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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Review of “Discovery” by J.B. Taylor

33583727I’m a sucker for any opportunity to read about a new alien world, and the one in this book is pretty good.  In a few short pages (most of the book is set on Earth), the author does a great job of describing this alien planet, alien animals, and alien people.  You get little glimpses throughout the book at just how different – and more powerful – these more evolved aliens are, and little bits about their history and abilities were interesting to me so that I’d like to see/read more.

Mostly this book is focused on Earth and the impending danger the aliens might bring.  Poor Eckta gets dropped here and stuck with us, and he’s a good character – a little bit Superman, but with more of an “alien” foreignness.  Other than him, it was a bit difficult to lock down who the main characters were going to be early on because of jumping from one character to the next, and no one was ever safe.  But each character along the way is fleshed out just enough to be believable, giving a well-rounded look at how Earthlings might deal with such an alien as Eckta. The government reaction and what they did with him was all-too believable, if a little predictable.

The movement of the plot was rough for me.  Everything moves really, really fast and could have been fleshed out better.  A lot of the government activity behind the scenes (avoiding spoilers) seemed implausible and forced.  A lot of the story just lacked a feel of reality for me – I know this is about aliens, but how the plot moved and what happened with the characters felt unlikely.  Another round of edits would probably help too, as there were a few goofs.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the story.  It’s quick and full of action, with a likeable character at the center.

3.5 Stars

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Review of “Escape from Witchwood Hollow” by Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

23351890.jpgI usually get sick of teen girl stories, but this one was unique enough that it drew me in. You immediately have sympathy for the main character in that she lost her parents in 9-11, and you get to read her thoughts and emotions so that you know her pretty well. The other members of the family were all likeable too, as were most of the townspeople she encounters. There were of course the ‘mean girls’ type, but even they were given dimensions.

The overall mystery of what’s going on in the Hollow was great. I wanted to find out more with every hint I was given, and so that’s what kept me reading. I loved the way the author used the different timelines/storylines to show the history behind the mystery. The characters in these storylines were also complex and interesting, and the author’s ability to add historical flavor was a nice shift from the modern day feel of the main storyline. How everything came together was a surprise that I greatly enjoyed…but I won’t spoil anything.

One thing that bugged me was the constant mention of name brands. I get that this girl likes fashion. I know the author was trying to show that. But it was too much, in my opinion, and often distracted from the events going on. I also wasn’t crazy about the ending. It seemed a little melodramatic, and it made me a bit uncomfortable that…what happened… was portrayed as the best thing to make her happy again.

All in all, this was an enjoyable YA/mystery/ghost kind of story that you can read pretty quickly and keeps you entertained.

4 Stars See it on Amazon!

Review of “In the Shadow of the Dragon King” by J. Keller Ford

25721483I read this book a lot faster than I thought I would because the world and adventure drew me in.  There’s a good bit of action to balance out a lot of explanation and dialogue – which was needed in a book that spans both our world and a fantasy one.  There’s a good range of characters, and the main heroes’ journeys make you want to follow them along and figure out what’s up.

The world of Fallhollow is your basic fantasy realm with kings and queens, mages, knights, and of course dragons.  The history to the world was pretty well-explained and sets the story in motion.  David is a very unlikely hero, his love Charlotte gets pulled along for the ride, and when they enter this realm we get to see everything through their eyes.

The author added an interesting element by making Charlotte very, very anti-war.  What David is asked to do conflicts with this so that they both have to reevaluate what fighting for justice really means and costs.  This was a bit infuriating at times because Charlotte is so set in this mindset that she doesn’t seem to understand the reality of their situation.  It also kind of stunts David’s growth into the “savior” character he is supposed to be, so it left them a little weak for me.

Then there’s the alternating viewpoint of Eric.  Through his eyes, we see the insider’s view of Fallhollow.   He knows the knights and king and queen, he knows the publically known story of their history with the dragon.  And by eavesdropping (there’s a lot of eavesdropping!), he picks up clues about what’s really going on.  This worked for me because it added mystery and tension to the story, while David’s viewpoint was more about getting from point A to point B.

As a character, Eric is conflicted in many different ways – with the death of his friend, with feeling overlooked, with wanting fame, with not being trusted, etc.  I’m never a fan of whiney teenage drama, and I mostly wanted to slap Eric.  BUT, I think you’re supposed to.  He clearly has a lot of growing up to do, but by the time the truth is revealed I still wasn’t sure he was worth the trouble of liking him.

Overall, this book is a fun adventure.  It has many elements of a typical fantasy world, and the use of magic is pretty cool.  All the intrigue adds to the plot, and although some people might not like all the dialogue I thought it helped flesh out the characters.

4 Stars

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Review of “Pacific Cove: Haunted Visions” by J.E. Grace

31448547I enjoyed this short story very much.  Naomi is a sweet, kind, likable character.  Her husband, Jason, maybe is a little less developed but serves his purpose as a supportive presence in Naomi’s life.  Their ranch neighbors add a nice, wider range of characters to the story.   The setting of the ranch and the little town is beautifully described, and it all had a very homey feel.

Most of the story focuses on Naomi’s internal struggles with death, loss, and coping.  I thought the author had a very honest approach to the topic, especially with Naomi openly needing to take medication, and it felt very realistic.  How the author represented Naomi’s struggle made you really hope Naomi was going to be okay.

Then there is the ghost story element to the story.  It added a different spin to an otherwise western-romance-feeling book.   The parts where the ominous ghost confronted Naomi were suspenseful without being overly horrific.  The parts with the other ghost trying to get Naomi’s attention were equally suspenseful and added some mystery to the story.  (Not to give too much away.)  I liked how the author used all this to push Naomi to the edge but then showed her inner strength as she bravely tried to figure it all out.

Overall, this book was very nice.  It would be fine for a younger audience, but there’s enough here to keep an adult’s attention for the short time it takes to read it.  The writing felt like it could have been crafted a little bit better (a LOT of sentences started with “She”) with more variety in sentence structure to make a more pleasurable read, but the descriptions and dialogue were quite nice.

4 Stars

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