52Under2: Week 15 Shortlist

Week 15 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye on Smashwords this week and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

Raven’s Heirs by Lesley Arrowsmith
Rescued from his captivity with corsairs, Owain finds his troubles just beginning as her returns home to find intrigue brewing.
The extremely basic cover of this book does a disservice to the contents. The character names in the description promise a Welsh-/Celtic-based fantasy world. The excerpt starts with an introduction to the main character in captivity and shows us some of his supernatural abilities. From there the story moves on at a good pace and the world-building is consistent and unintrusive.

Cabaret Voltaire by Trish Tonello
In a steampunk-inspired fantasy world, Alex wants to be an artist but is prevented by her rank and gender.
The ‘Second Life’-looking cover of this book is stylish, but to me doesn’t jibe with the steampunk description of the setting. I got off to a bad start with the excerpt – I had to wade through a Foreword and a Prologue that both did little but explain the setting and the stakes, rather than letting the story speak for itself. After that the wealth and variety of speech attributions – ‘moaned’, ‘lamented’, ‘drawled’, ‘spat’, ‘sighed’ – was a little dizzying. I also found the main character – a poor little rich girl who all the boys want – not that compelling.

Dreamers by Donna Hall
When Lollie’s little sister goes missing, she must venture into a world of dreams to get her back.
The front page for this book breaks off in mid-description, which is a pity, but I still gave the excerpt a try. The excerpt is well-written and fast-paced. It quickly introduces the sisters’ relationship, before getting straight into the action. Then things take a turn for the weird.

Awakening by Sarah L Robins
Eve starts experiencing strange phenomena that lead her to her hidden mystical heritage.
The cover of this book is gorgeous. I’m less enthusiastic about the excerpt. It’s always nice to find a YA book set in contemporary Britain, rather than contemporary America. However, it takes a while for this to get started. There’s a vague prologue with glowing creatures and a dream sequence, but all of this feels a little untethered, as there’s no strong indication of who the ‘I’ is in the dream sequence. When the story proper starts, the friend interactions are good and enjoyable to read. Unfortunately, things are a little let down by the author’s flaky grasp of punctuation and grammar.

A Spy Like Me by Laura Pauling
Savvy’s first date with Malcolm, on the banks of the Seine, is interrupted when he is shot at by a sniper.
I really enjoyed reading the excerpt of this book. The main character is sparky and self-confident. Her banter with her date is fun and interesting.  The action kicks off straight away with a mysterious shooting. Danger, mystery and romance are all already established by the end of the first chapter. The excerpt continues to be a fun read.
This is the book I’ll be reviewing later in the week.

52Under2: Week 14 Shortlist

Week 14 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

I decided to step out of the YA silo this week and read something a bit different. These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye in SF and Fantasy on Smashwords this week and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

Young Republican, Yuppie Princess by Nicole Chardenet
It’s 1984 and a yuppie-in-training gets zapped into a parallel dimension.
I really liked the description of this book, it sounded like it had a lot of fun elements in it: undines, a heavy-metal sorcerer, floppy disks (ah, nostalgia), and – according to a review quoted at the front of the book – the nerds save the day. The excerpt was good, in that the narrator had a very distinctive – though not particularly likeable – voice. However, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to enjoy the book to its fullest. Even after a few pages I could already tell that it would be chock full of US-1980s references that would go straight over my head and be wasted on me. But for someone who was there, this seems like it would be a fun read.

Beneath the Heavens by Christine O’Neill
A group of dying teenagers travel by train to the mysterious Everlands, where their diseases will be miraculously cured.
This is probably YA, even though not categorised under that heading. The description sounded interesting, especially when it mentioned mysterious deaths on the train. I wondered if I might be in for a SF/alternate world murder on the Orient Express. The excerpt let itself down almost instantly. The author uses wacky spellings of familiar places as a cheap way to create the ‘alternate universe’ vibe and does this three times within the first two paragraphs. It seems the main feature of this alternate world is that there would be a lot more ‘Y’s needed to play Scrabble. That irritated me straight out of the gate. Then there was the problem of not being sure who the protagonist was to be, as each new chapter came from the (3rd person) POV of a new character. presumably this was to set up all the inhabitants of the train (suspects?) but there are surely more succinct ways of doing this – that get more quickly to the main conflict of the story.

Blackstone and Brenwen: The Mirror and The Meretrix by Andrew Mellusco
A young fairytale lawyer must defend Red Riding Hood against a charge of murder.
This one lured me in with a great description, a good cover, and a hint that what lay within might be a little Tom-Holtish.  Reuse of fairytale characters is always a popular theme with me. The author’s use of language is fun and witty. There is quite a lot of situation-based humour. The character of the young lawyer is immediately very real and likeable. The only problem I had with it was that the first chapter – dealing with a law case that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the main plot – was way too slow, probably because in the middle of the summing up all of the courtroom falls asleep. This is a funny situation I would have enjoyed if the author hadn’t decided that this meant he could drop a crapload of back story into the gap caused by their slumber. Snooze.

Spirit of ’76 by Jeff Beck
1976. When John’s first friend at a new school is found dead, John strives to find the truth about his friend’s death.
The description made this seem like quite and interesting story strongly grounded in a place and time. The fantasy elements promised by the tags – parapsychology, magic, and cults – sounded like they would add interesting flavour to the tale. However, the writing style didn’t do too much for me – being skewed towards tell over show and being utterly infested with exclamation marks, italics (for brand names and famous people’s names), bold, and inverted commas. Though 50% of this book is available in the excerpt, I don’t think I got past 2%. It was just a little too slow.

The Ironlane Detective by Paul Witham
A telepathic detective, following orders from a voice in his head, ends up deep in chaos and conspiracy.
I fell like the description for this book let it down a little. It’s listed under ‘steampunk/retropunk’ (always a favourite with me), but its description calls it an epic sci-fi set far in the future. OK – I guess I’ll wait and see how these elements tie together. The short description goes on about telepathic voices, emperors-in-exile and revolution, but the long description starts off talking about a generation ship and it isn’t until the end of the (not very long) long description that an inkling is given of how this ties into the telepaths bit. Also who is the Ironlane Detective of the title? How does he come into the revolution story? Is he the protagonist? Is he the telepath?
All of these questions are answered very quickly in the excerpt which gets straight down to business. The main character is quickly introduced as is his situation and a mysterious mission that we watch him embark on at the behest of the voices in his head. The writing of the piece has a good tone that fits well with the retro/steampunk setting that is being evoked. There are some wobbly bits, but my interest was piqued.
This is the novel I will be reviewing later in the week.

52Under2: Week 13 Shortlist

Week 13 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye on Smashwords this week and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

Vivid by Andrea Murray
Vivian has the power to manipulate energy, this brings her into danger from the man who murdered her mother.
The excerpt of this novel starts well, using present tense and, after a short prologue mentioning the death of the protagonist’s mother, gets straight into the drama of the battleground that is high school. An incident with the school bullies causes Vivian to unleash the powers she had been trying to keep under wraps. I found it quite interesting that Vivian, in the heat of the moment, enjoys the violence she can inflict with her powers on those she doesn’t like. In a slightly contradictory way, she feels bad about using mind control on people she likes, but does it anyway. I’d be interested to see if the moral ramifications of both of these lead to conflict or inner turmoil later on in the book. Though both actions did little to endear the character to me. Also I felt like Vivian was too powerful right out of the gate, so I wasn’t sure where she could develop her powers to.

 

Otto and the Hunt for Mal Goue by Greg Blok
A young stowaway finds himself up against both the Dutch East India Company and a Pirate King.
I was glad to get a book on the list with a male protagonist. I’m female, so, rightly or wrongly, I tend to gravitate to books with female narrators. The setting sounded interesting, so I got stuck in to the excerpt to see what this book had to offer. The excerpt disappointed me. It was full of anachronistic language, confused punctuation, tense shifts, and incorrect word use. The characters felt lacking in dimension and the protagonist an utterly selfish whining individual. I stopped reading this pretty quickly; I had no desire to spend any more time in the presence of Otto.

 

Until Darkness Comes by Melynda Price
A girl with a gift finds herself in a love triangle between two handsome guys, one an angel, the other a demon.
I wish I could write a review of the excerpt of this book, but after a moment of confusion I realised that 5 Prince Publishing had uploaded the files for one of their other books instead of the files for Until Darkness Comes. (And that neither the publisher nor the author seem to have noticed for 6 days.) I’ve let them know and I assume this will be rectified soon.

 

Fable of the Swan by Jenna Katerin Moran
A dark fantasy tale with interesting characters and concepts all thrown into the world-building melting pot.
The description of this book had so much going for it. It sounded like it would include a lot of good elements: steampunk, a dark aesthetic, unusual or underutilised fantasy elements, a rich mix of concepts. There was no real inkling of what the story and its conflicts were going to be. It is also apparently part of a larger transmedia project, though I could find no additional links or information about this overarching project, so I’m not really sure what it entails. I got stuck into the excerpt, with the slightly biased expectation that I would read and review this book. Unfortunately it was not to be. The three-part introduction seemed couched in deliberately obscure and obfuscated language. It tread the line between being intriguing and irritating. For me, this went on too long and fell off the line and into irritating. I stopped reading before the first chapter.

Edit: I came back later, after I had made my pick for the week and read a little further. Once the story properly gets started it is well-written and fairly interesting, but – as indicated above – I found the barrier to entry a little high.

 

The Fairy Godmother Files: Cinderella Complex by Rebekah Purdy
When her Grandma retires from her job as Fairy Godmother, Maggie has to pick up the wand.
Another excerpt that started out with the establishment of high school conflicts, a protagonist and her friends. ( Very similar to Vivid, above. When I was writing these précis of two books whose excerpt’s I had skim read – I did occasionally have to pause and make sure that I wasn’t confusing events from the two.) The characters in this one are more fully rounded. After establishing protagonist, best friend, mean girl, decoy love interest and real love interest, the book moves straight on to set up the situation. Maggie becomes a Fairy Godmother. This was one of the aspects of the excerpt that jarred me a little – that Maggie was neither given nor asked for time to think over her decision. Another thing I didn’t like was the absolute and deterministic view of love and romantic relationships that was portrayed. You have one person who is your perfect partner, with whom you will get your happy ending, and no one else will be good enough. Hmmm. I guess this is a fairytale novel after all.
The good characters and touches of situational humour got me into this book and I’ll be reviewing it in full later this week.

 

52Under2: Week 12 – skip week again

Week 12 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

Yup, I’m taking a skip week again. There were a lot of awesome books released this week, but they were all released by authors who already had quite a few novels out. As I’m trying to focus on the newbie writers out there, these books don’t fit the criteria for my reviews.

I found a few books that looked interesting and were written by début authors, but when I got into the excerpts of these I found I didn’t like any of them. My shortlist write-ups were purely negative. Faced with the decision to read something that I really wasn’t keen on and the write an unfavourable review or to skip a week again, I elected to skip a week.

 

 

52Under2: Week 11 Shortlist

Week 11 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

Another week where I wish I had time to read and review more than one novel. These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye on Smashwords this week and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

Walking Wolf Road by Brandon M Herbert
The new kid in a Colorado town gets bitten by a mysterious animal under the light of a full moon.
The short description of this book read like pure ad copy, which I found rather off-putting. The extended description lured me back. It was pretty obvious from the cover and title that this book was going the way of the werewolves, but I really liked the spin that the extended description put on it: ‘soul of a wolf’, ‘shamanic powers’. It was nice to see a book taking a spiritual approach to the werewolf myth, especially nowadays when most of the books I read about werewolves and shapeshifters put a very medical/genetic focus on the phenomenon.
I really liked the excerpt, despite occasional semicolon abuse and overuse. The author nails the teenage protagonist’s cynical, self-deprecating voice. The first chapter manages to get a lot of background information over quickly, but not clumsily, and get the protagonist straight to his werewolf encounter and straight into the story.

Tatari by Brandon Grijalva
A depressed, rich Japanese guy becomes embroiled in a secret war between demihumans and religious forces.
I was drawn to this novel by the beautifully minimalist cover. Also I’m fairly interested in Japan and Japanese pop culture (at a Studio Ghibli /  Haruki Murakami level   – not at a deep otaku level). The short description sounded pretty good, though the choice the  the protagonist was asked to make – ‘destroy the world’ or ‘ protect his family’ – seemed a bit of a no-brainer. I started treading the excerpt with high hopes, but found it not particularly captivating. I think the problem was that it was hard to feel empathy for a protagonist who has it all – including an on call servant. Apart from a meeting with a girl, the excerpt doesn’t really contain much more than a description of this guy’s home life, so I found it difficult to get an idea of where the story was going.

Flicker by Kaye Thornbrugh
A girl with a talent in art is stolen away to server the fae as a portrait artist. She escapes them into a world that has changed and must adapt to a new life in a city’s supernatural underworld.
The long description of this book gave a lot of material that sounded interesting (without managing to give away any spoilers – a difficult balance sometimes). It sounded like there was a lot to get into in this novel. The excerpt was well-written. In particular the visual descriptions were beautiful – as befitting a novel where the POV character is an artist. The excerpt gives us a taste of the protagonist’s normal life before moving quickly to her first encounter with the faeries.

Eden’s Root by Rachel Fisher
In a near future marred by food shortages and a creeping sickness, a girl must fight to survive and save her little sister.
I was drawn in by the description of this novel, which painted it as mundane science fiction or near-future dystopia. – genres where there are lots of interesting aspects to explore. The excerpt had a good hook: the Family Food Laws – rules that were put in place to safeguard the family and make sure that food went where it was most needed. It was a fairly immediate and let the reader know straight away about the concerns of this world. The excerpt then backtracks to a time when things were normal, just before they started going wrong.

Leopard Moon by Jeanette Battista
A were-leopard goes on the run from her family, but when she meets a guy she likes it’s time to take a stand.
I liked the sound of this book because it’s been a while since I’ve come across a were-something book that wasn’t about werewolves. The excerpt was tight and well-written, plunging the protagonist straight into jeopardy – which she handles well. Another pleasant surprise in reading the excerpt was the switch of point-of-view character in the second chapter. Quite often the books I’ve read for 52Under2 have been first person or a single limited third person point of view. This excerpt seems to handle multiple POV voices well.
This is the book I’ll be reviewing later this week.

52Under2: Week 10 Shortlist

Week 10 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

It was a pretty good week for interesting-looking books on Smashwords this week; there were a lot to choose from in compiling my shortlist. These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

The Doorknob Society by MJ Fletcher
A girl finds that she can travel through dimensions just by turning a doorknob. In the wake of this discovery she is sent to a magic school to learn about herself and her powers.
I really liked the title design on the cover of this book. That coupled with the fact I noticed it was tagged ‘steampunk’ drew me in to adding it to my shortlist and reading the excerpt. However, over the course of the excerpt I didn’t see any steampunk elements. The novel starts in current day Paris, with the protagonist about to partake of some cat burglary. Presumably the steampunk goodness will emerge at magic school.

Vampire Music by Michelle de Paepe
When an anorexic girl’s former best friend comes back to town he wants nothing to do with her. Turns out he’s a vampire and a rock star.
What struck me first about the book was its strong sense of place, but the excerpt kind of lost me with how immature the characters are portrayed at age 14. (Collecting frogspawn to put on frog plays with?!) I found it interesting that the protagonist becomes anorexic, yet this isn’t the focus of the story. I would like to see how the author deals with and explores this issue.

Dead As Dutch by Rich Docherty
A student film crew wandering in the woods accidentally invoke a dead gangsters curse.
I really liked the sound of the premise of this book. It bills itself as horror/humour, which is a genre I enjoy in movies, though have yet to experience in a novel. The start of the book was fairly good. The language was punchy. The character descriptions were strong. Though as the excerpt was really short, I didn’t really get much more than character descriptions from it.
This book is available for free on Smashwords until 10th March 2012 as part of Read an Ebook week.

Prophecy of the Most Beautiful by Diantha Jones
Turns out that seeing things doesn’t make high school girl Chloe crazy, she’s really a powerful soothsayer, the Oracle of Delphi in fact.
I love the Greek myths. I’d be interested to see how the author works them into her story and to find out which of the Olympian gods is moonlighting as a rock star nowadays. This was another book with a fairly short excerpt, but even within the small bit I read the main character is already in trouble, both with school and with a sinister vanishing guy.
This book has 25% at Smashwords until the 10th March 2012 as part of Read an Ebook week.

The Sphinx Project by Kate Hawkings
A group of four genetically modified teenage girls escape from the military lab where they are held. But they aren’t the only things that escape…
The first thing I thought when I read the summary of this book, was that it sounded an awful lot like the TV show Dark Angel. When I started reading the excerpt I caught a few more similarities – most notable when the protagonist drops a mention of her feline DNA. While the setup is the same, the story promises to be different. The excerpt was pretty good. Action packed from the very beginning.
This is the book I’ll be reviewing this week. Let’s see how it stacks up against my memories of enjoying Dark Angel.

52Under2: Week 9 Shortlist

Week 9 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye on Smashwords this week and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

Eternal Changes by Tiffany Berry
After her father’s death, a girl moves to a new town where she gets embroiled in the middle of a vampire war.
The excerpt is pretty good, though there’s a weird switch in how the protagonist refers to her mother early on. The book is well formatted and has an attractive cover.

Found by Yana Guleva
A vampire-werewolf-human love triangle (though by different names) in Alaska. The Alaskan setting could be interesting. The excerpt has a couple of grammar errors and missing words. For the price – free – this book could be worth checking out.

Neophyte by Emmalee Aple
In a beach house on Earth, a girl grows into her new angel powers. Things take a turn for the dangerous when a gray-winged angel abducts her.
The excerpt was good, plunging straight into the jeopardy. Though I found the action a little confusing and a lot of characters were introduced very quickly.

ALTOR: The Shadow Rebellion by L J deVet
After a series of premonitions, a sorcerer finds his world changed and he has to confront a powerful enemy. I was interested in this book because the author produced both a UK and a US version. I wondered what was involved with that – whether it was a simple as flipping the dictionary used by the spellchecker or whether the author went through and localised idioms and words like trousers/pants.

Marked by Jennifer Snyder
The description made this one sound like a fairly standard werewolf romance. However, when I read the excerpt I was immediately hooked. It is well-written. You are plunged straight into the romantic conflict. The characters are immediate and vivid.
This is the book I’ll be reviewing later this week.