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 Dracones Book 1

The Dracones is an urban fantasy series by Sheri-Lynn Marean. The Dracones are a race of shape shifters from another dimension. Their animal to shift into is a dragon and it doesn’t take affect until they are twenty one.

Chapter 1 was a lot of back story but there was some intrigue as well. It was obvious from chapter 1 who the love interest was going to be but I was impressed when she stepped away from the “we grew up together, we’re like siblings” trope and went for something darker.

The book dumps a lot of characters on you in fairly quick succession and there are a lot of fantasy races you need to come to terms with in fairly short order. As well, the main character is just getting a grip on some of her powers, discovering them as she goes along. While she does have difficulty with this and requires a lot of help it felt convenient at times. “Oh, you need this done? Well you can do that too, you just don’t know it yet!”.

The author uses a weird formatting inside the book – she doesn’t start a new paragraph every time the speaker changes and that made following the dialogue VERY difficult, especially with the order of the dialogue compared to the tags (he said, she said).

The romantic tension was good and the development of the two MCs was good. This is definitely an adult paranormal romance with a magic assisted sex scene that made me roll my eyes a bit.

All that being said, I actually enjoyed reading the whole thing and would likely read more in the series. I’d give this a 3 star, but only because of the dialogue formatting. Otherwise it would be a 3.5, almost a 4.

Review: Alamir: Blood of Kaos Series

Alamir is the first book in the Blood of Kaos Series by Nesa Miller. This is an urban fantasy series that deals with demons and multiple realms.

What I like is that the pacing is steady with a good mix of sexy romance, dominance plays, and violence. Seriously, it plays out like a great TV series. You jump right in with just enough back story to keep you from being completely lost and then you get pieces along the way – some pieces make the story clearer, others make it more confusing. But confusing in a good way and answers come along often enough that you know the author intends to answer everything in her own time.

What I don’t like are the names and the misspellings. Kaos instead of Chaos. Names like Inferno, Spirit, Faux, Darknight … I know, it’s urban paranormal, this is the norm, these are the signals to the reader that it’s a demon story, but I don’t like it. That being said, it wasn’t enough of an issue to make me put the story down.

And while I don’t like the “destined to love each other, complete each other” reason for those two characters being together, she’s a strong woman who has made it very clear that if/when they sleep together it’s going to be on her terms. She forces him to be honest and vulnerable, forces him to respect her, and I like that.

This book stands alone as a single adventure with a goal which is achieved. But at the same time it sets up nicely for the sequel which will be out in the next year or so.

Overall I give this book 3.75 stars out of 5. The writing is very good and it’s gotten some amazing reviews so if you like this sort of story, with powerful brooding heroes and demons evil twins, read this book, you’ll love it. That’s the beauty of books – there’s something for everyone and if this is you’re thing you’re in for a treat.

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 РThis 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: Untamed by Madeline Dyer

Untamed is a science-fiction adventure novel in the same vein as Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.

The main character and first person narrator is named Seven Sarr. She lives with a band of Untamed in the wilderness. The Untamed are fighting against The Enhanced, humans who augment themselves with addictive chemicals and plastic surgery. The augments alter their emotions as well as their ability.

The story combines this science fiction bio-chemistry with a strong spiritual story line. There are Spirits in the wilderness, dangerous and angry. This adds to the difficulties facing the Untamed.

Along with Seven there is a small community of Untamed: her brother Three, their leader, Rahn, and Rahn’s cousins, Corin and Esther, make up the main cast of the book.

The beginning was very strong. I felt immersed in the world right away but the action and tension were very high as well. True to the genre and style you move fast through the story and are faced with lies and conflicting stories from all sides. The narrative is tight and the narrator refreshing, unreliable, and easy to relate to.

The only downside to the book was that I figured out the twists WAY before the characters did. I know it’s a case of things being easier to see from the outside where you have the big picture, but the story has a first person narrator. I only know and see what she knows and sees.

I did really enjoy this book and the writing style and I give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.

I Hate Writing Sequels

A follow up to The Reader Author Contract post from last week.

I’m writing two different series right now. The first is a light fantasy romance series with a big twist in book three. The second is a middle grade science fiction adventure series about super powers and what not. I just finished book two in the fantasy series and I’ve started book two in the sci fi series, and I’ve realized that writing book twos sucks.

I still love the series idea, and they’re both goal oriented series so they have a set ending (5 in the fantasy series, 8 or 9 in the sci fi) but writing book two was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I hit so many road blocks, so many days where I didn’t want to work on it, so many times where I got tired of the project. I felt overwhelmed. I’ll be writing these series for another 2-2.5 years!

Book ones, those are fun. You’re meeting new characters, building a world, it’s a new project, it feels awesome.

Book lasts, those are fun too. You’re wrapping up all the plot lines and writing the big scenes and when it’s done the whole project is done and that is awesome too.

The ones in the middle – even when the story is good – feel tedious to me. I get a serious case of the new project itch. I want to be done. I want to quit. And as an indie author that would be VERY BAD.

Because of the contract. Because indie authors already have a rep as being unprofessional.

If I don’t finish these series the readers who did take a chance on me will not come back, they will not give me a second chance, they won’t recommend me to other people, and if they bother to leave me a review it won’t be a good one.

When I started The Rose Garden and Underground I knew what I was getting into. I knew I had to write all the books. I committed myself to this project, I will finish it, even if it means banging my head against the wall some days.

And that’s what I’m off to do today … er … work on Underground book 2, not bang my head on things.

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: PAWS

PAWS is the first book in an urban fantasy paranormal series by Debbie Manber Kupfer.

The main character of PAWS is a teenage girl named Miriam Katz. The cast includes werewovlves, shapeshifters, and magicians who have mastered the art of changing shape.

The story revolves around a rather old, cruel, werewolf and his quest for power. PAWS is an organization of magical beings who can, in some way, change their shape into animals. The bad guy feels that PAWS is one of the biggest threats to his quest for power.

The beginning of the book is rather long and it takes a while for Miri to find out how she fits into the paranormal side of this world. This book also has a lot of training and practicing and backstory.

One interesting thing was that many of the main characters, Miri, Josh, and Mandy, were Jewish. It was actually quite the diverse cast with an Irishwoman and her son, a British magician, and an Australian exchange student who could change into a kangaroo.

There were a few things that bothered me. First of all, shapeshifters are sort of genetic and their magic relies on a talisman of sorts. The magicians who learn to change shape do not have these talismans. At one point Joey, the kangaroo, had an amulet that he shouldn’t have had because he doesn’t need it. There were a few places where the formatting was wacky as well. I found the pacing was a little off. She spent the whole book building towards this fight scene and it was short and lacked tension.

Other than that the book was very good. It is definitely designed for younger teen readers – say 12 or 13 and up. It was a very easy read with a very simple story. The violence was not graphic, there was no swearing, and the romance was teen sweet with no sex scenes.

I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. It has great potential and I hope the rest of the series will pick up a little.

The Reader-Author Contract

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

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.