Book #26 of 2016: The Summoned King by Dave Neuendor

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Indiana high school senior James Madison Young falls asleep while studying at the library. He wakes to find himself in another world, filled with magic, danger and romance. He has been summoned by court wizard Maynard to be the king of Kalymbria. Forced into marriage with the beautiful and magically powerful yet untrained Julia Roper for his queen, he must restore the lapsed Constitution in the face of opposition from a hostile Council of Advisors, and defend his new country from the evil machinations of the wizard Ruinga and her allied kingdom of Venicka. Rediscovering the lost art of enchantment may provide him with a powerful edge in his quest, if he can survive the assassins and conspiracies arrayed against him.

I received this book from the author for an honest review.

I don’t like giving low or upsetting reviews and I really wanted to like this book. However, I didn’t. It wasn’t because of the Christian YA Fantasy genre and it wasn’t the politics. It was the writing that pulled me away. Let me start with what I disliked and then go into what I did like.

The first thing that pulled me away was the way the book was written. The dialogue had no indications as to who was talking when. There were times I was confused to who was talking and had to guess by using the context clues. A good way to describe it is like this (not direct quotes):

I looked at her.

“Surely, you like yourself.”

“Not really. There’s only so much to like. I am plain, unhappy, and my stomach does this strange thing when I drink milk.”

“Maybe you’re just lactose intolerant. My mother is lactose intolerant. It’s very uncomfortable for her when we want to go to Dairy Queen.”

Do you see what I mean? Sure, this is easy to figure out who is talking, but in the context of the book, not so much. It also makes knowing how the characters are feeling during their conversations difficult. The lack of indicators prevented me from seeing the characters in action and their emotions. They came across as monotone which in turn made the story feel very boring.

I also didn’t care for the lack of character development. The main character and narrator, Jim, seems to have a solid base or at least some basic knowledge about all sorts of things. He isn’t a typical teenager let alone a typical teenage boy. He knows Krav Maga, he has Kindle books on inventions and how to make an electrical source for charging his devices, he has political books in his Kindle… he even has a roll (granted a single roll) of toilet paper. I wish there were more issues about him emotionally or freaking out. He took being King to another world very well. Though he did miss his family, I didn’t see it. There were no tears being shed at night or emotional outbursts of wanting his mommy (which I know I would have done).

From these alone, I didn’t like the book. I was bored. For me, the book felt like a first or second draft. There could have been more imagery. What made this world different from ours aside from the politics? What are the animals like? Little things like that make a world believable. The cultures seemed pretty basic and something from a textbook. There wasn’t something that grabbed me about their uniqueness.

That said, there were things I liked.

I love politics in books. I find them intriguing and a great format for causing conflict. Neuendorf does do that in this book. The politics are all about corruption. Another thing I found interesting is the direct comparison to the American government today. The Council of Advisors instantly made me think of Congress today. Basically, the Kalymbrian king is appointed (like the POTUS). The Council (our Congress) have a hereditary ascension. Yes, Congress does not have that, however it is difficult for a Congress member to leave unless the people vote for the opposing person. There is no time limit to their office position.

I don’t know if Neuendorf planned that, but I found it clever. I also found Jim’s reasonings to be clever. Even if I also feel that it doesn’t reflect a typical teenager. Again, I just wish there was more development about him to help me believe that.

The one thing I was really worried about was the Christian outlook to the book. I’m not Christian. In fact, I am what I consider a Gnostic Pagan. I believe in the teachings and a God, just that I don’t believe Christ was God. I believe he was a person and a person cannot be God. I also have nature based Pagan beliefs. As you can imagine, I was worried.

I had nothing to worry about. Though Christ is an important figure to Jim, his morals and beliefs being important motivators, he wasn’t one to instantly try conversion. Yes, he had some moments of verbal diaherra, but I took that as a modern person’s viewpoints in a medieval world. Even I would have said that the people were backwards. The Christianity in the book is not a direct conversion. Neuendorf isn’t trying to convert in his book. He is trying to show a world and give a solution through a knowledgeable character and their personal beliefs.

I was by no means offended or scared into a belief system I don’t follow. For that, the book is open minded and I do say that if you can work past what I disliked and you aren’t Christian, this is still a fantasy you could read. In fact, I wouldn’t mind trying again if Neuendorf decided to revisit his work and expanded on it. It has great potential. It’s just that right now, I don’t care for it and I don’t feel it is a completed piece.

Book #25 of 2016: Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbol

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From the New York Times bestselling coauthor of The Boy in the Suitcase, a gripping historical thriller and poignant coming-of-age story set in nineteenth-century France.

Madeleine Karno is an ambitious young woman eager to shatter the confines of her provincial French town. Driven and strong headed, Madeleine is set apart by her unusual occupation: assisting her father, Dr. Albert Karno, in his job as a forensic doctor.

The year is 1894, and a young girl is found dead on the snowy streets of Varbourg. Dr. Karno is called in to determine the cause of her death, but before he can examine the body, the girl’s family forbids the autopsy from taking place. The only anomaly he manages to find is in the form of a mite in her nostril. Shortly after, several other dead bodies are discovered throughout the city, and Madeleine, her father, and the city commissioner must use the new science of forensic evidence to solve the mysterious cases before they all become the next victims of a deadly disease – or of a heinous murderer.

 I found this book through my library’s eaudio system. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I love listening to books. I do it in the car and when I’m doing chores. It keeps me awake during those god awful hours of driving and it keeps me going during the boring labor.

I really liked this book. The mystery kept me thinking of different things and I didn’t realize who the killer was until near the very end. The book isn’t police procedural, but could be considered as such for the time period it is set in. I found the book to be more about mankind and the struggle for freedom of all sorts.

Madeleine Karno, our heroine and narrator, is an intellectual. She would rather look inside a microscope and draw out her specimens than to draw out sceneries. Instead of needlepoint, she would rather use that needle and thread to sew up a person. Miss Karno is a woman above her time. She values logic over love and finds her phyiscal needs to be distracting and almost debilitating. Despite this, she is a feminine woman. She is strong and the circumstances of the mystery is what gives her that nudge into acceptance in the scientific field.

Well… almost acceptance. At least to a point where she may have her father allowing her new passion. She may not have the acceptance from the greater public though.

This fight of nature and nuture combined with feminine and masculine is seen throughout the book. I could probably write a mini essay on how this book is not only the beginnings of a feminist movement, but also solidifies the idea that both genders are equally strong even in their weaknesses.

Okay, the writing is good. Which is a must because so much could have been lost in translation, but I didn’t feel like it was. I was pulled into the scenes and I was seeing what Karno and others were seeing. I was experiencing the passion of the young girl who started it all. I could see the motivations of the killer, though I feel that there is clear mental stability issues. I was upset to see that the second book wasn’t translated in English yet.

If anyone knows when or how I can find out, please tell me!

In all, the book feels like what I’d suspect the time period felt like for a woman who wanted more than to be barefoot and pregnant. Actually, it hit home even for me today in that regard. The mystery was good and made me cringe at the ideas that had popped in my head (so glad it wasn’t the case). I would recommend it.

Book #24 of 2016: Magic of Worlds by Lexi Ostrow

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Alcott was a Guardian that failed to be everything his Word Speaker needed and it got him cast out of her world. Anger and betrayal pushed him over the edge. Rather than behaving like the good witch he was, he put up a fight. He struck a bargain with a virtual God to remain outside his book so he could not only train to be the best Guardian, but hand pick his next Word Speaker.

Kellie loved living in New Orleans; the city fostered everything magical and it allowed her to safely be who she wanted to be and allowed her imagination to soar. Despite being immersed in magic herself, she isn’t prepared when a man appears out of the blue and tells her she’s a Word Speaker destined to pull life from books and fight in a war. In love with magic being real, she embraces her destiny with open arms, even if Alcott doesn’t appear as interested in her.

When Alcott picks Kellie their connection rocks through them both quickly and like a storm. The pair have no problems adjusting to one another and learning what it takes to be the best force the side of good might have in the upcoming war. But when the dark side takes fate into its own hands, the pairs connection and powers will be put to the test. If they’re going to survive they must decide if what they have is strong enough to bring to life.

I received a copy of this book from the author, Lexi Ostrow, in exchange for an honest review.

Magic of Worlds is the third book in the Guardians series written by Lexi Ostrow. Ostrow constructs a world that every bibliophile has wished could happen: there is a small group of people with the ability to bring to life a fictional character. They can obtain powers the character has in order to fight in an epic war of good versus evil. The Word Speaker and Guardian have to be close, most often intimately, in order to keep their bond strong. At the age of twenty-seven, the Guardian is no longer a fictional character, but a real person.

If that doesn’t make you wish you had this ability while reading about that book boyfriend or girlfriend, there is something wrong with you. Because, for me, there are quite a few fictional men I wish were walking around with me. Like Henry from The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Now that I gave that little bit of info, I would say that this book wasn’t my favorite in the series. That isn’t to say that it was bad. The writing is up to par with the rest of the series, the story is still good, and I do want to see more of what happens in this world. You do learn a bit more about Trench Coat guy as well as see the beginnings of the war. I just didn’t feel as strong about this book as I did with the others.

Alcott is a decent character. He’s loyal and a passionate character. However, his way with words is a bit lacking. I don’t see that as a bad thing about him. It gives him some kind of personality. He even saw the times he was kicking his own ass for his foot in his mouth.

I liked Kellie more. She has deep rooted insecurities, but she holds her own in stressful situations. I could understand her feelings about Alcott’s constant talking about Ciara. It made it feel like he was comparing them, and maybe at first he was. I can relate to that and the pain it causes.

The story was a bit slow even though in the background you know people are being killed left and right. There is a good fight scene and the climax for Kellie did have me flipping the pages fast. However, I still feel that it was a bit slow and not a lot of drama. Not that every relationship needs drama. It was nice there was only a bit of relationship drama. I was just wanting more Word Speaker war drama. I feel I only got a taste.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad story. I still love Ostrow’s works and how she can pull you into a world. I just didn’t like this book as much as her others. Still a solid piece though!

Book #23 of 2016: Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale by David Kudler

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Can one girl win a war?
My name is Kano Murasaki, but most people call me Risuko. Squirrel.
I am from Serenity Province, though I was not born there.
My nation has been at war for a hundred years, Serenity is under attack, my family is in disgrace, but some people think that I can bring victory. That I can be a very special kind of woman.
All I want to do is climb.
My name is Kano Murasaki, but everyone calls me Squirrel.

Risuko.
Though Japan has been devastated by a century of civil war, Risuko just wants to climb trees. Growing up far from the battlefields and court intrigues, the fatherless girl finds herself pulled into a plot that may reunite Japan — or may destroy it. She is torn from her home and what is left of her family, but finds new friends at a school that may not be what it seems.
Magical but historical, Risuko follows her along the first dangerous steps to discovering who she truly is.
Kano Murasaki, called Risuko (Squirrel) is a young, fatherless girl, more comfortable climbing trees than down on the ground. Yet she finds herself enmeshed in a game where the board is the whole nation of Japan, where the pieces are armies, moved by scheming lords, and a single girl couldn’t possibly have the power to change the outcome. Or could she?
Historical adventure fiction appropriate for young adult and middle-grade readers.

I received an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) through NetGalley for an honest review. I have not been compensated in any way.

Can I just start this out with: I LOVE THE COVER. It has that old world feel and tells you exactly what to expect. If you don’t know what/who a Kunoichi is, you would know that it has to be a badass woman. On top of that, the blossoms on the tree branches and the old parchment look of the cover screams Asian influence (as if the title didn’t already tell you that).

I love Japanese history. There is something intriguing and emotional about the feudal times. It feels almost magical to me versus the sickly feel the Western world emulates in the same time period. It might be because my dad introduced me to what little Japanese culture movies could give. It might be because I want to understand some kind of Eastern culture (having Filippino in the blood, I thirst for some kind of Asian connection). Sure, I’m not Japanese, but the culture and the artwork is beautiful.

Okay, now that’s out of the way, I would have to say that I was unsure about Risuko. The book is a quick read and it does follow a YA, leaning more towards MG, dynamic. The writing is beautiful and I did latch on quickly. The book is not a long read. It is quick and does have some excitement.

That said, the characters didn’t grab me at first. It was the world, the culture, and the way the writing was that kept me reading. The characters are interesting, but I wasn’t emotionally invested in them. Not completely. Near the end (about 80% in) I wasn’t flipping my epages quick enough.

I didn’t know how I felt about Risuko at first. She seemed to just flow with her circumstances without standing on her own two feet. It’s not until she makes the connection, a revelation that the reader knows pretty quickly, that she starts to have a stance. I’m not saying she’s dumb. It’s more like Risuko chose to be blind with the clues she was given. She wasn’t ready to see what she was going to be a part of. Not until the people she cared about were in trouble.

The book was easy to figure out. I pegged the main antagonist very quickly. However, that didn’t deter me from the book. It was more like I was thinking what I would do if I was writing the book. The clues Kudler gives the reader, and Risuko, are well thought out. I just figured it out quickly.

Will I read the sequel? Yes. I have started to really like Risuko and her fellows. Their personalities are so very different and given their joined history, it makes me wonder if they would be great friends as I imagine. The world is interesting and I would love to read more. I just hope that one day they would meet up with a blind swordsman one day (if you don’t know who I refer to, Ichi is a blind swordsman and a popular character in some movies.).

Book #22 of 2016: Cutting Edge by Allison Brennan

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A RADICAL WAY TO DIE

When security specialist Duke Rogan’s state-of-the-art computer system fails at a controversial bio-tech firm, a raging inferno spreads, and a grotesquely charred body is discovered in the aftermath. With an extremist anti-technology group claiming responsibility, the case grows even more complex when the victim’s autopsy unexpectedly reveals that he bled to death. Heading the FBI’s domestic terrorism unit, Agent Nora English is fiercely determined to track and stop a sadistic assassin.

Cutting Edge is the third book in the FBI trilogy by Allison Brennan. A suspense romance, the book deals with crime and has romantic elements.

I actually liked this book somewhere between the first and second. It had centered on a different world in the law (same world in the series, I just mean that the initial type of crime isn’t usually seen). Usually, you see a crazy psychopath serial killer and the law goes after them. Though this book did have a psychopath, the initial crime is domestic terrorism under the guise of environmental protest. It was interesting to see that type of world. You would think it was only a 60’s thing, but really there are still groups like that. You just don’t see it in suspense romance as much.

The up for the romance in the book is that the hero and heroine know each other. They have worked with each other before and Duke Rogan has pursued Nora quite a few times. It is her own insecurities and walls that prevent them to be together. That is, until someone Duke knows is found dead in a fire.

Duke is a great male lead. He’s protective, loving, but still holds that Alpha male aspect we see in many romances. Not to mention, he’s an attractive man. Nora, is just as protective and loving. She may be a bit on the softer side for a strong female role, but I find that it strengthens the idea that strong women have to hide their emotions. The fact that she can be emotional, but still gets the job done, shows a bigger strength than a heroine who is whiny and lets the man do it or is completely against her emotions. As an emotional woman, I find her to be a great model.

So far, I find Allison Brennan a great author and I will be going to read more of her books. There is another trilogy that features some of the supporting characters in the FBI trilogy and there is a full series with Sean Rogan (who I love as much as his big brother Duke). So, yeah, I’ll be reading more of her.

Book #21 of 2016: A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund

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The only thing harder than fighting for what’s right…is fighting their feelings for each other.

For three years, the Cloaked Bandit has terrorized Wessex, robbing the nobility by knifepoint and a well-placed arrow. But little dos anyone know, this bandit is in fact Juliana Wessex, the rightful ruler of the land and a girl her tyrannical uncle—the current Lord Wessex—believes was killed along with her father.

Juliana has become skilled at hiding from Lord Wessex in the forest, using her stolen goods to provide food and shelter to the peasants her uncle has taxed into poverty. But when she robs Collin Goodrich, her red hair betrays her true identity. Lord Collin remembers Juliana from their childhood—and challenges her to stay on his estate for a week in hopes she will leave her thieving ways and become a proper lady once more. Juliana is intrigued by Collin and his charms, but only time will tell if he can overcome her distaste of the nobility—as well as win her heart.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review. I was not compensated except for the enjoyment of the book.

A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund is a historical romance that has a female Robin Hood as the heroine and a Lord as the hero. It is the second book in a series of historical romances, but you don’t have to read the first book to get into the story. From what I understand, each book in the series centers on different couples, but is in the same time period and some of the characters may know each other.

This book was a quick read. I was pulled into it fast and finished it fast. The female lead, Juliana is a passionate woman. She tries so hard to take care of the people she has grown to love since her father’s death. No matter how hard her life is, she keeps fighting and tries to find a way to help. She is stubborn, sacrificial, and a cocky character.

That may sound bad, but I loved her. The bad parts of her personality only make her more interesting. I wasn’t wanting to throttle her. I feel that if she, or Collin (the male lead and a male version of her), were real people, I’d be having a blast with them. They are inspiring despite their very human issues.

The story was more about their relationship and how the worlds they know don’t clash as Juliana originally believes. The growing love is believeable and does take some time, like a real relationship. The more political side of the story is interesting, but the book doesn’t center on it. It is resolved in the end, but the politics isn’t the focus.

All in all, the book was a fun read. I enjoyed the growing romance and bantering between Collin and Juliana. It was a quick and enjoyable read. I’m even thinking about reading more of Hedlund’s work.

Book #20 of 2016: Tales From the Universe by Various Authors

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Ten new voices in the world of science fiction cast their minds open wide and bring forth visions of tomorrow. Science fiction stories that deal with love, and fear, hope and despair, the ugliness of mankind and its beauty. Tales that reach to the farthest edge of the galaxy, and that face startling futures right here on Earth. These ten stories deal with artificial intelligences, cloning, aliens, war, peace and humanity’s place in it all. We give you Tales From The Universe.

I received a copy of this book from one of the authors for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way.

Tales From the Universe is the second anthology from Inklings Press that I have reviewed and read. There are a few science fiction based books I have liked. I’m beginning to like science fiction more and it might be because of my own Doctor Who love.

In fact, one of the stories in this anthology reminded me of a Doctor Who episode. It had cloning and fighting. It reminded me of the episode The Doctor’s Daughter, but the cloning and war mentality are the only similarities. I just liked that it made me think of my favorite show.

The first story is going to throw you off. It threw me off. It isn’t a typical science fiction, but it definitely makes you think. Once you get past the fact that science is a religion and religion is fact, the story definitely made me pause and wonder. It poses some questions that aren’t addressed too often. Yes, science fiction does that in general, but instead of the typical “should man play god” it questioned my basis of reality.

All in all, the anthology had some good stories. There were a few more I enjoyed, but I think you should read it if you like sci-fi anthologies. I would have liked it better if some stories were longer, but I still liked the book.