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

Heartborn

heartborn

Heartborn by Terry Maggert (Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy)

I’d like to start by saying that I really enjoyed this book. I especially loved the fantasy world that Terry Maggert creates. The imagination and creativity of authors who write these types of books always fascinates me. He has brought to life a whole society living in the clouds, with Skywatchers, Scholars, Watershapers, Blightwings (my favorite), Flyers, and the Factors of the nasty Crescent Council, as well as Windbeasts, Airdancers, elementals, and, of course, Heartborn — the rarities born with a need to care for others.

The story fluctuates between the angels in House Windhook, a powerful family looking to overthrow the oppressive Crescent Council, and a seventeen-year-old on Earth named Livvy. Livvy is waiting for a heart transplant, but we know early on that she is very important to members of House Windhook. Keiron, the youngest son, has plunged to Earth in an effort to find her and save her, while the entire family prepares to do battle with the Crescent Council and its supporters in order to change the future of their society.

I enjoyed the style of writing. I was in the moment with the characters and felt like I knew them pretty well. Where it fell apart for me was the ending when I just became confused. I had to go back and reread parts to make sure I didn’t miss something, and when I finished I still wasn’t sure where Livvy was – on earth or up in the clouds? Were her parents really her parents after all, or was she adopted like she said? All of the people who seemed to exist in two worlds – were they watching and taking care of her the whole time? Were they really angels? There were too many unanswered questions for me.  I know it’s the first in a series, and that’s not the problem. I’m just not sure what happened in the last chapter or two. I will definitely be interested in reading the next book, but there are some things I felt should have been more clear in the closing to the first.

Bella gives Heartborn four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

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

Between Dreams

between-dreams

Between Dreams by Cynthia Austin (Paranormal fantasy)

We do not normally publish a review that is less than three stars. Instead, we connect with the author and let him or her know why we cannot give the book a better review. However, this book is getting some high star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, meaning that it appeals to a certain group of readers, if not to us. Because our two stars mean “We are not enthusiastic, but you may be,” we are taking this opportunity to explain our rating and to let readers decide for themselves if they find our concerns relevant to them.

The description was promising: Sidney Sinclair was living the dream of any eighteen year-old girl… A handsome rock star boyfriend, a closet full of designer clothes, a limousine service at her beck and call, and a mansion in the hills of Los Angeles. Even with all that glamour and excitement at her fingertips, she still feels as if she’s been missing something in her life so she decides to leave. While trying her best to put her dysfunctional romantic relationship aside and tend to her beloved Granny, Sidney unexpectedly stumbles upon an intriguing emerald pendant boxed away in her grandmother’s closet. Soon she learns it once belonged to her long-lost mother who committed suicide when she was just a baby. Suddenly feeling emotionally connected to the woman who had birthed her, Sidney begins to wear the necklace. This sends her on a whirlwind journey that alternates between fantasy and reality… Almost immediately, she starts having dreams linked to the mysterious pendant. As danger begins to seep into her life, Sidney refuses to remove the necklace and instead documents each dream to help her further understand them. However, she soon begins to wonder if they are dreams meant to bond her to a mother whom she never knew? Or a subconscious warning that threatens her very life?

Unfortunately, we found the story itself to lack the promised intrigue. Instead, we found ourselves skimming the last half, hoping something would happen. The rock star boyfriend (Ray) is a cliche, and the “beloved Granny” is a device to give Sidney a reason to leave Ray, go home, and find the pendant. Granny is in a coma, and Sidney doesn’t “tend to” her at all; she hires a nurse and goes back to her old grocery clerk job and her friends. Perhaps Granny is being kept alive in the book so she can come out of her coma for a happy ending in a future installment, but so far, she has no presence whatsoever.

Ray floats in and out of Sid’s life, claiming he cares but apparently bedding other women, and she keeps taking him back because he’s her true love, for whatever reason. At the same time, she’s having dreams about a green-eyed man and then meets him at the grocery store and again at a bar, and of course, he’s unbelievably handsome and sexy and she’s torn between him and Ray. Still nothing happens, but we know she’s conflicted. She also rants about religion and the Catholic church, which does nothing to move the story along, and just feels like venting by the author.

What cinches the two-star rating for us are two things: dreams related in detail and an out-of-the-blue cliffhanger ending dropped like a bomb.

Dreams are dreams, not reality; if they are not what’s actually happening to the main characters, they can feel superfluous, even when they’re meant to  portend doom. They’re still only imagination until something actually happens, and too many of them, related in detail, hold back the action and become ho-hum reading at best, boring at worst.

Cliffhanger endings work for a TV series; in fact, they have become obligatory. They should not happen in a novel, however, as an abrupt ending that just comes out of nowhere and stops the action (or lack thereof) cold. Yes, the ending is a jaw-dropper, but that’s not a good thing when it makes you think, “Where did that come from?  Are you serious?”

If we are expected to pick up Book Two in the Pendant series, it’s going to take some build-up to a new crisis in the making, not something that blindsides us. Think of a series like The Hunger Games or Divergent or Twilight. Each book in the series stands alone, with a story arc that is complete and satisfying and makes you want to stick with the characters because you’ve seen them grow and change, and their welfare has become important to you. You care about them as people, and you want to know what comes next. That’s not happening here. At least not for us.

We give Between Dreams two stars. 2-stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

 

 

 

The Dragon Sphere

the-dragon-sphere

The Dragon Sphere by Abel Gallardo (Young Adult Fantasy, Middle Grade Fiction)

This book, the first in a series called “Nation of Dragons,” introduces Landon Brown, a fifteen-year-old who learns that he is a “dragonoid” or “halfling,” half dragon and half human. He has no idea prior to this; all he knows is that his dad has been absent most of his life. His dad, it turns out, is a highly regarded elder among dragons; his mom is human. Full-blooded dragons can take on human form a few hours per day, while dragonoids are humans who won’t literally transform into dragons but have special powers and need training to learn how to harness them.

At fifteen, Landon goes into training in a summer camp for dragonoids, where he encounters a number of magical things and makes friends with other halflings, including Aurora, whose mother is a dragon elder. They learn about both good and evil dragons and that one of the most feared has been imprisoned in The Dragon Sphere. A group of evil dragons and their followers wish to find and release him in order to regain power over humans, and it becomes the mission of Landon and Aurora, along with their fellow trainee, Shade, to bring back The Dragon Sphere unopened. Unfortunately, many dragonoids before them have taken on the same mission and failed, never to be heard from again. Landon also sees this as an opportunity to finally find his dad and confront him about abandoning Landon and his mom.

This book is categorized as Young Adult Fantasy, designated for readers 12 to 18 in grades 6 through 12. However, it felt more on the younger side, like Middle Grade fiction. The simple, sometimes stilted, sentence structure and limited descriptions and character development left me, as a high school-aged reader, wanting more depth. That said, it has plenty of action, and the story will keep a middle schooler engaged. The author has a vivid imagination and has created an interesting dragon world and fun powers for young dragonoids. There are some messages about believing in one’s self and stick-to-it-tiveness, but the one I expected, about global warming and doing our best to preserve the environment from destruction, wasn’t developed.

Bella gives The Dragon Sphere four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth index: CLEAN

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

The Delphi Effect

delphi-effect

The Delphi Effect (The Delphi Trilogy, Book One) by Rysa Walker (Science Fiction)

Seventeen-year-old Anna Morgan has been in and out of foster homes and psychiatric institutions for most of her life. As a three-year-old, she was abandoned by her parents in the food court of a shopping mall, wearing a note that said, “This child is possessed.” What possesses her are the spirits of dead people who have not been able to cross over because of unfinished business. She picks up these mental hitchhikers unintentionally, simply by touching something where they linger.

She is currently carrying the spirit of Molly, a teen who was brutally murdered and wants her family to know how it happened. Of course, Molly’s grandfather refuses to believe that Anna is anything more than a con artist, so Anna must let Molly come to the forefront and take over the conversation in order to convince him. When she does, Anna finds herself caught up in the machinations of a covert organization and becomes a person of interest to people on both sides of a dangerous game.

Although a little confusing sometimes in terms of who was who, the story was engrossing and I cared a lot about Anna and the secondary characters who come into her life as a result of Molly. The premise is very clever; among other things, once her hitchhikers have achieved their goal, they leave, but she retains their memories and skills, which can come in handy now and then. This is the first in a series, so not all of the questions are answered, such as exactly how did Anna come to have these skills and who were her parents, but we know enough to be satisfied at the end of this book while curious enough to want to read the next one.

Bella gives The Delphi Effect five stars. 5 stars

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

Freya and the Dragon Egg

Freya and the Dragon Egg

Freya and the Dragon Egg by K.W. Penndorf (Middle Grade Fantasy)

I love it when a novel takes me to a new place and makes me want to know more about that place. I’m not talking about fantasy worlds, but real worlds, either historical or geographical or, in this case, mythological.

Freya and the Dragon Egg is much more than the cover art or the title would suggest. Freya lives in present-day Denmark, and Viking mythology is a big part of her life because her father is a Viking archaeologist. He runs a museum full of runes, tapestries, and other artifacts he has discovered. Among them is a dragon’s egg that he gives to Freya for safekeeping when it becomes obvious that thieves are looking for it. The egg transports Freya back in time to the Viking era. There she learns that she is the Summoned One who is expected to save mankind from the sinister Ragnar and his evil plans to control the Nine Realms.

For me, the best thing about this book was all of the Norse mythology that I learned about — the Nine Realms, the Valkyries, Valhalla, Norns, and so on — and also the origin of the term “berserk.” After reading it, I went online and found that all of it is true and the author really knew her stuff.

The story itself had some holes that left me wondering, but for middle-grade readers that may not be such a big problem. It has a somewhat confusing beginning because it starts with a dream — always a bad idea if you ask me — but quickly moves into a solid storyline with a twelve-year-old main character that kids can identify with. She solves problems, learns to trust herself, and develops new awareness of how important her family is to her. It’s the usual “finding out you’re a magical special person” thing that we all dream of, so we’re on her side.

The writing was pretty good. After too many “Freya did a double-take” lines, though, I was wishing for a new way of saying that.

Bella gives Freya and the Dragon Egg four stars. 4 stars

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

The Birr Elixir

Birr Elixir

The Birr Elixir by Jo Sparkes (YA Fantasy)

This short book is the first in a series called The Legend of the Gamesmen. It caught my interest right away, and I read it in one afternoon. It’s a fantasy with princes, potions, good guys and bad guys, and a team of gallant young gamesmen engaged in a competitive game called Comet.

The female lead character, Marra, has inherited a book of potions from the deceased herbalist with whom she was apprenticing, and among the potions is an elixir that helps the gamesmen win against tough odds.  Male leads include the captain of the Comet team and a prince traveling incognito who joins up with Marra and the gamesmen. I suspect this will turn into a love triangle in coming books. Meanwhile nasties have kidnapped the prince once and are trying to do it again, so there’s lots going on.

The writing is very good and the story is quick-moving and fun. I enjoyed the cleverness of the game the author has invented and how it is scored. Things are a little confusing because this book leaves some basic questions unanswered, like why the nasties want to kidnap the prince, which you might expect to find out before the first book ends. But it wasn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the story, and since the book is so short, moving on to book two, The Agben School, is an easy fix.

Bella gives The Birr Elixir four stars. 4 stars

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

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