Friday, September 11, 2015

Review: Spellound by Tricia Drammeh

Spellbound (Spellbringers #1) by Tricia Drammeh

I give this book a 5.

This is one of those books that sat on my TBR list for so long, not because I wasn’t interested, but because I had a feeling once I started I wouldn’t want to stop, and I was right. I’m so glad the summer afforded me the opportunity to read this book without the constant interruptions I’m used to.

Spellbound tells the story of two girls who seem to live in completely different worlds, though they reside in the same town and go to the same school. The thing that draws these to ladies together is the pleasantly invading presence of the Alexander family. One of the girls could be “the one” this magical family has been looking for while the other will alter and change their lives in ways they hadn’t expected from a mere human.

Before I go into the why I loved this book, and I totally did, I just want to say that this author is amazing. I’d read her blog a bit before, but never really followed her writing; what a mistake. Her attention to detail and her respect for the diversity of her characters empowers me to be bolder in my own writing. She’s now one of my favorite authors and I’ll probably start stalking her a bit…Now back to the book.

Obviously from my last statement, you can surmise that the characters of this book are well-developed and likable. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you know that YA is a struggle for me in general because of all the teen antics. This book was no different, but for some reason, I grew to like these characters and quickly got over there teen drama, especially when they started to face real physical and life altering threats.

I like the way the setting aids the story. It takes place in a small town, but the world travels of the Alexander family plays a role in their daily lives. It’s sometimes easy to think that whatever is happening in the story will only affect their little town, but when characters star “popping up” out of the blue from around the world, it really puts matters into a global perspective.

I don’t usually go into too much detail about specific characters in my reviews, but I knew from the start I’d like Bryce, even if he didn’t start out in the best light and wasn’t around much. The descriptions of all the pretty people in this book had me shaking my head and remembering a few good times from high school when I dated basketball players. Ah, youth.

Then there’s the magical element of the story that goes beyond the surface. In this story, magic isn’t a separate entity that affects the character’s world; it’s part of their culture. There is a gray matter that I have been unable to clarify in the use of magic within this story, but I’m hoping the next two books (which I’ve already purchased) will straighten it all up. There are clear good guys and bad guys in the first story, but there’s foreshadowing that implies some characters and events will be more about picking sides than being right and wrong. Plus the ancestors of those with magic all seem to come from the same “people” but are dark and some are light…I can wait to read more.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes YA and or Fantasy and even a few who don’t. Anyone who appreciates cultural diversity in fiction will also appreciate this book, even if they’re not big into fantasy.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this ebook in exchange for my honest opinion, which has in no way affected the rating of this piece.

This review has been posted to GoodReads and The ToiBox of Words blog. If you’d like to obtain a copy of this book, try this link: Amazon.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you like it let me know and share it with others. See you next time, Toi Thomas. #thetoiboxofwords #indieloveapc

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Riddle by Elizabeth Newton

Genre: Romance Thriller
Overall Rating: 4 stars
Editing and Proofreading: 3/5
Linguistics and Stylistics: 4/5
Plot Development: 4/5
Plot Pacing: 4/5
Character Development: 6/5
Rating: 18+ for profanity, violence, and sexual situations
If you interview every inmate in any given prison, I would estimate that nine out of ten would tell you they were innocent, they were framed, that evidence was planted, that the defense lawyer was incompetent, and on and on. While no one believes that this many people are wrongfully convicted, it does occasionally happen. In Riddle by Elizabeth N. Newton, Kort, a twenty-ish man of Native American origin, is returning to his home town of Riddle (in an unnamed state but hinted to be Nebraska) after serving eight years for manslaughter. He had been wrongfully convicted of killing his girlfriend Desiree when they were teenagers. Having accepted his life circumstances and determined to move on, Kort immediately sets out to put the past behind him by getting a job and trying to stay out of trouble, knowing that any attempts to clear his name would be useless. When a beautiful drifter named Grace’s car breaks down in Riddle, leaving her stranded, the two immediately strike up a friendship, which quickly leads to a romance, and she encourages him to do all he can to prove his innocence. Unfortunately, neither of them can enjoy any peace due to the constant harassment and stalking by folks in town who, well, I’ll just say have their own reasons to stalk and harass. It’s only when a gruesome death occurs that Kort snaps out of his denial and realizes just how far some people in Riddle will go to get their revenge and satisfy their own agendas.
None of these reasons have to do with Kort’s heritage. In the opening scene, Kort experiences a juvenile racist taunt, and the first couple of chapters will have you believe that Kort was set up because he was the only native American in town. Indeed, Kort believes that this was one of the reasons he was accused of the murder: a close-minded, racist town wanted rid of its only Native American inhabitant (and for the record, I am Cherokee and have never experienced any anti-Native sentiments. I’m not saying or implying that prejudices don’t exist, and in her introduction, Mrs. Newton informs the reader that before Congress passed legislation outlawing it, Native American children were routinely forcibly removed from their families in an attempt to “civilize” them. I was not aware of this before. In this novel, it’s not clear why the inhabitants of Riddle are specifically prejudiced against Native Americans but no other race). However, Kort’s ethnicity is barely mentioned after this scene. He was the last person seen with Desiree before her death, he had had brushes with the law in the past, he had a very strong potential motive (which I won’t give away here), there was DNA evidence linking him to the crime scene and the struggle, and Kort himself confessed that he and Desiree had an argument right before her death. It seems pretty reasonable to me that he would be convicted of her murder and that people would be uncomfortable in his presence. However, I can understand Kort’s frustration at the injustice. For the town pariah, Kort has a lot of supporters: his new boss, Frank; his friend Jack, who runs the diner; his parole officer, Jeri; even the detective who investigated the murder who had his doubts from the beginning. He never appears to have any shortage of company.The other characters are superbly developed and you feel for them (even the bad guys). Kort’s relationship with his adoptive mother changes profoundly over the course of the novel, and these changes make a great subplot.
The best part of the book is the blooming romance between Kort and Grace, the ultimate “us against the world” couple who are determined to beat the odds, overcome their past (Grace has more baggage than an airport carousel but still manages to remain strong, independent, and self-confident. I wish I could pull her out the novel just so I can have a conversation with her), and make a new life for themselves. I would love to see a sequel to this book just to know how things for them turned out.
Riddle is not a “whodunit” murder mystery. It becomes clear fairly quickly who really should have been in prison for the murder. The real suspense comes from the inter-character drama. The novel uses a sequence of shocking scenes rather than plot twists to create its suspense. The ending, while thoroughly satisfying and has its own shocking scene, contains no major surprises. It’s like being in a movie theater, watching a slasher film, and watching someone walk into a room where you (the viewer) know a killer is hiding, It’s a little tough not to shout “don’t go in there!” Riddle is more of a drop tower than a roller coaster; you will float merrily along and then suddenly a bombshell is dropped.
Riddle does get repetitive at times. It seems that in every chapters, someone is apologizing, making sure someone is ok, or “has a bad feeling” about something. In the grand scheme of the novel, though, this is not that big of a deal. Nor is this an error per se; excessive repetition just happens to be a personal pet peeve of mine, and that’s not the author’s fault. Riddle can also benefit from a quick re-edit to fix some punctuation errors and typos, and from a reformatting. But please don’t let this discourage you from buying this treat of a book. These are things that are easily fixable and probably will be in a short time, and even if they’re not, Riddle is still an amazing read.
To check it out:

Transitory by Ian Williams

Genre: Science Fiction and Thriller
Overall Rating: 5 stars
Editing and Proofing: 5/5
Linguistics and Stylistics: 4.5/5
Plot Development: 5/5
Plot Pacing: 4.5/5
Character Development: 5/5
If I asked some people where they would like to go for their next vacation, people may name places like Hawaii, Italy, Florida, Tahiti, or any number of places. No one would say ‘to a faraway planet where I can visit my past memories.’ The concept of easy travel between Earth and other planets is strange to us, but in Transitory, Ian Williams makes it seem like an everyday occurrence, as simple as a commute to and from work.
Transitory tells the story of Nathan Maddox, CEO of a mining company that searches space for new mines. He and his coworker Helen attend a festival on another planet where people can travel back and revisit old memories. While Nate partakes in the festivities, with a bodyguard named Cameron and a guide named L’Armin in tow, Helen stays behind. When Nate’s view of his most precious memories are marred by a mysterious intruder, Nate realizes that he has become a target for an intergalactic assassination attempt. Even worse, he suspects that someone he has trusted his whole life is behind the plan to take his life. Nate realizes that he must stop the mysterious would-be assassin before he dies in his past memories on another planet (where would THAT funeral be held?).
Ian’s ability to effectively use language to describe, characterize, and narrate is superb. Although the esoteric descriptions can slow down reading at times, they in no way distract from the enjoyment of the story. Ian is highly skilled at narrating a scene to make the reader as if he or she is actually experiencing the events him- or herself. The characters are far from flat. They are very well-characterized to the point where you feel you know them personally; Nate can be your coworker or your drinking buddy. My personal favorite character is L’Armin, whose duties as host and tour guide do not stop him from challenging Nate’s long-held beliefs, drilled into him since childhood by his relentlessly ambitious, workaholic father.
L’Armin gives Nate several points to consider. The first is exploiting others for personal gain and profit. When Nate mentions to L’Armin that his company mines space rocks and actively seeks out new sources, L’Armin, whose race had once been enslaved, L’Armin clearly expresses his disapproval. Another is respect for other cultures and races, even if they are from another planet. In one unforgettable scene, L’Armin takes Nate and Helen to visit what was once the home land of L’Armin’s race. Nate is shocked at the sight of the deserted wasteland that was once his friend’s home.
Another theme that recurs throughout the story is trust versus betrayal. By the end of his journey through his past memories, Nate is so confused that doesn’t know whom to trust, and even briefly believes Helen is behind the plot. The interaction (apparently peaceful) between humans and aliens sends a strong social message of peace and tolerance.
I first read Transitory almost a year ago (this post has been transferred from another blog site) and it is still one of my science fiction favorites. Check it out today.
To check out Transitory at the Amazon store:

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

No Motive for Murder by Doug Hantke

Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
Editing/Proofreading: 3/5
Stylistics/Linguistics: 3/5
Plot Development: 4/5
Plot Pacing: 5/5
Character Development: 3/5
Rating: 18+ for violence, profanity, and sexual scenes
Please allow me to start by saying that No Motive for Murder is so thrilling and addictive that I devoured the whole thing in one day. Although in terms of writing it has some serious flaws (which I’ll address momentarily), the story line is so engrossing that I have to recommend it anyways. Having previously read Fitness Guru, I am familiar enough with Hantke’s methods that i just knew there would be plenty of plot twists and a shock-you-to-your-core ending. I think this book is like one of those overplayed, earworm-inducing songs that you blast at full volume when you’re driving alone: it’s awesomely bad.
The story follows Dr. Gary Schaade, a psychologist famous for his books on serial killers. He is interested in how a serial killer’s mind work, but repeated interviews with death row inmates have as of yet failed to lead him to the holy-grail solution. While reading, one thinks that he doesn’t really want to find a solution so much as he wants fresh material for his research and his bestselling books. Gary continuously receives recorded “confessions” from people claiming to be serial killers, but most he is able to dismiss as fakes from wannabes seeking fifteen minutes of fame. When he gets a recording from someone calling himself Michael, he has his doubts, but when the confessions become more personal, Gary faces a moral dilemma: is he willing to be an accessory to murder and jeopardize the safety of those around him for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to establish a connection with a real serial killer (who is clearly obsessed with Gary and desires nothing more than to be one of his research subjects)?
The subplot of Gary’s hanging-by-a-thread marriage to his wife, Sharon, was somewhat of a distraction. Although it does later become important to the plot, I feel Hantke could have achieved the same ending without having every slight provocation turn into an all-out screaming match. After a while, it’s like “We get it. They can barely stand each other. How many times do they have to call each other horrible names?” However, in their inner dialogue it is clear that the two still have feelings for each other and aren’t quite ready to give up. Things turn complicated when both are tempted by attractive acquaintances.The main plot contains rollercoaster-thrilling twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat, which is capped off by a superb ending. I do wish Hantke hadn’t relied so much on wild coincidences (identical vehicles, another person wearing the same clothing, a car accident involving the same person at the same intersection, etc.); I know he can do better than that.
Some of the characters rubbed me the wrong way and were developed inconsistently. Gary comes across as being as soulless and callous as the serial killers he studies. He seems to have little concern for his clients, and although he claims to adore his wife, he makes almost no attempt to save their marriage or try to see things from her perspective. The reader can see he gets a thrill from Michael’s confessions (including one where Michael described killing a homeless burn victim that he was falling in love with, and another where he spiked a classmate’s drink with sedatives for no other reason than the amusement of another classmate. The reader soon gets the distinct impression that Michael’s sole purpose is to screw with Gary’s mind), but is sickened and traumatized after witnessing a fatal car accident. And the story hints that part of the reason for the tension between him and Sharon was their childlessness. Gary doesn’t seem to being overly eager to be a father, but fantasizes a happy marriage with a promiscuous client who wants a husband solely for the purpose of having a child and seems to have no problem being a homewrecker. Sharon, for her part, is not much better.She comes across as immature and temperamental, making the reader glad she IS childless. It’s just hard to feel any sympathy for any of the characters.
There are editorial errors sprinkled throughout, as well as lots of awkward wording. They aren’t blatant, but there are enough of them that I would suggest that Hantke do another round of copy-editing.With some editorial corrections, plot and characterizations adjustments, No Motive for Murder could be a masterpiece. My suggestion to the author is to do another round of editing, and my suggestion to the reader is to ignore aforementioned flaws and just dig into the story. Even if he doesn’t, I for one will still continue to read anything he writes. Just like I will continue to crank up the Macarena when it comes on the radio.
To check it out:
To check out Fitness Guru: