November Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA, Mystery/Suspense Book of the Month Poll

Anastasia by Emma Taylor

ANASTASIA
Anastasia by Emma Taylor
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (123 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When the farm where she lives begins to die, Anastasia’s father casts out her mother and sister in order to save it. In revenge, her mother takes Anastasia as well. The three of them move to a strange town where the streets never stay still, and only the rats know way.

They are saved from a squalid life when her mother unexpectedly remarries, but Anastasia does not know quite what to make of her new stepsister, and before she can truly settle into yet another life her mother begins to act strangely and her sister grows deathly ill …

Living in a magic-infused society is only fun for people who understand the rules well enough to take advantage of them. Only time will tell if Anastasia is one of them.

At first I wasn’t sure what I thought of the character development in this novella. It took me some time to get to know Anastasia, in particular, well enough to tell how or if she was adapting to all of the difficult changes in her life. Ms. Taylor had a few tricks up her sleeves that I wasn’t anticipating, though, so once I noticed them I was pleased with everything she ended up doing with this cast.

The romance was bizarre to me due to how how the characters involved in it met one another. Their relationship doesn’t involve anything illegal, but I really would have preferred to know about these themes ahead of time. They’re something I usually avoid when deciding what to read next because I find this kind of thing so odd.

One of the things I like the most about the fantasy genre is how it uses magic, spells, and other seemingly lighthearted topics to address sensitive subject matter. Dressing up a potentially painful issue in this sort of manner can make it easier to discuss how they affect people. It’s difficult to discuss what exactly is going on in Anastasia’s world without giving away spoilers, but I was impressed by how accurately the author described what it’s like to grow up in a dysfunctional home. This subplot was well done.

I’d recommend Anastasia to anyone in the mood for a dark fairy tale.

Ennara and the Book of Shadows by Angela Myron

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Ennara and the Book of Shadows by Angela Myron
Publisher: Patchwork Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (156 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When strange accidents start happening around thirteen year-old necromancer Ennara and her friends, she must search for the mysterious stolen artifacts causing the attacks while learning the highest form of magic–the spells that could prevent the fruition of a terrible prophecy.

Most people worry about making new friends or accidentally wandering into the wrong classroom on their first day of school. If only that’s all that was on Ennara’s mind.

Being introduced to new mythical creatures is one of my favourite things about reading young adult fantasy novels. Ennara meets some very cool ones during the course of her latest adventure. It’s hard to go into detail on this topic without giving away spoilers, but I really enjoyed how Ms. Myron described the beasts in her story. Some of them were silly. Others were scary. All of the original ones were creative.

I had a hard time figuring out the best age recommendation for this story. The first book in the series was clearly intended for a middle grade audience based on its subject matter as well as the interests of the main characters. This one seems to straddle the divide between novels for preteens and ones intended for a slightly older audience. The pacing and style of the plot seems like its written for the 10+ age group, but the romance feels more appropriate for the 12+ one. I completely understand why the tone would begin to shift as Ennara matures, but this tale would have easily earned a much higher rating if it had been more clear about which age group it was intended for. As it is, the age recommendation is flexible.

The plot jumped into Ennara’s quest to find the stolen artifacts almost immediately. The most important information about her backstory as well as the society she lives in is shared as it becomes relevant to what was currently going on. This was a good choice given the urgency of the situation. I had no problem at all following along with the new information about this universe that is provided later on.

While this is a sequel, it can be read out of order or on its own. The most important details of Ennara’s first adventure are recapped early on. There is great worldbuilding in Ennara and the Falling Druid, but this plot can be understood without any knowledge of the first book. It was interesting to read them in order to see how Ms. Myron has grown as a writer though!

Ennara and the Book of Shadows was a magical ride. This is a good choice for anyone who has ever wished they could attend a school for future wizards.

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Invisible Children’s Book Instruction Manual by Nicholas Alan Tillemans

CHILDRENS
Invisible Children’s Book Instruction Manual by Nicholas Alan Tillemans
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In this concise, no-nonsense introduction to invisible children’s books, Nicholas Alan Tillemans walks the reader through all aspects of invisible book ownership, reading and care.

Some books tell the exact same story every time you open them. Others most definitely do not.

The creative premise caught my attention immediately. It was just as much fun to read as I thought it would be! What I liked the most about it was how easily it shifted between describing things that kids find humorous and tossing in a few jokes that were definitely intended for the adults who are reading this aloud. There were a few words that might be too difficult for young readers, but this is also something that I’d give to kids who are slightly older or who have strong vocabularies.

Figuring out the most appropriate age recommendation wasn’t easy. There is nothing here that is inappropriate for kids in early elementary school, but the writing style and types of humor that were used used seemed to be more geared towards adults and slightly older kids. I ended up choosing the younger age range in order to include as many readers as possible. Had the intended audience been more clear, I would have easily given this book a much higher rating.

One of the things I like the most about trying new authors is being surprised with what they’ve created. This was my first introduction to Mr. Tillemans work. His writing style is playful and conversational which is a good choice for the age range he seems to be targeting. It’s the sort of thing I’d feel just as comfortable sharing with my nieces and nephews as I would with their great-grandparents.

I’d recommend Invisible Children’s Book Instruction Manual to anyone who has ever grown even slightly weary of reading the same thing over and over again at bedtime.

Rosi’s Company by Edward Eaton

ROSIS
Rosi’s Company by Edward Eaton
Publisher: Dragonfly Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (232 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Stuck in the Revolutionary War and reeling from a recent defeat by the British, Time Guardian Rosi Carol must rally a group of fugitives and prepare them for a final desperate battle. Outnumbered and outgunned by a merciless enemy, outsmarted at every turn by and increasingly wicked Kirk, Rosi must marshal all of her wits and her experience to reverse the course of events, save herself and her few remaining friends, and perhaps find a way home.

It’s much easier to make a plan than to actually carry it out. If only Rosi had more time to hammer out the details beforehand. Of course, that’s not how adventures work.

Rosi’s Time started with quite a bit of backstory, so I was pleased to see this story jump straight into the action. It felt good to keep following the characters on their mission since I was already so familiar with everyone involved. The pacing remained strong from beginning to end. At times it was so exciting that I couldn’t stop reading until I finished just one more chapter.

Once again the character development in this series was not given much attention. Rosi has barely changed at all since I first met her despite experiencing a wide range of things that sure seem like they would have an effect on how most people behave. I grew to like her quite a bit as an individual, but I found it hard to believe that she could remain almost exactly the same person after all she’s seen and done.

There’s a big difference between what it was actually like to live in a specific era and what people remember about it several hundred years later. The most interesting parts of this novel explore some of the assumptions that people living in the twenty-first century make about the past in enough detail that I was curious to see what else I’ve been mistaken about in this time in history. By far the most interesting snippets involved how fast wagons are actually able to move.

I recommend catching up with the beginning of this series before jumping into this one. The storyline is so entwined with book two in particular that it works much better if the reader already knows who is who and why these characters have been thrown into the past.

Rosi’s Company is a good choice for anyone in the mood to dive into a young adult trilogy that’s already been completed.

Waves in the Wind by Wade J. McMahan

WAVES
Waves in the Wind by Wade J. McMahan
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (199 Pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

It is an age when kings and gods rule Ireland. The sun, but a pale orb, labors across somber skies; the moon and stars, distant memories. Ash falls upon the land like fine gray snow, while crops wither in the fields and famine creeps into every home.

It is an age of endless wars and chaos. Kings, great and small, fight among themselves for land, wealth and power. Ships from distant lands bring plague to coastal villages and certain death for all who fall ill.

Families cower about their fires calling upon their gods, the old and new, for salvation. Yet, the old gods of the Druids, the Lords of the Sidhe, are falling back in the face of the irresistible Christian incursion.

Within this maelstrom of inevitable change, Ossian, a Druid among the Eoghanachts, battles Christian priests and their Holy Trinity, but risks losing everything he holds dear—including the eternal love of a goddess.

Richly steeped in the sights, sounds and emotions of the sixth century, this historical novel allows a glimpse into an Ireland that exists today only in conjecture, and gives insight into the people whose presence may only be felt and never seen—like waves in the wind.

Ossian had been training all his life to follow the path of a Druid. His father had begun his training when Ossian was very young, and at the age of twelve, Ossian is accepted by Master Tola the head of the Druid school at Dún Ailinne. Ossian proves to be an excellent student, rapidly advancing in his studies. He even succeeds in building his first sacred fire in the pouring rain after Master Tola remarks, “I cannot recall the gods challenging an acolyte with a more difficult trial. To succeed you must maintain confidence in yourself, keep your mind clear and apply the knowledge we instilled within you.” Ossian rises to the challenge, the first of many in his life. He is soon fighting for all Druids and their gods as Christianity tries to destroy Druid practitioners and believers. All the time Ossian is fighting he wonders, “If gods can hold all men in their hearts, why can’t men hold all gods in theirs? Perhaps that is a singular failing of men. Perhaps our hearts simply aren’t large enough to contain more than one faith. What a pity. I fear it will prove a bane for humanity throughout all time.”

Ossian’s world comes alive for his readers and I truly felt as if I were back in sixth century Ireland. All of my senses were engaged and I could feel the darkness that overtook this world, causing fear and panic to rise as the food supplies dwindled. The actions rang true. Some turned greedy and violent while others tried to help. People are fighting for their gods, as if the gods wouldn’t exist if there were no believers. While this novel is set in the far distant past, the conflicts remain with us in the present day. I watched Ossian grow from a man filled with hatred and revenge to a man who began to understand what was truly needed for all to survive.

Lovers of fantasy as well as those who enjoy ancient history are sure to find Waves in the Wind to be both exciting and thought provoking.

Nice Girls Don’t Date Dead Men by Molly Harper

DEAD
Nice Girls Don’t Date Dead Men by Molly Harper
Publisher: PocketStar
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (380 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Cactus

With her best friend Zebs Titanic-themed wedding looming ahead, new vampire Jane Jameson struggles to develop her budding relationship with her enigmatic sire, Gabriel. It seems unfair that shes expected to master undead dating while dealing with a groom heading for a nuptial nervous breakdown, his hostile werewolf in-laws, and the ugliest bridesmaid dress in the history of marriage.

Meanwhile, the passing of Janes future step-grandpa puts Grandma Ruthie back on the market. Her new fiance;, Wilbur, has his own history of suspiciously dead spouses, and he may or may not have died ten years ago. Half-Moon Hollows own Black Widow has finally met her match.

Should Jane warn her grandmother of Wilburs marital habits or let things run their course? Will Jane always be an undead bridesmaid, never the undead bride?

New vampires probably shouldn’t be involved in anything Titanic-themed. Jane Jameson is back and she’s the matron of honor in her best friend’s wedding to his ladylove werewolf. Zeb and Jolene want a Titanic-themed wedding because…well why not? Jane is not overly excited about the wedding, losing her best friend’s undivided attention, her mysterious boyfriend’s recent odd behavior, and the consistent pressure from Zeb’s mother to stop the wedding so Jane can marry Zeb. You’d think all of it would be too much for a newbie vampire but Jane still finds time to look into her grandmother’s sixth fiancé. Although her plate is more than full with anything but food, Jane and her friends transverse the crazy town of Half Moon Hollows once more.

Nice Girls Don’t Date Dead Men is book two in the Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper. Although you technically don’t need to read book one to understand this one as the author does a really nice job of reminding new and returning readers of important details, I think readers should as it’s essential to understanding the cast dynamic and fully appreciating the characters themselves. In this new outing, Jane doesn’t really mature much unfortunately and I thought she came off slightly worse for the wear with her antics. The plot revolves around Jane’s best friend Zeb getting married; an event that Jane is ambivalent about at best since she’s struggling to come to terms with Zeb maturing and growing up while she isn’t. Additionally Zeb’s mother, Mama Ginger, is of course a caricature from hell bent on destroying the wedding in an attempt to make Zeb and Jane marry instead.

I found the story humorous and entertaining for the most part. The few issues I had were that Jane could have easily stopped the drama with Zeb’s mother by simply telling her that Jane was a vampire. Of course there would be no book with over the top wacky hijinks if logic actually prevailed so there is a reason for the lack of any common sense. Whether readers like that or not is a personal choice. Furthermore it was almost ridiculously easy to figure out what was going on, and who the bad guy was this time, and Jane started to look rather stupid in not figuring it out sooner. The book did everything but paint neon signs with the answers while Jane just shrugged and did nothing to add any intelligence nor intuitive thinking to any of the problems brought up. So I was much less enamored of Jane’s pratfalls, witty mumblings, and general air of buffoonery in combination with her less than average intelligence.

That said I still love the ensemble cast of characters and their ability to act as wonderful counterpoints to Jane’s sometimes irritating personality. I am not a huge Jane lover as she feels like a character pandering to a certain reading demographic. However the supporting cast is funny, entertaining, and generally helps soothe over any frustration. The writing is quick and easy to absorb without really remembering the details. It’s a little repetitive and formulaic to be sure but with the lack of real humor in the vampire genre I find this series much like ice cream. It’s not exactly something to be proud of binging on but it seems to taste so good at the time.

Rosi’s Time by Edward Eaton

ROSI
Rosi’s Time by Edward Eaton
Publisher: Dragonfly Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (246 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Rosi Carol has managed to settle into her Uncle Richard’s New England castle, despite having her family’s so-called gift thrust upon her. Rosi has the ability to step through time, which means she also bears the responsibility to be time’s Guardian. Or rather Apprentice Guardian, as her Uncle Richard keeps pointing out. When she and her friends are dragged through a time portal into the past, Rosi must determine not only where they are but when they are and how to restore the timeline.

It’s one thing to read about the past. It’s quite another to suddenly be sucked into it.

Uncle Richard plays a slightly more prominent role in this plot. He was such a mysterious and aloof figure in Rosi’s first adventure that I was pleased to get to know him a little better. The relationship between these two characters seems like it is terribly complex for reasons that have been hinted at along the way. I would have liked to have even more information about Uncle Richard’s gruff persona and why he made certain decisions, but I was glad to finally have answers to some of my questions about him.

Rosi hasn’t grown or changed at all since I first met her. The first novel in this series sets up her personality and history so well that I was sure she would have had a chance to correct — or at least acknowledge — some of her faults along the way by now. By no means do I expect her to be perfect, but it was disappointing to see that she was as self-centered and critical as ever given all of the opportunities she’s had to learn from her experiences.

Some of the most interesting scenes discuss the differences between linear and non-linear time. This concept was addressed in detail in Rosi’s Castle, but I was glad to see them brought up again. I’m so used to thinking about time as something that is measurable, concrete and not able to be revisited that the refresher was helpful.

The pacing was slow at first. It would have worked better if this my was first introduction to Rosi’s world, but as someone who was already familiar with the background information I was antsy for the introductions to wrap up so the real action could begin. Approximately the first quarter of the plot is focused on this material. For me that was a little too much.

While I would have preferred that the most important details from Rosi’s Castle were recapped more quickly, writing it this way does make it convenient to read this book out of order or on its own. The reader doesn’t need to know anything in advance. That is a good thing for this particular series, and I would suggest going back to the beginning to catch up on previous events to anyone who enjoys this tale.

I’d recommend Rosi’s Time to anyone who like time travel stories.

Rosi’s Castle by Edward Eaton

CASTLE
Rosi’s Castle by Edward Eaton
Publisher: Dragonfly Publishing
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (200 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Orphaned, Rosi Carol is sent to live with her mysterious Uncle Richard in his eerie castle on the New England coast. Rosi feels even more of an outcast when she discovers the townspeople believe the Carol family has some kind of magical hold over New Richmond. Even her new friends are afraid of her. She soon discovers there may be some truth to the rumors. The castle seems to have a mind of its own with lights turning off and on and doors locking and unlocking with no one in sight. A strange dark cloud has dogged her since the train station. The ghosts of the Widows from New Richmond’s past blame Rosi for their husbands never returning from the sea. Her only allies are a Girl in Black (gone as suddenly as she appears) and Jesse (a paranormal reporter no one else can see). Can Rosi discover what the Widows want? What about the Girl in Black? Can Jesse help her find the answers or is he another big mystery? And why can’t her watch keep proper time?

The nice thing about moving to a new town is that it usually offers the opportunity to turn over a new leaf. If only Rosi knew why all of her new neighbours were acting so strangely around someone they’ve just met.

Rosi has several serious personality faults that reveal themselves early on in the plot. Her strengths were a little more challenging to figure out because they weren’t highlighted quite as much. I’ll admit that it took me some time to warm up to Rosi due to her tendency to judge things before gathering all of the facts, but once I got to know her better I was curious to see what would happen to her next.

It took me a long time to begin to figure out what was going on with Rosi’s uncle and his property. I understand that this is the first book in a trilogy, and I definitely wouldn’t expect the author to give away all of his secrets about the characters so early on. Having a few more clues early on about what Rosi was up against would have been incredibly helpful, though, due to the large percentage of the plot I spent feeling confused.

The atmosphere was deliciously spooky. One of the things I like the most about paranormal stories is how they bend the rules of physics in ways that don’t immediately make sense. Figuring out how and why those rules have been shifted is almost as interesting as learning what lead them to be altered in the first place.

Rosi’s Castle is a good choice for anyone who likes paranormal, young adult fiction.

Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs by Molly Harper

NGS
Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs by Molly Harper
Publisher: PocketStar
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (355 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Cactus

Maybe it was the Shenanigans gift certificate that put her over the edge. When children’s librarian and self-professed nice girl Jane Jameson is fired by her beastly boss and handed twenty-five dollars in potato skins instead of a severance check, she goes on a bender that’s sure to become Half Moon Hollow legend. On her way home, she’s mistaken for a deer, shot, and left for dead. And thanks to the mysterious stranger she met while chugging neon-colored cocktails, she wakes up with a decidedly unladylike thirst for blood.

Jane is now the latest recipient of a gift basket from the Newly Undead Welcoming Committee, and her life-after-lifestyle is taking some getting used to. Her recently deceased favorite aunt is now her ghostly roommate. She has to fake breathing and endure daytime hours to avoid coming out of the coffin to her family. She’s forced to forgo her favorite down-home Southern cooking for bags of O negative. Her relationship with her sexy, mercurial vampire sire keeps running hot and cold. And if all that wasn’t enough, it looks like someone in Half Moon Hollow is trying to frame her for a series of vampire murders. What’s a nice undead girl to do?

Being mistaken for a deer, shot, and left for dead wasn’t even Jane’s worst day. The fact that it all happened on a day she was fired from her dream job and given a gift certificate for potato skins at the local dive bar did not help matters. However being turned into a vampire certainly gave Jane’s life, now unlife, new perspective. Now she has a sexy but somewhat unstable Sire to contend with along with small details such as blood sucking, flameablilty in sunlight, and the usual quagmire of crazy relatives of both the living and ghostly kind. Trying to navigate her new undead existence is not easy and that all happens before she starts to be framed for a series of vampire murders. A girl just can’t catch a break.

Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs is book one of the Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper. The main character of Jane is well developed and three-dimensional. She’s snarky, witty, and irreverent. The highlights of the book for me are not the female leads, since they are predictable, but the fun plot and use of secondary characters. Here the idea that Jane is bumping off other vampires and has to figure out who is framing her actually works because while the culprit is obvious very early on, Jane herself seems to go about the detecting work in a reasonable fashion. She’s clueless until the long monologue revealing exactly who did what and how by the “bad guy”, but I forgave her.  She’s intelligent but lacks serious common sense and the ability to put clues together. The writing relies on quips and Jane’s sense of humor to really carry the book, which works decently well even if it’s slightly repetitive.

I’ve read other books by the author set in Half Moon Hollow that revolve around the same group of characters but star different female protagonists. Now having read numerous books by Harper, both set in HMH and others, they are all remarkably similar to the point of formulaic. The heroines are almost exactly the same in each book. They are in their late 20s, single without significant past relationships, hard working, beautiful but they don’t think so, quirky, witty, sassy, and all have a penchant for a different kind of junk food which is usually a variation on candy. The females in the books are interchangeable and have few differences but the male leads are no different. They are all sexy, mysterious, rich, and totally enamored of the heroines to the point of silliness even as the heroine never believes it can be true. It’s classic romance and clearly is exactly what Harper’s readers want. I admit I find her sense of humor entertaining and I enjoy the books but I need long periods of time between them so I can forget that I already know everything about the book before I even start it. They’re predictable down to the details so I think your enjoyment hinges on whether that kind of formula romance appeals to readers.

I think Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs works well because the mystery carries the book since the romance is more lukewarm. Jane and her sire, Gabriel, don’t really have a solid happy ending but they are together and there are more books in the series. The vampire lore is basic and nothing special, even if all the good parts and very few drawbacks are included. For first time readers of this author that like humor in their vampire romance, I think this will be a real treat. For repeat readers it all depends on how much repetition is tolerable. I find the author’s voice and books nearly identical to one another but at least I always know what I’m getting.