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Smashwords book reviews by Nitza Jones-Sepulveda
- The Moon Dwellers
on Dec. 03, 2012
I received a free copy of The Mood Dwellers, the first book in the Dwellers trilogy, from author David Estes (thanks, Mr. Estes) in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the Hunger Games trilogy, I have become a devout fan of dystopian fiction. I definitely feel that The Mood Dwellers belongs in the same category as the Hunger Games, the Razorland trilogy, and other similar novels. It is an action packed, suspenseful page-turner and I enjoyed every minute reading it.
Here is the situation. After a series of events made the earth’s surface inhabitable, humans were forced to go underground and eventually create the Tri-realms: the Sun Realm, the Moon Realm, and the Star Realm. Seventeen- year-old Adele Rose is in the Pen as part of a life sentence after her parents were arrested and convicted as traitors. When she turns 18, which will be soon, she will be transferred to the “Max” to serve out the rest of her sentence. Her younger sister, Elsey, is currently at an orphanage and her parents have been taken to parts unknown, possibly dead. With the help of her new friends Tawni and Cole, Adele is determined to break out of the Pen and find her family.
One day, while sitting in the courtyard of the Pen, Adele spots Tristan Nailin as he travels past during his tour of the Mood Realm. Tristan is a Sun Dweller and the eldest son of President Nailin who rules the Tri-Realms. Tristan is a celebrity within the Tri-realms and most girls would do anything just to be in his presence. Adele, however, has never been enticed by his status or his good looks. To her, Tristan is just a spoil Sun dweller that lives a life of luxury in the Sun Realm while the Moon and Star dwellers suffer a life of poverty and hardship. When Tristan and Adele make eye contact, however, they experience intense headaches for reasons unknown. Tristan detests his father, the Sun Realm, and his celebrity status. Curious about his intense attraction to Adele (but, not in the “love-at-first-sight” kind of way) and the intense pain that he experiences in her presence and desperate to get away from his father and the Sun Realm, Tristan decides to go on a journey, with his friend and servant Roc, to the Moon Realm to find Adele. And to top off everything, a war begins to brew within the Tri-Realms. The story is told in the alternating points of view of Adele and Tristan.
All the characters in this book are three dimensional with strong personalities, especially the main characters Adele and Tristan. There are no shallow characters; actually those types of people are severely frowned upon by Adele, Tristan and their friends. I think my favorite character was Cole. He is a really intense, mysterious man who is quick tempered but just as quickly comical and forgiving. He is also very protective and is a good judge of character. Although he is very curious about her, he seems to trust Adele and want to help her quite quickly. In turn, Cole’s sarcastic nature helps to break the ice that has formed around Adele over her 6 months in the Pen. Adele is quickly drawn to and mirrors Cole’s humor. There are a few interactions between them that had me laughing out loud. As a matter of fact, a good amount of sarcasm and comic relief can be found throughout the book, even within the thoughts of Adele and Tristan.
For the action fans out there, you will definitely not be disappointed with this book. There are plenty of battle scenes that include swords, whips, guns, and Tasers. But the most intriguing one are the old fashioned, hand to hand battles where there is taunting and the participants circle each other before engaging. And despite the obvious separation of classes (Sun dwellers being the upper class, Moon being the middle and Star being the lower) and the dictatorship society (although, Tristan mentions many times how his father wants to be referred to as President rather than King…you know, to give the illusion of a democracy when there clearly isn’t one…classic dystopian), there still remains a sense of fair play in battle, at least on occasion. For example, in the Pen, when a fight breaks out between two prisoners (or “guests” as the guards ironically call them), even if one of the prisoners has a group of friends or is a part of a gang, no one is to interfere with the battle.
I would have to agree with one reviewer who questioned the characters’ ability to heal quickly. I don’t feel it is in the sense that one minute the character is badly injured and the next they’re 100% better. It’s more like at one point the character is injured to the point of needing medical attention and a scene or two later, the injury is kind of an after-thought as the character gets involved in another life threatening situation, performing heroic deeds. I will take the question even further, however, by asking how in a post-apocalyptic world where people are suffering from poverty can these kids get access to proper medical supplies? For example, not giving too much away, there is a point where Tristan and Roc suffer severe injury in battle and one of the characters (won’t name names to avoid spoilers) is able to hide safely and get food, medical supplies, and mats within a relatively short amount of time. I know this is fiction and the protagonists are supposed to overcome great adversity to accomplish their goals, but most readers would prefer that this be at least somewhat realistic. And this is not to single out Mr. Estes and his writing...this is not the first time I’ve seen this. It’s not a huge turn off for me, but it is the kind of thing that has my scratching my head a little.
There is one mistake that I found and I wonder if it was purposeful or if I read it wrong (I went back a couple of times to make sure). As I mentioned, the book alternates between the POV of Adele and Tristan and each change in POV is labeled. Not to veer off the topic, but one of the things I loved about this novel is how the POV is changed at just the right moment of suspense. The last time I read such good structuring was in The Help. Anyhow, at one point in the book, Tristan is treading cautiously trying to get past some soldiers. The section ends with Tristan stating “something stabs me in the back.” Again, a good way to end the section before changing to the POV of Adele. However, in the next section, we find out that Tristan was actually hit in the jaw (again, no major spoilers). This left me scratching my head and going back and rereading Tristan’s section again. How can he say something stabbed him in the back, when he was obviously hit in the face? Am I missing something here?
For those romantics out there like myself, there is a bit of romance. Now, I haven’t read too many male authors, at least not many current one, so I can’t speak from vast experience; however, I will admit that I was a little surprised by the romantic angle, even if it is subdued compared to other books I’ve read in this genre. What surprised me was that it was brought in so early on in the book, kind of giving the impression that this is going to be the central theme that drives the novel. That feeling is immediately squashed, however, as Mr. Estes makes it clear that this isn’t going to be a mushy, lovey-dovey type of romance. Adele and Tristan both state that their pull towards each other is not the “love-at-first-sight” type of attraction, but one that is more obscure and that cannot be clearly labeled. So if you’re looking for something that is obviously sappy, full of hugs, hand-holding, and kisses, then I suggest looking elsewhere. That type of stuff is not of abundance in the book and I seriously doubt that the rest of the story will be much different. I actually have a couple of theories about Adele and Tristan’s connection, but I can’t go into them without spoilers.
To sum it up, I highly recommend this novel to any fan of dystopian fiction, or even those who just read the description and find themselves curious. I doubt anyone who gives it a chance will be disappointed. I can’t wait to read the last two books in the series to see how things turn out for Adele, Tristan, and the Tri-Realm. I actually enjoyed Mr. Estes’s writing style so much that I purchased the first book of his Evolution trilogy ($0.99 on smashword.com) as it seems to be a part of another one of my favorite YA genres, the supernatural.
- Angel Evolution
on Dec. 24, 2012
This review can also be viewed on http://reneesdepository.blogspot.com/
After reading The Moon Dwellers (Book #1 Dweller trilogy), I became hook to David Estes’ style, so I decided to read Angel Evolution (Book #1 Evolution trilogy) which was his first novel. I’d love to be able to give it the rave review that I gave Moon Dwellers, but alas, I cannot. He was still able to reel me in, but I found issue with a lot more things in this novel. I try to give authors the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their first novels because any reader or writer knows that the first work is usually not one’s best work. I will definitely do the same for Mr. Estes because I know from reading Moon Dwellers that his technique has improved.
Taylor is a freshman at the University of Trinton when she meets Gabriel Knight. She notices a light shining around him that no one else seems to see. She is curious about him, but also seems to fear him. She later learns that Gabriel is an angel and soon falls in love with him. Little does Taylor know that their meeting and her infatuation was planned as Gabriel was sent there on a mission for his people…to convince Taylor to join the angels in the Great War against the demons. However, as Gabriel spends time with Taylor, he develops real feelings for her. This leads to internal conflict for Gabriel…does he follow his orders and get Taylor to join the angel cause and help with “the plan” or does he follow his heart and protect the one he loves even if it means going against everything he knows?
The plot and story line of the novel did hook me. I like the fact that the characters are in their first year of college and that parents play a very minor role (they’re hardly mentioned at all). I like this in contrast to most other YA novels where the characters are in High School, making the characters slightly more mature (although you must take into account that it’s their first year and their first time away from home, which is usually when most college students are the craziest). I also like that the world of Angels and Demons in this novel is very different than most other Angel/Demon novels I've read (i.e., Fallen and Hush, Hush). You pretty much have to forget everything you learned in Sunday school or Church when you read this; there are no religious aspects to this world. The story of how the Angels and Demons came to exist is different, they have more powers, and their views in regards to humans are different.
However, there were a few things that annoyed me about this book. First, being my second novel by Mr. Estes, I notice that he likes to give the reader more than one character’s point-of-view (POV). When done well, as in The Moon Dwellers, this can be unique, versatile, and enlightening. However, in this novel it often became annoying and confusing. It is particularly annoying and confusing when he switches POV several times within the same scene or chapter. Let me also point out that the entire story is told in the third person, so the constant switching wasn't always necessary. There were actually instances where I found myself saying “ OK, whose mind are we looking into now?” Finding out what was going on in the minds of everyone was great and all, but seriously not worth all the confusion with the switching. I think that having the story in the third person rather than first allows for much better options to get into everyone’s head.
My second issue is a rather minor one, but I was still annoyed. There was one instance in the novel where I felt Mr. Estes overstated the obvious. Taylor and Sam are at a pizza parlor with Gabriel and another guy (not mentioning names to avoid spoilers). Sam orders 3 pizza pies to eat between the four of them (a bit too much food if you ask me). The point of the scene is to show some rivalry between characters as they eat the pizza. The part that annoyed me was that Mr. Estes broke down the basic math. Three pies, 10 slices in each, half of one pie was eaten, 25 slices left, two characters ate 12 each, yadda, yadda. I understand that this is a YA novel and I’m all for details, but I feel that sometimes authors really need to give readers the benefit of the doubt and have confidence that they can follow along without everything being explained. In this case, assume the reader is able to do basic math (or at the very least knows how to use a calculator). I’m pretty sure if I asked my 12 year old niece “if there are three pies with 10 slices in each and half of one pie was eaten, how many is left?” she’d know the answer, even if it took her a minute to think about it. Plus, the exact math was not the real point of the situation, so why spend so much time explaining it? Granted in the end it didn't deter me from finishing the book, but I did spend a moment thinking “seriously? That needed to be explained?”
Third, Taylor as a character contradicts herself. She goes on and on about how her mother taught her to be strong and independent and yet time and again she give into temptation. She talks about how she’s not going to let Gabriel control how the relationship progresses, even shows it by not letting him hold her hand or put his arm around her in public. However, she gives into him rather quickly. Although she admits to not having much experience with relationships, I don’t feel that a woman who claims to be so strong and independent would give themselves to someone so easily and so quickly. I feel that Gabriel should’ve had to work harder to convince her. Maybe it would've made the book longer, but it would've been a bit more realistic and made Taylor a stronger character.
Finally, some characters and their interactions annoyed me. Sam is extremely annoying, which I’m sure Mr. Estes was going for. How she and Taylor could be friends for so long considering that they’re polar opposites (Sam a beautiful, shallow, vain socialite and Taylor an average looking, modest, and socially awkward introvert) is beyond me. To Sam’s credit, however, she does really care for Taylor and it is sad that it takes so long in the book for us to truly see any real substance within Sam. Having said that, throughout most of the novel every time she said anything I wanted to scream "oh, for the love of God, shut up!"
Taylor's use of the word "man" (e.g., "Are you screwin' with me, man?") bothered me as well because I just didn't feel it fit Taylor's character, at least not the way I pictured her in my head. Granted it was only a few instances but that only made it feel even more unnatural. When Gabriel used the term (e.g., "Look, man, I didn't expect to...") it felt a bit more natural to me because of when and how he said it and because of the kind of character I envision him to be. But when Taylor said it, it just felt wrong. I believe there are some characters in books (both male and female) that are presented in a way that its natural for them to say particular slang terms and phrases such as this. I just don't feel that Taylor is one of those characters.
I also think that some of the dialogue between the characters, particularly the comical moments, felt unnatural. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can give an example without giving too much away, so all I can really say is that the some of the jokes were cliché and felt forced.
And I hate the nickname “Tay”. Just need to say that.
I always like to read what other reviewers post before reading a book, just to see what the consensus is. I recall one reviewer stating that Taylor is unaware at how “special” she is or that she’s pretty and that is all you need to know about the plot. I disagree. First, while it is pivotal to the plot, Taylor’s specialness and attractiveness are not the only things at stake here. There are a lot of internal conflicts going on within Gabriel and they’re not all centered around Taylor, although she does bring things to a head. Gabriel has been trained from birth to think a particular way and to follow orders, but he seems to have questions about a lot of his “training” long before he met Taylor; Taylor just gave him more reason to question them. Second, the way that Taylor is “special” is not the sort of thing she or anyone else would be aware of. As far as her realizing that she’s pretty, that’s normal among teenage girls. I know of very few young girls that are completely well-adjusted (even the ones who are obnoxiously so on the outside, like Sam, aren't when you look deep into them).
Overall, I wasn't thoroughly impressed with this book, particularly after reading The Moon Dwellers. So if you’re reading this book first and you find yourself questioning whether you want to read anything else by Mr. Estes, I implore you to read Moon Dwellers before making that decision. If you are reading this book first and you really love it, I say brace yourself because it gets even better. I do plan on seeing this series through and I will give you my perceptions on the other two books. I recommend this book to all Angel/Demon fans because it’s different from other Angel/Demon novels. I did like this book, but The Moon Dwellers is still my favorite Estes book.
- Guardians Of The Akasha
on March 04, 2013
I read this book as a read & review. When I first agreed to the R&R, I wasn't sure if I was going to like the book. The plot seemed interesting enough, but something I couldn't quite put my finger on left me a bit skeptical. After reading it, I am happy that I gave it a chance and that I had proven myself wrong.
Akasha literally means ‘space’…Everything around us, from the smallest atom to the biggest planet is connected through the Akasha.
What is the Akasha? That is the major question throughout this novel. The easiest explanation for it is the quote above. It is not an alternate dimension, but rather an area between dimensions that connects them. Since it connects all dimensions and realities, any manipulation of the Akasha can alter time and dimensions as they are currently known. Hence the need for the Guardians for the Akasha, to guard the Akasha from those intent on misusing it for personal gain. The Guardians are people who are born with the special ability to manipulate space and energy. This ability tends to run in specific families, why some members possess these powers while others don’t is unclear.
Keira finds out that not only is she one of these special people with these abilities—not the lone weirdo freak that she had believed herself to be all this time—but that her powers are great and that she has a specific destiny within the Guardians.
Keira is a very likable protagonist. Her overall strength is seen from the beginning of the book. She has a rebellious nature and a desire to follow her own path. As she learns more about the Guardians and her destiny, there is a sense of obvious confusion within her, yet she still has the ability to make up her own mind and make her own choices. This puts her and Marco, the commander of the Draaken (warriors who protect the Guardians) who has sworn to Keira’s Aunt Victoria to protect her, at odds with each other constantly.
One issue that I have to mimic other reviewers on is that there is a lacking in development. Many times we’re taken from one place or situation to another without much explanation as to how we got there. Keira definitely went through a transformation as she learned about the Akasha and her powers, but there really was no development there. One scene she’s a typical human high school graduate, with no real understanding about the Akasha and her powers and the next she seems to understand and know everything and has morphed into this powerful girl. There is very little description or explanation of how she got to this point. As Keira described it, the whole training felt like only days as opposed to weeks. It could very well be explained by the factor that in the dimension she was in during her training, time seems to have slowed to almost a standstill, but still more development there would've been helpful.
Also, there is one instance in particular that seems very much unrealistic. Without giving too much away, basically Keira and the Guardians go from one country to another to intercept a plane that is about to take off. I understand that this is a fantasy novel and in a fantasy novel almost anything is possible, but there still needs to be just at least some realism. This scene in particular seemed way too convenient for my taste.
Other than Keira, little Amber was by far the bravest character in the novel. She is a nine-year-old daughter of the cook and groundskeeper of the Castle of the Guardians. Don’t let her age fool you; she has a lot of spunk and courage for a young girl. I don’t want to give anything way, so I’ll just say that Amber was very much a savior as Keira, Marco, and the Draaken.
This book was very intriguing, creative and a fun read. The world of the Draaken, the Guardians, and the Akasha was very different than many of the other fantasy YA novels I have read. However, because of its uniqueness, a little more explanation and development would've been helpful. It is not listed on Goodreads or Smashwords as part of a series, but the ending does leave room for a least a sequel. If there is one, I would very much like to find out how the minor cliffhanger develops.
- Fire Country
on March 23, 2013
See full review at http://reneesdepository.blogspot.com
Fire Country is the first book of the Country series, which is the sister series to David’s Dwellers series. Now I have to admit that I have yet to finish David’s Dweller and Evolution series, but I previously did a cover reveal for this book and it was the monthly read in an online book group I’m in, so I had to move this book up in my to-read list. As with Moon Dwellers, David did not disappoint me with this novel. Actually, I can say with all honestly that it’s the best book I've read by him so far. I have become a great fan of his.
The main difference between this book and other books that I have read so far by David is the dialect of this society. Not to go off a topic, but I have a friend who once told me that he couldn't read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because of all the made-up language. I personally feel the made-up terms helped make the world of Harry Potter what it is, but I can understand how daunting it can be to read something with words that you can’t find in a dictionary (or that can be but have a totally different meaning). Even though most of the time the new terms are defined or at the very least explained, you have to get your mind used to them and their usage. Once you get into Harry Potter, for example, words like "muggle" become second nature to you and you learn to love the new terms. That’s what happened when I first started reading the dialect of Fire Country. Getting used to their dialect wasn't all that difficult for me and I actually really liked it (not like Blood Red Road, where I found the language cool at first and then quickly got annoyed with it or Bumped where I hated it off the bat). It kind of reminds me of the dialect of the southern states and considering that this region is plagued by extreme heat and desert, makes me wonder if Fire Country is located within that region. And trading words like “burnin’”, “searin’”, and “blaze” for common swear words is a good way to sneak such words into a teen book.
David gave a lot of character development in Siena. She goes from a skinny, weak, “youngling” to a still skinny, but strong warrior. Even though the time and circumstances are different from what we know today, a lot of what she goes through mentally (growing pains, trouble fitting in, rebellion, grief) ring true for many teenagers today. In the beginning of the book, she’s so shy and unsure of herself because she’s small and scrawny and isn't popular, but as the novel goes on, she gains great strength. Despite her insecurities and small stature, however, you can see the rebellion in her from the beginning, just from her constant use of “words that’d draw my father’s hand across my face like lightening.” Every time she rebelled against her father, I mentally routed for her and then cringed when she was punished for it. As terrible as it was, it was a good thing because it made her that much stronger.
I love Circ. He was such a good friend to Siena. It was obvious that he would do anything for her. I don’t know about everyone else, but I could kind of see that he was interested in her as more than a friend from the beginning. I think it was something about the lengths he seemed to be willing to go for her and their interactions with each other that screamed more than just close friendship. Maybe as “todders” or “midders” these things would be strictly friendship, but not as “youngling” and “pre-bearer”.
Siena’s father is such a cruel and selfish man and is way too hard on Siena and her mother. Siena says that he wasn't always that way; that there was a time when he taught her things and played with her and was happy. Somehow I have a very hard time believing that. The man portrayed in this book is power-hungry, egotistical, and self-centered. Some the secrets that he and the other Greynotes (the oldest members of Fire Country) have been harvesting did not seem all that big at first, but the more that is revealed, the meaner and selfish Siena father becomes.
Even though this is not the first novel I have read with a society that dictates when a young girl should marry and have children and/or allows men to have multiple wives or child bearers, I still am angry and appalled with every such novel I read. In Fire Country, the Law states that girls become "bearers" at age sixteen (which is middle age considering that, on average, the life expectancy for men is 30 and for women is 32) and they have a ceremony called "the Call" where a mate is selected from a list of eligible boys (18 years or older, which Siena finds unfair). Then they are to immediately conceive a child and continue to have one child every three years thereafter. A "full family" is one that consists of one man, three "Calls" and nine children. Men are allowed more than one Call, but women are to remain with their Call, unless they die in which case a new call is selected. The main purpose for this is to keep their people from dying out. Considering how short the life expectancy of the people due to their environment, it is reasonable to try to ensure that their population remains stable. However, women get the short end of this deal and are being used. They are not allowed any say into who their call is, even though they will be forced to be intimate and share a life with that person for the rest of their short life. They are forced to bear children at 16, whether they want to or are ready to or not. The amount of children and how often they have them is dictated. Men are allowed more than one "Call", but women are not even allowed male friends after their Call, which means Siena and Circ can no longer be friends. It's amazing how people who are so essential to their population have the least amount of rights.
I greatly recommend this novel to dystopian/apocalyptic fans. I look forward to the next installment to the series Ice Country next month.