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November 23, 2016

Guest Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Truthwitch 

Author: Susan Dennard
Published On: 01/05/16
Page Count:416
Synopsis:
In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she's a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden - lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult's true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls' heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.


Overall Rating: 3.5 / 5
I found this book to be pretty interesting most of the way through, though a bit repetitive at times. It had good character development and a plot that moved along well but it still ended up taking me awhile to finish.

Cover: 3/5
The cover is very pretty and the art is well done, but it has 2 things that I strongly dislike for book covers; Quotes, and a character’s face. I really don’t like quotes from reviewers or anywhere else on book covers, and I also very much prefer to have the main characters left mostly to the imagination of the reader. Both of these things vary in importance to each reader, but I couldn’t grade the cover any higher than a 3 because of these things.

Characters: 4.5 / 5
The character development was the strongest part of this book for me. I found them to be interesting and enjoyable the whole way, with lots of depth.
Safiya: A truthwitch and one of the two main characters of the story, Safi is headstrong and confident. She complements her sister in many ways, and controls one of the most potent and rare magics / witcheries in the world.
Iseult: She is a threadwitch, and close friend / sister to Safi. She is much more timid and sort of the opposite side of the coin to Safi. I found her past very interesting and as the story develops and you learn more about her family, her character gets a lot more depth. She can see the ties that bind people to each other, and so gets to make a lot of discoveries about other characters.
Aeduan: The Bloodwitch who is chasing down the two sisters. This guy is an extremely dangerous individual who is hired to hunt down Safi and Iseult. He too has an intriguing back story, and reasons behind his actions. He starts as an obviously antagonistic character but starts to change as the story moves on.

Plot: 3.5 / 5
The plot is action packed and always has something new going on. I enjoyed the story and the world the author built around these characters. The main gripe I had with the story was what I felt was overuse of the ‘witch’ powers that seemed to govern everything in the story. If there is an element, a metal, even an idea, there is probably a ‘witchery’ for it in the story. I felt that if there was ever any need for a device to move the plot forward, a random new witch power would surface. Everything from water, wind, earth, steel, truth, thread, blood, and fire, there was someone with witch control over it. I think that limiting the use of this magic would make the story a bit more believable and relatable, and it got to be frustrating for me when a new witch was around every corner.

~Brian

November 19, 2016

Will`s First Signing in Seattle,WA

A little more than a month ago Ashley, Walt and I drove to Seattle for the final stop of the Fierce Reads Tour. We left a little before 3:30am, which I thought was overkill at the time. Ash drove until 5 or 6ish. Then Walt took over and we continued until breakfast at 7. The two of them switched off every so often for the drive. I wasn’t allowed to drive Walt’s car so I spent most of the drive sleeping. We arrived at the Hotel a bit before 5 and got some R&R before leaving for the signing at 6.

This was my first book signing, so I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. There was an unfamiliar energy in the bookstore. A mix of calm excitement and combustible excitement, the kind that threatens to overwhelm you at any moment and burst forth. However any calm would soon be gone, replaced with an outpour of vocalized joy, glee and love of the authors when they came onto the stage.


Once the authors were introduced, Ashley got called out by the moderator. Apparently she had mentioned that she drove over 10 hours and, as a reward for her dedication, was presented with some gift items. Naturally this blew any chance she had of stealthily stalking Leigh Bardugo as the moderator was standing right next to The Queen (that’s what Ashley calls Ms. Bardugo).

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The event began with a series of questions the moderator had prepared. One of my favorites was centered around how the authors wrote their books. The Queen started off by saying that she skips around. She then elaborated on how and why that process works for her. The next author to answer was Ms. Garcia. She stated that while she has an outline, she skips around in the writing process. While these two were answering, I swear Mr. Roehrig’s face was becoming more baffled. When it was his turn to answer he questioned how the other two could possibly skip around while writing; stating something along the lines of “what happens in chapter 1 directly leads to what happens in chapter 2 which leads to what happens in chapter 3.” This sparked a brilliant volley between The Queen and Ms. Garcia, and Mr. Roehrig. I wish I had the whole debate on video so that you could all see that fantastic back and forth. When the mic finally passed to the fourth and final author, Ms. Mills stated that she does a variation of skipping around. She prefers to write the “good parts first” and then “thread them together.” This sparked another round of back and forth which left Mr. Roehrig hopelessly outnumbered. It was great fun watching this series of exchanges.
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Some questions later Ms. Mills stated that the new book she is working on, which is a Young Adult Contemporary, involves role playing games (RPGs). I was caught a bit off guard by her statement, as I had not expected a video game, or the world of gamers, to come up at a book signing. As a gamer, I was very pleased to hear that an RPG was going to be referenced in a book. She said that she was shown a RPG by a friend and that “it was surprising to [her], [she] did not expect to get into that.”
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After the moderator had finished her questions she turned it over for some audience questions. While doing so she offered some prizes to the best questions as chosen by the authors. Admittedly I was only half listening to the questions as I was attempting to think of a really good question. I eventually thought of a question but we were at dinner by then. It was “If you could switch places with any book character and live their life, before, during and after the story, while retaining your personality, who would you switch with and why?” incase you were curious.

After the signing both Ashley and myself went through the line to have The Queen sign our books (they were actually both Ashley’s so I was her stealthy stalking agent) and to try at pulling the Inej card. Sadly neither of us pulled Inej. With the event wrapping up we went across the street to get some dinner before returning to the hotel.


Once at the hotel we proceeded to crash so that we could make the 13 hour (I don’t know why it was so much longer going back than getting there) drive home. We stopped on the way for Voodoo Doughnuts and they were fantastic. I specifically appreciated how they named some of their menu items. If you are ever near one I would highly recommend getting something.

Overall the trip was great. I’m not sure I could’ve asked for a better group of authors for my first book signing. I am looking forward to reading some of these author’s works, especially now that I have had a taste of their unique personalities and learned a bit about their writing processes. I hope to have the opportunity to attend more signings in the future as I definitely enjoyed this experience.

Rating:

A couple of quotes from the night I liked:

“A first draft is like an awkward first date. You’re still getting to know your characters.” - Leigh Bardugo

“No means no!” - Mikaleb Roehrig on nonlinear writing

November 16, 2016

Guest Review: We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun

We Are Still Tornadoes
Co-Authors: Michael Kun and Susan Mullen
Release Date:11/1/16
Page Count: 304 Pages
Synopsis: (Found on Goodreads)
Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends their entire lives. Cath would help Scott with his English homework, he would make her mix tapes (it's the 80's after all), and any fight they had would be forgotten over TV and cookies. But now they've graduated high school and Cath is off to college while Scott is at home pursuing his musical dreams.



Cover:4.5/5
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I honestly feel the cover fit the book nicely.  Even though you will find the true meaning of tornadoes when you read the book I felt that the tornado on the cover more symbolizes the swirling of emotions between the two main characters.  Plus what I can only assume are the two main characters holding hands is a nice touch.


Characters: 5/5
Considering this entire book is Character focussed I would have to say the authors put a lot of time and thought into them.  They made the book exciting and kept me rushing back to read more.  Since there are really only two main characters their lives are essentially the entire plot of the book.

Scott seems to act just as any young adult male would under the circumstances of the story.  He seemed extremely realistic, funny and often would rush to judgement.  Overall a well rounded character.  There were moments I was yelling at the book trying to tell Scott what he should have said to Cath.  In some ways I think that was the point.

Cath felt just as deep of a character to me as Scott did if not more.  I could almost feel what she felt while reading some of her letters in the book.  She is highly intelligent and extremely caring.  It is very cute to realize how closely she cares for her friend Scott right from the start of the book.  I did feel as though some of her reactions were a little over-the-top but they are supposed to be eighteen at the beginning of the story.

Plot: 4/5

The plot was a very predictable yet satisfying one.  You know what will likely happen in the end but the journey of how it happens keeps you going.  I especially enjoyed the way plot would jump from one letter to the next.  This kept things fresh and constantly moving forward.  Unlike some books that can leave you feeling stuck trying to complete a chapter.


Overall Thoughts: 4.5/5

I really enjoyed the style this book was written in.  The entire book is of both Scott and Cath writing letters  back and forth to each other.  For some reason this made the story seem more real and I often had to remind myself I was reading a book.  Personally I would consider this to be a YA book despite the fact it is set in the 1980’s.  This isn’t really a book focussed on a nostalgia trip but on a relationship between two young adults.  Besides the fact that there aren’t any cell phones it felt extremely similar to most modern relationships.  Most likely I will pick up this book for a second read because I enjoyed it so much.  I can only hope that this book is given the chance it deserves.  While it may not be in my top ten favorite books it is definitely a great read.
Live Long and Prosper,
Josh

October 29, 2016

Brian Review: As Old as Time by Liz Braswell

Title: As Old as Time
Author: Liz Brazwell
Published On: 9/6/2016
Page Count: 496

Synopsis:
What if Belle's mother cursed the Beast?
Belle is a lot of things: smart, resourceful, restless. She longs to escape her poor provincial town for good. She wants to explore the world, despite her father's reluctance to leave their little cottage in case Belle's mother returns--a mother she barely remembers. Belle also happens to be the captive of a terrifying, angry beast. And that is her primary concern.
But Belle touches the Beast's enchanted rose, intriguing images flood her mind--images of the mother she believed she would never see again. Stranger still, she sees that her mother is none other than the beautiful Enchantress who cursed the Beast, his castle, and all its inhabitants. Shocked and confused, Belle and the Beast must work together to unravel a dark mystery about their families that is twenty-one years in the making.

Overall Rating:  4.5/5
I haven't very many fairy tale re-tellings before, so I went into this story not really knowing what to expect aside from having seen the disney film several times. I was really blown away by how interesting the characters were and the depth that this book had to offer. I felt like I could see different parts of the story that I already knew, but was able to learn so much more about everyone and the world around them. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book, and am interested in the possibility of a sequel.

Cover: 3.5 / 5
I liked the color scheme used on this as well as the shadow of the beast not giving away all the details. I think that everyone reading this story will be superimposing all the disney characters on everyone in their minds as they're reading (or maybe its just me) but I do like the idea of trying to leave some things to the imagination. That said, I'm really not a big fan of quotations of any kind on the cover, and although the quote on this one is a major plot point and not an accolade, I still don't particularly like it.

Characters: 5/5
The characters were the best part of this story, hands down. I am a fan of disney already, and the idea of taking their characters and building off of them is interesting to me. The author was really able to add a lot of depth and intrigue to each of them, and you can really see the characters grow as the story progresses.
Belle: As the antagonist, I feel that Belle didn't have a whole lot of room to grow from where the original story had her. The author was able to fill in a few blanks, give her a strong back story, and a personality that wasn't as apparent in the film. A voracious reader who is somewhat misunderstood and enjoys the company of beasts and horses, I feel like I might know her parallel in the real world.
The Beast: I feel the Beast is opposite of Belle in that you don't really get to know him all that well in the film, but he goes through lots of changes in the story. You learn of his past and why he is the way he is, and get to see the world through his eyes occasionally. I found his character to be the most interesting.
Rosalind: Belle's mother, we mostly get to know her in the flashback parts of the story, dealing with the history of the family and the country they live in. Rosalind felt like the driving force behind the book's plot. If you remove Rosalind from the story entirely, you are left with the disney movie. She was a very interesting character that is able to show that not everything is black and white, and in dealing with people while protecting your own, there are always shades of gray.

Plot: 4/5
Not a whole lot to say, if you've seen the movie, you know the story. However the book shines in providing the details that you can't get in 2 hours in front of a screen. Getting to know everyone's past and their motivations was well worth the read. The book somewhat diminishes the light heartedness of the movie and shows you a reality where everyone really is suffering the effects of a decade long curse, which doesn't always provide a reason for singing and making jokes.

October 22, 2016

Brian Review: Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin



Title:  Spare and Found Parts
Author: Sarah Maria Griffin
Published On: 10/04/16
Page Count: 384

Synopsis: (Found on Goodreads)

Nell Crane has always been an outsider. In a city devastated by an epidemic, where survivors are all missing parts—an arm, a leg, an eye—her father is the famed scientist who created the biomechanical limbs everyone now uses. But Nell is the only one whose mechanical piece is on the inside: her heart. Since the childhood operation, she has ticked. Like a clock, like a bomb. As her community rebuilds, everyone is expected to contribute to the society’s good . . . but how can Nell live up to her father’s revolutionary idea when she has none of her own?
Then she finds a mannequin hand while salvaging on the beach—the first boy’s hand she’s ever held—and inspiration strikes. Can Nell build her own companion in a world that fears advanced technology? The deeper she sinks into this plan, the more she learns about her city—and her father, who is hiding secret experiments of his own.




Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5
I had no idea what this book was about going in. I took a look at the cover when it was handed to me and just dove in. The story I found was definitely better than I was expecting. There was a lot of symbolism and meaning in between each line, and I felt that it was able to hit an emotional level that I could really appreciate. Every character has the potential to be great and terrible, joyful and extremely depressing. After I finished, I felt better for having read it.

Cover: 3.5 / 5
Typically I am a big fan of off the wall covers, and when the cover artist tries to depict the meaning of the story through more interpretive designs. However, I felt that this book did enough of that on its own, and there was so much going on in this world that I would’ve appreciated seeing a picture of the artists take on the surroundings the characters were in for this story. A more traditional cover might have been better here, at least for me. The cover they chose was interesting, with a good idea behind the design.

Characters: 4.5 / 5
I really appreciated the depth in the characters for this story. Even characters you didn’t directly interact with often seemed to have their own unique voice.
Nell: The antagonist, and girl our story revolves around. Nell has a lot of inner turmoil and considers herself to be a step removed from everyone around her, including her closest friends. She doesn’t make much effort to fit in, which I appreciated, because it let her be herself. When she finally finds something she is passionate about she refuses to let anyone stand in her way, and does anything necessary to accomplish her goal for better or worse.
Ruby: Nell’s closest friend, Ruby is much more down to earth and approachable than Nell will ever be. She is sweet and kind, and tries to help Nell integrate with their society as much as she will allow, but knows she can only take her so far. Ruby came off as somewhat predictable, but most best friends are like that, and it didn’t detract from the story.
Julian: Nell’s father, the great biochemist / scientist / doctor. You hear a lot about how wonderful Dr. Crane is for his contributions to society, helping to replace lost limbs and parts for members of the town while he spends a majority of the story locked away in his lab. There is always a shadow of doubt, however, on the good doctor’s true intentions.

Plot: 5/5
This story has a lot of deeper meaning, in that if you read everything and take all the words at face value, you’re missing out on half of the story. I felt like it was reaching out to so many different types of people at once, and that there was a character or plot twist for everyone. The book itself can be broken down into fairly simple lines; ‘A post apocalyptic society is recovering from devastation and plague caused by artificial intelligence, watch what happens when some of the old technology is discovered and revived.’ However, there are so many layers to each character and the actions they take, I found myself re reading pages to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.


~Brian

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