Thursday, August 20, 2015

Not just your typical wizard-school story!

The Natural OrderThe Natural Order by R.J. Vickers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do not be deterred by the apparent plot similarities to Harry Potter - "The Natural Order" may be a magic school-type novel, but it is a wholly original take on the genre. The protagonist, Tristan, is serving time as a juvenile delinquent, accused of manslaughter. As he mourns the brother whose death he caused, a stranger turns up and whisks him away, along with 14 other students, to an obscure location. Here he is thrown into a school unlike any he has ever known - a school with an entirely unique array of subjects. Here he makes friends, and a few fiends, and begins to unearth the dark secrets behind the Lair.

Well written, and enjoyable, R.J. Vickers has designed a magic system that is uniquely her own. She has created a believable cast of troubled teens, sprinkled in a generous amount of typical High School drama and insecurities and added a dusting of magic. Her concepts are well considered and should lead into a promising series as Tristan and his friends discover more of what their future entails.

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Celtic Delight

The Black Swans (The Antrim Cycle #1)The Black Swans by N.W. Moors

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Black Swans" beautifully blends reality and folklore in an engaging and romantic tale. It tells of Taisie, a young and relatively shy woman, who lives in the small (fictional) town of Antrium, Maine. She spends her days knitting and working in a shop, living with her grandmother, with occasional forays out on the lake. Her life takes a turn for the better when she hears Celtic band, The Black Swans, and feels a connection with their piper. But there is more to this family group than meets the eye, and it is not mere coincidence that a flock of black swans have taken up to life on her lake.

Eloquently written, with a delightful cast of characters and a touch of magic, "The Black Swans" should satisfy anyone who loves folklore, fairy tale re-tellings, romantic fantasy, and a good read.

My only complaints is that the ending felt a little rushed, and the author's knowledge of swan biology may have been lacking although, to be fair, I am sure there are plenty of people out there that believe swans eat fish and Taisie never did get around to actually researching them. I am, alas, a bit of a zoology-pedant when it comes to writing.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Strange and Beautiful

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and GoliathThe Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautiful and dark, haunting and mesmerizing. The prose is beautiful, the atmosphere creepy and delicious. The colourful cast of characters, equally delightful. The plot is strange, richly layered and switching between narrators (all in first person). Definitely has that Victorian charm, found in such books as The Night Circus.

A wonderful read, even if quite an unusual one. SIngular and extraordinary indeed.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Circle/The Circle Broken by K.M. Montemayor

The Circle (Book 1)The Circle by K.M. Montemayor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am a little bit uncertain of how to rate this book. On the one hand, the writing style is a little flat, lacking in dramatic flair, but on the other hand, it did suck me in and keep me reading.

It feels a lot like your regular high school drama - not-particularly-popular, booksy girl is generally overlooked in favour of her curvaceous and flirty best friend, until a boy enters the picture who is, in himself, something of an outsider. Together, they find they share a lot in common, and from these roots of a friendship, something rather more life-defining grows. Fairly standard stuff, pleasant to read, but not exactly life shattering.

However, Charlie is not from Earth - his people are a different strain of humanoids, located in a galaxy somewhere far beyond. He has been sent here, with his family, while his parents do important government-related security-stuff. His people are more-or-less from a dystopian society, with rigid rules and little freedom of movement. As his relationship with Lily develops, the press of his societal constrainsts hardens and it seems fate will drive the two young love-birds apart...

I enjoyed it, it was a fun read. I do feel Lily rushed into some rather foolhardy decisions and she felt somewhat younger than her 18 years (although I am not sure why). The bit when Charlie suddenly became "hot" when he took off his glasses rather bugged me too. Perhaps a little too Clark Kent? Anyway, the writing style felt a little dry, and the prose was not exactly eloquent and flowering, but it was a good, quick read. Although that ending... Grrrr!

Also, the dialogue felt artificial. I cannot pinpoint exactly why, but at times it did feel a little maid-and-butler and forced. Writing convincing dialogue is difficult, and I am sure that as the books proceed, this will improve.

Disclaimer: Free eARC via Netgalley and publisher in exchange for honest review - thank you!


The Circle Broken (Book 2)The Circle Broken by K.M. Montemayor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This cover is MUCH better than the one on the version I've got - beautiful!

Mine was from Netgalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I'm not sure why I enjoyed this book as much as I did. The writing style is a bit dry (very much "tell", rather than "show") and there is very little conflict driving the plot, merely a series of events that happen over the 10-year span it covers, but there was just something extremely engaging with it. I wanted to read on and completed it within a couple of days.

In fact, the only real tension I experienced towards the end was when Zak had escorted Lillie into her apartment and I thought "oh great, Charlie's going to see them together, freak out and this is going to have another cliff-hanger ending which would have definitely improved the lack-of-tension but made me extremely frustrated (as well as being in almost every sitcom/romcom ever). So, I'm glad that the author broke (lame) conventions there. And, of course, Charlie's treatment and confrontation with Lilly were also quite evocative.

Overall, from a writer/editor's perspective, I can find plenty of nits to pick in this tale, but from a reader's perspective, I enjoyed it.

PS: I can't help but wonder about Abby (sorry, Abigail's) choice of cat name - how is that indicative of the rest of the story, and what role will Abigail play in book three?

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Wow... paranormal romance taken one step further = awesome!

FANGIRL_15FANGIRL_15 by Aimee Roseland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I (almost literally) devoured this novel. Something about the narrative, the structure, had me hooked - line and sinker - and the only thing that stopped me reading it in one sitting was that would have meant me finishing it at 2am and I had work the next day... As it was, I got up and finished it before going to work (yay for late starts).

It is hard to pinpoint precisely what made me enjoy this story so much, but I think that personal wish-fulfillment played a small role. I mean, what reader doesn't dream of meeting the characters of their favourite book? Hanging out with them, etc. What this story does differently though, and what stops it coming across as Mary-Sue fanfic (over a non-existent - alas - series) is that in reality the Dark Riders Brotherhood are damned scary. My only complaint here is that we are introduced to all 8 of them at the start, via a sort of light info-dump (since Chloe is familiar with their characters) but only a few get to really feature in the story: Draken the almost-7-foot vampire, Raphish the (fake) Scottish werewolf, and of course the haunted, broken and beautiful Lucien who was denied his chance to shine by the untimely death of the original author (Sojourne) and had the series cut-short by a thriller-hack-writer. Anyway, I have digressed, Chloe finds herself dumped into a world she barely understands, with people she knows intimate details about - including their dark secrets - but whom neither know nor trust her, and not only that, but the one that she is most drawn to is destined to find his true mate within the next five days.

So saying, some parts of the plot are somewhat predictable - but others are utterly and completely unexpected. Chloe is a brilliant heroine - with her various insecurities - yet also her outspoken courage that shines through at unexpected moments, she is delightfully well-rounded as a character. Lucien is just... well, I've always had a bit of a thing for heroes that don't understand their own worth.

Anyway, aside from some odd typos - mainly usages of the wrong words, and a couple of weird spellings - this is an absolutely engrossing read and I really, really loved it. Something in it sang to my soul.

eARC received via Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Celtic Tale of Friendship and Adventure

Scotland's GuardianScotland's Guardian by Katherine Gerlach

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I highly enjoyed this tale of friendship, set in the Celtic Otherworld of Alba.

It follows Bryanna, a young girl who thought everything in life was normal: until the day a stranger turns up and kidnaps her father, and she is suddenly plunged into a mysterious alternate Scotland, populated with monsters from the darkest fables and characters from myth and legend. Some seek to help her, others to hinder her and even her best friend - red-haired Kaylee - could turn against her.

(view spoiler)

I also enjoyed the Celtic aspects, specifically in the forms of the creatures and the characters encountered along the way.

There is plenty of excitement and adventure, with a non-stop plot and more than a few twists.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

A Magical Fantasy Adventure

White Hart (White Hart, #1)White Hart by Sarah Dalton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautifully written, well crafted and devised fantasy novel aimed at the 13+ market. The detail is rich, the setting beautifully realised and the characterisation excellent. We are introduced to Mae - a half-wild young woman who lives with her father on the very edges of civilisation. Her past times are climbing trees, riding her stag Anta and basically avoiding the trappings of femininity. But she has a secret - she is Craft-born, having a magical connection with elements and with it, power. Alas, such talent is what the kingdom needs and she finds herself unwittingly caught up in grief and thrown into the horrors of the deadly Waerg wood, where she shall have to face disaster and death at every turn, and something even more dangerous: heartbreak.

The plot takes off early, and never lets go. I loved Mae's personality - so stubborn and single-minded that she was responsible for a number of her own self-injury (physical and emotional) and over-complicated an already complex situation. Several times you wanted to shriek at her "just admit to it!". The character of Cas too was excellent - the pampered prince who, at first glance seemed just that but when one looks deeper, is revealed in his many layers. Likewise, Sasha.

The ending? Well, I would have preferred it without the cliff-hanger, personally. That seemed a little abrupt and sudden as though the author were going "oh, so you think the story is over now. You're WRONG!"

I wish I didn't have to wait to find out what happened next...

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