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 “Amongst the Killing” by Joe Compton

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This book has absolutely everything I look for in a crime thriller.  Is there a ton of action?  No.  Is the editing in this book perfect?  No.

  Did I care?  No.   I read a book hoping for great characters, and the two main men in this book are so well-portrayed that it was impossible for me not to get sucked in.

I felt on every page that the author knew exactly what he wanted to do.  This genre works perfectly for getting into the minds of your antagonist and protagonist, and I loved the back-and-forth approach.  These are very different men in terms of the morality spectrum, but there are also similarities that make things really interesting.  I wondered at first if it would be confusing to jump from one guy’s mind to the other’s, but with each break I immediately knew whose head I was in – that’s how clearly this author knows his characters. (As an avid reader, I can safely say this isn’t always the case.)

I also wondered how it was going to work that the biggest/worst murder happens right away, never really building to a climax of action, per se.  But this works because the story is about a cat-and-mouse chase, and Charles Street’s breakdown from the start makes the tension really complex.  Jack’s journey is, in a way, even more complicated as he avoids getting caught.  I can’t say I was ever really cheering for him, but you do understand him.

I did find some bits a little too convenient or simply wrapped up.  An offhand comment leads Jack to see through the cops’ plans.  The big confrontation plays a little quickly and the “trick” felt a bit forced to me.  BUT, there’s so much else going on that I got over the sticky bits, and this really was a great read.

4.5 Stars

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Review of “Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith” by Shaun Hume

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It’s impossible to write a review of this and not mention the similarities to Harry Potter.  A parentless boy is whisked away from the ordinary world and taken to a fantastical school.  He ends up with really only two friends, one of whom has constantly unruly hair.  Each class focuses on a different discipline and has a quirky and/or mean teacher.  The kids will all eventually be sorted into different houses…er cliques.  The boy’s past and parentage obviously are important, with more to the story than we’re told right away.  There are creatures.  There are hovering deathly beings.  There’s an unseen dark-lord-type with evil followers.  Etc.  Etc.

In a lot of ways, this feels like an obvious attempt to appeal to a certain crowd of readers, almost like a kind of fan fiction.  BUT, I soon forgave all that and just went with it because the author does a lot of unique things too.  For example, one of Ewan’s two friends (both girls) is a pirate.   It’s also refreshing that the world-building is not *entirely* based in magic.   There is magic, yes, but we’re told pretty quickly that most people aren’t good at it and instead focus on other talents.  And I really enjoyed what the author did with the true Queen of England.

It’s easy to fall in love with Ewan as a character.  The poor kid just can’t win, and he’s a very believable 11 to 12-year-old boy thrown into new and overwhelming circumstances.  Enid and her pirate family added a much-needed feeling of newness to this story, and I loved that her character was rough around the edges.  Mathilde is great too, with her confidence and loyalty and almost-ever-present smile.  I even enjoyed the adult characters, who are a little flat because the focus is more on the kids.  As the plot thickens, you aren’t supposed to know which adults and older kids to trust, so their elusiveness adds to the suspense.  It usually drives me nuts when there’s some huge danger and kids don’t bother to tell the adults about it, but here it completely makes sense that they try to stop the danger themselves.

As for the author’s writing, there is a LOT of description.  It really is a bit too much, slowing the dialogue especially.  And sometimes a word is used incorrectly so that a sentence might sound flowery but really doesn’t make sense.

Still, I stayed in this book for the three main characters because their friendship dynamic was so lovely and fun.  And, yeah, if you miss Harry Potter in your life, give this a go.

3.5 Stars

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Review of “Tongues” by Sam Joyce

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At the start of this book I couldn’t tell exactly where it was going, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it (based purely on another book’s similar premise where I ended up hating that story entirely).

However, THIS book drew me in pretty quickly.  The twists and complexity of this story were thoughtfully well-crafted.  I wasn’t sure how the elements of “neo-Nazis, top-level federal government, and the strange world of the occult” were going to work together, but the result was a suspenseful, somehow realistic, creepy horror tale.  And I appreciated that, though the events were horrific, the “horror” element was never gratuitous just for the sake of being shocking.

Catherine is a great main character, certainly not perfect but easy to relate to as we see things through her eyes.  I really liked how the plot progressed as she journeys deeper and deeper into what’s going on in Elena.  When we meet the federal agent, I wasn’t sure how everything there would fit, and this could maybe have used a little fleshing out.  I DID like how he got in over his head, and I was not expecting what happened once paths converged.  As for Carmen, I liked how the author slowly introduced him as the source of all the trouble.  The author did a great job of making him not just a dark, evil bad guy but instead a man with thoughts and motives that made sense to him.

That said, the back flash for Carmen felt really, really long. It was hard to focus on all this backstory because I wanted to get back to the main story’s timeline.  I liked the idea of what the author was doing, but it probably could’ve been shorter and still gotten the point across.

In all, I’d recommend this book if you’re looking to read an occult-based horror story with unexpected elements.  The uniqueness kept me turning the pages, and the author’s writing drew me in, from dialogue to action scenes and everything in between.

4 Stars

 

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Review of “The Elemental” & “The Empath” by Lisa Veldkamp

26786740I’ve read a couple of fantasy/magic-based stories using the elements as the source for magic, and I liked the everyday approach to them in this story. Catherine and her gifted circle of friends lead pretty ordinary lives, but they use their gifts to help others in subtle ways every day. I WOULD say that there’s nothing flashy about the use of elemental magic in this book, but then again, there is the whole climax scene where they have to save the planet.
Catherine, for me, was a very believable and likeable character. She experiences a natural range of emotions in this book, and seeing the story through her eyes (mostly) added some mystery to the book because you’re naturally curious about this mysterious neighbor/love interest and what he really knows.
The first part of the book dragged just a little bit for me because I wasn’t sure where any action would be coming from, but it was a nice look into the fun and magic-quirked lives of these women. The use of the word “Darling” kind of drove me nuts, but once Tristan shows up things take off and the plot gets more direction.
The author’s definite strength is her ability to portray these characters as unique individuals, even if they’re only in small scenes. It felt like a rounded cast of characters. And the danger element was nicely woven in once it was revealed, which gave the book a great build to the end…with hints of something to come.

3.5 Stars

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34623300Veldkamp does something really daring with this book, which is basically retell the entire first book, but from a different character’s perspective. This kind of worried me that there’d be no mystery or suspense, but there really was a WHOLE other side plot going that we saw very little of in the first book. I was really impressed how well this worked. For me, this book was even stronger than the first because there was more danger, more intrigue, and more magically gifted people to get to know.
At the same time, it IS the same story. You do see a lot of repeat scenes from the first book, but again this somehow works well because Tristan has such a different take on what’s going on. For me, reading this one only made the pair of books stronger.
If anything, the plot thickens. Not only do we see more behind the scenes all the way through, but there’s quite a different surprise waiting at the end.

4 Stars

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