Things in books that should be left behind in 2016 — That Bookshelf Bitch

Standard

Hey, everybody. Sorry, no review today, but as we go into 2017, I thought this was an important article to share. Personally, I’d like to see all these tropes disappear in 2017.

Hi there, everyone! A little over a week ago, I publicly released my first ‘Shealea says’ post that talked about what it’s like to be a woman in 2016. In that particular piece, I discussed the problematic culture of victim blaming and internalized misogyny. Today, however, I want to bring something else into light. With […]

via Things in books that should be left behind in 2016 — That Bookshelf Bitch

Bad Bloods: November Rain– Shannon A. Thompson

Standard
Bad Bloods: November Rain– Shannon A. Thompson

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 3/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 4/5

“Bad Bloods” is a solid work of dystopian YA that will delight any fan of the genre. It also includes an angle that is too often overlooked by other authors in the category.

Serena was born a bad blood–a person with strange unique powers. In the city of Vendona, that’s an automatic death sentence. Before Serena can be executed, a prison guard helps her escape, setting into motion a chain of events that will determine Vendona’s political future and every bad blood’s right to be seen as human.

While I can’t say “Bad Bloods” is particularly original–we’ve seen a lot of stories like this in the past ten years or so–I think it still works. The plot is engaging, the characters are interesting and the bad bloods’ powers are unique. What really sets “Bad Bloods” apart is a world building aspect many dystopian YA seem to forget:

The political climate of “Bad Bloods” is eerily similar to our own.

This past election year has been hard on everyone and I don’t want to focus on it too much (this is a book review, after all), but it’s hard to deny that the question of who gets what fundamental rights has been front and center lately. When I realized that “Bad Bloods” dealt with a very similar dilemma, I got chills and made me want to read on.

I’m not sure if Thompson meant for the major conflict to come across like that, but that’s how I interpreted it and I think it makes “Bad Bloods” stand out in the dystopian YA genre for the better.

If you liked books such as “Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” or even James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride,” I’d definitely say you should check out “Bad Bloods.” It has all the things dystopian readers love about the genre, plus an extra kick. So, if you’ve got some free time over the New Year’s holiday, head over to Amazon and check out “Bad Bloods” for yourself.

Indiana Belle–John A. Heldt

Standard
Indiana Belle–John A. Heldt

Don’t miss your chance to get Indiana Belle for free on Chirstmas on Amazon!

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 4/5       Entertainment: 5/5       World Building: 5/5

This is the second novel of Mr. Heldt’s that I’ve read and I’m beginning to think he can do no wrong. His dedication to portraying history in all of it’s nuances, layers, difficulties, and beauty is admirable and his ability to craft brilliant and unique stories shines across the lines of genre and time alike.

When Cameron Coelho began his doctoral dissertation, he never expected to find a photograph of the beautiful Candice Bell, nor did he expect to fall in love with her. The possibility of stepping back in time to save her from an untimely death in 1925 never even entered his wildest dreams until he met her distant cousin, Geoffrey Bell, who just so happens to know how to time travel.

When I first read the description for this book, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. As some one who doesn’t usually like romance, I didn’t expect much. I figured Heldt’s world building would be just as good as “The Mine,” but the plot would be a passable indie love story as best.

Oh, boy. Was I ever wrong.

I was right about the world building, at least. Heldt continues to floor me with his expertly crafted depiction of the past. Not only does he paint wonderful, creditable scenes with his words, but he captures the 1920’s in it’s entirety. Yes, the Roaring Twenties were new and exciting, but it wasn’t all jazz and flapper dresses for everyone. I don’t want to give anything away because I really want everyone to check out this book, but as someone who’s biracial–White and Black–I really appreciate the other half of my heritage being acknowledged in this time period. I feel like the experience of Black Americans is often over-looked when talking about history outside of the Civil Rights Era, so I really appreciate that Heldt included that experience and handled it well.

Not only is the history well done, but it’s woven in with the story beautifully. The two work together to create a unique and unforgettable narrative with plenty of twists, turns, and a climax that will have your heart racing and pages turning.

And then there’s Candice. Oh my days, is Candice Bell a delight. Anytime she’s in a scene she absolutely steals the show. She captures the sense of independence that the 20’s are so often associated with, but still stands out as her own own character, making her the strong female protagonist romance novels so often try to create, yet so often fall short of doing, in my opinion. In fact, if you writing romance, or if you find you struggle to write women regardless of genre (which is a longer conversation for another day), check out Indiana Belle for Candice alone. She’s worth it.

So, whatever you usually read–romance, historical fiction, mystery, sci-fi, you name it–take a break and get whisked away to the 1920’s with Indiana Belle no time travel required.

Emerald Child (Kalika Magic Book 1)–Karen Hughes

Standard
Emerald Child (Kalika Magic Book 1)–Karen Hughes

Plot: 3/5       Characters: 4/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 4/5

Fun, whimsical, and just a tad nostalgic, Emerald Child is a great fantasy adventure for young readers.

Far away on a secret island, Indie as grown up in hiding surrounded with burning questions and no questions. When smoke starts to rise from a mysterious chest, Indie thinks it must hold more questions, but it actually holds all the answers: who she is, where she’s from, and, most shockingly, the role she plays in saving a magical kingdom.

Hughes has done a brilliant job crafting a story that no doubt will capture young fantasy lovers and their parents alike. Indie is a wonderful, strong, capable girl–something I’m always excited to see in books meant for young readers–her supporting cast is fun and memorable and the adventure whisks you away from start to finish.

It reminds me of all the Studio Ghibli movies I watched as a kid, which is what make me think kids today would really enjoy it. It’s clean enough to be age appropriate, yet just dangerous enough to feel like there’s real weight behind characters’ choices. It’s whimsical and fun, but clever enough to treat kids like they’re smart.

If I really had to nit-pick, I’d say my only real complaint is that type of narrative Emerald Child goes on a well-worn path. It’s one that’s been used in a ton of fantasy novels, both for children and adults, over the years, which made it a bit predictable. However, given that it’s a book for kids, odds are they haven’t been as exposed to all the tropes yet, so they’ll still enjoy it well enough. Even if they can see what’s going on, there’s enough fun stuff here for them to still enjoy the ride.

So, if you have a young one in your life that loves to read, or you want to introduce to the love of reading, Emerald Child might make a good gift. It’s fun enough to get them to pick the book up and exciting enough to convince them to never put it down.

The Mine–John A. Heldt

Standard
The Mine–John A. Heldt

Plot: 3/5       Characters: 3/5        Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 5/5

Well researched and brilliantly executed, The Mine is a vivid, memorable step back in time with a love story that could rival The Notebook (Pen Possessed).

In the year 2000, Joel Smith enters an abandoned mine in Montana out of simple curiosity. Thirty minutes later he emerges in the year 1941. With a band of colorful friends at his side, including his 21-year-old grandmother, Joel must carve a new life for himself or find a way home, but when a beautiful young woman named Grace walks into his life, making that decision becomes far more difficult.

Overall, I would say that The Mine works. The characters are believable and interesting enough to care about, both Joel and Grace are likable people, so I really did want to see them together, and with WWII right around the corner, how could you not be on the edge of your seat waiting for the other shoe to drop? My only real complaint was there wasn’t enough of that other shoe, so to speak. The Mine had a ton of potential thanks to number of well-written characters and the conflicts they’re bound to face and, as someone who loves history, I would have loved to see more about how they faced them. But, at the same time, I realize The Mine is a romance, so it’s only natural that the focus is more on Joel and Grace than the others, so the complaint really is a personal one rather than any sort of shortcoming on Heldt’s part.

And, speaking of history, that’s really where The Mine shines. The attention to detail and the obvious research that went into this book is remarkable and had me hooked more than the story itself. In fact, if you’re a writer and need to work with world building at all, whether via realism or fantasy, I highly recommend checking this book out, even if it’s not your typical genre. It’s a brilliant example of how to pull it all together and just how much it lends credibility to your story. When Joel is in 1941, it really feels like he’s in 1941.

So, over all, The Mine is good. While I would have liked more from the side character’s thoughts and experiences as WWII closes in, it still held my attention and the construction of America in 1941 is brilliantly done. Some of the other reviewers have compared The Mine to Nicholas’ Sparks works, so, if you’re a fan of romance, or a fan of history, definitely add it to your list and take a trip with Joel through The Mine.

Alpha Male–Joshua Corey Mays

Standard
Alpha Male–Joshua Corey Mays

Plot: 3/5       Writing: 3/5       Characters: 3/5       Entertainment: 3/5       World Building: 3/5

Alpha Male is an interesting thought experiment about the world of super heroes and their actions, but the areas where super hero stories usually shine, the characters and the action, it falls a little flat.

Thanks to Alpha Male, the city has grown quiet. As a result, few people see any real need for him and treat him either as a celebrity or a washed up attraction, until a new super villain comes to town, anyway. With the city looking to him once again for protection, can Alpha Male rise to the occasion? Or have his days of catching common criminals caused him to loose his edge?

I have to admit, Mays has done an brilliant job exploring the long-term and far-reaching effects a super hero would have on a big city. From the police force, to the lives criminals have after Alpha Male has captured them, to the manifestation of the resentment people feel due to Alpha Male’s collateral damage, Mays puts a great deal of thought into how the hero exists in his world. Not a stone is left unturned and there were quite a few that I hadn’t expected to show up, which as impressive. So, if you enjoy idea-driven books, especially of the sci-fi/fantasy type, I think Alpha Male would be a good piece to add to your reading list.

If you like more story or character driven works, however, you might not enjoy this as much. I still can’t put my finger on why, but none of the characters really clicked for me, Alpha Male least of all. To me, he’s just not an enjoyable character to watch, which really hurt the story since we’re supposed to want to see him save the day. In a similar vein, while the action is passable and definitively has some creative scenarios, it never felt as exciting as one would expect from a super hero piece.

Over all, Alpha Male explores some really interesting ideas and premises, which definitely make it worth your time if you enjoy books with that sort of focus. If you’re looking for the fun characters and exciting action that usually comes from the super hero genre, you may want to keep looking.

My Fair Assassin–C.J. Anaya

Standard
My Fair Assassin–C.J. Anaya

Plot: 4/4       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 4/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 4/5

My Fair Assassin is a rare gem in the Paranormal Romance genre. The two main leads are both enjoyable, the writing is engaging, and the alterations to traditional faerie lore lend themselves to some fun and creative world building.

Crysta has come to accept that she’s strange. For years she’s tried to hide her white hair, strange powers and pointed ears in hopes of finding an adoptive family with little luck. Now, at seventeen, she’s chosen to be on her own, but her independence is short lived when an assassin from another realm appears in her living room. While his intentions of killing her seem clean cut, the more he learns about her, the more complicated their relationship becomes.

As someone who was in high school when Twilight was getting big, I honestly thought I’d seen it all when it came to YA Paranormal Romance. I’m so glad Anaya proved me wrong.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually really liked Crysta. She’s a rarity all on her own in that she’s a girl who is legitimately not like other girls, resulting in a personal struggle that my heart broke for. Normally I roll my eyes at these kind of characters, but Crysta’s struggle for belonging and identity felt real and sympathetic, making her a character I would actually like to see teen girls exposed to and sympathize with.

Her relationship with Jareth, the assassin, is pretty great as well. Their interactions are funny and genuine. Nothing feels forced or contrived. Every line of dialogue and interaction feels like a real interaction between two people, even if one is an assassin sent from Faerie. In fact, if you write YA, especially romance, I recommend you check this book out for Anaya’s use of dialogue.

Her take on Seely and Unseely fae seems interesting as well, all though I can’t say too much about it since we don’t actually get to see either of the courts. However, as someone who’s seen a fair amount of them in urban fantasy (heck, I’m even working on a book about them), it was nice to have a different take on the lore. I’m actually really curious to read more about them in future books.

I just wish the actual romance held my interest like the rest of the book’s elements. As great as the rest of the book was, the actual romance felt a tad bit cliche. What do romance writers have against letting couples fall in love like normal people? I don’t understand it.

However, I do acknowledge that it’s a matter of personal taste and a symptom of the entire genre more than an error on Anaya’s part, so I’d still highly recommend giving it a read, even if you’re not usually a fan of Paranormal Romance. There’s still plenty of great stuff there to enjoy, so if you’re looking for a quick light read with some great characters, fun dialogue, and an interesting take on Faerie, give My Fair Assassin a try.