Alysa H

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Smashwords book reviews by Alysa H

  • Winter Fae on Jan. 27, 2013

    I won a copy of this in Elle Casey's January Anniversary Indie Book Giveaway. I liked this a lot! Lovely, evocative writing. I'm looking forward to the upcoming novel for which it serves as a prequel I want to see what happens next to the little boy here who shall grow up unaware of his half-fae heritage.
  • Foxblood #1: A Brush with the Moon on Feb. 21, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in Elle Casey's January Anniversary Indie Book Giveaway. This had a lot going for it, and in the beginning I liked it a lot - promising characters in Sophie and her friends, some nice gothic mystery trappings - but as it went on it was rather disappointing. There is a lot of complex, original supernatural mythology, but it didn't have nearly enough world-building. It was all crammed into one book at a weird kind of fast pace - it almost felt like watching a movie on Fast-Forward! Also, I could never get a real handle on who Sophie was as a person. Her characterization was kind of inconsistent, which was fine for other characters whose motivations remain mysterious to help drive the plot, but mostly just confusing in the lead POV. I also had issue with the grammar throughout - mostly with commas, or lack thereof. In short, there were some nice ideas here, but it felt more like a first draft than a polished novel.
  • Codename: Dancer on Feb. 25, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in Elle Casey's January Anniversary Indie Book Giveaway. This was a fun little book, but I'm having some trouble reviewing it because although I read a lot of YA books, this one was a bit too "Y" for me. If I had a teenage daughter into current teen pop-culture, I think she'd enjoy it (though as a parent I would probably wish that it had just a tad more substance). I liked the relationships between the narrator, Dani, and her small circle of friends. I could have done without such the "mean girls" undercurrent from elsewhere, as that's been done to death. I guess I can handwave this as making sense in a dance program at an Arts boarding school, but I do hope that is just fictional stereotyping. The "teen reality tv show" plot line was also quite amusing as a source of mystery, as there isn't usually any mystery to such things! I wish it had been just a touch longer. I was surprised when the (Kindle) book ended at 79% read (the remaining 21% had a glossary of dance terms, a preview of Book 2, and excerpts from two other unrelated books by different authors). The ending was good, but abrupt. Perhaps Dani's friends (Maya, et al.) could have been developed more with the extra space? I would have liked to see them more as people than as sidekicks. This book was good but not great. Altogether, I'm happy that I read it.
  • A Not-So-Grimm Fairytale on March 07, 2013

    This was a lot of fun! And since it's short, it makes a great introduction to Somerville's work.
  • Beautiful Demons (Peachville High Demons, #1) on March 21, 2013

    Fun book! This series is off to a great start.
  • Bitter Demons (Peachville High Demons, #3) on March 21, 2013

    Still loving this series!
  • Demons Forever (Peachville High Demons, #6) on March 21, 2013

    Great series, satisfying conclusion.
  • Inner Demons (Peachville High Demons, #2) on March 21, 2013

    Still loving this series!
  • Rival Demons (Peachville High Demons, #5) on March 21, 2013

    Still loving this series!
  • Shadow Demons (Peachville High Demons, #4) on March 21, 2013

    Still loving this series!
  • Two Halves on March 21, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in Elle Casey's January Anniversary Indie Book Giveaway. There are some intriguing ideas here - notably the special plant-based serums and how they interact with the strange biology of the human/vampire hybrids, and the underdeveloped notion that humans, vampires and warlocks are more or less "good", fighting on the same side against "bad" demons - but overall this book really didn't work for me. For a start, the two romantic leads, Sarah and William, are meant to be about the same age (early 20s), but through most of the book Sarah comes across more like a lovestruck 12-year-old to William's adult svengali figure. It makes sense that since Sarah starts out largely unaware of her true powers as a hybrid, whereas William knows all about his, that he would have to teach her, but this does not necessitate the drippy tone of their interactions. Sarah is also not allowed to be her own fully-realized person, because she spends the entire book either ignorant, or as "William's other half". She is defined only in relation to him, and their shared destiny. There is also a lot of logistical stuff that doesn't make any sense - like the speed at which they travel (non-supernaturally) to the Amazon, and how they live in a cabin whilst there. Plus this book is kind of long, and padded with way too much telling and not enough showing: too much exposition and somewhat repetitive internal monologuing. There are also quite a few dei ex machina that annoyed me. But at least there weren't too many grammatical errors! Now, before I read this book, the author encouraged me to start with Marked: A Two Halves Novella first. As far as I can tell, Marked was released after Two Halves, as a "prequel", but the author retroactively decided to make it "Book 1" because,though significantly shorter, it takes place first, chronologically speaking. I wish that I had ignored the advice and started with Two Halves. I won't get into Spoilers here; I'll just say that what few interesting twists and reveals this book contains were ruined for me because I had read the prequel and easily saw everything coming. That was a real shame, because some of those twists and reveals may have helped to redeem this book a bit. I will put this in my review of Marked, as well, but to be clear - a "prequel" by definition works best when performing it's proper function: to deepen one's understanding of (and hopefully appreciation for) events and characters that you already know from the initial "main work". So for me, it was not allowed to perform that proper function. That being said, I did actually like Marked just slightly better than Two Halves, as it is a different beast altogether and revolves around secondary characters from Two Halves that are far more interesting than Sarah and William. And I probably would not have read it had I started with Two Halves.
  • Marked: A Two Halves Novella on March 21, 2013

    I won a copy of Two Halves in Elle Casey's January Anniversary Indie Book Giveaway, and the author encouraged me to read this book, Marked, first. As far as I can tell, Marked was released after Two Halves, as a "prequel", but the author retroactively decided to make it "Book 1" because, though significantly shorter, it takes place first, chronologically speaking. I did actually like Marked better than Two Halves, as it revolves around that book's secondary characters who are far more interesting than its leads, and I may not have bothered to read Marked if I had started with Two Halves (which I did not like very much). That being said, part of me still wishes that I had started with Two Halves. A "prequel" by definition works best when performing it's proper function: to deepen one's understanding of (and hopefully appreciation for) events and characters that you already know from the initial "main work". If you start the series with Marked, it will not perform that function. Also, you'll be spoiled for some of the better twists and turns in Two Halves! But I do want to talk about Marked on its own merits! There are some intriguing ideas here about shapeshifting and identity, choices and destiny. I quite liked Mira and Xander as characters, though I wish the author had used them to play more with ideas about gender and gender roles, rather than playing it super safe by keeping them locked into stereotypical gendered positions and behaviors (Two Halves has similar problems). The events in this novella also have a kind of epic sweeping quality that make it seem like they should take place over a long period of time, rather than basically one or two days: For example, Xander's grand love for a woman just is, rather than being given time to prove true. Nothing is earned, it just is. Apart from that, Marked is a nicely written, short bit of escapist fantasy, and I must grudgingly admit that the author is savvy to promote it [free] as a gateway into the series simply because it's the better book between the two, and will therefore result in more people buying the next one.
  • Dancing Days on March 21, 2013

    This was an amusing enough read, though very breezy. Some nice ideas - and an interesting take on the mythology of muses - but didn't have much nuance, and I didn't feel invested in any of the characters. I mostly did not like the idea that an abusive boyfriend's actions are simply in his nature, and therefore not in his control.
  • The Church of Cecilia on April 01, 2013

    An experimental kind of story with some cool dream-imagery, but the entire thing read like one long dream with little in the way of actual narrative. Not really my thing. The story did an end, but it was rather difficult to care about.
  • Heiress of Lies (Bloodtruth #1) on April 03, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in Elle Casey's January Anniversary Indie Book Giveaway. First things first: the prologue. I get what the author was trying to do here, of course: give us a taste of what's to come later, so that we know what climax we are building towards. But in the case of this book, the prologue gave away far too much. Therefore the book did not have enough tension or surprises as it went on. Adding insult to injury, the prologue is repeated as Chapter 35 *word for word* as far as I could tell!!! With only one short final chapter after that - which resolves nothing, really, except perhaps readers' interest in Book 2. This just feels like lazy writing (which is a complaint I had about a lot of this book, actually, especially where the romance is concerned). This had a pretty fresh take on vampires, which I appreciated, but that being said I didn't think that the take was developed enough *as vampirism*. That is, the vampire coven seems simply like a political faction against the Robarts' reign over the Kingdom of Altera, as opposed to a dangerous supernatural enemy. Their threat never quite feels visceral, only political, which is an odd thing when you're talking about blood-drinking immortals. I generally liked the main character, Angeline. She is compelling, smart beyond her 18 years, and massively pissed off when she finds out that she's been lied to so deeply her whole life - truly an heiress of lies! However, I take issue with the following: rather than calling out the raging sexism of her world, she - and thus the book itself - simply repeat various iterations of "She cursed the day she wasn't born male", thus upholding male superiority without real question. One would think that as part of Angeline's 're-education' (also via males) in this story, she would call out how messed up that is rather than going along with everything. She remains a pawn being manipulated by men, and the book doesn't give any indication that it's aware of social commentary. The book plays it straight, and the excerpt from Book 2 didn't give me a sense that the rest of Angeline's tale will be all that different.
  • DEAD(ish) on April 11, 2013

    More of a longish-short story than a novella, even. This is an odd little tale full of unreliable narrators, switching POV constantly in an experimental kind of way. I dug that, but did not dig the casual homophobia and misogyny. I get a sense that the author was trying to be clever and undermine such things, but it didn't really work.
  • The Earth Painter on April 11, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in Elle Casey's January Anniversary Indie Book Giveaway. I enjoyed reading this, but I'm having some trouble reviewing it because although I read a lot of YA books, this one skewed a bit too "Y" for me. Now, I don't need my 18-yr-old heroines to read like fully-formed adults (it's kind of annoying when they do!) but it grates a little when they read more like they're 15, as is the case with Holly, the protagonist of this book. I liked how some of Holly's relationships were fleshed out, particularly with her mother and with her friend Anthony's mother, but there was something about how her other relationships - with humans, anyway! - were written that felt lacking. Shelby is the *only* other teenage girl with whom Holly is friendly, or even mentioned by name if I recall correctly. Holly's only other friends are the vastly more interesting Anthony and Wayne, the latter of whom has an unrequited crush on Holly. (At one point, it is implied that Holly's disinterest in Wayne is invalid and she should give him a chance for no apparent reason other than that he likes her, and isn't that what all girls want? For boys to like them? Needless to say, this undertone kind of pissed me off). And as for Theo, Holly's "non-human" friend and the object of her crush? He's more of an idea than a person, and as such he's really not all that interesting when you think about it. He's only interesting insofar as he shows and tells Holly things about herself. That's another reason the book skews young - it's got a lot of gentle lessons for teen girls about self-esteem, being one's own person, etc. On a related note, there is also a lot of thinly-veiled Christian ethos here. But as a non-Christian, I was able to enjoy the book for itself without trying to interpret its mythology and moralizing in any specifically Christian way. In this regard, it's got a certain C.S. Lewis thing going for it. Lastly, although I am always willing to cut self-published authors a lot of slack about typos and spelling and grammatical errors - especially when a book is otherwise great! - this book had a few that were just so distracting that they're worth mentioning here. For instance, at one point Holly wonders, facetiously, if groups of boys wearing cowboy boots form "posies" rather than "posses". Um, let's say I laughed out loud picturing them doing a floral arrangement. Altogether, I'm happy that I read this but will probably not continue with Book 2.
  • Eternal Spring (A Young Adult Short Story Collection) on April 15, 2013

    I picked up this collection mostly for Tawny Stokes' Caden Butcher story (and more distantly for Amanda Brice's Dani Spevak story), but I discovered a few other nice surprises from authors previously unknown to me (particularly Juli Alexander, Rhonda Stapleton, and P.R. Mason in no particular order). Too bad ALL the stories weren't as good!
  • Coville's Book of Fear on April 21, 2013

    Definitely lives up to its name - these short stories are truly creepy! And a great, albeit brief, introduction to Coville's work, clearly, since I had not read any before and now plan to seek out plenty more (although I gather he doesn't always skew toward the scary). I also want to add, just because, that this was my gateway drug to Smashwords. I had not heard of this site before an acquaintance - a Coville fan - mentioned him having stuff here. I think he was holding a sale perhaps? This was about 6 months ago now, and I only wish I hadn't sat on this book for so long after purchasing it at the time! But in any case, I'm so glad I found Coville in this way. Thank you for the nightmares!
  • Scapemaker on May 08, 2013

    I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. There were a lot of good ideas in this book - the general premise, the school for dreamscapers -- basically people who shape all dreams -- which can be visited either in either lucid dreams or in one's physical body, the Sandstorm prison, the "haunted house", just to name a few. Apart from a few things that were not fully explained, this book did at least do a good, largely well-paced job of fantasy-world-building (and for a book this long, it better have). Unfortunately, for me, the good ideas did not trump the poor execution. There were problems with grammar, punctuation, various "isms", characterization, POV-jumping -- you name it and it was problematic. It feels like this book was never edited or proofed at all. In fact, all of this was so bad that I actually feel a bit used. It's as if the author is using his Read-2-Reviewers as editors, rather than sending a real finished book out into the world. Aside from grammar, punctuation, and word-choice problems, this was just WORDY WORDY WORDY. I'm not sure how to best describe this... It was like, the author was watching his story as a movie in his head and trying to describe every action with as much detail as possible so that his readers would be able to mentally replicate his vision. I'm sure that this comes from a good place - that the author loves his created world so much that he wants to render it exactly - but it's really a snooze to read, and takes away readers' ability to imagine and perhaps love this world, too. Description is nice; too much description is not, and can even border on insulting. There is also a lot of e-ink wasted on unfunny jokes. Related to the "wordy" problem is that many of the characters speak in really affected ways. They tend to speechify, for example, and those who do not speechify go the opposite direction, not speaking enough and being given to giggling and catchphrases. The two extremes also tend to be divided along gender lines, too. Another problem concerning character voices is the rather unfortunate coding of certain characters as black via some really offensive linguistic stereotyping. At one point during a battle towards the end, I half-expected one character to shout of "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies!" (And though it's not a linguistic issue, this book also has racially problematic tones in its portrayal of skinwalkers, due to a too-heavy reliance on the Magical Native American trope.) I won't go into more detail regarding inconsistent and/or unrealistic characterizations, which abound, but I will say that this issue is not helped by the random POV-jumping. The book is basically from Matthew Namely's POV, but there are also very frequent injections of other characters' motivations and feelings, usually but not always when they are about to perform an action or speak to Matthew, that Matthew would not be able to know. These are seemingly accidental; I get the impression that the author just didn't realize he was doing it, or that he would have to make a conscious decision about whether to go with a straight-on Matthew POV or an omniscient narrator. Or, just completely rearrange the structure of the book so as to have different scenes shown from different POV's. Again, I think this stems from the author's "movie in his head". That is, when one is watching a movie that has a central POV, one can still get camera shots of other characters' faces, which can reveal their secret motivations and feelings to the audience, if not to the central character. Unless you're writing a screenplay, this is a lot harder to pull off on the page. I have been waffling back and forth between giving this 1 or 2 stars, because even though I didn't like it and found it a struggle to keep reading, I did like some of the ideas and scenes. I wish I could give it 1.5. I am perplexed by the number of good reviews that other readers have given this book. The problems were just WAY too much for me.
  • Sword Bearer (young adult epic fantasy, Book One of Return of the Dragons) on May 11, 2013

    I suppose I'm not the obvious target audience for this book (that would be middle-schoolers) but in a way I am, because I am a parent who would love to pass along my most beloved fantasy novels someday. I can see why this book might please the younger crowd, but for the wrong reasons: it's a somewhat generic Chosen One swords-and-magic tale in which the hero is basically a stand-in for any plain teenage boy, who doesn't really have to learn or do much to be the hero, because he is the Chosen One, see? It all happens so fast! And he meets a girl who is beautiful, and beautiful. And also, she's beautiful. Is this what we value in our female characters, still? Even apart from all that, the book was just underwhelming. I never really connected with anything.
  • In Your Dreams on May 21, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in Elle Casey's Springtime Indie Book Giveaway. Very good! Especially for a first novel. Very well-written, with great characters and development, (and astonishingly few typo/dropped word issues for an indie). I loved Zara "Zip" McKee, and how we actually get to see how multifaceted she is, rather than having all of her interests told to us but dropped in favor of a romance, as has become so common in YA. That's not to say Zip's relationship with Keiran wasn't wonderful - it was! And with all the perfect awkwardness of young love. The mid-west setting was also drawn in a very realistic yet affectionate way. This was really more of a realistic novel, almost YA Literary Fiction but with some mild mystery/thriller and Sci-Fi elements, so anyone assuming from the book description that this is a Paranormal novel might be disappointed. However this didn't bother me at all. My only quibble - and why I'm giving it 4 starts rather than 5 - is that it was a little slow at times.
  • Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More on May 25, 2013

    Reading this book was, for me, less about reading erotica and more of an amazing intellectual exercise. That is, I enjoyed these stories as pieces of writing but only occasionally as erotic. And this has naught to do with the author's abilities to convey desire, eroticism, etc. I mean, I'm giving this book 5 Stars, see?! I've got a "Your Kinks Are Not My Kinks, And That's OK" mentality, and the author's (sometimes repetitive) kinks as on display here may or not overlap with yours or mine, even in cases where the differences are in the minutiae -- which can be pretty darn important when it comes to kink! -- but no matter what your kinks, this book is for anyone interested in exploring sexual psychology and the human condition.
  • The Mating (The original Law of the Lycans story) on May 26, 2013
    (no rating)
    Meh. The writing is not crazy terrible, but it's not great either. The characters are very one-dimensional, sometimes inconsistent, and not really worth caring about. The gender politics are retrograde - even for a werewolf book, in which that sort of thing is often par for the course. I'm all for a hot "Alpha male" story, but his love interest has to be compelling as a person, too, and Elise, the heroine of this book, is really not. Did not finish, therefore no star rating.
  • Bloody Little Secrets on May 27, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in Elle Casey's Springtime Indie Book Giveaway. I loved the beginning of this book - the whole sequence where Vicky Hernandez wakes up in a coffin and realizes that she's a vampire is a blast! Scary and funny all at the same time. I also liked how she then makes the actually quite realistic decision to basically just carry on with her teenage life (albeit one town over, where no one knows her). The rest of the book, I didn't like quite as much. Everything is just too... easy. I wish that the horror-comedy elements so strong in the beginning had been carried through, instead of the whole thing turning into a facile romance with a Boy Next Door character who is just SO understanding of Vicky's vampirism and SO in instant love with her. And all of his friends are so understanding, too! This is a YA book, and perhaps I would have appreciated the facile romance more if I were a YA myself and not an adult reader, but of course not all YA books have to be facile. Similarly, the writing seems contrived to be very "teenage" itself. This fits the character and story well, but I have trouble figuring out whether this was really intentional and it gets a little old after a while. Vicky is a great character. She's clever, resourceful, and take-no-crap. And it's a little ambiguous as to whether she's actually a good person - and ambiguity which I liked a lot. I just wish that more had been done with her.
  • Stake You (Stake You #1) on May 27, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in Elle Casey's Springtime Indie Book Giveaway. Loved it! A page turner. This has some really fantastic characters, given depth and personality and realistic, complicated lives. Even the minor characters feel like real people. It was so refreshing to see someone like Devlin, who has hardened herself after having been dealt a fairly crappy hand in life, having to deal with a supernatural threat on top of everything else - especially as opposed to becoming smitten with a supernatural love interest - and interesting to think about precisely what made her seem like a good target. There is very little humor in this book, but that doesn't mean there isn't any softness or love. There is nothing easy here, and that's partly what makes it great. I am looking forward to reading more from this author!
  • The Soulkeepers on May 28, 2013

    This was entertaining and inventive, but a bit too religious for me. I have no problem suspending my disbelief in order to enjoy a good paranormal novel that's got demons and angels and whatnot it it, but I must admit that in this case it felt just a little too much like I was being preached to.
  • Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom (Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom Series #1) on June 03, 2013

    I liked this, though not as much as I thought I would. On the surface, it reminded me a lot of J.R. Rain's 'Moon Dance' (Vampire for Hire #1), which I really enjoyed, in that both feature a woman trying to balance parenthood with various supernatural goings-on, both are set in California, and both use frequent pop culture references. But that's where the similarities end. This starts well, as the heroine, stay-at-home mom Kate, tries to juggle her two kids, her aspiring-politican-husband's impromptu dinner party, her best friend (Laura - who turns out to be pretty awesome!), and murderous demons who have reentered her life after a 14-yr absence. Her family and friends do not know about her past as a Demon Hunter. This whole opening section is a lot of fun. As the book goes on past that, it does drag a bit in the middle before picking up the pace again in the 2nd half. My favorite things: that opening section, Laura the kick-ass best friend, Kate's relationship with her teenage daughter Allie, and of course the generally snappy writing. The heroine, Kate... I'm a little ambivalent about. I can't quite put my finger on why. It could be something about the depiction of her being emotionally torn between her old life and her current one, but I think it has more to do with her parenting style and complete lack of feminist consciousness. It's not entirely fair of me to factor that into my review, but it is what it is. There were a few times when Kate would make or think some sort of weird, off-hand, non-plot-related gendered comment such as "My 2 yr old son will never ever wear makeup ever!", and it would kick me out of the story. And with all due respect to stay-at-home mothers everywhere (and political wives, too), Kate is really over-the-top in her unquestioned commitment to Donna-Reed-like appearances. Also, because the demon-hunting world here is rooted so firmly in Roman Catholicism, there is a little too much religion for me. I'm not a religious person at all, but I'm usually willing to take it with a grain of salt when reading books that have demons and vampires and whatnot in them. However, in this book, because Kate's a former hunter and therefore a self-proclaimed Believer, she's involved in her community church and all that. And the demonic mythology isn't even all that well-developed, actually, so the author could have gone a different route. Lastly, although this is set in California, that setting wasn't really a "character". That is, it felt like it could have taken place in Anytown, U.S.A. I'm hoping that the second book will fix that. I mean, it's even called 'California Demon'! I will definitely be reading it soon.
  • Hidden - a dark romance (Marchwood Vampire Series #1) on June 10, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in Elle Casey's January Anniversary Indie Book Giveaway. To start with what I liked about this book, it's an interesting take on modern gothic! Madison, the working-class British orphan heroine, finds herself uprooted from her normal life and living with her younger brother in the mysterious old mansion that she's inherited from some distant relations. I liked Madison a lot, but many of the other characters could have been fleshed out more. Too often, they felt throw-away, or only there for transparent narrative purpose (such as check a box on the "gothic" checklist, so to speak). I also liked the dual story approach, with alternating chapters dividing Madison's story from the 19th century story of Alexandre. There was something that felt a little off about the 19th century sections - perhaps the old-fashioned language felt too forced? - but the only problem I ended up having regarding the POV shifts came later in the book, when the stories merged in the present day. The POV switches a bit wildly between Madison and Alex from that point on, from paragraph to paragraph at times, and was a little confusing. This is an enjoyable book and a welcome addition to the Gothic YA subgenre. It also feels rather comlete as a story so I'm not sure what Book 2 will bring, but I do plan to read it!
  • Breed of Innocence on June 11, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in Elle Casey's Springtime Indie Book Giveaway. Very cool! I liked the heroine, Jade, quite a lot. She's a smart, strong, and sassy kind of girl, who has developed a take-no-crap attitude as a result of having gone through, well, some crap. At the same time, she remains a sweet person without the thick walls that so many "strong female characters" seem to be given by default these days. Although at times -- especially in the first few chapters -- she seems to speak less like a real teenage girl and more like how an adult author would imagine a smart, strong, and sassy teenage girl to speak, she is generally believable. There are a few parts of this book that are slightly repetitive, such as Jade's later conversations with Director Greene -- enough so that the denouement felt a little anticlimactic -- but overall it's well-written and paced. The secrets and mysteries of this near-future, near-realistic dystopia are revealed in good time. And they are more sci-fi than fantasy! I enjoyed Jade's friendship with Linc, another student (or "prospect") at the GCE's "school for demon hunters", and how it develops into a very solid friendship regardless of any potential romantic involvement or attraction. I only wish we got to know a little more about Linc as an individual, apart from simply in relation to Jade. It's understandable, given how much time Jade is contrived to spend studying, that she wouldn't have many other friendships, but it's a little disappointing that the only other student we see all that much of is Felecia, a somewhat typical "Mean Girl" antagonist. I hope to see Jade develop a few more peer friendships in Book 2 - which I've already started reading!
  • Breed of Envy on June 21, 2013

    This picks up more or less where Book 1 left off, and does not shying away from exploring the consequences of earlier events. Jade, although just as smart, strong, and sassy as before, goes through perhaps even more emotional ups and downs here. I'm especially fond of the parts where she spazzes out and where she's unsure of her real feelings about various people or things (her blossoming relationship with Linc, her "part demon" genetics). Jade was already believable, but perhaps these parts make her even more relatable. We got to see a lot more of Tasha, which I appreciated, and a lot more of other characters like Doc and Peter. Other characters were added, too, though the fact that so many of them were antagonistic was slightly formulaic, like "Rachel the Mean Girl" who basically just took over Felecia's role from Book 1. To be fair, I think the author might be headed somewhere different with this... The series' near-future, near-realistic dystopia certainly remains more sci-fi than fantasy, as the demons these folks fight seem to be the product of evolution-, genetics-, and/or science-gone-awry than anything else. This installment raises a lot more moral and ethical questions than the first about whether all demons are automatically bad or require hunting. I say bring on the shades of gray.
  • The Torturer's Daughter on June 22, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in Elle Casey's Springtime Indie Book Giveaway. Rating as a jaded adult reader, this tale of teenage uncertainty under a vaguely described oppressive government regime isn't quite enough. But rating for Young Adult readers? It's a winner. The fact that the regime is so vaguely described allows it to function as a stand-in for ANY such oppressive one, and therefore teach good lessons about how those systems work by instilling paranoia and fear. I remember reading Todd Strasser's "The Wave" in high school, long ago. Zoe Cannon's book would be a great candidate to replace that on today's high school reading lists. It raises similar questions but with a language, style, and characters far more appealing to the Millennial set.
  • A Strong and Sudden Thaw on June 30, 2013

    I've noticed (I'm sure I'm not the only one) that the best books are often unclassifiable, and this book is no exception. It's a love story, of course, and also dystopian post-apocalypse sci-fi, and also a southern pastoral. Above all, it's a coming-of-age story. Plus, dragons. This book is just amazing. The world-building, the character building, the uses of language, the literary allusions, the way everything unfolds. I could not put it down and stayed up way too late finishing it, only to be sorry that it was over.
  • Bloody Boulevard on July 01, 2013

    This story is a lot of fun! The action is well-written and tense. Nina, Frankie, and the mayor are likeable, bad-ass good-guy vampires and/or vampire hunters and are introduced here with aplomb. Definitely whet my appetite for a full length novel.
  • The Ghost of Nan Clarks Lane (a short story) on July 15, 2013

    A good, simple little ghost story. I haven't yet read the novel from whence these characters come, but I don't think this detracted from anything. The setting is quite evocative, and makes me wonder about how the area depicted must have changed before and since 1940, when the tale takes place. The language here at times read more like American Southern than 1940 English, but since the author lives in England I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt :)
  • Catacombs of the Damned on Aug. 04, 2013

    This was a fun spin on the classic 'Haunted House' tale, and I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of nature and English country living. The writing was beautiful, lush and full of life. I also enjoyed the gorey horror stuff! There was a little too much reliance, however, on stereotyping Gypsies and/or Romanians as connected to the occult. I also felt like there were more religious overtones than I expected or would have liked, and a twist that I saw coming a mile away.
  • Thicker Than Blood (Marchwood Vampire Series #2) on Aug. 14, 2013

    Great continuation! We get to see Maddy, Alexandre and the rest of the gang again but in an entirely new situation, and we also get a lot more backstory about the underground city we saw in Book 1. But where Book 1 was very much a "modern gothic", Book 2 was more like an action thriller crossed with historical/fantasy. I had been worried that I wouldn't enjoy this as much as the first book, but I needn't have been. I would still like to see some of the characters more fully developed, but Shalini Boland is definitely earning my trust. :)
  • INITIATION (Bonfire Academy Book One, Bonfire Chronicles) on Aug. 14, 2013

    This was highly entertaining and readable! For the most part I enjoyed how "adult" it was for a YA novel. I loved the premise, the pace, and the way that secrets and mysteries unfolded. However, I think I wanted more than the book could give. Most of the characters were inconsistent and didn't really have distinct personalities. Too many things were handwaved or left completely unexplained -- even some of the basic world-building, and the policies and practices of the paranormal school at which the whole story is set. It's not even really a school as most would understand the word. There is sex, and in some ways its given primacy, but even so it's always off-screen, so to speak, and the characters refer to it obliquely, or at best, as "doing IT". Both teens and adults (vampires) speak this way. There are also some odd gender issues that I would have liked to see explored. I will be reading the sequel though!
  • The Young Woman in a House of Old on Aug. 14, 2013

    Neat story! Both modern and old-fashioned; sad but charming at the same time. I plan to read more of Nazarian's short works.
  • The Drag Queen of Elfland on Sep. 19, 2013

    A mostly excellent collection of stories. They've all got a queer sensibility although not all of them are about queer characters, per se. On the whole, I enjoyed the stories that had fairy-tale elements more than the modern urban tales, which often came across as didactic and were sometimes a little dated (most, if not all, of these stories previously appeared in anthologies over the course of many years). I also loved the mix of male and female POV characters; the author may be a gay man but this doesn't stop him from presenting a diverse array. As has often been said, the best speculative fiction provides insight into our culture and this collection certainly does that.
  • Open Minds (Mindjack Trilogy #1) on Oct. 26, 2013

    The first half of this book is nicely done, though a bit slow. It's a good "What if?" story, about a mildly dystopian future that -- at least from what little we see of the main character's tiny world -- looks almost exactly like our present, but for the fact that the majority of the human race has evolved to read minds. Only those people who can't read minds are considered abnormal. There's also a "Superhero/Supervillain Origin Story" thing going on, as Kira discovers she's not, in fact, a "zero" (non-mind-reader") but something else entirely. Something powerful and dangerous: a "jacker" who can control minds. I also enjoyed the bits of made-up future slang, and the explanation for why some of it is based on Latin. Nice touch! But apart from that, there is not much world-building because all we see is filtered through Kira's extremely limited, sheltered perspective. The second half of the book was, unfortunately, REALLY slow. The way the story drags is particularly inexcusable because the stakes are supposed to be so high: saving people, uncovering a government conspiracy, confronting loved ones about uncomfortable truths. The setting at this point switches away from high school, where the story had the benefits of metaphor (and raging teenage hormones). Once these things are left behind, Kira's narration is not as engaging and her relationships not as developed. For instance, she spends a lot of time wanting to save a younger jacker girl, Laney, but since we're never really made to care much about Laney as an individual, that plotline just doesn't hold the right level of suspense. (Incidentally, Laney is one of a very few females that Kira encounters in the whole book, which is otherwise a bit of a sausagefest). Also, it turns out that Kira is not only special, she's the Most Special. She's not only a jacker, but a Super Jacker. The Only One In The World. And of course, from the moment she discovers her powers she's almost instantly mastering them. And the whole novel takes place within about 2 months. This sort of thing is not uncommon in YA, sci-fi and fantasy novels, but that's not an automatic excuse. I would give this 2.5 stars. Guess I have to round down. This book had many good points and a lot of potential, but the execution was just okay.
  • Doodling on Oct. 26, 2013

    A clever little sci-fi-esque novellette that works as an easy parable about the modern human condition. I chuckled a lot, and I never knew what was going to happen next, but I also didn't care that much past the first half or so. One never quite gets to know any of the characters; they're all entirely symbolic apart from, perhaps, the protagonist Neville. It makes the whole thing feel a bit like an extended Monty Python sketch, which is a good thing. But unlike a Python sketch, the setting is quite hard to envision because its so very abstract. I would agree with the official description that this is "Douglas Adams meets Lewis Carroll (with just a touch of Gulliver's Travels)" though with far less nuance, due for the most part to its comparatively short length. But that's not a criticism: _Doodling_ would never have worked as a long novel, and as a short it is really quite good.
  • Falling Night on Oct. 28, 2013

    This book has some promise - there are a few plot points ripped straight from Twilight but this heroine, Elizabeth Scott, is actually more appealing than Bella Swan by far. She seems like a real girl with a real life and real problems, and not a transparent Mary Sue figure. I was intrigued by the Bennett brothers regardless of romance, and the supernatural world here also has the potential to be fresh and interesting. Unfortunately the execution's just not very good. The awful grammar, wooden dialogue with character voices that are inconsistent at best, and incorrect word choices (ancestor =/= descendant, perspective =/= prospective!) seemed to get worse and worse as the book wore on, almost as if the author had simply decided to give up proofreading. I got as far as the huge, awkward mid-book Info Dump about Luke's "Bloodline" backstory before I gave up. If I find out the author's done a massive reedit of the whole novel -- including lots of cuts, since the whole thing is a bit slow, repetitive, and far too long -- I'll give it another try. Otherwise, this is a DNF for me.
  • The Renaissance of Hetty Locklear on Oct. 28, 2013

    I won a copy of this book in the 2013 Blogger Book Fair. There were many aspects of this that I liked a lot, in particular the geek girl main character and her roommates, who spend all of their free time eating pastries and playing an online RPG that they've created themselves. The three of them have a solid, realistic friendship and its always nice to see such a thing portrayed (especially when it passes the Bechdel Test)! It was intriguingly hypocritical, though not really commented upon, that Hetty -- so into online RPGs -- would be so down on the Renaissance Fair lifestyle that her own parents live, since these are both "geeky" things, although Hetty is bitter of their abandonment of her and not because of the Ren Fair lifestyle itself. I thought from the book description that Ren Fairs would play a bigger part, but Hetty only attends for one day. But I did like, ultimately, how the 'high-fantasy' elements of the book function as a misdirection away from the modern sci-fi elements that eventually take precedence. I thought it neat, at first, that Hetty was portrayed as so clueless about adulthood and what she wants to do with her life. We need more books urban fantasy books wherein the heroine works a crap job at a convenience store -- they can't all be detectives and heiresses! However Hetty's basic immaturity wore out its welcome for me. Although there are hints of character growth, Hetty mostly just continues along waiting for things to magically happen to her (regardless of whether or not they do) and pretty much all of this revolves around her need for male approval. From the beginning I thought the book was going to lead away from that, with Hetty learning that she doesn't need a man for validation, and I felt a little cheated when things did not go that way. There was, instead, some creepy stalkerish behavior masquerading as "romance", and it never once got called out. All told, this was a fun bit of fluff, but could have been so much more. The hinky romance leads me towards 2 stars, but the great portrayals of friendship and geekdom bumped me up a notch.
  • Doppelganger on Nov. 08, 2013

    This started with a bang. In the first pages, we get a relatable POV character in the form of Citrus: a slightly nerdy teenage girl who loves to read YA fantasy novels. We get the brisk pace that comes with being late to school. We get the shock of her arriving at her classroom door only to find that her doppelganger is already there! Unfortunately, for me, the rest of the book did not live up the that early promise. The characters all seem to have interchangeable personalities; none of them are the least bit distinctive from each other. Not even Citrus, really. The brisk pace that initially worked would also have been good for the rest of the book if it had been done well. However, it just felt rushed and awkward. This is not a long book, and was made even shorter because I found myself skipping over vast swaths of Citrus' repetitive (and sometimes nonsensical) inner monologue. This inner monologue often consisted of a series of questions. "I felt so afraid. Would I be able to escape? Would I save my friends? Would I ever see so-and-so again? Would I make it to college? How could I think about college now when my life is at stake? I didn't know." There were these kinds of passages over and over, each one more tiresome than the last. Not having read past the brief book description before deciding to dive into the entire book, I had no idea whether the doppelgangers would be an outside force like, say, aliens, or some kind of paranormal manifestation of Citrus' mental state. I was hoping for the latter, and got the former. Which was actually a blessing in disguise because I don't know how the author would have handled the former. This novel is just straight-forward YA sci-fi. Not terrible but nothing special. A few good elements, but overall just OK, and very much for a younger readership.
  • Drayton (The Taker) on Nov. 09, 2013

    This is a very ambitious novella. It's got paranormal elements but really veers closer to what most would call Literary Fiction. It's the first of 5 novellas featuring the character Drayton, but as I understand each one is self-contained. This single installment, by itself, would be better suited to a longer novel form, in order to develop the setting and characters a bit more. I very much enjoyed Bertauski's depiction of the lowcountry, as well as the Barnes family in all their implicit complexity. I would have liked to see a bit more of these people and their world, in order to care more about them and also for Drayton's presence to have a bigger impact. I also felt like there should have been multiple character arcs to go with the multiple POVs, and only some of the character arcs given had any real closure. Drayton is complex, too, but his nature is hinted at rather than revealed. He admits that even he does not know exactly what he is (hint: he's some kind of immortal energy vampire). This would almost be fine, except it feels a little like a cop-out rather than the alluring-mystery-slash-choose-your-own-allegory that I assume it's meant to be. If Drayton himself is given any closure by the end of Part 5, I wish that more seeds were sown here in Part 1. I'm not sure if I'll continue this series, but I do want to check out more of Bertauski's work in general.
  • The Demon You Know ... (a demon-hunting soccer mom short story) on Nov. 09, 2013

    This short story was fun, and pretty self-contained while at the same time expanding the world of the main Kate Connor book series (of which I've read only Book 1 so far and plan to star Book 2 soon). The POV alternates from Kate, to her daughter Allie, then back to Kate again. I actually wish that it was *only* Allie, because the YA tone of the entire thing would make more sense. Allie's tale alone would make for a great spin-off. Allie seems like an average teenager, but is also the gung-ho daughter of a demon-hunting soccer mom.
  • Broken: A YA Paranormal Romance Novel (Volume 1 of the Reflections Books) on Nov. 12, 2013

    For more discerning fans of paranormal romance, there might a good book in here somewhere but it's buried under many problems. The heroine Adriana's characterization is wildly inconsistent. For starters, she seems to spend 1/4 of her time having fainting spells and panic attacks due to recent trauma in her family, another 1/4 doing schoolwork, 1/4 obsessing over hot boys, and another 1/4 being incredibly snarky and judgmental towards everybody else. And no, "inconsistent" is not the same thing as "complex", though a lot of authors seem to have trouble telling the difference. I sympathized with Adriana, but also found her annoying and sometimes flat-out unlikeable. It's hard to understand, with heroines such as this, what the Hottest Boy In School characters see in her. These heroines are designed purely to appeal to female readers' inner Mary Sues. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with Mary Sues if that's your thing -- it's just, well, the book should have other good qualities, too. And this one is uneven, awkward, and boring. I was bored enough that I gave up before anything overtly supernatural happened, but I could more or less see where it was going because of my knowledge of genre tropes (not because the first chunk of the book planted seeds; no intriguing seeds were planted for me). Warring were-animal groups of some sort, clearly, with leaders who both like The One Special Human Girl. I'm giving this 2 stars. From what I did read, I found it okay in the way that I found *Twilight* vaguely okay: problematic, but not without a certain guilty appeal. At least Adriana is more interesting than Bella Swan.
  • The Ghost Of Christmas Past on Dec. 24, 2013

    A cute and very short story for fans of Lane's 'Paranormal Properties'. It skews even younger than the novel, with a sweet (if overly simplistic) message of holiday togetherness, but it was nice to visit with these characters again.
  • The Surrogate on Jan. 18, 2014

    Basically a very elaborate hurt/comfort fic, with three sympathetic main characters suffering from PTSD after going through terrible abuses. This book was not what I was expecting from the description, but it was a fairly pleasant surprise. The supposed 'sequel' -- nearly double the length of Part 1 -- is included. In fact, the two parts don't seem ever to be sold separately; at least, I haven't found any evidence that they've ever been sold separately. So this is really just one long book, with The Surrogate functioning as a kind of long intro to get us to the longer Reincarnate, where Somerville spends more time exploring interpersonal dynamics. The only functional way that the two Parts could be called different books is because of the POV change between them. The Surrogate really has two main characters, Nikolas and Jaime, and is told in the first person from Nikolas' POV. Reincarnate is told in the third person and switches main POV's between Jaime and Severin, who was barely glimpsed in The Surrogate although his presence loomed large. Once Reincarnate begins, we never get Nikolas' POV again. I rather missed it. I found The Surrogate itself to be a page-turner. Jaime and Nikolas are trapped in an awful situation, and I really liked the pace at which the details of this situation are revealed. There are some aspects that were transparently contrived and unbelievable, but arguably not the actual situation itself (a credit to Somerville's skill at world-building). Although I enjoyed seeing these characters through the aftermath, in Reincarnate, it became quite tedious at times. A long, repetitive litany of guilt and blame and self-esteem problems. Alternately compelling and tedious -- a bit like reading/hearing about other people's effed up relationship problems in read life!
  • Crown Phoenix: Night Watchman Express on Jan. 24, 2014

    Kind of like one part Frances Hodgson Burnett, one part E. M. Forster, and a tiny pinch of Philip Pullman, this book is pretty good but lacks the masterful touch and structural integrity of those big names. It is also hurt by its hugely misleading description/presentation. This novel is divided into two very different parts, which actually would have read better as two novellas published separately. Part One (itself subtitled "The Night Watchman Express") is essentially a Gothic, set in some kind of large manor house, and concerns the recently-orphaned Mirium, her awful new guardians the Marchpanes, and most of all her relationship with her new nanny, Mana. Part Two (subtitled "Big Star Island") is a Colonialist's dream, set on some kind tropical island called Lampala (Mana's homeland), which has its own complex and believable language and culture, and concerns Neil, a school friend of the Marchpanes' son Simon from Part One, after he travels there to look for Mana after her kidnapping. While both of these settings fit in with the old-fashioned Burnett/Forster feel that DeLuca is clearly going for, the sum total amounts to a long set-up for future books, since nothing from Part 1 every gets resolved in Part 2: that is, Mirium's story is dropped entirely. And, weirdly, there is almost no mention of the titular train, the titular machine, or any factory or laboratory. Whenever the train or machine came up, I'd get excited only to have them summarily dropped again. And while there is something vaguely magical or (probably ultimately) steampunky about the easy proximity of Lampala to the mainland where Mirium et al live, it is barely touched upon. I imagine this will come in later installments, but I wish it had been more thoroughly introduced here. I enjoyed this, but in the end I wish that the description I read before sampling and purchasing this book had been more accurate, and the title more appropriate, because these things really affected my expectations. Perhaps Part One should be re-released as "Crown Phoenix Book One: Mirium and the Marchpanes", and part two as "Crown Phoenix Book Two: Neil and the Island" or some such. If presented like that, I would have finished One, immediately purchased Two to find out what happened to Mirium et al., been confused by the change in setting and focus, but immediately purchased Book/Part Three to find out how it's all connected. However as it stands, I have less faith that the next installment will improve upon the structural or presentational problems of the first. Also, on a completely different note, I had trouble with the ages of the "children". I think that the girls Mirium and Riki are supposed to be around 12 or so, and the boys Simon and Neil around 16(?) but sometimes around 13(?). This made their relations a little confusing and sometimes awkward. Overall, a fun read for anyone who likes old-fashioned children's and/or Colonial Era literature. So long as you know, going in, that there be very little in the way of magic or steampunk.
  • A Little Girl in My Room & Other Stories on Jan. 28, 2014

    A very short collection of very short stories (flash fiction). Nasty little horror stories, some supernatural and some about the evil that humans do. Although there are some decently creepy atmospheres and scary moments, these stories are overall pretty facile. Horror 101, where the intention may actually have been to undermine some of the tropes common in Horror 101. I agree with other reviewers who felt that the majority of these stories felt like high school creative writing assignments. I have read two YA novels by this author -- one I loved and one that was good but not great. I plan to read some of her adult novels, as well. Some of the stories in this collection are plainly YA, while others are not at all appropriate for that age, so I'm also a bit confused about its intended audience.
  • Garrison (a military fantasy novelette) on Jan. 29, 2014

    After having read Nigel Edwards' surreally bizarre "Badger's Waddle last year", it's nice to read something more straightforward from him. This story has got some fantasy-world trappings prowling in the background, and does a generally good job at world-building for its length, but it's really just a semi-realistic tale of three soldiers in a kind of olden time. Picture pretty much every big-budget movie featuring a large and bloody battle scene. Picture the leaders of the fight, the leading men that get the glorious speeches. Now picture the thousands of anonymous soldiers who Hurrah! when the speeches are done. Ever want a story about a few of those anonymous soldiers? Well, basically, this is that story, and its a refreshing perspective. I read in Edwards' brief Afterword that this is set in the same world as his earlier novel "PRISM" which is no longer available, having been pulled for rewrites and hopefully future re-release. I imagine that "PRISM" has different character entirely. "PRISM" also probably makes the fantasy elements much more prominent, but I liked how spare they were in "Garrison". The last I'll say is that this is a "masculine" story. Of course anyone can appreciate writings about experiences of war, service, honor, and the like, and of course a story about soldiers in an ancient war will probably not feature women. But must all fictional soldiers talk about women in such a coarse and dehumanizing way? Even if, to this day, male soldiers do it in real life, that doesn't mean fictional soldiers must. Especially in fantasy stories where author are free to create new world orders! That being said, I liked this overall and between it and "Badger's Waddle" I do plan to read more from Edwards.
  • As You Wake on Feb. 05, 2014

    It was great to see all of these characters again, and get to know more deeply those who seemed relatively inscrutable in Book 1 (e.g. Kayla and Morgan). I also appreciated that although not quite as much happens in this installment in terms of plot, we got to see a lot of loving familial and friendship interaction. Zip and Kieran's relationship is as strong as ever, but for an ultimately very minor bump, and this book allows Zip to rest on that while developing relationships with other people, and thinking about the future. I didn't like this installment *quite* as much overall, though, because it tended to be slow. That same focus on familial relationships that I mostly appreciated also came off as too much padding at times. For example, it's nice to showcase healthy, realistic Mother-Daughter talk, but that talk is also pretty boring to read. There are also a lot of padded descriptions of what the characters are doing at any given moment. In one scene, Zip explains to Kieran and Kayla how best to access an area of the high school, via crossing over to campus from a teacher's yard. It has no bearing on events whatsoever. In another scene, Zip and Kieran are walking around a lively city area. Immersive descriptions of urban areas are generally wonderful, but we don't need to be told every single step that Zip and Kieran take. It makes it seem as though the author is trying to prove her geographic and spatial knowledge for her own sake, and not for the readers or characters. All of this stuff could have been tightened up with a more ruthless editorial hand, and it's a shame that it wasn't, because it kicked me out of the story a few times. The last quarter or so brings some unexpected revelations and I'm truly looking forward to Book 3. I'm hoping it will bring back the pacing of Book 1, and that this "middle" book is just suffering from those padding problems not uncommon to middle-of-trilogy novels.
  • Shirley Link & The Safe Case on Feb. 11, 2014

    I don't read a lot of mysteries, but I've started to actively look for books that I'll be able to read with my young daughter within the next few years. This story -- and it really is a story, not a novel -- fits the bill nicely. Like a young Sherlock, Shirley Link (love the name!) uses brilliant deductive reasoning to solve crimes. Also like Sherlock, or more specifically the current BBC version of Sherlock, Shirley has to fight against using her powers for evil. I wish the whole thing was longer, the other characters were a bit more developed, and the "bad guy" wasn't so obvious, but overall this was a good series introduction. One caveat is that Shirley and her friends read younger than their stated age. This is Middle Grade skewing towards children, not YA.
  • Feyland: The Dark Realm on Feb. 20, 2014

    This was a fun read, and although I'm not a gamer I was totally down with the immersive gaming experience as described in this very recognizable, near-future world. The opening was a little odd at first, because we are thrown into the middle of Jennet's pivotal battle with the Dark Queen of Feyland without getting to know Jennet first, and throughout the book we actually get to know Tam and his family situation a lot better than we do Jennet and hers, even though they are supposedly equal protagonists. Because of this, I think Tam comes across as the more sympathetic of the two. I'm not sure I buy their subtle budding romance either; the book may have been better without it. I loved the idea of virtual reality games as a kind of "soft place" between worlds, when all the traditional "soft places" like forest glens have been closed off to the Fey by encroaching modernity. I also love that this is a retelling of the old Scottish "Ballad of Tam Lin", with which I was not familiar. Way to embed interesting old tales in hypermodern YA fiction
  • Feyland: The First Adventure on Feb. 20, 2014

    Although this short prequel does not contain any spoilers for the first book in the trilogy and could be read beforehand, I believe that the true purpose of any good prequel is to grant further insight into characters and situations with which the reader is already familiar from reading the primary work. Otherwise, why not simply make it Part One? This story serves that purpose, giving us more backstory about Jennet and how she first came to Feyland. A problem that I had with Book One was actually that we were not given enough to connect with about Jennet, so I'm pleased that this prequel took care of that, and makes Jennet a little more sympathetic. However, the writing is a bit padded when Jennet is "in-game", in that it is repetitive about her suspicions that Feyland is something more, and that at times it completely repeats sections of Book One's opening. I still kind of wish that this prequel and Book One could just be retooled into one complete novel.
  • Vampire Origins - The Strigoi Book 1 - Project Ichorous on Feb. 22, 2014

    Although the summary of this book made me a little wary, I was enticed by the opening chapters (Alexei and Anastasia Romanov: Vampires! Give this to me now!). Unfortunately, I only made it a few chapters further than that. What I read of this book was chock full of relationship cliches, lazy expository shortcuts, unlikeable characters, and bad research (since when does New York City have an "office district"?). Also, convoluted and with way too much going on. I just couldn't get into it at all.
  • For Nothing on Feb. 28, 2014

    A nicely done, twisty-turny piece of Cops & Bad Guys fiction. I enjoyed the grit of this, the physicality, the identity questions plaguing the undercover cop, and the never quite knowing who to root for. The writing, overall, was sharp. I did have a few issues with the almost complete lack of female characters apart from one symbolic Pietà of a wife and one barely-seen hooker/girlfriend, however. I have doubts as to whether the Old School Italian Mafia world depicted here still exists, but if it does, I can believe it would be in a place like Buffalo, NY. And besides, aren't all crime novels ultimately a form of fantasy?
  • One Night With The Fae on March 04, 2014

    Described elsewhere as "a collection of short stories told from a different character's involvement and point of view," this is actually a linear novella in which the POV changes from chapter to chapter. None of it was particularly great. Just a very surface description of some bloody conflict between the seelie and unseelie courts during a fancy ball, with almost no background, engaging characterizations, or engaging dialogue. I acquired this some months ago, and in the meantime Farrell has released a novel based on it, entitled *Soul*. I believe it was only after the publication of *Soul* that this shorter work was called a "Prequel companion" on Smashwords, and it's not exactly that, as the events described in mirror the events that take place in *Soul*. In my opinion, having now read two novels and two "short story collections" (one of which actually was a short story collection!) by Farrell, as well as the first chapter of *Soul*, perhaps Farrell should stick to novels. The longer format provides the obviously-needed room to develop interesting characters. *One Night with the Fae* lacks in this area, and pretty much reads like an author's outline for a longer work.
  • The Poppet and the Lune (The Complete Series) on March 13, 2014

    Although the author has since re-released this novel in four separate parts, _The Poppet and the Lune_ really is one whole novel and I read it as such. This is an old-school kind of fairy tale that does not shy away from the gruesome. I absolutely loved the first section, wherein we meet the "Patchwork Girl" made of magic and moonlight and the salvaged parts of a village's dead children, as she learns about herself as well as the ways of humanity. I enjoyed the second section, too, as the girl and her new companion Faolin (a wereman: usually a wolf but sometimes a man) find themselves in the castle of a prince with suspicious intentions and meet all of the other neato characters who have gathered there. Taken together, these sections are a great read and also offer many subtly feminist messages about identity and personhood. The latter half of the book was a lot less successful. The action shifted back into the forest, and Faolin's point-of-view is made more prominent than the girl's. I did like both of these characters, but the girl's story is far more compelling and unique than the wereman's, so one really feels the relative lack of it. Especially during an extended period when the girl is very much sidelined, reduced literally to a "poppet" and not just in name only. This was done partly in service to a love story between the two, as Faolin must learn to gather his courage and rescue the girl. The romance was sweet in its way, but a bit predictable and certainly not the best thing in the book. The elevation of the love story over the more interesting elements brought the whole thing down. The writing is overall lovely and I look forward to reading more from this author. I'd be very curious to see what she'd do with a more contemporary setting, or with what she'd come up with if asked to produce a retelling of a "famous" fairy tale.
  • Scheherazade's Facade on March 16, 2014

    Individually, a few of the stories in this collection were amazing, a few were okay, and at least one I actively disliked. But for me, the strength of the amazing ones more than made up for the rest, and also helped to illustrate the whole point of the collection, as put forth by Jones in his delightful introduction. This is an important and timely collection about the mutability of gender and sex, with fantastical elements at the forefront but ultimately serving to express real truths. A very broad array of stories with something for everyone!
  • Funscreen on March 22, 2014

    A few years ago I saw a lecture online in which some big-time technology professional envisioned a [chilling, to me] future in which things like e-book reading or targeted advertising might allow viewers to earn points towards purchases. I don't know whether Craig A. Falconer has ever come across that same lecture, but this excellent short story basically expands upon a similar idea. Falconer crams a hell of a lot of big ideas into a deceptively simple tale, with surprisingly realistic characters. My only real quibble is that there are a few bits of unconscious sexism. I'm not bothered that the Funscreen targets consumers in gendered ways -- that can be read as an on-point critique of how our own real-world advertising does the same -- but I am bothered about wives being depicted as naggers, in general. A quick rethink of that aspect, and this would have been a 5-star read.
  • Truth Teller on March 22, 2014

    A fairly generic story in the "normal human child is transported to a magical realm" category. The child in question, Charlotte, is likeable enough, but she's supposed to be about 10 years old and comes off as closer in age to her 6 year old sister at times. Many things, including the characters' behaviors, seem overly contrived to push the plot forward. I had a hard time getting into the story during the first couple of chapters, and then I frankly lost interest when the third chapter suddenly introduced to a whole new POV and things took a turn toward High Fantasy. This might be a decent genre gateway book for kids, but it was not for me.
  • Scary Mary on March 24, 2014

    The cover of this book probably draws in more eyeballs than the original cover, but it certainly does less justice to the heroine's actual style and personality! Mary is an unfairly ostracized goth teen with a hilariously caustic sense of humor, which she wields as a defensive weapon. I adored her, and even setting aside the "cute new boy in school" storyline with all its realistic awkwardness, I adored how much attention this book paid to Mary's relationships with her best friend, Rachel, and grandmother -- initially the only two characters who know about her supernatural abilities. This book is, like, "Mean Girls" meets "The Shining". It sows seeds for a sequel, but can be read as a stand-alone. I enjoyed it quite a lot.
  • Little Girl Lost on March 29, 2014

    I had no trouble reading this dark little story as an effective standalone piece, although it is a prequel to _Thieves at Heart_ which I have not yet read. Tarwater packs an impressive amount of world-building into this, especially considering that we're learning about an "adult" world through the eyes of small child. I'm looking forward to reading the novel.
  • The Toil and Trouble Trilogy, Book One on March 31, 2014
    (no rating)
    I unfortunately could not get into this at all.
  • Forgotten Soul (Book 1 of the Soul Reader Series) on March 31, 2014

    A satisfying, short m/m vampire read with a couple of pretty hot sex scenes. This has an "original slash" feel to it which makes me wonder if I've ever encountered this author in fandom, writing under a different name! It could have been fleshed out a bit more in terms of both world-building and character development, however it's the first in a trilogy so perhaps the next installments do more of that work. I'll probably pick them up sometime but I'm not in any hurry.
  • Bonds of Fire on April 05, 2014

    I enjoyed these characters and their world enough that I wish Duncan had spun this into a full-length novel. As a 20k word novella, it could have done with more world-building and fleshing out of environment, backstories, and relationships. Drekken is a great character about whom I'd love to read more, and all the rest felt a little bit short-changed. Except for the baby dragons!
  • Thirst (Ava Delaney #1) on May 02, 2014

    Very interesting take on vampires and vampirism, and with the unique 'Irishness' that Farrell seems always to manage infusing her work. Ava is a cool character, but some of the supporting cast fell short for me due to lack of depth. The plot also got a little overblown, with too much going on for one (short) introductory novel, while at the same time there was a lot of repetition, with Ava and co hanging around recapping things that just happened. There was enough to hold my interest that I'll probably continue to Book 2. Especially with the ending, which was good enough to make up for some of the earlier problems.
  • Agent of Desire on July 20, 2014

    Total sexy spy thriller pulp porn. Which would be kind of awesome in itself, but everything was so rushed here that most of the sex was not quite sexy enough to merit putting up with the nonsense plot. At least Agent Jessica Booker has no qualms about feeding her massive sex drive at the drop of a hat, with whatever reasonably attractive guy happens to be around -- kind of like a het female James Bond, but American and without the spy-skills gained from age and experience.
  • Children of Yden on July 20, 2014

    I appreciate the care that's put into the magical world of this book, but I did not like it as much as Book 1. The hero, Jon, is perhaps even more beholden this time around to generic conventions of Super Special Teenage Boy Hero, and since almost the entire book takes place in Yden with the exception of but a few scenes (e.g. the high school dance), Jon is made even more special by Yden standards, not even as a Young Wizard on Earth/Yrth. There were things that I particularly liked in Book 1 that were actually full-on negated here. First off, Jon's Yrth love-interest Brett was cool precisely because she was a human girl who still managed to be strong and get herself through tough magical situations. Here, without big spoilers, it turns out that her parentage is more complicated than we suspected. I also liked that Book 1 presented Brett as Jon's only love interest and he merely became friends with Yden-born warrior princess Kira. Here, not only is there a love triangle shoehorned in, but even Kira turns out to have additional powers. So does Jon's little sister, Sela (who, I should mention, talks like a girl far older than her stated age). Book 1 was a solid fantasy novel, if a little slow and cardboard at times. Book 2 is much slower and even more cardboard. I expected the final battle -- this time against a bad wizard much less intimidating than the epic Evil Lord of Book 1 -- to be more climactic, but even there I was disappointed. Jon's fight with Guinn was fine in itself, but we only get to see other parts of the battle, other characters' struggles, via post-battle descriptions of what happened. We hear about who got injured and how, but we don't feel it with any sense of immediacy. I don't feel like I totally wasted my time reading this -- it WAS good to see these characters again, meet a few news ones, and revisit Yden -- but I was overall disappointed. I will probably not read Book 3.
  • Old Farts on July 20, 2014

    Very entertaining literary short story. I wonder why Nazarian picked these particular figures as characters... it would be neat to see different versions, just to see what the dialogue would be like!
  • Chase Tinker & The House of Magic on July 20, 2014

    Haberman clearly has a fertile imagination. The titular house has magical rooms and enchanted objects of all kinds, unique and delightful. Unfortunately, for me these elements didn't make up for the otherwise not very good writing. The cool rooms and objects are just kind of there for their own sake, the characters' personalities are a bit flat and more or less interchangeable, and there are a lot of details that fall apart upon examination. Also, Haberman is fond of starting sentences with things like "In fact," and "By the way," for no particular reason, when it doesn't make any sense in context. This is one of the ways in which the book becomes excessively wordy and, worst of all, slow. I think there could be a great book in here somewhere, but it needs a lot more editing to uncover.
  • Every Move You Make (Unnatural Selection #2) on July 20, 2014

    Like its predecessor, this is more or less a police procedural but with an emphasis on romance, namely between cop Nick and his boyfriend Anton. Unlike the first book, this one doesn't focus on Nick's hesitance to get romantically involved -- Nick and Anton are already a quite stable and adorkable couple. And also unlike the first book, there is -- a little disappointingly -- no sci-fi edge, for Nick's status as a "vee" is barely relevant, or mentioned beyond a few nods to his diet. So, more purely a who-done-it, in which Nick and Anton are threatened by an mysterious stalker bent on making their lovely London lives difficult. Nicely written and certainly worth the time of readers who enjoyed Book 1 primarily for the romance, but otherwise no great shakes.
  • Laney - The Brookehaven Vampires on Aug. 07, 2014

    Poorly written, pointless, nonsensical, and entirely unoriginal. I'm hard-pressed to say anything nice about this one. Perhaps worth looking at if you're an absolute vampire paranormal romance completist?
  • To Kill A Warlock on Sep. 21, 2014

    This is a fun UF/PR. It's got superficial similarities to many other series but still holds up as its its own thing. The meta elements are trying a little too hard, perhaps (e.g. Dulcie is an aspiring writer as well as a fairy "cop" -- though she doesn't seem that great at either occupation...), but also add to the humor which is already copious. Too many beefcakey potential love interests for my usual taste, but I didn't mind because I was enjoying the plot and world-building so much.
  • Thieves at Heart on Sep. 24, 2014

    This has some interesting world-building and characters, and very inventive language. But having read the short-story prequel "Little Girl Lost", I was expecting... more? This book does make good on its rather feminist promise to have the development of its protagonist, Tavera, at its core -- "the development of a young woman... as a story all its own" -- but it does so at the expense of a strong narrative arc. There just isn't much plot, isn't much to drive the story forward, and so I found myself adrift at times. The story concerns Tavera being trained as a thief from a very early age, by her adoptive father, Derk. We see a lot of their warm relationship, which is nice, but we don't see much of the thievery, or at least not anything that feels like it raises the stakes. Mostly Tavera just wanders around towns on her own and interacts with various townspeople. There also isn't a strong sense of timing, so one doesn't know how old Tavera is at any given point in the story beyond the broad categories of 'child' vs 'adolescent', and this makes it a little difficult to place her behaviors, and the behaviors of others towards her, in context. I'm glad that there are more books set in this world, though. This is clearly a first novel, but one that shows great promise and budding talent.
  • Ghosts Don't Trick or Treat on Oct. 02, 2014

    Another cute little ghost story set in the world of >Paranormal Properties, again skewing very young. I have to say, I liked seeing less of Frank and more of Tank, because she's my favorite character!
  • The Cookie Tin Collection on Nov. 18, 2014

    Of the six stories here, the two I'd read before -- "Garrison" as a stand-alone and "Lettuce" as part of a longer novel made up of interconnected stories; both reviewed elsewhere -- were among my favorites. I also liked "Ferryman", and enjoyed the ideas in the others if not always everything about their final execution. Edwards is still proving to be an interesting author but so far his longer works tend to be somewhat more successful overall. I hope he re-releases _Prism_ someday!
  • Hollowland on Nov. 27, 2014

    Fairly awesome zombie apocalypse story with a kick-ass female lead. Remy encounters various entertaining effed-up things on her journey, and Hocking deals with gender issues in some interesting, subtle ways. I do wish that there were a little more explanation for Remy became such a bad-ass though, as the action starts on page one and never stops, and we don't hear much about life before zombies. But all told, this book was a lot of fun.
  • Bound by Prophecy on Dec. 02, 2014

    Main character Aern's snark on the first few pages was quite promising, but one is then instantly thrown into the deep end of a world about which one is given to understand so very little. The characters are equally opaque and difficult to care about. I kept expecting the second chapter (then the third, and so on) to start with some meta "Okay, now might be the time to explain a few things" statement. But it never happened. This book is a real slog, and I couldn't get very far with it.
  • The Phoenix on Dec. 09, 2014

    In very broad strokes, this reminded me of another neo-Victorian MM romance novel, Laura Argiri's "The God in Flight", which is one of my Favorite Ever Books Ever. "The Phoenix" never quite reached the same heights for me, but I would definitely recommend it for fans of the genre. You know who you are. Sims did a great job capturing little details that made her various 19th Century locations come alive. She obviously did a lot of research about slum conditions in London and New York, about country life in rural England for both upper and lower classes, and about the theater and its colorful people. I also appreciated Sims' efforts to imbue female characters with as much, or nearly as much, depth as the male leads -- this is sometimes a problem in this kind of novel. I enjoyed the Over-The-Top histrionics of lead character Kit St. Denys and his mental breakdown. Did not see that coming, but it made sense given Sims' adherence to the twisty-turny soap opera format of Victorian "pulp fiction". My only real complaint is that some characterizations were glaringly inconsistent, or at least not properly set up to act as they ultimately did. For example: A) Nicholas, the other lead character, seemed to get a personality transplant when he left London for New York. The changes could not be totally accounted for by his altered circumstances. Regardless of his marriage and career, he, like, suddenly became personable and outgoing in a way that ran contrary to his earlier depiction and psychology. B) Bronwyn, Nick's wife, started out as a super awesome kick-ass character. While on the one hand her ultimate reaction to her husband's true proclivities was completely understandable given both the specifics of their relationship and the homophobia of the time period, on the other hand I had trouble believing that she'd resort to language like "Satan is your Lord and Master", or whatever that one telegram said, given (again), her earlier depiction and psychology. But on the whole, this book fell somewhere in between the soaring heights of my favorite similar novels, and the "riveting trash" of my less favorite. It was a page-turner, and I would read it again.