Reviews

Book Review: The Waterfall Traveler by S. J Lem

The Waterfall Traveler is a young adult fantasy novel that I picked up last year after seeing the author do a cover reveal on the Books Go Social Facebook page. It looked stunning, so I kept my eye on it and ordered the paperback when it was finally released. Still, due to my enormous TBR pile, it’s taken me this long to get to it. But honestly, it was worth the wait.

The story focuses on Ri, a teenage girl who has been raised in a small village on an island cut off from the mainland. Samuel, the man who raised her, found her when she was just a child on his travels, so both of them are outsiders to the village, even though they’ve lived there for years. To make matters worse, Samuel has the Sickness (which initially seems like a form of dementia) and often goes wandering off on his own. After one of these episodes, he wanders into the forest surrounding the village. When Ri finally finds him, he tells her about a boy who travels back and forth through the waterfall. She dismisses it as one of his fantasies and sends him home while she stays to try and gather some food. However, it’s not food she finds. In the dark part of the forest, she discovers a human skull covered in slime. Before she can analyse it properly, a man steps forward and goads her, with the intent of taking the fish she’s caught. Ri doesn’t give in, but a strange noise sounds around them and he tells her to flee. She does, but injures herself and collapses by the river.

Sometime later, she awakens to see a boy around her age attempting to treat her wounds. Initially, she tries to ward him off, panicking about how long she’s been unconscious due to her need to look after Samuel, but she relaxes enough for him to patch her up. Yet the danger she faced is still lurking, and they both find themselves under attack by an unseen foe. Ri is shot with a poisonous dart, so with no other choice, the boy gathers her up and takes her through the waterfall to his home on the other side.

Three days pass before Ri finally wakes up, but the boy — Bryce — tells her truthfully that he cannot simply take her back because the gateways between waterfalls change with the moon, and so the path to her island is cut off for another month. In a panic, she attempts to escape the cave Bryce lives in, only to discover the smooth-talking Carter coming to pay his best friend a visit, and to arrange the delivery of herbs Bryce gathered in the forest to certain city guards. Giving in, Bryce agrees to let her accompany them up into the streets of the city, where she discovers the huge divide between the rich and the poor, as well as the devastating news that Samuel is a wanted man there, accused of a crime she cannot bring herself to believe him capable of. And then there is the news of the Culling, a faceless danger attacking the city.

I won’t lie about this book – at first, I thought I wasn’t going to like it because I found Ri irritating and far too impulsive to be practical. However, she grew on me quickly, especially when it came to interacting with the other main characters. The book is all from her point of view, so it was interesting to be privy to the private thoughts she had about everyone. All the characters in this book are strong, with concerns so specific to them that their actions felt completely justified, even if Ri didn’t agree. Most of the hints weaved throughout the story about what was really going on linked together solidly in the conclusion, though as The Waterfall Traveler is the first book in a series, some were left open. The plot itself was well thought out, and the world building was so rich I felt like I could stroll inside the pages. Though perhaps not at one of the more perilous parts.

Another thing to note about this book is that it’s an indie, but it truly reads every bit (if not better, in some cases) as books by bigger publishers. So, if you’re unsure about reading a book that’s been self-published, I’m inclined to say give it go. I’d happily press The Waterfall Traveler into everybody’s hands if I could, and I know from experience that it’s not the only book that deserves more press than it’s had so far.

If I had to describe it in a word: enchanting.

Kat out!

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Reviews, Uncategorized

Book Review: Protagonist Bound (Crisanta Knight Book One) by Geanna Culbertson

Protagonist Bound is a book I picked up on a whim – it looked like a book that played with fairytales and stereotypes, which are two things right up my alley. And it did not disappoint (despite it taking me some time to actually get to it, thanks to my enormous TBR).

The story takes place in a land called Book (yes, you read that right) where a mysterious entity known as the Author sends out a book with a single name on the cover, and whoever the name belongs to will be a future protagonist. They have no choice in this matter. Female protagonists, including princesses, are sent to one school to learn about being good damsels in distress and such like (they have a lesson on how not to crease their gowns while fainting), while male protagonists, including princes, are sent to another, where they learn how to be swashbuckling heroes.

Crisa, the slightly wayward daughter of Cinderella, isn’t a fan of learning such lame things at school, and finds the fact that she is supposed to be a graceful, well-spoken damsel in distress unfair to say the least. When she gets her ‘prologue prophecy’ – a further note in her protagonist book that decrees she will marry a prince she truly despises and that will be her protagonist role – she refuses to believe she has no way out of it. In fact, she decides that the only thing to be done is to find the Author and confront them. Her friends – Blue, Red Riding Hood’s younger sister, SJ, Snow White’s daughter, Jason, brother of beanstalk lover Jack, and the quiet, irritating new-boy-at-school Daniel – all agree to her plan and go with her. But finding the Author is no easy task, especially with less than helpful fairy godmothers on their back, not to mention most of the Kingdom’s antagonists.

What I truly loved about this book (and books two and three, which I had to read immediately after) is how well the fairytale elements are woven together to make not only a strong, in-depth word, but also great characters that you want to succeed. And they are all so different personality wise that it really is like reading about a real group of friends – with all the ups and downs of their relationships on top of being nearly killed by equally intriguing foes. Everything about this series is well thought out, the writing itself is excellent and it’s great to see all these strong, butt-kicking characters shake away the stereotypes of what it means to be a princess or prince, and what a hero truly is.

This is the kind of book that after reading, makes me want to shove it into everyone’s hands. I won’t, because not everyone likes fairytales or YA books, but that doesn’t stop me from being very tempted.

So there you have it!

Kat out.

Reviews

Review: The Witches of the Glass Castle by Gabriella Lepore

I first heard about The Witches of the Glass Castle from Benjamin Of Tomes (Benjamin Alderson) who is a booktuber who also has his own publishing company, Oftomes Publishing. The Witches of the Glass Castle is published by Oftomes, and was recently on promotion, which is one of the reasons that I took the plunge and downloaded it. I say took the plunge because the book is about teenage witches with romance intertwined, not usually elements I’m interested in… but let’s just say I am now.

The Witches of the Glass Castle follows the story of Mia and her older brother Dino, who have just discovered that they’re both witches. Their mother and aunt, who they learn are also witches, take them to stay with their old mentor Wendolyn, who helps young witches develop their powers and also control them, while also providing a safe atmosphere for the youngsters to mingle… well, relatively safe. There are two types of witches that the siblings learn about; Arcana, who are then further split into groups depending on their power, be they Seer, Reader, Conjurer, Tempestus (elemental control) or Sententia (reader of emotions), and Hunters, who have individual powers like the Arcana, but are also trained as warriors from a young age and pride themselves on being detached from human emotion.

While staying with Wendolyn in her home, the glass castle, Mia and Dino find out what their powers are. Dino can hear people’s emotions, and the sound causes him physical pain as his powers are so strong he struggles to control them. Mia, on the other hand, has the ability to control the elements, but no matter what she tries, she can’t seem to harness them. That is, until she has a run in with one of the castle’s Hunters, Colt, who tells her that the rainstorm drenching the castle grounds is entirely her doing and that she should stop it. When she protests that she can’t, he grudgingly helps her, and despite the divide between Arcana and Hunters, she starts to trust him – something that her friend, and Colt himself, think she’s crazy for.

As I said above, I’ve never been crazy about stories based on witchcraft or romance, and it was purely out of curiosity that I picked this book up. Yet I found the concepts of all the different magical abilities intriguing, and I liked the characters a lot – even if they weren’t likable in themselves, I enjoyed how they were written. Colt and the other Hunters caught my attention in particular, as they have no distinction between different types of passion – be it romantic passion, or passion for their next kill – it’s all one and the same to them, and I thought that played into the plot really well. There are some elements that are Harry Potter and Twilight-esque (I have never read Twilight, but I recognize the tropes in it) but I would say that they are only vague similarities at best. The glass castle isn’t really a school for magic, more of a place to study in one’s own time, with guidance if needed, and there are no structured lessons. That sort of thing.

Overall, I have to say that this book grabbed me so much that the moment I finished it, I bought the sequel and swallowed that up too, both in the space of about three days, and I had a serious book hangover once I’d finished. So maybe I do like romance and elemental control…

Kat out!

Reviews

Book Review: Waking Beauty by Brittlyn Gallacher Doyle

Waking Beauty is a retelling of the classic sleeping beauty tale, but as with all good retellings, it has a twist:

Aurora Claire (or just Claire, as she prefers) was always told that she would fall under a sleeping curse for one hundred years on her sixteenth birthday – a curse bestowed upon her by a vengeful dark fairy. She lived with the knowledge that everyone she knew would be dead by the time she woke up, and her life was filled with half-friendships and loneliness because of it. Yet she had her fairy gifts – grace, beauty, creativity, wit, sweetness, song – to make up for it. So on that fateful day, she climbed the tower where the dark fairy was waiting with the spindle that would send her to sleep for a century, and pricked her finger just enough so that a single drop of blood was spilt.

Fast forward one hundred years.

Waking in her tower from an age of nightmares, she finds the handsome prince who was foretold, along with his tall and awkward knight. She and prince Damien hit it off right away – he’s everything she’d ever hoped for – but the way his knight, James, seems to regard her with constant disdain makes her feel ill at ease. However, when they leave her tower, she is overjoyed to find that the rest of the castle has been asleep just as she was, and everyone she knows, including her parents, are waking up as well. Wedding plans are soon underway, with much discussion of alliances between kingdoms. A perfect future with a perfect prince, whose charm appeals to everyone. Almost too much so.

Yet after only a few days, a servant is found asleep, and no-one can wake him. Then another is found, and another. The curse appears to be returning, and Claire has no idea why. What’s more, her fairy gifts are disappearing too. She stumbles ungracefully, freckles sprout on her nose, and her hair is a fright. Nor can she keep her mouth shut at James’s obvious distaste for her. Where did her sweetness go?

As panic spreads around the castle, Prince Damien and James volunteer to seek out the fairy who altered the dark fairy’s original curse from death to a long sleep, in order to find a way for the curse to keep from taking hold again. Claire, feeling responsible, insists on coming along, and though James argues that she will slow them down, Damien uses his charms to quiet his friend and allows her to come along. Claire and James bicker incessantly, but after a while, she realises that she finds it much easier to talk to this disapproving, quiet knight than her beloved prince, and dares to even consider him a friend…

First of all, I love that this story focuses on what happens after Sleeping Beauty wakes up, and that it’s not an immediate happily ever after.

The characters are well written and likable (when they’re supposed to be). Claire’s development from prim princess who has always followed along with what everyone expects of her to a confident young woman who is capable of making her own choices is exceedingly well done, and as the story progressed, I liked her more and more. Damien I was suspicious of straight away – no-one is ever as perfect as they appear, and towards the end, his behavior really made me grind my teeth, as it was supposed to. James reminded me very much of a character from one of my favourite fantasy series, not just in appearance, but personality as well. He likes Claire for who she really is, not what her fairy gifts make her out to be, and the back and forth between them was full of wit and humour.

The book also ended brilliantly, in a way that was satisfying but not overly convenient. The narrative is from Claire’s point of view, so I could really get inside her head, which I felt worked well for the plot as a whole.

Waking Beauty is definitely a book I’d recommend for anyone who loves fairy tale retellings with exciting twists, strong female protagonists and good character development, plus more than a dash of romance (which is odd for me, because I’m not normally a romance fan.)

Kat out.

Reviews

Review: Moroda by L. L. McNeil

Moroda is the story of a girl who escapes from her home city as it is burnt by Dragon fire, and tries to find her place in a world now threatened by war. With her sister, a foul-mouthed sky pirate, two weapon smiths with the ability to transform into animals, an ex-solider from the city, a man with the power to fly and control storms, and a man whose race is known for being deadly killers, she travels across the world of Linaria in search of the answers she so desperately seeks.

I first heard about Moroda via Twitter, as one of the people I follow retweeted a post by the author which showcased the cover. It caught my eye immediately, and led me to read the synopsis, which I found very captivating. I think the reason for that is it hinted at the idea of the plot itself revolving more around Moroda’s own personal journey of self-discovery than the typical fantasy quest of saving the world with an object/magic/intense training. It does have this basic element within it, because of the threat the dragons (and certain others) pose to all of Linaria, but McNeil has cleverly twisted it so that you don’t really notice such a trope is being used.

What’s captivating about Moroda’s character is that she is forced to recognise her own short-comings by spending time with characters with vastly different backgrounds and ideals to her – she and her sister grew up in relative luxury compared to most, but when their father suddenly died, all financial stability they had went out the window. So as she watches her companions, she starts to realise that she has very little experience in most areas of life and is eager to improve on that.

The other characters in Moroda were equally interesting. The sky pirate, Amarah, who is strongly independent and not afraid to speak her mind, is so well-written that I had a solid sense of who she was from the off. Palom and Anahrik, who have the ability to transform into animals, played well off of each other, highlighting that even though they have a strong friendship, they are very different people – Anahrik is hot-headed and quick to take up a challenge, whilst Palom is more rational and patient (until a certain point in the story, where Palom actually takes on some of Anahrik’s personality traits, for reasons I can’t state because of spoilers). Morgen, the soldier – in fact, I believe he is a captain – is a bit harder to get to know because his arc is somewhat slower that the others, more on par with Moroda’s, where he doesn’t really know what to do or where he belongs after the city is burnt. But I slowly picked up who he is: a good man initially quick to follow orders, then after he becomes aware that those orders may not be for the best, just a man trying to do his best to help prevent the oncoming war and protect those he loves.

Then we have Kohl and Sapora, both from races which Moroda knows relatively little about. Kohl calls himself a dragon hunter, and initially warns Moroda and her sister about the dragon heading to their city. He is an outcast from his race, and we don’t really find out why until a good way through, though the whole time it was unclear whether he was trustworthy or not – I wanted to, but felt like I should be wary. Though he can’t transform into an animal like Palom or Anahrik, he has wings on his back which allow him to take to the skies. His race all have the power to harness thunder and electricity, though his powers go a step further as he can freeze things. But it does seem very much like a power he doesn’t want.

Sapora is my favourite character, mainly because all the reader knows about him initially is that his race is associated with violence, and even though Moroda wants to look past that, his very presence put her on edge. The arguments he and Amarah have reveal a lot about both characters, and show off his sharp tongue.

Eryn, Moroda’s younger sister, is introduced very strongly, but as the story went on, I felt as though her individuality was lost. She follows Moroda because of how close they are – they have no other family, so they’ve had to depend on each other since losing their father. While Moroda can be a bit rash and impulsive, Eryn tends to hold her back to get her to consider things first before she takes action. I enjoyed the fact that even though Moroda is older, Eryn is the one who is most mature. However, some of her reactions and traits were ‘told’ rather than ‘shown’, and I think that’s why she paled as bit as a character for me.

With such a cast of characters, the plot is very driven by them, which is rather refreshing to see in fantasy. If I hadn’t enjoyed the characters, and had they not been so well written, then I would have said this was just an okay book. As it is, I think Moroda is quite the riveting read, and actually got me out of a reading slump I’d been in for a while. Yes, there is a lot of world building, and some of the lands and customs are only lightly touched upon, but I have to consider that this is the first book in a series, so many of the questions I have about Linaria will probably be answered in the sequels.

I consider myself quite an avid fantasy reader, and personally,  I would rate Moroda well up there with some of my favourite reads by authors published by big publishing houses. I really highly recommend it – even though I finished it a few days ago now, the story is still with me.

Reviews

Book review: Around the Universe in 10 -43 Second by Manu Breysse

A few weeks ago I was sent a copy of this book by the author as a prize in a draw I’d entered by offering my opinion on which cover he should use for the English edition (which mine is), as the original was written in French. Now, sci-fi isn’t one of my go-to genres, but when I do read it, I quite like it. And I liked this book. A lot.

The basic premise is that Earth (or Terra, as it’s called in the book), mysteriously vanished a loooong time ago, with a few surviving humans still lurking about elsewhere in the Universe. However, on a very small planet, there is a country similar to Ancient Egypt, which is home to a humanoid species. In fact, their King, Sareth, is very much like a Pharaoh, and is not the nicest guy around, due to the fact that he’s very quick to put people to death.

Anyway, just as Sareth’s about to have someone killed, a portal appears and he’s transported to another planet, where the technology is much more advanced – in fact, they have an enormous library which has the history of just about everything, including how his species came to be. But Sareth, knowing nothing of science, simply can’t get his head around the fact that it was a stray food container and not God, that started life on his planet. Then he happens to see a button claiming to take him to the meaning of life. He presses it – and error 404 pops up. Their is a bug in the library database, and all knowledge of the meaning of life has disappeared. Depressed, Sareth stumbles into a bar where he meets Jah, a memory-less alcoholic, who later introduces him to his psychiatrist, Sigmufred. Sigmufred is appalled that the meaning of life has disappeared – after all, most of his clients come to him for help after they’ve learnt what it is. So, to stop himself going out of business, Sigmufred, his daughter Straecia, Jah and Sareth all get on board the Flamboyant, an old ship with an occasionally sassy on-board computer, to travel around the Universe in search of the meaning of life.

As my not-so-brief synopsis might allude, this is a rather crazy book that in no way attempts to take itself seriously. However, it does touch on some quite philosophical questions and there is a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) political and social commentary. What I really enjoyed is that the narrator is treated as a character, and as they directly address you to explain the details of how things work, there is a lot of fourth wall breaking going on. This made all the info dumping (there’s lots of space-time continuum, pandimensional and 5th dimension explanations) actually relevant and interesting, and didn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative (because a narrator can’t really interrupt themselves, I suppose…).

Now, there was one thing that made me stumble a few times while reading, and that was the dialogue tags – in this case, there is a distinct lack of them. And with a big group of characters as Around the Universe boasts, there were times when I had no idea who was saying what. Whether in the French version, it’s made clear who’s talking by the vocabulary and style they use when speaking and that that’s simply been lost in translation, I don’t know, but it was definitely a setback in my enjoyment of the story. There were perhaps one or two characters that could have had a bit more development, but it was such a whirlwind of a story that I’m not sure how that could have been achieved.

Overall, I am glad that I had the opportunity to read this, as I probably would have passed over it otherwise – as I said above, sci-fi is not normally a genre I think about reading. Now I can say that this book has certainly inspired me to widen my scope. The whole thing was fun from beginning to end, and as this is the first book in a trilogy, I am absolutely looking forward to the next book.

Great job, Manu!

Reviews

Book review: Dragon Rider: The Griffin’s Feather by Cornelia Funke

Several years ago, I read Dragon Rider, a middle-grade fantasy about a dragon named Firedrake and his rider, Ben, and their quest to find the dragons a new home, which I  absolutely loved. Recently, book 2, The Griffin’s Feather, was released in the UK, so I simply had to pick it up.

The story focuses on the efforts of a group of conservationists for fabulous creatures (as they’re referred to in the book), who are Ben’s adoptive family. They’ve just found the last pair of winged horses – but the mare is attacked by a venomous creature and dies, and only she had the power to keep her foals alive.

The stallion agrees to bring the foals to the sanctuary where the conservationists (the Greenbloom family) live, where they discuss possible ways to save the foals. Many important scientists and conservationists for fabulous (and ‘non-fabulous’) creatures chip in with their ideas and opinions, and eventually the only valid option is to use the marrow from a griffin’s feather. Unfortunately, griffins have not been seen by humans in hundreds of years, have a reputation for being aggressive and also hate other animals, particularly winged horses – and dragons.

In an effort to keep the stallion, and Ben’s best friend, Firedrake the dragon, safe, the Greenblooms decide to keep their real goal from them and pretend that the solution is something else (even though their task might prove to be dangerous), so neither of them will try to get involved and put themselves in danger.

I really, really enjoyed this book. I loved the premise, and it was nice to be back with familiar characters again, along with some new ones. I also greatly appreciated the nods to David Attenborough and Jane Goodall, as well us others involved in conservation and environmentalism. The book is very much a nudge for children (and adults) to think about animals as creatures to be respected and treated with compassion, and to acknowledge the world around us and what we’re doing to it. I wouldn’t say it did it in a preaching way, however – because of the nature of the story, these messages are in it in a very organic way. There’s also a lot of detail in this book about different cultures, species of animal and places – the characters travel to Indonesia, and I was so completely immersed that I felt like I was experiencing it along with them. And of course, the book has a happy ending, too.

I think, overall, that what Cornelia Funke has woven together here is a wonderfully imaginative story, with a strong, yet non-intrusive message, that readers of ALL ages will appreciate and enjoy.