Archive | January 2017

Review: Illusion Town by Jayne Castle

Series: Ghost Hunters #13

illusion-town-jayne-castleA new adventure begins on Harmony… 
 
With its opulent casinos and hotels, the desert city of Illusion Town is totally unique—and will take you on a thrill ride you’ll never forget.

Hannah West isn’t the first woman to wake up in Illusion Town married to a man she barely knows, but she has no memory of the ceremony at all. For that matter, neither does Elias Coppersmith, her new husband. All either can remember is that they were on the run…

With Hannah’s dubious background and shaky para-psych profile, she could have done much worse. The cooly competent mining heir arouses her curiosity—as well as other parts of her mind and body. And even her dust bunny likes him.

But a honeymoon spent retracing their footsteps leads Hannah and Elias into the twisting underground catacombs, where secrets from both their pasts will come to light—and where the energy of their clashing auras will grow hot enough to burn…


4 Drink Me Potions


This was my first book by “Jayne Castle”, although I happened to have crossed her other contemporary AND historical books as well, under her names Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick respectively.

Illusion Town was a little disorienting at first as I quickly had a feeling that this wasn’t a simple standalone book that I had picked up from the library. There seemed to be alluded references to this whole land of Harmony that I did not know about as a completely new reader. And now looking at how vast this whole series is (with the intricate weavings even across Castle’s other genres), I’m quite impressed with the overall world building that’s been crafted here.

First of all (from what I gathered as an amateur reader in this world), this futuristic set of series written under Jayne Castle is on some alien planet colonists from Earth settled ages ago, but through some mishap, were disconnected from Earth quite permanently and the people here had to make do and thrive somehow.

Paranormal activity is like the new norm here, with people genetically passing on these talents and traits like it’s nothing. The kind of tech here also matches the futuristic theme, but also walks hand-in-hand with the paranormal abilities that people have, such as listening to energy with amber crystals.

Then there’s the land itself and how it’s laid out. 8 Zones split up around some epicentre where some unnatural activity caused some of it to be uninhabitable. It was well-written (albeit still a little confusing for a first reader like me), but I got enough of the idea to still be quite engaged with how this society organized itself.

And of course, there’s the creatures. In particular, the dust bunny.

When I first read about Virgil, the resident dust bunny in this story, I was quite astounded to be honest. Who is this thing and why does it have FOUR eyes? Fluffy yet quite ferocious. I loved it! Castle is very imaginative as she laid out even remote childhood fantasies of dust bunnies (such as I had when I was a kid) into a futuristic story where it becomes as simple as asking “why NOT have it featuring dust bunnies as characters?”. I was overall quite impressed with the setting I had randomly landed myself in.

Then there’s the ROMANCE. It wasn’t the centre of the story, though the intriguing plot line where Hannah and Elias found themselves married to each other was fun enough to draw me in. No, their relationship and budding love for each other was icing on top of the excitement (and dangers!) that were brewing all throughout the book.

From exploring the dangerous Rainforest and Underground areas where I gathered were leftover ruins from when Aliens inhabited this planet (surprise! even more intriguing things just THROWN in here) to finding a long-lost treasure and being chased by a gang of pirates on motorbikes. It was like a rollercoaster of heartfelt emotions and running around adrenaline.

For a novel I randomly decided to read on a lazy Saturday, I think it’s opened me up to a whole new world of possibilities.

Overall Recommendation:
Illusion Town was brilliantly crafted in its imaginative setting on some futuristic planet where people had paranormal abilities and real live dust bunnies as companions. Although this is technically part of a long lineup of books in a series, it still stood out well enough as a standalone (as I had read it ’cause I sure as heck didn’t read any of the previous ones yet). There was enough sweet romance but the action in the plot had me excitedly flipping through the pages. It seems this book has almost everything. This is the kind of world that is unique and should be visited at least once. Be sure to read the previous books first (maybe).

Review: Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill

Series: Clash of Kingdoms #1

ever-the-hunted-erin-summerhillSeventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer.

However, it’s not so simple.

The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a daunting and dangerous force.


3 Drink Me Potions


Ever the Hunted was a mix of every fantasy archetype that I could think of, which ultimately resulted in a less-than-amazing read for me.

First off, let me just say that I waited for this book to come for almost over a year. So yes, that might have played a huge role in building up my expectations of its awesomeness.

For a debut novel, I applaud Summerill for a fast-paced story that did its best in a promising adventure, a sweet romance and a world full of magic. Britta was the kinda protagonist I liked. Nothing too too special at the start of it all, one of those ordinary girls who was ignored or even shunned by others. Then of course, she finds out there’s something different about her. *gasp* Like that wasn’t something you were expecting…*insert sarcasm*

The world was built of 2 major kingdoms who were at the brink of war. Malam, where Britta lived, had banned and shunned Channelers, women with a magic of the elements that the laypeople here were superstitiously afraid of. So of course, enter the genocide of all Channelers and the closure of the border to the neighbouring magical kingdom of Shaerdania. That’s the tense atmosphere this book is set in. Beyond hearing a couple more tidbits relating to how all this trouble came to be, there’s not a whole lot more out there about this place.

Or even the magic.

Channelers harness energy, whether from land, air, water or fire. Sound familiar? ‘Cause I’m sure you’ve all seen some form of this type of “magic” somewhere if you’re a reader. Well, maybe even if you’re not a reader. And don’t get me wrong. It’s not a successful trope to fill in for the “magical ability” line you want to add to your documented work for nothing as it is a fun ability after all. But where is the originality in that? So I wasn’t the most pleased to know that there wasn’t a whole lot more to their magic than that.

Oh, and the surprise twist? *insert a short pause* Saw that coming a mile away. Probably from yet ANOTHER fantasy novel out there that you’ve come across.

I also normally despise slow-paced novels as it takes FOREVER to get to the known facts that were given to you even in the synopsis. But Ever the Hunted? Nope. Not a problem there. Everything happened so fast, like boom, boom, boom, that my head felt like it was spinning. I barely got used to Britta and the few people with her at the beginning of the story before it suddenly changed scenes again. So connection to the characters? Kinda hard to do when I felt like the interactions there were so quick and temporary.

This leads me to the relationship. This is one of my favourite parts of stories. And Cohen’s misunderstood history with Britta was brimming with bittersweet angst that is, oddly enough, right up my alley.

But like I said. Kinda hard to feel connected with ANYONE when things happen so quickly. I liked that Cohen and Britta are together for a large portion of the novel. It’s not one of those romances where the guy is halfway across the kingdom and you barely get to see the heroine interact with him (although they’re so-called in love with each other and I have to believe it just ’cause it says so right there on the pages). And for the most part, this aspect kept me somewhat satisfied throughout the story. I knew they’d patch through things somehow. But that ending? I smell a nasty potential love triangle popping in…and I’m not sure if I hate it or not.

Which is WEIRD. x10. I abhor love triangles so I should be jumping off my seat and bouncing around the room in frustration that this was thrown in and I’ve got to wait yet ANOTHER year to figure out how this will go.

But…I’m not. Which I guess means I enjoyed Cohen’s relationship with Britta but I didn’t build as great of a connection with the two of them as I thought either.

Anyway, this review’s kinda got off the tracks, but altogether, Ever the Hunted wasn’t what I expected. It tried to be sneaky, and it tried to be clever and fun and overall exciting. I can see that. But I just wish that I felt that too. I know I’m being generous with my rating ’cause I can see its potential, but somehow, it just slipped through my fingers and I’m left clutching thin air.

Overall Recommendation:
Ever the Hunted was a decent debut (if I’m being extra nice about it), but very predictable in its “twists”. From fast story pacing to almost nonexistent secondary character development and world building, this story just tried so hard to fit well with all those other fantasies we’ve got lining our shelves. The romance would’ve been the best part in my opinion but it too somehow felt a bit disconnected to me and I couldn’t form a huge love for Cohen and Britta either. I’d say it might just be me (and my VERY high expectations), so please give this book a shot as the potential for greatness is there but just may need to be honed a bit more.

Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Series: Charlotte Holmes #1

a-study-in-charlotte-brittany-cavallaroThe last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.


3 Drink Me Potions


I’ve been an avid fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was a child, having read all the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So for a Sherlock retelling in the YA genre, it was definitely peaking my interest.

But, there were ups and downs in my opinion.

Ups:

1. Charlotte Holmes is kickass
I didn’t know what to make of a female Holmes at first. Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be great and it’s not the first Sherlock retelling that’s flipped genders (there’s that TV show Elementary going on). So I knew I’d be okay with this element.
What excited me was that she was reminiscent of the Sherlock we know. Drug addiction, blunt attitude, awkward interpersonal relationships, and brilliant as heck.
But, I also enjoy a little something that the author puts in on their own. What’s the point of a retelling if it’s EXACTLY the same as the original? You might as well re-read it. I liked that Charlotte had her vulnerabilities, in part because she’s female, and knew how to play to her strengths (a damsel in distress work like a charm in certain situations). So it was more fun to get to reacquaint myself with someone who is familiar but at the same time, still new in some way.

2. Jamie Watson’s voice
No, I don’t mean his literal voice (I did not read an audiobook so I’m not sure how that would be like).
Writing from the perspective of Watson admiring Holmes’ work (just like the original), it could’ve been a little dry but I rather liked his tone and the way he saw the world he was in. Seeing this story in Holmes’ POV would’ve been a ton different and I’d much rather see it from Watson’s eyes. This might just be a personal opinion though.

3. The mystery
Once you get through almost 50% of the book, the mystery really starts to pick up. Who’s going around hurting students at their boarding school? Why are there links to Sherlock Holmes stories? Who’s out to get Holmes and Watson?
I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect. After all, what’s a Sherlock retelling if there’s no solid mystery at the heart of it for Holmes to deduce? I thought the story wasn’t completely predictable, although once the party involved was identified, it wasn’t as much fun just waiting for the info dump from Holmes to explain her deductions (not all of us are THAT smart, Holmes).

These helped me progress through the novel, but the following kept me away from finishing this novel for over a year.

Downs:

1. The pacing
OH my goodness. It was sooo slow at first. I stopped at 36% for over a year until I felt like finally continuing. A murder does happen fairly early on (ish), but their guesses were going around in circles and it just didn’t seem like the pair of young sleuths were progressing much at all. There was too much info on what they were doing in their daily lives at the boarding school that I just couldn’t seem to care about as much. I came here for a mystery, not for “how teens live in a boarding school” contemporary!
It did pick up after 50% but the pieces of the mystery fell too slowly. There was too much focus on Watson and Holmes, too.

2. Their relationship
Don’t get me wrong. I like Holmes and Watson. They’re an inseparable team. Watson balances out the neurotic behaviours of our favourite genius, while Holmes gets Watson out of ridiculously dangerous scrapes. You can’t have one without the other.
But….I just didn’t love them together. Yes, I knew that making one of them a girl may lead to a more romantic relationship possible, especially cuz it’s YA and what is a YA book without ROMANCE?
I just didn’t care about them dating. I’m not even excited for the potential of it. Maybe it’s cuz I’m rather traditional about it but their relationship always wrung true as platonic. Friendships are important too and it just saddens me a little that this has to change as well. It’s not like it’s impossible for a guy and girl to be good friends, but thus is the world of YA I suppose.

Well, A Study in Charlotte was sweet overall, and it made me nostalgic for certain Sherlock stories. I liked it enough, but there were certain hurdles that made it hard to continue for me personally.

Overall Recommendation:
For a Sherlock Holmes retelling, it had its good moments and bad. A Study in Charlotte, paying homage to a few elements from familiar Sherlock adventures, tried its best with the mystery but took its time upping the suspense factor. Throwing in the extra bit of unnecessary romance and I had to take a year-long break to finish. Altogether, it’s not a hard book to swallow, but it may not be for every Holmes’ fan.