Book Review: Counterpoint

Counterpoint (Song of the Fallen, 1) by Rachel Haimowitz

Humans and elves are at war and have a mutual species hatred for each other. The humans think the elves (there’s no confirmation, however, that the elves did this) released the ferals–roided up wild animals–onto human lands. The ferals have one purpose: to kill all humans (Bender would be proud). The story begins with Ayden, an elf ranger, cheering on the ferals from a distance while they harass some humans. However, Ayden’s sister, Ella, goes to see a human friend, Ayden follows, and they both get captured. Upon capture, they’re brought to the prince, Freyrik, and he takes more than a little bit of a liking to Ayden, who becomes his slave.

In many ways, this book is very simple: it’s a BDSM romance between a king and his reluctant slave. In other ways, I found myself surprised with how much care is taken to build that relationship into something that wasn’t creepy. There’s a lot of back and forth between Ayden, and the slowing down of the main plot (the imminent attack of the feral surge) gives Ayden and Freyriks’ relationship time to grow into something more mutual and less coercive. Yes, there is a lot of erotica here, maybe more than some readers want, but there’s enough other plot that the story shows as much restraint as Freyrik in focusing on the more sexual aspects of the relationship. (That said, it’s an M/M adult romance; expect dicks.)

Taking the time to build into the main relationship allowed both Ayden and Freyrik to develop characters of their own. While they mostly interacted with each other, the best parts of the book were when they came into conflict with other characters. Unusual for high fantasy, there weren’t that many characters of note in this book. The three that stuck out, besides Ayden and Freyrik, were Ella, Kona, and Lord Lini, who didn’t seem to have much of a personality anyway. The ferals were the main antagonistic force, but the story kind of suffered for that because the personal stakes for Ayden and Freyrik’s relationship center around Ayden’s acceptance in the human court, where he’s forced to sit in chains at Freyrik’s feet. Yes, it’s really that heavy on the BDSM elements.

Kona’s character provided a much needed human antagonist; she forces herself on Ayden and is the only person who seems capable of throwing Freyrik off his mental game. Ayden and Freyrik’s characters worked best for me when they had to interact and confront other people, not just deal with their own internal relationship problems. The ferals provided a solid action set piece, but there should’ve been more court intrigue in this story. I suspect that that’s being saved for the next installment, but that personal antagonist threat was really lacking outside of the middle part of the book where Ayden and Freyrik are both challenged by Kona’s appearance.

At times, I found the story slow. This ultimately works to build the relationship between Ayden and Freyrik, but I couldn’t help feeling that Haimowitz was holding something back for the next book. The plot just needed a little more in it. This could’ve been achieved by fleshing out or giving more book time to some of the side characters, but it didn’t feel that Ayden or Freyrik had many meaningful relationships beyond each other, save Ayden with Ella. That’s something that ultimately ended up confusing me because the two characters are so passionate with each other, and interacting with other characters should’ve deepened who they were for me.

Random Thoughts:

  • The cover is super ridiculous. Kind of pretty, but very smutty. You know what you’re getting.
  • This is definitely a BDSM adult romance.
  • I didn’t like Kona as a person, but the story desperately needed her.
  • The world building didn’t feel overwhelming, but then, it kind of felt non-existent. I ultimately preferred this to info dumping.

Read If: You want high fantasy with more erotica in it. It’s basically an elf/human version of Loris/Renly fanfic.

Beware If: You want your high fantasy with more court intrigue and less penis.

Rating: 3 stars.

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Book Review: The Hollow March

The Hollow March by Chris Galford

I picked up this book initially because the cover is seriously beautiful; it reminded me of the Alan Lee illustrations for The Lord of the Rings, which are the editions of that series I own. I was looking for a new epic fantasy that combined the high adventure elements of a travel quest with something new and different. The strength of The Fifth Vertex was in its characters, and it’s a book that does just this. This story, however, has all the setting of epic fantasy, but none of it feels grounded in the characters, and this kept destroying my reading experience.

As a reader, I better be able to tell what the main character(s) want, and the early, driving action in a story needs to bring that into lazer focus. This is, essentially, what the book is about: what the character wants or needs. The main problem in The Hollow March is that I kept struggling with what Rurik wanted. He wants to fight his father because of backstory, okay, but what else? This is also a story that could’ve benefited from only focusing on one character, too, because a single well-developed character can make a book, but a weak main character will only get their perspective diluted in a multi-POV story. Essa’s character rose above the rest, and maybe the story should’ve been about her, but trying to make the story about the band of sell-swords didn’t quite work, either. I didn’t hate any of the characters, but I just didn’t feel much of anything for them, which is much worse, honestly, than if I’d hated them. I’ve read books where I’ve spent the better part of the book loathing the main character, but I can hate them because there is something there to hate. It just doesn’t feel like there’s much behind Rurik & Co.

The other issues I had with this novel might’ve not occurred at all if I didn’t have such a lackluster experience with the characters. There’s a lot of telling about the backstory and the fantasy world, but in epic fantasy, the world building exposition tends to be heavier because it can be essential in helping the reader understand the story. There’s still a tad too much telling here for my liking; a bit more sticking to the action vs. explaining backstory could’ve done the first several chapters of this book a lot of favors. The story, in many ways, should’ve opened with Rurik or found a way to do so and make him interesting. I honestly think that’s often the way to know if an author has written the story about the wrong character–if they can’t find any interesting way to open said story with the main character. Are there exceptions to this? Yes, but they are highly exceptional, and those stories do have to work extra hard to convince me that the main character should be the protagonist. It takes a level of story-telling finesse that, not gonna lie, most authors (including moi) don’t have to successfully open a story without the main character any where in sight.

Backstory is never as interesting to the reader as it is to the writer. I love my character’s backstories and think they’re terribly important, but readers prefer the here-and-now, which can make it tough to get the necessary info into the story. Epic fantasy tends to just dump it in there, but even that’s not the specific problem I had here. It felt like the story was about the backstory and not about the current action; it’s just that the explanations about who did what never let up. The action got lost in all of that, and there simultaneously needed to be more action and less. It’s a confounding book, and a problem that I usually don’t find outside of fantasy books with literary aspirations, or at least, that’s where I’ve experienced this feeling before.

Random Thoughts:

  • I don’t like to rag on books or authors, but I thought I should post something that I bought with the intention to enjoy, but for reasons, couldn’t get into it.
  • The cover is really great, and I seriously wish the story itself could’ve been half as good.
  • This book is long, and while that doesn’t specifically turn me off, there has to be a lot there for me to be convinced the entire story is worth it. (I’ve never been able to finish a Neal Stephenson novel because I find I just don’t care enough to spend the time, but lots of people seem to love his stuff.)

Read if: You have a lot of patience with characters.

Beware if: You wanted epic fantasy with a little more action.

My Rating: 2 because I just couldn’t get into the story. There’s a lot of explanation with much story, IMO.

Book Review and Giveaway: The Younger Gods

The Younger Gods by Micheal R. Underwood

The Younger Gods - cover

Jacob had what could understatedly be called an unusual upbringing by an occultist family in North Dakota. But these aren’t just any crazies living off the grid–Jake is from the Greene family, a group of fanatics who believe they’re going to be the ones to bring about the Apocalypse by releasing the Younger Gods of the Deep into the human world and ushering in the last age of man. This–and a graphic incident where Jake’s only childhood friend is tricked into getting his heart cut out on prom night–causes Jake to flee from his family and move to New York City. Jake hopes to leave all of his occult baggage behind him, but when his sister, Esther, begins committing ritualistic sacrifices in Central Park, he knows he’s the only one who can stop her.

Jake enlists the help of his Nephilim roommate (Carter), the daughter of a voodoo high priestess (Antoinette), an ex-NYPD cop turned supernatural soldier (Dorthea), and a smorgasbord of other denizens of New York that are involved in the supernatural community. During the best moments, the complex supernatural network is reminiscent of what I loved about Neil Gaimen’s Neverwhere; we’re treated to what feels like the tip of the iceberg of a vast and complex world. The aspects of supernatural New York are deftly woven with the aspects of what makes real New York unique, and this story definitely feels like it couldn’t have taken place anywhere else but New York. That said, you’ll enjoy this story more if you like New York or buy into the mystique (and what I personally consider the myth) of what makes New York special. If you’re a bit ‘meh’ on New York in general, then the little details of this book might just make you role your eyes. The major plot of the book is Jake & Co. going around to each burrough to alert and then help protect the five hearts of New  York. If you just rolled your eyes at that line, you probably shouldn’t read this book because this plot consumes the majority of the story.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and it’s never lacking in action. There were points where I almost felt that too much was happening too fast, but this is intentional because Jake & Co. are always one step (or in some cases, a hundred steps) behind Esther, who’s an incredibly powerful sorceress. The many action set pieces are inventive, so the story never drags, but it deprives the story of the space to do a bit more character building. There is so much in this novel–so many characters, so many set pieces–that I found myself wishing that the ‘less is more’ approach had been taken; Dorthea, Antoinette, and Carter are integral members of Jake’s team (and the only thing he has comparable to friends), but it takes nearly half the novel to get any sense of who they are and really begin to root for them. The relationship and understanding that develops between Jake and Carter is subtle and well-done, but it’s the only major character development that any of the side characters gets in the story.

The best two characters in the novel by far are Jake and Esther. Jake is an awkward home-schooled kind raised by what are essentially fundamentalist parents (just the Satanic and not the Christian variety), and that aspect of his character is played straight and for laughs. Jake misses the multitude of pop-cultural references the other characters sling around, but there’s a wounded aspect to his personality; this battle is personal to him. Esther is determined to fulfill her life’s purpose as the scion of the Greene family and bring about the birth of the Younger Gods. She’s incredibly powerful and a stone-cold psycho. The best moments in the story are between Esther and Jake; even when they’re just talking, it’s a battle. I wish we could’ve had more chapters from Esther’s perspective because she’s a zealot who’s committed to her cause, and when you get to see how cunning and single-minded she is in her pursuit, everything else Jake & Co. are doing starts to feel less like plot dressing and more like high stakes.

There’s a wonderful twist on the Apocalypse in this book, but even before that, there’s a lot going on under the surface of this action packed story. The diversity of New York is a major aspect of what makes this story work, and Dorthea explaining why she quit her job as a cop to become a supernatural protector of ‘the people who fall through the cracks’ helped focus the aspect of what this novel was really about. There’s no ‘special’ supernatural place for the homeless in New York to hide, though, so they really do need someone like Dorthea around to protect them from literal spirits of garbage and decay. This aspect of the city is deftly mixed with Jake coming to terms with his heritage as he begins to integrate into the NYC supernatural community, revealing that he, too, is a Greene. He questions whether his family really loved him or if people that twisted are even capable of love; he can’t tell the lies from the truth in his childhood.

Random Thoughts:

  • When the first line includes “drastically fewer blood sacrifices with dinner”, I knew this was my type of book.
  • There’s a nice parallel between what it means to work on a group project vs. what it means to really work as a group.
  • I’m really fine being a tourist in NYC. There were parts of this book where I was like ‘yeah, I’m living as close to that city as I ever want to live.’
  • I wanted to eat Indian food after this one scene. So…good…
  • I’ve never read a character who reminded me more of Castiel than Jake did. This is not a bad thing.

Read if: You’re a fan of New Weird. There’s no place more urban than New York, either, and there’s no place else I could’ve imagined this story happening because there are so many people in that city. There’s a lot of different ideas woven throughout this story, and it stands on it’s own while also being the gateway into a bigger series.

Beware if: Books with too much action make you feel like you’re having a seizure.

My rating: 4, and mostly because I kind of don’t get New York, and some of this kept me from connecting with the characters and larger, thematic elements of this story. That said, this book is a ride, and the conflict between Jake and Esther never bored me.

BONUS!

The first two people to reply in the comments get a free ebook of The Younger Gods, courtesy of Pocket Star. You must leave you internet nom de plume as well as a VALID, non-spam email address.

Book review: Catch Me When I Fall

Catch Me When I Fall by Vicki Leigh

Daniel is a 200 year old Protector, people who spend their afterlife protecting humans from Nightmares, which are creatures who invade people’s minds and make them go insane. Daniel’s job is a Catcher, someone who stops the Nightmares, and he partners with other Catchers and at least one Weaver, whose job it is to bring humans dreams. When Daniel is assigned to protect Kayla, a sixteen year-old girl in a mental institution, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him—and this goes double when, during his first night on duty, Kayla is attacked by six Nightmares at once. The race is one to find out why Kayla is a special target, but the more Daniel digs into Kayla’s history, the more he finds himself attracted to her.

For the most part, I really liked Daniel’s character, and he was the right choice as the focus on this story. His personality and the world-building is established immediately, and there’s a lot of history between Daniel, Seth, Sam, and Tabbi that is hinted at; I got the impression that these were people who’d been friends for a long time. They shared stories, had that easy lingo that exists among friends, and it simply made them human. These characters are also funny, which is a huge plus for me in a paranormal book. Some of the older characters like Giovanni, Bartholomew, and Trishna aren’t as fleshed out, but they don’t have to be; they serve their given roles well.

But if you don’t like Kayla, this book might not work for you because the stakes of the story are tied up in Kayla, her past, and her budding relationship with Daniel. I personally found Daniel and Kayla’s relationship to be freaking cute, and they share a lot or realistic couple moments. Kayla is the catalyst that raises Daniel’s mission from ‘everyday business’ into ‘life-threatening weirdness.’ Kayla, as a character, worked best for me early on the in the novel when she was institutionalized. After she leaves the hospital, I never felt she grew much as a character, even as her relationship with Daniel progressed. In the end, Kayla was supposed to have a connection to the antagonist that felt hollow for me, which is a shame because it did weaken the finale of the story.

This gets to the larger plot issue in this book: the ending didn’t feel like it had the emotional weight it needed to have. Maybe it happens too quickly or the bonds between various characters never materialized, but the villains ended up feeling weak. There should seriously be an emotionally strong reaction to the climax of this story, but it just rang a bit hollow for me. The ideas are there, and the protagonists are fleshed out, but there’s never a moment when I believed Kayla would go ‘dark side’; it just wasn’t a plot that was set up, and nothing in her character up until that point indicated it would be. Daniel’s battle with the surprise villain of the story also should’ve carried more weight, but there was never a moment where I felt Daniel cared for this character as a person, so the betrayal at the end didn’t register anything more than a superficial reaction.

That said, there are some great twists and battles building up until the finale that are satisfying; Daniel and Kayla face off against a wraith, which really gets the plot rolling. There’s a great feud between Daniel, Seth, and Ivan early on in the novel as well that establishes that everything might not be sing-alongs and hand-holding circles in Protector manor; they’re the good guys, sure, but not all of them are good people. There are copious fights against Nightmares and the witches and warlocks use powerful magic throughout the story, too. Kayla’s flashback showing how she was put in the mental institution is intensely real, and I loathed the way her mother treated her after the incident; that entire scenario felt so real to me.

There’s a lot of good character work with the protagonists in this novel. They’re funny, they’re grounded in an interesting world, and the main protagonists feel unique. The initial plot and premise was very interesting, and it kept me wanting more. However, the plot did fall apart near the end, and the emotional stakes between protagonist and antagonist didn’t quite reach the level they needed to for this story to deliver on its strengths.

Random Thoughts:

  • “Lasso my heart” was a very beautiful line—one of the best ways I’ve seen a budding romance described recently
  • I would read a novella about Seth’s antics with the Pope.
  • The Veronica Mars dream would’ve been so worth having nightmares for.
  • Daniel’s crack about girls liking to shop made me dislike him for a while. Seriously, dude? You’ve been a live 200 years, and that’s what you take away from your time watching women? It’s a joke, but still—UGH.
  • I wanted more Ivan and Nolan because they’re both sardonic a-holes, which are my types of characters.

Read if: You want a paranormal romance with a strong, male romantic lead who doesn’t read poetry or swoon. The relationship in this story is seriously cute but not sappy.

Beware if: You want a story with interesting villains. This story doesn’t have one, unfortunately, even though it has plenty of supernatural monsters.

My rating: 4 stars because Daniel was the main character and the world building is strong, but the villians let me down.

Book review: Dead Iron

Dead Iron by Devon Monk

I couldn’t stop thinking about this book; I read it really quickly, knew I liked the writing style, but I was unsure how I felt about the overall story, and then it took a full 48 hours to sink in—this book was flipping great. The writing is snappy, the story is fast-paced, and the characters are all fleshed out, and I felt like I knew them all instantly.

Cedar Hunt is a hunter with a curse and an equally tragic past sans curse; he plays the trope of the Iron Woobie straight, and that’s fine because the character’s written well here. Rose Smalls, Shard LeFel, and Mae Lindstron flesh out the four main characters, and all of them have significant plot in this book. Mae is a witch whose husband Jeb has gone missing, and she fears he’s dead (she’s partially right). Rose is a town girl with a head for mechanics (it is Steampunk, after all), some magical energy about her, and a personality that’s too big for a town obsessed with marrying off daughters at 16. Shard LeFel is an evil son-of-a-bitch, and he’s the main antagonist in the novel.

The plot revolves around LeFel wanting to go back to his magical other realm; he’s 300 years old, and his time on earth is up. If he doesn’t get back, he dies. LeFel is being pursued by the Madder brothers, three ‘men’ who are also long-lived beings (the aspect of what they are is unclear to me, although my guess would be something akin to fae). The big plot is about LeFel trying to get back home, which involves three sacrifices and a MacGuffin. But let’s not dwell too much on the overall plot, which sometimes feels like a sideshow to the journeys Mae, Cedar, Jeb, and Rose go on; this isn’t a dig on the main plot—it’s an electric ride with plenty of scares—but I cared about the character’s personal journeys a lot more than the main plot. This may bother some people, but the characters were awesome and kept me wanting to read more.

There’s many layers to this book, which is impressive considering how much of the plot I’ve written about in this review already. But there’s so much more–maybe too much for some, but the plethora of ideas and depth of world-building always is subserviant to the characters and their arcs. From early in the book, I guessed how it might end, and while there were no real surprises for me, the final confrontation was satisfying. The emotional moments in this book may not register for those who don’t like gritty Westerns, but I think that element elevated this story for me.

The part of the book that wore on me the most was aspects of the steam punk world. I get it, steam punk is atmospheric, and gadgets are nifty, but sometimes the action and horror get bogged down in what all the devices look like. Also, we’ve seen a hot air balloon before, so introducing one in-world as if it’s very novel just doesn’t build to the same level as, say, the three sacrifices moment it’s juxtaposed against.

I know I love a book when I find myself shouting at the pages or computer screen; I did that several times during this book. The characters are all well-done versions of their respective tropes, so while I didn’t find any of them surprising (there is a sequel…), I found them all interesting. The world building is there, but the main thing you need to know is that it’s a Western Steampunk with paranormal elements. The plot never slows down and is unusually straight forward for urban fantasy (seriously, you know 95% of what you need to know for the plot by chapter 3), so the story utilizes the dramatic tension of knowing LeFel has the prisoners juxtaposed against Cedar, Mae, Rose, and Jeb’s problems to solve their respective missions. In a less skilled hand, this might’ve failed spectacularly to create tension, but the characters are well crafted. What I’m saying is read it to find out for yourself.

Random Thoughts:

  • I seriously kept waiting for this book to take a True Blood turn in the relationship department. Monk restrains herself (that’s what sequels are for).
  • LeFel and Mr. Shunt are nasty villians. Seriously surprised LeFel didn’t twirl a mustache at some point.
  • Rose might seem a bit useless, but she’s clearly in here for sequel bait.

Read if: you’re an urban fantasy fan that wished True Grit (the remake) should’ve included some werewolves.

Beware if: you have a low tolerance for steam punk mixed into your urban fantasy. Also, if you like romance, this book isn’t for you.

My rating: 5 stars for having a full story, teasing the sequel, and being unable to get off my brain.

4 for Friday Blitz! Free Books by great authors

4 for Friday Blitz – Presented by Month9Books with Giveaway

(Disclosure: Month9Books is not my publisher; I’m a member of their chapter by chapter team of reviewers. I like their titles, though, and plan on reviewing all of these in the future.)

4-for-Friday-Banner

Welcome to the 4 for Friday Blitz for Crown of Ice by Vicki L. Weavil, Fire in the Woods by Jennifer M. Eaton, Avian by Nicole Conway, and Branded by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki, presented by Month9Books!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post.

Crown-of-ice-Cover

Thyra Winther’s seventeen, the Snow Queen, and immortal, but if she can’t reassemble a shattered enchanted mirror by her eighteenth birthday she’s doomed to spend eternity as a wraith.

Armed with magic granted by a ruthless wizard, Thyra schemes to survive with her mind and body intact. Unencumbered by kindness, she kidnaps local boy Kai Thorsen, whose mathematical skills rival her own. Two logical minds, Thyra calculates, are better than one. With time rapidly melting away she needs all the help she can steal.

A cruel lie ensnares Kai in her plan, but three missing mirror shards and Kai’s childhood friend, Gerda, present more formidable obstacles. Thyra’s willing to do anything – venture into uncharted lands, outwit sorcerers, or battle enchanted beasts — to reconstruct the mirror, yet her most dangerous adversary lies within her breast. Touched by the warmth of a wolf pup’s devotion and the fire of a young man’s desire, the thawing of Thyra’s frozen heart could be her ultimate undoing.

CROWN OF ICE is a YA Fantasy that reinvents Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” from the perspective of a young woman who discovers that the greatest threat to her survival may be her own humanity.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

Vicki Weavil 11

Vicki Lemp Weavil was raised in a farming community in Virginia, where her life was shaped by a wonderful family, the culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and an obsession with reading. Since obtaining her undergraduate degree in Theatre from the University of Virginia, she’s gone on to acquire two masters degrees, living in places as diverse as New York City and rural North Carolina. She’s currently the library director for a performing an visual arts university. Vicki loves good writing in any genre, and has been known to read seven books in as many days. She enjoys travel, gardening, and the arts. Vicki lives in North Carolina with her husband, son, and some very spoiled cats.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Tumbler

Fire-in-the-Woods-Cover

When a plane crashes in the woods near Jess’s home, the boy of her dreams falls out of the sky—literally. But David’s not here to find a girlfriend. He’s from another planet, and if Jess can’t help him get back to his ship, he’ll be stuck on Earth with nothing to look forward to but the pointy end of a dissection scalpel.

But her father runs their house like an army barracks, and with an alien on the loose, Major Dad isn’t too keen on the idea of Jess going anywhere. Ever. So how the heck is she supposed to help the sweetest, strangest, and cutest guy she’s ever met?

Hiding him in her room probably isn’t the best idea. Especially since her Dad is in charge of the squadron searching for David. That doesn’t mean she won’t do it. It just means she can’t get caught.

Helping David get home while protecting her heart—that’s gonna be the hard part. After all, she can’t really fall for a guy who’s not exactly from here.

As they race through the woods with Major Dad and most of the U.S. military one breath behind them, Jess and David grow closer than either of them anticipated. But all is not what it seems. David has a genocide-sized secret, and one betrayal later, they are both in handcuffs as alien warships are positioning themselves around the globe. Time is ticking down to Armageddon, and Jess must think fast if she’s to save the boy she cares about without sacrificing Earth—and everyone on it.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

Jennifer M. Eaton

Corporate Team Leader by day, and Ranting Writer by night. Jennifer M. Eaton calls the East Coast of the USA home, where she lives with her husband, three energetic boys, and a pepped up poodle.

Jennifer hosts an informational blog “A Reference of Writing Rants for Writers (or Learn from My Mistakes)” aimed at helping all writers be the best they can be.

Beyond writing and motivating others, she also enjoys teaching her dog to jump through hoops—literally.

Jennifer’s perfect day includes long hikes in the woods, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, and snuggling up by the fire with a great book; but her greatest joy is using her over-active imagination constructively… creating new worlds for everyone to enjoy.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Avian-Cover

What kind of power is lurking inside him?

After a year of training to become a dragonrider, Jaevid Broadfeather has been sent home to rest during a three-month interlude. But when he returns to find the king drake has chosen Beckah Derrick as his new rider, Jaevid realizes something big is about to happen. Every fiber of his being is pushed to the breaking point as Jaevid battles through his avian year, preparing for the final graduation test of the battle scenario. But there is more standing in his way than a few pushups and fancy sword moves.

Jaevid must face a new fear as he is tormented by a gruesome nightmare of a mysterious gray elf warrior murdering the royal family of Maldobar. It seems obvious to him that this is some kind of message about how the war started long ago—until Felix assures him the king is very much alive. With his strange powers growing stronger by the day, and that violent dream replaying in his mind every night, Jaevid no longer wonders if he will pass his avian year or not . . . he wonders if he will even survive it.

The truth will soon be set loose.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

NicoleConwayPhoto

Nicole is the author of the children’s fantasy series, THE DRAGONRIDER CHRONICLES, about a young boy’s journey into manhood as he trains to become a dragonrider. She has completed the first two books in the series, and is now working on the third and final book.

Originally from a small town in North Alabama, Nicole moves frequently due to her husband’s career as a pilot for the United States Air Force. She received a B.A. in English with a concentration in Classics from Auburn University, and will soon attend graduate school.

She has previously worked as a freelance and graphic artist for promotional companies, but has now embraced writing as a full-time occupation.

Nicole enjoys hiking, camping, shopping, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. She also loves watching children’s movies and collecting books. She lives at home with her husband, two cats, and dog.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Branded-Cover

Fifty years ago The Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society.

To punish the guilty, he created the Hole, a place where sinners are branded according to their sins. Sinners are forced to live a less than human existence in deplorable conditions, under the watchful eye of guards who are ready to kill anyone who steps out of line.

Now, LUST wraps around my neck like thick, blue fingers, threatening to choke the life out of me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit, and the Hole is my new home.

Constant darkness.

Brutal and savage violence.

Excruciating pain.

Every day is a fight for survival.

But I won’t let them win. I will not die in the Hole.

I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter. My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now become an incredible adventure.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumbler

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Book Review: We Are All Completely Fine

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

Goodreads Review

Five survivors of supernatural trauma are coerced by their psychiatrist into joining a unique support group. If the premise of monster therapy sounds interesting to you, read on. Harrison is a twenty-something ex-monster hunter who’s less devil-may-care than he initially appears. Stan is an amputee from cannibalism, who’s in love with being a victim. Barbara encountered the mysterious Scrimshander, who carved something into her literal bones. Martin is an RPG obsessed guy who begins seeing Dwellers, creatures from the other side, and Greta is…well, she’s a girl with a secret, and initially seems like the key to why they’re all gathered together. The book is an extended character study on the trauma the Last Boy or Last Girl that defeats or survives the monsters undergoes. To be a hero means being a survivor, with all the PTSD that entails.

The styling of each chapter changes subtly to match each of the character’s personalities. Harrison’s chapters are sharper, more to the point; Barbara’s sections are more lyrical. Stan is annoying, but this is intentional. Martin’s reveal starts out a bit lame, but it’s turned into something deeper, and it’s after Martin’s reveal that I really began to trust this book, believe in its story. The book does start out tedious, but it begins to pay off. At first, Greta is used as more of a plot device than an actual character, but this changes as well; no character in this book is used solely for their backstory. Rather, the backstories build to enhance the relationships between the various characters, including the psychiatrist, Jan. It’s not a superhero team up, so don’t go into this book expecting that, but the character’s relate in ways that are more authentic, even if that means they’re not heroic. In many ways, this book subverts and challenges what it means to be a hero (seriously, there’s a fantastic Campell shout out in here).

My issue with literary fantasy is that it’s always a little thin on plot, and that’s true for We Are All Completely Fine. The first two-thirds of the book deal with the characters and their reluctance (or in Stan’s case, overenthusiasm) to share their trauma stories; there’s meeting after meeting, which is interwoven with each character focusing on their personal lives. It’s only when you get inside each character’s perspective that you begin to understand how damaged each character really is and what they’re hiding, even from themselves. If you find yourself disliking any of the characters intensely (excpet Stan, but I figured this was intentional), then you probably won’t like how the book develops. I enjoyed this book because I was invested in all of the characters, and if that hadn’t been the case, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it the same way.

While investigating each character’s background, the pieces of a mystery are subtly put into place. It’s so deftly done that I didn’t realize I had been reading a mystery until near the very end. This elevated a lot of what could’ve been interpreted as meandering navel gazing into a deeper, more fully formed story. When the story ended, I found I didn’t want it to end, which is the sign of reading something sublime.

Random Thoughts:

  • The description of the cannibals and what the Scrimshander did are truly nauseating. It’s not in your face gore, but it’s absolutely gruesome.
  • This is a great example of how horror can be psychological; there is something subtly terrifying about this book that doesn’t sink in immediately.
  • One of my first notes was how I hoped a certain character would become important, and I was absolutely rewarded. This book is satisfying in how it links disparate elements together.
  • The supernatural elements don’t actually begin to appear in present day until almost half-way through the book; the first half of this book was a bit tedious.
  • Seriously, the Campbell shout out is gold.

Read if: You like your fantasy with a literary bend. This reminded me, in the best way possible, of the character exploration done in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This book is magical realism, where the fantasy elements are integrated into the real world in a way where you’re not sure if they’re fantastical or real until near the end.

Beware if: You like an action-packed read. This book is not heavy on action or in-your-face magic.

Rating: 4 stars because the character building and backstories pay off in interesting, if not entirely surprising, ways.