Looking for Dei

Looking for Dei

Looking for Dei by David A. Willson (YA Fantasy)

Nara Dall is a twin separated from her sister as a very small child. Raised in a small hamlet by a fatherly old monk, she knows nothing of her past nor does she understand why she is being told to hide her magical powers. She does know that if and when one’s magical powers are discovered, they can mark a person as “blessed” or “cursed,” and the person’s fate will vary accordingly. Are these god-given gifts from Dei or do they carry the potential for evil? How does it all fit in with a prophesy about “The Twins”?

The story takes place in a fictitious world, but this is not a dystopia. Magical people face risks from those who would take advantage of their powers and capabilities, but society itself is a reasonable place. Learning more about the land and its people was interesting but did not overwhelm the story so that it was possible to concentrate on the characters. Nara, her friend, Mykel, and the old monk show their true natures over time, as do the other characters who become critical to Nara and the people she cares about.

My biggest fear was that I would be left hanging regarding Nara’s expected reunion with her twin, but that did not occur. At the same time, their reunion exposes new sources of tension, and plenty of opportunity was left for a sequel. I’m not sure I would read the sequel as I have a pretty good idea what will happen, but I did enjoy this book and how believably the reunion of the sisters was portrayed.

Bella gives Looking for Dei four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

 

 

 

 

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Into a Million Pieces

Into a Million Pieces

Into a Million Pieces by Angela V. Cook (Young Adult Paranormal Romance)

Allison is a teenage succubus. She and her twin, Jade, are gorgeous high-schoolers with the power to literally suck the life force from men through sexual activity. Their mother killed their father, the man she loved, by having intercourse with him, and eventually committed suicide because of her inability to control her lethal passions. Now Allison and Jade must navigate the treacherous world brought upon them by the family curse that makes them incredibly desirable but dangerous.

Allison, who narrates the story, has chosen to make herself unapproachable at school by wearing goth outfits and perpetuating rumors about herself as a weirdo to be avoided. Jade, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoys the attention and the high she gets after kissing guys. The guys, meanwhile, suffer debilitating fatigue as their life energy is drained, and they have no idea that they risk death if they press Jade for more.

The first half or so of this book is interesting but somewhat slow. Allison is a real downer as she tries to rein Jade in, while Jade is just plain over the top. Allison’s growing interest in Ren, a nice guy she meets at the library, is fraught with angst while Jade is out to get whatever she can at whatever price. The aunt they live with, a succubus who uses religion to help her maintain her virginity, annoys the heck out of both of them as she does her best to convert them and save their souls.

Then, at about sixty percent into the book, everything takes an unexpected turn, and the pace picks up. Now the reader is full of questions, and a second revelation (not entirely unexpected) adds even more intrigue.

Unfortunately, the questions are answered pretty quickly without the tension that would have put various characters at risk and made solving the mystery a whole lot more fun. At the same time, enough is left hanging so that a sequel is necessary, stranding the reader who hoped for a tidy conclusion.

Bella gives Into a Million Pieces three stars. 3 stars

Potty-mouth Index: Moderate. Also some moderately explicit sex scenes.

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author and her publisher with a request for an honest review.

 

 

 

Brewing Up Murder

Brewing Up Murder

Brewing Up Murder by Neila Young (Cozy Mystery)

If you like cozy mysteries that are fast-paced with twists and turns and red herrings, this is not the book for you. Although it has the requisite murder or two, a heroine who owns a cute little business in a small town, and the family cop who talks too much, the story is short on real excitement.

Instead of getting down to her amateur sleuthing, the heroine spends an awful lot of time panting after two men she has just met— one who is “gorgeous” with “sculpted cheekbones” and the other a “Norse god” with “a sculpted physique.” She claims looks aren’t everything, then refers to a previous blind date as Dr. Pillsbury Doughboy, making it hard not to consider her rather shallow for a thirty-two-year-old. Of course, when two men with smoldering/velvety voices, flaring nostrils, full lips, and stormy eyes enter one’s life, who wouldn’t be distracted from the deaths of her friends?

I enjoy cozies (see Smugglers and Scones, The Book Club Murders, The Antique House Murders). I can overlook the unlikelihood of a police officer consistently disclosing crime investigation details to her sister, and I can even tolerate superfluous characters who do nothing to move the story along, including a gaggle of nosy book club women and the token gay guy. But the story details need to make sense. (**SPOILER ALERT**) As one whose family owns a small restaurant, I can say that the author and her editors need to know more about the likely distribution pattern of packaged goods like roasted coffee beans and what the actual possibility is of a half-strangled woman raising a commercial mixer’s stainless steel bowl high enough to hit someone in the head. They also need to watch for mistakes like giving the heroine two different middle names.

Bella gives Brewing Up Murder three stars. Although it’s not her cup of coffee, she believes some readers may want to fantasize about kissing away the lingering caramel macchiato foam on a handsome stranger’s full lower lip. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author with a request for an honest review.

 

The Knight’s Secret

myths-and-magic-bardwell.jpg

The Knight’s Secret by Jeffrey Bardwell (Fantasy)

This novella by Jeffrey Bardwell (Rotten Magic) is currently available only as part of a Kindle anthology called Myths and Magic: An Epic Fantasy and Speculative Fiction Boxed Set. The anthology of 16 science fiction and fantasy authors is available for a limited time on Amazon. I did not read the entire anthology and offer only this review of The Knight’s Secret as requested by the author of that work.

Bardwell writes about mages and knights who fought together in defense of the Iron Empire but are now at odds. A mage has been accused of murdering the emperor, and all mages are now being hunted down in a pogrom ordered by the reigning empress. The elderly, highly decorated knight, Sir Corbin, has a daughter who is a mage, putting his family into a no-win situation. But before he can travel to meet his fellow knights and turn the tide, Sir Corbin dies. Now his twenty-year-old granddaughter — his biggest fan who knows all his war stories — must impersonate him, with a little help from her magical mom and a ring he always wore on a chain around his neck.

The tale that follows takes a number of twists, some humorous and some dark. The young woman now possesses male parts, which take her on an adventure she’s never had before. She meets people her grandfather never told her about and learns the story behind the ring. She witnesses and participates in some dark deeds. And the story ends abruptly, to be continued in four more named installments in The Mage Conspiracy. Unfortunately, that series doesn’t seem to exist as all links at the end of the novella lead to a “page not found” message on the author’s website and the books don’t seem to be available anywhere else. Very confusing and probably not worth your time (or ours) as the entire thing appears likely to disappear before long.

Bella gives The Knight’s Secret two stars. 2-stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of The Knight’s Secret from the author in exchange for an honest review.

We Own the Sky

We own the Sky

We Own the Sky by Sara Crawford (Fantasy/Paranormal)

Although this isn’t classified as Young Adult, the 16-year-old protagonist, Sylvia, her personal demons, and her knowledge of contemporary music make this an interesting, although sometimes dark, read for fans of Young Adult fiction.

Sylvia comes from a dysfunctional family, suffers from depression, and has been institutionalized for attempted suicide — facts that estrange her from most of the kids in her Marietta, Georgia, high school. She questions her own sanity because of the “flickering people” only she can see, including a handsome guy who keeps showing up whenever she is singing or playing an instrument. In time, she comes to realize that all of the flickering people hover around artists and that they are Muses — not the classic Greek ones, but Earthly Muses, deceased human artists given the opportunity to inspire others.

It’s a fun concept, and for a while it’s a pleasure to watch Sylvia’s life improve as she and her Muse, Vincent, interact, giving Sylvia a new lease on life and a chance to excel at what she loves — writing and performing music. However, some of the classic Greek Muses don’t agree with the concept of Earthly Muses and plot to put an end to their existence.

This is Book One in The Muse Chronicles, and as such it ends with a major cliffhanger that leaves one feeling abandoned. I also found her father’s ultimate reaction to her behavior hard to accept as reasonable, but to say more would give away too much. Overall, however, it’s a worthwhile read, as long as you’re ready for some dark moments without resolution until Book Two.

Bella gives We Own the Sky four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner

Nice Try, Jane Sinner

Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke (Young Adult)

I’m going to come right to the point on this one: it was a big disappointment.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is an obscenity-filled book about a nasty teen with a filthy mouth and a rotten attitude. That she finally decided to do something decent for someone else at the end of the book did not make for a satisfying character arc nor did it turn this into a worthwhile tale. It simply made me wonder why I kept reading in the hope that there might be a point to this book.

I understand using language that a teen reader might use in order to make a book feel relevant, but it was not necessary to give Jane Sinner such a foul mouth. Unlike Jessie in This is Not a Love Letter, Jane is not a girl I would want for a friend. The constant vulgar language did not make her endearing or funny. In fact, her stabs at irony fell flat more often than not. That a nice guy like Robbie would find Jane Sinner attractive was hard to believe.

The blurb: “The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.

“Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.”

So much of the story required suspension of disbelief. Did her highly religious, highly responsible parents really not insist on knowing where their previously suicidal seventeen-year-old was living? Was the teacher/advisor who hung out with students, encouraging them to gorge themselves on Chicken McNuggets until they threw up, supposed to be for real? The whole “she-becomes-a-reality-TV-star” felt like a fantasy written by a wannabee YouTuber.

The writing itself was fine, and the formatting used for the various journal entries was interesting.

Bella gives Nice Try, Jane Sinner two stars. 2-stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is Not a Love Letter

This is Not a Love Letter

This is Not a Love Letter by Kim Purcell (Young Adult)

Jessie’s boyfriend, Chris, has gone missing shortly before high school graduation, and now she is documenting everything that is happening as she waits to find out where he is. The book is written as though she is speaking to him the entire time, so she is always saying things like “you would have liked …” or “your mom said …” or “it reminded me of when we …”. As a result, it wasn’t long before I felt like I knew both of them really well. The author did  an excellent job of describing Chris’s personality and attitudes through Jessie’s eyes and her anecdotes about their relationship.

Jessie herself is somewhat crude and tough. Her dad is out of the picture and her mom is a hoarder, making Jessie ashamed of her home and frustrated with her life. She shoots from the hip and doesn’t mince words. Chris is a gentle soul who recently moved into town – a straight-A student, a gifted baseball player, and a pacifist. He’s a good influence on Jessie, giving her a sense of worth and direction that she didn’t have before he came into her life. But he’s also a black kid from Brooklyn who doesn’t really fit into this all-white paper mill town in the Pacific Northwest, and he has already dealt with bullying from some of the locals. Many possibilities exist for why he has gone missing.

The book also has several strong peripheral characters who are well drawn and add to the story – both his friends and hers. I never knew for sure what was going to happen, and I really came to care about both Chris and Jessie. Being the same age as they are, I found myself thinking I would like to know them personally, which only happens when a writer does a great job of bringing characters alive. While the plot did not wow me as much, I really enjoyed the characters and the interesting way in which the story was told.

Bella gives This is Not a Love Letter four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: Moderate use of the “f” word; realistic for the character depicted

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is Not a Love Letter will be released on January 30, 2018 and is available for pre-order.