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Friday, May 31, 2013

The Power of Powers by Lon Dee

Summary: Orchid Huang and her brother Monkey couldn't be more different. She loves reading, studying, and learning about the world. He likes kicking back with his feet on a chair and his headphones turned up. She dreams of great discoveries while they travel the world with their archeologist dad. He just wants to find ways to avoid hard work.

On a trip near the ancient silk route, they make a discovery that changes their lives--and just might change history. A mystic force takes them three thousand years into the past where they get stuck in the middle of a war between two powerful dynasties. Worse yet, it's up to them to stop the war.

Orchid wants to help. Monkey just wants to get home. An evil sorcerer wants them dead. With the help of an old hermit, a young girl, and some friendly gods, Orchid and Monkey discover their own strengths and powers. Will it be enough to fight off the sorcerer, magical beasts, and an entire army of battle-hardened soldiers?

The Power of Powers is a tricky book for me to review. While the plotline is solid, and the historical artefacts of the book are intricate, the narrative lacks a distinct voice and the pace of the story suffers because of it. 3 stars out of 5.

The story is very slow to start in terms of action/suspense. Monkey and Orchid's parents are university professors, and they go with their parents to excavation sites. The beginning has a lot of description of Chinese history and of the family dynamics. It is over described in terms of the narrative (number of adjectives/adverbs used) and the amount of time devoted to the siblings' background. It causes Monkey's disinterest in what is going on around him to transfer to the reader.

Once the story switched to Orchid's point of view, the story picked up, both in plot and style. Orchid's interaction with the painting is the first hint of drama, and I was excited to see where that would lead, however the drama comes to a standstill again. At this point, it would have been better to just start the fantasy element; unless the reader is extremely interested in Chinese archaeology and history, there is simply too much description of it for the lack of plot development.

Overall, the story needs more suspense and/or character development (that is not related to Chinese historical facts or archaeology) much sooner. Also, Master Mu is underdeveloped as a character. He could bring a lot more excitement and personality to the story. 

The Power of Powers has a solid plotline with a lot of historical artefact. With work on a more engaging narrative style and voice, it could be a fun read.

Lulu (2.00)
B&N (1.99)
Amazon (2.00)

The Cavalier by Jason McWhirter

Summary: An ancient evil has awakened in the lands of Kraawn. An evil that threatened the lands long ago, now stirs deep in the Black Lands of the North. Cavaliers, the guardians of the righteous, have long been the protectors of Kraawn. Trained in combat and blessed with the powers of the gods, these warriors roam the lands using their skills to fight back the power of the Forsworn, a trio of evil gods whose ultimate goal is to blanket the world in a mist of darkness. But something has been slaying these warriors and now the lands of Kraawn are at risk, the path of invasion paved by the deaths of the only guardians capable of combating the dark powers of the Forsworn. But not all is lost. A young boy, a cripple raised in a small mountain town, will become Kraawn’s only hope. Jonas Kanrene thought his life was limited to helping his mother survive in the desolate Tundren Mountains. Then one night a stranger arrives, a powerful cavalier, bringing with him hope, life,…and death, and becoming a catalyst for all the change that was about to dismantle Jonas’s world. Can the powers of good fight back the horde of evil amassing in the north? Can Jonas grow into the man, the warrior, the cavalier capable of stopping the Forsworn? One thing is certain. The lands of Kraawn will never again be the same.

The Cavalier is an epic fantasy story of good versus evil. While Jonas is a lovable main character and the reader instantly cares for his well-being, the majority of the story is too black and white: the characters are underdeveloped and the plot lacks development beyond the basic "good versus evil." 3 stars out of five.

The writing is crisp and polished, and the narrative has a good level of description for a fantasy novel. Jonas is a sympathetic character who the reader immediately cares about, however the story is quite slow. The prologue is okay for background, but could be placed elsewhere. Also, while Jonas' trek to the house at the beginning endears him to the reader, it becomes a bit too much: the bullies, the cavalier, the hunter, plus his own internal monologue of him being crippled. 

Overall the novel would benefit from more internal struggles, emotions, and character development: characters who question what they're doing, switch sides, who the reader is not sure what side they're on. There are a few characters that appear to be meant to be more mysterious, but the foreshadowing betrays their true intentions too quickly.

Also, once the action starts, the characters lose their distinct voices/personalities. There needs to be better cohesion between voice and suspense/plot development.

The Cavalier has some lovable characters and some great plot points. With some plot and character development, and pacing work, it could be a great epic fantasy read.

Amazon (13.49)

The Medici Legacy by Greg Ahlgren

Summary: When Antonio Ferrara of the Italian Polizia di Stato discovers that the seemingly random victims of a Tuscan serial killer are all illegitimate descendants of one Giovanni de Medici, a 15th century Florentine banker, his superior scoffs at his theory while the Italian military police caution him to leave the case alone on the basis of "national security." Undeterred, Antonio enlists Medici scholar Rachel Fuller and, together, they travel to America to unlock the secret.

The Medici Legacy melds 15th century Italy with World War II experiments and modern day America to create an enjoyable historical murder mystery. 4 stars out of 5. 

The prologue to the story is intriguing, and rich with historical artefact. It immediately adds historical appeal and a distinct style to the story.

The novel is filled with relatable and sympathetic characters, especially Antonio. Overall it is well written and the suspense builds quickly. However while I loved Antonio, his back story did cause some pacing problems.

There was too much description and background (for example with Antonio's family). A little back story would add depth to Antonio's character, but too much slowed the plot and removed me from the story. The hyper involvement in Antonio (especially so early on in the book) detracted from any suspense build up. Similarly, the addition of Mario, while a great character, drags out events far too long at the beginning. 

Also, when describing the killers, some of the mentions of race/ethnicity seemed superficial and out of place. It lacked the elegance that ran through most of the story. 

The Medici Legacy hedges a line between murder mystery and history. While it is plagued with some pacing problems, it is still an enjoyable read for any alternate history or mystery fan. 

Amazon (3.07)
B&N Paperback (16.95)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Division By Zero: 1 (Post Mortem) by MiFiWriters

Division By Zero is an anthology of short stories with works from five different authors. The stories include elements of urban fantasy, paranormal,  science fiction, and young adult and each instalment offers a new voice and perspective on the anthology's central theme: after death.                                                                                                          
Each writer brought their individual style to the anthology. My personal favorite, Strange Aeons, focused more on character development and emotional investment, and really drew me into the work.

Along with death, religion is a major theme and I enjoyed the various portrayals of religions/gods, both current and ancient, throughout the short stories.

Overall, the writing is crisp and well edited and each self-contained story offers a unique voice and a suspenseful build-up: 4.5 stars out of 5.            

Amazon (2.99)
B&N (Paperback) (14.95)

The authors: MiFi Writers

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cratchit & Company by Garrett Gilchrist

Summary: Bob Cratchit, a poor, underpaid clerk at the counting-house of Scrooge and Marley, has lost his youngest son. He is alone and freezing to death on a cold Christmas Eve, when he is visited by three spirits ...
Garrett Gilchrist brings you a new perspective on the classic characters from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Cratchit & Company is a retelling of A Christmas Carol from the perspective of Bob Cratchit—with a twist: Ebenezer is the same miserable Scrooge he was before his ghost-induced change of heart. For any lover of Dickens or the beloved Christmas tale, this novella is a great tear-jerking read;  4.5 stars out of 5.

In the opening of the story, the author acknowledges that the reader has probably heard the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and that Bob Cratchit was simply a tool in telling Scrooge's story. The story begins with the death of Tiny Tim and a death-like figure discussing how history only remembers the mighty—and hence will not remember Bob Cratchit. Cratchit's story that follows is emotional and follows in the descriptive vein of Dickens; the writing is polished and a more contemporary version of Dickens' style.

Cratchit & Company is a lovely and new retelling of A Christmas Carol, and would compliment any readers Christmas-time book-list.  

Paperback: Lulu (7.82)
Kindle: Amazon (0.97)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Goldfish Tears by Curtis Ackie

Summary: A perturbed bachelor is beleaguered by his misbehaving shadow; a reclusive alchemist builds a machine to right his wife’s disfigurement; the sun forgets to rise over a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere. Equal parts haunting and outlandish, Goldfish Tears is an enchanting collection of short stories from the author of The Door to Freedom.

Goldfish Tears is a collection of 14 short stories. While each story had moments of brilliance, and the illustrations that accompanied each story were wonderful, the writing suffered from an excess of description; 3.5 stars out of 5.

The narrative was often too descriptive (scenery/background wise) for the short amount of plot that occurred. The overuse of adjectives dampened the poetic style needed for this sort of collection. I understand that creating the atmosphere of each piece is important, but I feel like the plotline and intensity of each story suffered. In terms of plot, the writing was often too vague, and appeared to be building up to something bigger that the reader was not privy too; each story appears to be missing something that makes it its own stand alone story. 

Overall, the collection of short stories is enjoyable, but could benefit from some polishing. With some refining of the description and added plot, it would be an engaging read. 

Smashwords (12.38)
Lulu (12.38)

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Midget's House by Anita Bartholomew

Summary: The Midget's House is a tale of two women (one alive, and the other long dead), each mourning lost love and struggling for control of the one place that feels like home.

Marisa Delano is thrilled when she unexpectedly inherits the fairy tale-like cottage on the bay--until she learns that Lucinda Lacey, a sideshow midget who died on the property in 1924, still inhabits it. As Marisa searches for answers about the unwelcome presence in her new home, all the clues lead to one conclusion: on the day Lucinda died, she murdered her lover, circus owner Cyrus Parker.

Alternating between Lucinda's and Marisa's perspectives, The Midget's House takes readers from the carnivals, circuses, and freak shows of the early twentieth century, to the boom-and-bust of today's Florida.

Haunting in every sense of the word, this genre-blending tale will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

The Midget's House is an enjoyable story of love, loss, and deceit. The overall plotline is unique and memorable, however the novel is in need of streamlining; the opening is plagued by an over-usage of adjectives and a misuse/absence of commas. Overall, the narrative is easy to read and the multiple points of view weave together quite well, but the clutter of adjectives detracts from the narrative flow. 3.5 stars out of 5.

The story is told from multiple points of view. The retelling of the circus and the present day points of view interacted nicely, however Lucinda's small sections as a ghost did not quite fit with the rest of the story. The fact that Lucinda was a ghost might have worked better if revealed at the end (or not at all: the reader could decide for themselves whether Lucinda's ghost was real or if it was Marisa's imagination). 

There is also a noticeable lack of suspense/drama at the beginning of the book. There needs to be more of a catalyst to get the reader invested in the story. Similarly, Lucinda's backstory would benefit from a more dramatic/emotional telling; there was too much description of the circus, not enough solid plotline and character development.

Overall, the narrative flows nicely, but adjectives need to be trimmed. With another round of edits, and perhaps a more dramatic/suspenseful retelling of events, The Midget's House could be a great romantic read. 

Amazon (2.97)