Category Archives: modern fantasy

Book Review: Guardians Inc.: The Cypher by Julian Rosado-Machain

middlegradecypherGuardians Inc.: The Cypher by Julian Rosado-Machain
Published February 26th 2011 by Julian Rosado-Machain
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 238 pages / 746 KB
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Magic, Adventure
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Goodreads | Amazon

GUARDIANS INC.: THE CYPHER is two stories in one. A glimpse into a multinational company that is in reality the oldest of secret societies, one that spans close to seven thousand years of existence, weaving in and out of history, guiding and protecting humanity from creatures and forces that most of us believe are only mythology and fairy tales.

The other is the story of Thomas Byrne, a young man thrust into secrets he shouldn’t be aware of and dangers he shouldn’t face but, that he ultimately will, for he is a Cypher. The only one who can steer humanity’s future.

The ultimate conspiracy theory is that Magic is real. Kept in check by technology but, every five hundred years the balance can shift and, if it does, technology will fail and those creatures we’ve driven into myth will come back with a vengeance.

To protect the present, Guardians Incorporated needs to know the future.

I adore middle grade books because they are usually the most creative, original, and adventurous of the books I read. I love young adult books but they often fall into a couple established patterns. Middle grade books seem to avoid doing that somehow. I’m more likely to take a chance on an unknown middle grade book than I am a young adult book for that reason. I took a chance on Guardians Inc.: The Cypher by Julian Rosado-Machain because the Kindle ebook was being given away as a freebie. The story sucked me in from the get go and I’m so glad I took the chance.

There is a bit of a fake out in the beginning of the book where we think we might be getting a story that focuses on two people. But Thomas’ Gramps is soon shuffled off to the side and we get to focus on Thomas’ adventure with being the long awaited Cypher and the new and unusual world of magic and mythical creatures and a mansion that is more than what it seems that he has suddenly found himself in the middle of. The world-building in this book is fantastic and I found myself walking a couple blocks to the left just in case I could find those brick pillars. I couldn’t help it. The characters are likable and interesting. There is more than one twist and all are surprising and well done. The dynamic that we see a very short glance of between Thomas and his Gramps, Morgan, is interesting and I can’t wait to see grandson and grandfather pitted against each other in the second book.

Guardians Inc.: The Cypher by Julian Rosado-Machain is a prime example of why I love middle grade books. It displays the type of pure imagination and adventure that I look for in books of this reading level. The first book is short and a bit of a tease. I was able to get it as a freebie from Amazon and sure enough, I was sufficiently interested to go buy the second book. So, well played author, well played. You have hooked this reader.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones

enchantedglassEnchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones
Published April 6th 2010 by Greenwillow Books
Format: Kindle ebook loan
Length: 308 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Magical
Reading Level: Children
Goodreads | Amazon

“As a boy, he had spent fascinated hours looking at the garden through each differently coloured pane. Depending, you got a rose pink sunset garden, hushed and windless; a stormy orange garden, where it was suddenly autumn; a tropical green garden, where there seemed likely to be parrots and monkeys any second. And so on. As an adult now, Andrew valued that glass even more. Magic apart, it was old old old. The glass had all sorts of internal wrinkles and trapped bubbles, and the long-dead maker had somehow managed to make the colours both intense and misty at once.”

When the magician Jocelyn Brandon Hope died he bequeathed Melstone House to his grandson Andrew. He also left his ‘field of care’: an area of strangeness surrounding the land around the house, whose boundary Andrew must walk in order to preserve its power.

Andrew had always loved the house, but he finds owning it a lot more complicated, aside from all the magic. There is Mrs Stock, the tyrannical housekeeper who won’t let him move the furniture and punishes him with her terrible cooking. Just as bad is the obsessive gardener who will only grow giant inedible vegetables. To add to his troubles, twelve year old orphan Aidan Cain suddenly arrives on the doorstep begging protection from magical stalkers, and Andrew’s sinister rich neighbour, Mr Brown, begins to encroach on the ‘field of care’. The one compensation is the gardener’s beautiful niece, Stashe. Things become stranger and stranger until all is made clear with the help of the enchanted glass itself.

Diana Wynne Jones is one of my top favorite authors and I’m still working through her backlog of books. I’ll probably be working my way through her backlog of books for some time. (I have no problem with this.) I love all of her books and it’s hard to find something to say about them that isn’t mindless gushing. Her books are just that good. Diana Wynne Jones’ books all have a refreshing type of fairy tale vibe to them that just pulls the reader in. She had a gift that is sorely missed.

It was a bit hard to figure out who I was supposed to focus on in this novel; Andrew or Aidan. They are both main characters in my opinion and that can make the book feel a little crowded sometimes. There was also a feeling of déjà vu while I was reading until I realized Enchanted Glass had a very “House of Many Ways” feeling to it with the inheritance of a magical house and kind of fish out of water feel to Andrew and Aiden. The premise is very close in both books.

That being said, the story is entertaining, fun, and utterly magical. The story is crafted and blended in that effortless way DWJ always displays in her books and the magic is elegant without being weighted down with too much fuss. It lives up to the standards of all DWJ books and even though it’s a one-off with no sequel, Enchanted Glass is well worth tracking down and reading.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz

cloaksocietyThe Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz
Published October 2nd 2012 by HarperCollins
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 288 pages / 438 KB
Genre: Adventure, Superheroes, Kids
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Goodreads | Amazon

The Cloak Society: An elite organization of supervillains graced with extraordinary powers.

Ten years ago they were defeated by the Rangers of Justice and vanished without a trace. But the villains of Cloak have been biding their time, waiting for the perfect moment to resurface. And twelve-year-old Alex Knight wants to be one of them.

Alex is already a junior member, and his entire universe is Cloak’s underground headquarters, hidden beneath an abandoned drive-in theater in Sterling City, Texas. While other kids his age are studying math and history, Alex is mastering his telekinetic powers and learning how to break into bank vaults. His only dream is to follow in his parents’ footsteps as one of the most feared supervillains in the world. Cloak is everything he believes in.

But on the day of his debut mission, Alex does the unthinkable: he saves the life of a young Ranger named Kirbie. Even worse . . . she becomes his friend. And the more time he spends with her, the more Alex wonders about the world outside of Cloak–and what, exactly, he’s been fighting for.

The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz is another fantastic book I really should have gotten off my butt and read sooner. I couldn’t resist this middle grade book. I mean, come on! A superhero story told from the angle of the super villain? Who could pass that up, I ask you? I have to say that I was a little blown away with this book merely because it deals with some pretty serious stuff (or at least that’s what I got from it) and I’m not even quite sure Kraatz meant for The Cloak Society to be as serious as it turned out for me.

I was surprised when I started seeing themes of brainwashing and manipulation and the morality of killing your opponent in a middle grade superhero novel. The adults of The Cloak Society are out for revenge and domination and have turned their own children into weapons and sacrificial lambs. The children are brainwash into following Cloak’s agenda. Those who are not powered are treated like second class citizens and basically slaves. The prejudice and elitism is discomforting to read. Alex, our protagonist, struggles with his own morality and the concept of the innocent bystander and collateral damage and what it really means to be a hero or a villain. He has his eyes very forcible opened to exactly what his parents are prepared to do to take over Sterling City. I was very surprised to see such serious themes and I’m not sure if Kraatz meant to sneak those in there or if I’m just thinking about it too hard.

That being said, I loved the book. I enjoyed the unique perspective of reading a story told from the villain’s point of view. Alex is an excellent protagonist and his struggles are believable. He doesn’t suddenly turn good overnight, or because of a pretty girl (gag), but he goes through an evolution where he is exposed to other points of view and comes to his own conclusions. The bank robbery is Alex’s first foray into the real world outside of the Cloak headquarters and now he sees beyond the doctrine his parents have been feeding him all his life. Titan and Julie are a bit lackluster, being just the stereotypical bullies. Mallory is a nice, complicated character and Kirbie isn’t too annoying with her bubbly, self-righteous attitude. Altogether, a nice cast of characters.

I don’t know if the author meant for such seriousness to sneak into a children’s book but I am pleasantly surprised at the quality of The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz. It deals with some serious themes and I think comes off better for it. I’m hoping for a quick sequel so I can know what happens now that the children are on their own, abandoned by Cloak and bereft of guidance from the now trapped in the Gloom Rangers of Justice. I want to see how Alex continues to evolve. After all, don’t you think Knight would make the perfect superhero name?

Thank you for reading!

A LGBT Reading List

Since I got a Kindle for the sole reason of being able to read less available books, I thought it would be nice if I posted a reading list. I actually just finished my first book on the Kindle and while I still prefer paper books, it wasn’t so bad. As long as I watch how much I spend on ebooks, I think this should work out just fine. Plus, I’m self-aware enough to get a vicious little thrill knowing that me buying one of these ebooks is supporting the less popular genres and subjects rather than buying some explosive best seller. I love the underdog.

Coming soon from my Kindle, a list of LGBT books.

scarletwhite wolfScarlet and the White Wolf by Kirby Crow
Status: Finished; review coming soon.

Scarlet of Lysia is an honest peddler, a young merchant traveling the wild, undefended roads to support his aging parents. Liall, called the Wolf of Omara, is the handsome, world-weary chieftain of a tribe of bandits blocking a mountain road that Scarlet needs to cross. When Liall jokingly demands a carnal toll for the privilege, Scarlet refuses and an inventive battle of wills ensues, with disastrous results. Scarlet is convinced that Liall is a worthless, immoral rogue, but when the hostile countryside explodes into violence and Liall unexpectedly fights to save the lives of Scarlet’s family, Scarlet is forced to admit that the Wolf is not the worst ally he could have, but what price will proud Scarlet ultimately have to pay for Liall’s friendship? (Gay Little Red Riding Hood! Ouch! I think my childhood just flinched.)

vintageVintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman
Status: On Kindle; not started.

A lonely boy walking along a highway one autumn evening meets the boy of his dreams, a boy who happens to have died decades ago and haunts the road. Awkward crushes, both bitter and sweet, lead him to face youthful dreams and childish fears. With its cast of offbeat friends, antiques, and Ouija boards, Vintage is not your typical romance but does offers readers a memorable blend of dark humor, chills and love.

unnaturalUnnatural by Michael Griffo
Status: Not Bought.

Michael Howard and Ronan Glynn-Rowley meet at Archangel Academy, an all-boys school in Eden, a rural town in north western England. Both are outcasts and decried as unnatural, Michael because he’s gay, and Ronan because he’s a hybrid vampire. But when Ronan, afraid to reveal his true self to Michael, turns him into a vampire against his will, both become drawn into a dangerous new world, where traditional vampires plot to destroy hybrids, and where fellow students, teachers, even their own families have unexpected secrets… (Gay vampires! How can I resist?)

riseofheroesRise of Heroes by Hayden Thorne
Status: Not Bought. I’m annoyed because this ebook isn’t available but book 2 and book 3 of the series is. Why would the first book of series not be available as an ebook but later books are? Fail Amazon!

Strange things are happening in Vintage City, and high school goth boy Eric seems to be right in the middle of them. There’s a new villain in town, one with super powers, and he’s wreaking havoc on the town, and on Eric’s life. The new super hero who springs up to defend Vintage City is almost as bad, making Eric all hot and bothered, enough so that he almost misses the love that’s right between his nose. Peter is Eric’s best friend, and even if he does seem to be hiding something most of the time, he finds a way to show Eric how he feels in between attacks on trains and banks and malls. The two boys decide to start dating, much to the chagrin of their other best buddy, Althea, who has a terrible crush on Peter, and a secret or two of her own to keep. As the fight between the villain, known as the Devil’s Trill, and superhero Magnifiman picks up, Eric’s relationship with Peter almost ends before it begins when Eric finds out about Peter’s special talents, which might just rank Peter as a superhero in his own right. When the Trill takes an interest in Eric, too, Peter and Althea, along with Magnifiman and Eric’s normal, middle-class family all have to work together to keep Eric, and their city, safe. Can they figure out the super villain’s plan in time?

heartsenseHeart Sense by K.L. Richardsson
Status: Not Bought.

The only son of a traveling merchant, Katjin spends his summer in the clan lands with his grandparents. He wishes his father, his apa, would take him along, but despite the promises that someday he’ll get to go, Katjin is left behind while his apa heads away on business that seems more and more suspicious the older Kat becomes. During one such summer, Katjin finds Mikael, a lost young man, who draws Kat to him by answering his song. In a world where the Empire brands all people as either ‘paths, people with psychic talent, or as non-‘paths, Mikael is remarkable in that he has no brand. Fearing that the Calvary, who are arriving to recruit new members, will find Mikael in their clan and bring the Empire’s fury down upon them, the clan sends Kat and Mikael to hide away until it is safe – along with his cousin Soren to keep them both safe. Knowing the best way to keep Mikael from being taken is to make him a member of the clan, Soren and Katjin plan a blood bonding ceremony, but they have no idea what kind of trouble they’ve started with their actions. Katjin learns soon enough that he won’t be able to escape his bond with Mikael, and that danger lurks around every corner. Danger that he never knew existed. Can he keep Mikael safe long enough to figure out exactly what their future holds?

I’ve decided to do reviews of these books, mostly because the idea of excluding a book because of subject matter makes me twitch. So, expect reviews for LGBT books to start showing up here. I’ll probably only get one or two ebooks a month to stay in budget, so they will only appear every once and a while. These should get me thought spring. I’ve challenged myself to see how many LGBT books I can read this year and how they stack up against main stream books. It will be interesting to see how male/male relationships contrast to female/male relationships in young adult and fantasy books.

Happy reading, everybody!

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Wishlist Wednesday #68 (12/26/12)

Wishlist Wednesday is a book blog hop where we will post about one book per week that has been on our wishlist for some time, or just added (it’s entirely up to you), that we can’t wait to get off the wishlist and onto our wonderful shelves.

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fracturedlightFractured Light by Rachel McCellan
Published February 8th 2012 by Sweetwater Books

I’m dying, I thought. This was unexpected and not at all how I envisioned my death. I was supposed to die gardening in a flowerbed as a hundred-year-old woman, not as a seventeen-year-old trapped in a lake beneath inches of ice.

Llona Reese is used to living on the run. After the Vykens killed her parents, she knew they would eventually come for her too. She can’t take any chances. But when she starts to make friends for the first time in her life, she gets careless and lets her guard down. Big mistake.

As an Aura, Llona can manipulate light and harness its energy. But if she wants to survive, Llona will have to defy the Auran Council and learn to use her power as a weapon against the Vyken whose sole desire is to take her light. Now she’s caught in something even bigger than she can understand, with a power she can’t wield, and no one she can trust, except, just maybe, a mysterious stranger.

In this breathtaking and romantic adventure, Rachel McClellan delivers a truly mesmerizing story that will keep you guessing to the very end.

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There are so many YA fantasy books coming out that it’s impossible to keep up. Fractured Light was making the rounds on the book blogs in the early spring and I’m always willing to take a peek at a new series. I’ve heard OK reviews for this book and I’ve been meaning to check it out forever. Another case of a lazy reader and blogger. I need to get cracking in the New Year to whittle down my to be read pile to something that doesn’t look like Mount Everest. I’m hoping for some interesting twist with this book because otherwise it sounds like standard YA fare.

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Book Review: Silence by Michelle Sagara (+ Excerpt)

Silence by Michelle Sagara
Published May 1st 2012 by DAW
Length: 289 pages
Genre: Paranormal, YA, Ghosts, Paranormal Romance
Reading Level: Teen
ISBN 0756407427 (ISBN 13: 9780756407421)
Goodreads | Amazon

It began in the graveyard…

Ever since her boyfriend Nathan had died in a tragic accident, Emma had been coming to the graveyard at night.  During the day she went through the motions at her prep school, in class, with her friends, but that’s all it was.  For Emma, life had stopped with Nathan’s death.  But tonight was different.  Tonight Emma and her dog were not alone in the cemetery.  There were two others there—Eric, who had just started at her school, and an ancient woman who looked as though she were made of rags.  And when they saw Emma there, the old woman reached out to her with a grip as chilling as death…

Emma was not quite like others teenagers. It was true that other girls had experienced grief.  Other girls had also lost their fathers, or had their boyfriends die in a senseless accident. But though she hadn’t known it till that night in the graveyard, unlike those other girls, she could see, touch, and speak with the dead.  In fact, Emma could draw upon the essence of the dead to work magic.  That was what Necromancers did. But Emma had no desire to be a Necromancer. She just wanted to help the ghosts who walked the streets of Toronto, unable to escape from the land of the living.  And that was just as well, because had she chosen the path of the Necromancer, Eric would have had to kill her.

Instead, Eric and his fellow Necromancer hunter Chase found themselves violating every rule they were sworn to follow, becoming part of Emma’s group, helping her to stand against those who preyed upon the dead.  But whether Emma and her friends could survive such a battle was anyone’s guess.  And whether Emma could learn to use the magic of the dead against her enemies without herself falling victim to the lure of such power remained to be seen.  Eric seemed to think she could, and her living friends would never abandon her.  But only time would tell what Emma’s true destiny was…

I was running through the suggestions on Goodreads for books to read in October and ran across Silence by Michelle Sagara. I have a love/hate relationship with paranormal romance. In that I love the paranormal but am not all that fond of the young adult romance pattern. In that it’s often annoying and follows a certain set of clichés that I am quickly becoming tired of. But Silence by Michelle Sagara surprised me. Her romance is a tad different and very refreshing. You see, Emma’s boyfriend is dead and while there is a boy presented as a potential love interest, Eric, Emma’s feeling don’t move that way because she is still morning her boyfriend. There is also the potential for a love triangle with the introduction of another boy, Chase, that fails to develop and makes me so glad. Silence is a YA story without the silly romance angle and it works so flawlessly.

Along with the refreshing take on romance, there is the paranormal angle of the story. Emma can see dead people, which is a common trait in paranormal stories, but on top of that Emma has set of powers beyond just seeing ghosts. She is a necromancer, able to do magic by using the strength of the souls of the dead. The complete mechanics of being a necromancer are not clearly spelled out in Silence. I’ve never seen necromancy used before and I’m looking forward to the sequel and hopefully having the magical system more explained. Emma is, of course, a very special cookie among special cookies. Other necromancers use their powers for evil but Emma seems to be the only one of her kind with empathy and wants nothing to do with her powers over the dead. Which is good, since Eric and Chase would have to kill her if she did. (Let’s pause and cringe over this cliché; because of course Emma is the only necromancer to ever have a good heart and nobody else would ever think using the power of souls for your own purposes would be bad. Cringe, wince. End rant.)

Eric and Chase belong to some sort of shadow organization that hunts the necromancers. Not a lot is known about them, something else that is not fully explained, but we do know that Eric is going against orders in not killing Emma and that Eric himself has a dark past. He has an involvement beyond just being a hunter. I’m just happy that Emma and Eric aren’t suddenly falling all over each other. Emma keeps her head and is much more focused than most teenaged character in YA books. I adore her because while I can accept a young character being inexperienced and naive, I cannot accept somebody being stupid. I often get stupid in YA books. I love the main characters and I’m pleased that there is an autistic character that is well portrayed and deeply involved in the story, not just a throwaway character. Amy annoys me but the “super popular and bossy without really knowing it” character always do. Silence has an exceptional set of characters. Everyone in this book has a secret they are not sharing, dead and living. Eric is somehow connected with the necromancer leader and even Emma’s deceased father knows something about why Emma has her powers that he’s not sharing.

I have to take a moment to talk about the cover. It’s your usual YA cover. There is a young woman in a fancy evening dress in a cemetery with a lantern that is the wrong color. The lantern in the book is described as blue with an orange light. The lantern on the cover is purple. I just thought that was funny. Silence by Michelle Sagara impressed me enough that I chose it as my giveaway book for October. It was a refreshing YA read that managed to miss my biggest pet peeve. I will definitely be reading the sequel, Touch.

Rating: 4.5 out 5

Excerpt from Silence by Michelle Sagara.

An old woman was watching her. An old woman. Emma was accustomed to thinking of half of her teachers as “old”, and probably a handful as “ancient” or “mummified.” Not a single one of them wore age the way this woman did. In fact, given the wreath of sagging wrinkles that was her skin, Emma wasn’t certain that she was a woman. Her cheeks were sunken, and her eyes were set so deep they might as well have just been sockets; her hair, what there was of it, was white tufts, too stringy to suggest down. She had no teeth, or seemed to have no teeth; hell, she didn’t have lips, either.

Emma couldn’t stop herself from taking a step back.

The old woman took a step forward.

She wore rags. Emma had heard that description before. She had even seen it in a movie or two. Neither experience prepared her for this. There wasn’t a single piece of cloth that was bigger than a napkin, although the assembly hung together in the vague shape of a dress. Or a bag. The orange light that the blue lantern emitted caught the edges of different colors, but they were muted, dead things. Like fallen leaves. Like corpses.

“Emma?”

Emma took another step back. “Eric, tell her to stop.” She tried to keep her voice even. She tried to keep it polite. It was hard. If the stranger’s slightly open, sunken mouth had uttered words, she would have been less terrifying. But, in silence, the old woman teetered across graves as if she’d just risen from one and counted it as nothing.

Emma backed up. The old woman kept coming. Everything moved slowly, everything – except for Emma’s breathing – was quiet. The quiet of a graveyard. Emma tried to speak, tried to ask the old woman what she wanted, but her throat was too dry, and all the came out was an alto squeak. She took another step and ran into a headstone; she felt the back of it, cold, against her thighs. Standing against a short, narrow wall, Emma threw her hands out in front of her.

The old woman pressed the lantern into those hands. Emma felt the sides of it collapse slightly as her hands gripped them, changing the shape of the brushstrokes and squiggles. It was cold against her palms. Cold like ice, cold like winter days when you inhaled and the air froze your nostrils.

She cried out in shock and opened her hands, but the lantern clung to her palms, and no amount of shaking would free them. She tried hard, but she couldn’t watch what she was doing because old, wrinkled claws shot out like cobras, sudden, skeletal, and gripped Emma’s cheeks and jaw, the way Emma’s hands now gripped the lantern.

Emma felt her face being pulled down, down toward the old woman’s, and she tried to pull back, tried to straighten her neck. But she couldn’t. All the old stories she’d heard in camp, or in her father’s lap, came to her then, and even though this woman clearly had no teeth, Emma thought of vampires.

But it wasn’t Emma’s neck that the old woman wanted, she pulled Emma’s whole face toward her, and then Emma felt – and smelled – unpleasant, endless breath, dry as dust but somehow rank as dead and rotting flesh, as the old woman opened her mouth. Emma shut her eyes as the face, its nested lines of wrinkles so like a fractal, drew closer and closer.

She felt lips, what might have been lips, press themselves against the thin membranes of her eyelids, and she whimpered. It wasn’t the sound she wanted to make; it was just the only sound she could. And then even that was gone as those same lips, with that same breath, pressed firmly and completely against Emma’s mouth.

Like a night kiss.

She tried to open her eyes, but the night was all black, and there was no moon, and it was so damn cold. And as she felt that cold overwhelm her, she thought it unfair that this would be her last kiss, this unwanted horror; that the memory of Nathans hands and Nathan’s lips were not the ones she would carry to the grave.

Book Review: The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman

The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman
Published December 6th 2011 by Tor Books
Length: 349 pages
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary Fiction
Reading Level: Adult
ISBN 0765328526 (ISBN 13: 9780765328526)
Goodreads | Amazon

From book jacket: The Hallows. Ancient artifacts imbued with a primal and deadly power. But are they protectors of this world, or the keys to its destruction? A gruesome murder in London reveals a sinister plot to uncover a two-thousand-year-old secret. For decades, the Keepers guarded these Hallows, keeping them safe, hidden, and apart from one another. But now the Keepers are being brutally murdered, their prizes stolen, the ancient objects bathed in their blood. Now, only a few remain. With her dying breath, one of the Keepers convinces Sarah Miller, a virtual stranger, to deliver her Hallow – a broken sword with devastating powers – to her nephew, Owen. The duo quickly become suspects in a series of murders as they are chased by both the police and the sadistic Dark Man and his nubile mistress. As Sarah and Owen search for the surviving Keepers, they unravel a deadly secret the Keepers were charged to protect. The mystery leads Sarah and Owen on a cat-and-mouse chase through England and Wales – and history itself – as they discover that the sword may be the only things standing between the world… and a horror beyond imagining.

It’s strange going from a middle grade book to a young adult book to an adult book. I feel like I have whiplash. The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman is the first adult book I’ve read in some time and, wow, could I tell the difference. Blood, gore, and sex and more than a few places where I crinkled up my nose and went “ew”. A plethora of violent characters and a rather harsh view of humanity as a whole are present in The Thirteen Hallows. I obviously need to read more adult books if I’m that unused to bloody violence in my thriller slash fantasy books. Michael Scott and Colette Freedman blend the modern world and ancient legend together seamlessly in The Thirteen Hallows as we follow a story thousands of years in the making.

The Thirteen Hallows is a dark ride through the mists of time. England is a land of legend and there is more than one superstition holding the kingdom up. (Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave The Tower of London, that England would fall. Several ravens have had their wings clipped and are taken care of by the Yeomen Warders because of this.) We’re treated to the same amount of myth and legend in this book, everything from King Arthur to the hunting horn of the Horned God. Don’t get attached to anyone in this book, chances are they are doing to die. It will probably be a violent, bloody death too. Things get chopped off. Torture happens. Thus we have the moments that made me say “ew’. It’s not terribly graphic but I’d say if it were a movie it would rate an ‘R’ just for the violence and definitely for the amount of sex. Again, nothing graphic but it is there.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of in this book, all of them awesome in some way. Most of them meet bloody ends in various painful ways. Each chapter is another character’s point of view and chapters are short. The story is actually quite a bit shorter than the number of pages suggest because some of those pages only have a few sentences on them. Chapters are only a couple pages long. This makes for a fast paced read and a rush of events. (Well, you have to hurry when you are trying to save the world!) Normally, this type of choppiness would annoy the crap out of me, but for some reason the bouncing narrative works for The Thirteen Hallows.

I have nothing but praise for The Thirteen Hallows. It hit all the points. The characters were all great and the plot is fascinating. I was never irritated or annoyed with anyone or anything. If you’re looking for some modern fantasy with a bit of bite and something outside of the usual young adult formula, then The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman might be just what you are looking for.

Book Review: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

I’ve been a bad blogger lately and I’d like to thank everyone for coming to my blog and commenting even though I didn’t have any new reviews up. It was all just memes and readathon posts. I’ve been lazy. But now I’ve finally gotten off my butt and written a review for my latest read. So I am pleased to give you The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen, one of my favorite authors. It’s always a pleasure to read her books.

The people of Bald Slope, North Carolina have a lot of secrets. Josey Cirrini has a closet full of sweets and an unwanted visitor. She’s also spent her adult life trying to make-up for being a horrible child to her mother. Della Lee is hiding from a lifetime of mistakes. Books come to Chloe Finley whether she wants them to or not. These three women couldn’t be more different from each other but they all have one thing in common that will change their lives forever. All it takes is a little courage to let go of the past and step out into the future.

I adore Sarah Addison Allen. I loved her Garden Spells. So it is no surprise to me that I loved The Sugar Queen just as much. I felt a little thrill when we first meet Josey. She’s not what you would call beautiful and not the typical girl we find in YA fiction. In fact, she’s a little chunky and uses food as a coping mechanism. She’s happy that the weather is getting colder because that meant she could wear more clothing. There was an instant connection for me with Josey. Here was a main character that was shy, and a little fat, and was just trying to deal with her life as best she could. Josey’s only comfort was food and sweets and she was trapped in a life where there was very little hope. I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see this character.

Allen is an expert as blending a touch of magic into her stories. It’s a “blink and you will miss it” addition. For Chloe Finely books just appear when she needs them and they act as her friends, giving her good advice that she doesn’t always understand or follow. Della Lee is running away from her bad choices and ends up in Josey’s closet as a result. There are clues sprinkled around the story about Della Lee’s true nature and everyone is to give themselves a cookie if they figure it out quickly. It’s a good twist. Everyone in this story is trapped by past decisions and they can’t move forward until they gain the courage to let the past go. All their sorrow is rooted in their past and you just want to shake everyone because the only thing standing in their way of happiness is themselves.

The Sugar Queen was an excellent read. At first I thought splitting a story between three people would annoy me (I’m currently having huge problems with the amount of characters in The Night Circus by Erin Morgertsin) but the three woman flow and ebb into each other so well that it works. At the end, each woman is able to let go of the past and move on. Sarah Addison Allen has written another charming and slightly magical story that was a true joy to read.

P.S. I almost wish Marco Cirrini were real just so I could slap him. What an ass!

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Published April 14th 2009 by Bantam (first published May 20th 2008)
276 pages
Stand alone: not part of a series.

Book Review: Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick

We are going to call this a mini-review because this is a very small book. I was browsing aimlessly through the library when the name caught my eye. I’d been on the waiting list for Marcus Sedgwick’s new book for about three weeks and I thought perhaps a peek at some of his early works might whet my appetite and give me some idea of his writing style. So I picked up Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick. It’s a short book, not even 150 pages long, and I raced through it in a little over an hour while at my favorite coffeehouse. I irritate the workers by camping out on the couch and abusing the bottomless cup they offer at least once a month. I’m evil that way.

From book jacket: The fire in his home was a family tragedy that Jamie can’t forget. Fire dominates his waking thoughts and his dreams. When his family sends him away to Crownhill to recover, they don’t realize they are sending him to a village with its own dark history of witchcraft – and with ancient buried powers that are unleashed by Jamie’s presence. A present-day boy, a seventeenth-century girl, and an ancient crone: for a single moment, their lives are fused by fire.

This is the type of story that feels so familiar you could have sworn you’ve read it before. (It’s entirely possible I have and just can’t remember.) It’s the type of story that is told around campfires and is ingrained into the human consciousness from our long oral history. It’s a classic with a thousand retellings and drags up the memory of being a young child, wondering at the shadows of our bedroom. Every thump and dump in the night is the boogieman coming to get us. However, the writing style is jerky. It’s as if you’re being yanked along a rough draft rather than a complete, polished book. There is no flow and Witch Hill ends up feeling like something unfinished.

I sincerely hope this is not all that Marcus Sedgwick has to offer. Witch Hill was first publish in 2001 and is a juvenile book, so it is possible that his writing has improved since then. I’m really looking forward to Midwinterblood and I hope it deliveries something different from Witch Hill. I was left dissatisfied by Witch Hill and feel like with more effort it could have turned into something fantastic. I can see the potential in the book and it’s frustrating to be presented with a story that falls so short of what it could have been.

Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick
Published September 11th 2001 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
147 pages
Stand alone; not part of a series.

 

Book Review: Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey

As a reader of fanfiction, stories with gay characters are very familiar to me but I was still excited to find a published book with a gay character. Published books with LGBT characters are rare and it’s only recently that I’ve seen such books floating around. I really enjoy books with non-traditional characters and was looking forward to seeing how an LGBT character was handled. So I’m very pleased to bring you my review for Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey.

Goodreads summary: Braden was born with witch eyes: the ability to see the world as it truly is: a blinding explosion of memories, darkness, and magic. The power enables Braden to see through spells and lies, but at the cost of horrible pain. After a terrifying vision reveals imminent danger for the uncle who raised and instructed him, Braden retreats to Belle Dam, an old city divided by two feuding witch dynasties. As rival family heads Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe desperately try to use Braden’s powers to unlock Belle Dam’s secrets, Braden vows never to become their sacrificial pawn. But everything changes when Braden learns that Jason is his father–and Trey, the enigmatic guy he’s falling for, is Catherine’s son. To stop an insidious dark magic from consuming the town, Braden must master his gift—and risk losing the one he loves.

My biggest fear when reading this book was that the author would merely change the sex of the main character and that would be it. I was probably going to do something violent to the book if the gay character turned out to be a thinly disguised girl (because of course every gay character is completely effeminate). But, I was pleasantly surprised to find Braden a convincing gay character, clearly male and believable as a teenage boy. He was not helpless, weak-willed, or any other stereotype I was afraid to find when cracking open Witch Eyes. Braden is a confused teen who is doing the best he can with no information and a power he can’t control and the gay relationship is almost secondary. The characters are very well balanced.

Nobody is annoying and I don’t want to stab any character in their eye for being too stupid to live. (In case you haven’t noticed by now, not having a character that annoys the piss out of me is the biggest compliment I can give a book. That’s about 80% of a good review in my opinion.) There are a lot of characters running around this book, two of them we never even see. There is a lot of history in Belle Dam and many great characters that I wished had a bit more development. The story isn’t crowded or jerky but you do have to do a bit of work to keep track of everyone. The story branches off into several paths, some of them a dead end. We’re never quite sure what once happened in Belle Dam or even what is happening in the present.

The only complaint I could possibly make is that the beginning is a tad slow and you’re not sure anything is really happening until the action explodes and suddenly there are hellhounds and shapeshifters and Braden is badass with his powers and things start happening. (Wow. Run-on sentence.) But you are stuck the first half of the book waiting for all the pieces to come together and even then the book ends with only half the conflicts resolved. Witch Eyes is written in first person, which means we know what Braden knows and that is it. There is history and facts we are only vaguely aware of by the end of the book and it leaves a few gaps.

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey is the first published book with a LGBT main character I’ve ever read and I’m very impressed with how the gay character was portrayed. There is an intricate, twisting plot in this book that is slowly peeled back and leaves the reader guessing even at the end. The true villain is a huge surprise and kudos to Tracey for the complex labyrinth of secrets and lies. There are more than a few things left unfinished, including the gay relationship, and the second book in the series, Demon Eyes, is slated to be released October of this year. I look forward to it.

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey
Published September 8th 2011 by Flux
332 pages
Witch Eyes #1; first in a series

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