Review of “Hardened Hearts”

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I finished this collection the day after Valentine’s Day, which was kind of perfect.  These are not your typical love stories, although “love” is the general theme connecting them.  I was very impressed with each writer, and I didn’t feel like there was a weak story in the bunch.  The writing is solid.  The range of genres in the collection is cool, too.  Most of these stories are so uniquely weird in their own way, and yet how the stories are organized makes them cohesive, like they naturally belong in the same collection.

A few of my favorites were “Heirloom” , “Dog Tired”, “The Heart of the Orchard,” and “Matchmaker.” Honestly, I liked something about almost every single story.  Despite many being short, they packed emotional punches. The immediate weirdness of many drew me in and held my attention.

If you like your love stories a little on the dark side, definitely check out this collection.

4.5 Stars

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Review of “The Road to Grandeur” by Brandt Trebor

27155940First of all, the blurb for this book doesn’t do it justice.  The story is a full-out adventure in a magical world populated by every fantasy creature you’d hope to find, and there’s plenty of heart and comedy thrown in. I loved all the twists the plot took in bringing together the main characters, and it was wonderfully not predictable.

Jayde is the main character, but Sarah is just as important and  must get close to equal “screen time.” There wasn’t a single character that I found lacking, which is great considering how many minor characters there are. Of course, with this being a “book 1,” I’m sure more will be revealed about some important characters in the future, and that helped to make the story feel even bigger.  Cameron in particular (without being too spoiler-y) seems to have a past I’d like to read more about.  But the pixies John and Lucy and lovable troll Marl are just as interesting.

The writing itself isn’t stuffy or grandiose, and I felt like the writing set the feel for the story – fun and light but serious where it mattered.  The middle of the book wandered a bit, but that tends to happen in long stories.  At no point was I bored, largely because the author does a good job of hinting throughout that something bigger is going on with these two girls.

I highly recommend this as a fun summer read, full of magic and quirky characters.

4 Stars

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Review of “Anatomy of a Darkened Heart” by Christie Stratos

26813854This felt like a book I would’ve had to read in an English Literature class in college – and I mean that in a good way.  Everything about the writing and the story felt legitimately true to the period, like this was an old, classic book I’d somehow missed all these years.

The writing is phenomenal.  It’s not a long book, and the author makes every word count.  Her descriptions are perfectly refined to give the reader exactly the amount of detail you need. The  plot certainly isn’t action-packed (that wouldn’t fit the genre at all), but the slow build works very well as you focus on the psychological aspects of the story.  I was never bored because the tension constantly increases as matters of the heart grow more and more complicated.

This book is, after all, about how these characters are “darkened.” I absolutely loved how I started thinking one character was maybe an okay person, but then they grew to be terrible.  And then another character did the same thing to me.  And then another.  Several times I said to the pages “Oh, no…” because a character would do something so evil to another character (keeping it vague here to avoid spoilers, but I literally gasped several times).  But, because the author does such a good job developing these characters, everything they did felt like a natural progression of their true nature.  And you STILL cared about them.

So, yeah, I recommend this one.  It’s not the kind of book you often see anymore, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

5 Stars

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Review of “Hungry Ghosts” & “Labor Day Hunt” by Calvin Demmer

 

31308950.jpgFirst of all, I found the cover intriguing.

Secondly, short stories can be tricky.  You want enough detail to set the scene but not so much detail that you can’t get to the meat of the story.  It’s hard, in so few pages, to be drawn into whatever mood, tone, feel of the story that the author is trying to create.  It’s hard to become quickly invested in a character.  It’s hard to tell a complete, full story in limited time.

This short story, with all of the above considerations, does a great job.  It helps that there’s a horror/mystery aspect going on with the ghosts, so not everything HAS to be explained.  Lara, as the main character, was easy to identify with and root for.

The story is so short and quick that I feel safe telling you to just read it for yourself to find out more.  I really enjoyed it.

5 Stars

 

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31815027.jpgI loved that I had no idea where this story was going to end up.  It starts out with the rather mundane life of a guy just trying to make money in his hometown.  He answers an ad.  Goes to the job.  How interesting could this be, right?

But there IS a dark tone to the writing that hints at something coming.  I loved the pacing – which is tricky in a story this short – and the twist.  When you meet the villains, something is clearly off, but then the story slams the gas and the action takes off.   By the time it all wraps up, it’s probably fair to say this was the worst Labor Day of Jared’s life.

This short story might be a little too violent for some readers, but if you’re okay with just a bit of gore, give it a try.  It’s so short that even if you don’t like it, you’re not wasting time.

5 Stars

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Review of “Sentinel Five” by James Quinn

31626072It’s hard for a sequel to live up to a great first book in a series, but this one is excellent.  I actually think I liked this book better than the first.  Once again we follow Gorilla Grant on an assignment filled with action, treachery, suspense, and violence.  This time, I felt like the story was much more straightforward and more pleasurable to follow, and it really did feel like a spy movie in the tradition of James Bond, but grittier.

The writing again fits the genre perfectly, getting the job done with great description and dialogue.  The author’s inside knowledge of this world adds a wonderful sense of reality to the story, and it’s very clear that he’s put a lot of thought into how the plot develops.  Grant as a character is complex and interesting, and the new characters here all lent something unique to the story.

You’ll want to read “A Game for Assassins” first to really get to know Grant, but I also think this story stands alone pretty well because it’s quite separate from the first book’s events.

5 Stars

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