Review of “The Alchemy Thief” by R.A. Denny

The best review I can give of this book is to tell you the progression of what I thought as I read along:

“Oh, no. Another book with a young woman sorting out her faith versus an Islamic terrorist kid. Guess I know what this is going to be like.”

“Wait, time travel? Ok, I’m back in.”

“Wow, this is really detailed. I wonder how much of this history is accurate. Are these real people?”

“Holy crap. Didn’t see that coming.”

“No! That’s the end? I want the next book now!”

So, yeah. I ended up enjoying this book. A lot. I’m a big fan of GOOD historical fiction, and this book is certainly that. At the back of the book, the author explains her personal connection to these real-life characters, the extent of her research into this complex part of history, and how she traveled to Morocco to get first-hand insight into a very different part of the world from Martha’s Vineyard. I was very impressed by the detail put into fleshing out both worlds in 1657, and I can only imagine the amount of research this took. Huge kudos to R.A. Denny for that alone.

I will say that multiple times I was very annoyed by Peri’s decisions and actions. She’s smart enough to get into Harvard but is extremely naive and sometimes does things that really only serve the plot. And she has a photographic memory for no apparent reason, which is especially weird given how badly she forgets things sometimes. BUT, nearly every other character is quite interesting, and I didn’t have any problems with how Ayoub (the terrorist kid) grows up and somewhat naturally becomes a pirate. That actually worked pretty well without being stereotypical.

The writing itself is very descriptive and gets to the point without being superfluous. The dialogue must have been tricky to write given the time period, but it was believable and helps to drop you right into a different time and culture.

Overall, I recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction. There is definitely a romance element, but that did not distract from the mystery, suspense, and well-crafted storyline that drops you into two different – but possibly connected – histories.

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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 “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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