Book Reviews, Young Adult

Review: Sparks Fly by Kadian Thomas

Sparks Fly is an amazing debut novel in Young/Adult Fantasy. What’s different about this book? There are two strong female main characters.

The first is a young girl named Calina who runs into a forest, hoping to avoid being attacked by bullies.

The second is Anorvia. She’s been bred her whole life to fulfill a prophecy. Destined to return to her homeworld as a saviour, she too enters the forest.

Only one person can travel between the two worlds – the wrong one does.

I love the idea of alternating between the two girls and seeing both of their struggles to end up on the side of the portal they were meant to be. Later on, we are given a third perspective, which in some books would be confusing, but here, I believe it works well.

The ending is where I felt this first-in-a-series lacked. Cliffhanger endings can be a good thing. They build up suspense for what happens next. This, however, wasn’t a tension-building ending – rather, I found it a bit confusing. I came away with a feeling of What just happened? I even went back to reread the final pages to see if I missed something. Alas, I did not. I will simply have to wait for the next book to understand why.

Four out of five stars!

Book Reviews

Review: Border Lines by L.E. Fitzpatrick

I decided to read Border Lines during the voting period of the Summer Indies Book Awards as it was one of eight books listed in the Dystopian category.

I am going to start by saying this book is well-written with vivid descriptions. Fitzpatrick crammed so much into 233 pages and the book is bursting with action. It takes place in and around apocalyptic London. The book starts out with an interesting murder. That sets up the mystery that needs to be solved.

As the second book in a series, the story follows the already established trio of Charlie, John and Rachel as they take on a new “job”. I wish had more information from the first book. I found it a bit confusing in the beginning. For example, I did not know what type of “jobs” the group did, although, whatever they were, they appeared not to be legally sanctioned.

Although I enjoyed all the different perspectives, early on I found it a bit disjointed; by the halfway mark it came together nicely. The second point of view is more a detective-on-the-case style, following up on a slew of recent murders. This adds in place a whodunit aspect to the tale, which proved to be quite interesting. Fitzpatrick gives a few possibilities along the way.

Overall it was an interesting read that held my attention. I’ll need to read the next book to answer a few questions left over at the end.

Four out of five stars. I’m not taking off any points because I haven’t read the first book in the series, but I strongly suggest other readers do.

Book Reviews

Review: Nano for the New and Insane by Lazette Gifford

I recently found a book online titled NaNo for the New and Insane: A Guide to Surviving NaNoWriMo while searching for resources for the upcoming National Novel Writing Month in November. The title automatically grabbed my attention because, having participated in NaNoWriMo twice already, and Camp NaNoWriMo twice more, I would generally chalk it up to insanity. (Well, literary and very fun insanity, at the very least.)

National Novel Writing Novel Month is an online and virtual event with thousands of participants. The goal, in its purest form, is to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of November. The rule is to begin on November 1st without any words written towards the actual novel (although you may have written outlines, character descriptions, synopses, etc. in preparation.) There are, as always, some rebels.

NaNo for the New and Insane is a great book if you’re looking into participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time. It’s accessible, easy to read, free, well-written, and not too long. (Which means you’ll be able to finish it in time for NaNoWriMo!) For those who have already participated in the madness of NaNo, this book remains a useful resource. I, myself, found a lot of tips and tricks I hadn’t heard of before.

This book is free and available through Smashwords. (Linked here for your convenience.) It’s very easy to read online or to download an ebook file and send it to e-readers like Kindles or Nooks. This is a great plus! But it is important to keep in mind that most of it wasn’t originally intended to be a book. NaNo for the New and Insane is really a curated collection of articles written by the author, Lazette Gifford, on the subject of NaNoWriMo. Content has been added in to make it a more unique experience, it’s been organized well into easy-to-follow chapters, and it always lists if the article has already appeared somewhere online.

NaNo for the New and Insane was an enjoyable read. It covers both the steps leading up to and following NaNoWriMo, which I find incredibly useful. Rather than focusing on one particular aspect, it gives a sweeping yet sufficiently detailed panorama of life before, during, and after NaNo. Granted, portions of this book (namely the post-NaNoWriMo chapters) are primarily meant for someone whose objective on November 1st is to begin–and hopefully finish–the draft. Gifford does, however, make mentions of hobby writing with suggestions for those looking to write solely for fun.

Since I’ve already participated in NaNoWriMo a few times, a lot of what Gifford said was already common knowledge to me. However, she still brought up a lot of useful ideas, like the concept of using “phases” to plan out your novel. I also found her idea of NaNoWriMo as a time to explore new genres refreshing and intriguing. I will definitely implement some of Gifford’s character-building techniques.

Gifford’ ideas are very adaptable to those who have a limited time frame for outlining (since NaNoWriMo is upon us!), and also to those who already have set outlines (since they can turn to some of her suggestions and adapt them on the spot).

There are a few typos here and there; not a huge deal, but something I did pick up on. (I tend to notice typos a bit more than most.) Additionally, this book was written in 2006 and revised again in 2011. However, some parts of it do still seem a bit outdated.

I found certain aspects of this book tinged with the author’s personal opinions. That’s to be expected, as with any book, but it is important to keep that in mind when reading. (Some of the ways she represents self-publishing, for example, are different from the ways I’ve seen it represented.)

All in all, I give this book a well-deserved 3.5 stars out of 5. NaNo for the New and Insane has plenty of potential; perhaps with another revision to expand on some points and update it to the current year, it would be a perfect handbook to those taking the plunge into the insanity of NaNoWriMo!

Book Reviews, Young Adult

Book Review: Nerve by Jeanne Ryan

ARE YOU PLAYING THE GAME OR IS THE GAME PLAYING YOU?

Vee doesn’t know if she has the guts to play NERVE, an anonymous online game of dares. But whoever’s behind the game knows exactly what she wants, enticing her with lustworthy prizes and a sizzling-hot partner. With Ian on her team, it’s easy to agree to another dare. And another. And another. At first it’s thrilling as the Watchers cheer them on to more dangerous challenges. But suddenly the game turns deadly. Will Vee and Ian risk their lives for the Grand Prize dare, or will they lose NERVE?

–back cover blurb of Nerve by Jeanne Ryan

Sometimes one stumbles upon a book that they know is not written well, but that they absolutely adore anyways. That was me with this book. There are so many reasons that I should not have enjoyed this book, and yet it was one that I enjoyed reading so much.

The writing style was nothing special. In some areas of the book it even seemed as if it were not edited to make it be the best that it could have potentially been. While the writing style was not great, it was passable, and overall it did not take away from the enjoyment of the stories.

The characters are a different story–they are cardboard cutouts that one would expect to see in a book like this. There was very little depth, and they were predictable stereotypes, but they played their purpose.

The plot was fairly predictable, but something about it made it impossible to put down. It was fast paced, and overall I did enjoy the plot quite a bit.

I did have one major problem with this book, though. As found out in the very first chapter, the main character accidentally fell asleep in the garage and ended up in the hospital because of poisoning from the car exhaust. The parents thought that it was a suicide attempt so they grounded her. For one thing, this doesn’t really even make sense. Who would ground their child for something like this, and why would it be looked at as an acceptable and loving thing if they did?

Overall, I did enjoy this book quite a bit. If you’re looking for a fun and quick read, go for it. If you are looking for something substantial, pass on this one. I give it three out of five stars.

Book Reviews

Review: Evasion by Becca Boucher

A zombie pandemic has already happened and left scars behind. In the meager life that is left behind, a new problem arises – drugs. The main character, Lizzy, never saw the signs her husband was involved until it was too late. As the story progresses it becomes clear much more is being created than meth & heroin – someone wants to recreate the pandemic.

I am obligated to give my usual warnings: strong language; drug addiction; and violence. Recommended for mature audiences.

I love the idea of a man-made, mind-eating bacteria and the use of drugs as a means of distribution. Bringing in elements of intrigue, government conspiracy, interwoven lies, kidnapping, and murders, all within a small town, makes this a fast-paced page-turner. There is a touch of romance that hits out-of-the-blue. It’s a nice touch, but happens a bit too fast considering all that is going on.

Overall, the characters are well-developed, but I was more intrigued by them rather than emotionally vested in their fight. I would have liked to have had a bit more of a look at Luca and Lizzy’s relationship before the pandemic to give me a little extra emotion about what was happening to them – perhaps a prologue of life before the war.

A recommended read for government conspiracy theorists. Although this book is technically about zombies, they have a rather short role on screen.

Four out of five stars!

Book Reviews

Review: Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti, first uniter of the Meduse and Humans in tentative peace, first of the Himba tribe to be accepted into the Oomza University far from Earth, has now been at university for a year in this follow-up to Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti titled Binti: Home. And it feels like a seamless transition from the first novella to this sequel, also a novella.

As a continuation of the first story, albeit a year later, we get to see the growth that Binti has made in her studies at university and that she maintains a relationship with not only the Khoush and the Meduse, but also longs to go home. As she’s able to with a Meduse, she is able to act as the bridge between it, as the first Meduse peaceful ambassador to Earth, and humans–specifically her tribe.

As much as leaving changed her in ways that she couldn’t imagine, so does going home. She is confronted by family and friends who judge her for leaving, for changing, and blame her for things she could not reasonably be blamed for. Feeling outcast yet again, she ends up going on a journey again – this time, she expects normal life as one of womanhood, but it turns out so very different than she anticipated.

She’s the one who has changed the most and we don’t see her family at all in the first novella, so we only see how they respond to her having changed so much. It’s a powerful way to show how much she is going against the grain with her family and her tribe, and how they are developed enough to respond fearfully, with distinctly human and secluded human reactions. The pain she feels is real; we are also exposed to some flashbacks that develop our understanding of how she ended up down the path she is heading, how she is different than what her father expected, how she’s had to give up so much (as her father has given up his dreams for her) to become who she is intended to be.

The exposition provided is stunning. Characters are not only well-developed, but so is the setting, the reactions everyone has, the events, and the pacing that engages the reader from beginning to end. At 168 pages, it could take fewer than two hours to complete it, but it feels like so much less and leaves us wanting for more. Binti is a very real and realized person on her journey to become more her and each journey she goes on helps immensely with that.

This story left on a pretty big cliffhanger and the next one, The Binti Masquerade, doesn’t come out until January 2018. I’ve got it on pre-order and can’t wait to review it!  This series is definitely at least a 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Also, relevant news for those who enjoy tv and movie adaptations of books, Okorafor announced the morning of July 10th, that her novel, Who Fears Death, has been contracted with HBO to be turned into a tv series.

Book Reviews

Review: Alterations by Jane Suen

I’ve read other works by Jane Suen and her new Novella, Alterations, caught my eye when I saw it was a medical thriller. Of course, the cover helped in that regard.

This is the tale of three women – their fates tied together by one common thread. Each of them is being treated by Dr. Kite. Doctor is a loose term when it comes to this man as he holds no degree. He is, however, a genius and my favourite character in Alterations

The women all have very different issues they need to be addressed. Only one is actually sick and needs the treatment. The other two are battling the bulge and age. Each wants a quick fix with minimal effort. That’s Kite’s speciality and the reason why no one asks him for a degree. Our good doctor has invented a cure–an implant of sorts–but two end up being defective. That’s where the fun begins.

I have to admit if someone promised within an hour they could change me into whatever size I wanted, I’d bite. With all the money women spend on looking younger you can bet there would be a lot who would overlook legalities for youth. This scenario is plausible and that is where Suen’s trademark twist comes into play, leaving the reader with thought-provoking questions.

Alterations is by far my favourite piece by Suen. I enjoyed the both the writing and the characters. I can’t wait for what comes next!

Four out of five stars! A recommended read for thrill seekers and science fiction lovers alike.

Book Reviews, Diversity

Review: My City Sister by Akpa Arinzechukwu

Recently, I stumbled upon Writivism and the associated article for the 2017 Kofi Addo Prize for Creative Nonfiction Long List. This is an annual prize for nonfiction works. Initially specific to emerging African writers living in Ghana, it has widened to include writers born, raised, or living elsewhere in Africa. The shortlisted writers are then invited to a literary fest where the winner is chosen. My hope was to find pieces written by these shortlisted authors. Unfortunately, the only one I could find for my Kindle is a piece written by Akpa Arinzechukwu.

This short story piece is titled My City Sister and while I doubt it was the piece submitted for the prize, it was interesting to read anyway. The piece has too much of a fiction feel to it. The twelve pages of story centers on a young man entering the city where his sister lives for the first time. He’s a rural man, likely pretty young, and it is about how the city impacts him in ways he can’t imagine.

The worst thing about it is the attitude the main character has as he enters the city. It immediately made him unlikeable. The best thing about it is that it was written well enough that I was very engaged and wanted to find out what happened to this pompous character.  

It’s very much a story of how the city changes the main character, so we don’t see much character development except for his. He and his sister are prominent, but she is seen only through his eyes and is limited in interactions. Any change we see in her is really a change in how he perceives her. The thing is though – the city changes him against his will because of his experiences there. He’s still pompous, but far less judgmental than in the beginning.

Unfortunately, it feels a bit contrived for the storyline. Young man, very immature, goes to the city and is miraculously changed for the “better.” Maybe it’s because I’m not an avid short story fan but I am always wanting more. I’ve seen short story authors who are amazing at world-building. Many of the ones I’ve read are more about character development. This one is interesting to me in the sense that it’s set somewhere I’m very unfamiliar with, but uses a story that is incredibly common. The author definitely could have fleshed out certain areas better.

Yet, I’m glad I read it. It was easy to read, it was easy to understand his motivations and his transformation, and it stylistically written well. I’d be interested in seeing what else he has written.

Book Reviews

Review: Francesco Augustine Bernadone: A Brief History of Our Tomorrows by Stan Faryna

Book Review ~ Francesco Augustine Bernadone: Stan Faryna’s short, Francesco Augustine Bernadone: A Brief History of Our Tomorrows  (Love & Fear: The Future is Bucharest Book 1) is a dark fantasy RPG Lit that takes place in the not so distant future. While I don’t have a warning per se, I am going to mention it could be classified as a horror as well.

I found the subject matter frightening enough to keep me awake a good portion of the night after reading. It isn’t so much monsters or things that go bump in the night that truly terrify, but rather the possibility that the author’s tale could one day come to pass.

Faryna takes the worst of humanity, amplifies it and makes it a plausible future. I, for one, don’t want to live in a world where the poor sacrifice their lives to have their bodies harvested of all usable parts – all in the hope of loved ones having a chance for a future. It’s also horrible to think of a cure for cancer that no one can afford.

The author earns all four stars in the storyline itself. I have no complaints about the storyline either. In most aspects this is a five star read. Where Faryna falls short is the ending.

In novels, leaving a suspenseful cliff-hanger is common practice. When writing shorts, however, the author needs to carefully lead into another piece or to self-contain the story.  Resolution of some sort, even the promise of one, is so important to readers it cannot be overlooked.

After reading Francesco Augustine Bernadone: A Brief History of Our Tomorrows (Love and Fear: The Future is Bucharest Book 1) I was left wanting to know answers. Bottom line, I wanted to more.

I recommend this short story to anyone looking for a thought provoking read!

Four out of five stars.

Book Reviews

Review: Dawn of Wonder: The Wakening Book 1 by Jonathan Renshaw

“When a high-ranking officer gallops into the quiet Mistyvales, he brings a warning that shakes the countryfolk to their roots. But for Aedan, a scruffy young adventurer with veins full of fire and a head full of ideas, this officer is not what he seems.

The events that follow propel Aedan on a journey that only the foolhardy or desperate would risk, leading him to the gates of the nation’s royal academy – a whole world of secrets in itself.

But this is only the beginning of his discoveries. Something is stirring in the land, something more ominous than the rising threat of hostile nations. Fearful travellers whisper of an ancient power breathing over Thirna, changing it, waking it. In the very heart of these stirrings, Aedan encounters that which defies belief, leaving him speechless with terror – and wonder.”

– Cover Summary; Dawn of Wonder

At it’s core, Dawn of Wonder is a coming of age story, focusing the young Aedan as he deals with life altering events and growing from child to young man.  The fantasy setting is richly detailed and so full of vivid descriptors that you can almost smell the cool breezes coming off the pages.  

There are ruins filled with dark mystery, cities full of intrigue, and childish shenanigans galore.  Renshaw does a very good job of keeping a balance between internal and external conflict, as well.  Not only must our young hero deal with bullies, thugs, and mythical monsters, but he also faces harsh issues such as slavery and learning to cope with trauma.  Aside from the many physical and mental hurdles Aedan must face, there is a new force, perhaps of magic or of nature, that is sweeping the lands, causing the trees to grow large and the beasts become more intelligent.  

It’s difficult to do this book justice in such a short review; there are so many layers to the plot, such depth of character development, and detail in setting that it really must be experienced.  If you love fantasy, adventure, and a meaningful story, we strongly recommend you pick up Dawn of Wonder.  Book two is already in the works, so keep an eye out for that too!  A solid 5 out of 5 stars!