Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Caution is a Virtue: A Review of Veiled Threats

Veiled Threats by Melissa Erin Jackson book cover. Image on cover shows two teens wearing tshirts and jeans smiling slightly as they lean up against each other. There is a light green circle glowing behind them. Title: Veiled Threats

Author: Erin Jackson

Publisher: Ringtail Press (Self-Published)

Publication Date: February 9, 2022

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Contemporary

Length: 74 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

 

This is a short prequel story that takes place before Diabolical Sword, book 1 in The Charm Collector urban fantasy series.

Camila Fletcher has made a career out of finding missing people. Despite being a full-blooded human, she’s often contacted by members of the fae population hiding amongst mundanes. When a young fae girl asks for help finding her sister, Camila is thrust into an investigation that involves much more than one missing girl …

Review:

Content Warning: kidnapping of a human child, pregnancy, and one brief, mildly bloody scene that included a dead chicken. I will not discuss any of these topics in my review.

Critical thinking is just as important as any spell or weapon.

Camila was a warm and likeable protagonist. She was the sort of person I’d love to meet in real life because of how kind she was, although I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover all of the little things she did when she thought no one was looking that made her so endearing. I also appreciated how much common sense she had. She thought carefully about every move she made beforehand and always had a backup plan in case something went awry. There are plenty of fantasy stories out there about characters who rush into situations without thinking about what they’re doing, so it was nice to meet one who broke that mould.

It would have been nice to have a little more world building in this tale. While I wouldn’t expect it to go into as much detail about how The Collective operates or why some humans are aware of the magical societies that overlap human ones, it sure would have been helpful to have a little more information about these topics as I was getting to know Camila and her husband Nelson. As interested as I was in the characters and plot, there were a few times when I was confused about how the human and magical societies intersected and whether average folks were aware of the various non-human species walking amongst them.

This novella has a wry, subtle sense of humour that I truly enjoyed. One of the best examples of it that I can share in this review without giving away too many spoilers had to do with Camila’s suspicious reaction to a handsome and mysterious teenage boy who had won the hearts of many of the other students at his high school. She knew immediately that there was something strange about him, and she wasn’t shy about voicing her opinions of the romantic feelings he stirred up in teenagers. That’s really all I can say about that interaction, but it made me chuckle and want to read more.

Veiled Threats piqued my curiosity.

Dreaming of Happily Ever After: A Review of Somewhere in Time

Somewhere in Time by Fizza Younis book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a sun and stars superimposed on an actual photo of the night sky that has a few hazy clouds (or maybe galaxies?) floating through it. Title: Somewhere in Time

Author: Fizza Younis

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 31, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 34 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

It’s a fairy tale retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty, set between the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, the story has a darker paranormal twist, and no happily-ever-after within sight. But what the future holds for our beloved characters, Aurora and Prince Phillip, is yet to be determined.

Review:

Content Warning: mafia, murder, suicide, and a brief mention of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Get ready for a wild ride.

This tale was a delightful mixture of topics I’d never think to include in the same storyline like the mafia, the Covid-19 pandemic, and Sleeping Beauty. I admire authors who are willing to take risks like this with their writing. It makes for an exciting reading experience for those of us who are well-versed in the fantasy genre and who can be difficult to surprise. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for what Ms. Younis writes next, although I won’t try to guess where her vivid and playful imagination might wander.

Fairy tales don’t have to explain everything, of course, but I found myself wishing this one had gone into more details about how the magic works in this world. For example, the reason why Aurora fell into her deep sleep never made sense to me. I could accept the magical veil that protected her and her stately home while she slept, but it sure would have been nice to know why this spell existed in the first place and under what conditions she might wake up. There were so many other changes to the classic Sleeping Beauty story in this retelling that I didn’t think I should make any assumptions about who or what might have caused these magical events. If the author had been clearer about this, I would have happily chosen a higher rating.

The ending made me yearn for more. I wanted to know how Aurora adjusted to the world after her long nap and what she was planning to do with the rest of her life. Given that this was a fairy tale, though, it did make sense to stop at that moment. Princesses have nearly always been traditionally been described as living happily ever after, and I’m hoping the same can be said about heiresses who wake up in the modern world. Who knows? Maybe we’ll someday get a sequel and find out for sure.

Somewhere in Time kept me guessing until the final sentence.

 

Rooting Out Evil: A Review of Secrets of the Under Market

Secrets of the Under Market by Krysten Harlow book cover. Image on cover shows a glowing yellow coin with yellow lights orbiting it and some sort of archaic writing on it. Title: Secrets of the Under Market

Author: Krysten Harlow

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 73 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Mortal Instruments meets Hellboy in this riveting urban fantasy series that is a prequel to the Visions of Darkness Trilogy.”

He was born into a rare demon-hunting lineage…

All his life, Max Damiano has trained with his family and waited for his arcane talent to awaken. On the morning of his fourteenth birthday, his wish is granted: he is a telekinetic.

Now he can fully take part in the family’s Work of keeping the world safe from demons, remnants of a long-gone universe, the Qlippoth, whose very existence is inimical to our world’s reality. His first assignment? To investigate the disappearance of a dozen children in the New York City area. In the center of the disappearances is the New York Under Market, a market for the arcane community run by the transglobal Underwood Corporation.

Concerned that their Market is at the center of these alarming disappearances, the Underwood Corporation hires Max and two of his siblings, Tom and Sadie, to investigate. Will they be able to catch the demonic malefactor in time?

One thing is for sure, it will not go quietly.

Review:

Content Warning: spiders, the kidnapping of human children, and the killing and dismemberment of demons. I will not mention these topics in my review.

Never underestimate a demon.

Character development is one of those writing things that can be trickier to display in a relatively short work like this one than it would be in a full-length novel. I mentioned this first so that my next sentence would have some context to it. Seeing how Max changed as a result of his adventures was delightful. He behaved just like any fourteen-year-old should as far as his emotional and cognitive development went, but I also saw exciting glimpses of the adult he would soon become. Honestly, that’s all that’s needed in the beginning of a series. I’m glad the author included them while still leaving plenty of room for further development in future instalments.

I would have preferred to see a faster pacing in this novella. There were times when my interest in it wavered because of how long it took for the next action-heavy scene to appear. Introducing the characters and setting was obviously important, but I did find myself wishing that those descpritons and conversations had been broken up more often by conflicts with demons or similar events. The author had plenty of material to work with, and I would have happily gone with a much higher rating if the pacing had been sped up.

The world building in this novella was extensive and impressive. I actually stopped reading a few chapters in to confirm that I hadn’t accidentally started halfway through the series. There was so much attention paid to the countless little details that make a fictional world come to life in my imagination that it was hard to believe this was the introduction, and I mean that in the best possible way. This isn’t an easy thing to accomplish in a prequel by any means. Ms. Harlow should be proud of how seamlessly she wove everything together.

Secrets of the Under Market made me smile.

Reasonable Assumptions: A Review of The Interview

The Interview by Liz Tuckwell book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a red headed woman being interviewed by two black-haired people. There is one red ajar door behind the person on the left and one closed door behind the person on the right. Title: The Interview

Author: Liz Tuckwell

Publisher: Green Griffin Books (Self-Published)

Publication Date: August 6, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 22 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

 

Melissa’s being interviewed

… for a job she never applied for

… and she doesn’t know the name of the company

The interviewers ask some very strange questions before offering her the job of Junior Executive.

Even stranger – they insist every candidate, whether successful or not, leaves by one of two doors at the end of the offices.

What lies behind the doors?

Something unexpected and supernatural.

You’ll enjoy finding out what it is. Get it now.

Review:

Content Warning: Motorbike accident.

How would you respond to a frustrating and illogical job interview?

Yes, the premise of this short story will probably be easy to figure out for anyone who has read or watched something similar in the past. I’ll have to dance around the twist during the course of this review, but what I liked about Ms. Tuckwell’s approach to it was how she explored Melissa’s reactions to things like being asked if she had a boyfriend or needing to sit in a waiting room for a long time before the actual interview began. Little moments like these can reveal a lot about someone’s personality and character, both of which were displayed clearly to the audience.

I did find myself wishing that the interview itself had included some harder questions. It seemed a little odd to me that her interviewers veered off into unrelated topics when they were trying to figure out if Melissa was the right fit for what she was interviewing for. If only there had been a scene at the end that explained their thought processes here. I would have loved to understand why they chose the questions they did instead of many others that may have made their point clearer.

The ending was delightful. Even though I knew what was coming in advance, I still loved seeing everything play out the way I thought it would. It also left plenty of room for a sequel if the author ever decides to write one. While this was satisfying on its own, I’d definitely be interested in learning more about how the interview process worked and what happened to people after all of the data had been collected and analyzed.

The Interview was a thought-provoking read.

Making Their Moves: A Review of Empty Smiles

Empty Smiles by Katherine Arden book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of an evil running clown. Behind him are two children running away from him while carrying two blue balloons each. Title: Empty Smiles (Small Spaces #4)

Author: Katherine Arden

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: August 9, 2022

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 256 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Katherine thrills once again in the finale to the critically acclaimed, spook-tacular quartet that began with Small Spaces.

It’s been three months since Ollie made a daring deal with the smiling man to save those she loved, and then vanished without a trace. The smiling man promised Coco, Brian and Phil, that they’d have a chance to save her, but as time goes by, they begin to worry that the smiling man has lied to them and Ollie is gone forever. But finally, a clue surfaces. A boy who went missing at a nearby traveling carnival appears at the town swimming hole, terrified and rambling. He tells anyone who’ll listen about the mysterious man who took him. How the man agreed to let him go on one condition: that he deliver a message. Play if you dare.

Game on! The smiling man has finally made his move. Now it’s Coco, Brian, and Phil’s turn to make theirs. And they know just where to start. The traveling carnival is coming to Evansburg.

Meanwhile, Ollie is trapped in the world behind the mist, learning the horrifying secrets of the smiling man’s carnival, trying everything to help her friends find her. Brian, Coco and Phil will risk everything to rescue Ollie—but they all soon realize this game is much more dangerous than the ones before. This time the smiling man is playing for keeps.

The summer nights are short, and Ollie, Coco, Brian, and Phil have only until sunrise to beat him once and for all—or it’s game over for everyone.

Review:

Content Warning: Scary clowns, kidnapping, a sprained ankle, and a little blood (think the amount that can be staunched by what you’d find in the typical home first aid kit. It wasn’t gory).

Summer carnivals are supposed to be cheerful places, so why is this one so scary?

The character development was handled nicely. Coco and Brian were reluctant to tell the adults in their lives what was really happening during their previous encounters with the smiling man even when they were in terrible danger. I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover all of the details of how they responded, but I was pleased to see how seriously they took their safety this time around. It’s always nice to read stories about people who grow and change as a result of their past experiences. We all make mistakes sometimes, but there is something to be said for folks learning from the past and trying to improve the way they react to scary unexpected things.

One of the biggest unanswered questions in this series has been the smiling man’s motivation for everything he’s done to Coco, Brian, Ollie, and the other people he has interacted with. I started reading with high hopes that he’d explain why he chose these particular people as his victims and what he wanted to accomplish. Without giving away more than the mildest of spoilers, I was disappointed with the vague answer that was provided here. After spending four books getting to know him and coming up with my own theories about why he behaved the way he did, I was really hoping for more closure. If only the author had made her intentions clearer in this area. Was it a reference to how people in real life also do terrible things sometimes without anyone ever figuring out why? Am I expecting too much from something written for kids? Despite this being branded as a quartet, is there secretly a prequel on the way that will explain his origins and desires? I can only hope that prequel idea will really happen!

I have always enjoyed reading about the friendships between these characters. Their bonds were strengthened in this book in all sorts of wonderful ways, some of which included fun callbacks to their earlier adventures. It made me smile to read about characters who genuinely liked each other and would do anything to help their friends. I saw glimpses of the teens and adults they may become someday in the way they behaved at their current ages.

This is the fourth instalment in the Small Spaces quartet. Be sure to read Small SpacesDead Voices, and Dark Waters first as there were many references to those tales that will only make sense to people who are caught up on everything.

Empty Smiles was deliciously spooky.

Hidden in Plain Sight: A Review of A Terrifying Fact About Ants

Title: A Terrifying Fact About Ants – Science Fiction Short Story Author: Adam Leon Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: March 11, 2022 Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Horror, Contemporary Length: 24 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Review: “I discovered a strange relation between ants and another fascinating… Read More

In the Deep Depths of the Ocean: A Review of Aegan and the Sunken City

Title: Aegan and the Sunken City Author: D.G. Redd Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 26, 2021 Genres: Science Fiction, Futuristic Length: 17 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: The Cartographers have announced that the Triton will drift over an old city. Aegan finds himself lucky enough to be… Read More

Mending Fences: A Review of A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

Title: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy Author: Becky Chambers Publisher: Tor Books Publication Date: July 12, 2022 Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia Length: 160 pages Source: I borrowed it from my local library. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot… Read More

Gentle Science Fiction: A Review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Note: I’m (finally) reviewing the first book in the Monk & Robot series today and will review the sequel next week. Stay tuned!  Title: A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot #1) Author: Becky Chambers Publisher: Tor Books Publication Date: July 13, 2021 Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia Length: 160 pages Source: I borrowed it… Read More

The Healer: A Review of Sweet Basil

Title: Sweet Basil – A Firethorn Chronicles Short Story Author: Lea Doué Publisher: Butterwing Publishing (Self-Published) Publication Date: August 30, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Historical Length: 24 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Hiding from sorcerer hunters, Marisol travels in search of those she can help with her dangerous gift… Read More