Saturday, 23 November 2013

Indie Author Showcase (various)

Having reached the end of the search, I don't have an independently-published novel to rave about this week.  So, instead here are three that were included as part of my search...

Catalyst (Tethered Book1) by Jennifer Snyder

Publication date: 1st May 2012.

The premise of the novel is a good one but it is mostly about the cat and mouse exchanges between female protagonist, Addison, and one of the local boys, Kace.  Kace is fully aware of the magic inside of them that is causing the strong attraction they feel for each other and he believes it is only natural that they give in to it.  So, he spends most of his time trying to talk her into bed and she weakly plays hard to get for a bit, before giving in.  I don't want to sound prudish; I have no problem with these two characters carrying on a relationship based purely on physical attraction, but these exchanges are repetitive and dominate the story.  Nothing significant happens until the last two chapters.  The climax read like a spoof of the 'Scary Movie' type.  In that sense it was comedic - but I have no idea whether it was intentionally so.  The central plot starts to emerge just as the book ends, suggesting that Book 2 could actually be a better one.  I'm probably going to give it a miss though.


Reaper's Novice (Soul Collector Book 1) by Cecilia Robert

Publication date: 8th January 2013

I would give this novel full marks for the cover and I like that the setting was in Vienna (makes a refreshing change from some small town in America).  I really wanted to like it and finish it but I failed on both counts.  (It's just not for me.). I was expecting fantasy fiction but it was mostly about a teenage girl's daily routine and relationship with friends, boyfriend & family, while the paranormal plot was vague.  The author insisted on holding back in that regard, supposedly to maintain an air of mystery, but I was more frustrated than mystified and gave up in the end.

Both of the above novels are the first of a series and I suspect that this is part of the problem.  I am convinced they had the potential to be great stand-alones.  Instead, in both cases, they are in a series where the central plot is being spread thinly over several books, rendering them flimsy.  As a result they contain a lot of padding. I believe this to be an increasingly common problem with books that make up a series (independently-published or otherwise).

The Ninth Orphan (The Orphan Trilogy Book 1) by James and Lance Morcan.

Publication date: 16th June 2011

The premise is basically a cross between two TV shows of the early 00s: Dark Angel (by James Cameron and Charles Eglee) about a genetically-enhanced bunch of teens who were created to be superior soldiers/assassins and one breaks out and goes on the run, and Alias (by JJ Abrams) about an American secret agent working for SD6, who she believed to be a black ops branch of the CIA but is actually a private organisation very much like 'The Omega Agency' in this novel. Both protagonists (strong female characters) were 100 times smarter than Nine (the protagonist in this book). I have the box sets and I would prefer to watch them again than continue reading this.
My full review on GRs 

 This concludes my November 2013 Indie Author Showcase.  

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Transcend by Christine Fonseca

Publication date: 12th September 2012
Published by: Compass Press
Historical fiction for young adults

The Publisher's Synopsis
All seventeen-year-old composer Ien Montgomery desires is an escape from his family's rigid expectations for his life; someone to inspire his music. When he meets a beautiful violin-prodigy, Kiera McDougal, his life music takes on new life. With her, he imagines a future outside of his parents’ control. That is, until a horrible accident tears them apart.

Sent to die in a sanatorium, Ien’s obsession for Kiera grows unbearable. Tortured by thoughts he can’t escape and the truth of his monstrous disfigurement, he flees, desperate to exact revenge on the people that ruined his life – his parents. But, vengeance is empty. Betrayed by those closest to him, Ien discovers that the price for his happiness may be his sanity.

Set amidst the landscape of New York's Gilded Age, and inspired by Phantom of the Opera, TRANSCEND exposes the fine line between love and madness.

My Review:

Each chapter of Transcend cleverly begins with an apt quote, often taken from characters in well-known literary works or from well-known writers.  They set the scene for what is to come.

Phantom of the Opera is not a story I know well.  I had an idea - I know the main character has a facial disfigurement and lives in the shadows.  I gather there is a tragic love story, as he falls for a beautiful Prima Donna that he can never be with.  I am not sure how close this story is to the original, but as a young-adult novel it makes a refreshing read because it is so atypical.

Set in the late 19th century, Ien is the son a of wealthy couple who are at the centre of New York's elite.  'Mother' (as she is referred to throughout the book) is dominating and over-powering and he feels stifled by her restrictive rules.  Mother is very much in control of Ien's life and he is under increasing pressure to live up to both his parents' expectations.  He wants to pursue his music and they (Mother in particular) have no intention of allowing this. 

Meeting Kiera offers him a means of escape. Mother is completely against the match (naturally) and forbids him from seeing her.  This pushes Ien over the edge and he hatches a plan - if he proposes, she says yes and they elope, they can be together and he can escape his awful parents.  The plan goes horribly wrong when Ien becomes the victim of an accident that destroys his facial features, leaving him disfigured.  

His circumstances were believable; given the period and the setting, I can very much imagine that his parents could have acted the way they did.  (When after many months there is no improvement to his face, they are so embarrassed by him that they fake his death and send him off to a sanatorium.)  Knowing his parents discarded him as if he were nothing and losing the girl he loves leaves Ien tormented.  He also believes that Mother wants the nuns to put him to death (a mercy killing), which terrifies him.  He starts to have nightmares and hears the voice of his dead brother, who constantly goads and torments him. This brings back memories of his brother's death.  The circumstances of that death leaves Ien riddled with guilt.  All of this is quite an endurance and Ien's sanity begins to slip away from him.  

I found Transcend an endurance to read.  On the one hand I thought this was a good way to put the reader in Ien's shoes and the author deserves merit for this.  BUT, on the other hand, reading it was not a pleasant experience.  If I am honest, I did not enjoy this book for that reason.  I also found it overly sentimental; like reading melodrama. (I could practically hear the violins in the background.)

Other than that, Transcend is quite well-written and I realise I am virtually alone in my opinion of it being an unpleasant read, which is why I have decided to showcase it on my blog.  

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Dragon Carnivale by Heidi Garrett

Publication date: 18th June 2013
Published by:  Half-Faerie Publishing
Genre: Fantasy (YA)

I previously reviewed Nandana's Mark (Book 1) and The Flower of Isbelline (Book 2) of the series The Queen of the Realm of Faerie. The Dragon Carnivale is the third instalment.

My synopsis
I am going to attempt a summary of the plot.  I hope I understood it correctly: I admire and enjoy books with a complicated plot but sometimes I lack the ability to comprehend them fully. 

Melia and her companions are dealing with the aftermath of the events that led to the unfortunate death of Elenda, the powerful Grey Faerie.  Fortunately, Plantine failed in her attempt to incarnate Umbra and Lord Goring is dead, but there is still the threat of a war between the Dark and Light*.  The light is represented by the Albiana, the flower faeries who are the rulers of the Realm of Faerie.  They have become corrupt and evil.  The Dark is represented by Sevondi, the Dragonwitch (who appears on the cover).  Sevondi is a Muannaye (of the Muannai who are faeries who look most like humans - they are the same size as humans and don't have wings).  Sevondi is considered the most suitable successor to Elenda, as ruler of the Stronghold of Calashai, and the Muannaye are able to influence the choice of who gets to rule.  They are excited by the prospect of one of their own as the new regent. Melia and her companions agree that this would be a favourable outcome so that she can lead the fight against the Albiana.  Sevondi is not content to be sovereign.  She has ambitions to be the one who incarnates Umbra.  Melia and her companions hatch a plan to prevent this from happening by bargaining with Sevondi, agreeing to help support her as ruler of the new stronghold and convince her that together they can win the war...

My Review:
The central plot of this series is without a doubt intricate and complex.  I really enjoyed Nandana's mark but I must admit I was somewhat confused about the incarnation of Umbra and its significance. As I mentioned above, I had difficulty understanding this one, too.  I am not really sure what The Dragon Carnivale is actually about, or it's significance to the series.  If I have understood correctly, Melia and her companions are dealing with 2 major threats.  The immediate threat being the incarnation of Umbra and the other being the looming threat of war within the Whole. It isn't clear to me how the incarnation ties in with the war - or if the two are linked at all.

I don't understand how the various key characters (and their back stories) connect with these threats.  Not that it isn't clarified, just that I couldn't understand it.  Here is an example: was impossible to study the dark master (Umbra) without grasping the history of the muannai.  They'd come into being simultaneously - an evolutionary response by the Whole to rapid population growth in the Mortal World.  Soul embers could no longer be absorbed and reformed in the Great White Sea; grey faeries were no longer born.  They were simply too many embers to cool and not enough time...
Now the mortal psyche - which had gained some conciousness but did not have the cohesion to survive death and pass into the Unknown beyond - split... I appreciate some context is required to understand this.  But even though I have read the entire book, I can't work out what it means.  Is it a clue to why the most humanoid of faeries  are the only ones unable to enter The Mortal World?  What is the significance?  Why can Sevondi conjure magical dragons and what does she use them for?  Are they merely for entertainment, or can she use them as a weapon?

It seemed to me that the first third of the book was about key characters trying to obtain something crucial from other key characters.  Melia needed to find Uncle Raffles to find out how to locate her half-faerie relatives in The Mortal World (so she can warn them about the threat Umbra poses), Ryder and Flora needed to convince Sevondi to part with the Book of Umbra (so that they can get the magic bowl and sword away from the Ruadain Mountains and to the Grey Council), Sevondi needed to get the bowl and sword from Flora and Ryder (in order to incarnate Umbra).  I understand that obtaining these things are crucial in order for the story to move forward.

My interest sparked when the story moved forward ie., when Melia and Tatou find themselve in the Mortal World.  That section read really well for me.  I liked the use of description - from the surroundings to the first mortal they encounter - hinting to the reader that they are not in the present but somewhere in the past.  Even the way that the mortal boy talks suggests he is from another era. The Ford car is the strongest clue that it's the early 1920s and it is only in the next chapter that this is confirmed.  I enjoyed the mystery and the thought process of working it out.  I also liked the scene with Gabriela, her shock at being able to see Tatou and her reaction.  The trip to The Mortal World was intriguing and a joy to read but, unfortunately, this only took up about 2 chapters of the book.  I think there was the potential to develop it further.  I wanted more.

Another really good section is when Ryder realises there is a way to transport the bowl and sword to the Grey Council.  Despite the risk to his life he gives it a try.  What happens during and after his attempt was cleverly written and I found it intriguing.  It's the only part of the novel that moves into dark territory - the horrible things that happen to Ryder are quite difficult to read - but once again this sub-plot was resolved too quickly and felt rushed, which is a pity and another missed opportunity for further development in my opinion.

It seemed to me that Melia (and her companions) had a mission: the prevention of the incarnation of Umbra.  Their efforts thus far has led to several deaths (including Melia's father).  So I was surprised when she bought so easily into the idea of incarnating Umbra herself, but I went along with it.  I was however, stunned when she became angry with Ryder for being consistent in his opposition of it.  And I could not see why this would lead her to the conclusion that Ryder is deceitful and untrustworthy.  It struck me as unreasonable and unjustified.  When she sees him with Sevondi, she jumps to the conclusion that he is there by choice; that he had been conspiring with her all along.  Melia is supposed to be in love with this boy (but not enough to even attempt to give him the benefit of the doubt), so it does not occur to her that he may be there under duress.  She ignores the visible bruises he has from having been severely beaten. I would have thought it would be the first thing she'd notice, and a major cause for concern. 

Umbra, who made his presence known in the previous books, is dormant for most of this one and I wondered why.  It later transpires that he has his eyes on a new vessel, Jade, Gabriela's granddaughter - which I think sets up the plot for the next book.  Melia will have to return to The Mortal World to find her.  And when she does I don't believe a simple warning will suffice.

I realise this is a rather inadequate review; did I like it or not? I hear you asking. It is not meant to put you off.  I did not enjoy this one as much as the 1st book but I liked it more than the second, despite finding it a challenge in parts.  Challenge is good; a good book gets us thinking and asking questions, in my view.  Also, I find a re-read can help to clarify things - as things missed the first time get picked up the next time - so it's definitely one for me to read again.  My advice is give the book a try and see what you think.

*There is a section where Flora explains to Melia how light isn't always good and dark isn't always bad.  In my opinion it is a beautiful piece of writing.

Writing a novel is hard work and it is clear that a lot of thought, hard work, and dedication has gone into this series. This should not go unrecognised. Nor should Heidi's talent as a writer.

The Flower of Isbelline by Heidi Garrett

Publication date: 1 December 2012
Published by: Half-Faerie Publishing
Fantasy (YA)

The Flower of Isbelline is the second book in the series Queen of the Realm of Faerie.  I very much enjoyed the first book, Nandana’s Mark, so I looked forward to reading this one, which I received from the author in exchange for an honest review, along with the Dragon Carnivale (Book 3) - review to follow.

In my review of the first book I started by commenting on the cover.   This one has had a few cover designs and I would say the one shown here looks very much the part (i.e. the cover of a YA Fantasy novel that conveys key elements of its story). 

The story continues from the first book.  There is very little going back to summarise the events in Nandana’s Mark (which is a good thing in my view), so you would need to read book 1 to follow the story.  The main protagonist is Melia, a half-faerie (half-human), who is determined to save her younger sister, Plantine, from marrying Lord Goring who intends to do so for purely selfish reasons – to use Plantine as a vessel for incarnating Umbra, something Melia and her band of friends are determined not to let happen...

One of the problems I had with Nandana’s Mark was that I found that, in parts, it lacked clarity and was a bit confusing.  I would say that this has been addressed in book 2 since I found it much more straight-forward and therefore easier to follow.  Like the first one, there is a lot of good stuff in this book that mirrors real life.  For me the sisters (Plantine, Melia and Mellusine) are casualties of a dysfunctional family and it is mostly about that.  Here is a family that is about to come together for a wedding and you sense as it approaches that it is going to be fraught with disaster and heartache.  The problem is that, if anything, it focuses too much on the family and the wedding and reads much less like a fairy tale than the previous one.  After the wedding it does go back to being a fairy tale with the attempted incarnation of Umbra and the events that follow.

If I am going to be honest I would have to say that I was disappointed with this novel. Perhaps the problem is that I consider Nandana's Mark to be such a good debut, so  I set the bar high for this one and, for me, it did not have the same impact.Not because of the above mentioned point (the family story is very good) but because I had an issue with the writing style.  It felt rushed to me.

Characters become redundant, especially the males.  There is a big chunk of the book when some of the key characters (Tuck, Ryder and Sinjin) are out of the picture and their absence is problematic.  (It is great that the female characters are strong and heroic, but I would say the key male characters get a raw deal, and that Tuck in particular is more like a prop than a character.)

I had trouble believing the romance between Ryder and Melia.  It felt artificial and unconvincing, which left me indifferent as to whether they got together or not.

The American author, Richard Ford, once said in an interview that experience has taught him to ‘stay in a book’ for as long as is necessary and that this is a mistake that inexperienced authors make (and I say this as an inexperienced author who makes my fair share of mistakes).  I do not know how long it took Heidi to write this novel. I can only say that, to me, it reads like she should have stayed in it longer.

That said, The Flower of Isbelline still stands above most of the self-published works I have read recently. (And believe me I have read a lot of them in the past few months.)

It has an average score of 3.96 out of 5 on Goodreads, higher than Nandana's Mark, which suggests it has a lot of appeal.

I'll be reviewing The Dragon Carnivale next ...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Golden Cuckoo by Elizabeth Jasper

Publication date: 14th January 2013
Published by: Self Published
Fantasy fiction for children (9-13 yrs)

My synopsis:
Imagine a old-fashioned Swiss clock shaped like a chalet.  At the front, just below the thatched roof, is an arch-shaped little door, and just below that (above the clock's face) are two more arched doors side-by-side.  Through one door appears an old woman carrying a bunch of flowers, and through the door on the other side of her a man carrying an axe.  Through the door above them a cuckoo appears whenever the clock strikes.

This children's adventure begins when Eddie is repairing a broken clock, like the one I described above, in the presence of his older sister, Ella.  One minute he is gluing the feet of the cuckoo (so he can stick it back on the ledge of the clock) and the next he finds himself in darkness... on a ledge... inside the clock! Ella is stunned by the sudden disappearance of her brother.  Eddie understands that he is in the clock when the old woman and man appear in front of him, demanding to know where the cuckoo is.  They are mean to him and make him undress to prove it is not in his possession - which it isn't.  He realises he must have dropped it when whatever happened, happened.  Eddie is trapped in the clock being held prisoner by the old woman and man.

The story moves to Jake, a boy of about 13, who helps his mum buy and sell stuff at a car boot sale.  He wanders around the sale looking for anything of value that he can buy to sell on for a healthy profit.  Jake notices that his favourite vendour, a man he calls Fancy, is selling what looks like a doll's house in its original box.  On closer inspection he realises it is not a doll's house but a cuckoo clock and he loses interest.  Fancy is keen to sell it to him and, reluctantly after some bartering, he agrees to take it.

Later, back home while in his room with the clock, a girl about his age barges in asking for the clock back.  The girl is Ella and she is trying to get it back so she can find Eddie. Unfortunately, her dad sold it to Fancy and she has been tracking it down ever since.  She explains everything to Jake and they search for the cuckoo, which had fallen inside. Jake suggests that they repeat Eddie's actions before he disappeared - although he is not entirely convinced that Eddie is really inside the clock.  But, just in case, he says, "Don't touch the...".  Too late.  Ella and Jake both plummet into darkness and find themselves on a ledge inside the clock.....

 My review:
The Golden Cuckoo is a novella for children of pre-to-early teenage.  It is a page-turner of a read and I finished it in a matter of hours.  Jake and Ella find themselves in another world searching for Eddie and discover some shocking things going on, all orchestrated by a dark and dodgy character.  Jake and Ella's plan to rescue Eddie becomes a plan to right the wrong that is occurring.  They have the cuckoo and the more time they spend in the world, the more it seems to be changing before them.  Jake is quite the hero, facing danger and leading the way... hopefully to safety.

This novella read like a pilot to a potentially great series of fantasy novels.  It focuses more on character development, back story and the scenario than it does on drama and plot.  As a result, there are a lot of things that remain a mystery - which could potentially be solved later down the line (e.g. what is the cuckoo and why are the old woman and man so desperate to get their hands on it?). I enjoyed it so much it left me wanting more.

Since it is a page-turner and quick read, it is a great one to introduce to a child who is a reluctant reader.  

This one is part of my indie author showcase and one I consider to be a hidden treasure - the second by this author, which tells me Elizabeth Jasper is one to watch out for.