Craig Steele’s Time’s Up: She’s Breaking the Ice is a mile-a-minute crime mystery drama. Aussie Matilda is new in town and new to the force. She is teamed up with Jacqueline and makes fast friends with her. The two, along with their team, are investigating a string of murders with odd similarities. Dead and drained bodies are popping up with unexplainable circular wounds. Simultaneously, they are investigating street drug, Ice, and its effects. They want to know if they are connected. Storylines intertwine to connect the dots as they discover something more sinister than they could have imagined is afoot.
I enjoyed the relationship and humor between characters Matilda and Jacqueline. It’s nice to see the silly side of two highly trained and adept women. It makes the otherwise tough characters relatable. It shows their duality. They can have fun and joke and play around. They can also be independent and self-reliant and handle a weapon. I think readers, especially female readers, will appreciate that the women aren’t one-dimensional. Steele did a great job in developing the major characters.
Steele’s writing is very descriptive. This helped me picture the creatures in the sewer before I actually knew what they were. It also helped me picture the victims. This was not a read for those with weak stomachs. That being said, the gnarly details were relevant to the story. They were necessary in filling in details of the mysterious crimes.
The Ice storyline really hits home. It borrows from the front pages of newspapers and doesn’t paint over the ugly parts. Steele pulls in similarities to the current opioid crisis in America while tying it to Nazi-led drug experimentation of the past. The characters’ altered state while on Ice is scary, but an important cautionary tale. It serves as a warning of what could be, and readers will see similarities to our current climate.
I’ll admit the sight of 76 chapters and 600+ pages felt daunting. I’m afraid other readers may feel the same way, but I read the book over a week and it didn’t feel long and the plot flowed well. There are several instances where incorrect homophones are used, some sentence fragments due to misplaced periods, and some plural vs. possessive mistakes. But this does not detract from the overall entertaining story.
Craig Steele’s Time’s Up: She’s Breaking the Ice is well written and the characters are intriguing and deftly developed. The main characters were likeable, and the villains were easy to hate. I’d like to read more work by this author.
Pages: 333 | ASIN: B07F5X4782
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From Frights to Flaws, by Sunayna Prasad, is the first in the author’s Magical Missions series and follows the plight of Alyssa McCarthy as she discovers a magical world complete with a talking marble statue and fantastic creatures bent on saving her from a newly-discovered nemesis. Alyssa is a twelve-year-old girl living with her cousin and uncle–a man who cares for her but provides a highly regimented life of homeschooling, chores, and virtual seclusion from the outside world. When Alyssa begins to find peculiar notes around their home addressed to her, she strives to make herself noticed and validated by her uncle. Her life, and the lives of her family and friends, go from humdrum to fantastically frightening in a matter of moments.
As the first book in a series of fantasy stories, From Frights to Flaws has the potential to be a memorable read. However, as a teacher who often uses literature from all genres in my classroom, I can’t help but notice some issues with character and plot development. On several occasions throughout the reading, I felt that unique situations were brought to light too quickly without sufficient background and build-up. The author is aiming at an audience who is still developing a schema as they read, especially in the fantasy genre. It is important to be as descriptive as possible to draw in readers with elaborate explanations. I feel those explanations are missing as the setting moves from the everyday to the land of mythical creatures and magical beings. The author takes for granted that the reader is able to follow quickly and make assumptions.
I was struck early on in the reading with the similarities to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Alyssa, a wonderfully written character, is thoroughly described in the initial chapters, but loses some of her uniqueness as the book progresses.
The setting of the book is one of its more appealing aspects. The author has chosen to set Alyssa’s adventures in present times with references to tablets, iPhones, iPods and GPS navigation. This alone will attract a younger audience. The fantasy element interwoven with this modern-day setting makes for an appealing read for preteen readers. I was impressed with the growing number of fantastic creatures as the story line progressed. From dermaidens to the centidile and from Regulus, the marshakeet, to the ash-breathing adder, the author has laid out a long list of beings who can easily compete with those in any fantasy novel for preteens.
Prasad has the base for a strong work of literature for young readers, but lacks some of the well-developed background and detail I would like to see in this particular genre. Sunayna Prasad has created a story that is enthralling in many ways.
Pages: 216 | ASIN: B00EO8U7O8
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Epiphany, written by Sonya Deanna Terry, is a two-part novel that explores the beginnings of currency through a magical adventure where the forgotten past collides with the future.
Book One: The Golding, introduces us to Rosetta, a woman of many talents, ranging from tarot reading to organizing book clubs and being a mother to a sultry teenage girl. The past is then uncovered through a novel Rosetta reads, bringing to life a world of elves, faerie clans, body kings, and potions. Soon it becomes evident that the elves have a message for the people of the future and from here begins an epic adventure where love, life, and fantasy come together for a modern day fairy tale.
Book Two: The Silvering, explores The Global Financial Crisis and the impact it has on the people of the future. Rosetta and her book club friends stumble into a quest for “The Silvering” where letters from the past give clues of the future. What is the Currency of Kindness and will it return in the lifetime of Rosetta and her friends?
Epiphany is a novel with an epic story line involving financial struggles, intimate relationships and a book filled with elves and mystery by a mysterious Lillibridge.
The book alternates between Rosetta’s current life and the novel she is reading, weaving the two stories together in a package of magic, elves, and fantasy. As you enter the world of prehistoric Norway, you can’t help but be entranced by the magical world portrayed through vibrant colours, beautiful oaked woods and most importantly, elves who are between reality and the Dream Sphere. The switch to the modern day brings about relatable issues such as family problems, relationship woes, and moody teenagers. The two worlds then collide, creating a modern-day fairy tale, filled with magic and consequence.
There are also letters which help establish clues and meaning to some of the characters. These letters are vital to the story line and give us an insight into people’s personalities and real-life problems. Some of the problems are eerily relatable, from financial stresses and relationship woes, leaving the plot line feeling almost as if it could genuinely be real life.
Pieter of the Brumlynds is an elf who ventures into the Dream Sphere to help someone in the future. Pieter is a deep thinker, analyzing his destiny while also getting frustrated at the simplicity of humans. Malieka, Pieters mother, ventures into the Dream Sphere, sometimes meeting strange and beautiful creatures who are determined to pass on important messages. Throughout the novel we watch the characters grow in both strength and courage, as they venture into the unknown world.
The imagery conjured by the author is both beautiful and enchanting. The colours, descriptions of nature and the Dream Sphere leave the reader imagining their world with a tinge of fairy dust and sparkle. Phrases such as “emerald tinged blackness” or “hair like lava, eyes of black stone” are just a few examples of the magic the words bring to life on the page.
I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a fantasy novel with a dash of romance, magic and a modern-day twist.
Pages: 1095 | ASIN: B01NCNFS6F
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Shackled Scribes is a fantasy piece that takes place in a world powered by runes and those that carve them for the worm rulers in power. The story opens with Cyesko, an interesting character. He strives to be a respected rune scribe, partly due to his addiction to Ichor, a golden liquid that he receives as payment for his runes. He is a bird-like creature who has spent most of his life being a weak rune scribe, but that all changes when he runs into Tialina, a female bird creature who is naturally gifted in rune scribing. When he takes part of a rune she created, it sends him on a new path of stronger rune creation. However, those new runes bring new problems.
Soon, he begins to wonder who this woman was and how she became so powerful, as well as some truths that change how he sees the world around him. Meanwhile, Tialina has discovered the consequences of using rune power so often, and begins to look for a solution that might change the world.
The strength of this story lies in its world. It is unique in almost every respect, and the characters respond and react as one would expect under those circumstances. It is also a world that is well-defined. There were not many times when this reader ever felt lost or confused by the introduction of a new mechanic or function in the world. The details are revealed in such a fashion that makes the reader desire more, and gives enough of those details in a timely pace that also keeps the reader satisfied.
The plot is entertaining and straightforward. There is not a lot hiding in the details of the story, and some readers might find the actual conflicts to be a bit generic, despite the rich and unique setting. Regardless, the story moves quickly and the reader will be anxious to find out how these characters progress through the troubles where they find themselves.
Overall, the story is well worth the read. Some of the ideas are very far-fetched, but that creativity makes the reading interesting. If you can deal with ideas that aren’t much like any of the traditional magic we find in contemporary fantasy, then this will be a book for you. It is a unique setting with interesting characters. I hope that there will be more adventures in this realm.
Pages: 195 | ASIN: B01KDG6OKA
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Fun. That’s what Tim Owens brings to the table with his 2014 novel, The Hobbymen. It’s just fun. Ghouls, goblins, monsters. Banter. Sarcasm. Interesting settings and a fast pace. While you read, you can tell that Owens had a great time writing the novel and that excitement is transferred to us as we flip each page.
The book starts with Liliana, a down-on-her-luck young nun who’s caught stealing an old loaf of bread in a little town in Mexico and then thrown in a dusty, dark jail. As she sits in the dark basement, wondering if this dilapidated prison is even legitimate and awaiting her outcome, she hears the running of two young men being chased by something she’s never seen before – a scaly monster with fangs and a vicious demeanor. She watches as a fight ensues. After the two boys knock out the strange beast, they take pity on her and let her out of her cell.
We find that the two men, Geoff and ‘Book’, are monster hunters, tracking down the true origins of mythical creatures from legends, stories, and myths. Geoff and Book are friends, though very different in personality and are constantly barraging each other with good-natured sarcasm and other scathing remarks. While originally the boys were simply going to return Liliana to her convent, they quickly become a team. Working out of their shabby van, they go on all sorts of adventures – following leads for any gruesome, dangerous, or fascinating creature. Unfortunately for them, other more nefarious characters have caught wind of these adventures and they have their own vested interests in the creatures that they search for. This all leads to an exciting conclusion involving a huge rock-like monster, severed hands, and incantations.
With The Hobbymen Tim Owens has created a fun read. The dialogue is entertaining. It flies with sarcasm, humor, and references to other fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings and the classic 90s flick Tremors. The storyline is somewhat simple, but the characters and creatures continually pull you in to read more. We watch as Liliana changes from a young runaway with no real plan, to a strong, determined woman who can fight just as well as the boys. And as we flip through each page, we find that like Liliana, Geoff and Book have their own secrets and past hardships which drive them on their quests. And surely there’s chupacabras and voodoo, but it’s really a book about a girl who felt alone due to the mistakes she’d made and then finds a home, a place where she belongs, in an unexpected place and with very unexpected people.
I give The Hobbymen 4 out of 5 stars simply because it’s just good old fashioned fun. For the monster-lovers and supernatural-junkies, I would recommend this quick and light book. Because of the easy writing style and the young characters, the book lends itself well to a young adult audience, though parts might be a little intense for the younger end of that demographic (I mentioned a severed hand right?), but in the end really anyone would enjoy this. Friendship. Adventure. Voodoo. What more could you want in a book?
Pages: 358 | ISBN: 1505283590
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The Six and the Crystals if Ialana is the first book of the Ialana series. The author, Katlynn Brooke, brings this coming-of-age fantasy to life with rich details, a large cast of characters, and a world rife with magic.
Jarah is the son of a baker but isn’t happy in the village. Night after night, he dreams of an island nestled in the sea. When the King’s army comes through demanding young men for conscription Jarah, Aiden, and the local bully Blaidd are caught up by the press gang. Jarah and Aiden discover that they are having identical dreams, but Blaidd is not. Tristan, an older soldier, overhears them and contrives to help them all escape. In the mountains, Kex fights with her family over marriage, so she packs her things and leaves her clan. Tegan, a budding healer, flees her burning village. Djana is smuggled out of the city of Rhiannon when her parents are captured and sold into slavery. They are all driven to find the places and the people from their dreams.
One by one, they find each other in the woods and are rescued by a mysterious shape-shifter named Irusan. The enigmatic creature becomes their first teacher, revealing secrets about their past and hope for their future. They discover the first glimmers of their unique gifts, and Irusan prepares them to take up a quest they failed in another life, five hundred years in the past.
I was delighted by the world of Ialana. The landscape is richly described, and the history of the people and their legendary ancestors provides a foundation for the wonders that the Six will encounter. The origin of humans is complex, steeped in mystery and deeply connected to the crystals. The Dherog, descendants of dragons, make terrifying antagonists. Lord Amrafalus’ rule over half the continent bringing slavery, mutated creatures, and fear. The goal of the Six is to heal the damage of the Dherog, free the world from slavery and oppression, and return it to harmony.
Be prepared for a large cast of characters. The author does a fine job of showing how each of the six healers learns and grows throughout their journey, and that was my favorite aspect of the story. I was grateful for the chapter and section headings that identified the character or setting. This was helpful because the point of view changes so often that it can be confusing. Some key scenes felt rushed, summed up in just a few sentences, and I wish the author had taken more time to show the scene unfolding instead of just telling readers what happened. There’s a lot of information to remember, and a lot of it is “told” in conversations where people discuss what they already know. However, some of the best parts of the novel are when the characters discover their history for themselves. While some scenes are genuinely terrifying, there’s very little graphic violence, but a lot of nail-biting suspense that will keep the pages turning.
The Six and the Crystals of Ialana is a solid YA fantasy that calls to mind classics like the Shanarra Chronicles. The plot is refreshingly original, complete with surprising plot twists and interesting, engaging characters. It ends on a note of suspense that leads to the next book in the series.
Pages: 254 | ISBN: 0692573771
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At first glance this novel looks like a story taken from the world of Tolkien, you have trolls, mortals, a mystical race of beings that live in the woods, talking animals, and a quest. That, however, is where the similarities end. L.J.Francis has managed to create in Horatio Hobbs and the Calimor, a magical world that will appeal to readers of all ages. Francis brings in some of the traditional magic and creatures that people come to expect in fantasy novels, such as the trolls and elf like beings, but he turns many of the stereotypes of these fictional beings around. Nothing is as simple as it seams in the sleepy town of Drinkwater and the feared forest of Shadowmere.
Horatio is a young boy about to turn sixteen. In the town of Drinkwater, sixteen is when you become an adult to the community. He was raised by his grandfather Theodore Hobbs. You learn in the book that his mother died during child birth, as for his father, well you will have to read the book to find out what happened to him. Theodore Hobbs is a master furniture maker, and excels in his craft. He is known far and wide for his skill and ability to create the perfect item. At the center of this novel is one of his works of art. The mayoral throne. Unbeknownst to Theodore, he has carved this throne from magical wood. The tree that this wood came from is also the source of a magical acorn, the Calimor, that is delivered to Horatio by a fox. This acorn has a magical and devastating story.
The epic journey begins with Horatio setting out with his pony Thomas for the mysterious woods of Shadowmere. These woods are dark, thick, and filled with magic. The Bloodeye trolls make their home in Shadowmere. The leader of the Bloodeye, King Bovik, hates the mystical race of Eldrin that live in a protected area of Shadowmere called Celeste. When word gets back to him that Horatio has something from Celeste and is headed there King Bovik decides he will intercept Horatio and get information from him on how to destroy the Eldrin. The Bloodeye’s pursuit of Horatio and Thomas lead them on further adventures and bring them into contact with several interesting characters. One character that I feel offers the most passion and heart is Krunger, the exiled Bloodeye troll.
Francis’s ability to portray the relationship between Krunger and Horatio speaks volumes. These two characters couldn’t be more different on the outside but inside share the same goals and passions. The transformation both characters must go through is immense and will pull at the reader’s compassion and provide a renewed sense of hope.
Overall L.J. Francis gives readers a new look in the fantasy novel realm. He turns traditional character rolls around and offers a brightened future for the lands he creates. The easy reading style and lack of extreme gore from fighting scenes makes this novel appropriate for young adult readers. The complex character development and unique plot makes it appealing for adult fantasy novel followers. This book leaves the reader with just enough questions to look forward to the second installment that L.J. Francis is currently working on, but offers a conclusion to the story line in this novel. A well written novel with the promise of more adventures to come.
Pages: 284 | ASIN: B01D1XNPOA
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Arinda has been in hiding for her entire life. While nearly everyone in her little town of Amok can learn the simple magic spells that make everyday life simple, she doesn’t dare try. If the townspeople discover that she’s an actual magicker, she’ll be enslaved by the Circle of Mages for the rest of her life. Her Nanny raised her with dire warnings about the evil Mages and protects her so well that not even her parents know her dark secret.
When their parents send them to a boarding school, Arinda and her elder sister Amaris are on their own. The Headmaster, Jahx Rife, seems to take a keen interest in Arinda, and she’s desperate to keep him from discovering her magic. Of course, things go awry, and Arinda confronts her worst fears. Her suspicion and anger might blind her to the intentions of the Circle of Mages, but some of what her Nanny told her has a veneer of truth. There’s someone she should be afraid of, but her stubborn nature may keep her from seeing the threat for what it is.
Jeanne Bradford offers a Young Adult novel that is entertaining, fast-paced and full of intrigue. It’s almost heartbreaking when Arinda faces hostility and rejection, and digs in deep to defend herself from all of the perceived threats around her. In her eyes, everything her Nanny warned her about is coming true. She’s a stubborn young woman and she’s determined to keep herself free.
The world building here is excellent. I was prepared for a story about magical boarding schools, but the author surprised me and took the plot in an entirely different direction. The setting is intimate, a small kingdom founded many centuries ago by people who “came across” from another place. The wilds are full of magical creatures, and small spells and devices are commonplace, but greater magic is feared. Mages can command powers from many branches of study, and readers learn about the use of magic and its dangers right alongside Arinda.
There’s a large cast of characters. Alongside Arinda, Jahx, King Nathan, and Cullen are the members of the Royal Household, other Mages, and a nasty piece of work named Sebastien. He and his cronies are young, arrogant, and perpetually in disgrace. Sebastien makes a perfectly nasty antagonist for the novel, exploiting weaknesses in the Mages’ ranks and determined to take Arinda as his own. A strong book needs a strong antagonist, and Sebastien does not disappoint.
One thing I found troubling is that so many of the conversations were contentious. It felt like nearly every time two characters spoke to each other, someone wound up shouting, back talking a superior, speaking rudely, or getting angry. There is a lot of dialogue in this book, and when so many conversations are highly emotional or held at top volume, it diminishes the impact of the situations they’re discussing.
I enjoyed The Mage Sister and recommend it for readers 14 and up. The novel leaves enough room for a sequel, but it will easily stand alone as a complete tale. Like many fantasy novels, the themes of learning to trust, leaving childhood behind and joining together for a common cause are strongly presented. Check it out for yourself or for your favorite stubborn, self-determined teen.
Pages: 256 | ISBN: 1606594060
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Fourteen-year old Maelen Saltbearer is finally on her first business trip with her parents who are merchants from the shore. She is old enough to learn more about the family business and has the opportunity to learn hands on while discovering the world outside of her hometown. However, their arrival in the diverse city of Kaelennar takes a turn for the worse and they find themselves in a perilous situation with no escape. With an invasion of magical creatures against the humans and other races that lived in harmony in this bustling city, Maelen learns first thing about survival as well as herself. Nothing in her life could have prepared her for the battles ahead.
From the first paragraph that is rich with vivid detail, readers are drawn into Maelen’s mind as well as her world. No description is left out, which makes it more exciting and more interesting to read. The story is from her point of view and readers feel her impatience of not knowing enough of what is happening in the world that is slowly dying around her. It’s easy to feel as if the reader is right next to Maelen through it all and enduring the joys and hardships she encounters. Each chapter has little teasers as the reader tries to understand more about Maelen and what her destiny or purpose is. She is just an average girl who is smart and driven, but there is something about her that makes her a bit more special. In the story, there are sexual situations and violence, but considering the predicament Maelen and her family are in with a hostile invasion, it is relevant to the plot and suitable for young adults. The story also deals with a variety of themes such as war, dystopian society, racism, and fighting back against corruption without picking up a weapon. Even those characters that come across as physically weak draw on their own strength and talent in order to survive. This fantasy is complete with amazing creatures and races as well as magic and dark powers. It has its share of tyrants and tragedies. Emotional and gripping, it is well written and makes it difficult to put down at the end of the chapter. As Maelen’s life comes to a place where her path must take a turn, the reader easily tries to imagine and predict her next consequence for her actions. She even learns that she cannot anticipate the direction her life will take her no matter how hard she fights it or tries to make a change for the better.
Etched in Fire by Beth Hudson is intense and complex from start to finish. It makes the emotions and fears tangible to the reader and changes them. The journey with Maelen is long and full of moral challenges, but it is a worthy read that will take the reader away to a darker world of its survivors of all ages.
Pages: 544 | ISBN: 9781310614965
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Roxanne Bland’s, The Moreva of Astoreth, is a twenty-seven chapter long book about life as a morev for Moreva Tehi. Tehi is a healer that works in the Temple for the Goddess of Love, Astoreth; The Most Holy One, who is also her grandmother. Less than interested in attending the Goddess’ religious service of Ohra and desperate to find the cure for Red Fever; a disease that plagued the Hakoi of their lands, she finds herself in great trouble with Astoreth, after missing the service. The defiance in character that lands Moreva Tehi in trouble, however, would not soon leave her and she would find herself in the Syren Perritory breaking every rule she had come to know. She is be lead to many revelations, some wonderful, some unsettling, but all unexpected.
The story began in Kherah, “a sunny desert south of the planet’s equator, where the fauna were kept in special habitats for learning and entertainment.” Moreva Tehi had seemingly spent too much of her privilege as granddaughter of a Goddess and was going to be sent away as punishment. In Kherah there were Devi, morevs and hakoi, most to least powerful respectively. Moreva Tehi was all three, but she despised the hakoi, even the parts of herself that was. After being sent away, hakoi like Kepten Yose of Mjor, would be a reminder to Tehi of why she hated hakoi, while others like Hyme; the healer and Teger; the Laerd, would conflict her understanding of that hatred.
Told from a first person perspective, the book became monotonous, as Moreva’s daily routine is described almost word for word for several chapters. The cycle contained, scrambling to get to breakfast, run ins with Teger, lab work with Hyme, morning service, clean up, rest, putting on makeup and getting dressed for the Ohra, evening service, rest, repeat. This made the book harder to read until about chapter thirteen. All the chapters before laid a boring and repetitive path for the reader to just happen upon a climax, literally. A severely unlikely love interest creates a hallmark of a plot twist and begins to really unfold the story.
The use of a second language that the narrator did not understand and that was not translated, successfully excluded both the narrator and myself.
Thematically, the language and attitudes to Tehi showed the struggle for her to be welcomed by the very people with whom she would share her body in the rite of Ohra, very similar to behavior of real world cultures. It was her bravery, breaking Protocol, and saving some miners from dying, that began a change in behavior towards her. There was a strong sense that she struggled with accepting herself, her religious obligations and how she felt about performing them starkly contrasted. Even though she hated the sexually invasive Ohra rite, her religious persuasions forced her to believe her feelings were the problem and not the rite. In the midst of themes such as love and power, Moreva learned reality was relative; she made a discovery about the Gods of her temple that threw her into a struggle with her own identity. Even so, Tehi dared not be bound by a dictated life. It was her determination and willingness to sacrifice that got her into trouble and she would use them to get out. Burning old bridges and creating new ones, with minimal harm to the people who she loved with all her hearts.
Pages: 452 | ISBN: 0996731660