in that regard, but I think that there is too much detail and the overarching plot gets lost in the minutiae. At least, that is true until about 65% of the way through the novel when the threads start to really weave together. Okay, that’s generally fine with me; I don’t need to understand everything all the time and having things come together later is usually what I prefer. But this novel is also 650 pages and it took a very long time to get to the point where the plot really took off.

So the plot was good, even very interesting, but a little too bogged down in detail, I think.

2. Thoughts on the character

Guyen is, on the surface, another example of a fairly standard epic fantasy-style hero. He has a staunch loyalty to his family—his brother in particular—and a firm belief in right and wrong. He is fond of books and learning and determined. These are all fantastic character traits, and Guyen displays them well. He is a likeable hero and, given the detail that is presented in describing his life (mentioned above) we see a lot of what goes into his thought processes.

The only thing I would like is a little more definitive presentation of intent in his actions. There is most certainly a purpose in what he is doing (no spoilers, sorry) and that makes perfect sense to drive his actions for about 90% of the book. But there is that extra 10% where his purpose doesn’t apply, either because he has to wait for something else to happen or because something else gets in the way. In these situations, Guyen’s actions make perfect sense, but they don’t really seem to have a reason behind them other than they further the plot.

I would say that I like Guyen; he’s a nice hero to follow and I grow really sympathetic towards him around the point of the trial (again, sorry, no more than that for spoiler purposes). Actually, at that point, he really begins to shine as a character and I find that I like him quite a lot.

3. Favourite part

The trial! I cannot really describe this a whole lot because spoilers, but I can say that I really like it when logical arguments win out despite political machinations and angry people getting in the way. It’s pretty much my favourite thing to read.

4. Critique

My only real critique for this book is mentioned in section 1; the plot gets a little too bogged down in the detail. I don’t really have a problem with slow burn novels. In fact, I often prefer them. In this case, I just feel that the overarching plot was a little lost amongst the individual pieces. It’s not a huge issue, especially once you hit the 65% mark in the book and the pacing picks up a significant amount, making all those earlier details important, but it did take a bit to get through.

Overall, I would say that Nether Light is a solidly good book. The characters were interesting (Mist was my favourite) and the story was more on the unique scale for all of the pieces that seem “standard” for an epic fantasy. The magic was well-crafted, the world very realistic, and the ups and downs well paced. If you’re looking for a story to really sink your teeth into for a long weekend, this is definitely one to consider.

Imagine you’ve woken up in an unfamiliar place. Not jut an unfamiliar place, but an unfamiliar body and an unfamiliar life. You then discover that this is intentional. You have been brought to this place to solve a crime. There are eight chances. Eight bodies. And if you don’t solve the mystery, then you shall have to start over from the beginning, with no memory. Here’s the rub, though. You’re not the only one trying to solve the mystery. Stuart Turton’s The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a mystery novel that is something like a combination of Agatha Christie, Quantum Leap and it is stunning to read.

1. Thoughts on the plot

There is a lot going on with this plot. Not only do you have several main characters—well, only one main character, but the body jumping adds eight more to that—but you have several supporting characters, including the suspects. Included in this complex web are the events of the day that lead up to the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle, some of which make absolutely no sense, some of which seem like one thing and then become another. The plot clears up a touch as you move along, but this is definitely not something you can casually read. As a lover of mystery, I thought the plot was absolutely wonderful and really well thought out. I can only imagine the storyboarding involved in trying to keep everything straight.

2. Thoughts on the main character

Our main character, Aiden Bishop, is not an easy person to suss out. Part of the problem is that his personality often clashes or is overwhelmed by the personality of his host body. This makes for a very interesting read, as it is quite difficult to determine what parts are those of Aiden Bishop and what parts are those of the people whose lives he’s borrowed. Despite this complexity, I find that I really like Bishop. He is a character who doesn’t know why he’s been thrown into this horrid situation, but still manages to do his best to stop it. Not because solving the mystery brings his freedom from the terrible place, but because he seems to genuinely care about what is going on and about the people involved. Bishop is a likeable character, which is very interesting, since many of his hosts are not at all likeable. The way their personalities overlay Bishop’s and the way their lives cause the drama to play out is nothing short of artful.

3. Favourite part

This book was filled with so many interesting twists and turns that it’s not really possible for me to narrow it down to a single favourite part. I liked seeing the mystery being pulled together with the various threads. I think the part where we realised that things could be changed was extremely significant and the reactions of all involved probably made that one of the most noticeable for me. Though, I should have to say that I liked the whole book. There was no one favourite part.

4. Critique

I think the revelation about the, ah, circumstances that put Bishop into this realm of mystery (sorry, cannot say more for spoilers) was a bit underdeveloped. This is significant—hugely so—and it feels almost like an afterthought in the light of the mystery. Don’t get me wrong, I love mystery. I think that this book could have been nothing other than what it was, but I would have liked to have known more about this particular… situation.

Overall, I would say that The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was an extremely well-done mystery novel. The premise was unique, the characters were interesting and I devoured this book within a very short amount of time. It was not at all what I would have expected and I’m thankful for that. I think that this book is definitely EXCELLENT.

Thriller novels, where the world is threatened by something terrible, be it virus or bomb, and must be stopped by means of a couple very capable but under appreciated characters, rarely involve dolphins. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read a fair number of science fiction novels, so the application of dolphins to world-saving efforts is not unheard of (Douglas Adams, anyone?) but a thriller novel is something else entirely. So when I started reading John C Waite’s The Turpsios Syndrome, I was a bit surprised to learn that it involved actual dolphins. Except for that surprising piece of science fiction, this book is a contemporary thriller novel through and through, from the lawman trying to start a new life to the cop who is tired of being seen only as an attractive woman. Oh, and the world-threatening situation.

1. Thoughts on the plot

As far as plot goes, this particular novel did not deviate from the standards of the thriller genre. This made it fairly predictable, but not necessarily in a bad way. It is always good to know that the heros of our story—Hickory and Kevin—will triumph and that we average citizens will not end up dying by terrible means—in this instance, a nuclear bomb. I also think this familiarity helped smooth over some of the unusual nature that the focus on dolphins brought. That particular piece of science could very well be accurate (and, the science did check out as far as I can tell) but it was a little startling. However, when placed in conjunction with the adventure that Hickory and Kevin were on, it became an interesting piece of tech utilised in conjunction with our heros’ smarts and abilities to solve the immediate problem. That is, death.

2. Thoughts on the main character

This book follows a few main characters, but I am going to name Kevin and Hickory as our two primary main characters. Kevin is a former FBI agent turned National Parks Ranger after the tragic death of his wife. Hickory is an attractive woman who finds herself underestimated in her calling as a cop. These two meet up when Hickory finds a dying dolphin on the beach and calls in Kevin for help. They becoming increasingly entangled in terrible events and each other from there.

As far as characters go, I would have to say that neither Kevin nor Hickory is terribly spectacular. They follow the mold that has been created for them in many other thriller stories, being both disillusioned and capable, as well as dangerous and slightly-more-attractive-than-normal. This lack of uniqueness made them fit right in to the familiar thriller guidelines that we also get with the plot. However, I do not necessarily think that their manifestation as precisely what you would expect is a bad thing. It fits in with the plot and makes it easy to read, integrating you right into the story without much effort.

3. Favourite part

My favourite part is actually the main characters, Kevin and Hickory. They really did fit right in to the story and made reading it very smooth. There was no disjointedness with these characters; they flowed well and they did not defy my expectations. They were a great pleasure to read.

4. Critique

My least favourite part is also to do with a character, this time the doctor who makes the dolphins so important. Dr. Crabtree is definitely the odd-man-out in this book. He is written to be sensational and shocking in that his emotions for the dolphins borders on creepy (though it never crosses the line). And honestly, it doesn’t fit. If this book were perhaps more psychological than action-oriented, that would fit better. But as it stands, he is a character whose psychological motivations do not line up with the rest of the novel. For someone so smart, he misses a whole lot of extremely obvious points. And he is just a bit too creepy to fit into this novel of greedy villains and righteous villains. He soured me on the whole concept of the dolphins and their scientific benefit; taken alone, that would have been really fascinating. But taken with him, it was just strange.

Overall, I think this book is a good example of a contemporary thriller. It has all the elements you would expect and enough action to paint a clear picture (explosions included) in your mind. Excepting the piece with the dolphins, which loses its fascination due to their keeper, this piece is a good read for an afternoon when all is rainy and dull. I would rate this book as GOOD.

Short stories are a completely different form factor than novels. They try to tell a lasting story without having several hundred pages in which to do it. The best short stories create compelling characters, interesting plot points and memorable reactions with just a few words. Writing such a thing can be incredibly difficult, though, so when you find a good short story, take note. John C Waite’s collection of short stories, Beauty and the Singularity has a mix of short stories, which had an interesting take on many different thoughts.

I am not entirely sure on the theme for this collection of short stories. They seemed to all favour contemporary settings, with a few focusing more on thriller-esque ideas, and others on more human emotions and problems. This slight disparity in theme, though, worked well for this collection because you were not quite sure what to expect with each story. That was a compelling reason to keep reading.

Most of the stories were ones that I did not particularly care for, and part of that is just that they didn’t have a lasting effect on me or stir any great emotions in me. That is one of the harder parts of writing a short story—especially collections of short stories—is that they have to all be compelling. These were interesting, but not necessarily compelling. However, the signature piece in this collection, to do with a beautiful woman found in a coffin just when history seems to be repeating, was very good. It was interesting in its plot points; it kept me guessing and wondering until the very end. The characters were unique individuals that had the potential, I think, to be a whole story in of themselves. And the writing was fluid and smooth enough to keep me in the story. This story alone was so good that I could almost discount the lack of stirring emotion in the others.

There were two instances where I had to skip the story entirely. One was because I had read the story before, in a chapter in John Waite’s The Tursiops Syndrome, which I had previously read and reviewed. The other was because the formatting was so difficult and jarring that I couldn’t read but two paragraphs before having to give up. I would say that if such things as formatting errors don’t bother you, the story would potentially be good, but this formatting was a bit much for me.

On the whole, I would say that there were some gems in this collection and some average stories. This is much like what I would expect from a collection of short stories. The gems, though, were very good. However, for a collection to be taken as a whole, I would have to say that this collection was AVERAGE to FAIR.

In this modern time, people are often surrounded by social media. Taking pictures for Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, posting status updates on Twitter or Snapchat, these things are all normal activities for many people every day. It can be an empty feeling to be unconnected in the world of social media, but it can be just as pressure-filled to be always connected. Ideal Angels by Robert Welbourn explores the idea of connection in the age of social media. This book follows a whirlwind relationship between two characters as they navigate the ups and downs of living a life online. Ideal Angels is written in the second person and throws you right into the middle of one of the fastest weeks of your life.

1. Thoughts on the plot

The plot itself is fairly simple. Boy meets girl—probably the perfect girl—and they end up in a relationship. Said relationship moves quickly until life happens and then, well… spoilers. I would say that this familiar plot is actually a useful device, as the book takes a very, very close look at what goes on during this whirlwind week. Everything explored is a typical reaction or feeling and yet it is quite different seeing things on such a minute scale through the eyes of a character that is meant to be, as strange as it is, you.

2. Thoughts on the main character

It is a very strange thing to be told that you are the main character. Often people can relate to characters in books and they can see themselves participating in the plot, facing the problems, saving the day. However, when you are told that you are the one doing all of the action as opposed to just watching it, things become very strange. The main character makes questionable decisions. I know they’re questionable, you know they’re questionable, even he—you as he—knows they’re questionable. But suddenly everything feels different because it is not some person that you’re reading about making these decisions. You are making these decisions.

For me, this was a very bizarre sensation. I found it easier if I thought about myself as the narrator and the main character as someone I know and can picture in the situation. This made things easier and it was then possible for me to distance myself from the character enough to see the story rather than the moment.

3. Favourite part

I found the progression of the main character as the most fascinating part. He developed in a direction that I would not have expected. It was very interesting to see that progression in regards to you/myself as the main character. It was also interesting because the reader got to see every thought, every idea, every action, as the character saw and participated in the action. The imagery was vague, but the thoughts were clear. It was, frankly, very much like life. And to see that character progress in such a manner was extremely intimate and a little disconcerting. But fascinating.

4. Critique

This was one of the first times I’ve read a longer piece in second person perspective. I would have to say that it, combined with the longer, run-on sentences and the slightly disjointed progression of thought, made this book a little difficult to read. Reading Ideal Angels felt unlike any book I’ve read before (well, except some of the samysdat books from the twentieth century Russian authors). Instead, this felt very much like reading an avant garde piece of art. Which is to say, it was interesting, I understood it, but it was a little unsettling and bizarre. I imagine this is rather the point, but even so.

Overall, this book read a lot like an Albert Camus novel with a modern take on the world. It was a completely different artform from what I’m used to and it was fascinating and a little strange to see how it turned out. Still, the message was very clear and this is definitely a story that will stick with me for a while. I would rate this book as right between GOOD and VERY GOOD.

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