Review: Unbound

There are two things Elijah Goldsmith does not lack. The first is money. The second is ambition. It is not enough, in one year, to graduate high school and begin college at Princeton. He mixes in one more thing: Becoming a spy.

Only he doesn’t know, when he goes to Washington in the cold beginning of the year, what it really means to be a spy – what they do, what they want from him. He doesn’t know who the beautiful, talented girl training beside him really is. And he certainly doesn’t know what’s coming on Easter Day. 2066 is an appropriate year for the world to end.

Unbound is the first book of J.B. Simmons’ Omega Trilogy. It’s part spy drama , part sci-fi, and mostly End Times. I don’t often read End Times novels, and for two reasons. One, they can get depressing (the good guys lose and lose and lose, and then the world ends). Two, they can get predictable. I’ve read Revelation. I know the inevitable plot points.

Still, I have read End Times novels I liked, such as C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle (yes, it truly is) and the Swipe series by Evan Angler. And now Unbound.

Unbound operates outside the box of mainstream End Times theology, freshening and shaking up the narrative. Nor does it start out with apocalypse, but with a world running along, and which gives every indication that it will go on running.

I enjoyed the story’s setting; the futuristic aspect was well-done – hints of enormous changes in the world, and technology that felt both new and realistic. I particularly liked the small detail of the White House having been converted to a museum (and nobody knows anymore where the president lives). It’s the sort of thing that lets you know, without stopping the story to explain, that you’re in a different country.

The characters were quickly and vividly defined in the story. I was a little surprised at how fast a few characters were inserted into the story and then eliminated from it, but it’s hard to say it was wrong. And I’m not sure where to put this, so I’ll just tack it on here: There was one fleeting moment with “Jezebel” that was more than I liked.

I liked the balance struck by Elijah’s visions – neither too ordinary nor too exotic. His vision of the man had particular depth, and promised a greater spirituality in the books to come.

Unbound is a fascinating take on the End Times, a compelling mix of Revelation prophecy, sci-fi, and spy drama.


Unbound will be released September 13. Until that date, J.B. Simmons is running a giveaway of the book on Goodreads. I received a review copy of this book from the author.

CSFF Blog Tour: Merlin’s Nightmare

The whole of Britain is blighted with a drought. In the south, there is war against the Saxenow. In the north, there is war against the Picts. From within, the men of Kernow turn and attack the king’s city. Morgana, a woman with evil powers, drives them on, and has other plots in store.

It would be hard even for King Arthur to save a Britain like this. It’s harder yet for Artorius – young, reckless, and ignorant still of his heritage. But many things are emerging from their hiding places, and not all as welcome as the true king.

With Merlin’s Nightmare, Robert Treskillard completes the Merlin Spiral trilogy. The Merlin Spiral is very much a fantasy series; the magical element is strong, though put into a Christian context. But it is also firmly anchored in the historical reality of the fifth century – more so than many people may realize, given how obscure the fifth century is. (Vortigern may have a firmer place in history than Arthur.)

There’s a sixteen-year jump between the second book and the last, but it works well. I enjoyed seeing Arthur really enter the story. I liked the father-son dynamic between Arthur and Merlin, naturally arising from the earlier books, and I thought they shifted toward their ultimate roles as king and counselor in a subtle, convincing way. And though I did not initially notice it, Merlin’s fear contrasted with Arthur’s recklessness, and eventually both found their way toward the wise middle ground.

Guinevere was introduced in this novel, providing some lighthearted moments. I was also intrigued to see that Robert Treskillard made the beginning of her relationship with Arthur suitably contradicted. (And I wonder – was Lancelot also introduced, though by another name?)

Curiously, the book ends without any great triumph. The heroes enjoyed smaller victories, but a new disaster seemed to come on the heels of every one, and it’s not clear Britain is, on balance, better off when the fighting ended than when it began. Doubtless this is partly due to the fact that the story is not over, and undefeated enemies are held over for the upcoming Pendragon Spiral series. Still, I missed the moment of triumph. I missed the satisfaction of thinking, “It’s over, and they won.”

Merlin’s Nightmare is an intriguing, well-written novel that blends history and myth into a fascinating, innovative re-telling of the Arthurian Legends. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Pendragon Spiral.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Prism Tour Review: The Cinderella Theorem

A themed book tour through Prism Book Tours.


Lily Sparrow is an atypical teenager: a teenager who thrives on mathematics, who wants everything clear and logical, who thinks all life should work out to a balanced equation. But when she discovers on her fifteenth birthday that her parents have been leading a double-life in a fairytale world, and now they want her to join them, she has a typical teenager response: She wants her normality back.

That she never was normal may occur to readers who watch her try to process all of life through mathematical equations. It’s natural, I suppose, that it never occurs to her.

The Cinderella Theorem is written by Kristee Ravan and is the first book of the Lily Sparrow Chronicles. This novel abounds in fresh, fun ideas. The clash between Lily’s mathematical compulsion and the fairytale world she is pushed into is the first. More follow.

In the world Lily enters, the characters of all the fairytales – good and bad – are living Happily Ever After. If they ever become Unhappy, they are no longer living Happy Ever After.

And so they vanish.

It’s a quirky world governed by its own absurd logic, and its citizens are all eccentric in their own way. I enjoyed all the outlandishness, enjoyed seeing old, beloved characters like Cinderella and King Arthur living Happily Ever After. The foundational ideas of the book and the worldbuilding are the finest elements of The Cinderella Theorem.

The principal flaw of this novel is a lack of proper editing. There are misplaced commas and far too many wrongly done dialogue tags (“That’s a problem.” He said). More substantively, there were things in the book – little things – that were extraneous, hints of ideas that were never used. (For example, in an early scene Lily is ordered out of a banned palace library … and that’s it for the Forbidden Library.) A good editor could have helped with these things.

I liked the first-person writing style of The Cinderella Theorem; I thought Lily had a good voice. The characters were quirky and likable, and the ideas and world itself were delightful. The Cinderella Theorem is an enjoyable book, a fun play on the old fairy tales. Recommended.


The Cinderella Theorem
(The Lily Sparrow Chronicles #1)
by Kristee Ravan
YA Urban Fantasy
Paperback, 367 pages
March 17th 2014

Fairy tales are naturally non-mathematical. That is a fact, and fifteen-year-old Lily Sparrow loves factual, mathematical logic. So when her mother confesses that Lily’s deceased father is (a) not dead, (b) coming to dinner, and (c) the ruler of a fairy tale kingdom accessible through the upstairs bathtub, Lily clings to her math to help her make sense of this new double life (1 life in the real world + 1 secret life in the fairy tale world = a double life).

Even though it’s not mathematical, Lily finds herself being pulled into a mystery involving an unhappy Cinderella, a greasy sycophant called Levi, and a slew of vanishing fairy tale characters. Racing against the clock, with a sound mathematical plan, Lily attempts to save her fairy tale friends while proving that normality = happiness.

Amazon

Calling for Reviewers!

We’re looking for reviewers! You don’t need a blog to sign up, but you do need to at least post a review on Amazon. Other sites (blog, Goodreads, etc.) are also appreciated. Reviews must be completed by the end of November. To sign up, please fill out this form.

Kristee Ravan lives in Oklahoma with her husband, daughter, and pet fish, Val (short for Valentine). She wanted to be many things as she grew up including a general, an artist, and an architect. But she never bothered to say, “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” She was always writing stories and thought of herself as a writer anyway. She sent her first story to a publisher in the sixth grade. (It was rejected – in a nice way.) When she is not making up stories in her head, she enjoys reading, juggling, green smoothies, playing dollhouse with her daughter, and hearing from her fans. You can contact Kristee at the facebook page for her Lily Sparrow books: The Lily Sparrow Chronicles.


WebsiteGoodreadsFacebookAmazon


Tour-Wide Giveaway

5 copies of The Cinderella Theorem (print for US winners, ebook for international winners)

Ends August 31st

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Follow the tour!

August Dates:

11 – Launch

12

Kelly P’s Blog

Coffee Books & Art

13

Bookworm Lisa

Shannon’s Blog

Simplistic Reviews

14

Skye Malone’s Blog

Wonderous Reviews

Mythical Books

15

Rockin’ Book Reviews

Sarah’s StoryLines

The Wonderings of One Person

17

Katy’s Krazy Books

Letters from Annie (Douglass) Lima

18

The Crazy Antics of My Creative Mind

My Devotional Thoughts

The Written Adventure

19

Tween 2 Teen Book Reviews

Mel’s Shelves

My Life, Loves and Passion

20

Katie’s Clean Book Collection

Book Briefs

Deal Sharing Aunt

21

A Backwards Story

Little Lisa

22

Coffee, Books and Me

I Am A Reader

Dividing by Zero

24 – Grand Finale

CSFF Blog Tour: The Warden and the Wolf King

The Jewels of Anniera are preparing for war. All the long winter they have been rallying the people of the Green Hollows to go up against Gnag the Nameless, to end his destruction by destroying him.

The Skreeans are preparing for war. All winter Gammon has been leading them in the work, making ready to attack.

And then Gnag beats them to it.

The Warden and the Wolf King is the fourth and final book of the Wingfeather Saga, written by Andrew Peterson. This book, more than any of the others, belongs to the Wingfeather children, Janner and Kalmar and Leeli. Artham and Podo had their most pivotal moments in the first and second books, Nia had hers in the third. Here, in the fourth book, the adults retreat and the children take over.

This novel is the most intense of the series, in action and in darkness. What strikes me about the sadness of this book is that it leaps at you from unexpected places: characters left lost even after a great triumph, the boys and the cloven in the Blackwood. (You who have read the book, you know what I’m talking about. “Anniera. My home.” Really, I think I teared up.)

A lot of characters – not heard and hardly thought of since the second or even first book – come back. We even make it back to Glipwood, with reflection on how it all began. It was gratifying to revisit so many earlier elements of the story. The major storylines are brought to complete and satisfying conclusions, and such elements as the cloven and Gnag himself are thoroughly explored.

The one storyline left unresolved is Artham’s. The Warden and the Wolf King underscores his brokenness; his nightmare of ghouls in a dark chamber is the worst moment of his madness in the entire saga. And there’s no resolution. The story ends on a hopeful note for Artham, but he never truly finds healing or a lasting peace.

At first blush, it’s a little curious that Peterson finishes the stories of characters we thought we’d never see again and leaves Artham without resolution. But it makes sense. Artham’s story cannot be quickly or easily finished. That ship sailed when Artham snapped at the beginning of Monster in the Hollows. Andrew Peterson established then that even Artham’s glorious transformation wasn’t enough for healing, and now he needs to come up with something even better. Which won’t be easy, because that transformation scene was tremendous. (Authors do these things to themselves.)

Now I’m going to turn on the SPOILER ALERT for a few criticisms. I think the decision to bring back Bonifer Squoon was a mistake. It didn’t add much to the book, and it placed an unfortunate asterisk on the ending of Monster in the Hollows.

Additionally, Artham’s decision to retire to his treehouse when he knew there was a fleet of Fangs heading in the direction of his niece and nephews struck me as inconsistent with his character. I know he was, as he said, lost. But any more lost than when he first stumbled from the Blackwood and resolved to protect his brother’s children?

Finally, the book had continuity errors. Characters knew things they had not known in the last book and had no apparent opportunity to learn. If you read the conversation between Janner and Artham in the first chapters of Monster in the Hollows – the last conversation they have in the entire series – it’s clear Janner has no idea why Artham is so disturbed by the Blackwood. But in The Warden and the Wolf King, he knows his uncle’s history with the forest. The whole character of Arundelle is a kind of continuity error. (Anybody remember Alma Rainwater?)

All right, SPOILER ALERT OFF.

I regard the flaws of this novel as ultimately minor, especially in a 519-page conclusion of an epic. The Warden and the Wolf King is a fascinating book; I would even call it a great book. It is spiritually strong – very aware of the Maker, searching after His presence and His goodness. A phrase appears multiple times in the story – the Maker’s good pleasure. There’s both comfort and courage in it.

The Wingfeather Saga is one of the best series I have ever read, and The Warden and the Wolf King is an excellent denouement – heartfelt, imaginative, full of meaning, with hope and sorrow and glory.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Jupiter Winds

Grey Alexander has precisely two worries: providing for herself and her sister, and not getting caught. They live in lawless independence in the North American Wildlife Preserve, and there’s no telling where or when Mazdaar may catch up with them.

Jupiter Winds is written by C.J. Darlington and published by Mountainview Books. The novel is sci-fi, with a dystopian tinge, taking place in a future of amazing technology and totalitarian government. As is made plain by the title, the story goes beyond Earth to include Jupiter.

The novel’s descriptions of Jupiter have a suitably foreign feel, and the author is effective in creating impressions of places and people. The prose is quick and focused, moving the story along at a good pace.

There are a lot of ideas here, all weaving together: space travel, different planets, human manipulation of various environments, androids, Big Brother. Androids – here called drones – are effectively creepy, and become more so as the book goes on and new revelations are made.

Interestingly, there is no democratic force opposing the totalitarian Mazdaar. Heroes there are, and even some organized opposition, but no one shows any notions of democracy. The only power that counters Mazdaar is an Asian empire called by the name of its rulers, the Yien Dynasty. It is to the author’s credit that she gives a noble cast to the Yien Dynasty, acknowledging the good possible even in such governments.

There was some inconsistency in this book. One character kept oscillating; she took radically different actions at different points in the book, and I didn’t really understand why. As a character, she was hard to get a grip on.

Jupiter Winds is a fast-paced sci-fi adventure, a quick but broad-ranging read. Recommended for those who like adventure and sci-fi.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: The Word Changers

One day, seeking a refuge away from home, Posy went to the library. She ended up in a book.

Not, you know, in the metaphorical sense of reading a book, or even in the literal sense of having fallen asleep in an open book. She was inside the book: Within the story, surrounded by characters, and expected to fulfill her own assigned role in the Plot.

And so the adventures begin.

The Word Changers is Ashlee Willis’ debut novel. A YA fantasy, with a strong element of romance, it is based on a fresh and original idea. Characters who are, even in their own world, characters in a book, and conscious of it, and behaving accordingly; the Author who wrote all; the Plot that must be replayed; the waiting for a reader – all makes for a fun and intriguing premise. I felt it had the mark of a book-lover.

I enjoyed Ashlee’s use of such fantasy creatures as mermaids and ipotanes. The world of her novel – especially the Glooming and all its travails and deceits – was effectively imagined and written. The characters, too, were vivid – the king, the queen, Falak, Kyran. Posy’s own reactions, struggles, and joys felt real to her circumstances.

There is an allegorical aspect to this book, with the Author of the story clearly corresponding to God. A theme of choices and free will emerges easily from this, and there are moments when characters try to grasp the whole meaning and purpose of what happens.

The romance angle was strong for a fifteen-year-old character – many parents would be nervous to have their fifteen-year-old in a relationship that serious. But I suppose Posy was old enough for it.

The Word Changers is a fresh, lively fantasy, well-written and memorable. Recommended.


And here, readers, are your links:

Ashlee Willis’ blog

Ashlee Willis on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads

The Word Changers on Amazon and Barnes and Noble


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: Dreamtreaders

Archer Keaton’s life, when he’s awake, is fairly ordinary: a brother, a sister, a dad, school days, chores. Friends, including that one he would like to have as more than a friend.

But when Archer Keaton is asleep, his life is extraordinary. He is a Dreamtreader – roving the Dreamscape, meeting its many and often strange citizens, repairing breaches between the Dream and the waking world, and – every once in a while – confronting the Nightmare Lord.

Dreamtreaders is written by Wayne Thomas Batson and is the first book of his new trilogy. Like Archer’s life, the book is made of two parts: the waking world, with its routine issues of school, family, and friends, and the Dream – a perilous and intoxicating place, in which the rules of the waking world are suspended, and the rules of the Dreamworld take over.

So the novel mixes a school story with a fantasy adventure, ultimately bridging the two in a logical and interesting way. The world of the Dream is intensely imaginative, and though it seems at times the living definition of freewheeling (how wild is a place where you can simply think anything into existence?), it is still governed by its own strange laws, some of them quite unforgiving.

The world-building of Dreamtreaders is excellent – as we see primarily in the Dream, but also in the waking world. Scoville Manor, including its charming-but-odd menagerie, is a fine piece of craftsmanship. Batson’s skill as a writer brings home his imagination to his readers, helping us not only to see his worlds but to feel them.

Characters, too, are well-done, from the precocious Kaylie to the nettlesome Master Gabriel to the slimy Bezeal. Archer Keaton is an admirable protagonist, adventurous and brave and caring, with well-measured amounts of flaws and mistakes.

The imagery of the book, usually quite compelling, got too disturbing a few times, especially in the final storming of Shadowkeep. I also thought Rigby and Kara’s turn during the same section a little too abrupt; it confused me initially, and I wished it had been foreshadowed earlier in the book.

But the thing is, I really enjoyed this book. It swept me up and away. In Dreamtreaders, Wayne Thomas Batson does justice to humanity’s ancient fascination with dreams. Recommended.


Tomorrow I will be sharing an interview with Wayne Thomas Batson about Dreamtreaders. He had many interesting comments about the book, just as you’d expect, and I hope you’ll come by to see it.

Now we have the links:

Dreamtreaders on Amazon;

Wayne Thomas Batson’s website;

and the blog tour participants:

Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Christopher Hopper
Jason Joyner

Carol Keen
Jennette Mbewe
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer

Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis

Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Samuel Adams

In 1776, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to determine what course the American colonies would take in their struggle against Britain. Some men were driving toward a declaration of independence, bold and dangerous, and others hung back. Thomas Jefferson, by appointment and at the urging of John Adams, began writing a declaration to present to the Congress.

And Samuel Adams, behind the scenes, guided the delegates to make the bold decision, war and threat of hanging and everything.

Samuel Adams, written by Amber Schamel, is the second in Remington Colt’s Revolutionary War Series. At an estimated 22 pages, Samuel Adams is a novella that takes place one morning of the Continental Congress. It also flashes back to earlier events as Adams sets forward the case for independence to reluctant delegates.

The novella contains much history, many facts, united under a framework that makes for an easy, absorbing read. Given the amount of history, it’s impressive how smoothly the story flows, how easily it all comes together. There were snatches of dialogue that left me wondering if those men of the Revolution would really have said that, but capturing the long-discarded style of the past, and still keeping it accessible to readers of the present, is a large task, especially for so brief a book.

There were a few lapses in the writing style (a few paragraphs shifted past and present tenses), and a persistent grammatical error of capitalizing dialogue tags (“Another answered.”). But Samuel Adams is still nicely-written. Moreover, it is a historical novella that captures the facts of the day, as well as Samuel Adams’ trials and his emotions. I recommend Samuel Adams to those who enjoy history and historical fiction.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset

In Aerisia, the land beyond the sunset, there are beautiful fairies, immortal warriors, and the magic-wielding Moonkind. There are thick forests, lovely palaces, and tall mountains.

And there are the Dark Powers, the Evil.

When Hannah Winters is suddenly spirited away from Earth into Aerisia, her hosts graciously but implacably assign her her destiny: to become the Artan, their deliverer.

Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset is written by Sarah Ashwood and published by Griffineus Press, the first of a trilogy. The world-building of this novel is impressive – a collection of races, each distinctive and compelling, a rich mythology, and a fascinating history. An attention to detail completes the land of Aerisia as a wholly different world.

As the first book in a trilogy, Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset is devoted to establishing its strange, new world, with all its peoples and history. The plot moves somewhat gradually on account of this. With all the space devoted to world-building, it’s a curious omission that the story never elaborates on the Dark Powers. We see them in action three or four times before the climax, but as readers we have little notion who they are and what they want. It’s hard to discern what the threat to Aerisia really is. They need a deliverer, but from what? As far as we can see, and except for a few targeted attacks, everything in Aerisia is great.

I think this neglect to develop the Dark Powers is the novel’s primary flaw. Hannah’s character arc may be frustrating to some readers (she mostly reacts, and when she does act, it’s usually foolish), but it is a real and believable journey, as she progresses from a frightened, angry young woman to … something more, maybe even the Artan.

Although this was not the author’s fault, there was an unusual number of typos. It wasn’t too bad, but it was enough to be noticeable. (Typos are hard to clean out, and you need at least two thorough edits besides the author’s.)

Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset is a rich fantasy with memorable characters, an intriguing mythology, and a fresh romance. Recommended to those who enjoy intricate world-building, fantasy creatures, and romance.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Until That Distant Day

France, in 1792, was an unsafe place, and not only for the king and queen. As revolutionary fever seized the nation, and Paris descended into tumult and violence, everyone’s security became threatened; everyone’s peace melted away.

Colette, in the thick of things with her revolutionary brother, finds her spirit drifting away from it. Regretting the past and fearing the future, filled with concern for those she loves and can no longer protect, Colette now reaches for things that have nothing to do with politics.

But, as the old saying has it, just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.

Until That Distant Day is a historical romance written by Jill Stengl and published by Rooglewood Press. The story fully entrenches itself in its historical setting; all sorts of fine details show a high level of research and create an encompassing sense of realism. The unrelenting heat, the political turmoil, the carriages in the streets, the characters’ reactions to a black slave – all invoke the world of 1792 Paris. But just as important are the little things. We watch the characters do small, daily acts, like going out to rain barrels for their water, and we taste the life they live.

The one historical element I would have liked to see expanded was the political conflict – not so much what happened but why it happened. Everybody wanted a republic instead of a monarchy, but why? I didn’t feel that the book explained the “first cause”, whatever troubles or grievances led the people to revolution in the first place. If I understood that unhappiness better, I might have understood better, and felt more, the cause and the passion surrounding it.

Until That Distant Day is a very character-driven book. Colette is a strong and complex character, both flawed and admirable. Claude and Pascoe, though sometimes unlikable, were yet understandable and ultimately sympathetic. All the characters felt very real, very human, from Tressy to Adrienne to Arnaud.

Although a romance, the novel is not primarily focused on the heroine getting her man. Other relationships are just as important to the story and just as deeply felt. I enjoyed seeing the brother/sister dynamic – a relationship that, for some reason, is often neglected in fiction. Even when stories feature sibling relationships, they tend to be brother/brother or sister/sister.

In some ways this novel is a study of humanity, and all our passions, faults, and virtues. Until That Distant Day shows sin and goodness entwining, in the world around us and in our own hearts. As a novel, it digs deep.

The historical milieu of Until That Distant Day is compelling and it imbues the story with a sense of danger. Impelled by its characters, with a wealth of human emotions and motivations, Until That Distant Day is a rich and profound novel.