Review: Pretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid

pretendwearelovelyPretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: July 18th, 2017

Publisher: Tin House Books

Pages: 284 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Consuming and big-hearted, Noley Reid’s Pretend We Are Lovely details a summer in the life of the Sobel family in 1980s Blacksburg, Virginia, seven years after the tragic and suspicious death of a son and sibling.

Francie Sobel dresses in tennis skirts and ankle socks and weighs her allotted grams of carrots and iceberg lettuce. Semi-estranged husband Tate prefers a packed fridge and secret doughnuts. Daughters Enid, ten, and Vivvy, thirteen, are subtler versions of their parents, measuring their summer vacation by meals eaten or skipped. But at summer’s end, secrets both old and new come to the surface and Francie disappears, leaving the family teetering on the brink.?

Without their mother’s regimental love, and witnessing their father flounder in his new position of authority, the girls must navigate their way through middle school, find comfort in each other, and learn the difference between food and nourishment.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Pretend We Are Lovely is one of those novels that really makes you think—both during and after—but where the real impact of the plot and themes within it hits you a little while after you have turned the final page. After you’ve let it simmer in your mind for some time. This is a story that revolves around hunger and nourishment of both the body and soul. And behind the façade of food and hunger, starving and eating, the true needs of this family shine through the cracks. It is a perfect warm, summer day read, whose pages will fly by quickly, but will simultaneously strike the reader with the surprising depth and heaviness of the subject matter.

This story follows a few months in the lives of the four members of the Sobel family. Mother Francie is struggling to deal with a great loss as well as the mental and emotional scars that come with it. Thirteen-year-old Vivvy and ten-year-old Enid are dealing with their own coming of age and new place in the world, all while attempting to cope with their struggling family life and their mother’s overbearing rules, primarily about food. Father Tate is trying his best to hold his family—and all of their lives—together as Franice begins to spiral out of control, further cracking the household’s foundation.

I’ll admit when I first started, I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to end up enjoying this novel. It took me a little while to really get into it, but as soon as I did, I was fully captivated. This story is full of broken and lost, but deeply and utterly beautiful souls. They are surprisingly loveable and incredibly easy to connect with. Each one has their own distinctive voice and personality, and I found that they were very realistically portrayed. Reid demonstrated remarkable insight and skill in her creation of this fractured family.

The element of food and hunger becomes very prominent as we begin to get to know each of the characters and the dynamic of the household. They all harbor a hunger for something more on an emotional level that masks itself in a battle with their eating or dieting behaviors. And these battles manifest uniquely in each person. Vivvy and Enid each look to a different parent for cues on how to treat food. Enid follows her father’s habits of carefree eating while Vivvy mimics her mother’s struggle with food and obsessive dieting.

The relationships and constant instability of the foundation of this family was incredibly poignant. We watch Enid and Vivvy coming of age and learning to deal with many of the harsh realities of life. Francie and Tate are drifting further and further away from one another, and Tate is struggling to hold the family together as best he can for the sake of his daughters. Vivvy’s and Enid’s relationship with each other was my particular favorite to watch as it changes with the highs and lows of growing up. Tate’s love for his daughters was another one of my favorite aspects of this novel.

The writing style used in this novel might not be a hit with everyone. The perspective alternates frequently between each of the four members of the Sobel family, so the reader gets an intimate look at everyone’s perspective on the events of the plot. I found it quite interesting to see the shift in the behaviors and outlooks of the all of the characters, but it can be a bit confusing at times. There is quite a bit of jumping about, and this can make the plot a little tricky to follow. However, once I started to get used to it and became more aware of each character’s personality, it flowed a lot smoother.

The other aspect of the writing to note is the almost stream of consciousness-like style that Reid uses. For me personally, it really worked well and I enjoyed the tone that it set. It truly feels as if we as readers are intimately following the lives of a realistic family, and that brings so much depth into the novel and the messages it sends. However, I realize that, though it adds a great deal to the realism of the plot and characters, it can be somewhat of a difficult writing style to follow—so there are definite pros and cons to it for the reader.

It reads just the way a person’s train of thought would go, but that can also make things feel a bit disjointed. On top of that, the constant shift in perspective takes a little while to get fully immersed in, especially prior to really knowing the family. As a whole though, I ended up loving the format in which Reid wrote this novel. There were a lot more pros that out-weighed many of the minor cons in the style, and she completely sucked me in.

Overall, this was the big-hearted and consuming read it promised to be. Reid beautifully set the painful, destructive, yet loving atmosphere of a family in turmoil. I felt like I really connected with everyone, and found that I truly cared about each and every one of them. I experienced the hurt they both felt and inflicted, but also the small moments of caring, love and hope. Every emotion was tangible and I was completely wrapped up in their lives. The bittersweet final few chapters particularly stood out from the rest, and they are the ones that held onto me the longest.

4.0 TARDISes

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Review: Birthrights by J. Kyle McNeal

birthrightsBirthrights by J. Kyle McNeal

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Revisions to the Truth: Book One

Date Published: June 6th, 2017

Publisher: Elevate Fiction

Pages: 402 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: To escape the burden of his family’s past, Whym accepts an apprenticeship with a master his parents fear and revile. He soon finds himself entangled in a web of treachery and on a perilous journey to locate a creature of myth and magic-a journey that will transform Whym and shape the future of the realm. 

Meanwhile, Quint, the son of a powerful religious leader, abandons his faith to join the fight against a corrupt council. As the adviser to a remote tribe, he must find in himself the wisdom and fortitude to save the people from the invading army-and their own leaders.

Civil war looms, defeated foes plot revenge, and an ancient deity schemes to destroy them all. While navigating the shifting sands of truth, the two young men must distill what they believe, and decide on whose side they will stand in the coming conflict.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This was an extremely solid start to a very promising new fantasy series. Richly detailed, thought-provoking, and highly intriguing, I was very easily pulled into the narrative. Though it took a little while to fully immerse myself in the world and its history—the lore at the heart of every character’s life—once everything was set up, I felt completely absorbed into the words. There was something to find engaging about every moment of the narrative. This is intrinsically a coming of age story, but past that, you begin to see the intricate complexities of not only the characters but the of society they live in.

In this novel, we follow multiple characters’ lives as they weave together into one, captivating picture of the Lost Lands. Primarily, we follow two young men named Whym and Quint. Whym has reached the point of his life where he must begin an apprenticeship, and he is willing to do anything to break away from the poverty of his parents’ lives—even if it means working with a potentially dangerous man who has a past that connects darkly with his own. Quint comes from the most powerful religious family in the Lost Lands, his future laid out solidly before him. But when his long-held faith is ripped from him, he begins a journey to bring the truth to light.

Despite its initial appearance, this is not just a simple tale of two young people coming of age. It is a story about faith and beliefs. About corrupted politics and the inciting of a rebellion. About history and finding out where you fit into that which is being made around you. About discovering the meaning of truth and extracting it from the harshness of deceit. These characters are having their eyes opened to the society they are living in, one where the foundation is deception and the currency is lies.

By Fire

As in most fantasy novels, there are always some aspects that take a little while to fully grasp. Building up the world, introducing the many characters, laying down the backstory and lore, all take a while to set up and for the reader to become involved in. It took me about a third of the novel before I felt I had truly gotten into things, so the beginning was a bit slow. However, this minor sluggishness in the beginning took the place of a short but massive and confusing information dump. The opening chapters are not fast-paced and packed with action, but are a gradual and meticulous composing of an intricate world.

I was a bit confused toward the start as I began piecing the backstory together but, at the same time, there was never a moment were I did not feel very engaged in the plot. The measured construction of each and every element ended up serving the narrative well. By using this method, McNeal allows the reader to take the time needed to become connected to the story and its expansive cast of characters. He also saves them from the confusion that can come with trying to convey too much information to quickly. As a whole, though the pace might feel slow, it establishes a solid foundation for the reader right from page one.

McNeal did a wonderful job building and growing his various, multi-dimensional characters, as well as giving them each a distinctive voice and personality. They were vivid and very easy to like or dislike, as the case may be. Whether hero or villain, each one was memorable and well-developed, which worked favorably with the regularly shifting perspectives of the narrative. I also highly enjoyed the dynamic and relationships between the various characters—they were very interesting to follow. I was particularly intrigued by the relationship between Whym and Kutan.

Wood Pile

I have to admit, there were a few times where it was difficult to remember who a minor character was and what role they had played in previous chapters of the novel. This was due in part to their short appearances, stemming from the frequent jumps in perspective. Another issue that I had character-wise was that I never quite understood the concept of “the Rat-Man”. I also wish that there had been a bit more of a glimpse at some characters’ storylines, but I am hoping this will be rectified over the course of the rest of this series. All-in-all though, these were very small problems for me, and did not detract much from my overall reading experience.

McNeal’s writing in this novel was absolutely spectacular. The scope of this enchanting world that he has created leaves him endless opportunities to spin an absorbing story in his unique voice. I found him to be a brilliant storyteller; the prose was beautiful. His writing flowed incredibly well, and it was very easy to be carried away by his words. This was a strong debut novel, and I believe that he has shown a great talent and will go far in the future.

Overall, I had quite an enjoyable time delving into this tale. Once I began to feel involved in the characters’ lives, I found myself lost among the pages. This novel held so many of the elements that make me love the fantasy genre. I now feel extremely invested in these characters and their futures, so I am highly anticipating the upcoming installments in the series. If you are a fan of high fantasy or, especially, if you are just discovering the genre, this is a series that I would definitely recommend giving a try.

4.0 TARDISes

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Review: The Magnificent Flying Baron Estate by Eric Bower

themagnificentflyingbaronestateThe Magnificent Flying Baron Estate by Eric Bower

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: May 16th, 2017

Publisher: Amberjack Publishing

Pages: 242 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Waldo Baron awakes one morning to find his inventor parents have turned their house into a flying machine, and they intend to enter into a race across the country in the hopes of winning the $500 prize. His parents’ plans go astray when they are kidnapped by Rose Blackwood, the sister of notorious villain Benedict Blackwood, who intends to use the prize money to free her brother from prison. But Rose is not what she seems to be, and Waldo finds himself becoming friends with their kindly kidnapper as they race across the country in the magnificent flying Baron estate!

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This is such a fun, adorable, and hilarious little novel. It is an extremely quirky adventure on a crazy flying machine, filled with ruthless bandits, insane inventors, and quite possibly the clumsiest kid in the world. While it is an incredibly over-the-top and outlandish story, I personally loved the randomness and absurdity of these characters’ journey. Every aspect of this novel is charming, having an overall atmosphere of warmth, family, and love. Though I am far from the target age-range of the intended audience for this book, I still had a fantastic time reading it—I could hardly keep a smile off my face.

In this novel, we follow a young boy named Waldo “W.B.” Baron as he wakes up one day to find out that his crazy inventor parents have renovated their house into a flying home. They plan to enter a competition where they are meant to fly around 1890’s North America on a scavenger hunt—the first people to return with every item on the list will win five-hundred dollars.

However, their plans take a twist when Rose Blackwood, the sister of the country’s most notorious criminal, sneaks aboard their flying house and holds W.B. and his family hostage. Her plan? To complete the race with the Baron family, then rob them of the prize in order to break her brother, Benedict Blackwood, out of jail. But, Rose Blackwood turns out to be much different than W.B. expected, and soon, relationships change and unexpected alliances form as they flounder through one outrageous event after another.

I absolutely flew through this novel, and not only because of its length—with nonstop action, there was not a single moment that dragged along. The readability as well as the weirdness of this story are really what pulled me in. There is a twinge of childishness to it, which is to be expected from a middle grade novel, but personally as an adult, this did not deter me in any way.

Bower’s characters were a fantastic part of this novel. W.B. was loveably dorky and clumsy, and someone you can’t help but root for. His parents are welcoming and kindhearted, and unabashedly goofy, but also highly intelligent scientists. Rose Blackwood was easily the most complex and interesting character in the whole story—and she has quite a bit in common with W.B. They both feel like outcasts in their own lives, in their families, and are struggling to assimilate. But along the way, they both learn their significance and where they fit in the world, as well as how to love themselves, faults and all.

This novel felt very jumbled, which many times negatively impacts a story—however, in this case, that was not necessarily true. Each individual event that occurs all come together in one nonsensical escapade—and honestly, it works, at least it did in my experience. It adds to the craziness and quirkiness of the characters and how they handle the obstacles that are thrown their way. Much of the humor comes from this element of as well—from both how utterly random and out-of-the-blue every event is, to how the characters flounder around on their way through each stage of the challenge.

This is a novel that readers will only enjoy if they suspend their disbelief and just immerse themselves in the unique world of W.B. and his gang. There are parts that become a bit repetitive, and certain scenes feel like they are rushed through much too quickly, but these are really just signs of the genre and length of the novel. That is one of the reasons I found this to be one of those middle grade books that is going to primarily garner a younger following rather than a much more universal one.

As for the actual writing itself, I really liked Bower’s style. His writing flowed very well and carried the story along at a fast yet easy to follow pace. Bower’s humor was wonderful and absolutely perfect for a middle grade novel. There is a very child-like feel to this story overall that makes it, as I said, something that is a bit less of a multi-generational read than some other middle grade stories.

This primarily focuses on being a novel for a younger audience. However, I do think that it can be fun for both children and those who are children at heart. It is a novel that anyone of any age can fall right in to and love every second of. With plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and heartwarming relationships, it’s hard not to become invested in the lives and escapades of these characters.

It is a big-hearted story of learning to accept both who you and the people in your life are. It is about learning to hold your own, be happy with yourself—inside and out—and finding out where you fit into the great puzzle that is life. Though the eccentricity of the plot might not strike the right chord with everyone, I would wholeheartedly recommend giving this story a try.

4.0 TARDISes

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Review: Thin Places by Lesley Choyce

thinplacesThin Places by Lesley Choyce

My Rating: 2/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: August 22nd, 2017

Publisher: Dundurn Group

Pages: 200 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: A dazzling story told in verse, of sixteen-year-old Declan Lynch and the girl whose centuries-old voice rings in his head.

One day, Declan Lynch, a regular teenager, starts hearing a girl’s voice inside his head. Eventually, he even begins to see her. Though he’s not certain the girl, Rebecca, is real, Declan finds himself falling for her. She shows him visions of places and people he has never seen — places he feels compelled to find in hopes of meeting her.

His quest takes him to County Sligo, Ireland, and its “thin places,” spots where the earth and the spirit world seem almost to touch. His slightly crazy Uncle Seamus takes him in, as Declan’s search has him wondering which world he belongs in — his, or the one belonging to a girl who might not even be real.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I am having a lot of trouble gathering together my thoughts on this book. A novel in verse, this is a short and poetic read in a beautiful setting. However, though verse novels always tend to be quicker reads, this one was way too short, in my opinion. So short, that I had absolutely no time to connect with the characters or the plot before it was finished. Though I fluidly sped through it, I never had a chance to involve myself in it. This is what makes voicing my thoughts particularly difficult—this novel left me with a sense of confusion and incompleteness.

This novel had an intriguing and eye-catching plot to me for a number of reasons. We follow a young boy named Declan Lynch, who is no stranger to hearing voices in his head. For the first sixteen years of his life, those voices took on the form of characters, involving themselves in his decision-making and all he did. Despite this, these characters still sounded like his own internal voice, allowing him to retain some sort of connection with reality.

One day, however, this changes when he begins to not only hear the voice of a girl named Rebecca, but is able to see her materialize in his head. The strong connection he immediately feels to Rebecca sends him on a journey to County Sligo, Ireland. Declan is thrust into the arms of his estranged Uncle Seamus, as he attempts to locate Ireland’s “thin places”—where the world of the living is believed to meet that of the deceased—and unite with this mysterious girl.

I was expecting this to be a sweeping journey in a beautiful country as a young boy answers a calling in himself to uncover a hidden portion of family history and discover who he is—where he fits into the world—in the process. What I actually found was that over half the book had flown by before Declan even arrived in Ireland to begin his quest to find Rebecca. This left very little time for what I thought would be—and what was represented as—the main plot point in the narrative, given the synopsis.

The characters were incredibly one-dimensional, as the length of this novel gave them little to no room to be developed. I absolutely could not connect with a single one of them, simply because there was no time. The narrative barely skimmed the surface of key elements such as characterization and world-building. It is driven much less by the characters and descriptions and much more by dialogue, which did not serve this novel well. Instead, it heavily weighed the text down.

On top of everything, this novel was insta-love central, aggravated immensely by the length of the narrative. This is never usually a good thing to have in a story—it is definitely one of those overused and highly disliked tropes in writing. The romance feels like it is just haphazardly shoved into the plotline. From the first second that Declan sees Rebecca in his mind, he instantly falls in love with her, and this takes up a huge portion of his thoughts for most of the novel. They haven’t met, he has no idea whether she is even real or not, and yet she is automatically the love of his life. This “romance” took over the majority of the narrative.

On a slightly more positive note, despite my problems with the plot and characters, the writing was surprisingly delightful in some ways. While there were some problems, the overall prose could be quite beautiful.

The only complaint I had when it came to the writing aspect of the novel was the fact that the layout of the verses—a key and very compelling point in a verse novel—felt very random and disjointed. Part of the art of a verse novel is to arrange the lines of text and breaks in those lines so that they add to the tone and significance of the plot. So not only does the writing itself need to be beautiful, but that layout has to be meaningful as well—preferably not feeling like a hasty jumbling of words.

In the end, I unfortunately did not particularly enjoy this story as a whole. It left me feeling extraordinarily unsatisfied and as if I had missed a huge chunk of plot that should have been there. I just needed more from this book and it never delivered. It was a nice, quick read that definitely staves off any sort of reading slump, but that was one of the only positives I felt by finishing this novel.

2.0 TARDISes

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Review: Alice by J.M. Sullivan

alicewanderlandAlice by J.M. Sullivan

My Rating: 4.5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Wanderland Chronicles

Date Published: May 16th, 2017

Publisher: Pen Name Publishing

Pages: 360 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: “Always protect your queen.”

Ever since the outbreak of the Plague, life hasn’t been easy, and for seventeen-year-old Alice Carroll, it just got worse. Her sister, Dinah, has contracted the ‘un-deadly’ Momerath Virus and without a cure, will soon be worse than dead. She’ll be momerath.

Alice must leave the safety of the Sector and venture into Momerath Territory to find the antidote – if it exists. Chasing a rumor about a mysterious doctor with the cure, Alice falls down the rabbit hole into Wanderland, where ravenous momerath aren’t the only danger lurking.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

“Always protect your Queen.”

I always love a good retelling—if it is a retelling with a dark and gritty twist to it, even better. For me, this novel checks off all the boxes. It is a wonderful reimagining of Alice in Wonderland that has plenty of its own creativity and uniqueness, while devotedly paying homage to the original work in clever ways. It even takes the classic zombie plague idea and turns it on its head as Sullivan puts her own intriguing spin on the idea. With a post-apocalyptic setting, a witty and resilient heroine, and an abundance of gory and riveting fight scenes, this debut novel is a magnificent addition to young adult literature.

In this novel, we follow a young girl named Alice Carroll, who is living in a fortified sector with her sister, Dinah, as the world around them succumbs to the Plague that has rapidly broken out. This virus has taken hold of many people, turning them into undead creatures that survivors have dubbed “Momeraths”—rage-filled zombie-like beings that ravage the land and many of the stragglers that remain unprotected in this post-apocalyptic society. The residents of the Sector do not dare venture past the safety of their borders into this frightful landscape.

When Dinah begins to show signs that she has contracted the Momerath Virus, Alice will go to any lengths to find a cure to save her life. After hearing a rumor that an antidote may exist, or at least be in progress, Alice decides to risk everything to venture out into Wanderland—still crawling with Momerath—in order to track down the doctor who purportedly has the one thing that can restore balance to her world. This journey won’t be an easy one, but Alice steps up to the plate, ready to tackle any challenges thrown her way.

I was pulled into this story right from the very start. It takes off at a fast pace and continues to hold on to that until the final page. It is impossible not to get completely wrapped up in this fascinating story, and I found myself tearing through it, dying to see what would happen next. Every single aspect of this novel is beautifully built up—it is easy to fall into the world and let it take form around you. You feel a part of the journey, running right alongside Alice as she navigates all the perils—those both expected and unexpected—of Wanderland.

One of the many reasons that made me fall in love with this novel was that is felt a lot like two of my favorite video games—Alice: Madness Returns and the Fallout series. It was as if these two settings fell together, which resulted in an absolutely incredible reading experience.

On a similar note, this felt very much like a game or a movie due to the wonderful descriptiveness in the narrative. Sullivan is a master at showing rather than telling. Her intricate details assist the reader in visualizing the settings and characters without hindering their own imagination. She achieves that perfect balance that allows each person’s experience with this novel to be a unique one—each mind will add its own little spin on things.

The creation and development of the characters was, by far, one of the strongest points of this novel. I personally adored the way Sullivan showed the key traits of the original works’ characters in their Wanderland counterparts. Alice is an incredibly solid and believable heroine. It was wonderful to see her continually find that strength inside her, and watch her sort of emerge from her shell into a snarky, witty, and strong fighter.

The cast of quirky characters, both villains and heroes alike, were very well-developed and three-dimensional. Though it is hard to choose, I’d have to say that my particular favorites were Chess, Bug, and Dr. Abbott. I thought that she connected them to Carroll’s classic characters in absolutely brilliant ways. It was aspects like this that really left me appreciating how much effort she put into staying true to the original story while making one that was entirely her own.

J.M. Sullivan is a fresh voice in young adult literature, and definitely one who is sure to go very far. Her immense talent for writing shines through in every aspect of the narrative. This novel was a deliciously intense ride through the world of Wanderland, as we follow some well-loved characters on a journey we have never before seen them take. Whether you are a fan of Alice in Wonderland or not, I would very highly recommend giving this novel a read. With twists and surprises around every corner, this is a book that I believe will have every reader finding themselves swept up into Alice’s adventures. I know that I am truly looking forward to reading future installments in this series.

4.5 TARDISes

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Review: A Chosen War by Carly Eldridge

achosenwarA Chosen War by Carly Eldridge

My Rating: 2/5 TARDISes

Series: A Chosen War Series

Date Published: April 25th, 2017

Publisher: REUTS Publications

Pages: 500 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Author’s Website | Publisher’s Website

Synopsis: Nineteen-year-old Maia has spent her life haunted by dreams of a man with uniquely brilliant blue eyes. She never expected she’d actually come face-to-face with him, or that he’d be the harbinger of a chaotic new life. But as shocking as meeting Blake is, it’s less unsettling than her sudden ability to adversely affect electronics and seemingly control—even heal—plants.  

Before she can figure out what’s happening, Blake’s cryptic warning about the impending approach of something big manifests as a freak earthquake, destroying Maia’s home and killing her parents. Devastated, Maia has no choice but to turn to Blake, where she learns that the earthquake was not as natural as it seemed. The reigning Terra guardian, or Mother Earth, has gone rogue, wiping out her replacements in a series of orchestrated natural disasters around the world—and Maia is next.

Worse, she’s the only one who can stop the Terra guardian from destroying not just Earth, but the fabric of the universe itself. Now, thrust into a world of celestial beings charged with the protection of the universe, Maia must come to terms with her new powers, and the idea that her destiny was shaped long ago. And she must do it all before she faces off with the woman who controls nature itself.

Intelligent and thought-provoking, A Chosen War takes the idea that everything is connected and wraps it in globe-spanning adventure with just a tinge of romance.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Sadly, I have to admit that I did not end up enjoying this novel as much as I thought I would. I tried so hard to get into this story—to connect with the characters—but I had absolutely no luck. This was quite a struggle to get through, and there were many times where I wished to put it down. There was very little that motivated me to keep coming back to this story—to this world—and continue on, because it felt like a battle I was losing. The more I pushed through it, the more confusing it became, and the less rewarding it was to my attempts to carry on.

The pacing is incredibly slow, not helped by the extremely confusing plotline and under-explained elements, which are the key to the understanding that the reader desperately needs. In a story like this that is so character driven and centered around such fantastical beings and powers, the pace becomes bogged down when the reader cannot mentally connect with any aspect of the narrative.

There were so many instances of info-dumping in this novel, and yet I felt that they did not make anything clearer, at least not anything of importance to what was transpiring in the plot. This slowed down what could have been a fast paced story immensely. I had to go back and review parts over and over again because I felt that I was missing the main point the author was attempting to convey.  But in my frustration, I eventually reached a point where I just had to push on through these moments and give up any hope of trying to truly understand what was happening.

This is a third person narrative that follows a young woman named Maia as she attempts to navigate a whole new way of life, as well as come to terms with who she is. After a morning of inexplicable events—some of which include the sudden healing of dying plants and explosions of electronic devices—the day turns worse as Maia loses her family to an earthquake that seemingly comes out of nowhere.

Maia is thrust into a world that has been existing silently among humans for years, intervening in many aspects of the life—even the planet—she thought she new. There is a whole other life that has been waiting for her, lingering in the depths of her thoughts as she grew up. In a world of celestial beings that guard Earth with their unique powers, Maia has to come to terms with her own power, while simultaneous taking on the role of being the strongest and only one of her newfound group of friends that can stop the destruction of the universe caused by the reigning Terra guardian.

I wanted so badly to love this novel. I thought the synopsis sounded very intriguing—I am totally a sucker for any story that involves a unique magic or power system. However, this may have just been me, but I found it impossible to understand what was going on from one page to the next. As I said, even the information dumps that regularly occurred throughout the story served only to make things more confusing for me.

This novel was also sort of hovering slightly toward the heavy side of the romance spectrum. Though I am not the biggest romance fan in the world, I do enjoy a little bit of it on the side in a story. I am usually very tolerant of it, and I absolutely do not mind reading a bit of it. I have no problem when it begins to become particularly intense, or even very graphic. However, this novel not only made the romances feel really uncomfortable to read about, it also took up a huge part of the beginning and middle of the story.

Romance took center stage instead of an explanation of just what on earth was happening and how we had gotten to this point. While still confused about the plot, I had to sit there and read page after page of people hanging onto and pawing all over each other. Aspects of it could have been sweet if only they had taken the chance to answer some questions first. Maia sometimes seemed equally as confused as I was, but somehow fell into her new role with ease. She seemed to know exactly what to do, even as she groused at everyone about not giving her any helpful answers. I definitely connected with her on the latter.

The characters were actually one of the best parts of this story, in my opinion. They were interesting and engaging, and they helped to drive the narrative forward a bit better. Eldridge’s characterization was very three-dimensional, and she really brought the characters to life. They all had a unique personality that was clearly defined right from the start. I did end up feeling moderately invested in some of them, and one of the only reasons I continued on with this story was my urge to see what their fates would be in the end.

Another one of the high points in this novel was Eldridge’s writing. She very clearly has a wonderful talent for stringing words together and painting detailed mental pictures for her readers. Her descriptions and the language she used were beautiful, and her words flowed well despite the slow pace of the novel. She has a very lyrical style of writing, which suited the atmosphere and setting of the story quite well.

The only complaint that I had about the writing style and the text itself was something that I have been mentioning all throughout this review. Info dumps. Very long, very confusing info dumps. Despite this, the writing was still very engaging, which only added to my conflicting feelings about the novel as a whole.

As always, I enjoyed the reading experience even though this turned out to be a book that was not really my cup of tea. Though these opinions are my own and clearly may not reflect the general feelings of other readers, I personally cannot recommend this novel. However, this is only based on my experience with the novel, so yours may be very different. I would definitely encourage anyone who thinks the synopsis sounds interesting to give it a try. For me, at this point, I do not think I will be picking up any of the upcoming books in this series.

2.0 TARDISes

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Review: Bitter Roots by C.J. Carmichael

bitterrootsBitter Roots by C.J. Carmichael

My Rating: 1.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Bitter Root Mysteries

Date Published: April 25th, 2017

Publisher: Tule Publishing

Pages: 174 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Dispatcher Zak Waller prefers working behind the scenes in the Sheriff’s Office of Lost Trail, Montana, but when a newcomer to the sparely populated town is brutally murdered—and the Sheriff is quick to pin the death on an unknown outsider—Zak starts his own private sleuthing.

On the surface Lost Trail is a picture-perfect western town, offering a simple way of life revolving around the local ranches and ski hill, but Zak knows the truth behind the façade. When his old school friend Tiff Masterson, whose family owns a local Christmas tree farm, moves back to town, the two of them join forces to get to the truth about the murder.

Bitter Roots is the first of four Bitter Root Mysteries.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This is my first experience with C.J. Carmichael’s work, and sadly, I really did not enjoy Bitter Roots at all. You could potentially say that it left a “bitter” taste in my mouth. The synopsis sounded fantastic when I first found this novel—and it was an extremely quick read—but the plot was rather poorly executed. There was no aspect of this novel that was particularly memorable or that made me feel motivated to continue reading. Thankfully, this is a short novel, so I did manage to make it to the end, but there was really no payoff for my efforts once I got there.

First of all, I will admit that I had the wrong impression of this novel from the very start. I believed it to be a mystery/thriller novel, however I did not realize that the author is known primarily for writing romantic suspense novels until I looked it up on Goodreads. At this point, I had already agreed to read and review it, so I decided to give it a fair chance. And I did in fact go into this novel with no bias, lowered expectations, or belief that I would end up disliking it. The overall idea sounded intriguing, so I was still eager to give it a try.

This novel is a third person narrative that predominately follows the lives of three characters—Tiff, Zak, and Justin—as they navigate their experiences and relationships in the small town of Lost Trail following the murder of a young woman. Tiff, an accountant, has just made the difficult choice of moving back to her family’s ranch after her life in Seattle falls apart. Zak is the dispatcher at the local sheriff’s office who seems content with his life behind the desk, but uses his talents to inspect the murder case on his own time. Justin is a lawyer who is settling down with his wife and her daughter, though there are many unresolved issues floating around behind the scenes of this seemingly perfect marriage.

Tiff is still struggling to find closure after the deaths of her father and brother years ago, and to come to terms with her mother’s mental health, which seems to be spiraling even more out of control than it was the last time they were together. Tiff becomes involved in the search to find the killer, as the murdered young woman had been under her family’s employment, working on their Christmas tree farm.

Zak, with his inquisitive mind, cannot help but work on the case of the murdered woman, even though it is really not his place to do so. On top of this, he is rekindling a friendship with Tiff and dealing with his confusing feelings toward the new deputy at the station. And lastly, Justin’s storyline mostly focuses on his home life with his family, leaving him less involved in the crime solving area of the novel.

Sadly, the murder mystery aspect of the story took a backseat to the troubles, fractured relationships, and sometimes perverted musings of the main characters. Now don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy some family drama in novels, but I hated the fact that everything overshadowed a murder and the obviously shoddy detective work surrounding the case.

The plot was exceedingly slow and repetitive as well. The main characters spent most of their time being suspicious of one person and never even considering anyone else. Tiff and Justin also met up every few chapters and basically recapped, in great detail, everything that had just been read. It felt like we were never getting anywhere, until the last three chapters when Carmichael slammed down on the accelerator and plowed into the conclusion.

Comparatively, the plot wrapped up uncannily quickly and was far too rushed.  The big twist was not very impressive—it was a surprise, but that was not enough to salvage the rest of the plot. It seemed very out of the blue, as the reader only gets to hear the most important information in these last few chapters. So while it is unexpected, it is unexpected due to lack of any information in prior points of the novel.

The characters and their personalities really fell flat for me. They were incredibly one dimensional throughout the entire narrative, and I found it hard to connect with almost all of them. I spent a lot of the novel feeling quite fed up with them and their choices. The only character I felt at all invested in was Justin. He was the most genuinely kind human being, and his relationship with his family really pulled me in.

Another positive factor of the characterization was the relationship between Tiff and Zak. Prior to even knowing there would be elements of romance to this novel (if you can even call them that), I assumed that this friendship between them would probably end up turning into something more. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they maintained a strong companionship throughout the narrative without falling for each other. This is honestly something that I personally see becoming much rarer in novels these days, so I commend Carmichael for making this choice.

One of the other positives about this novel was the writing. I didn’t have any real complaints about the style itself. I thought that Carmichael was a strong writer, and her experience and talent still shine through. This was one of the only things that pushed me to finish off the book. Her words flowed very well and this is what carried me so quickly through the narrative. Her descriptions, for the most part, were very detailed, but I wish there had been a bit more of them, and that she had gone about them differently.

There was a big downside to the descriptions, in my opinion. This was the aspect of the novel that left me feeling a bit offended. The only characters who really got any sort of detailed description were all the young and implausibly attractive ones. These people were mostly women, and everyone was “tall and slender” with unrealistically perfect appearances. This is another part of the novel that overshadowed not only the severity of the situation, but also the intelligence and capability of the females in this narrative. Overall, I was taken aback at this and quite unimpressed and annoyed.

I thought this might possibly be due to the fact that I am unaware of the common conventions of romance novels, but that is still something I’m unsure of. It doesn’t really excuse the moments of sexism and perverted thoughts that really angered me. For example, most of the men in this novel—especially Zak—were extremely focused on and judgmental of the appearances of women, and way too focused on leering at them.

Unfortunately, I would not recommend this novel or series. It was not at all what I was expecting given the promising synopsis. The story is very repetitive and lacks depth, and it is even mildly offensive at times—at least it was for me. Despite the writing itself being relatively good, there was nothing, in my opinion, redeeming about this novel, nor was there anything worth reading plot-wise. I would definitely be willing to try another one of Carmichael’s novels, but I don’t think I will be continuing on with this particular series.

1.5 TARDISes

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