STACEY L. PIERSON Stacey L. Pierson’s Vale is a YA paranormal murder mystery about a group of teens who are all hiding something regarding the disappearance of an old friend. The first thing that struck me about this book was the TV-script style of Stacey’s writing. It reads like I’m watching a television show; the layout, the immediacy of the writing, the fast pace, is all reminiscent of a TV show. And it works perfectly for the large cast. The second thing that struck me was how well Stacey has characterized Vale High School. The High School itself feels like a living organism, as all the students are described in dispassionate terms of how they function in the school. And the school feels like it’s watching them. Lastly, I love how Charles’s epilepsy is drawn. Stacey has mentioned this aspect of the book is #ownvoices and it reads as an authentic portrayal. So many books that feature characters with disabilities or conditions [ . . . ]
By Michael Botur If I were to describe Moneyland, I would say it’s Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies, meets Squid Game. This is a futuristic horror novel, where robots have taken over the world and are experimenting on humans. One of these experiments involves leaving twelve teenagers in an abandoned suburb where they must fight over resources. The main character, Eden, is a participant in this experiment. She is a wealthy and entitled teenager leading a consumerist lifestyle. Usually, I’m not a fan of this kind of trope: the bratty high school bully who comes from a rich family. But in this story, the trope works, because Eden is quickly thrown into an environment where there is a shortage of everything. This stark contrast to Eden’s old life offers very interesting character development. The juxtaposition of settings is a compelling aspect of this novel. We have the humans who are rich and hedonistic. And then we have the human experiments who must fight [ . . . ]
BY DUSTIN B FISHER I sat on this book for a while as, although the pace picks up towards the middle and the characterization of the hero deepens, the opening is slow, and the female characters are a little problematically portrayed (more on that later). Realm of Kings follows DT who discovers he and his friends have superpowers and are called to save the Realm of Kings. The writing style shows promise. I know some reviewers have mentioned that there’s too much dialogue and not enough description, but I enjoyed the dialogue. It felt natural and moved the plot forwards. I thought DT was a complex and interesting character with some challenging flaws. However, some of the female characters seem to be stereotypically sexual in their demeanor, particularly in the opening. I would have liked a little more variation with their personalities. Overall, I would recommend Realm of Kings to those who enjoy complex worldbuilding and layered protagonists.
BY CHARLOTTE FARMER, ILLUSTRATED BY COURTNEY HUDDLESTON This is a cute story designed to teach children not to fear bugs. It follows a girl named Camilla who’s afraid of a bee until she discovers the bee’s afraid of her. The book shows how Camilla learns to coexist with the bee and eventually gives it a name, Bubba. What’s charming is that the book addresses our inherent fear of the unknown and how naming our fears (in this case bugs) can help us move past them. Camilla eventually names all the bugs she encounters, which helps her to become affectionate towards them. The illustrations are well done and perfect for the kind of story this is. The book also provides a letter to parents about the importance of helping kids conquer their anxiety over insects and other creepy crawlies. I recommend for parents of young children with a fear of any kind of animal.
BY NIKKY LEE I received a free ARC from the author and am leaving a voluntary review. Wow. What a ride this was. The Rarkyn’s Familiar by Nikky Lee is a YA: High Fantasy. It follows orphan, Lyss, who accidentally finds herself in a blood-pact with a beast from “the other world”: the rarkyn named Skaar. The magic bond she has with Skaar will drive her insane if she doesn’t find a way to break the pact. First thing I want to clarify. I’ve heard this book being compared to Sarah J. Maas’s books. This is NOTHING like her books. The style, the content, the characters feel more in conversation with The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan. Now that’s out of the way… The world-building is incredible. There’s so much history, lore and politics packed into 496 pages and a prose-style that zips along. Nowhere did I feel bogged down. And that’s amazing given Nikky Lee has created a made-up language, a foreign [ . . . ]
BY CECELIA GUZMAN This was a wonderful book to read over Christmas. The story follows Evie And Alex. Evie bumps into Alex on the way to the family restaurant she runs and she ends up hiring him as a bartender. Things heat up between them and we learn some juicy family secrets. Also included in this book are some family recipes from the author. I love this addition as it adds a personal touch. This is a really sweet story about the importance of family in times of grief. It also has some adorable romantic moments between Evie and Alex. I found the writing very easy to read. It was simplistic, but flowed well and the style fitted nicely in the spirit of a holiday read. Overall, I definitely recommend A Santa Fe Xmas. It’s a quick read and a lot of fun.
CHRIS WHEAT Cosmogony follows an interracial newly-engaged couple as they uncover the secrets of their new home, the conservative small town, Goldwater, California. The novel is a quick, easy and engaging read. The writing is solid, although at times it can overuse the word, “and.” The characters feel authentic and the relationship between Isaac and Ruth is romantic and satisfying. Perfect for the romance genre. This book packs a lot into 117 pages. There’s drama, shoot-outs, bank-robberies, government secrets, social justice, and romance. In other words, everything exciting is jammed into this short novel. However, the storyline never feels too busy, which can be a potential problem when reading complex plotlines. What I love most about this book is the empathy. Although it’s easy to preach on sensitive topics, such as racism and sexism, this book still manages to maintain a non-judgemental tone and trusts the story to open the discussion with the reader. Overall, Cosmogony is definitely worth the [ . . . ]
GILLIAN POLACK Borderlanders is about three friends who are dealing with everyday life issues, but against a backdrop of magical realism. Melissa, the main protagonist, suffers from chronic pain. Bettina is dealing with a family secret and struggling to come to terms with her psychic dreams. Zelda is writing a book while going through a difficult divorce. I enjoyed how the writer leaves Bettina’s dreams to the reader to decide whether there’s a supernatural element to them. I also appreciated the way Melissa’s chronic pain was handled. It’s rare you come across a book that addresses the toll physical illness has on a person’s mental health. I particularly loved this passage, “She won’t give me tablets for depression because she says it’ll get better as I get better. Then, next visit, she admits I may not get better for years. Or ever. Not until we know more about things. And she sends me for tests and forgets the depression.” The author [ . . . ]
J.C BRENNAN As a fan of fairytales, I was excited to pick up J.C Brennan’s The Enchanted, which tells the story of Rebecca Gentry who, not only discovers her late Grandmother’s bedtime stories are real, but also that she is of royal ancestry and comes from a long line of witches. At first, I found the book difficult to read as some of the descriptions, particularly regarding the grandmother, dragged on. There were also moments where the writing shifted tenses. However, as the book progressed, the prose improved, and the pace quickened. The protagonist Rebecca is very fitting for the fairytale genre, particularly regarding how she is “the chosen one.” While some reviewers weren’t fond of the cliché characterisation, I thought it worked in this book because of the presence of other classic fairytale tropes, such as the difficult stepmother, the evil witch, Rebecca gaining special powers on her 16th birthday, and the inclusion of other fantastical creatures such as vampires and [ . . . ]
BY JACKIE MOJICA I received When the Lights Go Out from the author, Jackie Mojica, in exchange for an honest review. This is an adult romance about a woman named Rain who falls in love with a famous Rockstar, Damen. I would like to begin this review by informing potential readers that the story includes light BDSM themes and explicit sexual scenes. If either of these themes disturb you, this might not be the ideal book for you. However, as someone who doesn’t like BDSM or reading explicit sex, I didn’t find these too invasive and was still able to enjoy the plot. In fact, the sex scenes are not overly detailed, and the writing overall is solid. The characters, Rain and Damen, are well-drawn. However, Damen comes across as borderline abusive. He is rough in the bedroom, talks about cheating on his ex-wife with the expectation that Rain feel sympathy for him, and he introduces Rain to BDSM as if it’s [ . . . ]