Review: PAWS 3: Umbrae

Umbrae is the third book in the P.A.W.S. series by Debbie Manber Kupfer and this review was supposed to be up on Saturday – I swear I typed it up. Stupid internet. Anyways, better late than never.

I’ve been enjoying the P.A.W.S. series. This is a YA urban fantasy series that focuses on shapeshifters of varying types. The main character is a teenage girl named Miri. Miri can shift into a cat with the help of a magical talisman.

In this book Miri learns a lot about her family history while back at the P.A.W.S. Institute of the Midwest there is trouble brewing. Loyalties are tested. Secrets come to light while others are buried deeper.

The author does a wonderful job of continuing to create tension even after Miri has defeated her enemy (back in books 1 and 2). This book introduces many new complications and raises as many questions as it answers.

Another interesting aspect of this series is that many of the main characters are Jewish. I love books that explore cultures outside of the White-Western-Christian experience. Also love that the Canadian exchange student is loud and gets into trouble!

This is a series that has remained strong and interesting through three books and ends with a great hook. If you’re looking for a good YA series this is one I recommend taking a chance on. 5 out of 5 stars.

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Review: The Bloodstone Reckoning

The Bloodstone Reckoning is Mike Wigington’s debut novel – an epic fantasy for teens and adults.

The main character of the novel is Tabitha Millhouse, the daughter of a miller in a small town. The story begins on Tabitha’s 15th birthday. She lives with her father, her mother is dead, and her father will not speak of the past. Today, being her birthday, Tabitha pushes the issue, causing a fight that sends her running from the cabin and into the thick of the plot.

As well as her father there are two youth in town roughly her age, Faylyn, the daughter of the goldsmith, and Macon, the son of the black smith. These are Tabitha’s friends. Tabitha also meets an old wise woman, an Earth Mother, in the woods. This woman, Baba, becomes her friend and teacher.

There are powerful forces at work in this world and an evil lord from a far off country seeks an ancient and evil relic that he hopes will grant him immortality. Thus the stage is set.

Mike has created a detailed and rich world for his story to play out in, one that feels real and vivid. His descriptions are never tedious and add life to the story. The characters, while simple, are still fun. Tabitha is the stubborn tomboy. Macon is the sneaky troublesome boy who is attracted to her in spite of her weirdness. Baba is the wise woman. Tabitha’s father drinks away his heart ache and seeks above all else to protect his daughter. Lord Drake is charming and powerful, a man who simply craves power.

I love a rich fantasy and this certainly falls into that category. There are multiple forms of magic, many secrets, and a sense of urgency to the story.

I would like to congratulate Mike Wigington on a stellar debut and I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Portal Prophesies A Halloween Curse

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: The Otherworld

The Otherworld by Lynette Ferreira is a series of short stories available on Kindle. These are bite-sized, abridged chapters from a 3 book series which is due for publication July 2018.

Book 1: The Book of Eudemon – The story starts with Jenny waking up in a house she doesn’t remember faced with two girls she doesn’t know – only within pages she’s acting like she’s been there all along. Apparently in Strangely this is normal behavior for new-comers. No one knows where they come from or why but they have this period of “wtf” and then it’s like they’ve been there all along.
The story brings together four girls, Jenny, Zara, Emily, and Abby, plus Abby’s boyfriend, Chris.

Book 2: The Wishing Well – This picks up the morning after Book 1. The biggest reveal is that The Changeless (mentioned in book 1 but not explained) have large black wings and that Jenny has them too. Jenny has a premonition but she’s not supposed to use her powers. Of course there is little to no forewarning of what the powers are or how they will manifest.
Jason, someone else from Town Hall, re-assigns Jenny to be his assistant and use her premonition powers to grant wishes or deny them – to people on Earth.

Book 3: When Time Stood Still – Again, this picks up the day after the previous book. Emily discovers her power in this book and Abby goes missing. We’re finally starting to build some tension but it feels forced because of the abridged nature of the chapters.

Book 4: Dream Walker – This picks up only an hour after the previous “chapter”. In this section Zara discovers her powers. We finally start getting pieces of the back story given to us. The paranormal element of this series is centered on demons, angels, and various levels of heavens and hells.

Book 5: Once Upon a Time – This is entirely a flashback to Jenny’s time before Strangely.

The premise of the story is interesting but I found the chapters too abridged for my tastes. They serve as a good introduction to the story and the characters but not the setting. If you like a quick, teasing read these are great. If you prefer something a little longer and a little more in depth I suggest waiting for the full series to be released.

Review: Tomoiya’s Story – Escape to Darkness

Tomoiya’s Story – Escape to Darkness is the first book in a paranormal science fiction story by C.A. King

Phew, okay, this book starts out with star ships and space travel. A young girl, Tomoiya, is on a space ship leaving home. She has a book with her, a keepsake from her mother. The captain comes to tell her the ending of the story that is in that book – a story about Allaynie. When he is settling in to tell the story I was reminded of the opening scenes of The Princess Bride.

The majority of the book is actually about Allaynie and a criminal named Woden. The story was interesting but distant. Because the story is being told to Tomoiya by the captain it has that recounting feeling to it. There’s very little immediacy and very little tension. You know all this happened years or decades before the actual story. Even hints that Tomoiya and Allaynie are somehow linked, somehow will walk a similar path, and that this story is a warning to the young girl, isn’t really enough to spice the story up.

What I did enjoy was the way Woden spun things so he’d look like the good guy and Allaynie and her entire race would forever be condemned. I think it really played on the fake news and media fed fears we face now, but at such a scale it almost seems ridiculous. And yet, it worked.

Sadly, I feel I know more about Woden than I do about either Allaynie or Tomoiya, their families, or even their race.

This is definitely more of a prequel than a stand alone, or even a book 1. (Having written a prequel story that is very much telling and not showing myself I know how difficult it can be to write something like this).

I give the writing a 3 out of 5 stars BUT I give the concept a 4 out of 5 stars and I would like to read book 2 in the series to see where this is going. I’m hopeful book 2 will be more action, more emotion, and less distant storytelling.

Review: Portal Prophesies Book 1

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.

Review: The Seeker’s Storm

The Seeker’s Storm is a fantasy novel by Lea Carter. I would describe this as a steam-era fairy tale.

The world in this book is exceptionally detailed yet descriptions are doled out only when needed and in short, easily digested bursts. There is rich history and tradition here. While the character building was good I found the cast a little large too soon. I had trouble keeping first and last names connected to the right people. I also had trouble pinning down a time and technology period early in the book. Once I was into the book however everything flowed smoothly, it just took me a few chapters to get my bearings.

The plot is quick paced and intriguing though I found it very streamlined. Secrets were discovered easily, bad guys posed little true threat.

Honestly though I enjoyed the book. I liked the airships and the lightning machines. I liked the threat of winter because I know the isolation that comes with living in a rural area with an unreliable car and knee high drifts. I liked the characters and their light banter.

I got to the end and read through the author’s notes on names and places and realized this was not the first book set in this world. It is, however, the first book I read in this world, which may have added to my initial confusion. That being said – this is a stand along novel. You can read this and enjoy it without having any knowledge of the world.

Overall I give this book 4 out of 5 stars and I look forward to exploring more books by Lea Carter.

Review: Foul is Fair

Foul is Fair is the first book in the Fair Folk Chronicles by Jeffery Cook and Katherine Perkins. I would describe the book as a YA modern fairy tale adventure.

The main characters are two sixteen year old girls, Lani and Megan. At the beginning of the story Megan is coping with some form of mental health or educational delay sort of issue by taking medication. Her friend Lani is very concerned about her and the way the medication is changing her.

Very quickly they are swept up into events that spiral completely out of control and the reader is introduced to the realm of Fairy. There is a lot of information in this book but the uniqueness of the characters and the fast paced action keeps the book from feeling like a data dump. I don’t think I could pick a favourite character, there were so many wonderful ones!

The authors use some familiar fairy characters, like the Huntsman and his hounds, pixies, satyrs, and such, but also introduced some that I wasn’t familiar with. They created a world that is vibrant and interesting and completely captivating. So much happens in this book and I feel like I can’t summarize any of it without giving something away.

I will say that it was refreshing to read about two sixteen year old girls and not have any of the usual drama or self-pity or whiny attitudes.

The story was quick and fun and super fast paced. I enjoyed every minute of it. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars and I cannot wait to read book 2.

Book Review: The One Taken from the Sea of Stars

The One Taken from the Sea of Stars is a science fiction novel by Octavia Davis and is available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/One-Taken-Sea-Stars-ebook/dp/B01KQX5KGY/ (NOTE: I do not receive any royalties or kickbacks from the purchase of this book)

The One Take from the Sea of Stars stars strong. You’re thrown into a beautiful, fantastical world of rituals and warriors and sacred trees. The first two characters you meet don’t like each other. You have tension, vivid settings, and interesting characters without the boring info dump. You know enough of what is going on to get your bearings and you know the rest will come with the story.

And then in chapter 2 you’re somewhere else with other characters in a completely different cultural setting and your head is spinning. Sometimes this disconnect can turn me right off of a story but the writing was so good that I stuck with this one. You start to get hints in chapter 2 and 3 that chapter 1 really is connected and that promise of more information kept me reading until 4 and 5 when the “ah ha” moment hits.

The story is beautifully crafted with amazing pacing. By chapter 5 or 6 I was hoping this was book 1 in a longer set and I was not disappointed. I wanted it to be so much longer than the page count and now I have more books to look forward to.

And I am looking forward to them. The dialogue was natural. The character introductions were smooth. Everyone feels distinct and you recognize them on the page easily. The plot is compelling and full of tension and mystery.

I gave this book 5 stars and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel.

The Power of People

Writing is a solitary endeavour. Writers are required to sit down in front of their writing implement of choice for extended periods of time and write. We need at least moderate isolation so we have the focus we need to string letters into words and words into sentences and sentences into stories. Fiction or non-fiction, any genre, it’s really the same story.

Sure, there’s the getting out and getting inspiration part of writing. Reporters need things to report on. Novelists must experience or at least listen to human conversation so they can translate those interactions into their stories in some way. We need to hear and see and taste and touch things. But the actual writing? Mostly solitary.

Organizations like National Novel Writing Month do seek to make the writing more communal with an online group and with local write-ins and gatherings. But even when we sit in a huge room full of people all writing, we are all isolated in our own worlds doing our own writing.

Our stories are intensely private. For writers of fiction we are creating people, worlds, cultures, you name it, out of thin air, out of thought and will. We are magic. We are powerful.

And we are stuck, alone, in a world no one else knows anything about. Because no one else has seen it yet. We’re still writing it, still creating it.

But creation cannot happen in isolation. I’m discovering that more with each passing project.

My biggest project to date – the Zoedavian Chronicles – is teaching me this. I’ve been working on this project for years. At first I was working with a dear friend, but she stopped writing fiction and moved on with her life and left me full control of this world we’d been crafting. To be honest, she was the flash-point of creation, the one who put forth the ideas and the creatures and the snippets of plot and person. I was the chronicler, the sorter. I was the one who asked the questions that allowed us to meld these shards and scraps into a quilt. Together we were building raw inspiration into a coherent world.

But I don’t have her to work with anymore. She has moved on and I rarely see her. This story was too good to be abandoned. And so I worked through the raw material, picking and choosing, changing and reordering, adding and subtracting, until I had something strong and unique and cohesive. It wasn’t right yet, it wasn’t done, but it was a strong start.

A few months ago I printed off the first 100,000 words and gave them to friends of mine. They read it over and we started working through the draft, pulling apart the story again, rebuilding it in a way that left it even stronger. I was hoping it would make it leaner too, but that was not to be. Instead the story has grown again and again and maybe once more.

I just spent 10 hours at my friends’ apartment pouring over drafts and outlines and time lines and maps. We hammered out several huge holes in the plot and timeline. We sorted out 8 cultures, magic systems, and religions. And we have about 8 more hours of work to do on the balance of power between one of the churches and the king. This is work I never would have been able to do alone. This is work that needed more than one set of eyes, more than one sparking point to create, more than one set of ears listening for discrepancies, and more than one sense of humour.

I’m glad I found my people, the ones that will sit with me for an entire day and sort out the implications of allowing a 13th century style culture educate their women, what happens to global climate when you change the land-to-water ratio, what happens when you forget that North isn’t actually the top of this map, and what happens when you have 3 moons. I’m glad because I get stuck in a rut. This is the way it is. I forget to ask “yeah, but what if” and they are glad to ask it. And because they ask it the story has grown some very unique and new features that I look forward to exploring.

Of course I have to finish the Rose Garden books before I can progress with the Zoedavian Chronicles (a working title only). And I will. I worked out what was giving me writer’s block on Rose from the Ash the other day too. With a little help from my friends.