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!   

Book Reviews

Review: The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson

All her life Fern has been told she is blind to reality—but what if she is the only one who can truly see?

Fern Johnson is crazy. At least, that’s what the doctors have claimed since her childhood. Now nineteen, and one step away from a psych ward, Fern struggles to survive in bustling Los Angeles. Desperate to appear “normal,” she represses the young man flickering at the edge of her awareness—a blond warrior only she can see.

Tristan was Fern’s childhood imaginary hero, saving her from monsters under her bed and outside her walls. As she grew up and his secret world continued to bleed into hers, however, it only caused catastrophe. But, when the city is rocked by the unexplainable, Fern is forced to consider the possibility that this young man isn’t a hallucination after all—and that the creature who decimated his world may be coming for hers.

–back cover of The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson

I was given an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Upon receiving the book I first had two thoughts: I thought that the title was uncreative, but for what the title lacks the cover certainly makes up for–the cover of this book is fantastic and made me excited to read the book.

This novella was a quick read, and overall very enjoyable.

Swanson’s writing style is superb, and it kept me captivated throughout the book. There were several times where I sat down planning to read just one chapter and ended up reading several. That is a sign of a good author, and I think that for a first release she has made an impact.

I adored the main character, Fern. I thought that she was well rounded and relatable. Tristan was a good character too, but I did not find him as charming as many other readers seemed to think.

The plot is where I had an issue with this book. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good and well thought out plot. It was interesting and very original. It was very rushed though. This novella should have been doubled in length if not tripled. It also read very much so like a first draft–a first draft written by a very talented writer! There weren’t typos or grammar errors or anything like that, but I felt like it was rather rushed and underdeveloped.

Overall though, I really did enjoy this book. I suggest giving it a try because it won’t be a waste of your time. Even if it is underdeveloped, it is full of raw emotion. I expect great things from this author in the future. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Reviews

Review: Eclipse the Warrior by J.L. Hendricks

Eclipse of the Warrior is a portal fantasy book written by J.L. Hendricks as part of a series. The book is set in Los Angeles where a battle from another dimension has spilled out into the streets. Fae and Vampires lurk in every alley, battling for space. With green blood and no concern for humans, they aren’t the typical members of these races we normally hear about. That’s when a middle-aged woman sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong. Will she be the hero our world so desperately needs? You’ll have to buy the next book, this one leaves you hanging.

I have mixed reactions to this story. I love the plot. The storyline sings the author’s creativity in a delightful tune – one that I’d like to hear more of.

The characters are a little underdeveloped, but that isn’t unusual in a multi-book fantasy series. They will have time to grow. In an unusual twist, after reading the whole novel, I cannot describe the main character – which is a bit unsettling. I can, however, find a possible reason – I think her appearance may change in book two.

My problem was with the flow of the writing. The first chapters I found a bit choppy. Some things were over described and repeated, while others were left completely missing. It was a bit distracting. By the last 1/3 of the book it either improved or I became accustomed to it, because it wasn’t noticeable anymore.

I definitely want to find out where Hendricks takes thing next. I’ll be watching this author and looking for some more books in the future.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Book Reviews, Young Adult

Review: The Last Star by Rick Yancey

The enemy is Other. The enemy is us.

They’re down here, they’re up there, they’re nowhere. They want the Earth, they want us to have it. They came to wipe us out, they came to save us.

But beneath these riddles lies one truth: Cassie has been betrayed. So has Ringer. Zombie. Nugget. And all 7.5 billion people who used to live on our planet. Betrayed first by the Others, and now by ourselves.

In these last days, Earth’s remaining survivors will need to decide what’s more important: saving themselves…or saving what makes us human.

–back cover of The Last Star by Rick Yancey

An alien invasion isn’t exactly a unique story. Whenever I go to tell someone about this series I feel kind of silly saying, “Yeah, aliens come and take over the world, but um…I promise it’s more interesting than that!” And it really is; I have genuinely enjoyed reading this story, but I felt a little let down with the last book.

The first book was amazing, so when I heard that it would be turned into a trilogy, I didn’t expect them to surpass the first book, and they did not, until the ending of The Last Star. The devastating–um, I mean beautiful–ending was possibly the most powerful part of the whole series, and that made some of the slowness from the second and third book worth reading.

The Last Star was an entertaining read overall. It kept me interested, but I did feel like some of the timeline was off and that some things from the third book did not add up to the second book. There was nothing major, just some elements of inconsistency.

As always, I love this author’s writing style. I love the short chapters, which is totally a matter of personal opinion, but the short chapters always make me so happy. Sometimes switching between points of view every few chapters would confuse me. I would miss that the point of view had switched–despite the obvious indicator–and get confused and have to backpedal.

Now, onto characters.

I was so disappointed with Cassie. She turned from a strong female character into a whiney and weak character. It was like she was a completely different character in this book, and I did not enjoy her point of view chapters.

Ben and Marika were developed excellently in this book, and I really grew to love them, but Sam is the one that I will never forget. He was just a baby, but he was so strong, and some of the things he had to do even adults would not be able to do. He is the character that will stick with me for a long time.

The sci-fi aspect of this last book was, at best, confusing. I had trouble following it at some points, and I think that if Rick Yancey would have kept it like the first and second books made it out to be it would have made a lot more sense.

And finally, the part of the book that drove me absolutely crazy…the romance. I am not one that needs romance in a story to begin with, but if it is done well, I don’t mind it, I may even enjoy it, but then there is this book. This quote sums it up: “My face is hot. I’m thinking of the night I landed on the shores of Evanland and planted my flag upon that sculpted beach.” The romance does not improve beyond that.

The book could have been written better in many places, but it is worth reading, because if nothing else it gives closure. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Book Reviews

Review: Emancipated by M.G. Reyes

The good girl, the bad boy, the diva, the hustler, the rock star, and the nerd. Six teens legally liberated from parental control for six different reasons, all with one thing in common: something to hide.

Now they’re sharing a house in Venice Beach, acting like a family, and living their lies. No parents. No limits. No alibis. One witnessed a crime, another might be a murderer—and one’s been spying on them all.

As they cling to a fantasy of freedom and slowly let down their guards, the past creeps up on them. And when one of them gets arrested, everyone’s carefully constructed facade comes crumbling down.

In this steamy, drama-filled series, relationships are tested and secrets revealed as lies threaten to destroy their perfect setup.

Emancipated by M.G. Reyes

This book started off with a clear lack of research, as each teen was emancipated within about two weeks. It made the process look incredibly quick and easy. The book then had a sense of unrealism as all six teens ended up living at the same house, not realizing beforehand that they are all emancipated. This was all in the first fifty pages and kind of threw me off from being able to enjoy the rest of the book.

The characters were flat. I felt as if I were reading cardboard cutouts with slight variations. They were unrealistic and impossible to relate to. There were six point-of-view characters, which made getting to know any of them a bit difficult.

The plot was slow and there often were inconsistencies. If it wasn’t for the fact that I refuse to DNF* a book I would have put it down. As I approached the end, it had a bit of a cliffhanger which, frankly, was the only interesting part of the book.

I give it 1.5 out of 5 stars.


*DNF: Did Not Finish

Book Reviews, Young Adult

Review: Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

The war between humanity and Faerie devastated both sides. Or so 15-year-old Liza has been told. Nothing has been seen or heard from Faerie since, and Liza’s world bears the scars of its encounter with magic. Trees move with sinister intention, and the town Liza calls home is surrounded by a forest that threatens to harm all those who wander into it. Then Liza discovers she has the Faerie ability to see into the past, into the future, and she has no choice but to flee her town. Liza’s quest will take her into Faerie and back again, and what she finds along the way may be the key to healing both worlds.

Janni Lee Simner’s first novel for young adults is a dark fairy-tale twist on apocalyptic fiction as familiar as a nightmare, yet altogether unique.

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

Bones of Faerie was really very dark, so here is your official content warning. If the death of children or abuse are subjects that you would not want to read about, this is not the book for you.

In the first page, it becomes evident that the main character Liza’s father had burned her baby sister to death. Throughout the book, this type of content comes up again many times. The book, however, is good, very interesting, and it kept me up way too late when I was reading it. It’s the type of book that you know is kind of twisted, but you just have to know what happens next.

I thought that the characters were strong and interesting. Liza was the main character, and I liked seeing her develop her powers. Overall, there was just a cast of good characters; in addition to Liza there was Matthew, Kate, Allie, and Caleb. Matthew surprised me with how he turned out to be. Allie was the perfect portrayal of a child, which was nice to see. She wasn’t overly tough or overly annoying–she was just a child.

My only complaint with the characters is that most of them weren’t very memorable. The two that I’ll probably remember are Caleb and Liza’s father. I’ll only remember Liza’s father because he was so horrible, but Caleb was fascinating and I am excited to see what happens to him in the rest of the trilogy.

Overall, this book was well-written, had a good set of characters and an interesting, compelling plot. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Reviews, Young Adult

Review: The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey by Lisa Papademetriou

When mortal enemies Veronica and Heather get hit by a bar code scanner while fighting over the last copy of a hot fantasy novel, they are transported into the novel. Having accidentally killed the book’s heroine, Vero and Heather have no choice but to try to save the land of Galma from the Twilight Queen.

— back cover of The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey by Lisa Papademetriou

This lighthearted and refreshing book was a quick and fun read. I was intrigued by the blurb and the author did not let me down. Hasn’t every reader imagined what it’d be like to live in their favorite book world before? Now imagine actually being taken there, but not just taken there–you accidentally kill the main character and now your real-life nemesis takes their place.

This book is meant to be fun, so I don’t feel as if we can expect to get too attached to the main characters. Veronica and Heather were good characters, and they were entertaining to read about although I don’t think they are all that memorable. They serve their purpose: to make you laugh and enjoy the story. They are not the type of characters that are unforgettable, but sometimes a story as light as this one has its own type of magic. My only complaint is that, at times, Heather could be very annoying.

The plot was intriguing and held me captive until the end.

The writing style was good. There wasn’t anything too exciting about it, but it did not distract from the story, and, in my opinion, if it doesn’t distract from the story it is a good writing style.

I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars. I’d suggest it to anyone who is looking for a fun fantasy read.
Book Reviews, Young Adult

Review: A Summer Promise by Robin Jones Gunn

As 14-year old Christy leaves her family’s Wisconsin farm to spend the summer at her wealthy aunt and uncle’s beach home in Newport, she realizes this could be the best season of her life. Through it all, will Christy keep her promise to her parents not to do anything she’ll regret?

–back cover of A Summer Promise by Robin Jones Gunn

There are some parts of this book that are good and some parts that could be improved, but overall this was a pretty good read for the right audience. I think that this book is definitely for younger teens, and I also think that it may be more so a book for Christians than for those of different faiths. I think that some things said in the book may have been said in an offensive manner.

I think that Christy is a great representation of a fourteen-year-old girl. It shows the awkwardness and insecurities that often come with this age. Christy experiences self-image issues and an aunt who is so concerned about Christy’s appearance passes down some of that fear to her. This can happen so often in families, and I think that Gunn portrayed this wonderfully.

That being said, her aunt drove me crazy. I think that she was unnecessarily cruel throughout the whole book. I loved her uncle’s carefree approach to life though. Todd, the love interest, occasionally drove me crazy, because he didn’t seem that interested in Christy. He seemed more interested in leading her to God and controlling her. He could be inconsiderate and a bit of a jerk at times, but he could also be really sweet when he wasn’t being a jerk. Overall I found him immature and annoying.

The two characters that I liked the most were probably two of the secondary characters, Tracy and Allissa. Tracy wasn’t in this book much, but she seemed like she was a lot more well-rounded than the other characters, and a lot less judgemental. Allissa seemed to be one of the more interesting characters because of her lifestyle. It was like she was being shamed by the author for being sexually active, though, and I did not appreciate that.

As for the writing style, I felt as if she had done a great job. I have no complaints here, really. She did well.

The plot was interesting, especially around the climax. The author held my attention throughout the whole book, but I think that the plot was used as a tool to preach to people. I understand that in Christian fiction there will be Christianity, but I think that this went too far. It wasn’t intricately woven into the plot; it was literally a character standing in front of others speaking to them in a preachy manner. There were also strong undertones of, “if you don’t believe, you will be thrown into hell.”

For the right audience, this book would be enjoyable, but I still found some issues with it despite that. So, I give it 3 out of 5 stars.