Book Review: Escape

review-cover-escapeTitle: Escape [Alliance 1]

Author: Inna Hardison

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

What if everything you knew about the world around you was a lie, and the very people you were taught to fear were your salvation, your escape?

Meet Amelia, raised in the safety of a Replenisher compound, a protectorate for the few Alliance females who can bear children. In two months, she will have to choose a mate and begin her duties, except it doesn’t happen like that.

When she witnesses a Zoriner boy fall over the wall of the compound, the very wall designed to keep those like her safe from those like him, the injured boy becomes her burden and maybe, if she lets him, her escape from the life she is meant to have, and the key to unraveling of the many secrets and lies on both sides of this conflict and each other. This is the very beginning of her journey.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I wanted to like Escape by Inna Hardison, but to be honest, I had to push—really push—to get through it.

As far as the technical bits go, the book was pretty well edited. I only ran into one error in the entire book—which is pretty damn amazing. The characters were complex and interesting, the plot, while not a new concept, was well-detailed and engaging. The world building was well thought out, and the pace of the narrative was pretty steady throughout.

… but the narrative voice lacked soul and a sense of fluidity. Regardless of how much I liked the plot, the world building, and the characters, I just could not get past the oddly detached way that the narrative was written. It was like the author had sucked out every sense of genuine emotion or fluid language and replaced the narrator with an alien creature that had only the barest understanding of how human’s see the world. The story was told, events happened as they should, but every bit of beautiful prose, colorful description, and tension was shoved into a box and hidden in some dark recess out of sight. And the worst, most unbelievable thing happened… the escape scene that I can only assume this book was named for, was completely left out. One minute the characters are plotting their escape, and the next, they’ve already escaped and are on the run. I could only sit back and wonder how on Earth the most important scene had been skipped over.

Honestly, it was exhausting to read through. I did make it to the end of the book, and I can tell you that I liked the story and the characters… but I don’t know that I’d read it again, and I probably won’t continue on with the series. I’m just not a fan of narrative that dry.  If you like dry, maybe even quirky dystopian, you may appreciate this book, but I don’t think it’s going to be the right book for every dystopian reader.

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Book Review: Sparked

review-cover-sparked

Title: Sparked

Author: Lily Cahill

Genre: Romance, Science Fiction, New Adult

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Independence Falls, Colorado. 1954. It was the start of a perfect summer—until the fog rolled in and changed everything.

Clayton Briggs has always had it easy. The pampered second son of the prestigious Briggs clan, Clayton’s poised to take over the family business. His playboy days aren’t quite over, but his mother is on a campaign to match him with a woman suitable to his station. When he meets a beautiful girl at the Firelight Festival, he’s instantly attracted—until he realizes she’s a member of the notorious Murphy family. The Murphys and Briggs have been feuding for decades, but Clayton can’t control his feelings for Cora. Will passion trump family responsibility?

Cora Murphy has always had it hard. When she isn’t scraping together pennies by baking for the town’s wealthy families, she’s all but a slave to her father and brother, who drink and gamble away most of her profits. She could run, but Cora won’t leave her sister behind. All she needs a bit of luck, but luck has never sided with the Murphys. Then her entire life changes in one moment. When Cora is caught in a mysterious purple fog, she suddenly discovers powers beyond anything she’s ever imagined. And it seems Clayton might be the only man who understands … because he has powers of his own.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

Going into Sparked by Lily Cahill, I wasn’t sure how much I was actually going to like it. The synopsis was interesting, but a little odd. I’d never heard of the author previously, and it’s one of those books that came across my inbox with a deadline date that was still a month or so away. I thought, “Well, I’ll give it a chance.” and half an hour later, I was completely engrossed.

I’ll admit, my first impression wasn’t great. The sentence structures at the beginning of the book were choppy and ill-punctuated. I’m one of those people who can’t stand a misused conjunction, and when the sentences become uniform and bite-size because of a misused conjunction? Forget it. It’s a particular pet peeve of mine. I didn’t give up, however. I am happy to say, that other than two minor typos, the rest of the book was free of any large grammatical or punctuation mistakes. The text was easy to follow and well executed.

I love the main characters, Clayton, and Cora. As a couple, the two were an appealing mix of steamy, romantic, and determined. They had their share of misunderstandings through the book, but they never came across as overly dramatic, whiny, or unreasonably moronic. I loved them together, and I loved them equally as much as characters independent of one another. They were a good combination, and I wanted to cheer them on from the very beginning.

Overall, I really liked the book as a whole—but there were a few things that stood out that made me question a five-star rating.

The secondary characters of the book were pretty 2-D. They were all a little overwhelmingly stereotyped. The abusive dad and equally as abusive and cruel son, the father and mother that were all about social class, and quick to blame their son for not having his head on straight… the ex-girlfriend that tried to tear them apart, even the doctor who chose to keep their secrets despite having no logical reason to do so. It made for a very interesting story—don’t get me wrong—but I wish there had been a little more depth and unpredictability to the secondary characters.

Another thing that I couldn’t quite get a grasp on was the world-building. The story was set in the 1950’s, which though quirky and interesting, didn’t seem to have any impact on the story. There didn’t seem to be a particular reason that the story was set in the decade it was—the plot would have been the same had it been set in a more modern time period. I expected there to be some reason, some identifiable point where I could say “That! That is why this was set in the 50’s! They couldn’t have written this event otherwise.” but it never happened. Maybe it will happen in a subsequent book in the series, but frankly, I have no idea.

It was also never explained where the purple fog—the arbiter of the super-powers that brought the main couple together—came from. Other than a few wild guesses by the characters, we never learn its origins, what it does exactly, or where it went. The book was labeled as “sci-fi” (though I didn’t see any sci-fi elements, just fantasy/paranormal), so I can only assume that in a subsequent book we’ll see the sci-fi origins of the purple fog… but at least for now, the question remains unanswered.

In the end, the problems I found with the narrative weren’t big ones. I can live without knowing the origin of the purple fog, and I can live with the stereotyped side characters. The punctuation and minor typos didn’t break the book for me—but all these things added up did knock it down a star. It wasn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read. That being said, it was still a very good book. I was drawn in by the writing, and I loved the romance aspect of the story. The super powers were fantastic and well-executed. Despite it’s flaws, I really enjoyed it, and I’d be happy to continue on into the series. If you’re looking for a good, steamy New Adult book with a bit of a sci-fi/supernatural mystery to it, I recommend you give this a try. I can’t wait to delve further into this series.

Book Review: Trapped On Draconica

review-cover-trapped on draconicaTitle: trapped on Draconica

Author: Dan Wright

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: 1 Star

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Description/Synopsis:

Ben was just your typical teenager – loud, obnoxious and always getting himself into hot water. Coming from a troubled household, it’s no wonder Ben’s been on the wrong side of the tracks lately. Ben thinks that his troubles can’t possibly get any worse. How wrong he is… Not long after being mysteriously teleported to the world of Draconica, Ben gets caught up in a Baalarian invasion – who are hell-bent on capturing him. But what did Ben ever do to upset them? With no idea how he got here – and with intentions only on getting home, Ben embarks on a fantastical journey. Joining forces with the Dragonkin sisters Daniar and Erowin, Ben must help them take down the Empire before their dark grasp tightens across the land. Little does Ben realise that his role in this battle is far more vital than he realises – and that his coming here was no accident. Written by new author Dan Wright and featuring incredible artwork by Alexis M. Centeno, Trapped on Draconica is an epic adventure that takes you on an incredible journey that you want to visit again and again. Join in the trails, tribulations, laugher and heartbreak as you follow Ben on an epic adventure that will change his life forever.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I wish I had liked Trapped on Draconica by Dan Wright more than I did, but honestly… It just wasn’t for me. The narrative style of the story was as if the reader were watching a cartoon,  or reading a comic, rather than a novel. The story, characters, and dialog were dramatic and grand in an almost over-blown sort of way that probably would have worked well for a children’s book or a cartoon… but the content was more young adult/adult, and I don’t think the combination of melodramatic writing fit the older audience. It just didn’t work for me.

The writing was clear and easy to follow, but there were some questionable moments with the punctuation, spelling, and tense. It wasn’t too distracting, and it didn’t make the narrative difficult to read, but it is worth mentioning. The dialogue, however, was hard to push past. The characters spoke in a very melodramatic and scripted way that didn’t seem natural. There were some pretty cliché’d moments where the characters said things that made me cringe. (“Nice doggie…” for instance).

Overall, I just found it hard to be engaged with the story. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but I don’t know that the style in which the book was written fit the age group it was catering too, and personally, I didn’t care for the style as a whole. I think in other formats it would have worked well, and I’m sure there will be readers out there that will be totally engrossed in the plotline. Personally, I couldn’t get past it. I picked it up, set it down, picked it up again. For months I struggled to get into this story, but in the end, I had to tap out. There’s only so much you can push yourself to read before you just have to admit defeat. I truly wish I had liked this more, but I don’t think I was the right audience for it. If you tend to like really dramatic writing that’s easily to follow, full of colorful characters and a fun, quirky sort of world building, I’d recommend you give this a try. If you tend to like more gritty fantasy that takes itself a little more seriously, you may want to let this one pass. It isn’t going to be for everyone.

Book Review: Phoenix Earth

review-cover-phoenixearthTitle: Phoenix earth: The Complete First Season

Author: Jaime Vendera, Melvyn Riley, Ronald Coleborn, Daniel Middleton

Genre: Science Fiction, Episodic

Rating: 1 Star

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Description/Synopsis:

After the final cataclysm claimed Earth, and seeding failed on Mars, the surviving humans had only one choice—seek out a new planet or die. Eventually, the surviving humans discovered Malakar, a small planet millions of light years away. In time, the two races merged, creating a new breed called Maluan. However, racism soon spread throughout the planet and the human and Maluans faced total extinction by evil Malakarans known as Creks. In a politically charged move to sweep the planet clean of all non-purebloods, the descendants of the human race are forced off Malakar to relocate to a planet dubbed X67 by Malakaran authorities. What unfolds is a maniacal scheme to destroy the Maluans and humans before they reach their new home, forcing them to leap at the speed of thought to a dead planet no one has seen in more than five hundred years: Earth.

Phoenix Earth follows the lives of an eclectic group as they bond together to stay alive and begin anew as they discover new alien races and struggle to help Earth rise from the ashes.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

Let me preface this review by saying right off the bat: This book just wasn’t for me. I’m a fan of science fiction, and I understand that this book and it’s “episodes” were meant to remind the reader of TV episodes in written form…I love science fiction TV just as equally as I love science fiction in novels… but this didn’t work for me. I tried to get into this book and its episodes. I read a bit, I put it down, I picked it back up… for well over a year I floundered with trying to push through Phoenix Earth. I just couldn’t do it.

The story started off with a lot of backstory, and it made it hard to engage right from the very beginning. Parts of the backstory were skimmed over, and it felt as if I were missing a lot of explanations about what was going on. Sometimes the explanations I was given, didn’t seem logical. The exchanges between the Malakaran’s and the Humans didn’t seem equal, but were treated as if they were. Radiation was treated as actual poison—which was only one of many instances in which the science was questionable.

To be blunt, the story tried too hard. The science wasn’t well thought out, the backstory was long and convoluted, the naming of both characters, groups, and locations was hard to remember and often sounded kind of hokey. (see: Correctors of Abomination and Dyzm’nd). There were a few instances in which I caught missing words, and sometimes entirely made-up words (that were treated as if they weren’t made up… see: bastages). Sometimes the punctuation was questionable and words were overused (delicacies seemed to be quite common in their universe). The dialogue seemed forced and reminded me entirely too much of some early episodes of Star Trek… just, overwhelmingly dramatic and impersonal. At times the author seemed to be holding the reader’s hand, explaining or qualifying events in such a way that it sucked the impact and tension out of the scene.

All of these things were small in and of themselves, but when compacted down into the first 6% of the story…. it was too much. When the book came to the point where the narrator was comparing the events in the book to the Jewish Holocaust (more than once), I put the book down. I couldn’t do it.

I think the idea behind writing a series of episodic stories that fall into a larger story arc (as with TV episodes) is an intriguing idea… but there were too many times where I sat back and questioned the logic of the characters, the science behind the world building, and the quality of the writing. It shouldn’t be that difficult to read 6% into a book. I didn’t feel sucked into the story or engaged by the narrative. It was all right—but it wasn’t enough to balance out the less attractive aspects of the writing, and in the end I couldn’t finish the book.

Overall, I didn’t like it. I’m sure there’s someone out there that will eat this series up with a spoon…. it just wasn’t for me. I think to really get into the book you’re going to need a deep love for the science fiction as a genre, and the ability to turn off your inner science geek. If the accuracy of the science in science fiction is something you need to get through a novel, this isn’t going to be for you—but I think if you can turn that off and just enjoy the drama and entertainment value of the story, you’ll probably be able to enjoy it a lot more than I did.

Book Review: Independence

review-cover-independenceTitle: Independence [Significance 4]

Author: Shelly Crane

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance, Fantasy, Contemporary

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

In the fourth and final installment, Maggie and Caleb must tie up all the loose ends of their lives and make a way to be together completely on their own. With everything that happened with Bish and Maggie’s father, she’s almost reluctant to move on and move out. And now she must figure out all of this…stuff…with Haddock. But of course, nothing can stay simple for the Jacobsons. Enemies who were thought to be dissolved have decided to not go down so easily. And old flames come calling for more than just Maggie. Caleb is torn between leading his family and personal wants. Maggie is torn between Caleb and being the leader of their people. But neither will let what they need most to be pushed to the wayside. They are determined to make it all work, design a plan toward destiny, and make everything right again for themselves and their family.

And then there’s a wedding…

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

Meh. That about sums up my feelings about Independence by Shelly Crane. I adored the previous three books in the series—absolutely loved them. So, going into Independence, I was certain that I was going to love this book equally as well. I didn’t. In fact, I’m not even sure I liked it (hence the meh.)

This book took me weeks to finish. For someone who reads 1-2 books a day, that’s a little crazy. I just couldn’t get into it. The format had changed from the previous books. Instead of one POV (Maggie’s), the book was written in a strange back and forth of Maggie/Caleb, that in my opinion, didn’t work. Caleb’s POV chapters were boring, and his voice was honestly a little irritating. Maggie’s were okay, but the narrative seemed to skim. A lot. Events were barely touched upon, and conversations that should have been delved into, were peeked at and set aside. The whole thing seemed incredibly rushed, and it made it very hard to follow.

By the time I was half way into the book, I was over it—but I pushed on. By 80%, I was done. I wanted desperately to set the book aside (and did, for three weeks), but I kept thinking “I’m almost done. You can do this.” I pushed on. Honestly, I can barely remember what the book was about at this point. Nothing seemed to happen. The tension and mystery of the previous books was sadly lacking from this one, and the narrative was overly sappy and lovey-dovey throughout. There were two epilogues (2 1/2 and 5 years after the story), neither of which added anything new to the story except the typical “and they lived happily ever after with children” ending that is so stereotypical of the romance genre.

Am I glad I read this book? Yes, because it was the last book in the series, it wrapped things up in a nice, neat little bow, and I was genuinely curious to see what was going to happen to the characters from the previous three books in the series. Did I like it? Not really. I don’t know what happened between the last book and this one. The previous three books were so good… but this one just…. lacked. It lacked engagement, tension, an in-depth plot… If this hadn’t been the last book in the series, I probably wouldn’t have gone on to read the next after this one. It just didn’t resonate with me.

Book Review: The Curiosity Keeper

cover-thecuriositykeeperTitle: The Curiosity Keeper [Treasures of Surrey 1]

Author: Sarah E. Ladd

Genre: Historical, Mystery, Romance

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Camille Iverness can take care of herself. She’s done so since the day her mother abandoned the family and left Camille to run their shabby curiosity shop on Blinkett Street. But when a violent betrayal leaves her injured with no place to hide, Camille has no choice but to accept help from the mysterious stranger who came to her aid.

Jonathan Gilchrist never wanted to inherit Kettering Hall. As a second son, he was content working as a village apothecary. But when his brother’s death made him heir just as his father’s foolish decisions put the estate at risk, only the sale of a priceless possession—a ruby called the Bevoy—can save the family from ruin. But the gem has disappeared. And all trails lead to Iverness Curiosity Shop—and the beautiful shop girl who may or may not be the answer to his questions.

Curious circumstance throws them together, and an intricate dance of need and suspicion leads the couple from the seedy backwaters of London to the elite neighborhoods of the wealthy to the lush, green Surrey countryside—all in the pursuit of a blood-red gem that collectors will sacrifice anything to possess.

Caught at the intersection of blessings and curses, greed and deceit, two determined souls must unite to protect what they hold dear. But when a passion that shines far brighter than any gem is ignited, each will have to decide how much they are willing to risk for their future, love, and happiness.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I’ll admit, I’m a huge fan of historical romances. There’s something about the dialog that flows like poetry and dances around what it really wants to say… the absurdity of the customs and societal rules the characters have to follow, the almost naïve way that even the harshest of characters is almost entirely oblivious to the more straight-forward romance that we’re used to that makes me giggle and cheer them on. Some of my favorite books have been historical, and this book was true to its genre.

The writing was clear and easy to follow. I didn’t run into any awkward sentences, typos, or niggling bits of modern prose that broke me out of the world of Camille Iverness and The Curiosity Keeper. I was sucked into the story from the very first page, and before I knew it, I was halfway into the book already. Technically speaking, this was an excellent read.

The characters were flawed, and sometimes gullible, but didn’t come across as weak or naïve as is prone to happen in a lot of historical novels—especially concerning the female lead. Camille wasn’t brash or crass, but she was able to stand on her own two feet. She wasn’t fearless, but nor was she meek. There was a nice balance of good-heartedness and sense of dignity to her character that I appreciated. Likewise, Jonathan was equal parts defiant and warm-hearted. He wasn’t the bravest of men, but he stood up for what he believed in. Together, Jonathan and Camille made an endearing couple.

The romance in this book was lukewarm—as happens in a lot of historical novels. It’s not the author’s fault… that’s just the way polite society worked in this era. People often “fell in love” and got married without barely speaking to each other, and so while I would have liked there to have been more steamy romance, I’m not going to fault the book for the lack of it. Even without the steamy bits, the understated romance of Jonathan and Camille made me want to cheer for them.

The mystery too was understated. I’ll admit, it was a bit predictable. It didn’t take me more than 5 minutes to figure out where the fabled Bevoy ruby was or why it was in that location to begin with. So while I did appreciate the mystery aspect of the plot, it wasn’t a major draw for me… and this is why this book got 4 stars from me, rather than 5.

As much as I liked the book, as well written as it seemed to be…. I wasn’t blown away. I wasn’t gripping the pages in anticipation of the mystery behind the Bevoy, and I wasn’t squealing in delight over the romance. Don’t get me wrong, it was a really good book—just not as engaging as I think it could have been. Overall, I really liked it, but I don’t know that I liked it enough to read it more than once every few years.

If you’re looking for a clean, historical romance with a little bit of mystery thrown in, you may just love this book. I certainly enjoyed it.

Book Review: Wild Blue Yonder

cover-wildblueyonderTitle: Wild Blue Yonder [Ceruleans 3]

Author: Megan Tayte

Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

When Scarlett Blake chose life-after-death as a Cerulean, she expected to grieve for all she left behind: her boyfriend, her best friend, her mother, her home. But at least Cerulea, her heaven, would be… well, heavenly. Right?

Wrong.

The world in which Scarlett awakens is very far from her idea of a utopia. Picturesque, sure, and serene. But there can be no paradise within the unforgiving walls of a prison, be they of cold, hard stone or beautifully blue water.
Now Scarlett faces her hardest decision yet: be a good, dutiful Cerulean, or be true to herself and fight for freedom.
And if she can find a way to escape, what then? Can she finally reunite with her lost sister? Can she save Sienna from the murderous Fallen? Can she evade her destiny with the Ceruleans?

Can Scarlett Blake ever reclaim her life-before-death… or must she let go of all she loves?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

It was difficult for me to choose a rating for Wild Blue Yonder by Megan Tayte. After reading the first two books in the series I was practically waiting with baited breath for the third installment—and despite the fact that I had other things to do and genuinely tried to put off reading Wild Blue Yonder, I found myself picking it up to “read one chapter” late last night. Before I knew it, I had demolished the book.

Like the previous books in the series, the writing was flawless and effortless in its execution. I didn’t stumble over awkward sentence structure, grammar, or punctuation mistakes. I was immediately drawn into the story by the characters and the mystery of the plot. Like I discovered with the second book in the series, Wild Blue Yonder was both a well pieced together addition to the previous books, and yet something completely different at the same time. The first book was all about the romance and the mystery, the second book about grief, and this book? This book was about deception, betrayal, and ultimately, truth.

The reason this book was so hard to rate came down to the uncomfortable feeling that rooted in the pit of my stomach as I read. The Ceruleans, to me, went from being this vague magical race to these terrifying cult-like people who operated on blind faith and careful deception. The story was tense, and so was I. As riveted as I was by the plot, by the end of the book that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach had grown into anger. Oh, how angry I was! At Jude, the Ceruleans, Siena… I wanted to cry right alongside Scarlett. It left me unhappy.

When the book was over, I had to take a step back. My initial thought was “I didn’t like this book” because I’m not used to walking away from a book feeling as uncomfortable and angry as I did—but the more I thought about it, the higher the rating for this book went. The thing is, I didn’t like the book—I didn’t—but I’m okay with that. What this book did was powerful. For a few hours, I was put into Scarlett’s shoes and I lived in the world of the Ceruleans. No, I didn’t like their world—but that was sort of the point. I wasn’t supposed to like their world. I was supposed to empathize with Scarlett… and I did.

As unhappy as I was with certain aspects of the book, this was a phenomenal read. I’m glad I read it, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series—but I think I’m going to need a little while to recover. It may be time for a fluffy, HEA next. If you enjoy complex mystery-oriented YA fantasy, you need to give this series a try. The series has been exceptional so far, and I’m happy to recommend it.