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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Review of “The Sea Was a Fair Master” by Calvin Demmer

40033777.jpgThis author never disappoints in coming up with unique, impressively well-written shorts.  This collection of 23 stories has a little bit of everything – from crime to love to androids to the worst English class imaginable.  There’s a great balance of creepy, troubling, sometimes funny (in an “oh, that’s terrible” grinning kind of way), and heart-wrenching tales.

I also love that these stories aren’t straight horror aimed for gore and terror only.  They feel more akin to the works of Poe – there’s a point, if not a message, about humanity in every one.  Some stories are thought-provoking, others intentionally make you sympathize with the baddies, others are horribly sad but have something beautiful thrown in.  And Demmer is a master at last lines.

Give this collection a read!  These stories are super-short, so even if you don’t like one or two, it’s not like you’re wasting time.

5 Stars

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Review of “Tick” by Allison Rose

25050783Starting this book, I thought it would be a typical YA Dystopian SciFi story, and I was happy enough with that.  But every time I thought I knew where the story was going, it took a swerve and headed in a new direction.  I was NEVER bored with this book, and there were so many twists that the plot pulled me in and kept me reading.  The characters are great too, and I was impressed with the author’s ability to stay so focused on showing us everything going on in Jo’s mind.

And about Jo.  I imagine a lot of readers will find her difficult to empathize with after a while – she is not at all a pure, good hero.   But Jo’s transformation from average SciFi teen to…everything else she becomes was, for me, the best part of the story.  This is about Jo fighting her demons.  About surviving.  About finding redemption.  I felt like her reactions to everything she goes through as the world falls apart were absolutely natural and believable.  I also loved how important art was to her sanity and how it added depth to the story.

It’s hard to avoid spoilers and say anything else about the story, but I will say – HOLY CRAP the ending.  I very much look forward to reading what’s going on in the next book.

5 Stars

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Review of “The Black Swan Company” by Luna DeMasi

25442483I’m not an automatic sucker for any vampire book, but this one won me over quickly.  I loved the focus on investigative journalism as a way to dig deeper into the conspiracies and injustices committed by the authorities in this dystopian, semi-post-apocalyptic setting.  There are also elements of paranormal romance for readers who are drawn to that kind of thing, and this was a good way for the author to draw all sorts of emotional turmoil out of the characters.  Melody, as a “strong female lead,” is great because she’s good at her job but also personally flawed in believable ways that make her easy to relate to.

The writing devices the author uses keep the plot flowing while also giving great backstory.  There are journal entries and letters, back-flashes, and occasional dips into POVs other than the main character’s.  The story often reads like a suspense/crime drama.  A lot of time is spent with Melody and Bastian in isolation, but then there are bursts of action to remind you that the world outside is really, really different from the one we know and the one Melody lost.  And the dialogue is great, livening up the story with colorful side characters whom you grow attached to quickly.

I don’t want to give anything away, but what’s really going on with the Black Swan Company is both terrifying and oddly believable.  I also like that these “vampires” aren’t like your typical paranormal monsters, and the gray areas involved are interesting from a moral and sort-of-political standpoint.

If I have any complaint about this book, it’s that the action at the end happens really fast as things come to a climax, and everything gets wrapped up super quickly.  But it also works this way, since everything has been building to what happens in the end and you kind of know what to expect.

Definitely check out this book if you like your vampire stories a little more on the dystopian/crime side.

5 Stars

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Review of “Be Careful What You Joust For” by Ryan Hauge & Ivy Smoak

38739327A lot of new fantasy stories about knights, lords and ladies, and ancient lands feel like “Game of Thrones” these days, so if you’re into that kind of story but more for a YA audience, this book could be for you.  With multiple characters’ points of view, you get a good cast to add depth to the plot.  Also, the authors do a good job of creating a fantasy realm that feels familiar and unique at the same time.

That said, there were some things that bugged me.  For one, the story is a very, very slow build.  This isn’t entirely bad because this is a first book in a series and you want to get to know the characters.  All the political intrigue makes for a good, suspenseful read.  However, when the action finally takes place at the end of the book, it’s over really quickly and you’re left with a cliffhanger just when things are finally getting good.  I also felt like some of the characters were a little blah or set up to be interesting but then didn’t live up to their potential.  Duchess Isolda in particular is introduced as having a complex double life, but then nothing much comes of it.  Oriana is a typical, boy-obsessed princess type.  Terric’s subplot was good, but he was really selfish and kept screwing everything up in annoying ways.  Bastian was easily my favorite, and his pet squirrel might be the smartest character.  But Rixin and Marcus were vague and underdeveloped, and I didn’t care about Garrion at all.

The writing itself is well done.  It was easy to follow the dialogue, and each character had their own voice so that their chapters felt like everything was definitely from their point of voice.  The action was easy to follow.  The descriptions were just enough to put a clear picture in your head without overdoing it.

If you’re looking for a lighter “Game of Thrones,” give this a shot.

3.5 Stars

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Review of “Them Rabbit Foot Blues” by Jason Spurlock

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What did I just read?!  And I mean that in a good way.  My mind is always blown when a brand new author debuts with a book so well-written that it feels like the work of a pro.  Don’t get me wrong – this book is all over the place and will be hard for some readers to follow.  But falling down the rabbit hole is also kind of the point.

It’s hard to say what this book is about or exactly what genre it falls into.  The blurb does a better job explaining this than I can. “A cleverly diverting narrative that remixes folklore, pop culture, multiculturalism, gender roles, history, sci-fi, noir aesthetics, and urban decay.”  All of those elements are mixed into a story centered around a combat veteran struggling to figure himself out as he navigates the world(s) around him.

I love flawed characters who are aware of their screwed-up-ness.  What’s even better is when we see the flaws of society through that character’s eyes.  A good writer is supposed to see the world around them and be able to point out what everybody knows in new and interesting ways, and that keen insight of the author/main character might be my favorite thing about the book.  There is plenty of commentary about society, about different kinds of people, etc.

All of this is beautifully weaved into a story where the main character (and you as the reader) are trying to figure out what the heck is going on. At times, the book does get a bit bogged down in its own cleverness, distracting from the plot, but even these sort of side note bits were engaging and interesting insights into something about the world.  The writing itself at times sounded in my head a bit like Dave Eggers and a bit like S.A. Hunt, another veteran author I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

If you’re into literature that pushes your brain, grab this book.

4.5 Stars

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