Review of “Trampled Crown” by Kirby Kellogg

Valerie Barnes is tired. Tired of wrangling snarky teens through their math lessons, tired of helicopter moms with no respect and even less kindness, and – most importantly – tired of hearing about Canary Lane High’s upcoming homecoming dance. She’s been planning it for months and promises, if only to herself, to give the kids a night they’ll never forget.
But when strange things start happening and people’s lives are threatened in the days before the dance, that promise becomes more ominous than ever. Even the administration is getting antsy, and fingers are pointing to Valerie. With time running out and stakes getting higher, it’s up to Valerie to keep her students safe, clear her name, and figure out who’s been threatening all of their lives.

This one feels like it could easily be a movie. Set in a high school, centered around an upcoming dance, the story could be predictable and all-too familiar, but the interesting part for me was that this was from the perspective of a teacher. That certainly kept it from feeling like just another teen horror/suspense story. In addition, the main character has to cope with the challenges of being gay in a small community, and the author did a great job of using this to add additional drama to the story.

The characters at times do or say things that feel a little off or forced for the sake of the plot. It’s not entirely a shock who the bad guys are. But the main character really makes you care, and I kept reading because I felt for her situation and wanted to know she was going to figure things out and be okay. I also enjoyed the portrayal of the teen students. Again, they could have been typical teenagers you see in movies, but I liked that they weren’t all little jerks to their teachers. And their interactions were believable.

The horror/suspense aspects were pretty chilling at times, and this is certainly not a book for the queasy. There was one murder scene that was a total surprise to me, jumping the plot into serious tension very quickly.

Overall, I enjoyed this fairly quick read and would recommend it to anyone who likes dark high school stories with a twist.

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Review of “Dagmar of the Northlands” by John C. Adams

An epic-length book, this story is filled with fantastical lands, intriguing characters, and a complex history of kingdoms and gods. I really enjoyed the vivid imagery and excellent characterization of both the heroes and villains. The plot itself builds and draws you in as you begin to understand how everything might come together. The scenes where the gods are watching the events of man add a cool mystical element. The various tensions in various relationships also keep you interested.

I found the title and blurb a bit odd, considering Dagmar isn’t necessarily the main character. The overall story certainly doesn’t revolve around her by any means. She’s important and a dynamic character, but I thought it was a little strange that the title suggested her story line was the focus.

Also, there were a LOT of characters to keep track of. I like multiple points of view, especially in a book that covers this much ground, but I think there were something like 10+ POV characters. Eventually you figure it out, but it’s really confusing at first because the book jumps from one to another quickly before you’ve gotten to know anyone. I think any experienced reader can handle it, but it’s something to be aware of as you dive in. And along with this, there was a LOT of “son of” and “daughter of” and explanation of who had married who over generations – that might be great in moderation to give a historical depth to these kingdoms, but it was a LOT and added to the confusion from the get-go.

The writing itself is great. I was never distracted by any editorial goofs. There’s plenty of description to give you a picture of each scene without being overly flowery. The dialogue sounds natural and fits in well amid all the action. Also, the author does an excellent job of making you sympathize with each character, good or bad, and even the heroes are shown to have problems, which makes them believably human.

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Review of “Flight of the Spark” by Evelyn Puerto

Dystopian YA fiction often has something to say about our current society or mankind in general, and this book did a great job of illustrating several different evils. The leaders in this dystopia rule by keeping the populace ignorant and afraid, and it was easy to believe that that could happen, even to this extreme. The common villagers’ infighting and betrayals are a product of this. The abuse is as well. Through young Iskra’s eyes, we see what it would be like to be brainwashed into believing that semi-enslavement is for their own protection. It was incredibly frustrating at times, and often you want to shake Iskra and tell her not to be so stupid, but at the same time you get why she is the way she is.

The plot of the book is pretty straightforward, and suspense builds and builds as you follow Iskra through her discoveries and decisions. There’s a constant sense of impending doom, but there’s also hope as she learns from the Riskers and begins to find confidence in herself. I really liked that we got to see the perspective of the “bad guy” to learn more about what was really going on, and this also worked to build tension as he suspects her of rebellion. The first part of the book drags a little bit but has plenty going on to hold your attention. The last part of the book skips forward as things come together, and it’s in this part that you definitely begin to understand how this is going to be part of a series.

The writing itself is quite descriptive and easy to read. There’s enough description to give you a great picture of what this world and people are like. The dialogue feels natural. The action scenes pull you in.

I’d definitely recommend this for anyone who enjoys YA dystopia that doesn’t feel like it’s aimed only at teenagers. Because Iskra is fifteen, some of the situations she gets into might make some readers uncomfortable, but nothing is gratuitous.

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Review of “Given to Fly” by JD Estrada

I smiled the entire time I read this book. It’s sweet, fun, colorful, imaginative, and includes wonderful lessons for any child or adult. The wordplay often made me chuckle, and the writing proves Mr. Estrada is a poet even in prose. The story reminded me at times of “Alice in Wonderland ” and at times of “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” while always being unique as well. Great characters, fantastical adventures, beautiful language – I was hooked.

This is a book I will definitely buy in paperback for my kid to treasure.

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Review of “Darkest Hours” by Mike Thorn

36309774.jpgIt might be odd to call a collection of horror/noir short stories “beautiful,” but that is the impression I’m left with.  These are incredibly well-crafted, well-written stories from an author I quickly grew to respect.  Thorn’s mastery of prose is an absolute delight to read.  His creativity is refreshing.  His subtle ability to make the horror sneak up on the reader is a gift.  I compared these stories many times to my favorites from Poe, and they indeed share the chilling truth that the worst monsters are the ones within.

The range of stories here was a surprise.  I never knew what to expect from story to story – in one you have a guy unnaturally obsessed with hair, in another you have a ghost doomed to wander, in another you have a terrifying monster that assimilates unsuspecting campers.  In every story,  it was easy to get into the mind of the characters and see the horror through their eyes.  And, again, the writing itself is worth your time.

Any book that has a monstrous blob devouring the works of Derrida has my vote.

5 Stars

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