52Under2: A Spy Like Me by Laura Pauling

The book I am reviewing this week for 52Under2 is A Spy Like Me by Laura Pauling. It is about 69000 words long and is available on Smashwords for $2.99.

Congratulations to Laura Pauling on the release of her novel.

Savvy Bent lives in Paris and works for her father’s company: Spy Games. When her date gets shot at in public it stop being a game.

This book delivered pretty much everything you’d expect from a spy thriller: action, mystery, a European city setting, and plot twists – oh so many plot twists.

First the good stuff.

The character of Savvy was likeable and not as useless as some YA heroines. I liked that she was on a date with Malcolm and it was no big thing. Even though she’d been eyeing him up for a few weeks the date wasn’t the be all and end all to her it was just a date – just a case of seeing how it went between them. This was a good contrast to a lot of YA novels where achieving a date with the one-true-boy is all the protagonist cares about. Savvy, initially, flying bullets notwithstanding, has bigger concerns like her job and family .

The action was well written. Savvy’s abilities were believable. The other spies and assassins… well that was less believable – I’d expect professionals to be more effective. Then again a lot of the book relies upon you not knowing who is playing what side, so maybe they couldn’t be conspicuously effective.

The bad stuff.

Epic plot twists and turns. So, it’s a spy novel and these things are expected, but I’d like for it all to make sense in the end. There were explanations given midway that made sense after the first plot twist (sort of) but not after the final plot twist (these points were never revisited). This is why I didn’t like the TV show Alias either.

The final explanation came very abruptly followed by a fairly abrupt ending that left things wide open for a sequel. It also left an awful lot of questions unanswered. (It’s really hard to be anything other than vague when discussing things of a spoilery nature.)

It was also very unclear why the father-daughter relationship was the way it was. How much did the father know? Was he in on anything? Why didn’t he take his daughter’s concerns seriously? More questions.

It was a book that left me wanting answers, but not in a good way.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5.

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: The Ironlane Detective by Paul F. Witham

The book I am reviewing this week for 52Under2 is The Ironlane Detective by Paul F. Witham. It is about 213000 words long and is available on Smashwords for $2.00.

This post is both late – because I had to flee my unheated house over the weekend – and short – because I was unable to force myself to finish reading the book.

Based on the fact I couldn’t finish the book, you can probably guess that I didn’t enjoy it. It’s a shame, because I got the feeling that there were a lot of ingredients that the author had at his disposal – not least the mixing of a steampunk era world with generation ship era technology – which could have been brought together to make a pleasing whole. They weren’t.

My dislike of this book can be narrowed down to two main problems:

1) Omniscient or inconsistent POV. The 3rd person POV dives in and out of each of the two main characters’ heads willy-nilly. Also, even when we’re staying in one of the character’s POV, that character will constantly refer to himself as ‘the detective’ or ‘the alien’. Just doesn’t work for me.

2) What is the point? I had no idea where the story was going. There were no outstanding questions that I felt a burning need to have answered, which is why I felt so at ease with simply tossing this book aside. After the first action set piece, they two main characters have to go somewhere to meet someone. Um, OK. It’s a pretty vague and unstructured plan. It’s not even like they’re really being chased or dodging pursuit. I could maybe get behind the idea of the detective needing to go to the city, but why is the alien hanging around? Pretty much because his spaceship nagged him to. The story fails to convince – on a number of levels.

Overall, I’d give this book 1 out of 5. I couldn’t even get past the 20% mark.

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: The Fairy Godmother Files: Cinderella Complex by Rebekah Purdy

The book I am reviewing this week for 52Under2 is The Fairy Godmother Files: Cinderella Complex by Rebekah Purdy. It is about 78000 words long and is available on Smashwords for $2.99.

Congratulations to Rebekah Purdy on the release of her novel.

When her Grandma retires from her job as Fairy Godmother, Maggie has to pick up the wand and make her arch-nemesis’ dreams come true.

This YA novel was pitch perfect. It ticked all the boxes. The plot was multi-stranded and hung together well. The writing was good. The characters were believable. The concept interesting.

So why am I only going to give it 4 out of 5? I guess because it just didn’t excite me. It was technically good, but nothing stood out to make it differentiate itself from any other YA-by-numbers. This isn’t a bad thing. There’s a lot of books out there in the YA market, and being a YA novel that doesn’t put a foot wrong is a good thing. Especially when many other YA novels I’ve read have been decidedly sub-par. For me this just lacked any sort of wow-factor.

A lot of the plot developments were fairly easy to see coming, almost from page one. The most interesting strand was the development of a friendship between Maggie and Katrina. After all the strong work at the beginning to make Katrina an unsympathetic character, bringing the reader around to liking her was dealt with at a measured pace and with a light touch.

It’s a good YA read that delivers exactly what you’d expect and despite my personal reservations I’d recommend it as enjoyable entertainment to anyone.

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5.


On another note: I think I might be all YA’d out for a while. Next week’s book review will probably be in adult sci-fi or fantasy. (That’s adult as in not-YA, not adult as adult).

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: Leopard Moon by Jeanette Battista

The book I am reviewing this week for 52Under2 is Leopard Moon by Jeanette Battista. It is about 80000 words long and is available on Smashwords for $0.99.

Congratulations to Jeanette Battista on the release of her novel.

Kess is a wereleopard on the run from her clan and, in particular, her psychotic brother. In North Carolina she meets Cormac and decides to stop running.

This book was awesome. I loved it and devoured it in two readings. Two, not one, because my husband turns the light off around me if I try to read too late.

The story was great. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference in quality between this and many traditionally published novels in the same genre. The writing was good, the characters well rendered and there were none of the editing/proofing mistakes that usually slip through. (Oh wait, there was one small inconsistency.)

I really enjoyed the use of multiple third person POV characters. Each character came through with their own distinct voice. The arrangement of sections was well-managed and this kept the pace of the novel from slacking. By shifting the POV to the antagonist the author was able to maintain the levels of tension and threat from the family storyline while the romantic storyline unfolded.

Kess is a great protagonist who can hold her own, both in dealing with jackass customers in her waitressing job and in fights with other weres.

The novel includes an excerpt from the second book in the series. It seems like it is setting up to be a series of connected stories in the same world but each with a different protagonist similar to LJ Smith’s Night World or Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld.

Overall, I’d give this book 5 out of 5. I wait with bated breath for the next Moon book.

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: The Sphinx Project by Kate Hawkings

The book I am reviewing this week for 52Under2 is The Sphinx Project by Kate Hawkings. It is about 72500 words long and is available on Smashwords for $2.99.

Congratulations to Kate Hawkings on the release of her novel.

Michaela is a genetically enhanced super soldier. She and three others like her escape from a secure military compound, hoping to have a normal life. Unfortunately, it is not to be as there were much worse things imprisoned at the compound and they’ve escaped too.

I was looking forward to this book because on reading the excerpt the concept reminded me a lot of the TV series Dark Angel, which I had enjoyed watching as a teenager. Now that I’ve finished reading The Sphinx Project I have a weird case of double-think going on. I enjoyed the book and I didn’t enjoy the book.

To be more specific, I enjoyed almost all of the individual parts of the book. It was very readable. The dialogue was good. It was well-written with no errors and good use of language. All of the individual scenes were vividly described and I felt the action scenes in particular were clear and realistic. I could see a lot of different threads being set up for future novels in the series (I believe that there will be five in total).

What I didn’t get along with was how all the bits and pieces of story worked together to create a whole novel – I wasn’t really sure what the story arc of the whole book was. It seemed more like three episodes – escape, run/intel-gather, rescue. The feeling of the sum of the parts not creating a satisfying whole was magnified tenfold by the abrupt ending. The book just stopped after the final action sequence. No denouement, no pause for breath, no sense of closure – the book was just over.

It was a shame, because I really wanted to enjoy this book. I liked the concept and I really enjoyed the first third. I just felt like I lost engagement with it after that. What I initially considered a plus – its similarity to a TV show I’d liked – turned out to be a minus. I’m not saying that everyone should come up with a completely original concept for a book – look at how many vampire books there are now – there’s definitely room for lots of genetically engineered super soldier stuff. But when I kept bumping into stuff that was the same as in Dark Angel and pointed to the resolution of the whole series being the very similar to the one that the TV show was heading towards when it got cancelled it kind of spoiled it for me.

List of similarities The Sphinx Project & Dark Angel:

  • Genetically engineered super soldiers bred in a military lab.
  • Feline DNA gets a big mention in main characters’ genetic cocktails.
  • They are experimented on by scientists.
  • The super soldiers suffer from seizures if not appropriately medicated.
  • The bad things/experiments-gone-wrong are kept in the basement (nomlies).
  • The main character is the most special of the special – she was bred for something extra like saving the world from…
  • … some sort of doomsday that is coming (through a cult in DA, through Mayan prophecies in TSP)
  • (Tenuous) Snake venom may or may not be involved as a ‘test’ of some kind. There was definitely a snake in TSP, yet to be revealed if immunity to it = super-specialness.

This book would probably be a great read for someone who wasn’t familiar with the prior art.

Overall, I’d give this book 2 out of 5.

Now I’m off to dig out my old Dark Angel DVDs