Dark Designs

Dark Designs

Dark Designs by Stefanie Spangler (Urban Fantasy)

I have to admit, the first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. The second was the description – being a twin is always fun to think about when you’re not a twin, and I’d be okay with having some magic powers now and then.

Being urban fantasy, the story veers away from reality, which is what I expected, and that part was fine. The girls being twins, however, was never explored. They’re fraternal, not identical, which we don’t know early on because no description is given, even though the simple fact that Ivy is a redhead and Violet a brunette would have sufficed. We know Ivy is more reserved than Violet, but I never felt that I got to know either one very well, and there was no indication that their psychological connection was any different than my connection with either of my sisters. So much for the significance of twinness.

Each has magical powers to some degree, but they learn about their powers off-stage. We don’t know how they react to finding out they are different from their peers or how (or if) they hone their skills. Instead, the story abruptly jumps from the girls being clueless eight-year-olds to the day that Ivy comes home from college, back to the family farm that Violet now manages. We’ve had no opportunity to get to know them, to watch them grow in any way, and now they are adults about to be thrown into a magical dilemma.

Considering that this is a short novel, some fleshing out of the characters could have been done. Instead, we have the immediate jump into action with danger entering their lives, but since I hadn’t really become invested in the girls as people, it left me feeling detached. The author is in everyone’s head – both the good guys and the bad guys – so there is little opportunity to experience a whole lot of emotion with any one character or to learn more about someone through the eyes of a single person.

The story itself is entertaining; one always wants to know how the main characters are going to get out of a predicament. For the YA urban fantasy reader, this book delivers the good guys and the very scary bad guy, some magic, and a little budding romance. There are the young witches embarrassed by their unusual skills, the suspicious neighbors, and the disbelieving cops. There is some tension, some danger, and a creepy monster to give the reader the willies. And, for some reason, there is the angst of the missing mother who abandoned her twins in infancy without explanation. It does little to move the story along, however, and I have to wonder why it’s even in there, since no one actually makes any attempts to find out more and nothing changes regarding Mom.

One final point: the time jump from eight years old to college graduate would have made more immediate sense to the reader if Chapter One had been called a prologue. It sets the stage for the rest of the book and occurred more than a decade before the rest of the story. Ironically, the book does have an epilogue which didn’t feel significantly different enough to be an epilogue and could have simply been the final chapter. Unless, of course, it’s meant to portend Book Two.

Bella gives Dark Designs three stars. 3 stars

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

Smugglers & Scones

Smugglers and Scones

Smugglers & Scones by Morgan C. Talbot (Cozy Mystery)

This cozy mystery has the clever setting of a bed and breakfast devoted to mystery writers, giving the spunky young proprietor, Pippa, plenty of amateur help in solving the murders that plague her seaside Oregon town. The B&B, once the home the home of a famous mystery author, also provides additional clues through its collections of his books and notes and Pippa’s uncle’s knowledge of the late mystery writer’s personal history in the town. The writer himself shows up in the book through the quotes that open each chapter, giving us a sense of a gruff, cigarette-smoking, heavy drinking, no-nonsense tough guy straight out of the 1940s.

Pippa is a lively narrator who immediately grabbed my interest. I also enjoyed the author’s flair for dialogue, giving different characters different speech habits that added to their believability. Her descriptions of the Oregon seacoast made me feel as though I was there, and the major characters became people I could visualize and care about. I did find Pippa’s immediate and constant drooling over the love interest, Lake, unrealistic and hard to take at times. I also question the value of including the part about the Glaze and Gossip club, since they mostly came off as a group of nosy women with nothing better to do than worry about other people’s business and felt more like a device than a real part of the story.

Overall, I found this book to be a quick, light, and enjoyable read, and I think the Moorehaven Mysteries series is one I’ll look forward to following.

Bella gives Smugglers and Scones four stars. 4 stars

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

The Eye of Nefertiti, A Pharaoh’s Cat Novel

The Eye of Nefertiti

The Eye of Nefertiti by Maria Luisa Lang (Fantasy)

This is the second book in the Pharaoh’s Cat series but is a stand-alone tale in itself. The cat’s voice is very fun, which makes this a light read with some tension and a nice trip to ancient Egypt thrown in. This is a cat that can talk and walk on its hind legs when it’s with those in the know but must lower himself to true cat-like behavior in the presence of others and suffer the indignities that represents. He’s been around for a very long time, living in current-day New York City as well as ancient Egypt, hanging around with pharaohs.

The beginning is a little slow as the cat describes what the reader should know about his past and how he got to New York. However, his playful attitude toward his owners lightens the exposition part as it does the rest of the story. There’s magic and trips through time, and we meet Nefertiti herself. The details about life in ancient Egypt are very interesting but not overdone, giving the story authenticity. A few twists and turns keep things interesting, and while there’s never a sense of real peril, it has enough mystery and unknowns to keep one reading. All in all, it’s a nice, light read with a fun narrator.

Bella gives The Eye of Nefertiti four stars. 4 stars

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

Book of Spells

Book of Spells

Book of Spells by Bill Lucas (Urban Fantasy)

This is a fun tale full of elves, hobgoblins, gnomes, and other denizens of the Fae as the narrator, Pete Marsh, discovers when he inherits a bookstore and all the weirdity that comes along with it. The story itself is engaging and the characters are fun. Pete is a likeable young man who finds himself dealing with all sorts of unexpected events and individuals and becomes the unwitting defender of humanity’s future. Readers who enjoy the likes of Harry Potter and Bilbo Baggins will find this full of adventures, places, and goings on that meet their approval. The world created by the author pulled me in, and much of it is very clever.

My complaint is that this book needs better proofreading and line editing. Too many misplaced commas and semicolons are distracting, as are the incomplete sentences and wrong punctuation of dialogue tags. Pete describes Kate as his girlfriend sometimes and, at other times, as his wife. The writing itself is good, and the author is doing himself a disservice by not polishing his work. If you can look beyond these things, however, you will enjoy this book.

Bella gives Book of Spells four stars for content but two for proofing. 3 stars

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

Give Me a K-I-L-L

Give Me a KILL

Give Me a K-I-L-L by R.L. Stine (YA Thriller)

This latest addition to R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series incorporates the usual mean girls, snotty cheerleaders, school officials with no backbone, and annoying, clueless parents. A highly talented, but troubled, cheerleader from another school moves into town, threatening the makeup of the entrenched cheerleading squad, with murder and mayhem as a result.

Young adult readers, including those reading teen horror, deserve better from R.L. Stine. Besides stunted, uninteresting sentences that seem to assume the reader is incapable of reading anything more complex, the characters in this book are hard to care about, the ending wraps up problems the reader never knew were problems, and there are very basic errors, like saying the aorta in a victim’s neck was eaten away by acid. The aorta is not in the neck.

To make things worse, we have to believe the perp is using acid that’s strong enough to eat through skin, muscle, windpipe, and esophagus to get to the aorta — which, if it were there, would most likely be against the vertebrae — but somehow the acid has no effect on the vulnerable parts of the item it coats. Not to mention that any high-schooler who has taken basic chemistry knows that concentrated sulfuric acid fumes would be a dead (pun intended) giveaway, and the victim would have to be severely distracted (think comatose) not to notice before picking up said item and putting it to her throat.

Other than a scene involving cockroaches, there’s not much here that rates as creepy. There’s nothing deep and psychological and no real build-up to a total freak-out moment. The closest we come is a fairly glossed-over minor scene with the big question: will one cheerleader catch another or let her fall on her head?

I expected a whole lot more from R.L. Stine.

Bella gives Give Me a K-I-L-L two stars (Not enthusiastic, but you may be.). 2-stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Frog Theory

the-frog-theory

The Frog Theory by Fiona Mordaunt (General Fiction)

The title of this book refers to the theory that a frog put into boiling water will jump out, but if put into cold water slowly heated to a boil, will stay and be cooked to death. It is a metaphor for the inability to perceive danger and to react appropriately when a situation is getting worse little by little.

In this case, the frog is Clea, a girl from the wealthy side of London, who is being abused by her stepfather. The boy who makes her aware of what’s slowly happening is Kim, who lives in a housing project on the wrong side of town. Kim and his buddy Flow deal drugs, drink beer, and go to parties. We also follow The Principal, a woman who runs a school for problem teenagers. Kim becomes a student at her school, and the four main characters come together.

Eventually we realize that they are all frogs. Kim lives a pointless life and keeps making the same mistakes. Flow’s fiancé, Jackie, cheats on him, coming on to Kim and everybody else, but he defends her in spite of the evidence. The Principal was wronged by her former husband, but rather than telling her children the truth about their father, she told them he died and continuously feels guilty about it.

The book description calls this a laugh-out-loud story, but I found only the occasional snicker, usually provided by Flow. The one and only character whose fate I actually cared about was Clea. I found it hard to root for Kim, and The Principal was annoying. The “miracle” that happens to her felt completely out of context, a true WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT? moment for me. An epilogue does its best to wrap it all up into a neat package and provide a final surprise, but for me it fell flat.

Four-letter words aside, the use of the vernacular was interesting, as was the look at life on a different side of London.

Bella gives The Frog Theory three stars. 3 stars

Potty-mouth Index: HIGH   If you, the reader, are at all offended by use of the “f” word, the “c” word, and a few others of the same persuasion, this book will definitely offend.

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour. For Fiona Mordaunt’s guest post go here.

All Darling Children

all-darling-children

All Darling Children by Katrina Monroe (Fantasy)

If you ever thought the character Peter Pan was more creepy than cute – a weirdo with narcissistic tendencies and a strange sense of fun – and that Wendy was a twit who needed to be more afraid, then this book is for you. I admit, I only know their story through Walt Disney, and maybe the original novel doesn’t paint such a rosy picture, but no matter what, I found All Darling Children to be more realistic and a lot of fun.

Well, maybe not fun. Peter really is a creep, but there’s more to Wendy than we knew. She’s Grandma Wendy in this version, and the heroine is her teen-aged granddaughter, Madge. The two are constantly at odds, with Madge doing her best to run away every chance she gets, and — no surprise — she makes the ultimate getaway with a trip to Never Never Land.

Captain Hook was always my favorite, and he’s there, too, along with Smee, Tiger Lily, and the Lost Boys, of course. Tinkerbell is out of the picture, though. Little Michael is now Great Uncle Michael, and he has multiple problems as a result of his bizarre childhood experience. Madge is a cynic after growing up under Grandma Wendy’s thumb, so her take on the whole thing is the best part. Throw in a surprise ending, and this could actually be called fun, in a weirdo way.

If you like the “other side” of fairy tales — think Wicked — this is for you.

Bella gives All Darling Children four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: MODERATE