Review: The Portal Prophesies A Halloween Curse

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A Halloween Curse is the second book in the Portal Prophecy series by C.A. King. This is a fantasy series for YA/NA readers.

This is an action packed story with decent pacing and interesting characters. The story is quite twisty and the characters are complex, even the bad guys.

There is a large cast of characters of varying magical abilities from a variety of worlds or dimensions. Sometimes it is hard to keep track of who they are and what they can do because you often go several chapters without hearing from someone.

The descriptions are good, and the imagery and detail is fantastic. The author has put a lot of thought into the double meanings and vague possibilities of all her prophesies, curses, and warnings.

I worry that some of her characters are becoming over-powered and that it may cause plot-failings later in the series but for now the team continues to grow in strength and numbers while the problems facing them grow in complexity. Also, there is tension between the members of the group and quite often the girls are frustrated by people not taking them seriously.

Over all I’m impressed with the series and the scope of this fictional world.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: Wendigo Whispers

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Wendigo Whispers is Alex McGilvery’s first thriller and it is officially being released today. Set in a fictional small town in Northern Manitoba, the story follows Leigh and her husband, new-comers to town, as they unravel the mystery that is plaguing the failing town.

The town was once prosperous, until the ore in the mine ran out and the big money left town. Things have been sliding downhill ever since. You meet a lot of very interesting characters in this town, some quirky, some friendly, some dangerous, some just misguided.

The main character, Leigh, hears voices and is on some very potent medication. This makes her both a sympathetic and empathetic character. She’s passionate and dedicated to her class (she’s a teacher).

The story features a lot of Cree culture. Now, I’m not an expert in any form of Native American culture but I do have family and friends who are Native American and it seems that Alex has done some research and has certainly treated the Cree characters in his story with respect.

The story itself walks a fine line between traditional thriller and supernatural tale. There are little side stories woven into the novel making it a story about the town and its people, not just Leigh vs the bad guy.

I read this book in one sitting, I could not put it down. I stayed up way too late just to finish it, and I’m glad I did. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, and to reading more of Alex’s works.

Wendigo Whispers is available TODAY so if it sounds interesting to you, you can be one of the first to read this gripping tale. I know I give it 5 stars.

Review: P.A.W.S. Argentum

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Argentum is the second book in the P.A.W.S. series by Debbie Manber Kupfer. P.A.W.S. is a contemporary paranormal series set mainly in St. Louis with parts of the book taking place in Europe and New York.

The cast of this book his huge but the main character is Miri Katz, a fifteen year old Jewish girl who can change into a cat with the help of an ancient amulet that has been in her family for generations. She is living at a secret facility that is part base part school part research facility in Forest Park with most of the cast.

There is the leader of their location, her son (who is also Miri’s romantic interest), a half dozen werewolves, a kangaroo exchange student, Miri’s roommate (another cat shifter), an ancient bird shifter (who may be friend or foe), and several side characters who are staff or students at the facility. As well there are three or four human characters and two or three “bad guys”. Plus about a dozen side characters in other locations.

The large cast wouldn’t be a problem but the story arc in this book branches and instead of closely following JUST Mirir’s journey you are now involved with a half dozen intersecting arcs, many of which are actually lengthy flashbacks. These chapters are interesting and full of their own tension and plot but there is no real clear distinction, no date at the beginning of a chapter, nothing to tell you if you’re in flashback or not. This wouldn’t be bad if they were short – a few paragraphs – and you were slipping in and out of memory with the characters, but some flashbacks are chapters long. And some of the flashbacks were very recent which made keeping the current timeline straight a little difficult.

The book felt long. There was a lot going on but I think the looking back nature of the book made it feel slower than book 1.

I will say that I liked the Canadian exchange student who was so un-Canadian it was refreshing. This author does not fall back on stereotypes.

I am curious to see where this series is going so the flashbacks haven’t turned me off the story. I think that they could have been shorter, hinted at, and that she might have taken those lengthy flashbacks, made them more showing and less tilling, and released a series of short stories instead. But they were interesting.

3.5 out of 5 stars from me.

The Reader-Author Contract

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We don’t talk about this, not really, but there are expectations that a reader has of a writer, and a writer has of their readers, especially where the series is concerned. This post is inspired by the fact that I have been waiting nearly 6 years for book 6 in the Song of Fire and Ice series by George RR Martin.

For the purpose of this article we’ll be talking about two types of series. The first is the open ended series. Think Anita Blake by Laurel K Hamilton, Mercedes Thompson and Alpha & Omega by Patricia Briggs, or Janet Evonovich’s Stephanie Plum books. These are all series in which each book has one or two large plots which are wrapped in over the course of that single book as well as several smaller, more personal, character based plots that continue on through the series. Really, any book could be the last because the personal plot lines won’t ever really end. These series can last a few books or a few dozen books, as long as the author continues to come up with original plots for each book.

On the flip side you have what I call goal-oriented series. Think Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones by George RR Martin, or the Belgariad and Malloreon by David Eddings. There is a point to the series, something the characters are trying to achieve, (destroy the ring and defeat the evil, put someone on the throne and restore peace, get the heir on the throne and destroy the mad god, rescue a kidnapped child and save the universe) and the series ends when this has been completed.

So what is the contract? Well, it depends on which type of series you read/write. For an open ended series the writer is responsible for consistent and continuing character development and for coming up with unique situations to put the characters in for each book. If the reader likes book 1 and book 2 they will generally continue buying books in the series until the plots become boring and stagnate.

If you are writing this type of series pay attention to your readers. When the plots are starting to feel forced or your readers are losing interest maybe it’s time to retire these characters, wrap up any lose ends, and start something new. Or pass the torch if a character is aging.

For a goal oriented series the writer is responsible for setting up a clear goal, getting the characters to the climax scene, where the characters will succeed or fail, and then wrapping the story up. Whether it takes three books or five or ten or whatever, this is the pattern that readers expect. Part of this responsibility is not stretching the series on too long past the entertainment value of the “quest” or past the completion of the goal.

If you are writing this type of series, finish it. If I wrote a stand alone novel and it ended just as the hero was walking into the dragon’s cave no one would publish it. It’s not complete. Publishers take a chance on a series. They take the chance that readers will like the first books enough to buy the rest but they also take a chance on the author because they are essentially publishing an incomplete book a piece at a time.

Readers are also taking a chance on a series because there’s always the chance you’ll find someone like George RR Martin who decides not to finish a series that you, the reader, have come to enjoy.

Review: Portal Prophesies Book 1

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The Portal Prophesies Book 1 is called A Keeper’s Destiny and it is by C.A. King. This is a high fantasy epic novel.

The book starts with Willow, the orphaned teenage misfit who has a tattoo of two black cats that she doesn’t remember getting, it’s always been there. She also hears voices. Willow lives in a little village where she sells produce. The village is segregated by caste or class. The people of her village have hair that changes colour when they are young until it settles on a colour at sixteen cycles. Their hair reflects their mood until it stops changing, then it would announce the strength and type of her abilities. Which means this world also has in-born magics or abilities.

From here we move on to meet the people of her town and get a feel for the social structure. The history of the world, which involves Guardians and Keepers, who are bonded to each other, dividing up and protecting realms of fantastical races to keep them safe or keep them from causing harm, is gradually revealed, as is Willow’s role in all this.

The social turmoil within the village provides the opportunity for an attack that ends their peaceful existence and forces the survivors to use a Portal to one of these other realms. We get a few training sequences and some character growth, and then end with a major character in distress.

On the one hand this world is extremely unique with an interesting history and some potential for “that’s not what you told me” and a bad guy who believes he’s the good guy and the Guardians are evil tyrants. On the other hand, it’s prophesy based, and that runs the risk of being either cliched or forced or both. She can’t lose because she’s the chosen one, right? She’s just going to keep unlocking abilities until she’s big enough and strong enough to win no matter what. BUT I hold out hope for this series based on the wide cast of characters, the interesting set-up with potential for betrayals and side reversals, and the decent writing style.

This book is perfect for older middle years and high school students. It has that teen drama feel to it, with amazing powers and adventure and self-discovery.

Considering what this book is trying to be, and what it achieves, I give it a four out of five stars and I look forward to reviewing the second book later this summer.

Book Review – Dragonfly

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Dragonfly is a young adult paranormal romance by Alyssa Thiessen. You can find it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Dragonfly-Alyssa-Thiessen/dp/0994021003/ (Please note this is not an affiliate link).

Dragonfly is a quick, easy read, but perfect for grades 8 and up. It’s clean, so no sex, no graphic violence, no major swearing. What really sets this book apart are the wings. No dragon, bat, or angel wings here. Not even hawks like the Maximum Overdrive stories by Patterson. No, this time we have dragonfly wings.

I read this book with my book club so the first week we read chapters 1-9. In our first discussion we were listing all the possibilities for how the main character, 18 year old Joshua Miller, had ended up with dragonfly wings. Born that way? Mutant? Science experiment? Alien? What? Halfway through the book and you still have no idea.

The plot of the book is people centered. It’s about Joshua, a boy who has always hidden from the world for as long as he can remember, a boy with no family, no friends, no connections. Until he meets Lexi. His connection with Lexi triggers a whole series of mishaps that lead him to the only piece of his past he remembers. And from there we find out everything that Joshua doesn’t know about himself.

The book follows that winning YA romance structure: bored rich girl, roguish bad boy, becoming friends when they shouldn’t. Lots of him holding back because he’s no good for her and her stubbornly holding on because she’s never met anyone like him. But it was still a fun book to read. Really, Joshua and Eric and Nik aren’t so bad, Lexi was my only complaint with the book.

I gave this book 4 stars and would recommend it to young readers and anyone who likes YA fiction. I’m looking forward to her second book, which is not tied in to Dragonfly in any way, titled Infusion.

Siblings Change Everything

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I’m an oldest child. I have one younger sibling. If you ask us to recount various childhood memories we will remember them differently. The way we grew up, the way people treated us, the ways we interacted with each other, this has shaped our view of the past, and our personalities today.

Our cousin right between us in age and she was an only child for twelve or thirteen years. You can tell. We could tell. Weeks spent at the cabin were interesting. Her personality was different. Her needs and expectations were different.

I studied to be an Educational Assistant and we once took a look at birth order because it does have some effect on personality, in addition to other environmental influences.

Only children are a complex creature. An only child can be very independent, they may learn to entertain themselves, to be content alone for longer periods of time. Depending on other factors they can become independent quickly and benefit from more concentrated parental attention. Other factors can alter this: they may be needy, needing someone to entertain them all the time (I imagine an extroverted pre-school aged only child would be like this), instead of being independent they may be over dependent if the parents do everything for them. Only children have the reputation of being spoiled because they don’t have to share the Christmas budget with siblings.

First borns tend to mature faster, they are expected to help out around the house, to help their younger siblings. They can become resentful of it, or become protective and nurturing, depending on other environmental factors. First borns benefit from being alone with adults until their sibling comes along. They may develop verbal and motor skills earlier.

After that things get complicated depending on how many kids there are.

Younger siblings can struggle to find an identity. My other cousins, two boys, three years apart. The eldest was exceptionally intelligent, like reading Marx in junior high smart. He was serious, dedicated, fairly quiet, even tempered. His younger brother was louder, wilder, and less interested in books and puzzles. He was needy and pouty, at least until he discovered that he could play the piano, and well. Once he found what he was good at people stopped comparing him to his older brother. This one is book smart, that one is musically gifted. Apples and oranges. He had his own identity. This struggle is especially hard for middle children – those who are neither oldest or youngest, but can affect any younger sibling.

Last born, the the baby of the family. You’ll be the “baby” even as an adult. You will always be the last. The last first word, the last diaper change, the last school play. The baby often has a reputation as being spoiled but at the same time they tend to be partially raised by their siblings as well. Often the parents are not pushing the baby to exceed milestones, when they get there they get there. Keep them little and cute as long as possible, especially if it is a planned last.

Historically there were big implications to birth order.

The first born inherited the land and title of the father (if it is a noble or landed family). Freemen also had land to pass down though no titles. In lower class families the first born inherited the shop, the farm, or the trade of their father.

The second son was sent to learn another trade, usually one that complimented the first born’s. Got a family of fishermen? Apprentice out the second son to a fish monger. You breed horses? The second son gets to be a blacksmith. In wealthier families the second son could end up the steward to the first son, depending on just how wealthy the family was. There might also be multiple properties that could be split between them. Otherwise, it’s off to the army where the family’s wealth would buy them a high ranking position.

Third wealthy son? Military, with or without a bought rank.

Fourth wealthy son? Expect to be sent to a church school to serve the church as a priest, clerk, monk etc.

Fifth son and on? Soldier’s life, or trades for you!

In lower classes being battle fodder was always a choice, helping on the family farm or working as a labourer was common. With a little money for gear you could be a “sell sword” working for traders or merchants to protect them on the road. But generally as you went down the line there was less resources to help you get a start on life.

What got me thinking about all this was the huge difference between all this books about teens with no siblings. Or one sibling that’s hardly mentioned. Half the time they have no cousins, no grandparents – they’re either never mentioned or they’re dead or their parents are only children so there are no cousins. When you’re writing you want to keep your cast stream-lined so the reader doesn’t get confused. Why drop in a cousin for a single scene? On the other hand you have the sweeping cast of Game of Thrones. A dozen major and minor houses, each with 1-3 generations – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, in-laws, rivalries. As a fan of the books first and the TV series second I admit that the genealogies are part of the intrigue and appeal of the books.

Having siblings changes a person’s personality and skill set. Only children have less of a chance to learn peace-keeping and compromising skills at a young age (though daycare is changing that in our society). First borns are latch-key kids at 12, escorting younger siblings home from school.

Our characters come to us as teens or adults, but people don’t start out that way. People have a childhood that shapes them, and not just the traumatic backstory stuff, but the little things. At what age did they do their own laundry? Did they have to share a bedroom? That changes you.  Sure, in contemporary western society we’re more likely to have 1-3 children as opposed to the 5 Stark children or (heaven forbid) the 36 recorded Frey children! Even in historical fiction 5-10 children is more than enough!!

As writers large families are hard. Each must be memorable, physically and in personality, or they blur together. It’s tempting to leave off the siblings and cousins for simplicity’s sake. But if we had a world of only children we’d be forgoing the influence siblings have on our characters’ development. As well, siblings can add nice little subplots to fill out a novel, and they give your characters someone to talk to, care about, hate, compete with, or protect.

In the end the choice is the author’s, it always is. But I think that a literary world of only children is going to be bland. I think it’s already on its way there.

What do you think?

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