Saturday, 28 December 2013

Surfacing by Shana Norris

*ebook from NetGalley-much thanks!
Published:November 15 2011
Publisher: Self-published
Website: Author’s Website

When Mara’s mother dies, she is forced to relocate to the tiny island of Swans Landing to live with the only relative she has left – her estranged father. She counts the days until her 18 birthday when she can leave the ostracizing and riddle-talking community forever. That is until she hears a mysterious song and sees her mother in the woods. When the obvious is revealed, Mara has to find out why her mother left and never returned and why the human residents hate them, all while dealing with the humans of the island who want the finfolk to leave forever.

I feel that the author wanted her to have an edge with her attitude, but I found her to be melodramatic and childish. Lexa Cain’s Élan from Soul Cutter is a much better example of a girl with an attitude that you can still like and cheer for. Of course, Mara is torn between love interests. Did she really have to string along (and KISS) both? Not if she’s a good person. Overall, I didn’t like Mara. She walks away when people are speaking to her and then has the gall to demand that people stop treating her like a child and give her some answers. She also balls up the letter her mother left and throws it in the corner because it’s not telling her what she wants to hear. Oh, spoiler alert, it has the answers she wants. Brilliant.

The Rest of the Cast
Mostly a bunch of people who are a mix of angry, riddle-talking, racist, weak, or boring. Yay.

If I were Mara, I would have told everyone to buzz off. Why? When you keep asking people what is going on with the whole island hating you and absolutely no one is giving you an answer, but alluding to an answer, that’s ridiculous.

To be specific: Josh is kind of cool, in an aloof and snarky way. Yet he is secretive and hangs out with the cool kids who treat Mara badly. How can you be interested in someone who doesn’t stick up for you?

Dylan grated on me. He is just so nice and that’s his only character trait.

Sailor is interesting. She obviously hates Mara (me too!) yet she occasionally stands up for her when the bullying gets bad. When her history comes to light and you figure out why she hates Mara, she becomes a full character (and there are not many of those here). Also, her name is interesting. Most of the names in this book made me roll my eyes (Gale, Waverly, Westray, Mooring) but Sailor kind of stuck with me (I won’t lie, it might have something to do with Sailor Moon).

Miss Gale is an older woman who knows much and is maternal to the MC who has recently lost her mother. This lady is lovely and knows how to command a room. This is one of a few characters who I found interesting and I perked up when she was on the page.

To paraphrase: the island is mostly full of suck. I would not like to live there.

The Island
A well-written aspect of the book is the prejudice that is rampant in the island. There were a few events that have left the human residents with a bad taste in their mouths regarding the finfolk. There is a clear divide in the community that the readers can link back to racism or class.

However, these themes are a bit far-fetched with mermaids in the mix. If the humans hate them so much, why not take some pictures of the mermaids in action and publish them on the internet or in a magazine? The mermaids would be forced to flee.

Plus, all these girls are making fun of the finfolk. What girl wouldn’t actually want to be a mermaid?

Name of the Book
The author couldn’t bother to use a few key strokes on Google to see if there are other well-known and award-winning books with the same title? *cough*Surfacing by Margaret Atwood *cough*

The Swans Landing Series
Do I have any interest in reading more installments in this series? Yes, because I want to know what happens to Sailor and her quest to find the truth about her family history. I don’t particularly care about Dylan or Josh or even Mara. Maybe one day I’ll check out Submerging, the second installment in this series that focuses on Sailor.

Final Verdict 
I like mermaids, though I am tired of them being used in soft stories that you might see on the Family Channel. If a teen is still hooked (yes, bad pun) on mermaids and they have read through Amanda Hocking’s Lullaby Series, sure, give this book a shot. Everybody’s a mermaid and they all have their own colour of vibrant tails and the humans hate them…because. The overall story that linked the people of the island was nicely put together. If a teen is into mermaids, romance, and wants to get into a four-book series, Surfacing might be for them.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Soul Cutter by Lexa Cain

*Honest Review Requested by Author in Exchange for Free eBook
Published: December 6 2013
Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing
Website: Author’s Blog
*BTW, the author has a fascinating post about Christmas in Egypt that everyone should go check out!

Élan, daughter of the psychic on the show “Psychic for the Stars”, spends her time debunking paranormal phenomena. After a traumatic experience, she became cold and cynical, especially towards her estranged mother. That is until the day her mother goes missing in Egypt without her insulin. Fearing this might be the last time to get her mother back for good, she hops aboard a plane for Egypt. Meanwhile, Ramsey is already in Egypt, working on the crew with Élan’s mother. Unbeknownst to him, the violent spirits that follow him and the legend of the murderous Soul Cutter have entangled him in a terrible game meant to hill him.

When I read that this is set in Egypt, and the author is from the very same place, I knew I was in for a more interesting read that I am used to. I can’t recall ever reading a story set in Egypt, and the author makes me believe in this Egypt because she has the authority and experience to write about it. Have you ever read a book about a foreign place that the author has never been? (The easiest example I know of is the Twilight Saga.)

It might not be obvious at all times, but an author’s imagination and research can only take the reader so far. Lexa Cain is from Egypt, so I am inclined to believe the culture and the atmosphere she describes. Egypt is vastly different from my Western perspective, and I appreciate a book that is outside of my norm without it being a complete fantasy.

POV and Characters
This book uses subjective third-person narration, and I enjoyed something different from the first-person books that are everywhere now! The focus switches between Ramsey and Élan, so we get a great sense of the two. I especially like it because Ramsey knows more about the culture, the forces behind everything, and the paranormal than Élan does. They play off one another nicely. They are both fully realized people with histories and motivations. Why can’t all main characters be this well written?

The Bad Guys
I knew who the baddies were from the start, yet I didn’t know what exactly was up until it was revealed. I think most readers will be like this too, and I felt like Sherlock Holmes or Agent York – you know who’s behind it, and the mystery is why and how exactly is it being pulled off. The legend about the Soul Cutter was compelling and, as it is the title of the book, a driving force in the novel. The Soul Cutter is a complex element in the story, and I enjoyed how it unfolded. There were times when I was so into the story, I worried about the main characters bumping into him. Every encounter with the Soul Cutter had me anxious. Every dark room and shadowy forest had me reading on edge. That, everyone, makes for a fantastic read.

Little Gripe
My only gripe about this novel is my nagging question involving Élan and the Mace she brings with her. How does one bring a canister of Mace on an airplane from the U.S. to Egypt?

I didn’t get a sense of closure with a lot of issues by the end of the book, especially with the relationships. After all that happens, it all just ends abruptly. There are lots of loose ends that could have been tied off before the final page. The book insinuated possibilities, but the bit concerning the mom is driving me batty. Perhaps the author will continue with the series, I don’t know, though that would be awesome. A world of demons and psychics in an international setting with two amazing characters at the helm? Yes, please!

Final Verdict
I highly recommend this to readers who are bored of the usual “Western” fare that they are bombarded with. Because Élan is from the U.S., readers can experience the culture shock vicariously through her. Older teens who can handle some of the more mature themes and the horror will enjoy this. Personally, I love it. We need more well-written books set outside of the West to give to our readers, and Soul Cutter by Lexa Cain delivers.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Looking for Beta Readers for a YA Horror MS

Hello fellow bibliophiles

I have a bit of a problem. In the spring I went to a writers' conference and an agent was interested in my manuscript. Yay! It was still in the editing phase, so she told me to submit it when it is ready.

I'm done with editing, but I have yet to have beta readers. I had some lined up-I read and commented on their works, and they were supposed to reciprocate. They are not replying to their emails, and it's been months :c

So, is anyone interested in giving me feedback? Basic or detailed, all is appreciated. Even if you don't like it and stop reading, that's fine, and though I'd like to know how I can improve. Here's my premise for a YA horror, currently titled She Came From the Sea:

Tourist destination Star Harbor has picturesque waters, beaches, lighthouses, and residents. For moody teenager Brent, these things mean nothing. His crush rejected him publicly. His parents are divorcing and they fight over custody of the dog instead of him. They ignore him and obsess over ruining each other’s lives. Deciding to end it all he goes to a secluded beach of black rocks. He is about to throw himself in when a beautiful girl surfaces from the water. Her name is Nerin and she is half woman, half fish-a mermaid. Love binds them together and he swears to protect her.

A mermaid’s duty is to punish unjust men, and she enlists Brent to help her locate deserving offenders. Believing that she intends to scare them, he gladly sends his school bullies to her.

But there is something else is amiss in Star Harbor. Men have been going missing, with their body parts and entrails washing ashore. Somewhere in this mess is Nerin, and Brent has to keep afloat before he is in too deep to save himself.

So...if anyone wants some reading material over the winter holidays, we can swap material and give feedback. My email is my full name, at @gmail . com (you can find it on my profile page).

Happy winter reading!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Audrey's Guide to Black Magic by Jody Gehrman

Website: Author's Website and Author’s blog
Publisher: Magic Genie Books
Publication Date: September 7, 2013 

                Audrey is back with a new section to her guide-the guide to black magic! Sadie takes Meg and Audrey back to the Land for protection and Audrey’s training. There she meets the handsome Ramone, the curt and inhospitable Kalinka, the sweet Leila, and her maternal grandmother, who happens to be the Land matriarch. Audrey’s mother is still fighting the evil Cormack, she misses her boyfriend, Julian, and one person on the Land has betrayed them and is working with Cormack. Audrey has to train, deal with boyfriend and little sister problems, and find the traitor before Cormack makes his next move.

                I was a beta reader for this book last year and I am so grateful for the experience! With a final release of the book, I happily re-read it.

                The colours are gorgeous! I can’t say I like the model used (I can’t look away from her chest and disconnected head), but the colours of the dress and background are stunning.

                There is a lot more happening in this book than the previous book, Audrey’s Guide to Witchcraft. They are far removed from the contemporary life we are familiar with. The Land is amazing; it is full of magic, yet magic also absent because they do everything by hand if they can (a far cry from the Harry Potter universe). Not being at home keeps the pace moving fast.

                First and foremost, I love what Gehrman did with Meg in this book. There is a steep role reversal here. I am so glad that the author didn’t do what most uninspired authors would do: have Meg continue to be the center of attention as the social butterfly that she usually is. On the Land of Mad River, she is the outsider, the outcast. Audrey is new, but welcome. In fact, a lot ride on Audrey being there. Meg is an ignorant interloper. I can honestly say that if someone in my family had magical powers and I didn’t I’d die of jealously. Meg’s frustration at being politely shunned by the entire community for being mundane was well-done.

                The lady of ultimate cool is back to help. This installment gives her lots of attention, delving into her personality, interests, and hopes for her future. Her interest in black magic and why she’s interested is very compelling. It would be nice to see her magic in a fight, unless her magic isn’t offensive. The first book and the second had her absent from the final fights and I hope that we get to see her in action in the future.

Audrey and Julian
                There is not much development for Audrey. We get the reveal about what Julian means to Audrey’s magic, but nothing notable changes for her. She is her usual self and she goes about her adventure. There has a little inner conflict relating to Cormack, and that’s all that stood out to me, and that’s disappointing. I’d really like to see more done with Julian. Other than being the love interest, there isn’t that much that he does in this book. Now that we know what he is, I’d like to see him more involved in the action.

Final Verdict
                I highly recommend this book. In fact, I recommend this more highly than the first book. Lots of magic, action, and conflict. It’s an enchanting read that will fascinate girls who love the story of a witch defending what matters most to her. I cannot wait for a possible third installment to develop Julian and Audrey further, and you can never go wrong with more Sadie!  

Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft by Jody Gehrman

Published: June 30th 2012
Publisher: Magic Genie Books 
Author’s website 
Author’s blog 

Audrey is a normal girl until a face appears in her Crème Brulee. This is the same day that her mother goes missing and her mysterious “cousin”, Sadie, appears at her doorstep. Intuition screams that something is dangerously amiss, and strange occurrences abound, eventually leading up the revelation that she is a witch. At 17-years-old, Audrey has to hone her rare abilities, save her mother, protect herself, and fall in love, all the while keeping her normal sister, Meg, in the dark about everything to do with magic.

                This is a Guidebook. The first of many (well, at least two, thus far). She lives in the human world while trying to learn about her witchy abilities in secret. It’s about magic and love-maternal and the boy-crush kind of love. This all happens while going to school and dealing with the high school mean girl, and other everyday girl problems.   

                My favourite aspect of Audrey is that she is far from perfect. She has many positive aspects: protective, independent, thoughtful, and funny. She also makes mistakes, such as going off on handsome boys about things that have absolutely nothing to do with them. Inside my head I was freaking out, thinking, Audrey! Stop it! Stop it now! She is snarky, cynical, and at times irrational. Her imperfections make her a believable character and someone you can root for. And she is a baker-you can’t go wrong with a witch that bakes.

                The characters are far removed from the danger most of the time, as they are not with the central hub of witches. Audrey has to learn how to use magic to defend herself against the antagonist, and Sadie steps in, even though she cannot adequately tap into Audrey’s special abilities. The moment that Sadie arrives, she is cool, confident, and beautiful. Surrounded by animals, she holds answers and more mysteries that she keeps to herself. By far my favourite character here, I adore the mystifying way she handles herself. Her presence kept me wondering throughout the book.

                Meg is the little sister who is the foil to Audrey, yet she shares some similarities with Sadie. She is confident, manipulative, ambitious, social, and beautiful. She fronts the suggestively named band Cherry. It sounds like Meg always gets what she wants. However, Meg is a human with no magical abilities. If you do some digging and analyzing, you’ll see that she is arguably the most emotionally complex character in the cast thus far. Not a throw-away character. Not a character that is the “little sister” and nothing more. The family dynamics here are phenomenal.

Personally, I’m tired of heroines being unrealistically heroic or stubbornly buried in denial. Her mother goes missing and she discovers that she is a witch. After some healthy skepticism, she picks up the mantle to go help her mother fight, or rather, fend off, the big bad, knowing that she can’t possibly offer much help. It’s different from Harry Potter-this is the beginning of her new magical life, and she isn’t going to be killing He Who Must Not Be Named because skill wise, she isn’t there yet. Yes, it’s a little depressing to put yourself in her shoes, and it’s refreshingly realistic. It’s about survival and love.

                If you read my other reviews, you’ll note that I don’t mind open endings, as long as they don’t end in the middle of something important like a fight or a conversation. Some mysteries left unsolved are fine. In fact, they are awesome if it means that the book will get a sequel and this book does! Even if this book didn’t have a sequel (and I didn’t know it did when I read it), I like thinking about the possibilities that remaining mysteries leave behind. You know, sometimes an author leave these mysteries unsolved intentionally. 

I received this book about a year ago, and it is still one of my favourite books, largely, in part, due to the characters, and the way that it is believable. I want more Guidebooks written by Audrey Oliver-it was one of my top three favourites in 2012. I recommend this for a teen book club read as it is relatable without being crass. Yes, it has witchcraft. Good witchcraft! And recipes for chocolate cake and crème brulee! I highly recommend this for girls into the paranormal but are perhaps sick of the overblown paranormal romances that are circulating.