Alysa H

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.
  • Uncertainty (Gravity series, 2) on Jan. 31, 2013

    I've been reading tons of indie YA paranormal series lately. That is to say, I've been reading a lot of "Book One"s and rarely making it on to "Book Two"s. Even when the ideas are interesting, there are far too many writing and editing problems that kick me right out of the story. Not so with Abigail Boyd's Gravity series! Interesting, well-written and with a fantastic editorial eye. I serioulsy can't wait to see what will happen next (retty please publish Book 3 on Smashwords!?! :) This book is well-paced and well-plotted. It's great to see how the mysteries of the town, and Jenna's death in Book 1, for example, are still unfolding. In fact I credit Abigail Boyd with starting me on the path to reading more indie authors' series. It's just too bad that I've found so few as good as this one so far!
  • 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.
  • Gravity on Feb. 23, 2013

    This is a fantastic book with believable characters, good writing, mystery, suspense, and awesomely creepy supernatural elements. I've only just realized that I posted a review here for Book 2, but never for Book 1, so I'm correcting that mistake on my part. Looking forward to the rest in the series.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Velocity on May 18, 2013

    Very satisfying conclusion! And the young characters definitely seem older and wiser than they were at the start of the series, which makes great sense considering the series takes place over 3 years plus. I would have liked for the Other Worlds to be explained a bit more, but on the other hand, trying to explain them would probably have given the story a more religious tone which I would not have liked at all. So, kudos to a great finish!
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • The First Adventure (Feyland Series Prequel Novella) 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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 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?
  • 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 (The Hollows #1) 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.
  • Chalk Valley on March 03, 2015

    I don't read a lot in this genre, but I found Chalk Valley a tightly plotted page-turner of a procedural thriller. The writing could have been trimmed here and there, and the characters went a little cliche at times, but they were still compelling. Even though you know the killer from Page One, you're still happy to follow the story of his capture through to the end. I could see this as a short TV series (like Durham County, which was also Canadian), or a David Fincher movie.
  • The Medium on March 16, 2015

    A charming YA paranormal romance/gaslamp story with very endearing characters and a playful sense of humor. It did drag a bit whenever the romance trumped the plot, though, and the ending left far too many things unresolved, even for a series opener.
  • Blood Heavy on March 16, 2015

    There are some decent ideas here, but the character and dialogue are extremely juvenile (as is the way the male characters view girls), and the writing is just not good. It's as if it wasn't proof-read at all -- to the point where it's a bit insulting to the reader.
  • Crown Phoenix: The Devil's Kitchen on April 13, 2015

    This Neo-Victorian tale is structurally superior to Book 1, which kind of felt like two entirely different books stuck together, but it was still ultimately a little disappointing. I liked the "creepy underground factory" and Simon being held captive and brainwashed (with weird S&M undertones...), but there were a few issues carried over from earlier (e.g., the young characters' ages being ambiguous, making it difficult to gauge their emotional verisimilitude) and the last few chapters are rather abrupt and underdeveloped, as if author DeLuca just got tired of writing or something. This is arguably more of a "problem with advertizing" than a problem with the book in itself, but I still fail to see anything steampunk or even particularly fantastical here, beyond one simple plot point of travel between England and the (fictional) tropical island of Lampala being made quick and easy by a strange metal device. That's actually a really great premise for post-colonial speculative fiction, so congrats to DeLuca for that! I wish that these books had done more with that premise.
  • Hollowmen (The Hollows #2) on April 14, 2015

    A disappointing sequel. Not because almost none of the characters from Book 1 are in it -- killing off and separating people is par for the course in any zombie apocalypse novel worth its salt, even when we miss some of those people! -- but because the writing is nowhere near as good. The ever-expanding landscape and various zombie attacks are fine, I guess, but the characters aren't as interesting, even Remy herself is less of a bad-ass and more of a moron, and far too many narratively lazy things happen. Too bad.
  • Erased on June 10, 2015

    A surprisingly compelling read, though the dialogue was a little clunky and the characters a little inconsistent sometimes. It works mostly as a take-down of "toxic masculinity"; it's a What If? story about what would happen to this type of guy if everything got stripped away, in this case quite literally via amnesia. I kind of wish that the author had gone even further with the idea, and had the main character Ryan exploring even more issues re gender, socioeconomic status, etc., in addition to the familial relationships and such. As it stands, it's still pretty good YA. Could benefit from one more round of copy-editing, as with many indie novels, but the mistakes didn't really affect my opinion of the content.
  • Fyire Blue on June 11, 2015

    Not altogether terrible, but far too twee for me. The dialogue is quite stiff, even when it's trying for funny, and the whole thing skews far younger than one would expect from the book's description.
  • Reign of Blood on June 23, 2015

    A few good ideas, but pretty generic overall. The book starts out with unsatisfying info dumps and too-convenient explanations for, say, how April's family found their bunker. (There's no dialogue until the beginning of Chapter 3, and the lack of it until that point is due to the info dumps as opposed to narrative tension or good atmosphere.) When April finds herself alone and encounters a more... unusual vampire, there sure is dialogue, but it sure is not good. It's wooden and formal and unrealistic. I more or less gave up after that.
  • The Lost Dragon (The Dragon Hunters #1) on July 15, 2015

    Decent idea, but sadly the writing's just not very good and the whole thing is terribly overwrought. Not the right book for me.
  • The Devil's Grin on May 06, 2016

    While this book is not without its good points -- Anna/Anton Kronberg is an interesting character, the murder mystery starts off pretty well, and Victorian London is vividly depicted -- I couldn't get past the awkward, erratic banter between Kronberg and Sherlock Holmes. These characters spend so much time rehashing the known plot and character points from the Holmes canon that they become rather tedious and take over everything else. In fact, the whole thing in general is a bit tedious, and it's a shame because the writing shows a lot of promise. I love when writers try to do something new with classic characters (I also love good fan fiction, and have myself tried to write some in the past, but that's beside the point here). However, in this case I think I'd have preferred a book about just Kronberg and other original characters, perhaps with a Holmes cameo or two, as opposed to this shoehorning of what could have been great original fiction into what's essentially a Sherlock Holmes fan novel.
  • Into the Woods (Anomaly Hunters, Book One) on Aug. 10, 2016

    Surprisingly well-written and copy-edited for a self-published novel, this book has an interesting story and a good cast of characters. Volpe could be an Indy author to watch, and I plan to check out more of his work. That being said, this book would greatly benefit from a firmer editorial hand. The balance between the self-contained plot and the set-up for future installments feels a bit off and relies too much on as-yet unexplained phenomena and backstory infodumps... with a possible mythological Native American connection (blech, I hate when books use that as a catch-all for paranormal happenings). It's also quite jarring that the multiple points-of-view swing so extremely: the majority of the point-of-view characters are teens and preteens, and the overall tone and writing level would lead one to think this is solidly a YA novel, but then there's also a creepy adult pedophile in whose rather graphic sexual thoughts we spend a considerable amount of time. This makes it hard to figure out who the intended audience is supposed to be. Certainly a limited one.
  • Qualify on Nov. 16, 2016

    The first chapter wasn't very good and nearly put me off the book... but I'm glad I stuck with it because this turned out pretty great! Full of original ideas, even as it is so clearly influenced by other popular YA dystopian novels, and many great characters. There was clear character progression, as well as excellent action sequences -- and not too many of them! -- and a few plot twists that I didn't see coming and very much enjoyed. I look forward to the next book in the series. That said, the premise may be too over-the-top for some readers, and the writing is not always as good as I know Vera Nazarian can produce. The whole book could use editing, as well as more copy-editing.
  • The God in Flight on Feb. 13, 2017

    This is one of my favorite books of all time. I must have read it dozens of times, starting in the late 1990s, a couple of years after it was first published. I am SOOOOOO excited to see it's being re-released! I have a hardcover First edition but bought a copy of the Lethe Press Smashwords ebook just so I could support it and leave this review :D
  • Dynasty Of Ghosts on Aug. 17, 2018

    Extremely enthralling, though not without flaws. Begs for a sequel!